MonitorsPublished on May 17, 2013
Nawaz Sharief's election for an unprecedented third time as Pakistan's prime minister has been welcomed by the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai congratulating Sharief called upon the new Pakistani government to enhance cooperation in order to work towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan: A new phase in ties with Pakistan?
< class="heading1">Analysis

Nawaz Sharief’s election for an unprecedented third time as Pakistan’s prime minister has been welcomed by the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai congratulating Sharief called upon the new Pakistani government to enhance cooperation in order to work towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. He said, "We hope that the government paves the way for peace and brotherhood with Afghanistan and cooperates in fighting terrorism and sincerely rooting out terrorist sanctuaries". The Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin said, "The formation of a strong democratic government in Pakistan presents a good opportunity for the opening of yet another chapter of dialogue and cooperation between our two countries".

Nawaz Sharief, for his part, claimed that he would re-evaluate Pakistan’s foreign policy upon forming the government. He offered an olive branch to Afghanistan and acknowledged the importance of improving the bilateral relations between the two countries. Pakistan has for long been recognised as a vital player in determining the Afghan end-game. The Afghan government has sought Pakistan’s cooperation in bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table. However, bilateral tensions have prevented any tangible benefits from emerging. It is hoped that things would now be different.

It is, however, unlikely that a change in the civilian government would bring about a change in Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan. This continues to remain the prerogative of the military establishment. Pakistan’s military has the final say on most strategic and foreign policy related issues, and particularly those concerning relations with India, China, the US and Afghanistan. It has traditionally not taken kindly to the intervention of the civilian leadership in its domain or at its attempts to rein in the military. The ouster of Nawaz Sharief in 1999 through a military coup led by army chief Gen Pervez Musharaff was largely an outcome of the former’s attempts to assert his supremacy over the military leadership.

It is believed, or at least hoped, that the military would not be an obstacle to Nawaz Sharief this time. Its apparent lack of interference in the country’s democratic transition has been seen by some as an indicator of the military wanting to take a back seat. This, however, has been the general trend and nature of Pakistani politics during civilian rule, and there is nothing to suggest that time would be any different. There have been no signs that the military is willing to concede any space to the new government as far as making foreign policy decisions are concerned, and Sharief himself may not be too keen to take on the military, at least in the short term. His own tumultuous history with the military, which besides his ouster also led to prison time and an 8 year exile to Saudi Arabia may compel him, despite his public proclamations, to adopt a more cautious approach to civil-military relations and allow the military to retain control over the foreign policy.

In light of this, only a shift in the Pakistan military’s strategic thinking could warrant a new approach to Afghanistan. But there is no sign of that happening either. Rawalpindi’s Afghanistan policy is still shaped by its objective of wanting a regime in Kabul that is favourable towards Pakistan, limits India’s influence and does not raise the Pashtunistan issue. It is for this reason that despite not wanting to see a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to see the group as a strategic asset and the only Afghan faction that could still help secure its interests.

It is yet to dismantle, or take any steps in that direction, the terror infrastructure on its soil, which has been used to target India and Afghanistan. Its efforts to construct military infrastructure along the Durand Line, which have led to massive anti-Pakistan protests in Afghanistan in the past week, have also been interpreted in Afghanistan as attempts to impose a pliant regime in Kabul, which have further widened the trust deficit between the two countries.

Pakistan’s attempts to maintain strict control over the release of Taliban prisoners, the basis for assuming a strategic shift on the part of Rawalpindi, also highlights its tendency to ignore the demands of the Afghan government in order to secure its own interests. Despite the repeated demands of the Afghan High Peace Council, Pakistan has refused to release Mullah Baradar, a former Taliban official, who is not only considered to be staunchly opposed to Pakistan, but also attempted to bypass Rawalpindi and negotiate with the Afghan government and the US directly. Instead, Pakistan has chosen to release only those prisoners that it believes it can control and manipulate.

The Pakistan military’s approach to Afghanistan, thus, is clearly not in sync with what the Afghan government wants or expects. This was clearly expressed by Karzai to the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani last month at Brussels when he warned him not to expect any further talks with Afghanistan if its demands were not met. The domestic opposition in Afghanistan against its neighbour has also increased in recent times. This is evident in the suggestions of the Afghan Members of Parliament to the Karzai administration to rethink its policy towards Pakistan. This was a clear expression of scepticism on their part that they do not expect the Pakistan strategy, and consequently, the Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, to change anytime soon.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangladesh: Safety, a concern in the ready-made garments sector

Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

The collapse of an eight-storied building in Saver, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, which killed more than 1100 people on April 24 has turned world’s attention to the safety of the readymade garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh. The building had housed along hundreds of shops, a branch of a reputed private bank and four ready-made garment factories. In these factories, thousands of workers used to work every day and the production in these factories were on when the incident occurred. Most of the victims were workers of these RMG factories. The building collapse has unearthed the substandard working conditions of the RMG factories, especially safety is an issue which immediate attention.

Bangladesh is world’s second largest exporter of RMG after China. The country takes pride in its RGM industry, which has grown manifold since its conception in the early Eighties. The RGM sector is the largest export sector of Bangladesh and a major source of foreign exchange. The country earns $20 billion from export of RMG. The sector is also the largest industrial employer in the country. It employs around four-million people, a large portion of which are women.

The sector also is one of the major drivers of social change -- a means for poverty- alleviation and empowerment of women. It opened employment opportunity to poor rural women, who normally works in these factories, which make them economically independent and self reliant. The employment opportunity in the garment industry in many cases has been focused as one of the major factors for the improvement of the condition of the women in the Bangladeshi society. Certainly the sector has many positives for Bangladesh.

Can safety and security in the working place be overlooked? It is not the first incident that lives have been lost in the RMG factories. In November 2012, 112 workers were burnt alive in a factory with no fire exit. In 2010, 27 people died and 100 were injured in an incident of fire in a RGG factory. Just a few days after the building-collapse, eight persons, including the owner of an RMG factory, died in an incident of fire. Studies suggest that the RGM sector is the most accident-prone sectors in Bangladesh. In the last one decade, 6406 people have died in workplaces. In 2000, 301 persons died in work places and the number tripled in 2012. Nine hundred and six persons died in 2012 and most of them were in the RMG sector.

The RGM sector in Bangladesh has thrived due to western developed countries increasing the propensity of reducing the cost of production and increasing productivity. Simplest solution was relocation to a place where wages are lower. The RMG sector is also a very labour intensive sector. Considering the requirement of the industry, Bangladesh was ideal choice as it not only provided cheap labour but also requisite work force for the industry. International brands like Wal-Mart, Gap, Primark, Marks and Spencer’s all outsource their product from Bangladesh. 80 percent of country’s RGM exports are to the US and Europe.

International consulting firm McKinsey & Company has indicated that the country’s RMG sector has the potential of doubling its growth in the next ten years and the potential of becoming an outsourcing hotspot. The rise of production cost in China also have added to the country’s growth potential as many more international brands are turning towards Bangladesh. The present incidence restricts Bangladesh’s potentiality.

Today questions are being raised about justifiability of the cheap fashion at the cost of lives of people. In Bangladesh, there are 4500 RMG factories of which 3500 are in the working of which 2381 have been inspected by the government authorities. Inspections have revealed startling violation of the government norms by many of these RMG factories. As many as 900 of these factories have been working, in violation of labour laws, factory laws and building laws. Besides, around 300 of RMG factories are working without any government licence.

Another interesting fact about Bangladesh’s RMG sector is that its wages are one of the lowest in the world. An average RMG worker earns $ 40 monthly. Price-compatibility has been a major excuse by the factory-owners for the low wages and also for the maintenance of safety standard. Government action against these scrupulous RMG factories are hampering due to shortage of qualified officials and bureaucratic delays. International outcry about the safety standard has led to promise of safety by some of these international brand in truly welcoming. The government has also amended labour law of 2006 allowing some facilities for the RMG workers including the right to form trade union which was not allowed till now in the garment sector.

These developments are certainly a positive step in the way of uplifting the conditions of the RMG workers who have been behind the vast fashion industry, which is dressing up the world specially the rich developed countries and contributing in the economy of the impoverish country which aspires to become a middle income country by 2020. It is now the task of the international community to convince the government to continue with the process of ensuring safety in the work- place so that efforts to improve the conditions of RMG workers do not lose its steam.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN team visit

A high-level UN delegation led by UN Assistant Secretar- General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco visited Bangladesh to break the political impasse. During the four-day visit, Fernandez-Taranco held a series of meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the chairperson of the main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP) Begum Khaleda Zia, leaders of other political parties, representatives of civil society and the media.

Fernandez-Taranco stressed the need for an early solution to the issue of a polls-time government through dialogue to ensure a free, fair and peaceful national election. "Our concern is that time is running out, and that the quicker the dialogue starts, I think the easier it would be to find a solution. Parties need to work together to find a mutually agreed solution through dialogue," he observed. Fernandez-Taranco further added that if there is a political will and both sides make compromises, a solution could be worked out. "The solution has to be home-grown," he opined.

Bangladesh is facing a political logjam as the two major political parties are in loggerheads over the nature of the government under which the elections will take place. Ruling Awami League wants the election to be held under a democratic government while opposition BNP is pushing for caretaker government. In fact BNP has threatened that it will not participate in the election unless its demand fulfilled.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Safety agreement for garment retailers

In a major development to ensure workers’ safety in the readymade garment (RMG) factories twenty-five retailers including Hennes & Mauritz AB (HMB) and Inditex SA (ITX) have pledged at least $60 million over five years to monitor safety in Bangladesh factories. This accord is the fallout of the building collapsed that killed more than 1100 people, most of being RMG workers.

The pledge calls for the appointment of a committee that will oversee safety inspections and a training programme for workers, managers and security staff. Companies would then be required to ensure their suppliers have enough money to repair and renovate factories. The cost to retailers will be around $ 500,000 a year that each retailer has agreed to contribute for the five years of the agreement.

Retailers were discussing agreements on improving labour conditions in Bangladesh both before and after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex -- the worst industrial incident in the country’s history. The disaster killed at least 1,127 people and followed a series of deadly fires that already had prompted activists to push Western retailers to take more responsibility for work conditions there.

Marks & Spencer Group Plc, (MKS) Loblaw Cos. (L) and Associated British Foods Plc (ABF)’s Primark clothing chain are among retailers that have accepted the agreement.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 16, 2013; The Daily Star, May 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US concern about war crimes trial

US Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the State Department has said this week that although progress and improvement have been made with regards to the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, his country has still concern about the process. Rapp said that he is not satisfied with the process and concern about the penalty.

Emphasising the importance of fair process, Rapp said, "It’s important that these cases are done fairly. People want them done quickly. When you have really serious crime I know people say why. There cannot be short-cut." Rapp further added, "There cannot be a process that depends on politics. Guilt or innocence cannot be determined by polls, by demonstration in the street and certainly by not the threat of violence."

Bangladesh has initiated the process of prosecuting the criminals of 1971 war committed crimes against humanity. Trial of the war criminal resulted arrests of many top leaders of religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami including its chief Motiur Rahman Nizami. Jamaat is denying the charges and claiming that these trials are politically motivated. Hence, many are questioning the motive behind these trials.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, May 16, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Power export to India to earn Nu 45 b

Bhutan’s yearly gross revenue from hydropower export to India would be around Nu 45 billion by early 2018, according to estimates made by a private research firm. By that time, Punatsangchu I, II and Mangdechu are expected to be commissioned and generating power. While these three new projects would earn around Nu 34 billion annually, the projects existing today -Tala, Chukha, Kurichu and Basochu -earn Nu 11 billion annually.

The estimated revenue figure has been arrived after considering total generation by each project and a unit price of generation. According to the generation tariff revision proposal by the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), the estimated price of electricity for Punatsangchu I is estimated to be Nu 3.49 a unit, Nu 2.97 a unit for Punatsangchu II and Nu 2.79 a unit for Mangdechu.

The tariff indicated in the proposal has been arrived at according to the norms set by India’s central electricity regulatory commission (CERC). Its total project cost, including interest accumulated during construction, works out to Nu 110 billion.

< class="text11verdana">, May 18, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian FS reviews projects

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai arrived in Thimpu on Wednesday to hold consultations with senior Bhutanese officials during which status of India-assisted projects and other key bilateral issues will be discussed.

Mathai was scheduled to meet the Chief Adviser of the Interim Government Lyonpo Sonam Tobgay and call on the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck apart from meeting other senior officials, during his three-day visit.

Earlier this year, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, during his visit to Bhutan, had assured the top leadership that India will not let their projects slow down. In 2013, Rs 3614 crore has been earmarked for Bhutan as compared to Rs 3409.06 crore in the revised budget for 2012-13 for various projects and other activities.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI, May 15, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rail connectivity in SAARC

The construction of an 11-km railway track at two points of the Indian border can open up a new vista in Bangladesh’s rail connectivity with India, Nepal and Bhutan. The link connecting Chilahati in Bangladesh and Haldibari in India has been abandoned since the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. The other transit route is between Burimari in Bangladesh and Changrabandha in India.

Transport Ministers of the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), in its regional rail connectivity plans, have spared the two routes, considering the benefits in trade involving four countries.

They have picked up the Indian rail link of Birganj (India-Nepal border)-Raxaul-Katihar and Singabad with Bangladesh’s Rohanpur-Rajshahi-Abdulpur-Ishwardi and the Chittagong Port route and vice versa for Nepal-India-Bangladesh direct rail communications. But this route needs a transshipment facility in Pabna’s Ishwardi as the Bangabandhu multipurpose bridge has load restrictions that bar Indian trains from directly carrying heavy containers destined for India or Nepal.

Railway officials say rehabilitation of only 7.5 km of broad-gauge rail link between Chilahati and Haldibari points can open up huge opportunities for intra-SAARC trade and investment. A couple of months ago, the railway ministry proposed to the commerce ministry to include Chilahati-Haldibari in the Bangladesh-Bhutan transit agreement.

Landlocked Nepal and Bhutan have also shown interests in using Bangladesh’s southwestern Mongla port for international trade. The railway authorities in its proposal have said both Chilahati-Haldibari and the Burimari-Changrabandha routes would attract Nepal and Bhutan to use Mongla port for regional trade. The project, already selected for implementation, would cost over $210 million, according to the proposal.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dhaka Tribune, May 11, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">630-tonne sugar missing

The Phuentsholing police have released two non-Bhutanese men who were detained in connection with sixty-three tonnes of sugar gone missing from the Food Corporation of Bhutan godown.

The men were detained on May 8 following a complaint by an official stationed at the FCB depot in Phuentsholing on 630 quintals of sugar gone missing while he was on leave between February and March. The men work at the FCB depot. The shortfall was detected when the quantity of sugar imported did not tally with the sugar that went out of depot.

Allegedly the two suspects were seen with few others loading the sugar by hiding it under the rice bags in a truck and taking it to the adjacent border town of Jaigaon. When questioned by police the suspects kept saying their only work is to load and unload goods at the godown. They were released in the absence of evidence.

The FCB has started an internal audit to investigate and establish what is missing from the depot. "We’re not sure of what products and how much of it were found to be missing," a FCB official said. "We don’t want to blame anyone nor accuse anyone before we get any information from the internal audit."

< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 13, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two Ministers resign

Two Miinisters have resigned Friday as the Congress party-led government moved to limit the damage from corruption scandals with less than a year until national elections. Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar have resigned, a statement from the government said late Saturday.

It added that C.P. Joshi would replace Mr. Bansal, while continuing in his current position as minister for road transport and highways, and that Kapil Sibal would now also handle the law ministry in addition to the communications and information technology ministry.

Opposition parties have been demanding Mr. Bansal’s and Mr. Kumar’s resignations over separate corruption-related cases.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 10, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Private sector in IAF project

India has kick-started another mega defence project by floating the global tender for the over Rs 13,000-crore acquisition of 56 transport aircraft to replace the ageing Avro fleet of IAF.

The project, under which the first 16 aircraft will be bought off-the-shelf and the rest 40 will be manufactured in India, breaks new ground by specifying that the foreign aviation major eventually selected will have to tie-up with an Indian private sector company to produce the planes.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, May 10, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Navy to induct Boeing P-81 this year

The Indian Navy is all set to induct a Boeing P-8I into its force this year, making it the second navy after the US to have such aircrafts, a senior naval official said. The first long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, P-8I, would be inducted this year, the official said.

"The Indian Navy would be only the second operator of this aircraft after US Navy to operate the P8 Poseidon," he said adding that with the Russian-made TU 142M aircraft, Boeing P-8Is were contracted in the year 2009.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, May 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pak probe demand rejected

As the mortal remains of Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah Ranjay was repatriated to Pakistan by a special flight, India rejected Islamabad’s demand for an international probe into the assault of its prisoner. But the barbaric event, which was some kind of a retaliatory killing, has embarrassed India diminishing its own standing.

Sanaullah was brutally assaulted at Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu, barely a day after Indian prisoner Sarabjit Sing died after being similarly attacked at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. Sarabjit was on death row and battled for life for a few days before succumbing to his injuries.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, May 10, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Industrial production up

India says its industrial production for March grew at a faster pace after a slowdown the previous month. The new figures offered some good news for Asia’s third-largest economy amid worries over stalling economic growth.

The country’s statistics office said Friday that March industrial output was 2.5 percent higher than a year earlier. It grew 0.6 percent in February. Manufacturing growth of 3.2 percent led the improvement. But growth in industrial production for India’s fiscal year that ended March 31 was just 1 percent, reflecting the broader economic slowdown.

The government has forecast economic growth of 5 percent for the fiscal year, the lowest in a decade.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 10, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Forex reserves down by $2 b

India’s foreign exchange (forex) reserves decreased by $2.06 billion to $294.30 billion for the week ended May 3, according to data released by the central bank. The reserves had risen by $1.60 billion to $296.37 billion for the week ended April 26.

The foreign currency assets (FCA) - the biggest component of the forex reserves - fell by $299.7 million at $263.72 billion, according to the weekly statistical supplement released by the Reserve Bank of India.

The FCA had risen by $1.61 billion at $264.02 billion in the previous week.

The central bank said FCA in US dollar terms included the effect of appreciation or depreciation of non-US currencies held in reserve, such as the pound sterling, euro and yen.

Gold reserves dipped heavily by $ 1.71 billion at $23.97 billion. The value of gold reserves remained the same during week ended April 26, at $25.69 billion.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 11, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kabul seeks stronger military ties

As India prepares to host Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai next week-in what will be his second visit in six months-Afghanistan said on Thursday that it is looking at enhanced defence engagements with New Delhi, including the supply of lethal military equipment.

The Indian government has so far been reluctant to offer more military help to Afghanistan, restricting itself to mostly training Afghan military staff.

Mr Karzai is expected to arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday after attending a function in Punjab where he will receive a doctorate from a local university. President Pranab Mukherjee is also expected to attend the function.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, May 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Trade deficit with China increases

India has raised strong concerns with China over rising bilateral trade deficit that has crossed $40 billion in 2012-13 despite promises by Beijing of initiating steps to contain it and has demanded early action.

Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce Chen Jian is scheduled to meet Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao next week in New Delhi to discuss how to move forward on proposals flagged by India last year including greater market access in pharmaceuticals, agriculture and the IT sector to bridge the trade gap.

This will be a preparatory meeting before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit on May 20 where the two sides are expected make a number of announcements, many of them related to improving bilateral trade ties.

"We have expressed our displeasure to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce for not responding to the proposals made by India last year during the Chinese Commerce Minister’s visit. China has indicated that this time during the Premier’s visit it would sign a formal protocol and have a work plan for all the working groups," a Commerce Department official told Business Line.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 9, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM invites Sharif

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on Sunday quick to congratulate PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif on his decisive victory in Pakistan’s general elections, which will give him a third term as that country’s prime minister and invited him to India at a "mutually convenient time".

In an unusually swift response even while counting of votes was under way in Pakistan, Dr Singh conveyed India’s desire to work with him to chart a new course in Indo-Pakistan relations. A PMO statement said:"The Prime Minister extended his congratulations to Sharif and his party for their emphatic victory in Pakistan elections."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Asian Age, May 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GoM set up to insulate CBI

Days after Supreme Court’s scathing observation that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was like a ’caged parrot’, the government today (May 14) formed a Group of Ministers (GoM) to draft a law to insulate the investigating agency from external influence and grant greater autonomy.

Finance Minister P Chidamabaram would head the panel that includes External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal who is holding additional charge of the Law Ministry, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy, an official release said. The Ministry of Personnel is also the controlling ministry for the CBI and functions under the Prime Minister’s Office.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, May 15, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MDP willing to discuss interim govt

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has announced the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) willingness to discuss enacting an interim government with the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which the party believes is essential for free and fair elections to occur.

The MDP has desired the establishment of an interim government since the controversial transfer of power of February 7, 2012 and is open to holding discussions with the PPM to establish a transitional government prior to September’s Presidential elections, Nasheed stated during a press conference held at the Mookai Hotel in Male’ today (May 16).

"If PPM wants to bring in an interim government, we are ready to hold discussions. MDP wants an interim government. We at MDP have always wanted an interim government. But we need support from other parties to do that in parliament. If PPM is so inclined, we are ready to hold discussions with PPM to achieve this," Nasheed said. "For free and fair elections , we are encouraged that PPM has pledged to stop Waheed from campaigning on state funds," he added.

The MDP is continuing its call for the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) recommendations to be implemented, with the supervision of the international community. Nasheed stated he was disappointed CoNI recommendations have yet to be enacted -especially regarding holding to account those who mutinied against the government and committed various brutal acts, including destroying the MDP’s headquarters.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, May 15, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Opposition to licence for Sri Lankan airline

Local airlines have opposed granting permission to Sri Lankan to conduct domestic flights between Seenu Gan and Male’. Maldivian, the country’s national airline, stated that they do not support international airlines to be allowed to conduct flights in local routes and that if allowed, it would pose great obstacles for the future of the Maldives aviation industry. Maldivian said that the move is likely to drive certain local aviation companies to bankruptcy.

"Such a situation would prove that all the efforts made by this company and other private parties to develop and maintain the Maldives aviation industry to have been efforts made in vain. It will plunge the country’s economy into irremediable loss," a statement released by Maldivian stated. However, International airlines are welcome to fly to the Maldives, Maldivian said, and that they welcome Sri Lankan to fly straight from Colombo to Gan in Addu City. It would have immense economic benefits for the City and the country as whole, Maldivian said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, May 16, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President Thein Sein to visit US

Myanmar’s president will soon make the first state visit to the United States, first by any President in almost half a century, state television announced Monday. It did not say exactly when President Thein Sein would travel to the US.

The trip will be the first to Washington by a head of the country since military leader Ne Win was invited in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. Thein Sein in September flew to New York, where he addressed the UN General Assembly, following a series of visits to Myanmar by US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Obama paid his own visit to Myanmar in November, when he praised the nation for its transition but called for progress on reforms, particularly in the treatment of ethnic minorities.

< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP, May 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rohingyas die in boat-capsize

A boat carrying about 100 Rohingyas capsized off western Myanmar with many feared drowned at the start of a mass evacuation from low-lying regions ahead of an approaching storm, a U.N. official said on Tuesday.

The boat struck rocks off Pauktaw township in Rakhine State and sank late on Monday, Barbara Manzi, head of the Myanmar office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. She said an unknown number of people were missing.

Kirsten Mildren, a spokeswoman for OCHA in Bangkok, said she understood there was one big boat with an engine towing two smaller, wooden boats without engines, and that between 100 and 150 people were on the three vessels. The approaching storm is a tropical depression named Mahasen which is expected to strengthen into a cyclone.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, May 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to reduce poverty by 2015

The government is trying to reduce the poverty from twenty six per cent to sixteen per cent by 2015, President Thein Sein said at a ceremony organised or the microfinance activity of the Ministry of Cooperatives to lend K5.5 billion for rural and urban grassroots and to sell them farm equipments worth K364 million on instalments in Mandalay.

An eight-point rural development and poverty alleviation scheme has been in operation to bridge the development gap between urban and rural areas in undertaking the national development endeavours and the need to promote cooperative societies as the effective contributor to national economic growth, President added.

The microfinance work undertook by Ministry of Cooperatives is not only intended for welfare of people for immediate future but also helping them to stand on their own without needing to take out loans for certain periods of time. The ministry needed over 1,000 billion K to implement the plan and the government planned to open microfinance bank and obtain loans, aids and grants services from overseas, he addressed.

The ministry will lend 100,000 K per family and if they repay the loan in full when the time is due, the ministry will give out 500,000 K per family. People will be charged the service fee at 2.5 K for 100,000 K, Kyaw San, Union Minister for Cooperatives said. The ministry lent over 55 billion K for 1770 cooperative societies in Mandalay region in the ceremony.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Eleven News Media, May 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Post and telecom to go private

State-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication will become a private enterprise, with the eventual goal being its transformation into a public company, the Myanmar Times reported on Monday.

Minister for Communications and Information Technology U Myat Hein said that the new company would be called Myanmar Public Telecom, inviting companies gathered in Naypyidaw to help establish the firm at an undisclosed date.

After MPT becomes a public company it will be one of four private telecommunications providers in the country, along with Yatanarpon Teleport and two other as yet undetermined operators, the Times reported.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Irrawaddy, May 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Shan conflict may delay gas transit to China

The continued conflict in northern Shan State will likely delay the first shipments of natural gas from the Bay of Bengal through the Shwe Gas pipeline to China.

Although, construction of the almost 500-mile trans-Myanmar pipeline is on track to be completed by the end of May, renewed clashes between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army South threaten to derail the transfer of firstly natural gas from Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State through northern Shan State to Kunming, followed by the piping of oil on the same route scheduled for later this year.

A senior Energy Ministry official is quoted by Reuters as saying that despite the completion of the pipeline, Naypyitaw was still unsure when the situation along the route will allow it to operate.

The statement, which was made by an anonymous official, contrasts with comments made by the vice-governor of Yunnan Province last week when he said that the natural gas pipeline would begin pumping natural gas in the first half of this year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima, May 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">More political prisoners released

Twenty three prisoners, including at least fifteen political prisoners, were released from detention on Friday by Burma’s President Thein Sein ahead of a landmark meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

Ten political prisoners were released from Burma’s notorious Insein Prison near Rangoon, where many opponents of the former military regime were sent, according to Ye Aung, a member of the Former Political Prisoners Group who is working with the government to review the detention of political prisoners.

He said five other released prisoners were members of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), one of the key opposition groups that formed from the 1988 uprising.

Burma’s nominally civilian government has freed thousands of prisoners, including several hundred political prisoners, as part of sweeping reforms in the transition from military rule. Most of the mass amnesties, including the release of at least 59 political prisoners in April, have coincided with decisions in the West to suspend or lift economic sanctions.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Irrawaddy, May 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt-KIO peace talks resume

A delegation from the Myanmar government is set to meet for negotiations with representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in state capital Myitkyina in the last week of May.

A senior broker from the Peace Making Work Committee, Hla Maung Shwe, told Mizzima this week that the government team, led by Minister Aung Min, had approved a list of demands submitted by the KIO.

The scheduled Myitkyina meeting will be the eighth round of talks between the two sides since a ceasefire fell apart in June 2011.

One of the hurdles to restarting negotiations appears to have been the invitation of neutral observers to the talks. Hla Maung Shwe did not reveal which observers were to be invited, but he confirmed that the government had not objected to anybody on the KIO list.

However, Kachin peace broker San Aung said that the KIO had invited representatives from China, the UN, the US and the UK, but that Beijing had disapproved the involvement of the US and Britain.

Meanwhile, delegates from the Shan State Army- South (RCSS/SSA) and Minister Aung Min met at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon on Monday.

In a further development, it has been learned that Minister Thein Zaw, the deputy chairman of the Peace Making Work Committee, joined a government delegation in meeting with the United Wa State Army and Shan State Army- North last week.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima, May 17, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Teacher freed from Qatar jail

Qatari authorities have released the Nepali national arrested for allegedly insulting Islam. Dorje Gurung, a former Qatar Academy chemistry teacher, was freed from the Al Rayyan police station on May 12, Doha News reported. Qatari police had arrested Gurung on May 1 after some students accused him of speaking against Islam. He was summoned to Doha’s lower court before release.

Gurung’s arrest followed widespread campaign in and outside Qatar for his release. Gurung’s colleagues and well-wishers had posted online petitions, condemning the arrest. All charges against him are to be dropped, his close associates have said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Kathmandu Post, May 13, 2013; Doha News, May 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Undo political appointments: NC

Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML have formally demanded scrapping of all "political appointments" made by the erstwhile Baburam Bhattarai-led government if free and fair elections are to be held.

Making their demand during the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) meeting held at its secretariat on May 16, the two parties said that the "political appointments" were aimed at influencing the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) elections.

However, United CPN (Maoist) and United Democratic Madhesi Front-- coalition partners in the Bhattarai-led government-- have rejected the proposal outright.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Republica, May 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Plane plunges into river

A Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) Twin Otter crashed at Jomsom Airport in Mustang district on May 16 morning while attempting to land. Although no casualties were reported, almost all on board sustained injuries. The flying crew has sustained the most serious injuries, but their condition is said to be stable.

Twenty-one people, including three crew members, were on board the chartered plane that skidded off the runway and plunged 25 meters down into the Kali Gandaki river. As the aircraft lost control, the right wing and an engine were thrown out of the fuselage while the cockpit was totally damaged.

The crew-Capt Deependra Pradhan, Co-pilot Suresh KC and flight attendant Santa Maya Tamang who sustained serious injuries-were airlifted to Gandaki Hospital in Pokhara, NAC officials said. The passengers were later flown to Pokhara where they underwent treatment.

< class="text11Verdana">Source:, May 16, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nawaz to become PM for third time

In its first post-independence democratic transition, in May 11 elections Pakistanis overwhelming chose to return the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party to power. According to recent reports, the PML-N gained 124-130 of 272 National Assembly seats. In a stunning rebuke, the Pakistan People’s Party won only 31 NA seats. Meanwhile, making strides, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf garnered 27 seats.

PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharief and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s (JUI-F) Chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman have apparently agreed to form coalition governments at the Centre and in Balochistan, although not in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Reportedly, incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also wants the PML-F to join the centre coalition, giving the ruling majority even more clout in the NA. Negotiations for coalition formations at the centre and in the provinces are still ongoing.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, May 13, 2013; The Dawn, May 16, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nawaz meets Imran

After a bitterly contested election campaign, incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited ailing PTI chairman Imran Khan at Shaukat Khanum Hospital. Despite the apparent political theatrics, Khan did caution Sharif on the primary importance of resolving the Taliban issue in order to restore peace to Pakistan.

After the meeting, Sharif said the two party leaders had reconciled, noting, "We will play a friendly match once he (Imran) fully recovers." Indicative of the rapprochement, PML-N will likely not contest PTI’s ability to form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While Khan has been mentioned a possible opposition leader in the National Assembly, current indications are that this position will likely go to a member of the PPP.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Nation, May 15, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PPP takes Sindh

Despite a disappointing election, the Pakistan People’s Part did take 70 of 130 provincial assembly seats in Sindh, and it will take some of the 38 seats reserved for minorities and women. Despite rumours to the contrary, President Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto have said that PPP will take on independent and minority party allies into a ruling Sindh coalition, including Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

Nisar Ahmad Khuro, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, and Owais Muzaffar Tappi have been rumoured as possible chief minister candidates, while Syed Qaim Ali Shah (who twice was chief minister himself), will probably be offered the speaker’s post.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Dawn, May 13, 2013; The Dawn, May 15, 2013; The Dawn, May 15, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PTI conquers K-P

In a surprising result, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf beat mainstream political parties and expectations in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province in the May 11 elections. PTI took 35 seats in the provincial assembly, with the next largest contingent coming from JUI-F, at 12 seats. PTI needs 64 seats to form a majority, necessitating the formation of a coalition government. PTI may face challenges given the party’s relative lack of governing experience.

Trying to stymie PTI’s ability to form a coalition in K-P, JUI-F Chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman apparently contacted PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif to form a coalition, but this overture has supposedly been rejected. PTI’s Chairman Imran Khan nominated Pervaiz Khattak to serve as provincial chief minister.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, May 13, 2013; The Dawn, May 14, 2013; The Dawn, May 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gilani’s abducted son yet to be found

On May 16th, police in Nowshera rescued Abdul Wahab, who claimed he was being held with Ali Haider Gilani, son of the former Pakistani Prime Minister. However, authorities did not find Gilani during the raid. The operation was the result of a phone intercept, originating from the Waziristan tribal region, which mentioned Gilani by name.

According to a law enforcement source, Gilani is being held by a new TTP group called Tora Shpa (Dark Night). The group was apparently formed for the specific purpose of raising funds for TTP through kidnappings and extortion. Two suspects were arrested during the May 16th operation, and investigations are ongoing.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Dawn, May 16, 2013; The Nation, May 17, 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India’s caution on land takeover

India has cautioned Sri Lanka against the Army acquiring private land in the Northern Province for the so-called High Security Zones. In a telephone conversation with his Sri Lankan counterpart Prof GL Peiris today, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid emphasised that this will not be in accordance with the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and such a move will not be helpful.

Official sources in New Delhi said Khurshid expressed his concern regarding media reports which have claimed that some consideration is being given to removal of land and police powers from the provinces prior to the elections. Khurshid urged the Sri Lankan Government not to take any such step in the light of its own commitments relating to the 13th Amendment and its expressed intention to build upon it.

Khurshid raised the issue of 26 Indian fishermen who remain in detention in Sri Lanka and sought their early release. He also requested for the release of five Indian fishermen who have been in detention in Sri Lanka since November 2012. He emphasized on the need for reviewing their cases and releasing them at an early date.

Prof Peiris suggested that it would be useful to have a meeting of the Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen associations to try and resolve issues among the primary stakeholders in the matter.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Island, May 18, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian investments top $1 b

Indian companies have invested nearly $ 1 billion in Sri Lanka since 2003 and this figure could rise above $ 2 billion in the next five years, outgoing Indian envoy to Colombo Ashok K Kantha has said. With investment inflows of $ 160 million in 2012, nearly $ 2 billion worth of FDI had been committed by Indian companies for the next five years or so, he added.

Addressing a trade gathering here yesterday, Kantha highlighted that in 2011-12, India’s imports from Sri Lanka went up by almost 45 per cent to cross $ 720 million, making Sri Lanka the largest source of merchandise from the South Asian region for India. This was a big jump from the $ 45 million imports in 2000-01, when Sri Lanka occupied 4th rank as an import source for India in the region.

Also Sri Lanka’s exports to India had multiplied by over 16 times in this period, while India’s exports to Sri Lanka had gone up by less than seven times. "There was thus no doubt that the FTA had brought significant benefits to both sides, but more to Sri Lanka. A number of top Indian companies had displayed high interest in Sri Lanka, investing in the country across sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, services, and construction," the envoy said.

Air connectivity had gone up manifold and there were about 120 flights a week between Colombo and eight destinations in India; almost one-fifth of tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka was from India.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, May 18, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mixed reaction to Nawaz Sharif’s victory

The victory of Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections has met a mixed reaction in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called up Sharif to congratulate him on his electoral triumph. Karzai also expressed hope that the change in government would imply a fresh start for the Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. He urged the incoming government to help accelerate the Afghan peace process and show more sincerity in the fight against terrorism.

Karzai said, "We hope that the new elected government provides the ground for peace and brotherhood with Afghanistan, and to sincerely cooperate in rooting out terrorist sanctuaries so that our two brotherly nations could be saved from this menace". Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin also said that the democratic transition in Pakistan "presents a good opportunity for the opening of yet another chapter of dialogue and cooperation".

However, some members of the upper house of the parliament warned against expecting any changes in Pakistan’s strategy towards Afghanistan. For instance, the Senate Chairman Fazal Hadi Muslimyar claimed that irrespective of who is in power they would be unable to do anything "because they have a specific strategy on Afghanistan and the government has little say in it". The MPs called upon the government to rethink its policy towards Pakistan.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Khaama Press, May 12, 2013; Pajhwok, May 12, 2013; Pajhwok, May 14, 2013; Tolo News, May 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US accepts Durand Line

The US Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns during a visit to Kabul told reporters that the US recognises the Durand Line as the formal border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Late last year, Marc Grossman, the US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan had made similar statements, which were heavily criticised by the Afghan government. However, Burns said, "Our position regarding Durand Line does not change since it was expressed by Mark Grossman when he was here".

The Line, which was drawn in 1893, has never been accepted by Afghanistan as an international border and is one of the more controversial issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent border skirmishes and infrastructure construction by the Pakistan army along the border have been condemned by the Afghan government for what it sees as attempts by Pakistan to force Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the formal border.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, May 12, 2013; Tolo News, May 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Revenue from mines missing

According to the audit report of the Extractive Industries Transparencies Initiatives (EITI), revenue worth AFN 285 million from Afghanistan’s natural resources has gone missing. The audit was conducted for the years 2009 and 2011.

EITI officials on Wednesday said that taxation documents of the private companies do not match with the documents available in the ministry of finance of Afghanistan. Several private companies including Aynak Copper, Mesaq-e-Sharq, Khoshang Brothers have issues and difference in their financial accounts.

Head of EITI, Bashir Khan Salehi said, "The main issue is that international accountibility systems are not implemented in Afghanistan and this has created a major problem".

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Khaama Press, May 16, 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Medha Chaturvedi;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Daniel Rubin and Louis Ritzinger;
Afghanistan:Aryaman Bhatnagar

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