MonitorsPublished on Oct 18, 2013
The registration process for the Afghan presidential elections came to a close last week. As many as 27 candidates have filed nomination and the vetting process, by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC),
Afghanistan: Gearing up for presidential polls
< class="heading1">Analysis

The registration process for the Afghan presidential elections came to a close last week. As many as 27 candidates have filed nomination and the vetting process, by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), has already started with the final list expected to be released in mid-November.

The fact that 27 candidates have registered does highlight the widening political arena in Afghanistan, a strong desire to continue the democratic process that was started in 2001, and even though some of the candidates may be ruled out by the ECC, the sheer numbers present a wider choice before the electorate. It is, however, important to discuss some of the concerns that have been raised following the registration process.

A fractured mandate?

None of the candidates is a clear favourite, nor does any of them have a nation-wide appeal. A survey conducted by Tolo News clearly highlighted this fact. While Dr. Abdullah Abdullah emerged as the favoured candidate, only 21 percent of the respondents considered him to be the best candidate. According to the survey, 20 percent of the support for Ashraf Ghani comes from the North and Northeastern parts of the country, the perceived sphere of influence of his running-mate Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord.

In the absence of a wide support-base, and a proper party system akin to other South Asian countries, the success of a candidate is determined to a large extent by the selection of the first and second vice-presidential running- mates. For instance, a Pashtun candidate is likely to select running-mates belonging to two different ethnic groups - Hazara, Tajik or Uzbek - with the aim of enhancing his vote-share among those ethnic groups as well. In 2009, President Hamid Karzai had contested elections with Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik warlord, and Karim Khalili, a Hazara politician, as his running- mates. Similarly the prospects of a non-Pashtun candidate to be successful in elections without a Pashtun as a running-mate would be extremely slim.

Such a practice clearly highlights the fragmented nature of the Afghan society, and is not very different from the electoral strategies prevailing in some of the other South Asian countries. It does present an opportunity to the minority ethnic groups to have access to power at the Centre as well as ensuring that one group alone is not capable of monopolising all political power.

Internal divisions

Such a practice and the sheer number of candidates at the same time have led to divisions within political groupings in the country, which in turn has led to the fragmentation of the electorate making it difficult for a consensus candidate to emerge. While a number of the Karzai-supporters like Abdul Sayyaf, Zalmai Rassoul, Ashraf Ghani and Qayum Karzai are contesting elections against one another, the grand Opposition coalition, the ’Electoral Alliance of Afghanistan’, which was formed in August, has also been fragmented. The members of this Alliance are now contesting elections, either as presidential candidates or as running-mates of other candidates, including the Karzai loyalists.

Moreover, within this grand alliance, divisions have occurred within individual parties as well. For instance, the prominent leaders of the National Front of Afghanistan - Abdullah Abdullah, Dostum, Ahmad Zia Massoud and Mohammed Mohaqeq - are contesting against one another. While Mohaqeq is one of the running-mates of Abdullah, Dostum is the running-mate of Ashraf Ghani and Massoud of Zalmai Rassoul. Similarly, there seems to be a division within the political wing of the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar-led Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA). While a senior leader of the party Qutbuddin Hilal is contesting as a presidential candidate, another senior leader Mohammad Khan is a running mate of Abdullah.

Besides the division of ethnic votes among a large number of people, the votes may be further split along tribal lines as well. For instance, Ashraf Ghani, Hashmat Ghani and Sarwar Ahmadzai all of whom belong to the same tribe - Ahmadzai - are all contesting the elections.

The fragmentation of the electorate has raised some concerns within the country. For instance, a recently held jirga, convened by Sebghatullah Mojadidi, a former Afghan President, raised this concern of the electorate getting diluted due to the multiplicity of candidates. There is a fear that such dilution could result in no candidate getting a clear majority - a plausible scenario already highlighted by the Tolo News survey - which could possibly result in a second round of elections. The sheer financial burden of holding elections - one shouldered almost entirely by the international community - along with the high security risks, as it is makes it a herculean task to hold one round of elections. A second round would not only increase the financial and security burden, but would also delay the transition of political power to a new Afghan government. The jirga, thus, urged for the need to reduce the number of candidates to five.

Contentious candidates

Concerns have also been raised about the background of some of the candidates, especially the ones that are considered to be among the favourites. Either the candidates themselves or their running-mates have been accused of human rights abuses or war crimes or have been involved in major corruption scandals, thereby, raising questions about the perceived legitimacy of the next government. In particular, it is the presence of regional warlords and former mujahideen commanders that have raised alarm bells, especially in the West.

For instance, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is seen as the most controversial of all the candidates. He is said to have played a leading role in enabling al-Qaeda to establish training camps in the country during the 1980’s and 1990’s and was also named, in the 9/11 Commission Report, as one of the mentors of the terrorists responsible for the act. Moreover, the 2002 ’Bali bombers’ were said to have been trained in one of the centres run by Sayyaf. His nomination has definitely raised concerns in the West, but his conservative stand on issues like women’s rights is a source of worry within Afghanistan as well. His running-mate Ismael Khan, who was once known as the ’Emir of Herat’, is another regional warlord who has also been accused of human rights violations. Khan last year had also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), and had urged his supporters and non-Pashtuns to arm themselves against the Taliban.

There are a number of other contentious candidates as well. For instance, another mujahideen commander Gul Agha Sherzai, who served as governor of Nangarhar and Kandahar province has been accused of corruption and abusing children. Qutbuddin Hilal is another such contentious candidate, who is a senior member of the HIA, one of the insurgent groups fighting the government and foreign troops in Afghanistan.

’Known killer’

In some cases, the credibility of some of the more respected politicians and technocrats has been questioned, owing to their choice of running-mates. Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank employee and respected government official, has been criticised for selecting Dostum as his running-mate. Dostum has often been described by the Western Press as the ’most feared warlord’, and his forces are said to be responsible for a lot of the destruction caused during the 1990s and of war crimes, including torture of prisoners of war, recruiting child soldiers and sexual crimes. In fact, Ghani himself had described Dostum as a "known killer" in the past.

Abdullah Abdullah is yet another candidate who has been criticised for his selection of controversial running-mates. Abdullah has allied himself with Mohaqeq, a regional warlord accused of war crimes and human rights abuses in the 1990’s, and Mohammad Khan, another member of the political wing of HIA.

A contentious successor to President Karzai could be as harmful for the legitimacy of the next government as a contentious electoral process. However, it is important to note that the regional warlords and former mujahideen commanders are an integral part of the Afghan polity and society. Despite their unpopularity among certain sections of the population, they are extremely powerful, influential and have considerable support among certain groups or in certain regions. It is for this reason that even candidates like Ghani and Abdullah are courting their support as they by themselves cannot garner enough support to be successful. Ghani himself in a recent interview, defending his alliance with Dostum, claimed that "politics is a product of historical necessities" and that the "key issue is that he’s popular... Our agreement is on the future, sharing common interests and building Afghanistan, and this team is the strongest indication of reconciliation with the past". Thus, it is difficult to imagine a successful and effective political transition without the active involvement of the warlords and mujahideen in the same.

Karzai’s favourite?

The registration process for the candidates and repeated public declarations by President Karzai that he would not give up power post-the 2014 elections may have quelled rumours that he would contest for an unconstitutional third time. However, there are still some apprehensions that Karzai may manipulate the electoral process in favour of his preferred candidate and continue to wield power from behind the scene.

Despite some electoral reforms, the highly-centralised nature of the Afghan political system ensures that Karzai continues to wield tremendous power, especially as far as the appointment of officials to highly critical electoral bodies - the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan and the ECC - are concerned. Reports about the renovation of a large old-style British mansion in Kabul, close to the Presidential Palace, for Karzai to move in, after he steps down have intensified the rumours that he wants to continue to play a leading role in the governance of the country. Moreover, allegations by Atta Mohammad Nur that Karzai had offered him bribes in exchange for his support for Karzai’s favoured candidates have further strengthened such notions.

Although Karzai himself has not explicitly stated his favoured candidate, he has publically backed the nomination of Sayyaf, while his personal and working relations with Zalmai Rassoul, Qayum Karzai (his older brother) and Ashraf Ghani have led to suggestions that all of them are Karzai’s favoured candidates. As a report by the Afghan Analysts Network argued that since Karzai is seen as a potential kingmaker a number of political leaders from the opposition have sought to forge alliances with the candidates perceived to have the backing of Karzai. Ahmad Zia Massoud’s alliance with Zalmai Rassoul, and Dostum’s with Ghani are clear examples of such politicking. The registration process for the candidates is only partially completed as of now. The ECC claims to have already received a number of complaints against the candidates, which will be carefully scrutinised before the final list is released in November. The actual political campaigning and further shifts in allegiance are likely to take place once the final list is out.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangladesh : Sliding into a reign of chaos?

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Fear of return of political violence and possible chaos is increasing in Bangladesh as the political parties remain adamant on their stand on the nature of the government which should supervise the election. Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is pressing for the reinstallation of ’caretaker government system’ and threatened not to participate in the election unless its demand is accepted. The ruling Awami League wants the present government to supervise the election. Non- compromising attitude of the two main political parties have made the future of the election uncertain.

The problem began after the Supreme Court’s verdict on May 2011 which declared the caretaker government illegal. Then the government changed the Constitution and dissolved the caretaker system of government, which was introduced following the 12th amendment of the Constitution. According to the 12th amendment, a non partisan caretaker government, consisting of 10 members and headed by a chief adviser, is to be constituted soon after the dissolution of the parliament and will function for three months to supervise the election.

It was lack of confidence on the elected government to ensure free and fair parliamentary election that led to the inception of the caretaker government system. Present-day ruling party, Awami League, was the main votary for the caretaker system. This system had delivered three credible elections (1996, 2001 and 2008). However, the system came into question during the emergency in 2007-08, where the army took over the control of the country and appointed a civilian caretaker government which remained in power for two years, exceeding the time stipulated by the constitution, which was three months.

More faith in caretaker

In spite of the suspension of democracy in Bangladesh for two years, people still have more faith in the caretaker government for delivering a credible election than on the elected government. A recent survey suggested that majority of people in Bangladesh believe that only the caretaker system can ensure free and fair elections. Opposition BNP is arguing that election cannot be free and fair under the ruling government. It also points that since it was the Awami League which first demanded such a system in 1996, then what is the logic behind opposing the system now.

The Awami League cites the city corporation election held earlier this year as a proof of the capacity of the government to conduct a free and fair election. Opposition BNP candidates had swept these polls.

The history of elections under a partisan government has not been very pleasant. The 1996 elections under the BNP government, which was declared null-and-void, stand as a glaring example and also raises doubt about the fate of the coming election, which should take place before 24 January next year.

The civil society has suggested various alternatives to resolve the impasse. The formation of an interim government was one such an alternative. But the political parties hardly paid any attention to these proposals. The international efforts also could not bring the political parties together to reach a solution. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had sent his special envoy to convince the political parties for a dialogue, but the efforts went futile. US Secretary of State John Kerry also wrote letters to the leaders of the two major political parties, urging them for dialogue. Breaking tradition, China also expressed the need for dialogue between the two major political parties.

As the impasse continues, a feeling of despair is looming high in the minds of the people. They feel that the situation may deteriorate and a fresh wave of political violence may engulf the country. Media has already reported a surge in the supply of illegal arms in the country.

(Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tenth on global ’slavery list’

Bangladesh was ranked 10th in a global slavery index released this week with nearly 0.35 million people living in conditions of modern slavery. Australia-based rights organisation ’Walk Free Foundation’ compiled the index defining modern slavery as debt bondage, forced marriage and victims of human trafficking.

In Bangladesh’s case, the report primarily attributed sexual exploitation, forced labour and bonded labour, both within its borders and overseas, to the high number of slaves. Besides, the report suggested debt bondage in Bangladesh’s shrimp and tea industries, as well as in brick-making and forced begging are additional sector where slavery exists. According to the report people of Bangladeshi were enslaved overseas in the Middle East, in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, and Europe, among others.

The report ranked 162 countries and said nearly 30 million people around the world are living as slaves. India topped the list with nearly 14 million people living with such conditions, followed by China and Pakistan, which are home to nearly 3 million and 2.1 million slaves respectively.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 18 October, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Malpractice in ’climate finance’?

The Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International (TIB) has uncovered malpractice in the management of the nation’s climate change funding. On Oct. 3, TIB released a study on climate fund governance. TIB alleged political influence, nepotism and corruption in the selection of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to carry out work on the ground.

The report described how the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a state-owned ’not-for-profit’ company that funds micro-credit programmes, had picked 63 NGOs to receive grants from the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), set up to channel money budgeted by the government to help communities adapt to climate shifts. From 2011 onwards, the TIB investigated the selection process, funding and project progress for 55 NGOs out of the 63.

The TIB claimed that it was unable to trace 10 of the NGOs. It also claimed that heads of 13 NGOs were involved in politics, and that nine projects were awarded as a result of political influence. It further claimed that some NGOs received projects through political influence, by paying commissions (20 percent of total project value), by engaging associate NGOs with connections with policy makers for implementing the project in partnership with the approved NGO, and by colluding with decision-makers and providing undue benefits, such as establishing a computer centre in the electoral constituency of the concerned official.

Only 17 of the NGOs had prior experience of working directly on natural disasters, environment and climate change, according to the report. TIB officials claimed that most of the NGOs chosen were inexperienced, lacked the necessary infrastructure and had questionable credibility. Funding allocations do not appear to be based on need, they added. TIB officials further added that the PKSF, which manages the trust fund, did not monitor, inspect or review the progress of project implementation.

Bangladesh is likely to be one of the major countries which will be affected by climate change and its government is seeking international help to deal with the impact of climate change.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation, 15 October, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Road realignment by 2015

Work on the Chukha-Damchu realignment would be completed by end of next year or mid 2105, according to the outgoing Dantak chief. A change of command in project Dantak took place last week.

Former chief engineer Brig S Radhakrishnan handed over the responsibilities to new chief engineer brigadier K C Panchanathan. As of now, of the 29-km Chukha-Damchu realignment, 26km is complete and surfacing work was in progress, according to DANTAK officials.

Brig Radhakrishnan said formation cutting is still going on in the 3km stretch and that was taking time, since the whole stretch is hard rock. He also said there are three major bridges that need to be constructed along the realignment, and they are being contracted out to Indian contractors.

Brig Radhakrishnan also said the drawings of the three bridges were being analysed and, once the designs are finalised, Dantak would award the tender. "Works would be awarded anytime in the coming months." The only hitch to meet the deadline, according to officials, would come if the contractors do not deliver on time. "But we tried to select the best contractors and we’re hopeful that they’ll complete the works on time," brigadier S Radhakrishnan said.

Dantak also executes work on two major highways in the eastern and western parts of the country, and both are in the process of being realigned and upgraded to Asian highway specification.

Brig Radhakrishnan took over as chief engineer for project DANTAK in September 2011. "In the last two years, we made tremendous achievement in Chukha-Damchu realignment," he said. The brigadier, during his tenure in Bhutan, also initiated the request for an alternate road to Haa, and he said the work is likely to come up any time now, as it had been sanctioned.

"Chuzom bridge is the major bottleneck and, if anything happens to the bridge because of natural calamities, the entire Paro and Haa valleys will be cut off," he said. "We discussed this with Bhutanese government and the proposal is underway." Project Dantak, besides executing works on the two highways in Bhutan, also looks after maintenance of roads from Chuzom to Paro and Haa.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, 18 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian envoy urges effective use of funds

Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, V P Haran, on a visit to Dagana, reminded dzongkhag sector heads to use the Government of India’s (GoI) assistance effectively. "As planners and implementers, the fund has to be used effectively for the larger benefit of the people," said the ambassador, who was visiting GoI-tied assistance and small development project (SDP) funded activities on Monday.

In a brief meeting with the sector heads, the Ambassador said he was happy to assist, especially the people of Dagana dzongkhag, one of the remotest in the country. The Ambassador also said that, unlike other GoI-assisted countries, Bhutan is the only country where India traditionally gave out the fund, and people prioritise their developmental needs themselves.

Dagana dzongda and other sector heads thanked the ambassador and his government and people of India for their unfailing support for Bhutan’s development. "Bhutan will always look forward for the same in the days to come," he said.

Sector heads also presented the progress report on GoI-assisted projects in different sectors like education, agriculture, health and other areas, like irrigation channel, farm road and basic health units, funded as part of the small development projects (SDP).

The Ambassador was on a tour to the south-central dzongkhags.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, 16 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US Govt shutdown hits refugees

Shockwaves sent by the US government shutdown have reached Bhutanese refugee camps in the East. Twenty refugee families from camps in Jhapa and Morang, who had left for Kathmandu to fly to the US recently, returned after the US put the third country resettlement programme on hold.

"We have not stopped internal work related to refugee resettlement in the US. The programme will resume soon after we receive a go-ahead from the US government," an officer with the Inter-national Organization for Migration (IOM) said here on Thursday.

While a number of other countries have also taken in the refugees, the US has agreed to host the largest number of 66,134. Around 3,500 Bhutanese refugees are said to be in the waiting-list for resettlement in the US. The IOM has urged the families awaiting settlement in the US to have patience, while it assured them that the process would resume shortly. It also said that it was unfortunate that some refugee families had to return from Kathmandu.

The families in question had returned to their camps only to find their huts already occupied by other refugee families. They had sold off most of their belongings before living the camps. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has agreed to provide food and other facilities to these families, now staying with their relatives.

So far, around 85,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in different North American and European countries. Besides the US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and UK have accepted the refugees.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 18 October 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Phailin: Mass evacuations limit deaths

Cyclone Phailin left a trail of destruction in Odisha, destroying lakhs of homes affecting nine million people, flattening paddy fields and wrecking the vital Gopalpur and Paradip ports, but there was little loss of life as close to a million people took refuge in shelers.

In both Odisha and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, more than 900.000 people were taken to safety and housed in government buildings and temples in the country’s biggest ever evacuation, minimising loss of life.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, 14 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Inflation jumps to seven-month high

The nation’s inflation rates continued to accelerate in September, lifted by rising prices of vegetables as well as the weak rupee, adding to concerns that the country’s central bank is likely to increase key interest rates again.

Wholesale inflation, India’s closely monitored gauge of inflation, jumped to a higher-than-expected 6.4 percent in September, fuelled by high food and fuel prices, government data released Monday showed. That is the highest the rate has been in seven

months. Up from Augusts’ 6.1 percent, the rate also exceeded the median estimate of 6% in a survey of 13 economists by The Wall Street Journal. It also was the fourth consecutive month the wholesale inflation rate has remained above the central bank’s comfort level of five percent.

A weak rupee pushed up the cost of Indian imports, prompting authorities to lift government-controlled fuel prices. The rupee lost more than 15% against the dollar in the first nine months of the year.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ties with Indonesia in petro sector

In a bid to strengthen their bilateral economic ties, India and Indonesia plan to explore opportunities for co-operation in oil and gas, and railway sectors, among other areas.

A host of issues were discussed by industry leaders as well as Ministers from both sides during meeting of India-Indonesia CEOs Forum, coinciding with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit.

The forum was co-chaired by TVS Motor Company Chairman and Managing Director Venu Srinivasan and Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (KADIN Indonesia) Vice-Chairman for Trade and International Relations Chris Kanter.

Speaking on the occasion, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma called for more co-operation in future growth areas like renewable energy, health and pharmaceuticals, the release said.

"The two sides agreed to promote business-to-business contacts in sectors like IT, mining, infrastructure, power and clean energy, manufacturing, services sector, agro-based industry and renewable energy," it said.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Industrial output slows down

India’s industrial production in August rose 0.6 percent from a year earlier, a significant slowing from the previous month’s numbers, the government said Friday. The weak output is another sign that Asia’s third-largest economy is still sputtering.

Most of the gains were due to strong growth of 7.2 percent in the electricity sector compared to the previous August. Mining was down by 0.2 percent and manufacturing dropped 0.1 percent in the numbers released by the Central Statistics Office.

Last month’s index of industrial production showed overall gains of 2.6 percent, sparking small hope that India’s economy might have bottomed out.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Joint efforts with US against extremist-funding

The US and India agreed Sunday to step up cooperation to prevent the financing of violent extremist movements linked to Pakistan, officials said. In annual talks between top economic officials, India and the US spoke of "expanding cooperation on countering illicit financing, including targeting the financial networks and fund-raising activities of terrorist organizations," Indian Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram said.

Mr Mayaram said in a statement that efforts would target groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the affiliated Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which investigators blame for the grisly 2008 siege of Mumbai that killed 166 people.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">OVL buys stake in Brazilian oilfield

Public sector Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Ltd. (OVL), on Monday, announced that it had bought an additional 12 per cent stake in a Brazilian oilfield for $529 million.

OVL, which had a 15 per cent stake in block BC-10 along with Royal Dutch Shell, exercised a pre-emption right to block China’s Sinochem group from buying a 35 per cent interest in the oilfield from Petrobras of Brazil. While the Indian firm will pick up a 12.08 per cent stake, Shell will acquire the remaining 23 per cent.

"In August, Petrobras entered into a sales transaction with Sinochem for disposal of their 35 per cent interest in BC-10 for $1.543 billion. This agreement was subject to pre-emption rights of the partners, Shell and OVL," OVL says in a statement.

"As a follow-up of the pre-emption notice, OVL, through its affiliates, has signed sale and purchase agreements with Petrobras on October 11 for acquisition of 12 per cent interest in the block, for a consideration $529.03 million," the statement adds.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 15 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ethanol knowhow from Finland

In a first of its kind initiative to promote use of clean technologies, India and Finland today signed an agreement to produce Ethanol and reduce India’s dependence on its import.

Under the initiative, state run explorer ONGC and Finnish clean technology firm Chempolis will set up a pilot project to produce ethanol, bio chemicals and bio-coal from biomass residual matters.

The agreement was inked between Finnish Minister for European Affairs Alexander Stubb and Indian Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Panabaka Lakshmi here. "We have signed a MoU with a Finnish company called Chempolis. It is for conversion of cellulose into ethanol. We have developed a technology by which all cellulose-based waste products can be converted into ethanol," ONGC chairman Sudhir Vasudeva told reporters at an event here.

The ONGC chairman said since 75 per cent of India’s ethanol requirements are met through imports, there is a large requirement of ethanol which is not being met by indigenous production.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 15 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bank cuts growth estimate to 4.7 pc

The World Bank has lowered its forecast for India’s economic growth in the current fiscal year to 4.7 per cent from 6.1 per cent it had projected in April. Following this, the World Bank has joined various agencies to peg India’s gross domestic product (GDP) expansion at sub-5 per cent.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its World Economic Outlook, slashed India’s growth forecast to 4.25 per cent for the current fiscal.

India’s growth will continue to remain subdued in the July-September quarter owing to negative business sentiment and higher interest rates before bouncing back in the second-half of the fiscal, the World Bank said in its biannual update.

"India’s growth potential remains high but its macro-economic vulnerabilities — high headline inflation, an elevated current account deficit, and rising pressure on fiscal balances from the depreciation of the rupee — could impact the speed of economic recovery," said Denis Medvedev, senior country economist, World Bank, India.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 17 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Six pacts signed with Hungary

India and Hungary on Thursday signed six agreements for cooperation in defence and other fields as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought Budapest’s support for India’s full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and other multilateral export control regimes.

The agreements were signed after wide-ranging talks between Dr Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Viktor Orban, who is here on a four-day visit to India.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, 18 October 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Presidential polls put off again

Re-poll for the presidency, scheduled for Saturday 19 October, as ordered by the Supreme Court, got put off after the National Security Council (NSC) under President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, reportedly directed the Maldivian Police Service (MPS), to ensure that the nation’s Election Commission abided by the 16-point guidelines put out by the higher judiciary.

The guidelines, issued by the court while annulling the first-round polls held on 7 September, included verification and updating of the voters’ list, prepared by the EC, by the contesting candidates. With time running out on the EC after the court extended the time for re-registration, two of the three candidates, namely Abulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party (JP) refused to do so without adequate time for them to check the list.

Front-runner from the annulled polls, former President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), alone signed the voters’ list. After the EC declared that the polls could not held as the police had blocked the way, MDP cadres staged protests on the main thoroughfare of capital, Male.

Sharing global concerns and sentiments for Maldives going through a free, fair and inclusive poll on 19 October as scheduled, India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh flew into Male for a quick-check with the nation’s stake-holders, including Presidents Waheed, Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the last one being the founder-president of PPM after he had lost the 2008 polls.

< class="text11verdana">Source:SunOnline, 14-19 October 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">One killed in bomb-blasts

Three blasts rocked north-eastern Myanmar leaving one person dead and two others injured, an official told CNN. According to Sai Tin Ooo, a law-maker in Shan state -- which borders China -- the first explosion occurred late Wednesday night causing no injuries.

Two other explosions on Thursday morning killed one person and wounded two others. Local police confirmed the incidents but could provide no further details.

The blasts are the latest in a series of explosions in the country. Late on Monday, a homemade explosive device went off at the luxury Traders Hotel in former capital Yangon, a popular destination for international visitors, injuring one American woman, according to police.

A 27-year-old suspect was arrested early Tuesday in the south-eastern State of Mon in connection with the bombing at the Traders, Agence France-Presse reported. He had previously stayed in the room where the blast occurred, AFP said, citing police sources.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, while police have not said whether they are connected. A number of Western governments have urged their nationals to exercise caution when traveling in Myanmar.

< class="text11verdana">Source: CNN, 17 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Defence chief meets Chinese President

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s Defence Services in Beijing on Wednesday. Xi, also chairman of the Central Military Commission, hailed the bilateral relationship and described China and Myanmar as "good neighbours, good friends and good partners."

The Chinese leader said that to cement the comprehensive strategic partnership in a sustained way is not only in the fundamental interests of the people of the two countries but also helps to promote peace and stability in the region and the world at large as the international situation is undergoing profound and complex changes. The Chinese side firmly adheres to a friendly policy towards Myanmar and stands ready to work with Myanmar to increase strategic communication and advance practical cooperation in a smooth way to ensure the healthy, stable and continuous development of the bilateral relationship, Xi said.

China attaches great importance to peace and stability in China- Myanmar border areas and supports the process of ethnic reconciliation in Myanmar, he added. Xi also said that China hopes peace and stability in northern Myanmar can be restored at an early date and China is willing to continue playing a constructive role toward this goal. The President also lauded military-to-military ties between the two sides, proposing the two militaries increase exchanges and boost cooperation to contribute to the bilateral relationship. Hailing the friendship between the sides, Min Aung Hlaing said that enhancing the comprehensive strategic partnership under the current circumstances is of great importance.

Myanmar is grateful for China’s long-lasting support and positive role in maintaining peace and stability in its north, and is willing to deepen cooperation with China to advance the bilateral relationship, said the senior general. The Defence Services of Myanmar will make unremitting efforts to enhance the relationship between the two countries, he vowed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima News, 18 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Wirathu circumvents 969 ban

U Wirathu has circumvented a ban on monks forming 969-related groups by establishing an organisation with a mixture of clergy and laypeople. At a meeting earlier this month at Mandalay’s Masoeyein Monastery, U Wirathu announced his plan to form the Mandalay branch of what he called the Organisation for the Protection of Nationalism and Religion.

The organisation aims at protecting Buddhism, avoid conflict based on religion or race, and to provide religion-based education, U Wirathu said. It will carry out social activities in cooperation with civil society groups, government officials and the Sangha, or clergy; lobby for the introduction of laws to protect Buddhists; and to open Buddhist teaching schools around the country to conserve traditional customs and culture.

The announcement comes after the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee ordered a ban on the creation of organisations based around the 969 ideology, of which U Wirathu has been one of the main proponents. However, the controversial monk said the new organisation complied with the committee’s directive.

"Technically, the venerable monks from the National Sangha Nayaka Committee did not oppose 969 groups. The instructions and rules they issued are only related to monk associations. They do not have any impact on groups that include laypeople. We have the right to form this group independently," U Wirathu said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Myanmar Times, 17 October 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to act tough against anti-poll activities

Home Minister Madhav Prasad Ghimire has said that the government would take stringent action against those who try to disrupt the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) polls scheduled for November 19.

Addressing a regional security meeting in Biratnagar, minister Ghimire said that the government does not have any intention to invite confrontation with any political party or groups. "But it won´t remain a mute spectator to activities aimed at disrupting the elections," he said. Ghimire was hinting at the 33-party alliance led by CPN-Maoist while he gave such remarks.

Ghimire said the Integrated Security Plan incorporates special measures to contain activities aimed at disrupting the polls. "Election is a forum to bring together various opinions. It is absolutely wrong to boycott the election," he further said, urging all poll-opposing parties to join the election process.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) has published the lists of candidates who have filed to contest under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in the CA election. EC Spokesperson Bir Bahadur Rai said the lists of FPTP candidates were published at the offices of all 240 returning officers across the country. According to preliminary data, 196 candidates under the FPTP electoral system have withdrawn their candidacies. With the withdrawal of FPTP 196 candidates, the total number of candidates now stands at 6,147.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 17 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese delegation’s visit

Vice-chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People´s Congress of China and vice-president of the Chinese People´s Association for Peace and Disarmament Yan Junqi paid a five-day-long visit to Nepal starting October 8.

Briefly talking to the media at Tribhuvan International Airport, Mr Yan expressed his happiness for the visit to a naturally beautiful country like Nepal. Yan is leading a 13-member delegation. "This is my first visit to Nepal. I am convinced that this would strengthen Nepal-China relations," Yan said.

He held separate talks with President Dr Ram Baran Yadav and Minister for Foreign Affairs Madhav Prasad Ghimire regarding the issues of mutual interests and concerns. He also participated in a discussion with the civil society leaders in the capital and visited Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pokhara and the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Lumbini.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 8-12 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dashain festival observed

The biggest national festival of Nepal, Dashain, was observed throughout the country during the ten-day long celebration to worship Goddess Durga.

President Dr Ram Baran Yadav and other senior leaders of major political parties wished the citizens on the occasion.

However, animal rights activists have complained of the excessive animal sacrifice events at various places and temples across the country. They have demanded that the government must stop all forms of cruelty towards animals sacrificed in inhumane manner during Dashain festival.

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


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Minister dies in suicide bombing

The law minister of a Pakistani province, Israrullah Khan Gandapur, was killed along with seven others at his resident in Kulachi village on the Muslim festival of Eid in a suicide bomb attack. More than 30 people were wounded in the attack.

Ansar al mujahideen, a group allied to the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. The group’s spokesperson said that the attack was in retaliation to the deaths of men who were killed during a July jailbreak.

The minister’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and supports talks with militants. It has urged the government to fast track the peace talks.

< class="text11verdana">Source:Reuters, 16 October 2013, BBC News, 16 October 2013, The Nation, 19 October, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Talks with UN on drone-strikes

Pakistan confirmed that approximately 2,200 people were killed by drone strikes in the last ten years of which 400 were civilians and another 200 were "probable non-combatants". The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism has urged the United States to release its own data on civilian casualties due to drone strikes.

Pakistan called for evolving international norms to govern the use of armed drones strictly according to the UN Charter, international human rights and humanitarian laws. It has also called for international laws for the usage of Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs).

According to documents provided by Edward Snowden, the US intelligence contractor turned whistleblower, the National Security Agency is heavily involved in the US drone strikes against Al Qaeda militants.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 19 October 2013, The Express Tribune, 19 October 2013, Dawn, 17 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Honorary citizenship for Malala

Canada will grant honorary citizenship to Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education. Others who have been given honorary citizenship are Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 17 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nawaz Sharif for US

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif departed for the United States of America for talks to discuss the Afghan peace process and the American drone campaign as part of the agenda. Sharif will also use the trip to seek aid for Pakistan’s troubled economy and energy sector. He is also expected to meet officials from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and private investors to reinvigorate the economy.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 19 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Czech talks on kidnapped women

The Czech government is negotiating the release of two women of Czech nationality who were kidnapped in Pakistan in March. They were seized while travelling by microbus through Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan near the Afghan border while they were en route to India.

They were last seen in a video broadcast in June showing the two demanding the release of Pakistani national Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist sentenced to 86 years in prison by a U.S. Court in 2010 for shooting at FBI agents and soldiers in Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 16 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban ban puts polio eradication at risk

A Taliban ban on vaccination in Pakistan is making a serious polio outbreak in Pakistan worse, in turn, threatening to negatively impact the progress made towards eradicating the disease worldwide.

Since the Taliban imposed a ban on vaccination in June 2012, health workers in Pakistan have been attacked repeatedly. The Taliban claims that inoculation programmes are part of a Western plot to sterilise Muslims.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 18 October 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Northern PS wants LTTE cemeteries to be restored

The Chavakachcheri Pradeshiya Sabha on Monday (14) passed a resolution calling for the reconstruction of LTTE cemeteries in the area, coming under the purview of the newly elected Northern Provincial Council. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) run PS also decided to commemorate those who died fighting for the LTTE.

Jaffna-based sources said that the resolution passed by the Chavakachcheri PS could lead to more local government bodies adopting similar resolutions. In fact, all local authorities, administered by the ITAK, could move similar resolutions, sources said.

Sources said that the issue could soon come up at the Northern Provincial Council, also in the hands of the ITAK. The inaugural sessions of the recently elected NPC is scheduled for 25 Octyober.

The resolution was moved by Sri Ranjan at the monthly meeting of the PS, held with Chairman T. Thurairasa in the chair. It was endorsed by Deputy Chairman T. Yogarasa.

Asked whether the government anticipated the move, sources pointed out that the ITAK went to the extent of recognizing the LTTE as the sole representatives of Tamil speaking people way back in 2001. They said that the resolution passed by the Chavakachcheri PS seemed to be a well calculated move to provoke a confrontation with the security forces and police.

Concerned security authorities said that the pro-LTTE move would have to be studied by legal experts before the military and the police formulated a response. Sources pointed out that the ITAK could adopt a similar strategy in the Eastern Province, where it controls some local authorities.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Island, 17 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Storm in a tea-cup’

Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) leader Rajavarothian Sampanthan, MP, yesterday alleged that a recent dispute involving some constituents of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over ministerial appointments, in the first Northern Provincial Council (NPC), had been exaggerated.

The veteran politician, representing the Trincomalee District, said the so called crisis was nothing but a storm in a tea cup. Sampanthan said that some of those who had shunned last Friday’s swearing-in ceremony in Jaffna to express their discontentment had now taken oaths separately, therefore the TNA was ready to move forward.

Sampanthan, in a brief interview with The Island, emphasized the pivotal importance of members adhering to a decision taken by the political authority, in this case the Chief Minister of the NPC, C. V. Wigneswaran, though they had the right to differ.

Of the 30 members, nine elected councilors, representing the EPRLF, the TELO and the PLOTE, skipped the swearing-in ceremony, accusing the dominant constituent, the ITAK, of not being fair in allocation of ministries. The TNA comprises the ITAK, TULF, EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE. Of the 30 seats, the ITAK had secured 17, with the EPRLF (6), TELO (5) and PLOTE (2) sharing the rest. The NPC comprises 38 members, with the SLFP-led UPFA having seven and its constituent, the SLMC, one.

Sampanthan said: "I don’t think the disagreement over ministerial appointments will undermine our unity in parliament as well as the NPC. We are committed to providing relief to those who had suffered during the conflict. Therefore, the TNA will not allow the work of the NPC to be derailed."

Strongly refuting suggestions that the ITAK had interfered with ministerial appointments, Sampanthan said that it had only told CM Wigneswaran to ensure that the best possible members were given ministerial portfolios. The TNA chief stressed that CM Wigneswaran accommodated two ITAK members (Kilinochchi and Vavuniya) and one each from TELO (Mannar) and EPRLF (Jaffna) in his cabinet.

As a person elected from the Mullaitivu electoral district couldn’t be accommodated due to the strength of provincial cabinet being restricted to five, including the CM, Anthony Jeganathan (ITAK) from Mullaitivu was given the post of Vice Chairman. ITAK member from Jaffna, C. V. Kandiah Sivagnanam was named Chairman after PLOTE leader Dharmalingham Siddarthan (former MP) declined to accept the post. Siddarthan was not available for comment.

The Vice Chairman would work closely with the CM in handling important subjects, Sampanthan said, adding that all elected members, including those given bonus seats, were to be assigned subjects under different ministries. The bottom line was that all members would have plenty of work to do in the Northern region, worst affected by the conflict.

Sampanthan said that ITAK members were given both bonus seats. The TNA accommodated a defeated Muslim candidate, Ayub Asmin (Mannar) and Ms Mary K. Gunaseelan (Mullaitivu) on the bonus seats.

Asked whether the TNA was ready to work with the government, Sampanthan stressed that it would adopt a very positive approach in its dealings with the government. The MP expressed the belief that the government would be genuine in its efforts.

ITAK General Secretary Mavai S. Senathirajah, MP, said that the remaining rebels too, would take their oaths soon. Senathirajah asserted that the issue had been resolved amicably though some speculated about a major crisis in the wake of a section of the elected skipping last week’s swearing in ceremony.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 15 October 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TNA MP urges India to boycott CHOGM

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, reiterated that the coalition was against the staging of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka.

Speaking to reporters in Jaffna on Monday (14), he said: "The Sri Lankan Government has violated the norms of the Commonwealth and that is why we against it. The ousting of the country’s Chief Justice is one of the instances where the government had violated basic foundations of the Commonwealth."

Commending the Canadian Government’s stance on the CHOGM, Sumanthiran urged the Indian Government to follow suit, stating, "The Indian Government should look into the reasons as to why Canada has decided against participating at the CHOGM, and take a decision, accordingly."

< class="text11verdana">Source: Colombo Today, 16 October 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Progress in BSA talks, Taliban denounces pact

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced this week that the two countries had managed to resolve some of the more contentious issues that were delaying the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).

Karzai announced that during the discussions with Kerry they had agreed on the issues of civilian casualty prevention, the definition of ’aggression’ in its relation to Afghan national security and U.S. unilateral operations. As per the BSA, the US would not be permitted to carry out such operations. A senior Afghan official also claimed that 99 percent of the BSA had been agreed upon. However, the issue of legal immunity for US troops stationed in Afghanistan is yet to be finalised.

The BSA would now have to be cleared by the Afghan parliament. However, as Karzai had earlier stated, the final decision for the BSA will rest with a Loya jirga convened by the President. Karzai also claimed that a bilateral security pact between US and Afghanistan would be useless if it could not guarantee peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Kerry’s visit and the progress in negotiations were, however, overshadowed by reports claiming that the US had captured a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), LatifullahMehsud during a unilateral operation undertaken in Eastern Afghanistan. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan issued a statement refuting suggestions that they too were involved in the operation. A statement from NDS clarified that it "was not involved in thisarrest at all and there was no coordination with NDS in this regard". The operation was condemned by Karzai, who described it as a violation of Afghan sovereignty.

In the meanwhile, Mullah Omar, the Supreme Commander of the Taliban, announced that the prolonged military presence of US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 would have "serious consequences" for Afghanistan. He also warned the US the maintenance of its bases on Afghan soil "will never be accepted" and "armed jihad will continue against them with more momentum".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, October 15 2013; Khaama Press, October 17, 2013; Tolo News, October 12-13, 2013; Tolo News, October 14 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Logar governor assassinated

The governor of Logar province, Arsala Jamal was assassinated this week by militants who planted a bomb inside the Holy Quran. Arsala Jamal was killed on the first day of Eid following an explosion in Pul-e-Alam district while as he was delivering a speech to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Jamal was Karzai’s campaign manager during the 2009 presidential elections. He was also governor of Khost until he was appointed to Logar in April 2013.

An Islamic militant group - MahazFedayiTehrik-e-Islami Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the assassination. The group issued a statement claiming that the explosives were planted under the stage inside the mosque where Logar governor Arsala Jamal was delivering speech.Observers believe that MahazFedayiTehrik-e-Islami Afghanistan is operating under the Taliban group, and is against the peace talks between the Taliban group and Afghan government.

The attack was condemnded by the NDS, the UN and the US Ambassador to Afghanistan. A number of Ulema Council Members also condemned the attack stressing the use of the Holy Quran as a hiding place for the bomb as a gross offence to Islam.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, October 16-17, 2013; Tolo News, October 16-17 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar

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