MonitorsPublished on Feb 28, 2014
The Bhutan cabinet's scrapping of the allotment of some 1,000 acres of land proposed for the proposed education city has put the ambitious project based on public-private partnership (PPP) in a limbo.
Bhutan: Education hub and beyond
< class="heading1">Analysis

The Bhutan cabinet’s scrapping of the allotment of some 1,000 acres of land proposed for the proposed education city has put the ambitious project based on public-private partnership (PPP) in a limbo. The embroiling controversy which has been going on in the tiny-Himalayan kingdom has not just tarnished the clean governance image of the country but has also come as a setback for prospects of higher education in Bhutan.

Though the country has been successful in taking cautious steps in modernisation since 2007, very little has been done on the higher education front to cater to the aspirations of the youth in a globalised era. Whether, the education city would have helped Bhutan become an global educational hub is not important, but the roadblock it has it Bhutan has certainly damaged the prospects for building Bhutan into a global education destination.

Controversial from the start

The educational city project was conceptualised in 2007, a year when Thimphu treaded on a path of democracy, by revising the Constitution. The project was a part of one of those policies aiming at rebuilding the country and meeting the requirements of youth in the 21st century. However, when elections were held for the first time in the country and a new government came to power, it did not approve the project.

The hopes for the project suddenly came alive when the then Prime Minister’s nephew announced that a Kolkata-based company wanted to start a US $ 1-billion education city project. The cabinet website announced in February 2010 that around 1,000 acres would be allotted to DHI Infra for building the city with Infinity Techno Parks.

Controversy after controversy has followed since and the project came under scathing criticism from the opposition and the media. Questions were raised about the transparency of the project, the inherent conflict of interests, the capacity of the Infinity group and the potential impact of the project. Recently, the Detailed Project Report stated the plans of the education city developers to build luxury villas on 350 acres to 699 acres leaving hardly any land for the education city project.

Education destination

The education city project so far has failed to attract many institutions with credentials for providing quality higher education. This was unlike what the country had expected when the project was conceptualised. The project aimed at bringing in the branches of top 30 universities in the world including those from the US Ivy Leagues and about 50,000 international students. The project aimed at attracting around 1,00,000 including academics and support staff.

The education city was to have R&D facilities, laboratories, hotels, healthcare services, sports centres, libraries, cultural and entertainment centres and cafes. It was to be located at one of the city’s most beautiful spots, between Thimphu and the country’s only paved airport, Paro International Airport.

However, the response to the project was dismal. Very few institutions showed interest in setting up centres and only one amongst the US’s Ivy League showed interest. Expression of interest was shown by a few Indian management and private universities to set up short-term programmes only. Even when DHI Infra had approached around 18 major companies including HCC, Tata, Lanco Infrastructure, Ambuja, ILFS Mahindra, Everon, Simplex, Gammon, L&T for bidding for the project only a consortium bidder of ILFS and Infinity showed interest.

Need for diversification

With increasing enrolment in schools, it is imperative for Bhutan to provide post-secondary education opportunities to the youth. There is equally a need for diversifying into vocational programmes which would not just reduce unemployment but also contribute significantly in the process of nation-building. The government also needs to arrest the exodus of students moving to countries like India and hence has to create enough opportunities for Bhutan’s youth to pursuing education in the country.

The Royal University of Bhutan, the only university in the country, is also suffering from a lack of cross-fertilisation of ideas and linkages with international universities threatening growth of new ideas. Also, the lack of autonomy in terms of financing and resources, both human and material, has challenged the progressive growth of both staff and campuses.

In a country that believes in the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), the potential of education in making empowered citizens cannot be neglected. The 11th Five-Year Plan rightly prioritises education by allocating a lion’s share of the budget. The 11th Five-Year Plan, one of the most ambitious development schemes of the country, aims at alleviating the country from the ’Least Developed Country’ (LDC) status by meeting its developmental challenges.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India : Changing face of electoral campaign

Dr Satish Misra

The season for general elections in India has begun as every political party in the fray is busy forging strategies to capture public imagination, deploying every possible tool. Using the most attractive packaging material, every party, according to available resources, is trying to present its best face to people covering the infirmities, incongruities and sharp edges with loads of face paints.

Every party is making its best efforts to woo the voters with all means at its disposal. Parties, depending upon their size and spread, earmark a sizable portion of their resources both men and material for campaign advertising.

Campaign strategies, content and style have been undergoing a sea-change as every General Elections has been a shade different than the previous one but 2014 is promising to be more innovative and technology savvy while at the same time being accommodative of traditions and political culture.

Slogans, publicity material and advertising play a crucial role in catching the popular imagination which gets swayed by the underlying message of such a campaign and thus impact the results of an election.

PR & advertising

The role of public relations outfits and advertising companies has been increasingly growing in last three decades particularly after the communication revolution of mid 80s and it gave a further impetus after the country’s economy began its phase of liberalisation in early 90s.

The role of advertising can be clearly be seen in the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (NaMo), who is understood to have hired a US-based PR agency to project his persona across the country.

Elections-2014 is sure to be one of the most keenly contested elections with the NaMo’s polarising campaigning style dominating the political environment. Even, the Congress’ campaign strategy largely influenced and guided by its vice-president Rahul Gandhi (RaGa) is not going to be less aggressive.

While details of advertising and campaign strategy of the two national parties have come into open, regional parties and other smaller parties are both shy as well as circumspect in sharing the details of their strategies but they are also relying on advertising tools.

The Congress has given its advertising campaign contract to JWT which had handled the party’s campaign in 2009 General Elections and then for the UP assembly polls in 2011. The BJP, on the contrary, has roped in more than one agency to look after its advertising campaign.

The BJP has asked admen that the campaign has to be Modi-centric and message of ’Gujarat Development model’ must reach the people across the country. The towering personality of its prime ministerial candidate should remain the guiding spirit behind the entire campaign, according to party sources. The campaign will also focus on youth development and anti-corruption. ’Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat’, a tag-line given by Modi, is going to be one of the main campaign themes.

The creative duties for the campaigning task are believed to be shared between Soho Square, a subsidiary of Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) and TAG, a subsidiary of McCann Worldgroup. Apart from this, the BJP has also roped in Prasoon Joshi, who heads McCann Worldgroup in India, in his individual capacity as a lyricist.

Media-planner Sam Balsara is also part of the main Opposition party’s campaign planning. O&M Executive Chairman and Creative Director (South Asia) of Piyush Pandey is also understood to be the part of the exercise, which has a budget of Rs 400 crore.

The media-buying duties, which means setting up communication links across different media platforms like print, Radio, TV, digital and social media, are understood to have been given to Madison Media, Lodestar UM and WPP.

Excellent rapport

O&M could not have taken up the account because of global guidelines which restricts groups’ agencies to work on election campaigns. Pandey, who has been working for the Gujarat Government’s advertising campaigns, has developed an excellent rapport with Modi and whose insistence he was brought on board of the BJP’s national campaign. The Congress, while giving its Rs 500 crore campaign advertising contract to JWT, has also roped in Public Relations consulting firm IPAN, which was set up by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s classmate Rajiv Desai. IPAN has been hired in a consultancy role.

Sources said that IPAN has been hired in realisation of the complexities of the campaign as in bigger parties like the Congress. Many leaders are involved in supervising and monitoring of the campaign. Desai will act as a permanent interface between the agency and the party so that confusion could be avoided.

’Bharat Nirmaan’

The Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre had already launched its ’Bharat Nirmaan’ campaign in August last year to highlight its achievements. The government’s account is being handled by Percept ad agency. The multi-genre campaign across all media platforms, print, Radio, TV, digital- focuses on UPA’s flagship programmes.

Rahul Gandhi, nicknamed RaGa by the media, is personally guiding and monitoring the party’s campaign. He has clearly told the advertising agency that the message should be subtle and inclusive and should be designed in such a way that it should reach both the urban and rural population. The campaign theme is not only keeping young RaGa at the centre of the campaigning but young workers of the party are also prominently figuring in the campaign material.

The Congress’s focus on ’Aam Admi ko kya mila’ in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls had blunted the BJP’s ’India Shining’ campaign. Similarly, in 2009, ’Aam Admi ke badhte kadam’ ’ and ’Jai Ho’ had helped the party and that is why the Congress this time is going in for messages like ’Har Hath Shakti, Har hath tarraki’.

One of the ads even features a young Muslim girl Hasiba Amin, an office- bearer of the Indian Youth Congress, urging the youth to join Rahul Gandhi along with a tag line ’Kattar soch nahin, Yuva josh’.

Most astute user

The Aam Admi Party (AAP), though has not hired an advertising agency, has been the most astute user of all the media platforms. Being largely urban-based and drawing its resources, both human and finances from NRIs, entrepreneurs and young aspiring youth, the AAP has been able to use social media and media effectively.

AAP volunteers, mainly residing in big cities and medium towns, use the social media to spread the party’s message. Moreover, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal’s theatrics and assertive style ensures a place in media as he creates news by sitting on dharnas, leading agitations and commenting on events quickly on the Face Book and the Twitter. AAP leaders are not responsible to party hierarchy while other parties have to carry a party line which works as a serious constraint on them in reaching out to the media.

What is indeed a surprise is that even the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is also looking for an advertising agency to plan its campaign. The BSP had never hired an agency as its leaders, the late Kanshi Ram as well as former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, had steadfastly maintained that the party did not require an agency to take its message to its dedicated electorate.

At the end of the day, election results would decide whose campaign and whose advertising agency succeeded in wooing the electorate effectively but there cannot be any doubt on the role of professional campaigning, including advertising.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Navy chief resigns over submarine mishaps

Navy Chief, Admiral D K Joshi resigned as chief of the Indian navy, owning "moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents during the past few months", the Defence Ministry said.

The resignation came hours after a fire on board the newly-refitted Sindhuratna claimed the lives of two naval officers and injured seven - the third in a series of submarine accidents, including an explosion on the Sindhurakshak which exploded and sank in Mumbai’s naval dockyard in August 2013, killing 18 crew members. Last month, the Sindhughosh ran aground on its way to Mumbai harbour, though without loss of life.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lokpal search committee formed

An eight-member search committee was formed to select the names for various posts of Lokpal, the anti-corruption ombudsman. Former Supreme Court judge, K.T. Thomas was chosen to lead the committee which also includes eminent jurist and senior advocate Fali S Nariman, the former Chief Election Commissioner, S. Y. Quraishi, the principal of Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, Meenakshi Gopinath, educationist Mrinal Miri, the former Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh, Kaki Madhava Rao, and senior journalist and Rajya Sabha Member H.K. Dua.

The committee will recommend names for the posts of chairperson and eight members (four judicial and four non-judicial) to the selection committee.

However, one of the members selected to be part of the search committee, Mr Fali Nariman, has refused to sit on the committee stating that the current selection process will overlook the most competent, the most independent and the most courageous.

BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, has also voiced his opposition to the selection procedure, saying that the involvement of the Department of Personnel has diluted the role of the search committee.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 23 February 2014, The Hindu, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Political parties in alliance mode

A joint declaration was issued by the eleven parties that formed a Third Front last month, offering a "democratic, secular, federal and pro-people development agenda’’ to the electorate. The parties include the Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Janata Dal (U), Biju Janata Dal, Asom Gana Parishad, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Janata Dal (Secular), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, Communist Party of India, All India Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party, with leaders indicating the possibility of more parties joining.

The prime ministerial candidate will be decided after the elections, keeping the doors for other parties to join. Many attempts have been made before to constitute a Third Front, but these have been unsuccessful. Calling the BJP and the Congress as two sides of the same coin, the parties promised an end to corruption, a secular order, people oriented developmental path and a more federalised structure of government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party on the other hand has been successful in gaining the support of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, which was once part of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance coalition. Under the deal, the LJP will contest from seven seats in Bihar. Paswan had quit the NDA government in protest against the 2002 Gujarat riots. Some Muslims within LJP are unhappy over the renewed alliance.

The Congress was working for a pre-poll alliance with Telangana Rashtra Samiti but the latter has ruled out a merger for now, saying that it is under no obligation to form an alliance. The Congress was instrumental in passage of the bill to create the separate state of Telangana.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 25 February 2014, The Indian Express, 28 February 2014, NDTV, 26 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sahara chief Subrata Roy arrested

Sahara Chief Subrata Roy was arrested in Lucknow on 28 February, after evading for two days a non-bailable warrant issued by the Supreme Court for his failure to appear before it in a case of non-refund of Rs 20,000 crore to investors. Before his arrest, Subrata Roy issued a signed two-page statement, claiming he was not absconding and was ready to "unconditionally follow" Supreme Court’s direction.

The court had come down heavily on the Sahara group for not refunding Rs 20,000 crore of investors money despite its order and had summoned Roy, Ravi Shankar Dubey, Ashok Roy Choudhary and Vandana Bhargava, directors of its firms Sahara India Real Estate Corp Ltd (SIREC) and Sahara India Housing Investment Corp Ltd (SHIC) to be personally present before it.

The case against Roy was lodged by the Security and Exchanges Board of India (SEBI) in 2010 over the issue of debentures, which the market regulator claims was without its approval. Roy countered that SEBI had no jurisdiction over that matter as the companies are not listed and in any case, he claimed that the bulk of money had already been repaid.

However, the court has taken a tough stand against him. Along with the non-bailable warrant, it has also given permission to SEBI to sell some of Sahara’s assets to recover the outstanding amount.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Times of India, 28 February 2014, Forbes, 28 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Trade relations with US tense

India has decided to block investigations by the US into its trade policies and patent laws, after a threat of trade sanctions made by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office over its protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), preference for domestic producers and non-trade barriers.

India is widely perceived in Washington as a serial trade offender. American firms are unhappy about imports of everything from shrimp to steel pipes that they say threaten jobs, as well as a lack of fair access to the Indian market for its goods. The US said it was filing its second case at the WTO over domestic content requirements in India’s solar programme.

India has hardened its stance by instructing officials not to entertain any request from the US International Trade Commission (USITC) to examine its trade practices. It has also urged US President Barack Obama’s administration not to fall prey to special interest groups and consider trade issues in the context of the wider strategic relationship between the two countries.

Officials say any move towards putting India on a priority foreign countries list (a list of violators of intellectual property rights) would hurt bilateral relations.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 25 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EU calls for poll panel’s independence

The European Union (EU) has called upon the government of Maldives to ensure the independence of the Elections Commission in the run up to and during the parliamentary polls, scheduled for 22 March.

In a statement, the EU expressed concern over the Supreme Court initiating suo motu contempt against the Election and said that the current proceedings risked undermining the vital independence of the Elections Commission, respect for the separation of powers and free expression in Maldives.

"The EU delegation recalls the importance of legal proceedings being fair and transparent in accordance with international standards, and calls upon the Government of the Maldives to ensure the independence of the Elections Commission in the run up to and during the Majlis Elections so that they can proceed as scheduled on 22 March 2014.," the statement said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nasheed warns Supreme Court

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has warned Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain against the alleged Supreme Court’s interference in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Addressing a poll rally of his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Nasheed said last year’s presidential election was "taken away from us" by the Supreme Court.

"The island council, atoll council, and city council elections have slipped from their fingers by God’s will while they were unaware. Now we are coming to the People’s Majlis elections again. If the election is stopped, you could not place a bigger obstacle to the country’s development," he said.

Supreme Court Justices "should know very well that the people of the Maldives will not forgive," Nasheed said. "And do not think that the courage of the Maldivian people has flagged. No, when they have to take to the streets, they will," he added.

"If you decide to halt our elections, remember that we live on this land too. Keep in my mind, our Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, know that we too grew up in this island. As long as we are on this soil, you cannot keep perpetrating injustices against our people." The Maldivian people were not indifferent or willing to "remain in a state of shock or fear," Nasheed continued, adding that the people have "found courage from one another and moved past their fear".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HIV blood for pregnant woman

The State-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) made one of the biggest blunders in its history when the hospital accidentally did a blood transfusion on a pregnant woman with HIV positive blood on 3 February.

At a news conference, IGMH’s Deputy CEO Dr Mohamed Habeeb described the incident as "the most tragic thing to happen, in the hospital’s 18-year history".

"Whilst we’ve apologised to the patient’s entire family and the people dearest to them, we would also like to apologise to all the citizens of Maldives on behalf of the hospital and the Health Ministry," Dr. Habeeb said.

According to him it happened because of the carelessness of one lab technician, who had been working with the hospital for seven years, "despite all of our advanced facilities". The machine had in fact detected that the donor’s blood to be HIV positive. However, the lab technician had meddled with the report and ticked off the blood as being HIV negative.

The woman had not found out that she was HIV positive until February 19, said Dr. Habeeb. And when found out, she had made the hospital aware of her situation - which is when the hospital conducted the investigation and found out that they were at fault, he said.

Health Ministry’s Director-General Dr. Sheeza Ali said that the lab technician has been suspended and that the matter has been reported to the police.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 26 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">German, Norwegian help sought in oil exploration

The Maldives National Oil Company (MNOC), a subsidiary of State Trading Organization (STO), has said that they have requested a German company and a Norwegian company to assist them in oil exploration in the country.

Addressing a news conference MNOC managing director Ahmed Muneez said that the US-based Shell Oil Company and French-based Elf Aquitaine had finally released the report of the seismic study that they had conducted 23 years back to search for hydrocarbon deposits in Maldivian territory.

"We have contacted a Norwegian company and a German company to help us understand the findings of the study better. Based on this report, we’re hopeful of advertising the Maldives as a new destination of oil exploration," Muneez said.

Muneez said that advertising Maldives as a new hotspot for oil exploration will begin around April 2014. The advertising campaign needs to be carried out on a global scale and therefore, a foreign firm will be hired to market the Maldives, he added. Muneez also said that the marketing project will be handed over to the company that presents them with the best strategies.

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shiny said that oil-tycoons such as Shell and Elf would not have explored Maldives if they were not hopeful of getting favorable results. Dr Shainy also noted how technology has advanced since then and said that more methods of extracting oil have been introduced.

Oil exploration and drilling oil from the Maldives was one of the election pledges of President Abdulla Yameen.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 26 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian PM for BIMSTEC summit

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Myanmar in the first week of March to attend the BIMSTEC Summit. Singh will look to provide more teeth to India’s ’Look East’ policy with a special focus on increasing connectivity in the region.

During the visit, Singh will also have a bilateral meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The meeting will be important as the US looks to sponsor another resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC for alleged war atrocities. Prime Minister, Singh would also meet Nepali Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala on the sidelines of the Summit.

Singh is expected to emphasise on comprehensive development of transport, tourism besides environment and disaster management at the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit on 4 March.

One cannot under-estimate the potential of BIMSTEC on bringing trade, transport, tourism and other linkages to all States of India’s north-east region, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told newsmen.

"It is in our interest to make sure that our north east does not fall behind and it develops in such a manner that it is commensurate with its potential," she said. Asked about the prospects of the grouping comprising India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal, firming up a free trade pact, Singh said the process was "complex" and will take some time.

"FTA negotiations are processes that take time. And BIMSTEC negotiation is particularly complex because it already encompasses countries which have FTA under the SAFTA...We have to arrive at an outcome that is optimal for India?This is going to take some time," she said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Agreement over naming of ethnic groups

The Central Census Commission has reached an agreement with ethnic organisations over the use of incorrect ethnic names in the upcoming national census.

Last week, 30 ethnic organisations released a joint statement voicing concerns that the census will be used by the government for political ends.

"In our discussion, we highlighted the fact that the collection of census based on 135 ethnic groups can lead to unwanted confusion, worries, and disintegration among the ethnic people," said Salai Issac Khin.

The government plans to conduct a nation-wide population census between 30 March and 10 April this year, the first in over 30 years.

The commission, led by Border Affairs Minister Khin Yi, urged ethnic groups to request changing the list of government-approved ethnic groups after the census, recognising that the current list did exclude some groups.

"We reached an understanding during this meeting. Another thing is that we have also received some promises to some extent," said Khun Jar from Kachin Peace Network.

The last time a national census was taken was in 1983 and some organisations have voiced fears that the census will only exacerbate ethnic and communal tensions in Myanmar.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Eleven Myanmar, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Complaint to China on illegal exports

Myanmar has lodged a diplomatic protest with China last year over the illegal export of timber and minerals from protected areas of Kachin State, President’s Office Minister U Soe Maung has said.

U Soe Maung said the protest had been accompanied by photographs of Chinese nationals who had entered Myanmar illegally to extract timber and minerals.

He said the photographs were taken by employees of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry and members of armed ethnic groups that had signed peace agreements with the government.

U Soe Maung said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yangon had summoned a Chinese embassy official on November 13 to lodge the protest.

Figures released by the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry show that 1,198 Myanmar and 414 foreigners were arrested for the illegal extraction of resources in border areas in the 10 years to 2014.

Ministry of Immigration and Population figures show that 33 foreigners were arrested for the illegal extraction of gold and timber from border areas and fishing illegally in Myanmar waters between March and April last year.

Figures from the Ministry of Mines show that 23 Myanmar were arrested between April and September last year for the illegal extraction of jade, gems and other minerals weighing about 22.5 tonnes and valued at more than K10.55 million.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima News, 27 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prime Minister Koirala expands Cabinet

Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala expanded his Cabinet on February 25, marking a step towards the country’s long-delayed Constitution drafting process. The 19 new Ministers appointed by Mr. Koirala include both members of his Nepali Congress party and key coalition partner the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML).

The new Ministers took part in a ceremony at the presidential palace, where they took an oath of office and secrecy. The Cabinet expansion had suffered delays as the coalition partners argued over which party would take on the key Home Affairs Ministry.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 25 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CA to start real task in few more weeks

As over three months have already elapsed since the 19 November Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, top officials said that it will still take a couple of weeks for the CA to start business of constitution writing.

With election of UCPN (Maoist) leader Onsari Ghartimagar as CA vice-chair on February 26, the House has now got its chair and vice-chair. The CA elected CPN-UML leader Subas Nembang as chair earlier on 19 February.

But the CA is yet to draft its regulations, form thematic committees, determine their jurisdiction and nominate members and heads of the committees. CA committees will begin discussions over the contents of the new constitution only after the committees get full shape. As the committee formed to draft CA regulations sought more time to prepare the regulations, the CA meeting on February 26 extended its deadline until March 1.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kapilvastu becoming transit-point for smugglers

Kapilvastu, a district adjacent to India, has become a transit point for smuggling drugs in recent days. Police have been seizing different drugs from the open border in the district almost every week. Kapilvastu police arrested as many as 30 smugglers after they were found to be involved in importing illegal drugs from India and exporting these items from Nepal. Police have filed 21 cases against smugglers.

Kapilvastu has as many as 14 open border-points. Civil society leaders are worried at the increased smuggling of drugs, to India. Rights activists and teachers said smuggling of drugs could not be curbed unless the civil society, family members and others were aware about the effect of drugs.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan Times, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cargo starts moving from Kolkata port

Nepal-bound containers stuck at Kolkata port in India due to the construction work being carried out on the broad-gauge railway yard on the Raxaul-Muzaffarpur section have now started being dispatched to their destinations. According to Nepal’s Consulate-General Kolkatta, shipment of containers has started since February 25.

Around 700 Nepal-bound containers had been stuck in the Indian port for a week forcing Nepali importers to pay high detention and demurrage charges for keeping the containers at Kolkata port. Chandra Kumar Ghimire, the Consul-General said that the Indian authorities had agreed to send the stranded containers as soon as possible.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Ekantipur, 28 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepal awarded USAID pioneer prize

Nepal has been awarded the ’US Agency for International Development (USAID) Pioneer Prize’ for taking leadership in saving new born lives. With the use of low-cost antiseptic, chlorhexidine, the country has lowered the risk of death in new-born babies by 23 percent.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that Nepal has become the first country in the world to adopt chlorhexidine for umbilical cord care, approving it as part of the new-born care package. He also said that the award honours excellence in the use of science, technology and innovation to solve development challenges.

Shah also announced a grant of up to $ 70 million for community Resilience Programme, integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation with expansion and deepening of USAID´s food and nutrition security efforts in Nepal.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 26 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Counter-terrorism policy unveiled

A 94-page National Security Policy was approved by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a Cabinet meeting and was unveiled in the National Assembly on 26 February 2014 by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

The policy intends to integrate mosques and madarsas into the national education system, undertake legal reforms, construct a national narrative against the extremist mindset, improve intelligence sharing and strengthen coordination between the Inter-Services Intelligence and civilian agencies.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 28 February 2014;, 28 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TTP commander killed

Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, a senior commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and former interim chief of the group, was killed in the North Waziristan tribal agency on 24 February. His driver and two guards were also killed in the ambush by gunmen in the Darga Mandi area of Miramshah.

Asmatullah belonged to the Bhittani tribe and hailed from the Jandollah area of FR Tank. He had a 10 million rupee bounty on his head and was wanted by the Pakistan government for several attacks on security forces. He was named acting chief of the TTP after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in November 2013.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 25 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PTI supports military strikes

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has extended its support to the ongoing military strikes against the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) hideouts in Waziristan and elsewhere.

PTI’s Deputy Information Secretary, Adnan Randhawa, said that the PTI stands by the military in its fresh drive against the Taliban. He said that PTI is hopeful that the Taliban would soon return to the dialogue table with the government’s committee for the restoration of peace in Pakistan. Randhawa emphasised that the PTI stood by its demand that the Taliban must announce an unconditional ceasefire.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The News International, 23 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PTI ends NATO supply blockade

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has announced an end to its campaign of blocking the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. PTI had been staging sit-ins to protest against covert US drone strikes in Pakistan.

The Core Committee of the PTI felt that the pressure of the blockade had already resulted in a shift in the Obama Administration’s drone policy and, thus, drones had been stopped for the present. The party believes that it had built up pressure against drones through its Waziristan march which was supported by international human rights groups.

Media reports, however, state that the party has taken this decision after the Peshawar High Court termed the blockade illegal.

< class="text11verdana">, 28 February 2014, The Express Tribune, 28 February 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">We will do it in Sri Lanka: John Kerry

While claiming that the Sri Lankan government has not made sufficient progress on post-war reconciliation and ensuring justice and accountability for alleged war crimes, the US said that it would support another UN Human Rights Council resolution at the March session.

Releasing the Annual Country Report on Human Rights 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "We will do it in Sri Lanka, where the government still has not answered basic demands for accountability and reconciliation, where attacks on civil society activists, journalists, and religious minorities, sadly, still continue."

According to him, "Our concern about this ongoing situation has led the US to support another UN Human Rights Council resolution at the March session. We will do so because we know countries that deny human rights and human dignity challenge our interests as well as human interests. But we also know countries that advance those values, those countries that embrace these rights are countries that actually create opportunities," he said.

The report speaks about "ongoing serious human rights problems include disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years, as well as widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, such as torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary".

The report also stated that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family dominates the government. "Two of the President’s brothers hold key executive branch posts, as defence secretary and economic development minister, and a third brother is the Speaker of Parliament. A large number of the President’s other relatives, including his son, also serve in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterised the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic."

It also stated that there was a climate of fear and self-censorship in Sri Lanka. "Attacks, harassment, and threats by pro-government loyalists against critics of the government were prevalent, contributed to widespread self-censorship by journalists, and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators."

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’No-trust move part of US conspiracy’

Languages and National Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has claimed that a no- aith motion moved by the Opposition UNP against the government, alleging complicity in the narcotics trade was aimed at facilitating a US intervention in Sri Lanka.

Minister Nanayakkara said that the UNP’s project should be examined against the backdrop of the US decision to move a resolution against Sri Lanka at the forthcoming 25th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session.

The government couldn’t take the US project lightly, Minister Nanayakkara said. The Leftist veteran argued that the failure on the part of a particular government to tackle narcotics menace as well as its alleged involvement in importing and distributing narcotics could lead to a US intervention.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Buddhist Mahanayake in Jaffna

The country would be strong as long as it remained religiously united and Buddhism and Hinduism were two religions born in the same country, India, Head of Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Sect, Most Ven. Udugama Rathanapala Sri Buddharakkhitha Mahanayake Thero said when he met Hindu religious leaders at Nallur in Jaffna.

The Mahanayake Thero said Buddhists and Hindus had never fought with each other. Buddhism’s founder, Prince Siddhartha had come from a Hindu royal family, he added. "Buddhists and Hindus believed in same gods and therefore they could always live in harmony", he said.

The Buddhist delegation was welcomed by Nallai Atheenam, Srilasri Somasundara Thesika Paramacharya Swamigal, President Thelippalai Durgai Amman Temple Aru Thirumurugan and the Hindu congregation with great honour.

Nallai Atheenam expressed happiness over the visit of Mahanayake Thero, and highly appreciated initiative taken by Buddhist monks to stop cattle-slaughter in the country. He invited the Thero to visit Jaffna again, and told the delegation that with ushering of peace, people of Jaffna lived happily and most of them had got their lands and houses back.

The Asgiriya prelate revealed that he had discussed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa ways and means of expediting delayed legal proceedings against LTTE suspects in prisons and releasing them as early as possible. The prelate invited the Atheenam and other Hindu priests to visit Kandy, where they could visit sacred Temple of the Tooth and meet senior Buddhist monks.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 26 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Joint exercise with Australian navy

Australian naval ship, HMAS Melbourne, arrived in Sri Lanka on a goodwill visit and took part in a Passage Exercise code named ’PASSEX’ with SLNS ’Sagara’ in the seas off Galle on Tuesday.

The Navy Headquarters said that the ship, an Adelaide-class guided missile frigate (FFG) heading home after a successful visit to Sri Lanka, paved way for the strengthening of bilateral relationships of the two countries and mutual co-operation between the two navies.

"The exercise was designed to promote bilateral cooperation and stability, greater interoperability between the two Navies, mainly focusing on the issues related to piracy and illegal human trafficking. It provided opportunity for both Navies to rehearse the concept of joint naval operations and to enhance own skills," the Sri Lanka Navy said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 26 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Zero-option’ surfaces again

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues to refuse signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US, President Barack Obama has once again warned that he is now planning for a full troop withdrawal from the country next year.

The Obama Administration has said that it will prefer to retain a residual force in Afghanistan post-2014 but would not do so without the BSA being in place.

At the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry predicted that even if President Karzai refuses to sign the pact, the next Afghan President, elected after this year’s election, would definitely sign it.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Washington Post, 27 February 2014, Tolo News, 26 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US campaign against Haqqanis

According to US officials, they have established a special unit to eliminate the Haqqani Network before it combat mission ends in 2014. The unit, headed by a colonel and known in military parlance as a "fusion cell," brings together special forces, conventional forces, intelligence personnel, and some civilians to improve targeting of Haqqani members and to heighten the focus on the group.

The Haqqani Network operates in eastern and south-eastern Afghanistan and North Waziristan in Pakistan. It is said to be affiliated with al Qaeda and is recognised as the most violent and effective insurgent group in Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The News, 26 February 2014; Tolo News, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Trade pact with Pakistan

Afghanistan and Pakistan signed an agreement this week to double the bilateral trade to $5 billion.

Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed on different issues including determining an area for building a storehouse for Afghan traders in Karachi and Qasim Khan Ports, direct cooperation between the two countries’ customs agencies, solving transit problems, extending the Peshawar-Kabul highway, giving 3000 scholarships to Afghans, accelerating work on the Peshawar-Jalalabad and Qandahar-Chaman railways, Kunar Electricity Project and some other major projects.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Tolo News, 25 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BNP shines in the second phase

Second phase of upazila elections was held this week. Like the first phase, ruling Awami League’s arch rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was able to continue its lead in the second phase.

Out of 112 upazilas where election took place, BNP backed candidates emerged victorious in 51, while Awami League backed candidates won in 44. Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of BNP won in eight upazilas. Candidates supported by other parties and independent candidates won in the rest of the 9 upazilas. Polling was suspended in three upazilas, owing to violence.

Interestingly, the main opposition in the parliament Jatiya Party backed candidates performed poorly and won only in one upazila. In the first phase of the polls held in 97 upazilas on February 19, BNP won in 43, AL in 35 and Jamaat in 12 upazilas, and the rest 6 went to independent candidates and other parties. The result was withheld in one upazila.

The second phase of upazila election was more or less peaceful except some stay incidents of violence that caused life of one person. The election also saw high voters turnout.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 28 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">JMB convicts escape

After years of lull the country experienced a major incidence of militant violence, when three convicts belonging to banned religious militant organisation Jamatual Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were freed from the captivity of the police.

Dozens of armed militants attacked a prison van and snatched away the three convicted militants, killing one police officer on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway. Though the police was able to capture one of the militants, he was killed in a gun battle.

The security forces were put on alert in the borders immediately after the incident to prevent the two other fugitives from crossing the frontiers India’s Home Ministry has alerted the country’s Eastern states of Meghalaya and West Bengal to watch out for the JMB militants who managed to escape this week. Meghalaya is near Mymensingh, so they may try entry from there and then head for West Bengal where they have some allies, informed a Home Ministry source.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 24 February 2014,, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to relax visa rules

In a major move to increase people to people, India is contemplating on relaxing the visa procedures for Bangladeshi nationals and also to increase the number of visa centres in the country to tackle the increasing demand for visas, informed Indian envoy to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran. However, Saran did not disclose the number of new visa centres.

At present, there are six visa centres. He also informed that Indian high commission is now eligible to issue multiple entry visas with five-year validity for Bangladeshi nationals.

On the expansion of the limited on-arrival visa scheme to tourists from 180 countries from October, Saran said that Bangladeshi nationals would also be beneficiaries of the scheme.

The Indian envoy made these comments during a meeting with the country’s business community this week in capital Dhaka.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 25 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">M&M signs MoU for battery cars

Mahindra and Mahindra, India’s Mumbai-based utility vehicles and tractor manufacturer, today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Government of Bhutan for a strategic partnership to promote the usage of electric vehicles in that country.

Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles, announced the launch of its all-electric, Mahindra e2o in Thimphu, the capital city of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

The Mahindra e2o will be available in three variants and priced at 6.99 Ngultrum for the base variant, 7.99 Ngultrum for the premium variant and 8.39 Ngultrum (all price ex-showroom Bhutan) for the premium variant with Quick2Charge.

Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, Pawan Goenka, Executive Director and President, Automotive and Farm Equipment Sectors, Mahindra & Mahindra and Chairman, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles were present during the MoU signing and at the launch.

The Government of Bhutan will provide the required charging infrastructure support for the successful deployment of the Mahindra e2o and for the other electric vehicles from the Mahindra stable to be launched in the future.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 27 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">King’s birthday celebrated

Bhutan’s king Jigme Keshar Namgyel Wangchuck celebrated his 34th birth day in Punakha with thousands of people from Punakha and Laya, who had gathered in Thangzona, next to the Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang dzong.

In the morning, His Holiness the Je Khenpo received the Kind the dzong and offered Kusung Thukten Mendrel. The visited the sacred Marchen Lhakhang of the Dzong to offer prayers. He also offered prayers and lit a butter lamp before the Zhabdrung Thongdroel in the dzong courtyard.

Members of the Zhung dratshang, the Chief Justice, ministers, government and dzongkhag officials, and elected representatives of the people were gathered at the courtyard to offer their wishes to His Majesty.

A game of archery and a cultural programme were held at Thangzona. The people offered Jachang, an offering of tea, wine and traditional snacks, to the King, who spent the day, the Queen, Gyaltsuen, meeting and talking to people who gathered to offer their birthday wishes.

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

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

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.


Mihir Bhonsale

Mihir Bhonsale

Mihir Bhonsale was a Junior Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme and Indian Neighbourhood Initiative of ORF.

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