MonitorsPublished on Jan 13, 2008
Starting this week, ORF brings you the main events that have taken place in the week gone by in India's neighbourhood, from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka
From the blast in Lahore to Sri Lanka's conundrum

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">India Matters  

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inability to participate in Sri Lanka’s 60th Independence Day celebrations on February 4 owing to prior commitments was a big disappointment for the Sri Lankan government. While on one hand Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama lamented India’s lack of support towards his government’s recent offensive against the LTTE, on the other, he praised India’s consistent policy towards Tamils and its silence at the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement.

This was in contrast to the policy of the European Union and the US who have suspended the issuance of licenses for sale and transfer of military equipment and services to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka needs India’s support now more than ever, especially after the scrapping of the already defunct CFA, to gain some legitimacy in the eyes of the powerful Western nations. However, India’s economic assistance to Sri Lanka continued as before. Rites India Ltd. has offered assistance worth US $170 million to Sri Lanka to upgrade the southern railway line up to Matara.  

A week after launching the offensive against the rebels, Sri Lankan forces claimed the lives of the two more senior LTTE leaders, Col. Charles, an intelligence chief, and Shankar, who controlled Batticaloa in the East prior to its fall. The government also claims to be getting public support saying that people are joining defence forces in large numbers as compared to previous years. It also claims that deserters are coming back and those retired are once again offering their services to the army.

Despite this, the Sri Lankan efforts to make the international community understand its dilemma have not been very successful. The international community wants Sri Lanka to abandon its military strategy against the rebels at a time when the military has been successful in the LTTE-controlled areas of the North. In such a positive situation, it is difficult for the government to abandon its current military tactics.

London-based rights group criticised the Sri Lankan government for reducing the security cover for the MPs, which resulted in the assassination of the two MPs, one Tamil and another Sinhalese, in less than a week and other human rights violations. It suggested that Sri Lanka urgently needs an international rights monitoring mission. The government did take a U-turn by restoring the original security cover from 2 to 4 security guards for all MPs, but the damage to the country’s reputation had already been done. This week, the island nation also witnessed its loss of voting rights in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for its dismal human rights record. 

LTTE too tried to do some damage-control exercise when V Balakumaran told the LTTE’s National Television of Tamileelam (NTT) that “we are not terrorists as the ISGA (Interim Self Governing Authority) was proposed by us which, if implemented in true spirits would have satisfied our demands long back. Hillary Clinton also identified us when she articulated a more nuanced definition of terrorism.” Another Tamil splinter group, Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), flexed its muscles when it declared that it will not align with any pro-government Tamil political party at the forthcoming local polls for the Batticaloa district.

< class="maroontitle">Gayoom Attacked

The longest serving Asian ruler, Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, survived an attempt on his life when 20-year-old Mohamed Murushid attacked him with a knife. Gayoom was saved by a 15-year-old boy scout, who has since been hailed as a ‘National Hero’. The government spokesman was quick in blaming the opposition parties for the attack.

“This is the level of frustration people have in Gayoom’s regime”, said Mohammed Nasheed (Anni), Chairman of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party. Later, however, all the opposition parties, including the MDP, condemned the attack on Gayoom by saying that violence is against the ethos of democratic norms and all conflicts in a democracy must be sort out by dialogue. The international community too has condemned the attack.

This is not the first time the Presidential convoy has been attacked. Six youths tried to create some disturbance during his tour to Northern Maldives a day before the attack. Despite this, the President decided to continue his election tour. The attack, on the other hand, has generated considerable sympathy for the President, which will help him in the forthcoming elections.

While the Maldives may have been adjudged as the safest place for journalists in South Asia, prison inmates at the Maafushi prison went on a hunger strike protesting against overcrowding and police torture. Prison staff, however, conceded that there is overcrowding in Maldivian prisons.

There is a widespread concern among the Maldivian authorities over the increasing number of foreign workers who are working illegally in Maldives. Among them, Bangladeshis form the largest group followed by the Indians and Sri Lankans. The government has, therefore, decided to set up a detention centre for overstaying foreign expatriates. 

Island Aviation, the Inter-island air transport in Maldives, has received permission from the Government of India to operate flights to Trivandrum. India will also export 17,000 tonnes of wheat flour to the Maldives. India is a net wheat importer and rules do not normally allow export of wheat and wheat products.

< class="maroontitle">New inductions, previous 4 resign

< class="maroontitle">In a dramatic shift, four influential advisers of the military-backed Bangladesh’s caretaker government resigned on January 8, 2008.  The four advisors who have quit are influential Law Adviser, Mainal Hossain Chowdhury, Food Adviser Tapan Chowdhury, Health Adviser Major General (retd) ASM Matiur Rahman and Industry Adviser Geeteara Safiaya Choudhury. Although there were no official statement stating reasons for this sudden change, it is apparent that poor performance and controversies surrounding the conduct of some of its advisers led the government to take this decision. 

Mainul Hossain had been the most controversial. He is accused of using his position to settle personal scores and facilitating certain privileges to the Jammat- e- Islami. The failure to contain the prices of food products led to the axing of Tapan Choudhury. Again, Geeteara lost her post due to her inability in handling the severe fertiliser crisis.  The mismanagement of Hajj trip this year led to Maj. Gen. Rahman’s departure.

However, five new advisers were appointed to fill in the vacant positions the next day. Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, Chief Adviser of the caretaker government, asserted the government’s resolve to hold the elections by the end of 2008. Meanwhile, the position of the political parties on the national elections remains uncertain. Sheikh Hasina, detained chief of Awami League, has demanded that elections to be held by June-July and has directed her party to prepare for the polls without her since she apprehended that she would be declared disqualified to stand as a candidate in the elections. She asserted that the cases of extortion against her have been filed to debar her from participating in the elections. 

< class="maroontitle">Issue of Integration of Maoist combatants

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Rookmangud Katawal, before leaving for China last week, said the army is against integrating politically indoctrinated combatants of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the army. Supporting the army chief’s viewpoint, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who also holds the portfolio of defence, categorically stated that the Maoist combatants could not be integrated into the national army. On the other hand, he suggested inducting the combatants into different security sectors by creating units of paramilitary forces and integrating them into other security agencies.

Presently, the issue of integration of Maoist combatants into the army is an important aspect and is also closely linked with the ongoing peace process in Nepal. Taking into account the fragility of the peace process, Koirala and the army chief’s statements seem to be very provocative. The CPN-Maoist has criticised the army chief and Koirala for the statements saying they undermine the 23-point peace accord of December 2007 and also the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and Maoists in 2006. Several parliamentarians, other than the Nepali Congress (NC), have also strongly opposed the prime minister and the army chief’s statements, and termed them unfortunate. The parliamentarians have also expressed their concern and have stated that such statements could hinder the holding of peaceful elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA).

< class="maroontitle">Lahore Blast

Renewed attempts to disrupt harmony in Pakistan continued when a suicide bomber blew up killing 22 people and injuring about 60, in the early hours of January 10, 2008 outside the Lahore High Court. The suicide bomber walked up to policemen outside the Lahore High Court, who had gathered outside the court ahead of a protest rally by lawyers and then blew himself up.

The attack took place just the day before the start of the first month of Muharram and a day after the government had finalized the security arrangements for the holy month. The attack in the context of sectarian trouble in Pakistan that has been erupting periodically would indicate a heightened period of tension this month and is obviously designed to serve more than one purpose. Until it is known who had committed this act, it is difficult to assess what the motive might have been – a Shia act to retaliate against the Sunnis or a Sunni act to scare the Shias in the month of Muharram or the Taliban are threatening the Pakistan state.

Analysts and some politicians in Pakistan fear that Musharraf might seize this opportunity to postpone elections again, citing violence, with as PML (Q) could easily lose votes, especially after Bhutto’s assassination. Campaigning has not resumed since Benazir’s death while some political leaders are lying low.

< class="maroontitle">CONTRIBUTORS:

Anjali Sharma                     - Sri Lanka, Maldives
Joyeeta Bhattaccharjee  - Bangladesh
Paul Soren                          - Nepal, Bhutan
Rahul Mukand                    - Pakistan

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