MonitorsPublished on May 06, 2011
Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari's recent State visit, coming after the visit by another important Minister (for Commerce and Industry), Anand Sharma, to Bangladesh, has highlighted New Delhi'sefforts and sincerity at improving the burgeoning relationship with its neighbour even more.
Cementing India-Bangladesh Relations
< class="heading1">Analysis

Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s recent State visit, coming after the visit by another important Minister (for Commerce and Industry), Anand Sharma, to Bangladesh, has highlighted New Delhi’sefforts and sincerity at improving the burgeoning relationship with its neighbour even more. The visit of Vice-President Ansari, a one-time career-diplomat and scholar, was a political statement from the Indian government. In Dhaka, Mr. Ansari inaugurated the joint 150th birth anniversary celebrations of poet Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate who holds the unique distinction of having penned the national anthem of two nations ? both India and Bangladesh.

Bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh have improved significantly after the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League returned to power in Bangladesh in 2008. Since then, there have been regular visits by leaders and officials of the two countries. The most significant was the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010. The visit resulted in the signing of a joint communiqué, which in turn has become basis for taking bilateral relations forward. There has since been substantial increase of cooperation in the fields of energy, economy and security. The most significant was India providing $1-bsoft loan to Bangladesh to improve its infrastructure. Still, there are some sections in Bangladesh who doubt India’s intentions and the future of this relationship. The twin-visits (of Mr Ansari and Mr. Anand Sharma) now have reinforced the confidence. With the growth of economic relationship, as outlined during Mr. Anand Sharma’s visit, the bilateral relations are also expected to strengthen further.

During his two-day Sate visit in mid-April, Mr Sharma had stressed on the need for further deepening the economic ties between the two countries. To begin with, India announced that it would increase the quota of duty-free access of readymade garments from Bangladesh, from 8 m to 10 m pieces, 25 percent more than in 2010. Stymied by the fact that it has few products to export to India, Bangladesh for sometime has been seeking an increase in the quota of readymade garments. While helping to reduce the trade-gap, about which Dhaka is concerned, and naturally so, the increased quota also means more jobs/man-hours for the Bangladesh labour, a socio-political constituency to boot for both the Governments.

The two sides acknowledged the significant growth in the bilateral trade in recent years, and particularly recognised that exports from Bangladesh to India have gone up over six times in the last few years, a fact which is not often mentioned. Bangladesh’s exports to India are valued at $394 m. Contrarily, India’s exports to Bangladesh’s have declined over the years and it is no more the number one trading partner of Bangladesh. China has overtaken India. Still, the trade-gap, put at $ 2 b, is weighted in India’s favour. New Delhi is aware of this, and is keen on balancing the bilateral trade. Since Bangladesh’s basket of export products to India is limited, New Delhi is encouraging investments by domestic investors in Bangladesh. Investment projects will not only generate employment but also will improve exports, which in turn can help balance the trade-gap. This intention was reflected when Mr Sharma informed his Bangladeshi interlocutors that the Indian private sector was all set to invest $3.5 b in various projects in the country.

India has also lifted countervailing duty on all jute products imported from Bangladesh. Dhaka had regarded the duty as a major hindrance for exporting jute products to India, a major market, and was demanding its removal for a long time. This measure will help improve bilateral trade. Also, the two countries have agreed to strengthen infrastructure at borders, including construction of Land Custom Stations, particularly in Petrapole and Agartala, to improve trade. India has also offered assistance in the construction of a bridge over river Feni, including the construction of the connecting road on the Bangladesh side. At the same time, New Delhi also welcomed Dhaka’s offer to India to use the Chittagong and Mongla ports, which will benefit Bangladesh immensely and improve trade between the two countries.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jamaat leader booked for Chittagong arms haul

Trouble for detained Jamaat-e-Islami Amir and former Industries Minister Motiur Rahman Nizami has further deepened as he has now been booked in the Chittagong arms haul case. In April 2004, 10 truck-loads of arms were seized in Chittagong, making it the country’s largest case of the kind.

Nizami’s involvement in the case was disclosed by former Chairman of the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), Maj Gen Mohammad Imamuzzaman. In his statement before a Chittagong court on October 5, 2010, he said that Nizami, who was Industries Minister then in the Government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, showed no interest in the seizure of the arms and ammunition, and had asked him not to institute any inquiry into the incident.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 5, 2011

Note: It can be recalled that the 10 truck-load of arms were destined for Indian insurgent groups and had entered Bangladesh via sea. The consignment was offloaded in the jetty of a fertiliser factory that belonged to BCIC. The use of a public sector company in the episode astonished many, and some influential persons were suspected to have been involved in it. Fingers pointed towards Nizami. The current development validates the suspicion.

Nizami is also facing trial for his alleged involvement in crimes committed during 1971 ’Liberation War’.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Khaleda calls for neutral poll panel

Opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) leader Begum Khaleda Zia has called for a movement to remove the present Awami League (AL) Government as she thinks it has failed on all fronts. She has also demanded the formation of a neutral Election Commission (EC) to ensure fair polls in the future since she perceives the present one as a puppet of the present Government. The former Prime Minister said that EC was a key to destroying BNP in the past.

Begum Zia also alleged that the Government had plans to introduce electronic voting machines in future elections, and said it was yet another ploy of the ruling combine to retain power through rigging.

Prime Minister and AL supremo, Shiekh Hasina, has dismissed Opposition’s threat of anti-Government movement. To counter the Opposition, she is planning to hold a series of meetings across the country. She has since asked her Cabinet colleagues to organise rallies in their respective areas so that the ruling party could keep in touch with the people.

In this context, Sheikh Hasina has stressed the need for holding political programmes to project the government’s development programme to the public.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bangladesh Today, May 3, 2011/ New Age, May 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">6.2pc growth projected

The World Bank (WB) has estimated Bangladesh’s GDP growth at 6.2 percent for fiscal 2010-11, which is an improvement from 5.8 percent in the previous year. To the Bank, growth would flow from an increase in exports and domestic demand. It has also forecast that the economy will continue to grow in fiscal 2011.

However, the Bank in the ’Bangladesh Economic Update’, a half-yearly assessment of the economy, has said that an increased reserve drawdown, growing quasi-fiscal deficit, stock market volatility and its potential impact on the banking sector, could threaten the economy.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 4, 2011

Note: The economy has grown steadily in the past few years. The country has managed to maintain more than five percent growth rate even during the global economic meltdown. In 2008, the economy grew at 6.2 percent, which was significant.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cooperation with Bihar in tourism, power

Bhutan and the Indian State of Bihar are currently discussing proposals which would increase cooperation in tourism and power sectors. Bhutan is keen to encourage tourism to Bihar, which has several Buddhist pilgrimage centres like Bodh Gaya and Nalanda.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Bhutan’s Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk have decided that the Bihar Tourism Development Corporation and the Royal Bhutan Tourism Council would cooperate to promote facilities for tourists.

The possibility of Bhutan’s immense hydroelectric potential emerging as a solution to Bihar’s power shortage problems was also discussed.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, May 06, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Arunachal CM dies in copter crash

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others were found dead amidst the wreckage of a missing public sector Pawan Hans A350-B3 helicopter in Luguthang village, 30 km from Tawang, near the India-China border. The bodies were found at the end of five days of frantic combing operations involving the Army, Air force, ISRO satellites, ITBP and SSB forces, after it went off the radar.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Itanagar to pay tribute to the leader and offer condolences to the family.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 06, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US forces rupee-payment for Iranian crude

After being forced to withdraw from the Asian Clearing Union arrangement for payment for Iranian crude, India now had to abandon its German Bank EIH-based route to pay for it in euro. It is reported that the US had leaned on Germany to stop the arrangement as EIH was an Iranian-owned bank banned in the US. Earlier, the U.S. had also stalled Indian attempts to pay via banks in the UAE.

The Reserve Bank of India, which had refused to allow payments in Indian rupee, has however relented now. A yet-to-be approved proposal would involve the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) opening a rupee-account with Indian banks, and using the money to purchase non-strategic items. It will not be able to use the money to invest in India or for buying shares or companies.

Iranian supplies account for 12 per cent of Indian crude imports, ranking second after Saudi Arabia in volume.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 04, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">RBI hikes short-term lending rate

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has hiked the short-term indicative policy rate (repo rate) by 50 basis points from 6.75 per cent to 7.25 per cent, to tame the soaring inflation while increasing the savings bank rate to 4 per cent from 3.5 per cent.

RBI Governor D Subbarao asserted that the current elevated rates of inflation posed significant risks to future growth, and bringing them down even at the cost of some growth in the short-run, would have to take precedence. He also added that high oil and other commodity prices, and the impact of the Reserve Bank’s anti-inflationary monetary stance would moderate growth to about eight per cent from the previously estimated 8.6 per cent.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, May 03, 2011.

Note: RBI and the Government have aligned with the global trend of tightening monetary control in the face of sustained inflationary pressures. Corporate pressure groups such as FICCI have raised concerns over this move as adversely affecting the growth trajectory as it would reduce the liquidity in the market.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kamath to head Infosys

The board of directors of Infosys, one of India’s biggest IT companies, have decided to appoint K V Kamath, former ICICI Bank chief, as the Chairman after its founder N R Narayana Murthy steps down on August 21. The board also decided to appoint the company’s CEO and Managing Director S Gopalakrishnan as Co-chairman of the board. Chief Operating Officer S D Shibulal will take over from Mr Gopalakrishnan.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, May 05, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Anti-price protestors turn violent

With the Government’s recent policy to effect a ’managed float’ of the rufiya causing an immediate spurt in commodity prices, upwards of 20 per cent in some cases, the divided Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and its allies have been launching late-night rallies that continue till sun-rise, as is the wont in Maldives. Day after day through the week, the police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) have been dispersing rallies of several hundred protestors, who are often led by the likes of dismissed dissident DRP leader, Umar Naseer, considered close to former President Maumoon Gayoom.

Charging the Government of MDP President Mohammed Nasheed with effectively devaluating the local currency, the Opposition has likened the current protests to the ’Arab Spring’ movements in Tunisia and Egypt, causing the overthrow of the respective Governments. As if not to miss out on the limelight and the public mood, DRP’s official leader Thasmeen Ali and alliance partner and former Finance and Interior Minister, Gasim Ibrahim, founder of the Jumhooree Party, did not miss the rally, which did not have the former’s clearance. In a nation where the Election Commission verifies the number of registered members of each political party, media reports said ’new faces’, particularly of the youth, not seen in political rallies, were visible.

Ironically for the Maldivian Government, Hong Kong, forming a part of China, became the first to issue a ’travel advisory’ for the large number of tourists arriving in the Indian Ocean archipelago. In a counter-rally of protest organised by his ruling MDP, President Nasheed said that the IMF had backed the Government’s currency decision, and claimed that the budget deficit position had improved after his taking over in 2008.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, May 07-13, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Should go if President says he does not hear people’s woes’

Former President of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Dr Mohamed Munawwar, has said that it was obligatory for the people to oust President Mohammed Nasheed from office if he claimed he did not hear any woes from them.

In the light of the recent comments of President Nasheed that he had not heard of the protests held in capital Male’ over the soaring price of commodities and services, Dr Munnawwar, the interim Leader of the newly-registered Maldives Reform Movement (MRM),said that a democratic leader will never make such a remark. He said that it was a big joke if the President was not aware of such huge protests and demonstrations held every night in the country.

"Mohamed Nasheed of Canaryge is saying that he will not listen. He is saying that he will not hesitate to do as he pleases. This is a very despotic attribute. Even if one or two persons gather and voice out their needs, it is mandatory for the Government to listen to them. The Government cannot be biased to one single party. Rather the Government is of all the people. If it is otherwise, then it is a grave concern. It is obligatory upon the people to remove the leader who does not listen to them," Dr. Munawwar said.

Moreover, Dr Munawwar said that no one could violate the right of the people to assembly. He said that the ruling party’s acts to defy the protestors and harass them exposed the inability of the high officials of the current Government to listen to the needs of the people. He said that such actions were in absolute contradiction to the very spirit of democracy.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, May 08, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Economy: US for bipartisan cooperation

Visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake, in Male, urged the Government and the Opposition in Maldives to cooperate in finding a solution to the country’s economic challenges. "As in many young democracies, the transition to a functioning system of checks and balances between different branches of Government is very challenging," Blake said.

Blake said that he had discussed with President Mohamed Nasheed the steps that Maldives was taking to try and stabilise the economy and reduce the budget-deficit, and urged the opposition to involve itself in finding a solution. "It is very important for them to come together and for (the Opposition) to come up with an alternative ? if they have an alternative ? and negotiate an agreed plan. It is most important to continue momentum, reduce the deficit and put the economy on a firmer financial footing, while at the same time continuing the process of strengthening democracy."

Blake said: "I encourage the government and opposition to work to together to try and tackle the problems Maldives is facing. Even in an older and more established democracy such as our own, politicians can find it difficult to work together across party lines in a spirit of fairness and bipartisanship, for the sake of governing well. But when they do, everybody benefits."

Blake said he was encouraged during his meeting with the President that Nasheed had "reaffirmed his commitment to freedom of assembly", and noted that despite the country’s political "growing pains", Maldives’ international influence far exceeded its size, particularly in multilateral organisations such as the UN and the UN Human Rights Council". He thanked President Nasheed for Maldives’ votes concerning Syria, Libya and Iran, and noted that he had "become one of the world’s leading climate change advocates, with a flair for drawing attention to the critical impact climate change is having on island nations".
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, May 03, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prime Minister in trouble?

Fresh discord has erupted in Nepal as beleaguered Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal claimed two-thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly, which is also the interim Parliament, with the expansion of his Cabinet. His own party men have readied to oppose him at a crucial meeting.

Khanal, who had been unable to name a full Cabinet even three months after coming to power, managed to accomplish the deed finally Wednesday night by appeasing his biggest ally, the Maoists.

Despite protests by his party men, the Opposition and rights organisations, he handed over the all-important Home Affairs Ministry to the Maoists, paving the way for the fourth expansion of the Cabinet. The reshuffled Cabinet now has three Deputy Prime Ministers, a first in Nepal.

It was a moment of triumph for the Maoists, whose MP Krishna Bahadur Mahara was sworn in Home Minister, making him the head of the police force that had been the worst victims of Maoist attacks during the 10-year leftist insurgency. Mahara, already a Deputy Prime Minister, handed over the Information and Communication sportfolio that he had been holding, to fellow Maoist lawmaker Agni Prasad Sapkota. (The UN has since condemned Sapkota’s appointment as he was a murder suspect and his elevation went against Nepal’s commitment to probe human rights violations in the past).

With the party protesting against the current reshuffle, Prime Minister Khanal has sought the help of his predecessor and senior CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal to help resolve the internal dispute. Nepal pointed out how the Prime Minister had been taking unilateral decisions without consulting the party, including Cabinet expansion. Reports also speak about a personal, land ownership dispute between the too, dating back to their days in the underground.

The ministerial appointments created a rift among the Maoists, too. In a dramatic movement, Maoist Peace and Reconstruction Minister Barshaman Pun, whose name had also been mulled for Home Minister, resigned. Though Pun’s portfolio was immediately re-allocated to fellow Maoist leader Biswanath Shah, three more newly-named Maoist ministers boycotted the oath-taking ceremony, alleging they had been side-lined.

Though three more parties also threw their weight behind the Khanal Government, making it claim it had attained two-thirds majority in the 601-member Parliament, fireworks are expected soon. The three new allies are the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal, the regional party from the Terai plains, which sent its chief Upendra Yadav as the third Deputy Prime Minister, as well as Foreign Minister, and two fringe parties - the Communist Party of Nepal-
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 05, 201, The Times of India, May 06, 2011,The Himalayan Times, May 3, 2011,, May 5, 2011

Note: The Government led by Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal appears to be in deep trouble as he, instead of running the administration, seems to be fire-fighting on the political front with opposition growing in his own party and the Maoists dictating terms to him. After lots of wait and efforts, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet-forming exercise has met with lots of resistance not only from the Opposition parties but even from the UN agency. Nepal’s top most priority of completing the peace process and drafting a new Constitution has lost direction and it seems difficult that the present Government would succeed in meeting the May 28 deadline. < class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ban’s warning over Constitution delays

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Nepal’s political parties to step up efforts to agree a new Constitution with a May 28 deadline fast looming. Ban said Nepal was facing a new "decisive point" in its efforts to get over a decade of civil war between Maoist rebels and the government that ended five years ago.

"With Nepal’s constitutional deadline less than one month away, the secretary-general urges all parties in Nepal to exert the utmost effort in reaching consensus on outstanding issues, including the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist army personnel and fundamental issues regarding the new constitution," Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said."At this decisive point in the process, the secretary-general calls on all parties to exercise maximum flexibility in seeking a common political ground to enable them to fulfill their commitments, including the adoption of a new constitution by the constituent assembly."

Ban said in the statement that "Nepal’s peace process has already delivered significant achievements. However, the process remains overdue and incomplete due to continuing differences among the parties."
< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP, April 29, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rs 3-b credit guarantee sought

Ahead of a looming constitutional and parliamentary crisis, Nepal’s cash-strapped coalition Government has now sent an SOS to India, seeking a N-Rs.3 billion credit guarantee to tide over its worst-ever fuel shortage in decades and ensure a smooth supply of petro-products for three months.

The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu said Nepal had sent the request the previous week, asking New Delhi to stand guarantor to Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), India’s State-run fuel supplier that enjoys a monopoly in Nepal.

Nepal Oil Corporation, the corresponding fuel provider in the Himalayan republic, has been struggling to pay its mounting dues to IOC, which made the latter cut supplies, triggering an acute fuel scarcity in Nepal for almost three weeks.

Nepal has asked New Delhi to stand guarantor for a credit of NRS 3 billion - over $41 million - to IOC for three months while it seeks to raise money through domestic borrowings to pay off IOC’s accumulated dues.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 2, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Concern over telecom JV persists

Even after Nepal assuring visiting Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna that it would "amicably resolve" issues plaguing Indian telecom joint venture United Telecom Ltd (UTL), the Nepalese Government has made no move to fulfil its promise even as a deadline slapped on the JV ran out on Thursday.

UTL officials said they had appealed to the concerned committee of Nepal Telecom Authority (NTA), the state-owned telecom regulator, after a 35-day pay-up time slapped by NTA ended Thursday and the Indian JV faced the threat of having its operating license revoked.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 2, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Osama’s killing causes ripples

In a historic operation, crack troops of the US military raided a mansion in Abbottabad and killed Osama bin-Laden on May 2, and brought to end the 10-year search for the leader of Al-Qaeda.

US President Barack Obama made the historic announcement, prompting relief and jubilation across the world. According to US officials, special operations soldiers travelled to the hilly summer retreat in helicopters from the Afghan city of Jalalabad, and stormed an unusually large compound, which US intelligence agencies had identified it to be Osama’s location after months of surveillance.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, May 3, 2011, Dawn, May 4, 6, 2011

Note: The reaction in Pakistan to bin-Laden’s death has been one of complicated ambiguity. The country’s politicians, security experts and people expressed both anger, and embarrassment at their failure to unearth the presence of the world’s most-wanted man in the vicinity of Pakistan Military Academy, and the ease with which the US troops were able to penetrate the country’s much-vaunted defence and mount a daring assault barely 60 km from the capital Islamabad.

In fact, many in the country suspect the involvement of Pakistani security forces and feel shamed by its inability to accept its participation for fear of reprisal attacks by the Pakistan-Taliban.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PML-Q, MQM join ruling coalition

The Government or Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has consolidated its position in the National Assembly by forging an alliance with rival Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and mending its ties with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) during the past week.

On May 1, senior Pakistan People’s Party members, President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, held a meeting with PMN-Q stalwarts Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Raja Basharat. PPP welcomed its former rival into the coalition Government, and both agreed to cooperate in the next national elections. Subsequently, 14 PML-Q members were inducted into the federal Cabinet, and half of them were appointed as Cabinet Ministers. Prominent additions to the Cabinet included Pervez Elahi, Amir Muqam, Anwar Ali Cheema, Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Ghaus Bukhsh Mehr and Riaz Hussain Pirzada.

The Government’s position was further strengthened when the MQM too agreed to re-join the Government on May 2. The Karachi-based party, which dominates the politics of southern Sindh Province and is particularly strong among the urbanised Indian-immigrant Mojahir community, had earlier withdrawn support in December last year after the alliance leader, PPP, refused to discipline Sindh’s Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza after he had publicly condemned the MQM. He was eventually removed from the post in April, paving the way for the reunion.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, May 2, 3, 5 2011; The Hindu, December 28, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ra’ad cruise missile successfully test-fired

The Hatf-VIII or the Ra’ad Air Launched Cruise Missile was successfully test-fired on April 29. The missile can be fired for a number of fighter aircrafts such as the Mirage III and is has a range of over 350 kilometres. Ra’ad, along with its ground-based counterpart, the Hatf-VII or Babur represents the first attempt by Pakistan to develop state-of-the-art cruise missiles.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The News International, April 29, 2011

Note: Given India’s increasing superiority in conventional warfare capability, Pakistan has made significant improvements in both its nuclear and missile programs. The latest development compliments rapid additions to its uranium and plutonium based nuclear arsenal, which is believed to have surpassed that of India this year. The Ra’ad cruise missile is built to compete with India’s Brahmos, which too can be delivered from sea, air and land based platforms.

The strategic-scientific community claims that the Ra’ad cruise missile is developed indigenously. Critics of Pakistan’s missile proliferation record, however, remain skeptical and argue that Pakistan, which has received missile and nuclear technology with China and North Korea, does not possess the technical know-how, and continues to receive assistance from China, its ’all-weather ally’.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US wants dialogue between SL and UN

Robert O. Blake, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, has said that the UN report on SriLanka ’underscored the importance of a durable political solution’ and the necessity for a dialogue between the UN and the government of Sri Lanka. Addressing the media during his two-day visit to Sri Lanka, he said the report favoured a political solution that would ’forge a prosperous, democratic and united Sri Lanka.’

Dismissing allegations of US support for a regime-change in Sri Lanka, he said he hoped that External Affairs Minister G L Peiris would communicate soon with the UN Secretary- General on the report. Explaining the position of US with regard to accountability on the matters referred to in the UN report, he noted that the US had ’continually expressed to the govt. of Sri Lanka the importance of implementing a credible and independent process to ensure accountability.’

After a visit to the war-ravaged area in the country, Blake asserted that ’much more’ remained to be done with regard to reconstruction in the North. He however noted that the Government ’had made some positive progress. "It is very important that this progress be sustained," he said.

Referring to the role of the LLRC in the reconciliation process, he said, "We hope that the LLRC will also address accountability issues and will offer recommendations on how to redress wrongs committed by both sides during the conflict." According to him, "There is much more to be done on the political side. We hope that the government will give importance to the dialogue that is on-going now with the TNA. We hope there will be a comprehensive report on all issues of importance to the Tamil people," he added.

Answering a question, he said Al-Qaeda’s slain founder Osama bin-Laden and LTTE’s slain supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran would go down in history as among the most-wanted terrorists. "Prabhakaran was also responsible for the death of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans; and the US was one of the first countries to stand with SriLanka to designate the LTTE as a terror organisation -- and we consistently supported all efforts against the LTTE.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 05, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Canadian Parliament gets its first Tamil MP

Among the young New Democrats swept into office in Monday’s federal election is 29-year-old Rathika Sitsabaiesan, now Canada’s first ever Tamil Member of Parliament. She had migrated to Canada when she was five, from Sri Lanka.

The Malvern community activist won the Ontario riding of Scarborough-Rouge River, taking a seat that had been Liberal since 1988.Now, along with scores of other rookie NDP MPs, she will help form the Official Opposition for the first time in the party’s history.

Sitsabaiesan comes with a resume filled with community and advocacy work. The first-time candidate has worked with the University of Toronto Student Union and is a member of the Malvern Community Association, a residents’ group in the city’s north end. "I’m trying to figure out what the next steps are and continue working because this is just the beginning," she told a television interviewer. "It’s very exciting."
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 05, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Appointment illegal, says Premadasa

Internal problems for the defeated and demoralised UNP Opposition refused to go away with Joint Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa vehemently condemning the appointment of fellow-parliamentarian, Ravi Karunanayake as the party’sNational Organiser, with less than 40 members of the 92-member working committee present. He said that the appointment was made in an unconstitutional manner.

Mr. Premadasa stressed that the principal corner-stones of the new party Constitution unanimously passed by the members of the party had been violated. In an obvious reference to party Leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s continued unilateralism, he said those who had pushed for a change in the party Constitution had no idea of the meeting and that these party members were now being cornered.

"Both Ranjith Maddumabandara (a candidate for the post) and I, who are not only senior members of the party but also members of the working committee were not told of this meeting," Premadasa said. He explained that at the working committee meetings that were held in March the only named proposed to the post of National Organiser was that of MP Ranjith Maddumabandara.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 05, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban declares ’Spring offensive’

The Afghan-Taliban declared the commencement of the much anticipated ’Spring offensive’ on April 30, (a day before the US forces killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden in neighbouring Pakistan). In an emailed statement, the most prominent of the many insurgent groups in the country said, "The Leadership Council of the ’Islamic emirate’ of Afghanistan wants to declare the launching of the Spring military operations named as ’Badar’, to be waged against the invading Americans and their foreign allies and internal supporters."

Even though violence persisted throughout 2010, the traditional practice among Afghan belligerents is to cease combat during the harsh winter and resume fighting at the start of the Spring, and hence the label ’Spring offensive’.

The Taliban has identified foreign troops, Afghan security forces, Government officials, and civil society members affiliated with the High Peace Council as their most prominent targets. The High Peace Council, headed by former President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, includes influential members of the society, such as the ulema (clergy) and academia is mandated to find ways to reconcile with active insurgents, and threatens the Taliban’s unity by attracting factions of the armed group that favour reconciliation.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters April 30, 2011; The New York Times, April 30, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parliament passes budget

The Lower House of the Parliament, Woleshi Jirga, approved the country’s annual budget on May 1. The budget allocates 150 b Afghanis ($3.29 b) for regular Government spending and 74 b Afghanis for development projects. In all, 109 out of 150 legislators voted in favorr of the budget by raising their green cards, the traditional practice in Kabul.

Previously, the draft was passed by the Upper House, Meshrano Jirga, had cleared the scrutiny of different parliamentary committees before being forwarded to the lower house, where it faced resistance during two earlier presentations on March 24 and April 25. A 40 percent reduction in development projects and perceived inequality in the provincial sharing of resources were responsible for earlier opposition.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Panjwok, May03, 2011

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

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

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Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

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

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