MonitorsPublished on Aug 23, 2013
A new leadership has assumed office in Bhutan defying all pre-poll surveys that were predicting an adverse result for the country's opposition party. The People's Democratic Party (PDP), led by Tshering Tobgay won the elections by winning 32 seats out of 47.
Bhutan: New leadership has its task cut out
< class="heading1">Analysis

A new leadership has assumed office in Bhutan defying all pre-poll surveys that were predicting an adverse result for the country’s opposition party. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Tshering Tobgay won the elections by winning 32 seats out of 47. While the victory, reinstated confidence of the monarchy in political reforms undertaken since 2008, the Bhutanese mandate was a clear indication of the Bhutanese people’s utmost priority, the development of the country. While Tobgay is set to visit New Delhi in the last week of August on an invitation of Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, the new leadership in Bhutan has multi-fold challenges to address.

The country’s 11th Five Year Plan is worth Nu 201 billion and Bhutan is expecting an aid of Nu 46 billion from India for the plan. The 11th Five Year plan, the most ambitious in Bhutan’s history is focused on reducing poverty and unemployment and improving better deliverance in sectors like health and education. India has already in principle agreed in providing support to Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan. Bhutan also wants India to commit to a Nu 5 billion economic stimulus plan prepared, which would feature in the meeting to be held towards the end of August.

Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan aims at decreasing reliance on donor support for its developmental plans. This is one of the key challenges before Bhutan in years to come. However, for this to take place, the country needs to diversify its exports and identify new services which could facilitate economic growth. The plan rightly outlines the importance of hydro-power in facilitating growth, but this is not enough.

The 11th Five Year Plan aims at enhancing export products expecting electricity to 21 billion from 15 billion and enhances trade contribution to the Gross Domestic Product to 6 percent. The plan also outlines construction of 8 new hydro-power plants and increasing the contribution of hydro-power from 30 percent to 40 percent. Establishing a mini Dry Port or a Warehousing and Distribution Complex in Phuentsholing has also been planned for.

China factor

Bhutan’s new leadership seems keen on resolving the border issues with China, the intent clearly demonstrated by prime minister Tobgay, calling China a ’neighbour’ and attempting to call noteworthy presence of China a ’reality.’ Bhutan is all set to engage with China on the 21st round of the border talks by the end of August. Tobgay is likely to be asked in New Delhi about the Bhutanese government’s itinerary for the border talks.

China has already resented India’s treatment of Bhutan as a ’protectorate’. The Chinese state owned news daily Global Times immediately after the election reported that India’s withdrawal of subsidies on gas and kerosene in the wake of elections was intended to get rid of the China-friendly Bhutanese Prime Minister, Jigme Thinley. The new leadership in Bhutan would have to walk a tight rope on the foreign policy front - balancing its two big Asian neighbours.

Impact of Nepali sub-nationalism

Bhutan would be closely observing developments in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal where the demand for carving out a separate state of Gorkhaland is being echoed. The Nepali population of Bhutan, which forms the majority in southern Bhutan, would have sentiments over the development. Also, Bhutan’s passage by road into India is through the Darjeeling district, further worrying Bhutanese government over the safety of its nationals travelling to India. Tobgay has extensively campaigned in the Nepali populated areas before the elections and he would face the challenge of maintaining security and peace in Nepali populated areas of Bhutan and ensuring a safe passage into India for visiting Bhutanese nationals.

Bhutan’s prime minister would also have to assure India that its soil is not used for flaming anti-India sentiments in the wake of sub-national movements across the Indo-Bhutanese border. Bhutan would at the same time have to ensure that its own security is not threatened in case the present turmoil continues for a longer time, leading to increased migration of Nepalese to Bhutan.

Heightened expectations

Bhutan’s transition with a new government assuming power has no doubt heightened expectations not just from the country’s over 7 lakh population, but also of the international community observing the progress of the tiny Himalayan kingdom. Bhutan’s new leadership would not only have to rebuild dialogue with major players like India, Japan, the US and the European Union, but also take some tough decisions about its foreign policy especially on China.

Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan aims at making the country "self-reliant with inclusive green socio-economic development" and the Harvard educated prime minister of Bhutan would be well aware on the expectations riding on him to deliver on development promises and ensuring the happiness quotient of Bhutanese is upped.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maldives : Making post-poll transition smooth

N Sathiya Moorthy

In a nation where rumours rule the roost ahead of the 7 September presidential polls, President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, seeking re-election, may have set the right tone for post-poll transition. President Waheed has said that he would not leave the country, if defeated. The same approach could be expected from the other three candidates, and the running-mates of all four.

Over the past year and more, the international community is concerned only about political stability in the Indian Ocean archipelago. India, the closet neighbour with a regional and global presence to match, has clarified more than once that it was all for an ’inclusive’ election that is free and fair without violence, followed by a ’smooth transition’ that belies avoidable speculation of all kind. The rest of the international community seems to concur.

Under the Constitution, the first-round polling is scheduled for 7 September, followed by a second, run-off round involving the top two, within 21 days, should no candidate manage to cross the half-way mark. For an atolls-nation with thinly spread-out population spread across 950-km North-South, and not used to multi-party and multi-layered elections until then, Maldivians voted in large numbers in 2008 after the new Constitution came into being.

In 2008, the first round witnessed high 85-plus percent polling. It was followed by an even higher 86-plus percentage vote in the run-off. The figures were lower at 80 percent for the parliamentary polls six months later. It slipped further to 75 percent in the local council polls a year further down. With the result, the voter-turnout has become an object of study. It would show the disenchantment or otherwise of the first-time voters, who were still in their early teens in 2008.

Voter turnout this time would also be a measure of the attitude of the rest, particularly the first-time voters from 2008 and those a generation before them. The events of the past five years, particularly since the controversial power-transfer and subsequent nation-wide violence of 7-8 February 2012, are an object lesson for the Maldivian polity to learn from. The population insulated from the rest of the world until the tools of information technology, like television and mobile phones, made it all possible, would also have to understand and appreciate the ways and waywardness of coalition leadership, which they had consciously mandated in 2008.

Job cut out

Post-poll, a new President has his job cut out. He will have to put together a Cabinet, which has to be cleared by an existing Parliament, which is closer to the end of its term. As under other presidential systems like in the US, the Government is answerable to Parliament, but elected members do not become Ministers. It comes with hopes and possibilities, problems and burden. The existing system commands that parliamentary clearance for the Cabinet can cut either way, going by past experience.

In 2008, after the nation elected Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohammed Nasheed as President, Parliament approved his first set of 13 Cabinet Ministers without question. In 2010, alleging that the new Parliament, elected year earlier, with an Opposition majority, was adopting a ’scorched earth policy’ viz the Executive powers of the Government 13 Cabinet members, barring then Vice-President Mohammed Waheed (now President) submission of their resignation to President Nasheed, as if to force a political showdown between the two arms of the Government.

After the Supreme Court ruled that the resignations stood, President Nasheed re-appointed the old set of Ministers. This time, Parliament refused to clear them all, necessitating the nomination of fresh faces in the place of the rejected ones, but with informal consultations between the President and Parliament. The trend of Parliament rejecting the President’s nominees for Cabinet positions has continued under President Waheed. Here again, there were no rejections at inception. It has since become a routine after the coalition partners supporting President Waheed in Parliament and participating in his Government through ministerial nominations decided to contest the presidential polls on their own. All this has set bad precedents as far as political stability goes, until a future dispensation proves otherwise.

On assuming office, a new President will have to present the annual Budget in November, and get it passed by Parliament in time, for the Government to start its New Year spending from 1 January. In between, the nation would be called upon to vote in the local council polls in December, followed by parliamentary elections in May 2014. The new President can think of doing something about implementing the manifesto of his party in full measure only after that. The premise does not rule out the possibility of the President not enjoying a majority in the existing Parliament or the new one coming up after the polls.

A tough task even under relatively favourable circumstances, but a new President will be assuming office under a not-so-favourable political environment. In political terms, Parliament would not have had enough time to switch from the ’election mode’ to take up more serious work. The past five years in general and the months after 7 February power-transfer have ensured that parliamentary committees in particular have acted in a politically partisan manner, even though they may still be well within the letter of the law.

The past years in general and one-and-a-half years otherwise, have witnessed a spate of ’defections’ from one party to another, at times within the ruling coalition. It is very difficult for a keen observer of Maldivian politics, even from within the country, to say which MP was now with which party - and if anyone intended crossing over (one more time?) in the near future. The months after the presidential polls could witness another spate of defections, possibly to the chosen one’s side. There could be exceptions, but of defections, there could be many. Such a course could contribute further to the existing sense of instability.

The Maldivian economy is in bad shape now (as has often been in the past years and decades). The reasons are many, though the inability of successive Governments to make the successful resort tourism to share an equitable size of the revenues as the share that it makes of the nation’s economy has not paid off. Recently, the Government has obtained promises of a $ 29.5-million credit from the Bank of Ceylon, for ’budgetary support’.

In what is possibly an unprecedented move, as the MDP nominee for the 7 September polls, former President Nasheed called on Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram, to discuss post-poll fiscal support that his country might request from India. Nasheed was in Delhi, followed later by another presidential candidate, Abdulla Yameen, of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), called on the Indian leadership, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India has also invited Gasim Ibrahim, presidential nominee of the Jumhooree Party, to New Delhi for a pre-poll exchange of views. The Delhi discussions, according to reports, have centred on political stability, free and fair elections and smooth transition.

Lame-duck presidency or what?

Traditionally, Maldivian Presidents from the days prior to multi-party elections have been sworn in on 11 November. The current Constitution has continued with the existing norm of an incumbent President completing five years in office before the elected/re-elected one is sworn in. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had ruled the country as quasi-elected Head of State and Government for 30 years ending 2008, with elections every five years. Before him, President Ibrahim Nasir had done so for 10 years, after he got himself elevated from the post of Prime Minister.

The earlier experience thus had an inherent safety-clause as for continuity went. Transition, if at all, affected only individual Ministers that the President nominated to his Cabinet, post-poll. Such changes had been made even between two elections. There was no question of parliamentary clearance for Cabinet Ministers, some of whom had also been elected to the People’s Majlis. So were many Government officials at all levels.

The question of transition thus really came into play only after the 2008 multi-party polls. The euphoria of multi-party polls took care of some of it. The proximity of the second-round poll date in late October and the swearing-in on 11 November took care of most of it. Despite avoidable speculation and motivated rumours to the contrary, outgoing President Gayoom, who lost the polls, and the incoming successor in MDP’s Nasheed were determined to make a ’smooth transition’. They did the transition work smoothly.

There is nothing to suggest that the post-poll transition this time would be anything but smooth. The question would not arise if Maldivians chose to re-elect the incumbent. That is a different matter. Otherwise, the relatively long gap between the polls and the inauguration could make the incumbent ’lame-duck’. This could be more so if adversarial tendencies identified with the entire political and poll process in the country over the past five years and more come to play even more vigorously after the elections.

’Revolving door’

In the US, from where the Executive Presidency model for Maldives and the phrase ’lame-duck’ may have been borrowed, the interregnum is used for ensuring smooth transition. With nearly 4000 political positions in Government falling vacant, such a time-gap has helped an incoming President and his team to discuss and decide on successors for each one of them. It would have also given the newly-appointed ones enough time to acclimatise themselves to the new jobs. It has been quite beneficial, particularly for academics using the ’revolving door’ between the Government and universities, to make the personal transition, smooth.

Whenever the incumbent is re-elected, American Presidents have often used the interregnum to set the agenda for the bow-out term, based on their election manifesto and the party’s expectations four years hence, when presidential polls would become due. Should the incumbent does not contest re-election or is defeated, only then does he become ’lame-duck’ for the remaining period of his term, until the Inauguration of his successor.

In their first terms, Presidents in the US are often seen to be opting for personal loyalists, old townsfolk, university friends, erstwhile professional colleagues and fund-raisers’ nominees for advisory roles - if they do not fit in for any Cabinet berth. They use the interregnum after re-election to give a new shape to their administration, based on their higher levels of confidence, experience and exposure.

In case of re-election President Waheed could be expected to use the interregnum to work out sustainable policies and programmes, and also choose his team to deliver on them, in his second term. His successor, whoever else is elected, too could be expected to do so at his level. It is the interactions between the two teams during the interregnum of lame-duck presidency would matter the most. The US, over the past decades and centuries, has evolved a scheme of the incumbent and the elected naming their ’succession teams’ to ensure a smooth transition. Maldives could set a precedent for itself, this time round.

Creating precedent(s)

It is for the first time that Maldives would be coping with an interregnum of the kind. Experience is non-existent, expectations are high, and apprehensions even more. President Waheed’s elevation at the head of a post-poll coalition yet without fresh elections was a hurried affair. There was no interregnum, so to speak, though some of the coalition partners took their time choosing their nominees for his Cabinet.

President Waheed’s quick-fire succession, if it could be called so, may have also set a precedent that was not relevant to Maldives under the earlier schemes. Democracy comes with its compelling baggage, and has a way of finding satisfactory solutions to the problems that dissatisfaction - and, not disaffection - throws up from time to time. New situations may thus demand new look at the existing scheme, and throw up new solutions. A new-generation leadership should be prepared to accept it and acknowledge it.

The past five years should have taught Maldives and Maldivians that multi-party democracy is a ’dynamic process’ and that the nation would have to be prepared for surprises at every turn of its democratic career from now on. In the early days of such initiation, the dynamic surprises may have proved to be dynamite-shocks to some, the larger community included. In a unique situation thus, President Waheed, whether re-elected or not, would be facing interregnum of two kinds - one, between the presidential poll and the Inauguration, and the second between now and the parliamentary polls.

It is unclear how the existing Parliament would be disposed towards a new President, if the incumbent is not re-elected, until the parliamentary polls in May next. Only then would have some clarity appeared on the political equations between the two institutions under the Constitution. It is another matter if the new President would have a Parliament of his liking, or if he would be able to work on a broad-based consensus, where a broad-based coalition is not possible.

Over the past one-and-half year, the MDP ’Opposition’ in Parliament - otherwise the ’Majority party’ in terms of numbers in the 77-member House - has tried in vain to have President Waheed voted out. It could not muster the two-thirds majority, and did not press the resolutions after a point, on two occasions. The post-poll situation under the Constitution has not provided a solution if such attempts were to be made in and by Parliament against a ’lame-duck’ President. Nor does it say, if his Vice-President would still (have to) succeed him, if he were to resign alone or be voted out during the interregnum.

Likewise, the Constitution-makers did not think of contingencies like the one in which the outgoing President resigns with his entire Cabinet, including the Vice-President, after the election of his successor, but before the traditional day for the swearing-in. The Constitution now provides for the Speaker of the Majlis to take over as President for two months, with the sole purpose of conducting fresh elections to the presidency. The Constitution is also silent on the Speaker’s role, if any, where the incumbent resigns, and so does his Vice-President, after a successor has been elected - and such election, notified!

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Be nice to the police: Nasheed

Presidential candidate of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), former President Mohamed Nasheed has said that there should be no enmity between MDP and the police and urged the members of his party to be nice to Police now.

Nasheed made this remark speaking at the Kolhumadulu MDP campaign platform inaugurating ceremony. He said that he has commenced work to build and strengthen the relation between MDP and the Police.

"The Police service is still under the influence and power of a few police men that I have mentioned earlier about. We will hear many troubling news, many worrying things as the Election Day draws near. Therefore, the biggest political party in the Maldives should not cut off the ties with the Police. I have commenced work to build this relation," he said.

Nasheed alleged that only a group of 20 Police officers were involved in the coup against him as the first democratically-elected President. He therefore said that he will not send the letter that he earlier decided to send to the Police. Nasheed said that he does not believe that these 20 officers can rectify and strengthen the Police service. He urged all members of the MDP to be nice and respectful towards Police officers and always smile at their faces.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, 21 August 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Poll panel unprepared: Gayoom

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said that the Elections Commission (EC) has not prepared itself to the necessary standards to hold the presidential election scheduled for September 7.

Previously, Gayoom’s party Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had raised several concerns over the EC that include the involvement of Indian IT specialists handling its database, the wife of the Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek being an outspoken Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporter, and "politicised tweets" by the Commission’s Legal Director Haneefa Khalid.

Gayoom told the media shortly before departing on campaign tgour that it was critical that the EC address the issues raised by political parties. He said that the stability of the country relied heavily on the freedom and fairness of the presidential polls, and therefore it was imperative that the EC carried outs its duties in an open and transparent manner.

"We are seeing problems within the framework they have established. Other parties have even noted that. We are not, by any means, saying that they are doing things wrong. But instead, we are saying that we don’t see the Elections Commission making necessary arrangements for the presidential elections in an adequate and proper way," Gayoom said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minvian News, 21 August 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HC overturns flogging for15 year-old

The High Court has today overturned a Juvenile Court decision to sentence a 15-year old to 100 lashes after she was charged with fornication.

The case of the minor, who was previously found to have been a victim of sexual abuse, has garnered global media attention and condemnation from numerous human rights groups. At the same time, an online petition calling for her sentence to be revoked has been signed by over two million people.

Despite the hearing on 21 August being held behind "closed doors" (as per Article 42 of the constitution), the High Court later released a statement with details of the verdict.

According to the statement, the High Court decided to revoke the minor’s sentence after she denied confessing to having consensual sex with an unknown partner during the Juvenile Court trial. Authorities previously said the minor had confessed to having consensual sex during a separate investigation into her sexual abuse.

According to Islamic Fiqh scholars, a confession of fornication can be retracted before the resulting sentence is carried out in full, the High Court statement added. It was further noted by the court that there were discrepancies in the statement given by the girl to the Juvenile Court. The High Court concluded the minor, found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was also unable to correctly define pre-marital sex according to the law.

The High Court argued that its verdict had been based on the evidence that the girl was ’unfit for trial’ during investigations into her alleged abuse and the subsequent Juvenile Court hearings against her.

The court said that the minor had provided her original statement in the capacity of a ’victim’ and not a suspect, and that authorities had, therefore, not given her the fundamental rights legally required of a suspect in a crime.

The statement concluded by saying that the panel of judges presiding over the case did not believe that the Juvenile Court had enough evidence to prove beyond any doubt the charges against the girl. ’Hadd’ sentences cannot be issued unless a crime can be proved beyond any doubt, the High Court argued. To date, the girl remains under the care of the state, serving the sentence of house arrest at the children’s shelter on Vilimale’.

The High Court verdict was issued after the conclusion of an appeal case against the Juvenile Court’s ruling, which was submitted by the Attorney General’s Office on March 27.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 21 August 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tunda hints at Rohingya link to Bodh Gaya blasts

Interrogation of Abdul Karim Tunda, the Lashkar master bomber arrested on August 16, seems to be supporting an internal note exchanged between intelligence agencies and Delhi Police after the Mahabodhi Temple blast in Bodh Gaya. The note stated that Tunda was trying to recruit Rohingya operatives for terror attacks.

"It is learnt that Lashkar-e-Taiba was instigating Rohingyas to avenge the recent sectarian violence in Myanmar. This narrowly focuses on the Indian investigations into the July 7 serial bomb blasts at the Mahabodhi temple in Gaya, Bihar, on Islamic militant groups inside India and Bangladesh.

"The Rohingyas are Myanmar’s Muslim minority, largely settled in the coastal Arakan province. Myanmar has seen increasing sectarian violence in the past two years between its dominant Buddhist majority and the Rohingyas," it stated.

According to intelligence sources, umbrella organisations like Jamaat-ul-Arakan and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization are running terror training camps in remote areas of Bandarban district in Bangladesh adjoining the Myanmar border.

Tunda, during the interrogation, has also allegedly given the names of some Rohingya leaders. All these facts are leading the security agencies to believe that Indian Mujahideen may not be part of the Bodh Gaya serial blasts and it was a larger conspiracy hatched by LeT from Pakistan.

Sources say ISI and LeT are also funding Rohingyas. They also have links with Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) of Pakistan, and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and Jamaat-e-Mujahideen of Bangladesh, sources added.

The terrorists had kept 13 improvised explosive devices, out of which three didn’t go off, at the Bodh Gaya temple on July 7. All the 13 LPG cylinders weighed 2.5 kg each and were packed with 2kg of ammonium nitrate and detonators.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Myanmar army intrusion in to India

The Manipur State Government has taken a serious view of the Myanmar Army preparations to construct a temporary Army camp at Holenphai village, located 3 km from the police station at Moreh -the border town of Manipur.

The Manipur state administration is in constant touch with the union government about the developments in Manipur across the border.

Attempts to defuse the crisis by dissuading the Myanmar Army officers from suspending the work till a final settlement is brought about were not fruitful as the officers said that they cannot do anything against the orders from their higher officials.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 23 August, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China wants consulate in Pokhara

China is reportedly interested to set up its Consulate General Office in Pokhara. Although the Chinese side is yet to make public such an interest in writing, Nepali officials say a proposal to that effect was put forth by the Chinese side several times in the past.

During a recent meeting in Beijing with senior Foreign Ministry officials, the Chinese side had raised the matter. Some three months back, a visiting top Chinese official had met the then Chief of Protocol Niranjan Man Singh Basnyet and floated the proposal.

"There was a proposal from the Chinese side to set up a Consulate General Office in Pokhara. During my meeting with the visiting Chinese foreign ministry official the latter put forth the proposal and, in response, I asked him to send it in writing," Basnyet was quoted by local media.

In the last week of July, when the chief of China Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Ambika Devi Luintel, had visited Beijing, the Chinese side had again raised the issue verbally.

The proposal to set up the consulate once again gained momentum after the Nepali side sought Beijing’s approval to establish a Consulate General Office in Guangzhou and the Chinese side inquired about the need to set up a consulate office in the third largest Chinese city, its jurisdiction and the number of staff it will have.

MoFA officials claim that during the upcoming foreign secretary level talks scheduled in Beijing for August 26, the matter will be taken up once again by the Chinese side. Nepal has three diplomatic missions in China -Embassy in Beijing and two consulate general offices in Lhasa and Hong Kong.

China has been providing a whopping assistance to Pokhara and the surrounding areas since long. Prithvi Highway that links Kathmandu and Pokhara was constructed with Chinese assistance. Another highway that connects Pokhara with Baglung and Magydi districts was also built with Chinese aid.

In addition to this, a lot of China-funded projects were implemented there in the past. The Chinese city of Kunming has already shown willingness to construct a regional airport in Pokhara.

Strategically, Pokhara is important for China as its investment is huge in the lake city.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Power boss held for graft

The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) arrested 10 serving and retired Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) officials, including Managing Director Rameshwor Yadav, on charges of gobbling up funds while purchasing sub-standard transformers.

According to the anti-graft body, the officials were arrested and taken into custody before investigations are complete as it feared they could hide evidences or flee the country.

The others in the net include planning chief Krishna Bahadur Thapa, engineer Pramod Rijal, former managing directors Chiranjivi Sharma Poudel and Jibendra Jha, former Deputy MD Tikaram BC, Deputy Director Krishna Bahadur KC, senior official Dev Sharma Poudel and Distribution and Customer Department Chief Mahesh Prasad Acharya.

The CIAA has already taken 10 other senior NEA officials and two Chinese-Hu Zheng of the supplier, Hubei Sun Light Electric Co Ltd, and his Nepal representative Zou Yi Tian-into custody for their involvement in the scam.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 21 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Alarming death rate of migrant workers

At least 726 Nepali migrant workers died in East Asian and Gulf countries last year, a report prepared by the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) revealed.

What is more alarming is the fact that despite the government’s efforts to make the foreign employment safer, the death toll has seen a 13 per cent rise as compared to the previous year when 643 people had died in these countries.

According to the report, heart-related ailments are major killers, followed by traffic accidents, suicide, work place accidents, natural deaths and some deaths due to ’unidentified causes.’

The actual number, however, could be higher as the report takes into account only legal workers who are entitled to compensation from the Migrant Workers’ Welfare Fund. Government records show that an estimated 2.5 million Nepalis, mostly youths, are working in the Gulf and East Asian countries.

Remittance from the foreign employment sector remains a life blood of the country’s economy, with the same contributing a whopping 22 per cent to the GDP. However, the sector remains neglected in terms of resource allocation.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 17 August, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Musharraf charged with Benazir murder

The former military dictator, who came to power in the military coup of 1999, was charged in connection with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on August 20. Pervez Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s government in the coup and remained as leader until 2008 when his popularity dramatically fell. He returned to Pakistan after a long run of self-imposed exile, to run in the 2013 election but found himself disqualified from running and facing a series of legal challenges all dating back to his military dictatorship.

Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Rawalpindi during the 2007 election campaign. She returned to Pakistan after years of self-imposed exile. A UN commission inquiry reported in 2010 that Pakistan failed to adequately protect Bhutto and investigate her death.

The hearing this week lasted 20 minutes and was heavily guarded by police. Journalists were not permitted in the court room. Musharraf has denied all charges against him and said that they were politically motivated. The next hearing is set for August 27. This charge has undermined the unwritten rule of not charging ex-military officers.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 20 August, 2013.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Widespread flooding kills 118

Heavy rain and flooding has swept the country this week to kill over 118 people and leave 812 others injured. The worse hit areas have been in eastern Pakistan mainly the Punjab and Sindh areas, with 34 and 26 killed respectively. Thousands of villages have been torn apart, and for those lucky ones who have survived faced with the prospect of being homeless and with no food. Hundreds of shelters have been set up to help village communities who have been directly hit this monsoon season.

The Tarbela dam and Mangla dam have been filled very close to their capacity. The river areas of Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej received heavy rainfall. Dek and river Ravi flooded dozens of villages in Sheikhupura district. Ravi also caused problems in Balloki, Sahiwal and and Toba Tek Singh riverine areas.

The floodwater has also caused considerable damage to buildings, machinery and industrial areas. People have also reported cases of snake bites. The flooding has overall affected nearly a million people.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 20 August, 2013. BBC, 22 August, 2013.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">337 Indian fishermen freed

The Pakistani authorities detained 330 adults and 8 minors in Karachi. An announcement by the Interior ministry said that all but one would be released as their nationalities had been confirmed Indian. All the prisoners served their time in Pakistani prisons, and would be repatriated to India on August 24.

This agreement was seen as a goodwill gesture from Pakistan to ease tensions between the two states over recent border clashes over the Line of Control. Both India and Pakistan regularly imprison fishermen for violating existing agreements on fishing zones in the Arabian Sea.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 23 August, 2013.

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India urged to get Sampur project going

India has been urged by Sri Lanka to get the construction work on the proposed Sampur coal fired power plant started without further delay. Power and Energy Ministry Secretary M. M. C. Ferdinando has written to the Indian Government, stressing the need to send officials of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India here soon to iron out differences as regards the proposed 500 MW plant in Trincomalee.

Ferdinando said that he had instructed the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) management to summon all stakeholders to discuss the Sampur project and quickly resolve the outstanding technical issues. However, CEB engineers said that they were in the process of discussing how to overcome differences as regards cost, testing, maintenance, etc.

Indian High Commissioner Y. K. Sinha, in his address at the nation’s 67th Independence Day celebrations, said that the two sides had succeeded in resolving outstanding issues relating to the Power Purchases Agreement (PPA) on the Sampur project, one of the largest bilateral joint ventures. Indian High Commission Counsellor (Information) Birendra Singhe said that the 50-50 project between the two countries looked at the electricity demand beyond 2016 with Sri Lanka’s economy growing and a huge shortfall in the energy sector.

He pooh-poohed speculation that power would be transferred to some parts of India, when even the feasibility study on such a transmission line had not been done. In July this year the Attorney General’s Department gave clearance for the proposed 500 MW coal-fired power plant in Trincomalee.

Meanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the energy sector’s regulatory authority, is believed to be planning to request the CEB to submit a copy of the power purchase agreement and other documents prior to giving the go ahead for the construction of the Sampur plant. NTPC and the CEB, on September 5, 2011, signed the joint venture and shareholder agreement to set up a USD 500 million 500 MW (2X250 MW) coal power station.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 21 August 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Army would still tackle civil disturbances’

Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya on Wednesday said that the armed forces retained the right to assist the police in accordance with Sections 95 and 96 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Asked whether the army would cease deploying troops in the wake of civilian deaths during the recent army crackdown at Weliweriya, Brigadier Wanigasooriya said that troops were constitutionally empowered to participate in operations in support of the police.

The Brigadier was responding to a query directed at Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Jagath Jayasuriya during a briefing in Colombo. Genl Jayasuriya said that the police should take the lead in tackling civil disturbances, though the armed forces could intervene in case they failed. The former army commander said that ways and means of tackling civil disturbances were being discussed with the police.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 22 August 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban ponders new options

Following the deadlock over the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, a Taliban official claimed that the group was looking for alternative options for opening an office in another Islamic country. The Taliban official also said that the group would not fully wind up the Qatar process and a few Taliban representatives would stay back in the country.

The Afghan government last week had announced its support for a Taliban office either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. According to another Taliban official, the group has established contacts with Turkey and their representatives had visited the country twice in recent months.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government also reiterated its position to back the Taliban office in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. "Afghanistan has very close and friendly relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia and that is why we support the idea if the office is opened in any of the two countries," Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Janan Mosazai said. He however said the first priority of the Afghan government is that the Taliban should open its office in Kabul. He maintained that the government wants the Afghan High Peace Council to directly hold talks with the real representatives of the Taliban.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune Express, 19 August 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Change mooted in Govt structure

Afghan politicians gathered in Munich this past week for a meeting called "Afghanistan: A Path to Success" to discuss the future of the Afghan political system. Several members of the National Front Party (NFP) including Ahmad Zia Massod, Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, and Faizullah Zaki and Amrullah Saleh, former Afghan Intelligence chief and the head of Green Trend, among others attended the gathering.

A number of resolutions were passed at this meeting, which involve a change in the structure of government in Afghanistan, candidates for the upcoming presidential election and the peace negotiation process with the Taliban. It was agreed during the meeting that election nominees should explain their programmes to the people, peace talks should be inclusive, the achievements of past 11 years should not be compromised in negotiations, and a parliamentary system is the best system for Afghanistan.

However, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) was critical of the outcome of this meeting. The ministry stated that the selection of the government system in Afghanistan is the right of people, and that no single person and no single group can do it themselves.

Janan Mosazai, the spokesman for the MoFA, stated, "Afghan citizens have the right to consider the country’s system and give ideas; this should done in a legal process. Our system is mentioned in the Constitution, no one can just select a new system of government. Such a decision should be made inside the country, not abroad".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 18 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India reiterates commitment

Karim Khalili, Afghanistan’s second vice-president, embarked on a three-day visit to India in an attempt to strengthen political, economic and strategic ties between the two countries. Khalili visited India on the invitation of the Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari, and met the entire Indian leadership including President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India reiterated its commitment towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Hamid Ansari said, "India does not have an exit strategy. With the conviction that we shared a common past and that we are destined to share a common future, India will continue to contribute, within its capabilities, in the re-building of Afghanistan". He said India remains committed to implement the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the two countries in October 2011.

President Mukherjee also said that Indian companies are interested in bidding for copper, gold, oil and gas deposits in Afghanistan.

India said it was ready to discuss and consider Afghanistan’s request for arms supplies provided it is raised through the proper forum. The Afghan delegation stated that India has vowed to deliver reconnaissance helicopters to Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: DNA, 21 August, 2013; Khaama Press, 21-22 August, 2013; NDTV, 21 August, 2013; The Economic Times, 21 August, 2013; The Times of India, 21 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China’s oil exploration halted

The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which had won rights in the Amu Darya River Basin in North Afghanistan for oil extraction, halted its drilling operations after disagreements emerged over the exact conditions set for the transportation of oil out of the country. Sixteen CNPC officials are said to have already left Afghanistan and headed back to China.

According to officials at the Afghan Ministry of Mines (MoM), the project was temporarily halted due to a delay in the signing of a transit agreement with Uzbekistan, which would facilitate the transportation of crude oil extracted from the Amu Darya basin back to China. Once the agreement is signed, MoM officials assured that CNPC would resume its operations. An official also stated that a team would travel to meet the Uzbeks next week and was hopeful a deal could be reached.

CNPC, along with an Afghan oil company, Watan Oil and Gas, had won rights to the Amu Darya River Basin in 2012 and had started their operations in October 2012. China has already built a refinery in the area.

The Afghan Ministry of Mines announced that the China Metallurgical Group Corporation requested amendments to its contract with the Afghan Government for the Ainak Copper Mines in Logar province. The group is expected to seek amendments to the contract that would free it of obligations to compensate the Afghan government and develop the area surrounding the mine. At present, the Chinese company is contractually bound to make certain investments in the area of the mine, including the construction of a 400 MW power plant and the building of a railway line from the Shir Khan Port or Hairatan Port up to Torkham for transporting the extracted copper.

The company is also obligated to pay US$ 800 million to the Afghan government, but the company is now pressing Kabul to decrease the amount of compensation it owes.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 19 August, 2013; Tolo News, 19 August, 2013; Tolo News, 22 August 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Election conundrum

The impasse over the nature of government to supervise the coming parliamentary election is far from over. In fact tension among the political parties have deepened this week after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina out rightly rejected the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) demand for restoration of the caretaker government system. Contrarily, she asserted that her government would not budge an inch from the Constitutional provision in holding the next general election. Prime Minister said that her government amended the Constitution with people’s mandate and the election will be in accordance with the Constitution. She will not budge an inch. Prime Minister Hasina also informed that the next parliamentary election is scheduled later this year or early next year in accordance with the provisions of the amended Constitution.

Reacting to Prime Minister’s declaration BNP’s acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir informed that the opposition would not participate in the election if it is held under any party government. However, Mirza was hopeful that good sense will dawn upon the government, and that it would hold talks with all political parties to devise a system to hold the next election under a non-party caretaker government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 19, 22 &23 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Egyptian embassy under threat

Security agencies this week arrested a suspected activist of Islami Chhatra Shibir, student wing of the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami, from capital Dhaka for threatening to blow up the Egyptian embassy in the capital. The Shibir activist claiming himself as a supporter of Muslim Brotherhood and deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, Shaukat wrote a letter to the embassy threatening to blow it up if the authorities did not forward the letter to the Egyptian government. In the letter he wrote, "The USA, Israel and the KSA supported it . But we will never forgive and forget General Sisi, Saudi King Abdullah and other killers. To divide the Muslim Ummah, anti-Islam Zionist agents are doing all these misdeeds..." After receiving the threat, the embassy authorities decided to shut its consular section for 11 days.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 22 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US has no interest in army base

The United States has no interest in establishing any base in Bangladesh; rather it is interested in the rapid growth of the country, said General Vincent K Brooks, Commanding General of US Army Pacific. He made this claim during the ongoing fourth annual Bangladesh-US Disaster Response Exercise. About the long-term US vision of Bangladesh, General Brooks informed that the long term US interest is to see Bangladesh continue to emerge as peaceful, prosperous, secure, healthy and democratic.

On China, he said that any country contributing to the security and prosperity of the region was welcome. The trend is: away from the competition and towards cooperation and collaboration, he added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 21August, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India creates 23 new border posts

India has created 23 new border posts and deployed additional troops along its frontiers with Nepal and Bhutan in order to effectively check entry of criminals and curb smuggling of arms.

The proposal was in the pipeline for some time and the decision on it has been prompted by the July 7 bombings in Bodh Gaya in Bihar, sources said.

While five new border outposts have been created along the Indo-Nepali border, 18 new BoPs have been established along the Bhutan frontier last month, sources said.

"A fresh contingent of armed paramilitary personnel drawn from the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) have been deployed at these new posts," the sources said.

India shares a 699 km open border with Bhutan while the corresponding length along Nepal is 1,751 km. The total troop strength at both these borders is approximately 21,500 personnel (about 22 battalions).

With the creation of these posts, India now has a total of 455 border posts along Nepal border while a total of 160 such vigil centres have been created along the frontier with Bhutan.

The border posts have been equipped with surveillance gadgets, sources privy to the development said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI, 18 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Border talks with China

Bhutan and China will hold their next round of boundary talks on August 22, it was announced on Tuesday. The eight-member Chinese delegation led by Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenrin will arrive in Thimphu on Wednesday. The Bhutanese side will be led by foreign minister Rinzin Dorje. The 20th round of boundary talks was held in Thimphu in August 2012.

The two countries, which have not established diplomatic relations, conducted the border talks last year with Bhutan expressing its wish to work with China to solve the boundary issue as soon as possible.

Despite the absence of diplomatic ties, the two countries have maintained political contacts, economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges over the past several years. During the intervening period, the fifth Expert Group meeting was held in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on October 18 last year.

The Boundary negotiations between the Bhutanese government and the government of the People’s Republic of China are guided by the four principles agreed to in the 1988 and the 1998 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity in the Bhutan-China border areas.

China shares a contiguous border of 470 km with Bhutan and its territorial disputes with the country have been a source of potential conflict.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI, 20 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nu 5-b plan for economic stimulus

The Nu 5 billion Economic Stimulus Plan which was recently submitted by the National Level Task Force to the government is currently under discussion in the first round of Bhutan-India Development Cooperation talks along with discussions on aid for the 11th plan. The talks are from 15th August to 17th August 2013.

Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said, "The recommendations of the task force on the ESP are being discussed in the plan talks between the two governments as the ESP will be a part of the 11th plan period."

He said once the plan talks are over and they have the confirmation of support from the Government of India then it would be discussed in the cabinet before it is finally incorporated in the budget.

The proposed ESP plan submitted by the seven member task force has made some minor changes and improvements but in essence is similar to the draft ESP first submitted by a committee headed by MP Leki Dorji to the government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bhutanese, 16 August, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rupee downfall continues

The script for the currency drama did not change from Monday, with the rupee crossing a new low of 65 on Thursday even as policy makers struggled to arrest its fall. The rupee breached the psychological 65/dollar mark to fall to an all time low of 65.56.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram sought to reassure investors that growth would pick up from the current quarter onwards. He admitted that the Indian economy was going through a challenging phase and added that there was no need for "unwarranted pessimism".

On Tuesday fears of a sovereign rating downgrade rose, with the markets stubbornly refusing to respond to measures announced by the government and central bank. The flight of capital from emerging markets on speculation that the US Federal Reserve may end quantitative easing hurt nearly every developing nation currency-from the South African Rand to the Indonesian Rupiah.

The rupee plunged sharply to a record intra-day low, breaching the 64-level mark against the dollar for the first time, while equity markets remained under pressure from foreign brokerage firm JP Morgan downgraded Indian stocks to neutral from overweight, and Ciit lowered its target for the Sensex to 18,900 from 20,000, citing the rupee’s weakness.

A triple blow stunned the financial markets on Friday: the rupee dropped to a lifetime low of 62.03, the Sensex plunged by over 4 per cent, its biggest one-day drop in the two years, bond markets went haywire and gold surged to a two-year high as fears of a return to a capital control regime haunted investors.

The markets are concerned that additional steps by the Reserve Bank of India to keep the rupee from depreciating will hurt even more with shareholders losing more money, companies booking losses and even investments in safe havens debt mutual funds turning in losses.

< class="text11verdana">Source:The Indian Express, 17 August, 2013, The Economic Times, 21 August, 2013, Hindustan Times, 23 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Border cooperation pact with China soon

The fifth India-China Strategic Dialogue held in New Delhi on Tuesday saw both sides making firm moves to narrow the massive balance of trade in Beijing’s favour but discussions on the border issue and trans-border river flows saw them reiterating positions stated during the high-level meeting in July this year between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Li Keqiang.

On the border issue that has come to the fore after two incidents along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), both sides put their faith in the most recent bilateral mechanism -the Working Mechanism on Border.

Meeting just over three hours, the two sides led by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Shenmin, hoped they would soon finalise a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) that will seek to update a 2005 agreement on maintaining peace and tranquillity by adding some more components agreed upon during the intervening years. Two meetings have been held on the subject and India is currently examining a reworked Chinese draft on the BDCA.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 21 August, 2013, The Tribune, 22 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Colombo will try Indian fishermen

Sir Lanka has ruled out early repatriation of over 100 Tamil Nadu fishermen arrested by it recently for allegedly crossing into Sri Lanka territorial waters.

Some of them have been in custody for over two months, and Colombo says they would have to undergo the judicial process though the intention is to to deprive them of their liberty for long.

"But there has to be some deterrence, otherwise why won’t they come over and over again?" asked Sir Lanka Minister for External Affairs G L Peiris who maintained that India’s transfer of Kachchatheevu island to Sri Lanka was a settled matter and cannot be reopened.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 19 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lashkar’s Tunda was in touch with ISI

Arrested Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist Abdul Karim Tunda was running madarsas in Pakistan and training youths to become Jehadis, Delhi Police sources said.

Terrorist Tunda, arrested from the Nepal border on Saturday, told his interrogators he was in constant touch with Pakistan’s ISI and worked closely with several anti-India outfits during his stay in Pakistan.

Underworld Dawood Ibrahim met him for the first time in 2000. The two subsequently met at least seven times. Tunda was handling Dawood’s fake Indian currency network.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, 19 August, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pak warned on ceasefire violations

The Army on Sunday said Pakistan was making a "serious mistake" by continuously violating ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) where more attacks were planned by its Border Action Team (BAT).

Pakistani troops yet again violated ceasefire along the LoC in Mendhar sector amid a foiled infiltration bid by militants in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Tribune, 19 August, 2013

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

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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