MonitorsPublished on Jan 24, 2014
On 5 January, parliamentary elections were held in Bangladesh. They were boycotted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led 18 party alliance, allowing the Awami League to win the election with two thirds majority and with very little opposition.
Bangladesh: Election-2014, an assessment
< class="heading1">Analysis

On 5 January, parliamentary elections were held in Bangladesh. They were boycotted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led 18 party alliance, allowing the Awami League to win the election with two thirds majority and with very little opposition. Out of 300 seats, 153 members were elected uncontested.

Polling was held in the remaining 147 constituencies, of which Awami League bagged 104, former military dictator H M Ershad-led Jatiya Party (JP) won 13, Workers Party of Bangladesh (an ally of Awami League) won 4, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) got 2, Tariqat Federation 1 and newly floated Bangladesh National Front (BNF) got 1. Awami League in total won 231 seats, while others including JP won 33, Workers Party 6, JSD 5, Anwar Haque Manju JP 1, Tariqat Federation 1 and BNF 1.

This election was also one of the bloodiest; 19 people died in the poll related violence. In the aftermath of the elections, there were incidences of attack on the minorities, especially Hindus, as the community is perceived to support the Awami League.

The opposition BNP boycotted the election as its demand for impartial caretaker government was not fulfilled. For a long time, BNP had declared not to participate in the election unless its demand is fulfilled. To press its demand, BNP and its allies observed a string of shutdowns, which often turned violent. 153 people were killed in street violence after the date of election was declared on 27 November 2013.

The political unrest also immensely hampered the daily lives of the people as shops, offices, educational institutions remained closed for days and the transport sector also remained non functional, hampering mobility. Also, the economy suffered substantially following pre-poll political violence.

All efforts by the opposition, even mobilising the international community, could not prevent the election. The international community, especially the US and the European Union (EU), were most active in urging the ruling Awami League to take the BNP along in the election. EU even declined to send election observers. BNP and Jamaat’s apathy for the election was due to the ongoing trial of the war criminals.

The situation has changed completely after the election. The international community’s attitude changed significantly. Though the international community, especially the US, EU and Canada expressed their displeasure over the violence during polling, all have declared that they would work with the ruling Awami League Government.

Credibility under question

There might be questions about the credibility of the election, but no one raised doubts about its legitimacy. The system of caretaker government, which supervised the parliamentary election since 1996, was abolished following an amendment of the constitution in 2011. The election was held within transparent constitutional parameters. However, the low voter turnout was an issue. Election Commissions estimated 40 percent of voter turnout, making it one of the lowest in the history of Bangladesh.

The country is known for high voter turnout -- in 2008, it was 85 percent, in 2001 it was 74 percent and in 1996 it had recorded 75 percent. The election that recorded the lowest voter turnout of 22 percent was the election in February 1996, which eventually was declared null and void since the opposition boycotted it.

In 1996, Sheikh Hasina was on the other side of the fence. At that time, she was in the opposition and had pressed for the formation of a neutral caretaker government. In February 1996, the ruling BNP went ahead with a one sided election. The BNP could not hold on to power for long and declared fresh elections within few days after assuming office.

Prior to the 5 January election, Sheikh Hasina called a closure of the 10th parliamentary election and expressed her desire to discuss with opposition about the next parliamentary election. She, however, did not specify any timeline for the next parliamentary election.

Tricky situation

The present situation has put the opposition in a tricky situation. Now that Awami League has returned to power with a dominant majority and without any major opposition in the parliament, it will continue with the trial of war criminals. The biggest sufferer will be the BNP and the Jamaat-led alliance as six of its top leaders are facing death sentence.

The Government has already executed Jamaat leader Quader Mollah in December 2013. Remaining executions are likely to take place soon. Execution of Mollah has brought back people’s support significantly in favour of Awami League. Awami League also earned some brownies after Awami League invited BNP to take part in the poll time government and also Sheikh Hasina’s initiative to speak to Khaleda Zia telephonically.

Since a new government has been formed, it’s time to move ahead. The main task of this government will be to restore peace and stability in the country and faith of the people in the political parties which has been greatly damaged. Loss of democratic polity will only strengthen radical forces in the country, which greatly threatens the liberal values, protection of which was core for the country’s independence.

In this regarding, engaging with the opposition and other political parties is necessary, the opposition also have to think about the greater good of the country, not just about its narrow objective. Strengthening the democratic institutions and revival of the economy should also be given priority.

Completion of 10th parliamentary election has halted the reign of uncertainty and violence temporarily. Return of violence will lead to further fragmentation of the society and such a situation is not healthy for progress of the country. Bangladesh, once described as ’basket case’, achieved much success in past few years. It made significant human development progress.

Also, the country is rated to be one of the fastest growing economies. The country is likely to become a middle income country within few years. All these development will stop if there is political instability. The political parties have to understand and work for the benefit of the country.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bhutan: Making information accessible

Mihir Bhonsale

Bhutan’s progress in making a full transition to democracy is quite impressive. After electing a government for the second time in August last year, the country is all set to witness a law- Right to Information. The law is intended to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of public institutions and raise the standard of governance in the country.

A Right to Information Act in Bhutan is long due, since at least from 2009 when the government began working on the law. The first draft was publicized through the government’s website in July 2012. Since then, the country has seen many revisions and country now has the Right to Information Bill that will be tabled in the parliament’s winter session beginning on 22 January.

The Bill that is likely to be passed in the parliament upholds the spirit of the Preamble of the Constitution of Bhutan which aims to ensure an informed citizenry and secure access to information held by the government. Thus, the Right to information is enshrined in the country’s 2007 Constitution that paved the way for Bhutan’s departure from monarchy.

The Bill covers all wings of the government: judiciary, legislature, police and military. While the Bill includes the Prime Minister’s office, the Monarch has been excluded from the ambit of the Bill. The Bill makes responsible for appointing information media officers.

The system for seeking information has been decentralized as local courts have been recognized as the first appellate body of the National Tribunal. The number of days within which the information sought needs to be delivered by the concerned agency is 30 days from the appeal.

Addressing weaknesses

Though the Bill is derived from the country’s constitution, it does not have a constitutional status and hence the Act fails to override all other laws and leaves it susceptible to frequent amendments which might go to the extent of making the law redundant. The private sector in the country has been excluded from the Bill. This is one of the important limitations of the Bill.

The Act once coming into force would exempt certain information from being made accessible to the public through the Act. While exempting information related to official secrets is justified, the Right to Information Bill also exempts information related to ’Third Parties’ or transactions between the government and ’Third Parties.’

Ambiguity also exists in defining information sought in the right earnest and upholding ’public interest.’ For example, one of the sections in the Bill lays down stress on exempting information after gauging whether or not, "The overall harm caused by release of the information would outweigh the public interest in having such information disclosed."

The Bill does not specify the nature of penalties in case of the concerned authority’s failure in providing information. Deciding on the penalties has been left to local courts, which might lead to weak implementation of the Act. The government’s unpreparedness in terms of budgeting for creating infrastructure or for appointing human resource within 3 months of the enactment of the law is another grey area in the implementation of the Act.

Key to achieving happiness

The Right to Information law is an important step ahead for improving governance in a country which harps on the sui generis concept of ’Gross National Happiness.’ The law is especially aimed at improving deliverance of public institutions to its people. Like the King’s words of caution on the National Day celebrations last year the poor implementation of policies has been an important failing of the country.

The right to information law would also lay bare the incidents of corruption that have plagued the country and strengthen the anti-corruption commission’s efforts in checking corruption. This law would also make proactive disclosure compulsory hence making the people access information that remained behind iron-curtains till now. This would meet the aim of creating an informed citizenry.

So far the Right to Information law has been in practice in over 90 countries, Sweden being the first to have a comparable law in 18th century, however countries like Bangladesh and India in sub-continent have realized its importance only in the 21s century. India enacted the law only in 2005 and till today the status of implementation of the law remains a distant reality.

Bhutan has a lot to learn from experiences of other countries and adopt the global best practices. They have to evaluate such experiences against the nation’s own prism of Gross National Happiness (GNH) . However, the courage the country that is still in the early days of democratic transition is commendable.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">King’s visit consolidates ties with India

The recent visit of Bhutanese king to India will further strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries, Speaker of Bhutan’s Parliament said on 22 January. Addressing the Parliament, Speaker Jigme Zangpo expressed his gratitude to the king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck for attending the second session.

Members of the royal family, head of international agencies, senior Government officials and general public attended the opening ceremony of the Parliament session. Zangpo expressed confidence that the recent visit of Bhutan’s king and queen to India would further strengthen the friendly relations between the nations.

King Wangchuck and his wife Queen Jetsun Pema were on a five-day visit to India earlier this month. During his visit, the King called on President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, ruling UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and a number of Indian political leaders.

The King had reiterated Bhutan’s commitment to see relations with India become stronger. He said "India was crucial to Bhutan’s plans for the future and Bhutan requires India’s support as it consolidated its democracy and made economic progress.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Business Standard, 22 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Talks with India mull new routes

A by-pass road to Passakha and Samdrupjongkhar industrial estates from India was one of the top agendas of the Indo-Bhutan bilateral talks on trade and transit held in Thimphu. The decision was to establish the route sooner so it would reduce the transportation cost and most important, ease traffic congestions the two towns of Jaigaon and Phuntsholing are mired with.

Although the request for new transit points was discussed during earlier meetings, Economic Affairs Secretary Dasho Sonam Tshering said this time it had advanced. He said the routes had to access through forest and private land in India and that clearing the land issues took time.

The route will begin from highway at Bolan Chopati, near Mangalabari in Jalpaiguri district to Toribari or Pasakha industrial Estate. The Matanga industrial estate in Samdrupjongkhar is to be directly connected to Bokajuli in Assam without having to pass through Samdrupjongkhar town. These routes would serve as alternate transit points to the country and is expected to ease trade between the two countries. Several seasonal entry points were also identified.

Dasho Sonam Tshering said seasonal entry points would serve as alternative routes to export fruits and vegetables. Economic affairs joint secretary Sonam P Wangdi said of the seven seasonal entry points, three had already been notified.

For the remaining four, he said the Indian counterparts requested the Bhutanese to provide a data on the nature of products and quantity of export that would be made through the routes. Sonam P Wangdi said necessary services would be provided from the Indian side depending on viability and availability of Indian customs official.

This, Dasho Sonam Tshering said was also to see the feasibility of checkpoints. "We’ve to work on the stats now," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, 22 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Import-ban off

The Government has confirmed it would lift restrictions imposed on import of vehicles and housing loan, but not before fiscal measures are put in place.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the ban will be lifted, but taxes on all commodities imported will be revised.

"We’re looking at an extensive overhaul on the taxation front," he said, adding the overall economy needed to be studied.

Lyonpo, however, clarified that revising taxes did not necessarily mean increase in taxes. "Of course there’ll be increases, but in some areas, taxes could be reduced as well."

Rationalising the entire taxation system comes with a lot of work, he said, adding almost 90 percent of goods that are consumed domestically are imported, particularly from India.

"We need to study people’s affordability, and we also need to distinguish goods and services that are essential, necessary and luxury and, accordingly, revise taxes."

The minister said, since it will consume a lot of time, the revision might not happen during the present session of parliament. Revision of taxes should be deliberated and adopted in parliament.

The central bank had also advised the government to look into lifting the ban, by introducing some radical fiscal measures.

Governor of the Central Bank, Daw Tenzin, in his executive summary of Royal Monetary Authority’s annual report (2012-13), stated temporary measures should be withdrawn, in tandem with the introduction of long-term policy interventions by the Government. He also said additional fiscal measures should be put in place to discourage non-essential imports, so restrictions could be removed.

If not for this, the economy could enter into another liquidity situation, similar to the 2012 experience. The transport sector has been identified as one area that was draining on the economy’s rupee reserve, forcing the central bank to enter into costly borrowings of rupee from Indian commercial banks.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, 24 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">$40-m investment fund with Israel

India and Israel have agreed to set up a $40 million fund to support joint technological ventures for consolidating and strengthening economic ties.

Both the countries will be contributing $20 million each to the fund over a period of five years.

Israel’s Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, who last year visited India, announced about the initiative saying it is aimed at consolidating and strengthening economic ties with strategic partners.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 22 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Biocon clinical trials ordered out

Biocon, which sought to develop drugs for India and other emerging markets from home, is in a quandary. As the Indian authorities clamp on clinical trials, Biocon has been forced to move various Indian projects to the US and Europe. The move not only makes the process more cumbersome but results in a 10-20-fold increase in the cost of drug development for the Bangalore-based public limited company.

"The situation is becoming more and more difficult in India. Several programmes have been stalled and we have also moved the trials offshore, to ensure the work on the development does not stop," the company’s chairperson & managing director, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 24 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army closes Pathribal encounter case

The Army’s Court of Inquiry (CoI) on January 23 declared the matter of the death of five Kashmiri civilians, allegedly killed in a fake encounter by Rashtriya Rifles in March 2000, as "closed".

The CBI had earlier established charges of abduction and murder against five Army officials and filed the chargesheet in a designated court in Srinagar in 2006, seeking trial for "exemplary punishment" of the accused. It held five officials of Rashtriya Rifles 7th Battalion guilty of "cold-blooded murder" of five innocent civilians of Anantnag.

The CBI had filed the charge-sheet against Brig Ajay Saxena, Lt-Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan for staging the fake encounter and labelling the five abducted civilians as foreign terrorists involved in the massacre of 35 members of the Sikh community at Chittisinghpora on 20 March, 2000.

However, after years of legal battle, in which the CBI pressed for the trial and the Army claimed immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, claiming that the prosecution could not proceed in absence of sanction from the Centre. The Supreme Court in 2012 granted the Army the option of conducting the proceedings either through a civil court or its own Court of Inquiry. The Army opted for the latter.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 24 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Heli-borne geo-physical system

India on 22 January became only the seventh nation to own a heli-borne geo-physical system (HGSS), which has been integrated on the advanced light helicopter’s (ALH) latest version — Garuda Vasudha.

The ALH, which is the brainchild of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been integrated with HGSS procured from Pico Envirotec Inc, Canada.

The chopper was officially handed over to the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a body responsible for conducting geophysical survey under the ministry of mines and it costs INR 73-crore. Although basic aircraft was delivered to the ministry of mines as early as in 2009, it took HAL and the GSI five years to procure and integrate the HGSS.

"Only six other countries, Australia, the UK, the US, South Africa, France and China have this. This will help us go beyond traditional methods of conducting geophysical surveys and will help us map our resources better," S K Wadhawan, Director General, GSI said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 23 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No defence agreement with US

Maldives has decided not to take part in a proposed military cooperation pact with the United States over fears that it could upset India, senior officials said Wednesday. Speaking on a visit to Sri Lanka, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen said he did not want to proceed with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have given the US a foothold in his archipelago, located across the main east-west sea-route.

"There have been discussions before... we are not going to pursue it," he told reporters in Colombo during his second overseas visit since winning elections two months ago. The US had confirmed early last year discussions on the accord, but had said it had no intention of setting up any bases in Maldives.

Although the President gave no reason for the decision, Mohamed Shareef, a minister in Yameen’s office, said it had been made over fears that the pact would upset its neighbours, including India.

"We have told them that we can’t do it because both India and Sri Lanka are also not happy with it," said Shareef, without giving further details. Shareef said the proposed SOFA would have given the US military access to two atolls in the nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered some 800 km across the equator.

He noted that the US military already had a considerable presence in Diego Garcia, a British territory, about 700 km south of the Maldivian archipelago.

On his visit to Colombo, the president also said he was keen to resolve an on-going commercial dispute with an Indian infrastructure company, GMR, which was kicked out of managing the Male airport in December 2012.

Yameen said he was also keen to expand the current airport to cater to increasing tourist traffic to the country which is an upmarket destination for well-healed holiday makers and honeymooners.

< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP. Haveeru Online, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Anti-GMR leader loses Minister’s job

Abdulla Mohamed, leader of the Civil Society Coalition, has been dismissed from the post of Minister of State for Home Affairs.

Former President Dr Mohamed Waheed appointed Abdulla Mohamed to the post of State Minister for Home Affairs in March 2012, soon after the controversial change of power in February 2012.

The former Dhivehi language teacher at Arabiyya School, Male, is regarded as the face of the National Movement that forced the annulment of the GMR contract.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to supply oil

Following up on the Indian commitment when President Yameen Abdulla visited New Delhi last month, Managing Director of Maldives’ State Trading Organisation (STO) Adam Azim has said that an agreement has been reached with India’s public sector Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited regarding supplying oil to Maldives.

"Nearly 99 percent of discussions in this regard have been completed. Now we’re working on administrative issues," Azim said. He said that the company has agreed to supply oil to Maldives at a small freight, which means that the local price of oil will not increase.

Azim assured that Maldives will receive oil from India shortly, as soon as the administrative work is completed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Support for Sri Lanka

The Maldives on Wednesday assured Sri Lanka its firm support to the neighbouring country at the international level. The assurance was given during the official talks held between the Maldives and Sri Lanka, led by President Abdulla Yameen and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

President Yameen reiterated the gGvernment’s commitment to enhance the welfare of the people, develop and diversify the economy, strengthen social cohesion within the country and empower the youth. He also expressed hope that his ongoing state visit to Sri Lanka would further strengthen and expand trade relations between the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

At the meeting, discussions were also held on the regional and international issues of mutual concern.

At the official-level talks, Sri Lanka requested Maldives again to grant permission for "innocent passage" for its fishermen sailing to the Arabian Sea. Sri Lanka has requested the Maldives on several occasions to grant permission to its fishermen to cross Maldivian territorial waters to enter international waters.

A Maldives-Lanka Maritime Agreement granting the request was signed in 2011, but implementation of the agreement was put off due to public outcry in Maldives.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 23 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Need to build financial institutions: IMF

The International Monetary Fund has urged Myanmar to build more financial institutions in order to achieve further development and continuous growth, a senior official has said.

"I think the Government’s decision last year to establish an autonomous central bank is a very important one. Myanmar needs to build more institutions to manage its economy. The central bank is crucial to that," Matt Davies, who led the IMF mission to Myanmar, told Eleven Media on 21st January.

"Measures to invest in infrastructure, electricity, health, and education are really worth laying the foundation for that growth. And make sure that the government budget is moving in the right direction. It takes a long time to turn the budget around. I believe the future (of Myanmar) will be very bright."

Davies told a Press conference on 22 January that Myanmar’s current economic outlook remains favourable. "Real GDP growth in the 2012-13 fiscal year reached 7.3 percent, led by services and manufacturing. We expect it to rise further to 7.5 percent this fiscal year and 7.75 percent in 2014-15. Credit to the private sector is expected to decline from its current high levels but remain rapid, at around 30 percent," he said.

The fiscal deficit in 2013-14 is expected to land roughly in line with the budget target of 5 percent of GDP, but should fall to 4.5 percent in financial year 2014-15, as a result of one-off revenues from telecommunications licences.

Davies also pointed out that inflation is still a cause of concern for the Southeast Asian country. However, inflation is expected to exceed 6 percent by the end of 2013-14 and remain elevated in 2014-15. Also, the external current account deficit in is expected to widen further, to about 5 percent of GDP in this period. As a result, the government’s accumulation of international reserves during 2013-14 was slower than projected."

Overall reserves remain stable, and accumulation should pick up in 2014-15 as foreign direct investment and other inflows outweigh the current account deficit, he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 22 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ethnic leaders discuss ceasefire

Leaders of armed ethnic groups in Myanmar are currently negotiating at a conference in Kayin State as to whether they should sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement before political dialogue with the government begins.

This second conference of armed ethnic groups is being held at Law Khee Lar Camp, located in an area controlled by the Kayin National Liberation Army (KNLA).

At the first conference, held at Laiza in October, ethnic leaders said they would sign the nationwide ceasefire only after a framework for political dialogue had been established.

At Law Khee Lar, their discussion has shifted from "political dialogue first, ceasefire second" to the opposite order. The government prefers and has insisted on a ceasefire first, and has recently gained support from the KNU and the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/ SSA) for this approach.

"First of all, we’ll work on the ceasefire. To have an enduring ceasefire is our concern. We have done ever so many ceasefire meetings, but the ceasefire agreements have broken apart after that. Take the KIO , for example. They signed a ceasefire in 1994, but political dialogue still hasn’t materialized up to now. This time, as soon as the nationwide ceasefire is signed, political dialogue should start," Salai Lian Hmone, a member of the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), told Eleven Media yesterday.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 22 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army frees child soldiers

Myanmar’s army has freed 96 children and young people from its armed forces, the United Nations said yesterday, hailing a ’historic step’ towards ending the use of child soldiers in the formerly junta-run nation.

The move was the largest single release of child recruits since Myanmar’s new reformist government and its ’tatmadaw’ army signed a June 2012 pact with the UN on the issue.

A total of 272 children and young people have been released over the past 18 months as the military has slowed - but not yet completely halted - its use of children.

The release was "an historic step towards ending the recruitment and use of children by the Myanmar Armed Forces," the United Nations said in a statement.

Bertrand Bainvel, representative for the UN children’s agency UNICEF in the country, said the move was "a strong commitment by the Myanmar Government and the Tatmadaw to end a practice that steals the lives, hopes, and dreams of children".

There are no verifiable figures on how many children are currently serving in Myanmar’s huge military, which has faced a slew of accusations over rights abuses, including the forced recruitment of children and other civilians to work as porters or even human mine detectors.

Ending rights violations is a key demand of the international community, which has embraced reforms in Myanmar since the end of outright junta rule in 2011.

< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP, 20 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President’s poll a political issue: SC

The Supreme Court has quashed a writ petition demanding fresh elections to the office of President and Vice-President. In a ruling on 23 January, the apex court said that this was a political matter and falls under the jurisdiction of Parliament.

A single-judge Bench of Justice Girish Chandra Lal gave the ruling, stating that the court need not intervene in the matter as Parliament could decide on it independently. "The Constituent Assembly functions as a Legislature-Parliament as per Article 83 (1) of the Interim Constitution, and parliament can independently amend that constitution as per Article 148," stated the court.

The Nepali Congress (NC) is in favour of giving continuity to the incumbents until the election of a new President and Vice-President under a new constitution, while the CPN-UML is claiming that there should be fresh elections as the previous CA which elected the current president and vice president has already seen its demise.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Leaders vow draft constitution in a year

Leaders from across Nepal´s political divide pledged Wednesday to draw up a constitution for the war-torn Himalayan nation within a year as the new parliament convened for the first time. More than two months after an election which was marred by fraud accusations from the defeated Maoist party, the assembly tasked with agreeing on the constitution held its first meeting in Kathmandu.

But while there were threats from the Maoists of street protests if they end up feeling marginalised in the constituent assembly, they did join the other parties in promising to reach an agreement within the next 12 months. The main differences between the parties on the constitution revolve around state boundaries and the powers of the president.

Efforts to agree on a new coalition have also snagged over disagreement about the carve-up of key posts and ministries. The new Parliament´s most senior member, 86-year-old Surya Bahadur Thapa, urged his fellow lawmakers not to squander the "historic" opportunity before them. "The elections have cleared the political horizon and if we don’t deliver the constitution this time ...we will be blamed by everyone", the five-time Premier told the assembly.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 22 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Protest if CA not dissolved: Baidya

CPN-Maoist Chairman Mohan Baidya has threatened to launch protest programmes if the major political parties keep on turning a deaf ear to his party’s demand for the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (CA). Speaking at a program organised by Revolutionary Journalists Federation (RJF) at Narayangadh in Chitwan, Baidya renewed his call to the parties to forge national consensus through an all-party roundtable conference.

Baidya also argued that the new CA wherein Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML enjoy majority is most likely to restore the constitution of 1990. He went on to claim that this CA cannot deliver even a "revisionist constitution" due to the dispute among political parties elected to the assembly. Baidya also ruled out the probability of party unity with the UCPN (Maoist).

"There is no chance for uniting with them since they have deviated from the revolution since their Hetauda general convention," he said. "If they switch to our political line for people´s revolution, we shall be positive about the party unity." Baidya further said that his party was more positive about unity with fringe communist parties at this juncture.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Economy should top Govt agenda: Ghimire

Minister for Home and Foreign affairs Madhav Prasad Ghimire today argued that prosperity in the country will remain a far cry without putting the economic agenda on the front burner. "The country has seen many changes of the guard but no regime has prioritised the economic agenda; that’s why the country is lagging far behind and is yet to take strides in development," argued the Minister, while inaugurating the National Industrial Trade Fair 2070 in Pokhara.

The fair is being organised by Pokhara Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He further suggested that the new government should bring forth a new industrial policy. "In the days to come, the government has to also pay much attention to the economic agenda so that the nation can develop," he said.

Ghimire also underlined the need to take the private sector into confidence to achieve overall development and prosperity of the country. He also expressed confidence that the halted construction of the international airport in Pokhara would resume soon.

< class="text11verdana">Source:The Himalayan Times, 23 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">22 killed in bus-bombing

At least 22 people were killed and dozens were injured in a powerful explosion on a bus that was carrying Shia pilgrims in Mastung district in Balochistan. According to Shafqat Anwar, the Assistant Commissioner in Mastung, the bus caught fire after the blast and at least 32 people were injured including 24 men and eight women.

Provincial Home Secretary Asadur Rehman Gilani said that two buses were travelling along with security vehicles provided by the government. The bomb struck one of the buses and the two vehicles of forces escorting the buses were also damaged. The banned militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has taken responsibility for the bombing and has warned of more such attacks.

Protestors held sit-ins across the country including Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Islamabad, Multan and Hyderabad to voice their anger at the attack. After strong assurances given by a government delegation led by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the grieved Shia Hazara community decided to end a two-day long sit-in.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 21 - 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt willing to launch military operation

The Pakistan government has decided, in principle, to launch a military operation against anti-state groups. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will announce the operation in the next session of Parliament. This decision was taken during a high-level meeting on internal security, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The country’s military leadership informed the government that "a full-fledged operation in the tribal areas" would be required to curb sectarian violence and terrorism. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif presented a preliminary report detailing the sequence of terrorist incidents and the existing security situation.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 24 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TTP ready for ’meaningful dialogue’

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has said that it is ready for peace talks with the government as long as the latter "proved its sincerity".

TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid said in a policy statement, "Our stance on dialogue is very clear. If the government proves it is sincere and has the authority (to conduct meaningful dialogue), then we are ready to talk despite the losses inflicted on us."

He also said that the group announcing a ceasefire once the talks began would depend on the government’s actions.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 20 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prime Minister cancels Davos visit

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cancelled his visit to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum in wake of the bomb explosion in Bannu which killed 20 security officers.

The Prime Minister has also strongly condemned the attack which targeted a security convoy leaving from a check post for Waziristan.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 19 January 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GR lambastes foreign interference

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele J. Sisson met Northern Provincial Councillor Ananthi Sasitharan in Jaffna even as the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry was exploring the possibility of rehabilitating her in view of her alleged LTTE links. Among those present at Wednesday’s dinner with the US envoy were Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, M.A. Sumanthiran.

Sasitharan was married to Trincomalee District LTTE political wing leader Elilan, who reportedly went missing during/after ’Eelam War IV’. A mother of three, Snanthi contested the first Northern Provincial Council polls last September on the TNA ticket and polled the second highest number of preferential votes secured by a candidate. Chief Minister Wigneswaran obtained the highest number of preferences.

Ambassador Sisson was in Jaffna to launch a programme to support the Jaffna fisher community. It was in accordance with a USAID livelihoods project worth approximately SL Rs. 196 m. Asked whether the Defence Ministry plans for rehabilitating Sasitharan had come up for discussion, a US Embassy spokesperson said: "We don’t have any details to share on any discussions."

Addressing a public gathering in eastern Batticaloa district on Thursday, the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa alleged that the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka was interfering in domestic affairs. Addressing religious dignitaries and civil society representatives, he lashed out at those who had been pushing for foreign intervention in Sri Lanka even after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009.

Rajapaksa said that foreigners would only make matters worse, therefore all communities should resolve to settle their problems themselves. An irate Defence Secretary alleged that the US Ambassador had over-stepped her mandate. He said the Rajapaksas had been in politics for 75 years and they were capable of tackling post-war issues. Emphasising the pivotal importance of thwarting foreign interference in domestic issues, the Defence Secretary said that the country could proceed without advice from diplomats.

Recollecting the circumstances leading to ’Eelam War IV’ in mid-2006, Gota Rajapaksa said that those living in the Northern and Eastern regions knew the measures taken by the Government to restore normalcy since the eradication of the LTTE. The Defence Secretary said that the Government speedily handled resettlement, de-mining, rehabilitation, as well as disarming of armed groups subsequent to the conclusion of the conflict.

Responding to a query later, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that a section of the LTTE couldn’t be accepted as a political wing. Under the Norwegian-arranged Cease-fire Agreement (CFA), terrorists had masqueraded as political activists to operate in Government-held areas, the Defence Secretary insisted. The Defence Secretary said that an attempt was being made to differentiate the LTTE fighting cadre and a non-existent political wing.

Those who had been accusing the GoSL over accountability issues weren’t bothered about the TNA calling the LTTE the ’sole representatives of Tamil-speaking people’ in late 2001, Rajapaksa said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 24 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pillay briefed in Geneva

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva said that visiting Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navaneethem Pillay and updated her on developments that had taken place since her visit to Colombo in August 2013.

Mr. Weeratunga, who briefed Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in Geneva at the Palais des Nations on Tuesday on ’Progress in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka’, had explained that the Government of Sri Lanka has done all that was humanly possible to implement the recommendations of the National Plan of Action on the implementation of the LLRC, since its approval by the Cabinet of Ministers in July 2012.

Mr. Weeratunga, who chairs the Committee that was monitoring the National Plan of Action on the Implementation of the National Plan of Action of the LLRC, emphasised the importance of the Opposition, including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) joining the Government to make the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which had been constituted, fully functional. Mr. Weeratunga expressed regret that even responsible international figures were being misguided by parties with vested interests and gave instances of some such occurrences in recent times.

Responding to comments on Sri Lanka’s cooperation with the UN and international partners, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha said very few countries would have cooperated as much with the UN, the OHCHR, the Human Rights Council (HRC), and international partners, as Sri Lanka had done in the past year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lalith Weeratunga in US

Ahead of the March session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, who is in charge of the National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Recommendations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), was to leave for the United States (US) yesterday to brief the leaders of that country on the developments here..

The US has already said that it remains concerned about the lack of progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in addressing issues of human rights violations during the latter part of the war. The two US sponsored resolutions have been adopted by the UNHRC urging the government to address human rights and accountability issues, and to implement LLRC recommendations.

In Colombo, Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris met with the Board of Directors of the Asia Foundation from the US on Tuesday for an informal discussion. The Minister regretted the excessive pressure being exerted on Sri Lanka by repeated resolutions in the UNHRC which, he said, were counter-productive because of their polarising effect.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Elected chair of Group of 77 in Vienna

Sri Lanka assumed the chairmanship of the Vienna Chapter of the Group of 77 from Sudan on 22nd January 2014 at a formal meeting attended by the Group’s Ambassadors as well as the executive heads of Vienna based international organisations. Sri Lanka takes over the Group of 77 in Vienna as the Group marks its 50th anniversary in June this year.

According to an MEA news release in Colombo, the "election of Sri Lanka to this post in the Group of 77, which is the largest block of developing countries in the UN with more than 130 members, reflects the strong confidence placed by the members of the Group in Sri Lanka’s role in maintaining a constructive dialogue with international partners to further the cause of the South. It also bears testimony to policy priorities of Sri Lanka under the ’Mahinda Chintanya’ vision, which underscores the country’s stewardship on issues of global importance for the developing world."

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 23 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pope’s visit to Lanka this year off

A senior spokesperson for the Catholic Church yesterday said that Pope Francis would not be visiting Sri Lanka this year. There has been a spate of reports of a possible papal visit to Sri Lanka early this year.

The official quoted Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi as having said that Pope Francis had been invited to attend a meeting of young Asian Catholics in August and that trip was under consideration.

Lombardi said the Vatican was also considering another papal trip to Asia -- but not this year -- to the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The Pope told reporters last summer en route home from World Youth Day in Brazil that he wanted to go to Asia precisely because Pope Benedict XVI had never managed to get to the continent during his eight years as Pope, apart from a quick trip to Turkey in 2006.

Pope Francis had specifically mentioned the invitations from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, the latter when Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, along with his wife, had paid respects at Vatican last year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 24 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">10,000 US troops after complete pullout

It is being reported that the Pentagon has proposed to US President Barack Obama that 10,000 US troops should remain behind in Afghanistan post-2014 or none at all. Government officials claim that anything less than that would be too small a number to provide adequate security to the diplomats, military and intelligence officials that remain behind in the country in the future.

This proposal has been backed by the intelligence agencies and the State department, but has faced resistance among some officials in the White House National Security Council. Questions are being raised as to why the choice is limited to 10,000 troops or zero, and nothing in between.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The New York Times, 21 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US development aid slashed by 50 pc

The US Congress this week halved the total development aid to be provided to Afghanistan in 2014. For the fiscal year 2014, the total civilian assistance to Afghanistan is earmarked at $ 1.2 billion.

Last week, President Obama has signed a massive spending bill into law, which included a US$ 2.19 billion aid request for Afghanistan.

It is still unclear how much aid Afghanistan would actually receive in 2014. It is being suggested that officials will explore the possibility of using unspent money from the previous years or from elsewhere in the budget to increase the amount of funding for Afghanistan.

The steep reduction in US aid to Afghanistan reflects frustration in Congress with State and USAID’s management of assistance to Afghanistan, and with the Afghan government itself. Analysts believe that the reduction could endanger plans to continue health, education, farming and other aid programmes in Afghanistan, thereby setting a bad precedence, which could be difficult to reverse in coming years.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 22 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Khaleda claims ’foreign hand’

In a major revelation, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia, this week said there are doubts in the minds of people as to who were involved in the joint forces’ operation in Satkhira, a remote south-western district bordering India where the Government is running counter-terror operation.

"The extent of mayhem and repression carried out at Satkhira, in the name of joint forces operation, raises doubts whether they were carried out by patriotic forces," she said, while addressing a mammoth rally in Dhaka. This was her first public rally after she was confined to her residence, before the 5 January elections.

It can be recalled that he made a similar allusion to the operation in May 2013 against Hefajat activists in Dhaka, saying Bangladeshi forces could never have carried out such "inhuman torture" on Alems and madrasa students.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 21 January 2013; The Daily Star, 21 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tehrik-e Taliban cadres held

Security forces arrested three Pakistanis of Myanmarese origin this week on suspicion of having links with the banned militant outfit Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Mehmud, 26, Osman, 23, and Fakhrul Hasan, 50 were arrested from Dhaka in possession of a laptop containing manuals for making bombs and using firearms.

Police informed that these militants had links with militant groups in Bangladesh but did not disclose the names of the group. Police also claimed that aim of this group was to revitalise the weakened militant groups and their movements in Bangladesh.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 21 January 2014

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

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.


Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee (1975 2021) was Senior Fellow with ORF. She specialised in Indias neighbourhood policy the eastern arch: Bangladeshs domestic politics and foreign policy: border ...

Read More +