MonitorsPublished on Jul 19, 2013
The possibility of, and debate about, a 'zero option' for American troop presence, or absence, in Afghanistan post-2014 has surfaced once again. According to The New York Times, the US administration has not ruled out the possibility of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan come 2014.
Afghanistan: The zero option
< class="heading1">Analysis

The possibility of, and debate about, a ’zero option’ for American troop presence, or absence, in Afghanistan post-2014 has surfaced once again. According to The New York Times, the US administration has not ruled out the possibility of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan come 2014. The report naturally caused a great degree of anxiety in Afghanistan and among the Afghan officials. However, the US was quick to clarify that while a final decision on the troop numbers is yet to be taken and all options including the ’zero option’ is still under consideration, it was not their preferred choice.

Explaining the ’Zero Option’

Three factors can explain why the ’zero option’ is still under consideration. First is the stalled negotiation process over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which is meant to govern the nature and conduct of the American military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The US has clearly stated that unless the BSA is in place by 2014, it would not be possible for them to retain any residual troop presence in Afghanistan. In particular, Washington would be keen to secure legal immunity for its troops stationed in the country. It was the failure to reach a similar agreement with the Iraq Government, which saw a complete withdrawal of US ground troops from Iraq in 2011.

The second reason stems from the above. As the US has made it clear that they would prefer to keep a residual force in Afghanistan under the ambit of BSA, the threat of a complete withdrawal is a possible pressure-tactic that the US would like to exercise with the Afghan Government. This may be a necessary tactic not only to force the Afghan Government to speed up the negotiations, but possibly also to ensure that some contentious issues from America’s perspective are not included in the final agreement.

Some of these contentious demands from the Afghan President Hamid Karzai have included a commitment from the US to attack Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and mention the exact number of troops to be stationed in Afghanistan. Moreover, it gives the US some leverage over Karzai, who seems to have become eager for any pretext to suspend the negotiation process and denounce the US. In fact, the immediate provocation this time for the US to announce the possibility of the ’zero option’ was Karzai’s decision to call off the negotiations over the BSA as a reaction to the Taliban opening its office in Doha.

Whether such a tactic would ultimately yield results or not is to be seen, but it most definitely has raised the pressure on the Afghan Government from within Afghanistan. The Afghan Senators called upon the US to maintain a residual force in Afghanistan in the future and criticised President Karzai for the deterioration in the US-Afghanistan relations.

Finally, the domestic pressure on the US Government, in the backdrop of an economic recession, has also been increasing. As the American casualties in Afghanistan continue to increase and violence in Afghanistan seems nowhere close to an end, there is a feeling that the billions of dollars being pumped into an inefficient and corrupt Government could be better utilised to revive the domestic economy. This is further compounded by the fact that most reports seem to suggest that the threat from al-Qaeda, the primary reason for the US intervention in the first place, emanating from Afghanistan has been eliminated.

Moreover, one American analyst, Michael Kugelman with the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, argues that given that the Taliban insurgency could not be squashed with a total of 140,000 troops, the residual force is unlikely to find much success either. Another analyst, Zachary Keck, writing for The Diplomat argued that the return of the Taliban would not be disastrous for US interests and it is possible for the US to work out other mechanisms through which it could seek to exercise influence in Afghanistan, even without an actual physical military presence there. Thus, it is increasingly being felt in the US that it should cut its costs in Afghanistan by withdrawing all troops from the country.

Possible implications

The possibility of a complete withdrawal has also raised concerns about its possible impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. The Afghan Senators urged the US to provide assistance and support to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) fearing that the ’zero option’ would "spark a national tragedy, which will lead to civil war in the country". A similar assessment has been made by other analysts as well. For instance, Fazel Sancharaki, spokesman for the National Coalition opposition, said "If the zero option proves to be true, Afghanistan will be turned into a battlefield and a terrorist hub". Similarly, Ahmad Zia Masud, a prominent opposition leader in Afghanistan, claimed "If the American forces leave, a catastrophe will occur in the country...our army may vanish by disintegrating along various ethnic lines".

There is no doubt that a complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would have an adverse effect on the security situation in Afghanistan. The ANSF, despite taking over full responsibility for security in the country in June, is still far from having achieved the level of competency that could make it a strong bulwark against the insurgents. A Pentagon report published in December 2012 had clearly stated that only one out of 23 Afghan National Army brigades is capable of functioning without American supervision. While there are reports to suggest that against the backdrop of the impending American withdrawal from Afghanistan, other countries such as India are stepping up their support for the ANSF, the quantum of support promised by these countries is nowhere at par with the one provided by the US, nor are they likely to send in troops to compensate for the vacuum created by the US withdrawal. In light of the above, it becomes difficult to envisage how the ANSF could cope without the assistance of the American troops.

However, at the same time, it is hard to argue against Kugelman’s assessment that a residual force of a few thousand US troops is unlikely to make much headway against the Taliban. The efficiency of a residual force, if left behind, is likely to be qualitatively undermined as well due to the concessions already made by the US over night raids and control of the Afghan prison. It is no surprise then that the security situation is anticipated to deteriorate even if a residual force is retained in Afghanistan. The actual impact of a complete withdrawal then is going to be felt in two different ways. Firstly, no residual force in Afghanistan implies no-US military presence in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which will have an adverse effect on America’s counter-terrorism objectives. While Afghanistan may not have any al-Qaeda operatives or bases, most reports suggest that it is border areas in Pakistan, which have been housing al-Qaeda operatives for a while now. A complete military retreat from Afghanistan would create difficulties for the US in monitoring the security situation in this region and gathering intelligence. Its inability to check the situation could be further curtailed, if it is forced into scaling back its drone programme by the new government in Pakistan.

The second, and possibly the most disastrous impact of a complete withdrawal would be the perception of abandonment that it is likely to create. Even if the impact of an American residual force is limited in military terms, the mere presence of American troops post-2014 can help in quelling fears that the West would desert Afghanistan as they had in the 1990’s, and thus keeping up the morale of the people in general and the ANSF in particular. In the absence of a residual force, utter chaos is likely to ensue, fears already echoed by a number of analysts and government officials, wherein the cohesiveness of vital state institutions, especially the ANSF, may get done just as they had in the 1990’s.

Already there is speculation that an American withdrawal could have a domino effect, leading other countries that have pledged to retain troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to renege on their commitments as well. Besides, the uncertainty likely to be created by such a scenario could possibly result in dwindling funds from the international community as it could discourage other countries from funding the reconstruction process in Afghanistan.

Finally, if seen from the perspective of the Afghan reconciliation process, the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan had been one of the demands put forth by the Taliban for reaching a final political settlement with the Afghan government. This scenario should thus, in principle, pave the way for a breakthrough in the peace talks. However, whether that would actually happen or not is up for debate just as the intentions and sincerity of the Taliban to reach a peaceful solution to the war are. There is a belief that the Taliban, by agreeing to come to the negotiation table, is simply bidding its time till 2014 and would mount a campaign to retake Kabul once the US drawdown takes place. Such fears are now likely to be intensified since the possibility of a complete American withdrawal has resurfaced once again.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Special bilateral ties with India to continue: PM-elect

The president of Bhutan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Tshering Tobgay, on Thursday wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assuring him of "unwavering resolve and commitment to preserve and strengthen special ties" with India. After his party’s spectacular success in the polls last week, Tobgay is all set to take over as Bhutan’s second Prime Minister.

"My party and I attach the greatest important to our relations with India which has been consciously nurtured and strengthened over many decades under the wise and able leadership of our successive kings," wrote Tobgay.

"I would like to further assure Your Excellency of my unwavering resolve and commitment to preserve and strengthen special ties that has always been based on mutual trust, confidence and understanding. In this regard, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to accept Your Excellency’s most gracious to visit your great country at the earliest opportunity," added Tobgay.

Tobgay’s letter to Singh was in response to the latter’s congratulatory message to the PDP leader on Sunday. Tobgay said that Singh’s assurances were a great source of comfort for his nation and that India had been instrumental in ensuring the success of democracy and pace of socio-economic development in Bhutan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India promises aid for 11th Plan

India would have rendered assistance to Bhutan, even if Druk Phuensum Tshogpa had come back to power following the recent general elections, said Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, V P Haran.

"We were only waiting for the new government, so that we can engage with them and know the finalised plan to move forward," the Ambassador said. He said, without knowing the Plan and the projects, there was no way to commit anything by way of assistance.

In 2008, what had happened was that there was something agreed upon as plan finance for the 10th Plan. But when the new government was elected, the plan was "re-opened" and its budget was increased by 20 percent or so.

"We wanted to avoid a situation like this on this occasion," he said. Even this time, he said the plan was a draft, drawn up by the previous government and it needs to be finalised. "Once done, we’re told what the total capital outlay of the plan is and we sit down together to discuss," he said, adding that would have happened, even if the other party had won.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his felicitation letter to the president of the victorious PDP, Tshering Tobgay, also said he has already instructed officials of Indian government to prepare for discussions on the plan assistance to Bhutan.

"Our bilateral ties are anchored in a strong foundation of trust, mutual confidence and understanding," the letter stated. "I wish to reiterate India’s undiminished commitment to Bhutan in preserving these unique and special traditions ties. India is, and will remain, sensitive to Bhutan and its interests."

Ambassador Haran also confirmed that, on June 12, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid wrote to the chief advisor that the assistance for the 11th Plan, including subsidies, would be discussed with the new government as soon as it was in place. He said there was no doubt India has the friendliest of relations with Bhutan.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NDFB-S seeks whereabouts of missing leaders

The National Democratic Front of Boroland (Songbijit) on Tuesday urged the Bhutan Government to disclose the whereabouts of the outfit’s leaders who went missing after "Operation All Clear" in 2003.

B R Ferengga, NDFB (S) spokesman, appealed to the Bhutanese Government to reveal names of the missing leaders during the operations, which was launched by the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) to flush out Indian insurgent groups from their territory in 2003. Many insurgents belonging to NDFB and ULFA were killed in the operation.

"We appealed to the Bhutanese authorities to tell us the truth about the missing NDFB leaders during the operation on December 15, 2003," Ferengga stated in a press statement. The outfit also denied attacking a patrolling party of RBA personnel in Chirang district.

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


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">A monsoon of reforms

The government on Tuesday delivered on its promise to relax the foreign direct investment (FDI) regime, allowing 100 percent foreign ownership in the telecom sector and in defence on a case-by-case basis, but fell short of expectations raised by the Arvind Mayaram committee.

Limits in aviation and multi-brand retail remained unchanged and there appeared to be considerable discretion in defence, where even 100% FDI seemed to have been allowed in theory but only if the investment resulted in the state-of-the-art technology coming into the country. The Defence Ministry will determine what the state-of-the-art is.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, July 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">RBI hikes rates to rescue rupee

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) raised interest rates Monday to strengthen the rupee against currencies such as dollar and the euro. In the process, it, however, raised the possibility of banks increasing lending and deposit rates.

The measures were announced after meetings between Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, followed by a meeting between Mr Chidambaram and RBI Governor D Subbarao, who made an unscheduled dash to New Delhi.

The RBI pushed up the rate at which it lends money to banks by 200 basis points to 10.25 percent. The marginal standing facility, which is the rate at which banks borrow additional funds from the RBI, will now be at 10.25 percent.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, July 16, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Forex shrinks $ 10.5 b in three weeks

India’s foreign exchange reserves got poorer by a significant $10.5 billion in the last three weeks as Reserve Bank of India tried to defend the India currency from falling too sharply against the US dollar.

The currency reserves have shrunk to $280.167 billion and the sharp fall could put the currency under more pressure as the $170 billion of short-term overseas debt is seen as a drag.

Meanwhile country’s exports declined 4.56 percent to $23.78 billion in June and imports contracted due to the government’s curb on gold and silver purchases, helping in lowering the trade deficit, government data showed Friday.

The country’s total merchandise imports were valued at $36.03 billion in June as compared to $36.16 recorded during the same month last year, registered a decline of 0.37 percent, according to data released by the commerce ministry here.

The contraction in imports has helped in bringing down the trade deficit from a seven month high of $20.14 billion registered in May. Trade deficit narrowed to $12.25 billion in June.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Posco scraps steel project in Karnataka

Citing inordinate delays in land acquisition and local opposition, South Korean steel major-Posco today scrapped its proposed project in Karnataka.

"With the given market conditions and significant delay in acquiring the required land in Gadag, we have decided to close our proposed 6 MTPA steel plant in Karnataka," Posco Indian chairman and managing director, Yong Won, said in a statement.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, July 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">More Nigerian crude than for US

India now leads the US in the purchase of crude oil from Nigeria, Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria Mahesh Sachdev has said.

He said recent statistics showed that India had been buying more of Nigeria’s crude than the US over the last three months. "India will continue to cooperate with Nigeria to improve its economy and it will also assist the country in capacity building of workers in both the public and private sectors," Mr Sachdev said during a courtesy visit to the Governor of Niger state in northern Nigeria last Wednesday.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cabinet panel okays Mountain Strike Corps

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) tonight approved in principle a specialised Mountain Strike Corps aimed at increasing military strength along the China frontier. The Committee headed by the Prime Minister is the highest decision making body on security matters.

The Finance Minister had earlier given its approval for raising the corps. The expense of Rs 64,000 crore will now be spread over seven years and not five as planned originally, sources said.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Soren wins trust vote

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren won the trust vote in the assembly on Thursday, six days after being sworn-in as the head of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-RJD alliance.

The JMM alliance won 43 votes in the 82-member house while the Opposition go 37 votes.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Telangana State looks certain now

The UPA government has decided to honour the commitment it made on December 9, 2009 to carve out a separate State of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, senior party and government sources told The Hindu.

"The die is cast," a government source said, "as far as the creation of Telangana is concerned," even though last-minute consultations continue on the ultimate status of Hyderabad and whether two districts of Kurnool and Ananatpur from the Rayalseema region should be added to Telangana to create two States, with 21 Lok Sabha seats apiece.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, July 18, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Highest State honour for Gayoom

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has said that the government has decided to present former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom with the highest honour awarded by the State. Speaking at a press conference at the PPM Office, party Vice-President Abdullah Abdul Raheem said that the cabinet secretary sent a message yesterday stating that the cabinet had decided during their meeting yesterday, to present the highest honour awarded by the State to Gayoom.

"President Waheed’s cabinet secretary sent a message yesterday, saying that the cabinet had decided yesterday to present the highest honour awarded by the State (
< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, July 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nasheed, Gasim name running-mates

Former President and MDP nominee for the September 7 polls, Mohammed Nasheed, has named his one-time Education Minister, Dr Mohammed Lufthee as his vice-presidential running-mate. In yet another curious turn of political events, Jumbhooree Party leader and presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim named DQP leader Hassan Saeed his running-mate after the latter overnight quit as Special Advisor to incumbent President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik.

Presidents Waheed and Nasheed have also since filed their nominations with the Election Commission. Waheed, choosing to contest as an independent along with his DRP running-mate, not wanting to face problems over pending charges of illegally inflating membership numbers, obtained signatures from 1,500 voters for the purpose, as otherwise required. Nasheed, doubly careful about possibilities of later-day negative rulings against his candidacy, got his papers cleared by the local court, before approaching the poll panel.

The surprises included religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP), which had pulled out of President Waheed’s ’National Coalition’ the previous week, too joining the Jumhooree combine. Umar Naseer failed presidential primary candidate in former President Maumoon Gayoom’s PPM, too declared that he and his supporters were considering aligning with the JP-AP combine, without joining Gasim’s party.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, July 14-18, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Constitution must strengthen judiciary: CJ

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has said that the Constitution and relevant laws have to be amended, and new laws have to be introduced, in order to strengthen the judiciary. He said this in a statement.

"Based on our experience up until now, we know that in order to further strengthen the judiciary, the Constitution needs to be amended, relevant laws need to be amended, and relevant laws required by the judiciary need to be introduced as soon as possible," reads the statement by the chief justice.

He called upon all groups to refrain from using the judiciary to obtain political advantages, at a time when political rivalry is strong in the country prior to the upcoming presidential election. He also called on all groups to refrain from talking about the judiciary in a negative or misleading manner.

This statement by the chief justice came shortly after PPM vice-presidential nominee Mohammed Jameel Ahmed criticised the judiciary at a function in Male. Dr Jameel said that while judges in the Maldives receive high salaries and allowances, and while their salaries are being upheld by taxes, it is worth asking if the people get their justice.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, 19 July 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC rejects case on Thasmeen’s seat

The Supreme Court has rejected the case filed by former Thimarafushi MP Mohamed Mustafa, requesting the court to declare that Kendhoo MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has lost his parliamentary seat. Mustafa said that the Supreme Court notified him that the case had been rejected last Tuesday.

Thasmeen Ali, who is also the leader of the Dhivehi Raayathunge Party (DRP), is the vice-presidential running-mate of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik.

"I received a document from the Supreme Court last Tuesday, which said that they are not able to accept the case. According to the document, this decision was made by the judges last Sunday," said Mustafa.

Mustafa said that the document also stated that Thasmeen had appealed the High Court’s ruling, whereby the High Court ordered Thasmeen to repay MVR 1.9 million he owed to Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim, in Supreme Court. Mustafa said that the Supreme Court cited this as the reason for not being able to accept the case filed by him.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No compensation to GMR, arbitration court told

The Maldives government this week told the Singapore arbitration that no compensation is owed to India’s GMR for the premature termination of the contract to develop and run the Male airport, Haveeru has found.

The Indian infrastructure giant filed for a compensation of $1.4 billion before an arbitration court in Singapore, taking into account loss of profit and payments made to sub-contractors.

In response, the government had said based on the legal points of the agreement that GMR does not warrant any compensation for the abrupt termination of the 25-year contract.

In November, the Maldives government terminated the agreement with GMR to develop and operate the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport citing that the agreement was invalid from the outset.

The government believes that there were several issues with the bid evaluation process of the deal. The agreement had been signed without the attorney general’s advice and had not adequately accounted for the potential profit and loss for the state when awarding the airport to GMR, the government had said.

The Maldives Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) 61-page investigation report into the alleged corruption in the leasing of the airport to GMR by Mohamed Nasheed’s administration was publicised last month, nearly three years after the case was filed. The report had declared that there was no corruption involved in the bid evaluation phase of the deal.

A final order in the arbitration is likely to come out by August next year.


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President pledges prisoner-release

President Thein Sein, the first leader of Myanmar to visit Britain in more than 25 years, promised to release all his country’s political prisoners by the year’s end after his host, Prime Minister David Cameron, pressed him to speed up reforms.

Cameron, who visited the former military dictatorship last year, asked Thein Sein to ensure that the Constitution was changed to allow Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to contest a presidential election in 2015 and urged him to halt inter-ethnic violence against Burma’s Muslim minority.

"We very much welcome the reform process you are undertaking in your country and look forward to free, fair and open elections in 2015," Cameron told Thein Sein. He was ready to help spur the economic and political transition of the one-time British colony with aid money, his office said in a statement.

Thein Sein said on Sunday that he had disbanded a security force accused of rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, scene of deadly violence between Muslims and majority Buddhists in the past year.

He has already freed some political prisoners, and in a speech at the Chatham House think tank promised to free all those remaining by the end of this year, saying a special committee was tackling the backlog.

"I guarantee to you that by the end of this year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Burma," said Thein Sein. "Over the last two and a half years, we have embarked upon a transformation which I believe is unprecedented." He also said he was close to brokering a nationwide ceasefire to end long-running ethnic conflicts.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Child-soldiers still on

Myanmar is still using forced labour in addition to the use of child soldiers, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said during a press conference in Yangon on July 17.

"Myanmar cannot deny the fact that there are still child soldier and forced labour. We are negotiating with the government over the eradication of these two issues. Not only the ILO but also other UN organisations are working together on these issues. To avoid using child soldiers, the government has already ordered to stop recruiting underage soldiers to the army. We are joining hands with the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services in this regard," said Mr. Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer.

He continued to say that recruiting minors has also been found in other ethnic armed forces apart from the government forces. Forced labour and using child soldier cases can be found in the regions where ceasefires have been agreed. They have planned to work together with ethnic groups and international labour organisations to put an end to the practice.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt, Wa party reach accord

Myanmar’s government and the United Wa State Party (UWSP) have reached a five-point agreement, including an open and prompt action to discuss military affairs when the need arises.

The agreement was reached after the talks between the Union Peacemaking Work Committee and UWSP held at the Golden Triangle Command in Kengtung, Shan State on Friday.

Committee Vice-Chairman Thein Zaw said the discussion took place in a both brotherly and friendly manner. Lt-Gen Aung Than Htut from the Defence Services Commander-in-Chief’s Office said, "All the problems have been solved. We have lived and continue to live in unity. We are like brothers. There is no doubt, no hatred between us. Problems erupted because of misunderstanding at a lower level."

< class="text11verdana">, July 13, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Higher pay for Govt staff

Focusing on the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) elections and hydropower sector, among others, the election government on July 14 announced a full budget of NRs 517.24 billion for fiscal year 2013-14.

The government has allocated NRs 353.42 billion, or 68 percent of the budget, for recurrent expenditure, NRs 85.10 billion (16.45 percent) for capital expenditure and NRs 78.72 billion (15.22 percent) for financial management. The budget plans to mobilise NRs 354.5 billion through revenues, NRs 69.54 billion through foreign assistance and the deficit through domestic borrowings.

The new budget announced by Finance Minister Shankar Koirala gives continuity to most of the programmes included in the previous fiscal year’s budget. In a bid to boost the morale of government employees, the budget has also hiked their salary by 18 per cent. Similarly, the government has allocated a total NRs 21.40 billion, up by around 81 percent of the current fiscal year’s revised allocation for the agricultural sector.

Amid deteriorating industrial environment in the country, the budget attempts to restore private sector confidence by providing them incentives. The budget also envisions development of Special Economic Zones in additional four places -- Nawalparasi, Kailali, Dang and Surkhet, smooth electricity supply to industrial estates and establishment of international standard exhibition centre in the capital.

Amid ballooning trade deficit, the budget has come up with export incentive programs. The budget has also introduced fast track service for exporters and doubled the amount allocated for promotion of products included in Nepal Trade Integration Strategy (NTIS).

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, July 15, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PMO highlights ’major achievements’

The Prime Minister’s Office has released a 136-page good governance report highlighting the major achievements of multiple sectors over a year.

According to the report, 8,995 conflict-hit people received compensation amounts from the state while 10,512 victims of natural disasters were provided relief.

Families of 3,030 conflict-affected people received self-employment training and the relatives of 10,249 people who died or disappeared during the decade-long insurgency were compensated.

As many as 12,064 Nepal Army personnel were deployed for peacekeeping operations in various conflict flashpoints worldwide. In the period, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority settled 5,466 cases.

According to the report, 1.3 million hectors of land received irrigation facilities with 300,000 hectors irrigated throughout the year. Around 2.18 million people are getting various kinds of social security allowance and the country has a total road length of 52,000 km including new tracks.

The report claims that 83 percent people have access to drinking water. The number of FM radio stations has reached 475 - 328 of which are operating regularly. In addition, an integrated public health programme has been implemented in seven districts that fare poorly in human development indices.

The report stated that the government has furnished 458 replies to the UN Human Rights Commission and Committee on the accusation that it had disappeared a number of nationals or violated their human rights.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dahal meets Baidya

In an important political development, the High-Level Political Committee (HLPC) Coordinator and UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda met CPN-Maoist Chairman Mohan Baidya on July 19.

The Baidya-led CPN-Maoist and its allies comprising 33 parties have been opposing the elections since the formation of the current Interim Election Council. Reports claimed that Baidya’s decision to come for talks followed Dahal’s willingness to sit for unconditional dialogue. The HLPC sent an invitation to Baidya on July 17 in this regard. During the meeting, the duo held discussion on the letter sent by the HLPC to the alliance requesting them to come to the talks table to ensure successful polls slated for November 19.

The CPN-Maoist has been demanding replacement of the non-partisan government with a political one, termination of all agreements signed among the four parties and a halt to the election process. The alliance has also demanded that the contentious issues that led to the dissolution of the CA last year be resolved through an all-party round-table conference.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karzai grants clemency

Nepali national, Tilak Bahadur Thapa Magar, who had been serving a 20-year jail term in Afghanistan for the last two years, arrived in Kathmandu on July 14 after Afghan President Hamid Karzai granted him clemency on the request of Nepal government.

The release of Thapa Magar became possible after over a year long diplomatic efforts by the Nepal Embassy in Pakistan, which is also concurrently accredited to Afghanistan. Thapa Magar, who then worked as a senior official with Contract International Corporation, hails from Bandipur-5 of Tanahun district.

Thapa Magar along with one Pakistani and two Afghan nationals were arrested by National Directorate of Intelligence of Afghanistan on April 19, 2011, from Helmand Province on charge of leaking vital security information to the intelligence agency of Pakistan. A court in Helmand had convicted Thapa Magar of espionage and handed him 16 years in prison, which was later added by four years.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, July 15, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">High alert in Lumbini

In the wake of multiple blasts in one of the holiest Buddhist sites - Bodh Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar - security forces have been put on high alert across the border in Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha.

The series of explosions that rocked the premises of Bodhibrikshya and Madhubani areas on July 7 - the first ever terrorist attack on a Buddhist pilgrimage site in India - came as a great shock to the followers of a religion that preaches non-violence to the world.

According to SSP Mingmar Lama of Lumbini Zonal Police Office, security has been kept on high alert at Lumbini, Tilaurakot Durbar, Gautam Buddha’s maternal uncle’s house Devdaha and the border points in Rupandehi, Kapilvastu and Nawalparasi. "Following the incident, we have increased patrolling in those areas," said the SSP.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan Times, July 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China to provide mobile hospitals

Chief of Nepal’s Army Staff (CoAS) Gaurav Sumsher Rana is scheduled to sign a protocol related to Chinese assistance on two mobile hospitals during his week-long visit to China starting July 19.

The mobile hospitals will be useful especially in disaster-prone areas. At the press conference organised by the Directorate of Public Relations of Nepal Army, spokesman Brig-Gen Suresh Sharma said that the mobile hospitals will be worth NRs 917 million.

He also informed that the two hospitals, which will include beds with emergency department, critical care holding area, fully digital X-ray unit, a small lab, a blood bank and operating rooms, could accommodate between 26 and 50 patients at a time.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, July 18, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Britain gives water filtration equipment

Britain has presented the Nepal Army’s Directorate of Disaster Reduction and Resilience with essential water filtration equipment worth £22,000 to boost Nepal’s disaster management capacity.

British ambassador handed over 115 Lifesaver jerry cans and 99 Lifesaver water bottles to Brigadier General Tajman Singh Basnyat, Director General for Development and Security on July 19.

The British Government is committed to supporting Nepal’s ability to plan for and respond to a major natural disaster, recognising that the effects of climate change and the risk of a major earthquake are two of the most fundamental challenges facing Nepal.

DFID is spending almost £5m each year on disaster risk reduction and resilience, and has committed £65m over the next four years to project work to build Nepalis resilience and adaptation to the effects of climate change.

< class="text11verdana">Source: British Embassy in Kathmandu Press release, 19 July 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No immunity for Gilani

Former Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, has again refused to appear before the National Accountability Bureau in a case which is investigating the appointment of Tauqeer Sadiq as the chairman of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority. Gilani stressed the constitutional immunity that he enjoys being former Prime Minister. The NAB said that he could be liable to arrest for objecting to adhere to consecutive notices to appear before NAB officials.

Gilani argued that he would rather go to jail than appear before the NAB, accusing them of being part of wider government conspiracy against the Pakistan Peoples Party. In referring back to the Asghar Khan case, Gilani stated that no justice could be achieved when the credibility of government institutions was in question.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune; 19 July, 2013, Dawn; 18-19 July, 2013.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UK help for regional stability

British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday beginning his official two-day tour of the country. In a bid to strengthen existing ties with Pakistan, Hague met with the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz.

The key issue on the agenda was the war on terror and Afghanistan. Pakistan has a crucial role to play in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table, and in creating regional stability in the aftermath of US-led NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Hague applauded Pakistan’s continuous effort to fight terrorism at home and the sacrifices that have been made thus far.

Hague promised British support in achieving regional stability as long as Pakistan cooperated with British and international efforts in Afghanistan. Sharif offered Pakistan’s cooperation in encouraging peace, and accepted the UK’s offer to help draw up a counter-terrorism strategy for the region.

Hague’s two-day visit also included discussions on the state of Pakistan’s economy and strengthening bilateral trading links between the two states. On Thursday, Hague visited Lahore meeting with the business community which was organised by Shahbaz Sharif.

In this meeting, Hague expressed interests in building on existing trading cooperation, and would encourage British business in the country. Aziz and Hague both committed to an increase in bilateral trading to GBP 3 billion by 2015. Sharif had also requested, British support in Pakistan’s bid to gain GSP status with the European Union.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Express Tribune July 17-19, 2013, Dawn July 17-18 July, 2013.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Malala speaks at the UN

Malala Yousafzai addressed a United Nations Youth Assembly in New York on July 12, where she said that books and pens "are the most powerful weapons." Her address to the UN and her story has caught worldwide attention. She celebrated her 16th birthday by telling the world about the importance of women’s education, especially in the Swat Valley area where the extremists "are afraid of books and pens."

Malala’s speech, however, did not win over the hearts and minds of every listener. A prominent Taliban leader, Adnan Rashid, wrote a letter to Malala expressing shock that she was attacked, but urged her to return home and join and women’s madrasah where she would write for "Islam and plight of the Muslim Ummah and reveal the conspiracy of the tiny elite that wants to enslave the whole humanity for their evil agenda in the name of New World Order." The senior representative of Tehreek Taliban told BBC Urdu that the Taliban were not involved in the writing of the Rashid’s letter, and stated that Malala would be again targeted if she returned to the Swat valley.

Malala’s journey began in 2009 when she took part in a BBC diary which recorded her life under the Taliban. With the encouragement of her father, she also blogged but her identity was soon discovered leading to the fatal incident in October 2012 when a militant boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. Since then, her story has become ever more public and caught the attention of politicians and celebrities across the world. Malala Day celebrated her achievements and her powerful story of championing education and challenging Taliban authority.

It is clear that it is not safe for Malala to return home for she would attacked again for "promoting secular education" as the Taliban argued. But her defiant stance has brought women’s education and the global war on terror back on the agenda.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: BBC 11-17 July, 2013; The Express Tribune 18 July, 2013.

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SLFP decision no bar on Devananda

The decision of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader of the ruling UPFA combine at the Centre to bar Members of Parliament from resigning their seats to contest the Provincial Council polls would not be considered an obstacle to EPDP leader, Minister Douglas Devananda or UNP parliamentarian, Dayasiri Jayasekera from contesting the forthcoming elections under the UPFA banner and ’Betel’ symbol, senior party sources said yesterday.

There are strong indications that Jayasekera could vie for the chief ministerial stakes of the North-Western Province under the SLFP banner, the sources said.

No confirmation forthcoming from UNP parliamentarian Jayasekera, who continues to reject speculation of a cross-over.

Devananda said that following the outcome of today’s meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he would decide whether to resign his parliamentary seat to contest the North provincial elections with the objective of being elected Chief Minister.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Court moved against NCP polls

A petition by the Secretary to the Sinhala Jathika Peramuna (SJP), Jayantha Liyanage, was called before the Court of Appeal yesterday and listed for support on August 6, 2013. The petition wants the Court to issue a prohibition order on the Commissioner of Elections and the Attorney General, restraining them from conducting the Provincial Council Polls in the Northern Province in September this year.

The petition has claimed that the landmines are yet to be removed in some areas in the North and all voters have not been resettled. Therefore, polls should be held after those issues are solved. The petitioner wanted time to amend the petition and it was granted.

The Bench comprised Justice S. Sriskandarajah, President of the Court of Appeal.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, July 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Refugees to be settled in Papua New Guinea

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that all refugees who arrive in Australia by boat will be resettled on the island nation of Papua New Guinea as his government struggles to stem an influx of asylum seekers. The new policy was immediately condemned by human rights groups.

Rudd and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill signed an agreement in the Australian east coast city of Brisbane on Friday that will enable Australia to deport refugees to its developing neighbor in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. "From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees," Rudd told reporters.

The move, described by Rudd as "very hard line," aims to deter an escalating number of asylum-seekers who travel to Australia in rickety fishing boats from poor, war-torn homelands through other countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

The growing influx is a major political problem for Rudd’s Labour Party, which is the clear underdog in elections expected within months.

The policy was condemned by refugee and human rights advocates.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gota in Uganda

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has arrived in Uganda to promote bilateral security among both nations, media reports said.

Rajapaksa was received by Uganda’s State minister of Defense, General Jeje Odong at Entebbe Airport on Friday.

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Uganda, Vellupillai Kananathan, said Mr. Rajapaksa is here on a working state visit and would spend five days in Uganda.

"The visiting defence secretary will have a chance to meet with President Museveni, and the Commander of Defence Forces to discuss defence issues and also meet a technical team from the ministry of defence," Kananathan said.

He said Rajapaksa will also visit Murchison Falls National Park and Lugazi Sugar Corporation to promote cooperation in sugar production. Sri Lanka is a leading sugar producer.

Kananathan said there were a number of Sri Lanka investors in Uganda and more have showed interest in coming.

Last November Museveni visited Sri Lanka at the invitation of his counterpart, Mahinda Rajapaksa and during the visit Sri Lanka agreed to refurbish Masulita Vocational Training Centre in Kakiri.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Island, July 19, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New election law approved

The Lower House of the Afghan Parliament approved the new election law this week, which was subsequently endorsed and signed by the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The final approval of election law comes after months of heated discussion and debates. The passing of the new law should ease some of the concerns within Afghanistan and among the international community regarding a fraudulent electoral process on account of a flawed election law.

The new law fixes the education qualifications for the president and members of parliament, reduces the reservation of seats for women in the provincial, district and village councils from 25 per cent to 20 per cent, eliminates the reserved seat for the Sikh community and reserved 10 seats for the Kuchi community.

As part of the new law, Karzai and the parliament also approved the Law on Authorities and Job Descriptions of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The five-member ECC, having no foreign members, will be an all-Afghan body with authority to annul fraudulent votes and announce the final election outcome.

President Karzai after signing the law formed a committee to select the Commissioners of the IEC and ECC. The Committee will consist of the heads of the Lower House and Senate, chief of the Supreme Court, chief of the Independent Commission on Monitoring and Implementation of Constitution, chairperson of the Independent Human Rights Commission and one member from a civil society institution. The members will have the authority to elect the Commissioners of the IEC and ECC.

Fazel Ahamd Manavi, head of the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC), on Tuesday said that the approval of the new election law could create some challenges for the election organising body as it will be split into two separate bodies - the IEC and Election Complaints Commission (ECC). However, Mr. Manavi emphasised that the Commission is determined to overcome any complications and conduct the elections according to the new law.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Pajhwok, July 15, 2013; Tolo News, July 15 - 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jirga to approve pact with the US

The chief spokesperson for the Afghan President, Aimal Faizi announced that a loya jirga would be convened to take a decision on the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US. Faizi squashed all rumours that the jirga was being convened by Karzai to serve his own personal interests and to extend the tenure of his government. He said people from all parts of the country, including public representatives, would participate in the jirga that would make a final decision on BSA.

Despite this clarification, Karzai’s decision to convene the jirga has been met with severe criticism from MPs in Afghanistan. The Afghan Senators, for example, accused Karzai of undertaking an unconstitutional step by circumventing the National Assembly to convene the jirga and urged him to involve the Afghan parliament in the process.

The opposing Senators also said that Jirgas are a huge financial burden on the citizens of the country and it is not a proper way to address national issues. "We have failed to achieve any positive result from the previous Jirgas. The proposed Jirga is a clear violation of the Constitution." said one senator. Another senator said, "A Jirga has no legal status and the government of Afghanistan is obligated to share the issues of the country with the people’s representatives at the National Assembly,"

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Pajhwok, July 14-15, 2013; Tolo News, July 17, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sayyaf for presidency

Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a well-known jihadi leader, would be contesting the presidential elections in Afghanistan in 2014. Qaseem Fahim and Mohammad Mohaqiq have been named as his running mates.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the National Coalition of Afghanistan at the residence of Fahim. Water and Energy Minister Ismail Khan, Abdullah Abdullah, Younus Qanuni and other jihadi leaders attended.

But aides to Sayyaf and Mohaqiq said they were unaware of the decision. Abdullah refused to accept the decision and said it had to be endorsed by the coalition.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, July 16, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gas pact with Turkmenistan

Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed the Contract on Sales and Purchase of gas under the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline project which will have a duration of 30 years.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of Afghanistan following a statement on Saturday announced that the contract was signed on the sidelines of the "The 17th Steering Committee Meeting on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India TAPI Project", which was held on 9 of July in Ashgabat.

The contract was signed between Afghan Gas and Turkmen Gas companies and the Ministries of Mines and Petroleum of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The signing of the contract is being considered as a fundamental and practical step towards implementing the TAPI Project through which Afghanistan will address its gas needs for the next 30 years.

Afghanistan will purchase 500 million cubic meters of gas in the first ten years, and 1bilion and 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually in the second and third ten years respectively, foreign ministry officials said. The gas imported from Turkmenistan will be used for industries and generation of power for homes and factories.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Khaama Press, July 13, 2013

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

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