MonitorsPublished on Jun 17, 2011
India-Bangladesh relations got a major boost with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's three-day visit to Bangladesh in June this year. This has also brightened the prospects of visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmonhan Singh to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh: India's Foreign Secretary's visit: An assessment
< class="heading1">Analysis

India-Bangladesh relations got a major boost with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s three-day visit to Bangladesh in June this year. This has also brightened the prospects of visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmonhan Singh to Bangladesh.

Since Awami League’s return to power in January 2009, India-Bangladesh relations has been showing warmth. And in the past couple of years, relations in the areas of economy, politics and security have shown significant improvement. Bangladesh’s support in fighting insurgencies in north-east India has been widely recognised in India. Another development that marks improvement was the growth in Bangladesh’s earning from export to India, which has crossed $400 million this year.

Increased exchanges of visits by high ranking leaders and officials have played a major role in improving the relations. The visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010 was marked by the signing of a joint communiqué which has now become the base for further strengthening relations, working on realising the commitment made in the joint communiqué. Also, India’s granting of $1 billion soft loan to Bangladesh is the outcome of this document. Still, the progress has been slower than expected. To sustain the optimism, it will be necessary for the two countries to deliver the promises made in time.

Indian foreign secretary’s visit was seen as preparatory to Manmohan Singh’s visit. During her stay, she met Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes and had discussion on various bilateral issues. Some of the important issues discussed included regional connectivity, maritime boundary dispute and sharing of water of common rivers. These discussions enhanced the scope of signing some agreements during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit scheduled for later this year.

Agreements are likely on the sharing of water of the Teesta River, an issue frequently raised by Bangladesh. Officials of the two countries are working hard on finalising an interim agreement on this. Because of the sensitivity of the issues, no further details have been made public. The two sides are also working on an agreement on land boundary. There is around 6.5 km of un-demarcated land boundary between the two countries, and this needs to be sorted out, particularly in the context of improving bilateral relations.

Other important developments during Nirupama Rao’s visit were:

1) India declared that it has no objection in allowing Nepal and Bhutan to use Indian territory to have trade with Bangladesh. Rao said India allows Nepalese and Bhutanese trucks to enter 200 km of Bangladesh territory at Banglabandha border. During Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in 2010, Bangladesh had requested India to allow its territory to be used for establishing connectivity with Bhutan and Nepal.

2) Bangladesh has declared that it will not conduct any exploration in the disputed areas in the Bay of Bengal before settlement of the maritime boundary dispute with India and Myanmar under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The problem has become critical as the region is rich in hydrocarbon and all the countries ? India, Bangladesh and Myanmar -- have staked their claims. Despite efforts at resolving the issue amicably, Bangladesh has moved the International Tribunal for resolving the dispute.

3) Killing of unarmed people at the border by the border guards of the two countries has turned a major irritant, especially in Bangladesh. Dhaka often raises this issue. Expressing her sympathy to those who lost lives at the border, Rao said India was planning to use non-lethal weapons in the border areas.

4) The two countries agreed on cooperating on security issues to eliminate threats to peace and prosperity.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No State funding for political parties

The National Council (NC) has rejected the idea of state funding to political parties. In an in-house debate, the NC members said that should the need for such a funding be really dire, then a national ’multispectral’ committee must be formed to review the situation and make recommendations within the framework of the constitution and electoral laws. The National Council had earlier objected to the idea of state funding in 2008 while discussing the Budget and Appropriation Bill.

The NC’s objection has been that state funding is unconstitutional. Article 15 of the constitution states that a political party shall not accept money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members. With the two existing political parties complaining of imminent bankruptcy, the romantic idea that the state should subsidize the two political parties has been debated time and again.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bhutan Observer, June 17, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SCO membership

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) finalised its rules of engagement for expanding its membership, paving way for India to play a larger role in the regional body. As the 10th summit of the China and Russia-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) began in Kazakh capital Astana, India was looking for full membership in the Central Asian grouping as it sees a larger role for itself in the strategically important Eurasian region.

The SCO consists of Russia, China and four Central Asian countries (barring Turkmenistan). India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran are among those with Observer status. All these nations virtually surround Afghanistan that will most likely be offered at ’observer’ status soon.

Analysts reckon that Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) could play an important role in stabilising Afghanistan after the drawdown of NATO troops.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, June 17, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Resorts behind dollar-crunch?

Resorts in the country are using their money-changing licences to operate as de facto banks, creating an artificial demand for dollars that is undermining the Government’s efforts to stabilise the economy, an informed source in the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), has said.

Figures from the country’s central bank show that of the country’s 306 licenced money changers, 95 are resorts while 211 are private. The present system allows resorts to exchange unlimited amounts of currency, weakening the flow of dollars into the official banking system and allowing resorts to manipulate the market, the source claimed.

"Small resorts are operating like private banks, trading in rufiya and using cheques to do so in any amount of money, with no oversight from the banks or the MMA," he said. As a consequence, the Government’s recent decision to float the rufiya within 20 percent of the pegged rate of Rf12.85 was unlikely to stabilise the currency until the underlying demand for dollars was addressed.

"The black market rate for the dollar was Rf14-15 before the Government’s decision to devalue the currency. The reasoning is that now the official rate is Rf15.42, there shouldn’t be a black market. The fact that the black market rate is now Rf16.5 suggests this is not a problem with the economic fundamentals, but a problem of people manipulating the market."The source suggested that even if the market was given free reign and the rufiya reached Rf20 to the dollar, "resorts would still have the power to set the parallel market at Rf22."

The source revealed that during its recent visit to Maldives, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had recommended that resort money-changing licenses be limited to changing cash, making it physically impractical to manipulate the market with large sums of money. The theory, the source explained, was to force resorts to use the local banking system for foreign exchange and increase the flow of dollars through the official economy.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, June 16, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gasim Ibrahim voted JSC member

Parliament has voted MP for Maamigili Gasim Ibrahim as its representative on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), tasked with overseeing the country’s judiciary. In all, 38 members of the 77-member parliament voted in favour of Gasim, while 36 voted against him. The other candidate for the position, former Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Mariya Ahmed Didi, narrowly missed the required votes with 36 MPs in favour of her appointment and 37 against.

Gasim will replace DRP MP Dr Afrashim Ali on the JSC, after Afrashim was dismissed by Parliament 38-34 in favour earlier this week amid claims of misconduct and corruption. Former President’s Member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Aishath Velezinee described Gasim’s appointment to the JSC as "the worst thing that could possibly have happened.

Following Afrashim’s removal from the JSC on Monday, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom publicly thanked MPs belonging to his Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) for voting in Afrashim’s favour ? thus referring to the intra-party feud for supremacy."Afrashim was the front man for what went on in JSC. It wasn’t him alone, but he was the front man," said Velezinee, who contends that the Opposition had used its parliamentary majority to control the JSC, subvert Article 285 of the Constitution and reappoint the judges handpicked by the former administration.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, June 15, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Peace negotiations stalled

Negotiations between the major political parties of Nepal have now been put off as the Maoist leaders on the Special Committee (SC) for rehabilitation and integration of former Maoist combatants refused to sign the minutes detailing the peace process roadmap. The Maoist leaders backed down at the last minute.

It was after extensive discussions that the SC had agreed on the details of the peace process roadmap that said categorisation of the former PLA (People’s Liberation Army) combatants (based on those seeking integration in the Nepal Army and those opting for rehabilitation) and handover of weapons will be completed by August 27. The roadmap also said that by June 19 the SC will finalize the number of combatants to be integrated into the Nepal Army and the modality and standard norms for integration.

On June 7, the Committee finalised the roadmap in the presence of Maoist leader and SC member Barsa Man Pun and the leaders agreed to sign the minutes at the June 9 meeting. However, things changed after another Maoist leader and SC member Janardan Sharma protested against the agreement and Pun backtracked, saying that he "misunderstood the details of the earlier understanding."
< class="text11verdana">Source:,

Note: Just within two weeks of the signing of the five-point agreement on May 29 for the three-month extension of the Constituent Assembly, the peace process is once again beginning to lose its momentum. This has given rise to fresh worries about the successful completion of the peace process in the next two and half months.

As per the agreement, the three largest political parties in Nepal ? the UCPN (Maoist), CPN-UML and Nepali Congress ? had agreed to settle the issue of the rehabilitation and integration of the former People’s Liberation Army combatants. Earlier last week, the Special Committee even set August 27 as a deadline for completing the management of the arms and army, a process which should have been completed by November 2008. But negotiations have now been put off as the Maoist representatives in the Special Committee have refused to endorse the roadmap, thereby virtually bringing the entire process to a standstill.

Clearly, the much-needed political consensus is still a far cry in Nepal. The Constituent Assembly’s extended date expire on August 31. Integration and rehabilitation of over 19,000 verified combatants remain the major issue confronting the peace process, which began with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in November 2006. The political actors are yet to agree on the finalization of integration modality, standard norms for integration and rehabilitation package along with fixation of the number of the combatants to be integrated. No clear consensus among the parties is yet in sight on the implementation of the proposed action plan.

Though the chairman of UCPN (M), Prachanda, has said that his party will accept the Nepal Army proposed modality that the ex-combatants should be integrated by forming a separate directorate under it, the party is yet to accept the proposal in its entirety. There are divisions within the three main groups inside the party led by hardliner senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, the moderate vice-chairman BaburamBhattarai and Prachanda himself. Also, the PLA men have shown displeasure over accepting a non-combatant role which they have called a "humiliation."

Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress and the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF), an alliance of five Madhes-based parties, has asked the government to sincerely implement the five-point deal. The agreement calls for resignation of PM JhalanathKhanal paving way for formation of a national consensus government. But PM Khanal has stated that his resignation will come only after the political parties find an alternative candidate for the PM’s post. Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army running "Parallel Government", says Nawaz Sharief

Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharief has criticised the army and called for greater accountability and civilian ownership of foreign policy. The former Prime Minister accused the army of running a ’parallel Government’ and called for an end of its ’dominance of the country’s foreign policy’.

Sharief substantiated his criticism by drawing from his experience as Prime Minister during the ’Kargil conflict’ of 1999. He reiterated that Gen Pervez Musharraf, who led the army during the conflict, kept the Corps Commanders and other Service chiefs in the dark about the plan to capture strategic heights inside Indian territory. Sharief argued that greater accountability to elected leaders would strengthen national security, and added, "We are not for any institution’s disrespect, rather we only want to ensure their honour." He also suggested that the army’s budget be debated in Parliament, and that the House Committee be authorised to scrutinise ISI’s budget.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The News International, June 11, 2011; Daily Times, June 11,2011

Note: Nawaz Sharief was a protégé of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator who ruled over Pakistan in the 1980’s. During the period and in the decade that followed, Sharief was a staunch ally of the army, and collaborated with it to undermine the rival Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). PPP, being the only political force with a strong presence across Pakistan, led the charge against the military’s encroachment into domestic politics and public policy making and hence faced the greatest opposition from the army and its allies such as the PML-N.

However, Sharief developed differences with the army during his second term, culminating in a military coup by Musharraf and subsequently, his forced exile to Saudi Arabia. Since then, the PML-N has refused rapprochement with the military. While the PPP, under the compulsions of incumbency, has accepted the army’s primacy in foreign policy and security matters, and even defended its failures in the National Assembly, PML-N appears to have made a principled decision to not become an accomplice to the army stratagems again.

Sharief’s posturing has tactical motivations as well. The wily politician is acutely aware of the public pulse and realises the general discontent against the army, following the Abbottabad raid, the Mehran attack and the assassination, ostensibly by ISI agents, of journalist SaleemShahzad. Such events have made conditions ripe for raising questions which might otherwise be considered ’anti-national’.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Talks with India to cover Kashmir

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will visit Pakistan this month and revive discussions on Kashmir which were stalled in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack of 26/11. According to a Foreign Office source, Rao will ’discuss peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, as well as other friendly exchanges during interactions with her counterpart, Salman Bashir.

Prior to the disclosure, India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna indicated that Rao should raise the issue of terrorism and exert greater pressure for the prosecution of the Mumbai perpetrators. His comments betray a view in New Delhi that the recent trial of Tahawwur Rana should be leveraged to expose links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Tayeeba, the militant group responsible for the Mumbai attack. In fact, India recently shared a fresh dossier describing another five Mumbai suspects - Sajid Mir, Abu Qahafa, Major Iqbal, MazharIqbal and the fifth member identified as ’Lashkar member D.’

Not surprisingly, Pakistan immediately postured towards its traditional stance of Kashmir being the ’core issue’.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, June 15, 2011; Dawn, June 16, 2011

Note: Jockeying for ’core issues’ before formal dialogue is not new to India-Pakistan relations. If the renewed grandstanding is reflective of official attitude, it can be said with confidence that the talks will, at best, be tentative probes and will not make substantive progress on what remains a very complicated dispute.

This is not the first time that the two rivals have sought to define talks around ’core issues’, that is, giving primacy of a preferred issue over others. Pakistan has historically stipulated wide-ranging talks on negotiations on Kashmir, and opted for confrontation when India refused such terms of dialogue. In recent past, and especially since 26/11, India has repeated this erroneous policy by placing counter-terrorism expectations over other issues.

Suspension of negotiations over issues such as Sir Creek, Siachen, trade and water-sharing, which are not related to militancy for more than two years, and their recent resumption without any discernable action by Pakistan on India’s long-standing demands is indicative of a growing influence of pressures of public opinion on foreign policy making.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt responds to UK ultimatum

The External Affairs Ministry of Sri Lanka has said that the UK-based Channel 4 was backing a campaign by a small section of international media at the behest of certain vested interests living outside Sri Lanka to push Sri Lanka back to war by way of lacerating the wounded the country was attempting to heal.

The ministry said so in response to the telecast of Channel 4 documentary "Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields" and a statement attributed to British Foreign Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt, serving an ultimatum on Colombo that it had until the end of this year (2011) to carry out an independent, thorough and credible investigation into the allegations that war crimes were committed during the hostilities or face the consequences.

Speaking immediately after the Channel 4 documentary Alistair Burt was quoted by the British Foreign Office as having said: "Channel 4 footage, constitutes convincing evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and if the Sri Lankan government does not respond they would support the international community in revisiting all options available to press the Sri Lankan Government to fulfill its obligations.

The documentary, presented by newscaster John Snow, accused the Sri Lanka Government of executions, atrocities and shelling of civilians during the war. The programme also blamed the Tamil Tigers for using the civilians as human shields.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, Colombo, June 15 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Don’t approve CEPA as at present: UNP

The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has urged the Government to transform the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India into a win-win situation for both countries and not to approve the Agreement it in its present form.

UNP General Secretary TissaAttanayake said the trade agreement should benefit both countries equally because at present India is at an advantage when it came to trade between the two countries.

He said Government should consider the sentiments expressed by local industrialists and accused the External Affairs Minister G.L Peiris of having agreed to approve the CEPA in its present form when he visited India recently. Attanayake said this was clear in the joint statement between Sri Lanka and India. He stressed the need to safeguard the diplomatic relations with India.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, June 16 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Political Solution: ’Select Committee, a ploy’

The Government’s decision to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to work out a political solution to the national question is a ploy adopted to overcome international pressure, UNP parliamentarian R. Yogarajan has charged. He said this was his personal view though it was backed by his party.

Yogarajan called for a solution to the national question based on the final report of the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) appointed by President MahindaRajapaksa. He said the APRC proposals which he revealed jointly with SLMC member NizamKariappar some time ago should be acceptable as the report was prepared by all the parties including the JHU and the SLMC which were represented at APRC delebrations.

Yogarajan called for a solution to the national question based on the final report of the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) appointed by President MahindaRajapaksa.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, June 15 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban violence continues

Two major attacks against prominent Government installations expanded the geographical spread of the insurgency. On June 15, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car barely 200 metres from the Governor’s office in Mahmud-i-Raqi, capital of the Kapisa Province which is located close to capital Kabul. The assault against Governor Azizul Rahman Tawab missed its target, but killed four police officers, four civilians and injured four other bystanders.

Simultaneously, the Taliban launched a mortar attack in Wardak Province during the inauguration ceremony of the largest police academy in central Afghanistan. The raid occurred when Vice President, Mohammad Karim Khalili, a native of Wardak, and Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi were in the facility to celebrate of opening of the $106 million academy which will house 3000 police recruits in future, making it the largest training facility in the country. The two raids present yet another grim reminder that the Taliban retain the capability to strike almost anywhere in the country and penetrate high-security installations. While their ability to generate violence increases the costs of governance and security, however, it does not yet demonstrate the Taliban’s capacity to topple the Karzai regime and replace it with a counter state.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The New York Times, June 14, 2011; Associated Press, June 15, 2011

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kaustav Dhar Chakraborti;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & India: Akhilesh Variar;
Nepal: Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N SathiyaMoorthy;

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