MonitorsPublished on Feb 21, 2014
The killing of a former Taliban minister, Mullah Abdul Raqeeb, has raised questions about the involvement of the Pakistan establishment in the peace process and a possible rift within the ranks of the militant movement.
Afghanistan: Pakistan obstructing peace talks?
< class="heading1">Analysis

The killing of a former Taliban minister, Mullah Abdul Raqeeb, has raised questions about the involvement of the Pakistan establishment in the peace process and a possible rift within the ranks of the militant movement. Raqeeb, who was the Minister for Martyrs and Refugees during the Taliban’s five-year rule in the 1990’s, recently attended a meeting between a delegation from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) and Taliban representatives in Dubai. The meeting was aimed at paving the way for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

No one has owned up responsibility for the shooting of Raqeeb but there is speculation that hard-liners within the Taliban, who opposed peace talks, were involved. However, the spokesperson of the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, issued a statement condemning the death, calling Raqeeb a martyr and his killing a cowardly act.

There is much ambiguity about the official Taliban position on peace talks. There are many factions, some of which have entirely opposing views on the future of Afghanistan. This makes it even more difficult to ascertain if Abdul Raqeeb was killed by his fellow militants. A Taliban sub-commander from northern Afghanistan, Qari Nusrat, said that the Quetta Shura will be asked to make its position clear.

Aga Jan Mohtism, the former Taliban finance minister, was also part of the talks in Dubai. He stated that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, has never disowned those who favour peace talks with the government and, thus, believes that they have his support.

President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson, Aimal Faizi, has also issued a statement condemning the killing. He went on to add that whenever Taliban leaders showed willingness to talk to the Afghan side, they have been targeted and killed.

Striving for status quo

There are some who believe that Pakistan’s ISI may have played a role in Raqeeb’s killing. Pakistan has importance in the peace talks because of the perceived influence it has over the Afghan Taliban due to the relationship the movement shared with the Pakistan establishment in the past.

Lately, however, Pakistan has felt sidelined by the US and Afghanistan in the reconciliation process. It has been trying to maintain that the status quo in stalled talks could be a way of ensuring continued involvement.

Pakistan called for an Afghan-led peace initiative free of foreign intervention at the third annual trilateral summit, also involving Iran, in February 2012. Recently, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while addressing a news conference at the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey trilateral summit, said that Islamabad believed that an inclusive political settlement was the key to sustainable peace in Afghanistan. He also said that the Pakistan government would continue working towards promoting better relations with Afghanistan.

However, earlier the same month, the Pakistan National Security Adviser, Sartaj Aziz told an audience at the John Hopkins University in Washington that the Taliban would probably not engage in peace talks with the current government but might respond well to a new, post-election government. Afghan National Security Adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, responded to this by accusing Pakistan of interfering in and obstructing the peace process. He told reporters that Pakistan is the "main obstacle" to the peace talks with the Taliban.

Aziz’s statement adds weight to the argument that Pakistan wants the status quo maintained till the formation of a post-poll government in Afghanistan. Pakistan could, then, use its influence over the Taliban to bring the group to the negotiation table in exchange for political gains. Afghanistan views Pakistan with distrust and believes that the latter is pursuing its own interests instead of aiding the reconciliation process.

Ambiguous relationship

The assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, allegedly by the Haqqani network, drew immense criticism for Pakistan’s policy of providing safe havens to the group. The ambiguous relationship between the Pakistan administration and the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura has added to the Afghanistan’s distrust of its neighbour. Pakistan continues to insist that it supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process and refers to its release of Taliban detainees as proof. Pakistan first released nine and then eight detainees in 2012 to facilitate the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. In 2013, Pakistan also claimed to have released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. However, Afghan officials state that Baradar is still in the custody of Pakistani caretakers and is not free to enter talks.

Though Pakistan continues to be vocal about assisting the Afghan government in its bid for peace talks with Taliban, there remain inconsistencies in its actions, in turn calling these assertions into question. Also, a rift in the Taliban could lead to more stalled talks and greater violence directed towards the segments of the group that wish to engage in peace talks as well as against the Afghan government.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangladesh : Is the nation on the map of global jihad?

Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Despite Bangladesh recording impressive successes in countering terrorism, the country still needs to be vigilant and work on fighting forces that encourage re-emergence of terrorism in the country. This need has been reinforced, especially, after the much-publicised Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri attracted world attention when he called for jihad against the Bangladesh government, which to him is anti-Islamic.

In a 28-minute audio clip titled "Bangladesh: Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence", posted in a ’jihad’ website, Al-Zawahiri appears in a still, and a voice calls upon the people of Bangladesh to join the intifada, meaning popular uprising. The tide of the uprising, he said, should not recede until Shariah of Islam is established in the country.

In the web posting, what is trotted out as the voice of Al-Zawahiri also claimed that Bangladesh was a victim of conspiracy. However, the real victim was the Muslim ummah (brotherhood) of the sub-continent generally, and in Bangladesh and Pakistan especially. He claimed that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has turned the country into a subjugated surrogate of India. However, there are doubts about the authenticity of the clip and the government has ordered a probe.

Not authentic yet

Till date, there is no authentic evidence to substantiate Al-Qaeda’s presence in the country. But this does not prove that the group does not have contacts in Bangladesh. Some reports claim that domestic militant organisations like Harkatul Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (Huji-B) have been receiving funds from the international terror organisation. Besides, there are claims of Al-Zawahiri having visited Bangladesh a couple of times in the previous decade.

Irrespective of authenticity of the audio, efforts have been taken by the religious radicals to create instability in the country, especially after the Awami League government initiated trial of criminals of 1971 war. Many leaders of the influential religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami are facing trial for crimes committed during the 1971 war.

Radicals not only protested against the trial but also embarked on street- violence after the international War Crime Tribunal (ICT), the body conducting the trials, began passing verdicts and handing down sentences to the accused. The country witnessed worst kind of violence, especially attack on the minorities similar to the one experienced in 1971, after Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Saydee was convicted by the ICT in February last year.

The radicals are leaving no stone unturned to stall the government’s efforts to further the war crime trials. The radicals in May last year, under the banner of Hafazat-e-Islami, organised a protest at the same venue where the Shahbagh protestors had assembled in Dhaka just to counter the mass Shahbagh movement, which was more in the support of the trials.

The radicals of Bangladesh are not only one to be annoyed with the trials. They have supporters internationally. The radicals in Pakistan have also been critical of the Bangladesh government for the trials. After Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah’s execution in December last year, radicals in Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution condemning it.

The radicals are also utilising their cross-country network in spreading their massage on the virtual world. Initial investigation suggests that the Al-Zawahiri clip was first uploaded in ’Dawa illahiah’, a website maintained by a Pakistan-based organisation called Bala Media.

Need for pro-active vigilance

Even if the clip be proved fake, neither the government of Bangladesh, nor the countries in the region should remain contented. Contrarily it precipitates the need to be more pro-active and vigilant of the network of Alqaeda in the region. Considering the international linkages of the radicals, there is an indication that they would want to drag Bangladesh onto the map of international terror network.

The fear becomes more prevalent as there is sign of resurgence of the Al-Qaeda in past few years, particularly in areas where it had no presence earlier. This should also be taken into account while evaluating the overall counter-terrorism situation and strategy in the region, which is likely to shift after the US drawdown in Afghanistan scheduled by the middle of this year.

Some counter-terror experts have expressed scepticism about the overall progress of the situation in Afghanistan and its stability. This, they fear, could provide impetus for the return of Al-Qaeda in the region which is now lying suppressed.

The Al-Zarwahiri ’message’ should work as an alarm for the government of Bangladesh and also for other counties of the region. To counter radicals, the government should work towards delivering on the aspirations of the people so that the radicals do not find any opportunities to exploit the situation and try and attract people towards their ideology.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">First phase of upazila polls

The first phase of upazila elections were conducted this week. Out of 97 upazilas where the elections were held, candidates backed by the Opposition BNP won 40 posts of chairman, the ruling Awami League-supported candidates won in 35 upazilas while BNP’s key ally Jamaat-e-Islami-backed candidates came victorious in five. The remaining 17 upazilas went to independent candidates and other parties, including the Jatiya Party of former President H M Ershad, while results for two upazilas were withheld.

The elections were peaceful and record a high turnout. They became important as the first round of elections in the country after the 10th parliamentary poll of 5 January, amid a boycott by the BNP.

It may be recalled that the upazila system was introduced by the Ershad regime in 1982, to take government services to the people’s doorsteps. The first upazila elections were held in 1985, and the second in 1990. But, after the exit of the Ershad government in December 1990 and the BNP came to power in 1991, the upazila system was scrapped.

In 1996, when the Awami League came to power, it reintroduced the upazila system, but elections were not held that time. When the Awami League again won the national polls in 2009 and formed the government, it arranged for upazila elections on 22 January 2009.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Arrested for spreading Al-Qaeda message

The elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) this week arrested a youth for allegedly spreading massage issued by Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, on the internet. Security agencies claimed that Russell bin Sattar, 21, was behind uploading and sharing of the message on the Facebook, as well as on different blogs and web-links. v To security agencies Russell had been the administrator of different Facebook pages and blogs like ’Basher Kella’, ’Amar Desh Bhabna’ and ’Islamer Alo’. The message was first uploaded on a Pakistan-based blog, on November 30 last year. Russel uploaded it on 14 January this year with the title "Bangladesh: A Massacre behind a Wall of Silence" from his email account on different web-links, security agencies said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 19 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parliamentary friendship groups with India

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said this week that India and Bangladesh have constituted Parliamentary Friendship Groups to strengthen cooperation between the two Parliaments. He also observed that frequent exchanges between the two Parliaments would add another, very useful, dimension to the vibrant and dynamic relationship between both the countries.

Expressing full commitment to Bangladesh’s economic development, President Mukherjee said that it was in the interest of India to have a democratic, stable and prosperous Bangladesh. These views were expressed by the President when Speaker of Bangladesh’s ’Jatiya Sangsad’ (National Parliament) Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury called on him during her visit to India this week.

< class="text11verdana">Source: India Express, 15 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rise in export earnings

Total export earnings of the country stood at $17.43 billion in the first seven months of the current financial year 2013-14 with a growth of 15.08 per cent year-on-year, despite last two months’ sluggishness due to political unrest.

Riding on the performance of ready-made garment (RMG) sector, the export earnings in July-January crossed the government-set target for the period by 3.04 per cent, according to data released by the Export Promotion Bureau. The RMG sector fetched $14.17 billion in export earnings in July-January, growing by around 17.50 per cent compared with the same period of the last FY13. Total export earnings in July-January of the FY13 were $15.15 billion with a growth of 8.83 per cent year-on-year.

Mustafizur Rahman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a leading think-tank of the country, observed that despite last two months’ sluggishness the export earnings growth in seven months was encouraging. He added that the RMG sector was performing well because of the rebound of the global economy and shifting of orders from China due to higher cost of production there.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 17 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pipeline to import oil from India

The government is planning to set up a 135-km pipeline under a Taka 1000- crore joint-venture project to import oil from India. Through this project, the government contemplating to import of over 10 lakh tonnes of diesel annually, one third of Bangladesh’s total import.

State-owned Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) is set to implement the project to get supply of fuel oil from a terminal of Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) at Siliguri in India to a BPC depot at Parbatipur in Dinajpur. Once the project is implemented the government will be able to save the exchequer an amount of around Tk 300 crore, currently spent on shipping diesel.

Of the total length, 130 km of the pipeline will be laid in Bangladesh territory and 5 km in India. The project got the go-ahead after several visits were made by the high officials from BPC and NRL to the concerned sites at Parbatipur and Siliguri to examine the viability. The project is expected to be completed within two to three years after the finalisation of detailed feasibility study."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 20 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Education City likely to be scrapped

The controversial Education City project is standing on increasingly shaky legal ground as a strong and detailed letter from the National Land Commission (NLC) sent on 9 January, 2013 has declined to lease or allot the 1,000-acre land required for the project.

The letter, in a chronological order, states various violations of the Land Act 2007 and Rules and Regulations for Lease of Government Reserved Forest Land and Government Land surrounding the proposed allotment of 1,000 acres for the Education City project.

The Bhutan Education City (BEC) Board chaired by the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement Minister Lyonpo Dorji Choden recently met to discuss the January 9 letter and the BEC Board decided that Lyonpo should once again discuss the matter with the NLC.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said, "Land is fundamental to the project and we are struggling with some land issues which needs to be discussed." She said that the matter would now be referred to the Cabinet, which is expected to take a final decision.

Reliable sources said that the Cabinet would not be in a position to over-rule the Land Act 2007, and in such a condition, the project may get scrapped.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bhutanese, 17 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rupee reserve crisis still on

Despite many restrictions imposed by the Government in the utilisation of Indian currency and New Delhi extending a helping hand, Bhutan’s rupee reserve crisis, in the light of the current account deficit is yet to get into a definite positive situation. As a result, a subtle restriction on import of Indian goods may continue even further. According to the Royal Monitory Authority (RMA) figures, by the end of last calendar year, Bhutan’s total foreign currency reserves touched a level equivalent to INR 57 billion. "It is a great relief after the severe shortage of INR. But it is still far from a comfortable situation," said a senior RMA official, the highest financial authority of the country.

Despite having apparently different floating value, Bhutan currency Ngultrum (Nu) is officially pegged at par with the Indian rupee. At the same time, India is the largest trade partner of Bhutan. Eventually, maintaining as high as possible reserves of INR is always a priority for Bhutan finance department. Indian currency is an official tender inside Bhutan territory.

According to the RMA, balance of trade in Bhutan averaged Nu 678.17 m from 1991 until 2012, reaching an all-time high of 1Nu 8281 m in 2004 and a record low of Nu 23985.10 m in 2012. In order to ease the situation, borrowings of INR 10-b soft loan at five percent interest under the Government of India credit line facility, borrowings from the Indian commercial banks and borrowing of INR 5 billion under the swap arrangement with the Reserve Bank of India were worked out.

But more importantly, the country imposed several restrictions on the outflow of INR. It has brought import of vehicle or luxury goods from India under tight control and has also restricted disbursement of INR from ATMs.

Despite all these, the current account deficit is not expected to get smooth soon as imports continue to grow at a faster pace than exports. In spite of slightly higher levels of budgetary grants as compared to the past, the current account deficit is expected to increase steadily in the medium term reaching 29.7 percent of GDP by 2014/15- states Monitory Statement of RMA.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to help set up film school

The Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) is all set to test the waters in Bhutan after signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Motion Pictures Association of Bhutan (MPAB) to set up a film school in Paro. The institute will be organising six-week certificate courses in May and September, respectively, in Bhutan this year.

"We signed the MoU last year but could not take it further as we were figuring out the formalities and logistics. We are definitely interested in setting up a film school in Bhutan, but before that we will conduct workshops for not more than 20 students at a time. Our faculty will be sent to teach audio-visual aesthetics, script writing and editing. We will take the next step after considering the response to these workshops," said Shabnam Sukhdev, advisor, outreach management at FTII.

The workshops are likely to be conducted in Thimpu, she added. According to the MoU, FTII will develop the curriculum and the administrative structure, and constitute a governing body by involving MPAB personnel. The Bhutan Cine Land and Institute (BCLI) will independently establish the basic infrastructure in Bhutan at their cost. The institute will be structured around Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness philosophy and will be named FTII-B, subject to the Indian government’s approval, the MoU states. A Kolkata-based firm, which provides consultancy to the government of Bhutan, will mediate between the two countries for the project.

"We are trying to revive 14 such associations that have not been taken further after signing MoUs. We even received a proposal from Myanmar asking for our help with their film school," Sukhdev said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 21 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kejriwal resigns over Jan Lokpal bill

After just 49 days in power, activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister of Delhi on 14 February, frustrated by obstacles put in the way of the Jan Lokpal bill, and immediately proposed fresh elections for the capital. Kejriwal had wanted the anti-corruption bill to be passed in the Delhi assembly, but the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) thwarted him, arguing that it must be approved by the central government first.

Kejriwal announced he was standing down after a chaotic stand-off that had paralysed the Delhi assembly through the day, with lawmakers bawling at each other and some trying to snatch the microphone of the legislature’s speaker.

Kejriwal said the Congress and BJP had united against the bill after he had ordered a probe into Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani as well as policymakers over gas pricing. Reliance said his allegations were baseless.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is preparing to field candidates for 323 of the 543 seats at stake in the Lok Sabha and has promised to field strong candidates against a string of high-ranking politicians including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 14 February 2014, The Hindu, 15-16 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parliament passes Telangana Bill

Capping months of tumult in and outside Parliament, the Lok Sabha on 18 February, approved amid protests the contentious Bill for the creation of Telangana after the BJP lent its support.

The bill, approved by voice vote in less than 90 minutes, was passed even as the Lok Sabha TV, curiously, went blank for the entire duration, evoking sharp reaction from Opposition parties.

With the more vociferous opponents of the Bill being suspended, the task of opposing the Bill was left to some Congress members, including four Ministers, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Congress leaders formed a human shield in front of the treasury benches and the Chair through the entire drama. The amendments itself took an hour to clear. The DMK, the Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal (United) staged a walkout.

The bill then went to the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP put a ner in the works by insisting that without a Constitution amendment it faces the danger of being legally challenged. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his team of Ministers, through hectic backroom negotiations, succeeded in persuading top BJP leaders not to press the matter. At the meeting, it was agreed that the Prime Minister would announce a package to address the concerns of the Seemandhra region as well as those in the backward regions of Telangana.

The bill was passed in the Upper House on 20 February and will now be forwarded to the President’s desk.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 18 February 2014; The Hindu, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC cancels death penalty of three Rajiv killers

In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on 18 February granted relief to the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case —Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan —by commuting their death sentence into life term on the grounds of inordinate delay in disposal of their mercy petitions by the President.

The Supreme Court rejected the contention of the Centre that the trio did not deserve any mercy as they never showed remorse for killing the former Prime Minister.

The three-judge Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh also gave a ray of hope for their release, saying that the Tamil Nadu government could exercise its remission powers under Section 432 and 433 of the Criminal Procedure Code and following the due procedure in law.

Following the verdict, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced her cabinet’s decision to free all seven convicts in the assassination case. However, the Supreme Court has stayed the release of the three convicts whose sentence was reduced by its 18 February judgment. A plea to stay the release of the other four convicts was turned down.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 19-20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Narrower Budget-deficit despite tax-cuts

In the interim budget presented on 17 February, the Centre cut some taxes in an effort to boost consumption and lift an anaemic economy ahead of elections, but said it would still manage to narrow its budget deficit this fiscal year. The interim measures unveiled by Finance Minister P Chidambaram will apply until the next government announces its budget, following parliamentary elections in April-May.

Minister Chidambaram said the deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends 31 March, would be 4.6 percent of gross domestic product, smaller than the 4.9 percent recorded the previous fiscal year. That was welcome news for spending-conscious investors who feared the government would loosen the purse strings ahead of the elections, though some economists questioned the wisdom of bringing down the deficit by reducing spending on essential things like developing infrastructure.

The government said it cut excise taxes on small cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses to 8 percent from 12 percent. It also cut taxes on some capital goods and consumer products, including locally made cell phones. Meanwhile, government spending on food and fuel subsidies would increase slightly and military spending will be raised 10 percent to 2.24 trillion rupees, mainly for unspecified equipment purchases.

Economic growth is expected to remain below 5 percent this fiscal year, dragged down by a contraction in manufacturing output. Industry lobby groups welcomed the excise-tax cuts, saying these would help revive the ailing manufacturing sector.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Wall Street Journal, 17 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China to finance infrastructure plan

A Chinese working group submitted a five-year trade and economic planning cooperation plan to the Indian government in the first week of February, offering to finance as much as 30 per cent of the $1 trillion targeted investment in infrastructure during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17) to the tune of about $300 billion. Previous attempts by the Chinese have been rebuffed by a government nervous about allowing its neighbour to enter critical areas such as telecom or power over security worries.

India’s massive infrastructure requirement offers several opportunities to China to effectively deploy part of its massive $3.8 trillion reserves. It has been deploying funds in developing nations across the globe, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Africa, gaining influence for itself and business for its companies. Chinese interest is particularly high in railways, in particular electrification, high-speed trains, wagons, last-mile connectivity and gauge conversion. It has also identified sewage treatment and tunnel building as areas where it can offer substantial expertise.

The commerce department is likely to hold an inter-ministerial meeting next week to discuss the investment proposal by China to identify sectors of India’s interest.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Economic Times, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Enhanced ties with Canada

India and Canada are pressing ahead with high level engagements to develop closer ties in ensuring food and energy security besides investing in the sub-continent. The visit by Governor-General of Canada, David Johnston, late will take this process forward when he inaugurates the Canadian Consulate-General in Bengaluru next week.

The Canadian Governor-General’s arrival follows visits by Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and before that a large delegation of companies specialising in civil nuclear industry. Mr. Johnston will be accompanied by a business delegation which aims to send the message about Canada’s role as a reliable, secure and environmentally responsible energy supplier.

Although there has been disappointment over sourcing Canadian crude because not many public sector companies can process it, India is pitching for Canadian refineries in the country to overcome this technical glitch. There has been no news on the civil nuclear energy front, mostly because the Government here is on its last legs. Canada also ensures India’s food security as it is a steady supplier of pulses.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 20 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Elect Parliament that works with govt: Yameen

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said that it is imperative to elect a parliament that cooperates with the government’s efforts to fulfil the needs and aspirations of the people.

"Parliament should serve the people. It is in need of change, and it needs to gain people’s respect," he said addressing an election rally. He further said that Parliament should not try to obstruct the government’s efforts towards development.

"If the general rule that they follow is to try to stop everything that is beneficial for the people, that’s not responsible," President Yameen said. The new government had made numerous pledges to the people during the presidential poll campaign, and it is Parliament that puts the ’final stamp’ on the government’s efforts to fulfill these pledges, he added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MDP will not obstruct govt: Nasheed

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not obstruct or hinder the government should the party win a parliamentary majority in the upcoming general elections, former President Mohamed Nasheed has said.

The obstruction of development projects or government programmes was not the opposition party’s intention, he said addressing an MDP election rally. "Our philosophy is not obstruction. We do not wish to stop the promises of President Yameen’s government. We wish for it to go ahead on the right path," he said.

"The MDP’s legal responsibility today is to encourage holding the government answerable for fulfilling its pledges, if the pledge is not contrary to our philosophy and principles," Nasheed said. He suggested that a supplementary budget should be submitted to parliament with funds allocated for fulfilling the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) campaign promises, which was not the case with the 2014 State budget approved by Parliament.

As an additional MVR 34 million ($ 2.2 million) would be needed to raise the elderly benefits, Nasheed said the required amount could be saved from the budget by halving the salary and allowances of ministers, deputy ministers and state ministers. He added that the MDP would seek amending the relevant laws to reduce wages of political appointees.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Petrol imports discussed with Indian minister

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has informed the Maldivian government of India’s intention to continue supplying essential goods, with plans to supply petroleum products "on favourable terms".

A joint statement released at the conclusion of Khurshid’s bilateral visit said that an ’in principle agreement has been with India’s public sector Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals to export diesel, petrol, and aviation fuel to the Maldives. During meetings with President Abdulla Yameen and Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, Khurshid pledged $10 million for the renovation of Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), originally donated by India.

"The two sides reiterated their commitment to work together to promote democracy, development and mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty and peaceful co-existence, and to contribute to peace, prosperity and security in the Indian Ocean region and South Asia," the joint statement said.

In an obvious reference to bilateral visa issues, the statement said that the "two sides recalled their commitment to address all issues related to welfare of each other nationals, including speedy provision of consular services, on a priority basis.".

During the visit - which also included Khurshid participating in the SAARC Ministerial meeting - India gifted a naval landing craft and the laying of the foundation stone for a new Ministry of Defence building. The visit also saw the official handing over of the new India-Maldives Friendship Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies, constructed at a cost of $ 11million.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">3,000 illegal foreigners repatriated

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has said that more than 3,000 illegal foreign workers have been repatriated over the past two months. They were among the 5,124 workers who registered in the two amnesty programmes introduced by the department between 23 December and 31 January.

The Immigration Department has said that illegal foreign workers who wish to return to their home countries can do so at their own cost, without any penalty. It was included in the department’s targets for the first 100 days of the new government, to reduce the number of foreign workers from 40,000 to 5,000. To this end, the Immigration Department has drawn up a policy and also set up a committee on strengthening procedures related to foreign workers.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 20 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian envoy calls for boost in trade

Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Gautam Mukhopadhaya has requested the north-eastern Mizoram government to take all steps to boost the trade with neighbouring Myanmar, officials said here on 17 February.

The envoy during his two-day visit to Mizoram held a series of meetings with Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, Chief Secretary L.Tochhong, top officials, besides leaders of Mizoram Chambers of Commerce and Industries.

They discussed strategies on how to carry out India-Myanmar border trade in a more useful manner.

"India and Myanmar have good neighbourly relations. Using these favourable situations, India has a huge scope to increase its trade and business with Myanmar," an official quoted Mukhopadhaya as saying in the meeting.

Mukhopadhaya said that Mizoram has the potential to serve the needs of Myanmar in education, health, power supply and industries sectors.

The visiting ambassador suggested that the Mizoram exporters may try exporting goods which have excellent market value in Myanmar.

Officials, traders and businessmen requested Mukhopadhaya to make operational the Zokhawthar border trade centre in western Mizoram at the earliest.

Mukhopadhaya also mentioned that he would soon visit Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project (in Myanmar), being developed with Indian investment to ferry goods between northeast India and abroad via Myanmar.

Mizoram shares international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 17 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Clearance for foreign banks

The Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) will likely name the first group of foreign banks to be given independent operating licences by July as they prepare to bring in financing experts to narrow down the selection, a Central Bank official said.

A deputy governor of the Bank said that they will choose no less than five banks, but only after hiring a team of foreign consultants to help them decide, which should be offered the coveted licences.

"We are now still in stage of hiring foreign consultants and after that we will go on to the selection process together," said the CBM official, adding that they will call for consulting proposals next month, while the process of selecting foreign banks will take about three months.

Banking officials had previously intended to allow foreign players in the market through a tiered plan that entailed allowing them to only be able to sign joint-venture deals with local banks this year, before opening the market completely in 2015.

A total of 35 international banks have representative offices in Myanmar.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Myanmar Times, 19 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN envoy warns of HR challenges

The situation in Rahkine State could have a negative impact on the transition to democracy in Myanmar, UN special envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana warned in Yangon on February 19. Speaking at the end of his ninth and last visit as UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Ojea Quintana said the situation in Rakhine State posed a particular challenge that if left unaddressed "could jeopardise the entire reform process".

In a broad-ranging news conference at Yangon International Airport, Mr Ojea Quintana also addressed the issue of constitutional reform, saying it was inseparable from the process of national reconciliation.

"Reform will be needed to embrace the aspirations of the ethnic communities to have a say over their own future and benefit from the resources held within their lands," he said in a statement released at the news conference. "Constitutional amendments are also needed for the democratic transition to proceed," he said.

"Reform will need to address the undemocratic powers granted to the military and further democratise Parliament, upholding the right of people to choose their own government and president."

On a key issue involving national reconciliation, Quintana said it would be a critical challenge to secure ceasefire and political agreements with ethnic minority groups, "so that Myanmar can finally transform into a peaceful multi-ethnic and multi-religious society".

Ojea Quintana also called for the legislative reforms needed to create an environment where the rule of law was established and human rights were upheld.

"This includes reform of Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, and the passing of an Associations Law and Printing and Publishing Law that meet international human rights standards," the statement said.

Quintana noted that the laws under which charges were dropped and persons released based on the amnesty granted by President U Thein Sein at the end of last year remained on the books "and continue to be used to violate human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and assembly".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima News, 20 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Agreement with India on ’taming’ rivers

Nepal and India have agreed on flood management and control in rivers originating in Nepal and reaching to the Ganges river basin and others. In a recent meeting of the Nepal- India Joint Committee on Inundation and Flood Management (JCIFM) held in Kathmandu, both the sides agreed to expedite works related to flood control and inundation, according to a statement issued by the India n Embassy in Kathmandu.

Besides some field visits to the ongoing and proposed embankment and flood protection works along the Kamala, Bagmati and Lalbakeya rivers, the meeting also reviewed the action taken as per the decision of the seventh meeting of the JCIFM held in Kathmandu last year. The meeting also reviewed ongoing works on Kamala, Bagmati and Lalbakeya rivers and discussed flood inundation issues, flood forecasting issues and comprehensive joint strategy for flood management.

India has been providing assistance to Nepal for strengthening and extending embankments along Lalbakeya, Bagmati, Kamala and Khado rivers since 2008. Flood has been a major concern in Nepal since the Koshi river breached its embankments in 2008. Utilisation of Nepal’s rivers is crucial for irrigating its farmlands and generating electricity to fuel its economy at a time when the country has been tackling 12 hours of power outage daily.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CA chief for new statute within year

Chairman of the Constituent Assembly (CA), Subas Chandra Nembang, has said he would devote to writing constitution within a year. However, cooperation and assistance from all sides were essential for this, he added.

Addressing his first Constituent Assembly meeting after being elected Chairman, he said the reasons behind the failure of last CA election must be sorted out. He expressed belief that the political parties would be responsible to bring the constitution on time.

According to him, the CA had only 11 months left and had no option but to bring out the Constitution in the slated date. Chairman Nembang reiterated that his role would be independent and neutral. He urged the political parties to be committed to constitution writing by electing the Vice-Chairperson of the CA and formulating CA regulations very soon.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SAARC Summit in November

Nepal has proposed that the upcoming 18th SAARC Summit be held in Kathmandu in November this year. A proposal to this effect was made during the SAARC Council of Ministers’ meeting in Maldives on Thursday.

This is the third time Nepal is hosting the regional the grouping. Earlier, Nepal had hosted the third SAARC Summit and the 11th Summit in Kathmandu in November 1987 and January 2002, respectively. All other member-states of SAARC, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka welcomed the proposal made by Nepal.

Foreign Ministers of all member-States, except Nepal, were present during the Council of Ministers’ meet that concluded at Bandos Island of Maldives. Officiating Foreign Secretary Bairagi led the Nepali delegation to the meeting. The meeting formally approved Nepal’s nomination of Arjun Bahadur Thapa, former Foreign Secretary, as the 12th Secretary-General of SAARC for a period of three years commencing March 1 2014.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan Times, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Plane crash kills 18 people

All the 18 people on board a missing Nepalese aircraft have been found dead in the remote mountain area on Monday. The incident serves as a reminder of the poor aviation safety record in the country.

The 40-year-old Twin Otter aircraft of the State-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation went missing on Sunday afternoon while flying from the tourist town of Pokhara to remote Jumla in western Nepal in poor weather conditions.

Poor weather conditions obstructed search efforts on Sunday. The wreckage of the plane was found in a highland in Arghakanchi district about 350 kilometres west of Kathmandu and the bodies of the dead —some of them in unrecognizable condition and in pieces —after being alerted of the location by a mobile phone signal.

Although there were no aircraft accidents in 2013, there have been two fatal ones each in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The government is expected form an investigation committee to find the cause of the accident, but it seems that the aircraft hit a mountain because visibility was poor and it was snowing, according to Bimlesh Karna, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 17 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Peace talks called off, 23 FC men killed

The Pakistan government has called off peace talks with the Pakistan Taliban amidst bombings and the slaughter of 23 Frontier Corps men. Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, announced the decision to stop talks on 20 February 2014.

The Mohmand Agency chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the killings. Umar Khorasani of the TTP Mohmand Agency said that the group killed the soldiers to avenge the "killing of Taliban prisoners in the government’s custody".

TTP Spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid, said that the government started the war when they should have initiated a ceasefire. He added that the Taliban still wishes to engage in a peace dialogue to solve the country’s problems despite the fact that the recent bombardment in North Waziristan was proof of the government’s insincerity.

Earlier, talks between the Taliban and the government negotiators ended in a deadlock.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 17-21 February 2014;, 17- 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maulana Masood Azhar resurfaces

Maulana Masood Azhar, a notorious militant leader in Pakistan, resurfaced and addressed thousands of his supporters in Muzzafarabad, by phone.

Azhar is the leader of an outlawed organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammad. He has called on the Pakistani authorities to lift the ban on jihad.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 2 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM authorises air-strikes

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has authorised air strikes in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency according to a source in his office. Fighter jets have bombed hideouts of suspected militants in the region, killing 40 insurgents including foreign nationals according to security officials.

The attacks followed a breakdown in government’s talks with the TTP following the killing of 23 Frontier Corps soldiers by the TTP Mohmand chapter. A military official said that six targets were hit in the overnight air raids.

< class="text11Verdana">Source:, 21 February 2014; The Express Tribune, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Iran threatens to send forces

Tehran’s interior minister has said that Iranian forces may enter Pakistani and Afghan territory to release five border guards reported to have been seized by a rebel group. According to Iranian media reports, the guards were seized on 6 February 2014 in the Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan by militants who took them across the border to Pakistan.

On 21 February 2014, Pakistan and Iran agreed to take joint steps to fight militant groups and curb the menace of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan has assured Iran that it would undertake all possible efforts to recover the border guards.

The Pakistan foreign office has rejected the idea that the stalled Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline will be affected by the border guards’ issue.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 17-21 February 2014; The Express Tribune, 20 February 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Supreme Court upholds CJ impeachment law

The Supreme Court has held that the Court of Appeal possessed no jurisdiction in terms of Article 140 of the Constitution to review a report of a Select Committee of Parliament constituted in terms of Article 107(3) of the Constitution read with order 87A (2) of the Standing Order of Parliament or to grant and issue an order in the nature of a writ of certiorari purporting to quash the report and findings of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the basis that it was not properly constituted.

The application filed by the petitioner-respondent Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, who was impeached by President, based on a parliamentary vote, in the Court of Appeal, shall stand dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction, the Supreme Court ruled. A special leave to Aapeal, filed in the Supreme Court by the Attorney-General against the Court of Appeal judgment was allowed.

The Supreme Court declared that Section 3 of the Parliament Powers and Privileges Act No 21 of 1953 read with Article 4 C and Article 67 of the Constitution would have the effect of ousting the writ jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal in all the circumstances of this case. The Bench also held that the Court of Appeal had erred in holding that the writ jurisdiction of that Court embodied in Article 140 extended to proceeding of Parliament or a Select Committee of Parliament performing its constitutional function in terms of Article 107 (2) and (3) of the Constitution read with Order 87 A of Standing Order of Parliament.

The judgment explained that according to the present Constitution, the process and power of impeachment of a Supreme Court judge lay with the President and Parliament. Parliament was vested with judicial power of the people exercised The impeached Chief Justice, who was a respondent in the Supreme Court was absent and unrepresented.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Friends of Sri Lanka’ may move parallel resolution

With the voting membership at the UNHRC changing for the session this March, some ’Friends of Sri Lanka’ may be considering moving a resolution supporting the country’s human rights record in the war time, Cabinet spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwela, has said. "Sri Lanka is not behind the move," he clarified.

The new voting-membership includes China, Russia and Cuba, among others. As may be recalled, a ’Friends of Sri Lanka’ forum at UNHRC had moved a similar resolution in the May 2009 session, and got it passed just 10 days after the decisive conclusion of ’Eelam War IV’. In doing so, countries such as China, India and Pakistan also worked together to ensure defeat for an anti-Sri Lanka resolution, tabled by the European Union (EU).

Subsequently, India has voted against Sri Lanka on the two US-sponsored resolutions, in March 2012 and March 2014.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 17 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Western polls behind UNHRC resolutions’

Sri Lanka’s Head of Mission to the European Union, Amb P. M. Amza addressing the meeting of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the Countries in South Asia (DSAS) on February 19 said Sri Lanka was concerned about the continuation of selective adoption of country-specific actions in the Human Rights Council, driven by electoral compulsions of some Member States, as these efforts can erode the credibility and impartiality of the Council.

Sri Lanka, he said, categorically rejected the previous two resolutions adopted by the Council in March 2012 and 2013, respectively, as they were a result of a politicised and ill-conceived process, that polarised the membership of the Human Rights Council. "It was in contravention of the UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, as well as the Human Right Council Resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 which call for cooperation and genuine dialogue as well as impartiality in the method and conduct of the work of the Council," he said.

"Although it was stated that these resolutions on Sri Lanka are to help and encourage the country to achieve reconciliation and durable peace, it serves the exact opposite?. Today, part of the international community seems to be in a rush to pronounce judgments on Sri Lanka which are preposterous," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US probes demographic pattern in North

The government has alleged that the US was making an attempt to justify allegations propagated by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that Sinhala families were being settled in the Northern Province in a bid to change the demographic pattern in the region.

Authoritative sources said that US diplomat Michael A. Ervin accompanied by an interpreter had visited Navatkuli, a village close to the Jaffna town, where he interviewed some of those Sinhala families who had returned to the peninsula after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. They were among those driven out of the Northern Province in the early 1980’s.

Sources said that the interviewed were among about 30 families now settled at Navatkuli. The US Political Officer had asked them about the circumstances under which they had been displaced, who supported them now and details pertaining to Sinhala population in the Jaffna peninsula at the time they fled the area.

The following day, the US diplomat visited Mullaitivu, where he received a briefing from TNA Northern Provincial Council member, Arumugam Ravikaran on what the provincial administration called on-going attempts to change the demographic pattern in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Asked whether the US official had met TNA members when he toured Navatkuli and Mullaitivu to investigate TNA allegations, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Colombo said: "As we do on a regular basis, embassy officials meet local government and civil society in provinces across Sri Lanka. This is part of our normal diplomatic work."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 21 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Murali bowls for national unity

Cricketing legend and spin bowling wizard Muttiah Muralitharan who is part of a movement to promote national unity has said that if the communities in the country desired a Sri Lankan identity and live as one nation devoid of mistrust they must bridge the language gap.

Addressing the representatives of all communities and the media as a prelude to the Conference on National Unity scheduled for 7 April in Colombo, Muralitharan said focusing on past mistakes and keeping alive thoughts of malice and hatred among communities will bring only mistrust.

"We must be determined to work towards communal harmony and narrow the language, cultural and social gaps among the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and other communities living in Sri Lanka. We must not think and act as a Sinhalese, Tamil or a Muslim but as Sri Lankans who have made Sri Lanka their motherland. Living with bitter memories of the past will bring nothing but hatred and anger. Therefore, we all must forget the past and begin to think afresh," Muralitharan said.

He said the best way to create communal harmony among communities was to attend to the basic needs of under privileged people of all communities. The affluent Sinhalese in the South can help their Tamil or Muslim brethren in the North and East and vice versa and added that the Muttiah Muralitharan Foundation has so far distributed 5,000 bicycles among the needy in the North and East.

Muralitharan said he had never thought of himself as a Tamil but as a Sri Lankan and those inter-racial clashes would not occur if we think and work as Sri Lankans. National languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, whose ministry is hosting the convention, said Sri Lanka had reached the stage where the whole country had to be mobilized to pursue the task of promoting racial harmony and narrow the language, social and cultural gaps.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 21 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban deny secret talks

Media reports this week claimed that representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban held secret talks in Dubai. The Taliban delegation was led by Agha Jan Mutassim, who was a finance minister during the Taliban’s 1996-2001 government.

In a statement released post-the meeting, Mutassim claimed that the participants had "insisted in one voice on a discussion among all Afghans, and the need to find a peaceful solution".

However, the Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed that Mutassim did not represent the Taliban group nor did it have any links with the Taliban movement.

He called the movements by Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim against the principles of the Taliban group in Afghanistan and said such initiatives are only in the favor of US occupation forces and puppet Afghan government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 19 February 2014; Reuters, 17 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Abdullah Abdullah escapes Taliban ambush

Afghan presidential candidate, Dr Abdullah Abdullah escaped a Taliban ambush this week on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway as he was returning from a rally in Nangarhar province. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said that three of Abdullah’s personal guards were killed in the attack.

The campaign spokesman Fazal Rahman Oria condemned the attack, and accused the government of neglecting in providing security for the candidates. However, the Ministry of Interior claimed that the attack was on the police and not on Dr Abdullah. Three members of Dr Abdullah’s campaign have already been killed in the past one month.

Dr Abdullah’s rally in nangarhar was his first outside of Kabul since the beginning of the campaign period. He along with all other presidential candidates had been criticised for failing to expand their campaign beyond Kabul.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 18 February 2014; Tolo News, 20 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Former Taliban minister killed

Mullah Abdul Raqiq, who served as Minister of Martyrs and Refugees during the Taliban rule in the 1990s, was gunned down in Peshawar on 17 February. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Raqiq was among a powerful faction of the Taliban calling for direct talks with the Afghan government. It is thus being suggested that he was killed by factions of the Taliban or the Pakistani state, which are opposed to the reconciliation talks in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing of Raqiq claiming that he was a victim of peace. Karzai’s deputy spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said, "We saw several green lights from those willing to start the peace negotiation process, but most of them were assassinated. The killing of Maullah Raqiq is part of the coordinated murders".

The assassination was condemned by the Taliban as well claiming that Raqiq had been killed by enemies of the Taliban.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 18 February 2014; Tolo News, 18 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US warns against travel

The US State Department issued a travel advisory this week warning its citizens about the potential risks of travelling within Afghanistan. The statement claimed, "No province in Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence and banditry, and the strong possibility exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against the US and other foreign nationals at any time".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 21 February 2014

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Niharika Betkerur;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.