MonitorsPublished on Jun 14, 2010
Securing Bangladesh's energy supply in the face of its growing needs has been the primary motivation for the country to sign the recent agreement with Russia for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Bangladesh-Russia Nuclear Deal
< class="heading1">Analysis

Securing Bangladesh’s energy supply in the face of its growing needs has been the primary motivation for the country to sign the recent agreement with Russia for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology. The nuclear agreement with Russia marks a visible shift in Bangladesh’s foreign policy. 

The May 21 agreement provides for Russia building Bangladesh’s first-ever nuclear power plant. It calls for transfer of material, technologies, equipment and services to implement joint programmes for peaceful use of nuclear energy. According to the agreement, Russia will not only design and construct the nuclear power and research reactor but will also supply nuclear fuel and take back the spent fuel. Russia will also train Bangladeshi scientific and technical staff in running and maintaining the nuclear plant. 

The agreement has brightened Bangladesh realising the long-cherished desire for building a nuclear power plant. The proposal for establishing a nuclear power plant was mooted in the early 60’s when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan. Rooppur in Pabna district in west- central Bangladesh, 130 km north-west of Dhaka, was selected as the site for the nuclear power plant. The project, however, could not progress. After the country became independent in 1971, several governments expressed an interest in building a nuclear power plant but failed to make much progress. In 1978, military ruler Ziaur Rahman made a serious attempt to revive the programme. However, the project again failed to  take off as Saudi Arabia declined to fund it.

Electoral Commitment

The proposal was once again revived after the Awami League came back to power in January 2009. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s interested in the project was propelled by her party’s electoral promise to improve the power situation, which has been erratic and dependent largely on natural gas. With depleting reserves of gas and the non-viable nature of coal-exploration nearer home, the country is in a desperate need for identifying alternative sources of energy. 

Bangladesh generates 4000 MW of electricity a day, falling woefully short of the daily demand of 6000 MW. There is a shortfall of nearly 75 per cent during peak hours in the country. The power crisis has greatly hampered the economy, accounting for a 3.5-per cent GDP loss.

Bangladesh is now keen on building nuclear power plants. Its experts believe only nuclear power could help the country to find a permanent solution to its power crisis. The proposed power plantis expected to generate 2000 MW of electricity by 2020. The target is to meet at least 10 per cent of the total energy requirement from nuclear power. 

Re-engaging with Russia

Bangladesh had initiated discussions with South Korea, China and Russia to acquire the required technological knowhow. Talks with China made substantial progress and resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2008. During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China in 2010, Beijing reiterated its commitment to help Bangladesh in building nuclear power plant. In the view of these developments and given the depth of the bilateral relationship, a Sino-Bangladesh partnership on nuclear energy seemed obvious at one point of time. 

In this background, Bangladesh’s signing of the nuclear agreement with Russia has come as a surprise. The erstwhile Soviet Union had lent big support to Bangladesh during its liberation war in 1971.  Soon after independence, the two countries enjoyed extremely good relations. The dynamics of this relationship changed, however, after the brutal killing of the country’s leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In the post-Mujib era, Bangladesh’s foreign policy aligned towards the US, China and the Islamic world. Russia subsequently slipped from the country’s foreign policy priorities.  The nuclear deal is thus a major attempt by Bangladesh to re-engage with Russia.

Foreign Policy Versatility

Bangladesh’s current policy trends suggest a conscious attempt to bring versatility to its foreign policy.  This can be ascertained from Dhaka’s dealings with India and China, the two most important countries from Bangladesh’s perspective. The granting port facilities to both India and China is illustrative of this trend. This clearly proves the country leadership’s position to maintain equi-distance from India and China.  

This logic probably is the inspiration for Bangladesh to sign the nuclear agreement with Russia. For Russia, it provides an opportunity to refurbish its ties with Dhaka and expand its area of influence in the region.

Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">News & Developments Report

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jamaat backs BNP protest

The Jamaat-e-Islami, a major religious political party, has declared its support for the anti-government movement of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. However, the party remained undecided about its active participation in the protest. 

The BNP has called for a dawn-to-dusk country-wide general strike on June 27 to protest what it termed as the ruling Awami League’s misrule'. The party has also demanded dissolution of the Election Commission and cancellation of treaties with India., 07 June, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Budget eyes 6.7 percent growth

 Bangladesh’s Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith on June 10 presented a US $ 19.9 billion national budget. This aims at achieving nearly 6.7 percent GDP growth. The budget plans to secure nearly 70 percent of the outlay from domestic revenues. 

The power sector has received the highest allocation for any single sector – an 81 percent rise, from Taka 3786 crores to Taka 6,114 crores. Education and technology together shared the biggest portion of the total outlay -- with Taka 18,377 crores, from Taka 16,171 crores in 2009-10.  

The opposition BNP criticised the budget, terming it as over-ambitious and unrealistic. The business community, however, is satisfied with the budget.  
BSS News, 11 June 2010
The Independent, 11 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangladesh reluctant to recognise Kosovo

US Ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty met Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni on June 6 in an effort to convince Dhaka to recognise Kosovo, the newly-formed European nation. However, Bangladesh is reluctant to take any immediate decision. Dhaka wants to avoid any controversy. Also, it does not want to displease Russia which still considers Kosovo to be a part of Serbia.
The Independent, 07 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dhaka proposes non-lethal weapons for border guards

Bangladesh Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder on June 9 claimed that his country has  sent a proposal to India, suggesting that border guards of both the countries should use non-lethal weapons, instead of the lethal firearms carried by them now. He said Bangladesh has suggested this measure with the objective of avoiding civilian casualties along the border.

Bangladesh has also proposed new a mode for operation along the border, with the option for arresting  people without shooting at anyone in the border areas. Cross-border firing by the border guards has become a major irritant between the two countries. The issue was also discussed during the meeting of the chiefs of India’s Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles in March. 
The New Age, 10 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Clash with Judiciary

The clash between the Government of President Mohammed Nasheed and his ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) entered a new phase with a call for the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) to determine the qualification of sitting judges. Specific Articles in the 2008 Constitution provide for the JSC to make a determination in this case, and also to ensure that ‘convicted persons’ do not find a place in the Bench.

The judicial reforms, either initiated or proposed by President Nasheed’s dispensation, also seeks to look at the educational qualification of judges and their secular credentials in accessing precedents that could be cited for application in the legal context prevailing in the country. According to ministers and officials, most Maldivian judges had cleared only the eighth grade and/or a course in the madrasas, where they had learnt the Shariat, not the secular laws in the country, passed under the Constitution. 

The political Opposition says that any fast-tracking of the ‘reformist approach’ to law and judiciary would do more harm than good to the system and the society. A man in a hurry to deliver on his electoral promises and electors’ expectations, President Nasheed would like the reforms in place in time for his re-election campaign in 2013.
The Minivan News, 11 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ending Oil Addiction

The Maldives has to end its current addiction to oil and develop alternative energy sources from local resources if it is to prosper, the Vice-President, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, said at a UN roundtable, being held in the country. At a function in a resort-island, the Maldives signed a commitment to phase out hydro-chlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) emissions by 2020, a decade ahead of other countries. The move has also attracted a UN grant of US $1.1 million to the cash-strapped nation.

HCFCs (such as chlorodifluoromethane) are used in older refrigeration and air-conditioning units as a replacement for heavily ozone-depleting CFCs. “It makes sense to move away from HCFCs,” Dr Waheed said. “It is outdated technology and has already been phased out in most western countries, and it is increasingly difficult to repair appliances that use it,” he said, sharing the views with President Mohammed Nasheed, with whom he otherwise does not see eye-to-eye on a host of political issues.
The Minivan News, 10 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bill to Protect Dhivehi language

A Bill to protect Dhivehi, the Maldivian language, has been presented to Parliament by People’s Alliance (PA) member, Abdul Azeez Jamaal Abubakuru. Jamaal said that the Dhivehi language was the cause for “why Maldivians remain as Maldivians” and the source of the country’s success.

”Dhivehi is one of the most valuable national relics that our forefathers have delivered to us,” Jamaal said. ”Without doubt, it is our responsibility to deliver it to the next generation safely, like our forefathers did.” Jamaal said if people were careless with their mother-tongue, there was a potential for words to be lost.

Read in the context of President Mohammed Nasheed’s reformist agenda, the proposed Bill has more to do with language and culture. It has politics too inter-woven into it.
The Minivan News, 11 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Commitment to a new Constitution

Three major political parties of Nepal -- Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal– Marxist (UCPN-M) -- have reiterated their commitment to draft a new Constitution by next year, despite their differences. The commitment was aimed at reassuring minor parties in the Constituent Assembly about their seriousness to build a consensus on some contentious constitutional questions.  

In an indirect reference to India, Maoist leader Prachanda said that the main obstruction for the implementation of the recent three-point deal signed on May 28 came not from the NC or UML, but from foreign forces. The Maoists have also declared that they have no plans to forsake their demand for appointing Prachanda as the Prime Minister of the ‘national unity’ government. But, no progress can be seen on the implementation of the three-point pact signed on May 28., 7 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepal Army miffed at ‘integration issues’

The Nepalese Army has once again expressed its displeasure over the number of the Maoist cadres who are eligible for joining its ranks. The Army is not too happy with the unilateral decision of the political parties in this regard, and wants to set the criteria for incorporating the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cadres of the Maoists.

Senior officers of the Army are of view that the merge should be based on ‘one weapon, one soldier’ criterion, which is also the standard applied to many international military operations. They also want the Government to discourage PLA cadres from joining the Army ranks, by providing them with enough incentives, economic and otherwise.
Kantipur Daily, 9 June, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">World Bank paints a dim picture

In its ‘South Asia Economic Update’ the World Bank has predicted a dim economic scenario for the Republic of Nepal. The bank has projected the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of Nepal at 3.5 percent for the year 2010, down from its earlier projection of 5 percent. The growth rate will increase marginally to 4 percent in 2011, owing to an increase in agricultural activity due to a return of the improved rainfall. Growth could reach 5 per cent by the fiscal year 2013. 

The bank has prescribed that the economic prospects would improve if efforts are made “to improve the business climate, address power shortages, improve infrastructure and resolve difficult labour relations along with political stability and improved security”. 
Himalayan Times, 8 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN worried over deteriorating situation in Terai

A United Nations report points at a worsening security situation in the country, especially in the Terai regioin. In a latest monthly update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)-Nepal, the UN has said that abductions, ‘tax-collection’, donation drives, robberies and attacks on different sections of the society continued during May.

The report has highlighted the fact that disturbances are not only being created by the various small militias of Terai but also by the youth wings of the three major political parties in the country., 9 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists threaten to stop work at Saptakoshi dam

The UCPN-M and 25 sister organisations have threatened to launch a protest if construction work at the Saptakoshi dam project was not stopped immediately, saying that the local bodies were not consulted before the joint venture project with India was taken up. The 269-metre dam is coming up on the Koshi river.

At a news conference, the Maoists said that in the absence of a national consensus, the bilateral agreement also violated the provisions of the interim Constitution. They said the project  would cause large-scale displacement of the local population and would not be in their best interests. 

The project team, however, has returned to work after Nepalese Government assured them of their safety. The Saptakoshi High Dam Multipurpose Project is expected to provide extensive irrigation facilities and generate nearly 3300 MW of hydro-power.
Himalayan Times, 10 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt wants SC to restore Reconciliation Ordinance

In a written reply to the Supreme Court, the Pakistani Government has termed last year’s decision to annul the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) a mistake. The Government lawyer contended that the NRO was a consensus law and carried the approval of the Government of the day, and in fact helped restore democracy. 

The NRO was passed to facilitate the return of slain Pakistan People’s Party leader, Benazir Bhutto, by quashing all pending cases against her and a few others, for her to contest the elections. The Ordinance ceased to exist in December 2009 after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a writ petition filed by veteran politician Dr Mubashir Hasan. 

Some analysts have accused the Government of purposefully delaying the full investigation and prosecution of ‘NRO beneficiaries’, including President Asif Ali Zardari. .  
Dawn, June 8 2010
Daily Times, June 8 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Punjab government still uncertain about tackling militants

Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s allusion to the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ has brought out sharp disagreements between Islamabad and Lahore. The provincial government is weary of cracking down on militant groups since they fear that the expectant backlash would destabilise Pakistan’s most prosperous province. A senior provincial official recently said, “Let’s not open a Pandora’s Box. We don’t want widespread violence along sectarian lines.” 

However, independent analysts consider electoral politics as the main reason behind the ‘denial mode’. In a reference to the leader-brothers of the Opposition PNP, heading the provincial government, journalist Ahmed Rashid had this to say:  “There is a very mundane desire by the Shariefs to keep these groups on board, so they can use their vote- banks in elections.”
Daily Times, June 9 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Improving ties with pro-government tribes

Ties between the security forces and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the main pro-Taliban commander of North Waziristan, normalised after a tense stand-off that lasted 45 days. Relations between the two sides, bound by a working peace deal, had turned sour after a military convoy was ambushed, killing eight soldiers. 

As the tribe confiscated the convoy, security forces sent feelers of an impending assault. On Monday (June 7), the forces released 20 tribesmen and removed certain check-posts. In return, the militia released the convoy, thus reinforcing the existing peace deal. 

Pakistan faces international flak for keeping peace with militias that are actively supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. In South Waziristan, however, tensions have flared up. Mullah Nazir, another pro-government militia commander, has accused Islamabad of preparing for a military strike in spite of his group abiding by peace deals. Mullah Nazir, too, provides safe haven to Taliban and al-Qaeda militants fighting in Afghanistan.
The News International, June 8 & 9 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM calls for talks with India 

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has called for resumption of the Composite Dialogue with India. Speaking at the Command and Staff College, the Premier said, “Pakistan seeks a negotiated and peaceful resolution of all disputes with India. Pakistan wants peaceful relations with its neighbours, including Afghanistan, Iran and India. India should sit with us to initiate dialogue to resolve all important issues, including Kashmir, water and terrorism”. 

He also termed terrorism and extremism as the biggest challenge facing Pakistan.
Daily Times, June 8 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cyclone Phet hits Pakistan’s coast

Cyclone Phet hit Pakistan on Sunday (June 6), making landfall 80 km south of Karachi, at Thatta in southern Sindh Province. Although the port city of Karachi was spared, the coast of Sindh and Balochistan were hit with heavy rainfall. 

The officials had evacuated more than 60,000 people prior to the cyclone, thus preventing a major disaster. Army personnel immediately carried out relief work.
Dawn, June 8, 2010
Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President visits India

President Mahinda Rajapaksa went on his first post-war, post-polls State visit to neighbouring India, where the two countries signed seven agreements and sought to expand their bilateral activities to a wider range of areas, as well. The agreements covered energy and infrastructure cooperation, including under-water power-transmission to Sri Lanka, railway projects and also 50,000 war-affected in the Tamil-majority Northern Province.

During talks with Indian leaders, including President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the two sides covered a wide variety of subjects, particularly the rehabilitation of war victims and the return of IDPs, still housed in the camps in the North. As per the longish Joint Declaration issued at the end of the 24-hour working part of the visit – technically it was a four-day tour – New Delhi also underscored the need for implementing the Thirteenth Amendment for finding a political solution to the ethnic issue. The Sri Lankan side, while clearly not employing the Thirteenth Amendment in the Joint Declaration, owing possibly to domestic protests and consequent political considerations, accepted it all the same.

Both sides also underlined the need for reviewing the working of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries, and decided to go into the entire gamut of bilateral economic relations. It was an indirect reference to the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which has drawn much flak in Sri Lanka, after the Government had cleared it for signing when Prime Minister Singh visited Colombo for the SAARC Summit of 2008.

Otherwise, the Joint Declaration spoke about the revival of the Indo-Sri Lanka Joint Commission, co-chaired by the respective External Affairs Minister, and defence-related consultations and discussions. Sri Lanka also reiterated its support for India playing a larger role in an expanded UN, and the latter’s candidacy for a permanent membership of the Security Council and for its rotational claims when a vacancy arose.
Daily Mirror, Colombo, 10 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese team meets President

Even as President Rajapaksa returned to Colombo, he was greeted by Chinese Vice-Premier, Zhang Dejiang, who had arrived a day earlier. According to a news release of the Presidential Secretariat, the two sides held cordial and constructive discussions.

The Chinese Vice- Premier, leading a large delegation, discussed the progress of key aspects of economic co-operation between the two countries, which implied Chinese-funded mega projects in Sri Lanka. They included the Colombo – Katunayake Expressway, extension of the railways from Matara to Kataragama, the Norochcholai Coal Power Project, the Hambantota Port Development, the Mattala International Airport and the Centre for the Performing Arts in Colombo, where construction work was proceeding at speed to achieve the agreed targets.

"President Rajapaksa thanked the China for its continued assistance to Sri Lanka, in the country’s efforts to defeat terrorism and for economic and social development both during the conflict and after,” the release noted. The Chinese Vice-Premier said his country reciprocated Sri Lanka’s continued gesture of friendship with China, especially in the support for the ‘One-China Policy’, and also recalled Si Lanka’s support for China to gain its rightful seat at UN Security Council.
The Island, 13 June 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian film star to fund school building

In Sri Lanka to participate in the India International Film Festival (IIFA), Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi visited war-ravaged Vavuniya, and promised to fund the construction of the building for a local school. He also participated in the mass wedding of 53 one-time LTTE cadre-couples, and discussed rehabilitation and reconstruction works with local government officials and NGOs.

While in Sri Lanka, Vivek Oberoi also defended his participation in IIFA, and did not agree with suggestions and demands that they should have stayed away to bring pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to give the Tamils their due. No purpose would have been served by a boycott. Instead, by bringing IIFA to Sri Lanka, they could bring some succour to the suffering people, he said.
Newspapers and websites

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