MonitorsPublished on May 20, 2011
A legislative deadlock involving the Executive and Parliament on the one hand, and the Executive and the Judiciary on the other, both leading to a serious and a series of constitutional crisis kept Maldivian politics and politicians on their toes for most of 2010.
Maldives: 'Currency float' cause for political concern
< class="heading1">Analysis

A legislative deadlock involving the Executive and Parliament on the one hand, and the Executive and the Judiciary on the other, both leading to a serious and a series of constitutional crisis kept Maldivian politics and politicians on their toes for most of 2010. Now in the third year of its five-year term, the Government of President Mohammed Nasheed ’Anni’ has tied itself down in a fiscal situation through an IMF-driven ’managed float’ of rufiyaa, the local currency. The Government says that the consequent steep increase in prices was unavoidable but would stabilise within three months. A demoralised Opposition, even when remaining divided, is not making things easy for the Government. Their protest rallies drew crowds for a few days in a row with the police having to disperse them forcibly on nights (as is the wont in Male, the national capital for public protests). Though the Government blamed them on the Opposition, particularly the divided Dhivehii Rayyithunghe Party (DRP) founded by former President Maumoon Gayoom, sections of the local media said apolitical youth were seen in good numbers.

After cutting down on Government jobs, accounting for 10 per cent of the population and a much substantial number of dependent family members, and slicing 20 per cent of pay and perks temporarily in the past years, to shore up the Government’s finances in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown, the administration has now ’devalued’ the currency by announcing a ’managed float’ of the rufiyaa in a 20 per cent band. Accordingly, the exchange rate of the rufiyaa pegged for long at 12.85 to the US dollar has shot up by close to two three rupees, pushing up prices overnight. For an imports-dependent society, where almost everything of daily use has to come from outside the country, particularly the neighbouring India or Sri Lanka, the house-hold expenses have sky-rocketed. . As part of the continuing structural changes, the Government also plans to introduce a host of tax measures in July, including income-tax for those earning more than Rf 30,000 ($2,300) pm, and TGST (tourism goods and services tax) apart from substituting import duty with general sales tax. Together, such measures would have more than neutralised the family benefit accruing from the monthly pension of Rf 2000 for individuals above 65, granted since January 2011, after President Nasheed assumed office in November 2008.

As part of the structural changes, the Government has also been corporatising public utilities like electricity and water supply, and with that introduced a steep hike in tariffs to help the new entities to breakeven at least in the foreseeable future. To be fair, the Government also introduced a subsidy scheme on power tariffs, so as to benefit the nation’s poor. A committee of the Opposition-controlled Parliament, despite problems with the Government otherwise, has devised a subsidy policy. The privatisation served another purpose, too. Fighting a legal battle with the Civil Services Commission (CVC), charged with Government employees’ recruitment, transfers and pay-related issues, the administration found in privatisation a route to side-step the constitutional entity. The latter, as may be recalled, had challenged the Finance Ministry’s unilateral decision to effect a 20-per cent interim salary-cut as part of the austerity measures, both officially and legally. Last week, the High Court upheld a civil court’s order, which ruled that the CVC was the ultimate authority on service conditions of Government employees. Both the Government and the CVC have since announced their intention to work together on the frozen pay-scales. They have also been working together on the voluntary retirement scheme that corporatisation had empowered the Government to effect without involving the CVC. For the record, the CVC too has said that it had no problem with any programme at retraining redundant employees and financing them to undertake private income-generating initiatives on their own.

A sound economic policy otherwise, President Nasheed’s initiatives are aimed at making the country self-sustaining on the one hand, but investor-dependent in reality. Coupled with the spiralling petro-product prices in the global market, over which a small country like Maldives has no control whatsoever, the Nasheed administration sees a combination of structural changes, investment opportunities and austerity measures as the only way for the nation’s economy to sustain, stabilise and then grow. If the Government has specific action plans that aim at attracting massive investments other than in the near-saturated tourism sector, it has not unfolded them, as yet. This would particularly be in relation to the possibility of greater job-creation, that too for the educated local youth, who after completing their Cambridge A-Level education have almost been walking into Government jobs for years now. On the flipside, however, in the tourism sector, the continuance of full repatriation facility for the foreign investors in island-resorts could remain a retrograde step in that direction. But the post-devaluation decision to have all local transactions only in rufiyaa, unlike in the past, is bound to play a supportive role, again only after a time. In the interim at the very least, the eternal shortage of dollars with local banks has always been a problem, more so now as close to 100,000 expatriate workers in a local population of close to 400,000 see/foresee restrictions in repatriation of their hard-earned salaries. The unanticipated spiralling of non-banking dollar rate along with the managed float has also contributed to the societal disquiet.

Coupled with the earlier 20-per cent pay-cut and the current price increases, the exchange rate floatation, however limited and however managed, could discourage expatriate workers from coming to Maldives to work the resorts and resort-construction, among others. Expatriates also man social services sectors like medical care and teaching in a big way, two areas Maldives can pride itself for the limited reach and success it has been able to achieve over the years. Initially the Government was shy of admitting that it was ’devaluation’ of the rufiyaa and insisted that it was only a ’managed float’ of the currency. However, now it admits that it was devaluation after all, with the hope that the managed fall in the value of the rufiyaa would encourage greater exports from the country and help improve foreign exchange reserves position. Considering that Maldives does not have much to export other than tuna, how the devaluation would help other than those resort investors and high-spending resort tourists, who are choice-specific and are not as much driven by exchange considerations. As such, the real benefits of the ’managed rufiyaa’ too would be known only over a time, as indicated by the Government. It would also be then that individual economic schemes, particularly in terms of monetary policies, would have been tested for the Government to draw its lessons.

A right-wing liberal in the western mode committed to market capitalism, President Nasheed prides himself as an unabashed apologist of text-book ’structural reforms’ of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), declaring time and again that it the only way to take Maldives out of the accustomed economic abyss. Sworn to end habitual deficit-budgeting, a situation that he had inherited while assuming office in 2008, President Nasheed is conscious about the time available for them to ’reform’ the economy, to try and make it as much viable and self-sustaining as possible long before presidential elections became due in the second half of 2013. The idea is to cut back on furthering the reforms process before the election year commences but also to ensure that the trickle-down benefits of those already attempted had reached the common man by then. A tall and risky order this one, considering that there are issues and concerns over which Maldives may not have any control, with the result the promised benefits may not accrue to the voter in time for the presidential polls. The electoral experience of the Third World polity, starting with neighbouring India, attempting economic reforms while in office can hold a candle, for the Maldivian leadership to balance the change-over with people-friendly socio-economic policies. In India and elsewhere, the ruling class learnt it the hard way and are doing the balancing act, post facto. In neighbouring Sri Lanka, where the late President J R Jayewardene’s pro-capitalist UNP Government became the first South Asian nation to introduce similar reforms in 1977, he and the party could win re-election in 1981 only after SLFP rival and former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike had been disenfranchised, and when the country began sinking into ethnic strife. In Maldives, the Government has been attempting the same even at present ? but it is the reforms that keep coming in droves too soon and too fast ? not the promised benefits from the previous schemes under the regimen.

Third World political experience with economic reforms of the IMF variety has led to near-change of regime at every election. This has caused the adaption of the two-party western political system as a two-alliance scheme elsewhere. At the conclusion of the parliamentary polls that the MDP lost in 2010, President Nasshed referred to the DRP emerging as the single-largest party, and said that the people had voted in a ’two-party scheme’, the other one being his MDP, which came second. However, the combined Opposition held a majority in Parliament, leading to administrative and constitutional deadlocks at every turn. Today, the DRP is a divided house, with party leader Thasmeen Ali coming under increasing pressure from his predecessor and patron, Gayoom. The Gayoom faction has since formed the Z-DRP as a rebel group and has already declared its intention to field a presidential candidate in 2013, after the united party had named Thasmeen the nominee last year. The Z-DRP was also at the helm of the anti-devaluation protests in Male, though at some stage Thasmeen also joined the rally. He has however declined to recognise the Z-DRP but his position has been weakened further by the exit of party deputy leader Ali Waheed, who has signed in as an MDP member. This has also weakened the DRP’s parliamentary strength and that of the combined Opposition.

Ali Waheed is the latest of the Opposition MPs to join the MDP since the conclusion of parliamentary polls. Yet, it has been a painstaking effort for the MDP to muster up a parliamentary majority, as yet. What MDP’s strategies and efforts could not obtain, the demoralisation of the DRP, following the vertical split, has the potential to do it for the former. While MDP strategists are looking at putting together a parliamentary majority, President Nasheed’s confidence went up with the MDP’s better performance in the nation-wide provincial and local council elections in March 2011, particularly in the urban centres of Male and Gan-Addu in the nation’s south. Coming as it does post-poll, the devaluation of the rufiyaa and upcoming tax proposals have the potential to cut it either way in future elections. Already, sections of the private sector have rubbished ruffiyaa’s new-found status as the exclusive legal tender. This also goes against official claims that the nation’s trade and industry was with the Government, whole-heartedly on fiscal reforms in particular. Halfway through his first term in office, President Nasheed has his task cut out for the second half. Rather, he has cut it out for himself, and how and how far he succeeds will decide his electoral fate and that of the party in the coming weeks and months, before presidential polls dawns on them.

(The writer is a Senior Research Fellow and Director, Chennai Chapter, at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Z-DRP case against MDP

The Z-DRP faction of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has filed a case in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) against the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), accusing the party of bribing opposition MPs to join the party. A senior member of Gayoom’s faction of the opposition and former Deputy Leader of the DRP, Umar Naseer, sent a letter to the Anti-Corruption Commission stating that ’’offering money to an MP to shift parties is nothing less than an act of corruption.’’

The letter alleges that former DRP Deputy Leader and MP Ali Waheed, who resigned from the MP today, was bribed with "millions of rufiya". Naseer called upon the ACC to monitor the bank accounts of Ali Waheed, his friends and family to assure that there was no corruption involved in Waheed’s decision to join MDP.

In a related development, the Z-DRP denied that SMS messages circulating in the name of Dhunya Maumoon, the daughter of the former President, that he had taken ill, seriously.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, May 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Seaplane base plan for Gan

The Government has planned to build a 700-metre seaplane base with the capacity to accommodate six planes at once in Gan International Airport, Transport Minister Adil Saleem said at the first-ever community Cabinet meeting called by President Mohammed Nasheed, starting now with the Southern Province. A joint venture company had been set up to develop the airport, the Minister said further.

Discussions at the Community Cabinet meeting, where individual Ministers made presentations, were focused on four main areas: social sector, infrastructure, good governance, and economic development. Residents of Addu and Fuvahmulah were given the chance to participate in the meeting but Fuvahmulah residents rejected the offer. The President’s Office said on Wednesday that the Community Cabinet meeting would not cost more than Rf200,000.

Note: A British Royal Air Force (RAF) base of Second World War vintage, Gan has been in the eye of prospective strategic partners wanting to control the Indian Ocean. It also headquartered a rebel government for three years in the early Sixties, with the result, feelings are always mixed in Maldives and elsewhere whenever a possible strategic asset like a seaplane base gets any mention.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, May 14, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GMR asks airlines to collect development fee from 2012

GMR Male International Private Limited, a consortium involving the Indian infrastructure major, GMR Group, has asked airlines to begin collecting the airport development fee (ADF) of US$25 from every international passenger, commencing January 1, 2012.

A company official said prior notice was given to the airlines to collect the fee, approved by the Government under the airport lease agreement, in order to give enough time for the airlines to prepare. The fee is to be included in the air ticket fare.

GMR’s decision came hours after the Civil Court held the first hearing of the case filed by the opposition alliance in a bid to block the company from collecting US $ 27 from international passengers, which comprises $25 as ADF and $ 2 towards insurance.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, May 19, 2011

Nepal
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Leaders settle for ’Constitution of Nepal’

Top leaders have agreed to name the new Constitution as Constitution of Nepal, without any qualifying adjective. The leaders at a meeting of the subcommittee formed under the Constitutional Committee (CC) to settle the disputes in constitution writing reached the agreement on Thursday.

Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Nepali Congress (NC) parliamentary party leader Ram Chandra Paudel, among others, attended the meeting.

The leaders also decided not to mention the year of promulgation in the name of new Constitution as practiced in the past.

Earlier the parties had failed to finalise the name as various political parties suggested different names. Out of the 10 options, the name "The Constitution of Nepal 2010" had secured a majority votes when the CC conducted vote on the issue in December 2009. In the 64-member CC, 31 members from the Nepali Congress (NC), the CPN-UML, Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP) and MPRF (D), among others, stood in favor of the name while 22 members, including Maoists, voted against it and one member remained neutral. The Maoists had proposed "The Constitution of the People´s Federal Republic of Nepal-2010" as the name of the new constitution.

The leaders also agreed to settle the row over mentioning the words ´Maoist combatants´ in the new Constitution by remaining silent on the matter. "As the parties have agreed to promulgate the new constitution only after concluding the peace process, there is no point mentioning the words Maoist combatants," said UML lawmaker Agni Kharel, adding, "Therefore, we at the meeting decided to remain silent on Maoist combatants."

Earlier, Maoist leaders were insisting on describing Maoist combatants as People´s Liberation Army (PLA) while members from other parties objected to the use of the words in the statute. "With the resolution of these issues, we have become able to reduce the number of contentious issues from 30 to 22," said Maoist chief whip Post Bahadur Bogati.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.myrepublica.com, May 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists accept Army integration modality, Baidya camp unhappy

Senior Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya Kiran, Secretary C.P. Gajurel, senior leaders Dev Gurung, Netra Bikram Chand of the Unified Maoists Party have once again submitted their note of dissent to the majority decision of the party which accepted the modality of integration proposed by the Nepal Army.

The Nepal Army is yet to forward its integration proposal in an official manner but the largest party in the CA has already accepted the so-called proposal. The steering committee of the Maoists Party has accepted the NA proposal verbatim, which annoyed the other camp currently in minority that compelled them all to register their note of dissent. According to the NA proposal a separate unit comprising Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police and PLA should be created and the command should remain with the Nepal Army.

Prior to his mysterious trip to Bangkok this week where Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda stayed overnight, the party had demanded that the command of the integrated unit should remain with the Maoists’ PLA and it should be deployed along the open border with India. But, the steering committee meeting that took place after Dahal’s return from Bangkok took a dramatic U turn and preferred to keep away from its earlier stance.

Baidya contested during the meeting that having ridiculed party’s earlier stance, he cannot support this decision. Baidya was immediately supported by Gajurel, Gurung and Chand. "We are in favour of the Nepal Army proposal", said Barsha Man Pun of the Dahal panel.

Baidya later told the media that that party was in favour of taking peace process and constitution drafting process going hand in hand."But this sudden decision is against our earlier stance. I am against completing peace process first and constitution drafting later", he said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.telegraphnepal.com, May 20, 2011

Note: The two news items above indicate that the country is moving towards resolution of issues which had blocked progress in the competition of peace process and Constitution drafting. Hopefully, different political parties will sink their differences on contentious issues in coming days and weeks so the landlocked country can move forward.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">LF takes lessons from West Bengal poll results

Chastened by the rout of neighbouring West Bengal’s Communist Parties that had ruled the Indian state for over three decades, Nepal’s ruling left alliance said communists all over South Asia should heed the lesson taught by the debacle.

Despite a general strike paralysing the country on Friday and an explosion in Pakistan that killed nearly 70 people, the election result in West Bengal, with whom eastern Nepal shares a border, continued to grip headlines after Mamata Banerjee swept out the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) with her Trinamool Congress heading for a landslide victory in the state assembly election.

"People want a change," said former minister Pradip Gyawali, whose Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist has been ruling Nepal since 2009. "When a party is in power for a long time, people’s grievances start to mount. There were complaints of misrule against the Indian communists and people expressed their opinion through the ballot."

Gyawali said the left’s defeat in West Bengal left his own party saddened since the ties between the two went deep. "We had links with them when we were an underground, banned party," the communist MP said. "They supported our pro-democracy struggle in 1990. Jyoti Basu had come to Nepal and Harkishen Singh Surjeet was a frequent visitor. He attended the 5th congress of our party in Nepal in 1992.

Maoist leader Ram Karki, who had been nominated as Nepal’s ambassador to India in the past and remained underground for some time in West Bengal’s Darjeeling and Siliguri towns during his party’s 10-year armed uprising, said it was a lesson that the age of empty rhetoric was over.

"In the 1970s, the CPM grew in strength by taking over the land of the zamindars and distributing it among the landless," he said. "But then they began to grab the same land on the behest of corporate houses. That’s how they destroyed their image among the peasants, who were the party’s support base.

"Adivasis, Maoists and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool opposed the land grab and the Maoists’ vote bank too went against the communists. The party was routed wherever Maoists have a stronghold - in southern Bengal, close to the border with Bihar."

The Maoists, who were invited to West Bengal by outgoing chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, will be watching Mamata Banerjee’s performance very closely."We will watch how Banerjee treats the peasants, especially in Lalgarh," Karki said. "If she follows the policies of her predecessor, she won’t be able to last."
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.mangalorean.com, May 13, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Little progress in addressing impunity, says Amnesty

UK-based Amnesty International said on Friday that Nepal in the year 2010 has made little progress in addressing conflict-time human rights violations. "Impunity persisted for perpetrators of human rights abuses during the conflict. The authorities failed to implement court-ordered arrests of military personnel accused of offences involving human rights violations; police refused to file complaints or investigate such cases," the rights watchdog said in its global human rights report released on Friday.

Nepali Government officials, the report added, "actively obstructed accountability mechanisms" and commitments made by political leaders in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The report referred to indifference of political parties in translating their commitments to human rights in the CPA into practice. They had agreed to address conflict-time human rights issues in the historic agreement but the political leaders have given little attention to implement their commitments and have primarily focused on integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, it said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.myrepublica.com, May 14, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Census exercise begins

The first phase of Nepal’s census 2011 to be conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) is starting from Sunday. According to Rudra Suwal, Chief of Population Unit at CBS, in the first phase only general information like number of household, number of family members and head of family and their occupation will be gathered for the next 18 days.

Based on the preliminary information, the detailed census will start from June 17. Some 34,000 trained persons will be deployed in 3,900 Village Development Committees and 58 municipalities.

The census will be held in two phases. The first phase begins on May 15 and will go on until June 1. The second phase begins from June 17 and will go until June 27. Around 8,500 supervisors have been deployed in the first phase of the census that is held every 10 years.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bank funds power transmission

The World Bank has approved a US$38M assistance package for Nepal to help construct a transmission line and substations to evacuate power that will be generated in the Kabeli corridor in eastern Nepal, facilitating efforts by Nepali private hydropower developers to arrange financing for their projects

The Kabeli Transmission Project will construct a 132kV transmission line that will extend from Kabeli Bazaar in the north of Panchthar district to Damak in Jhapa district, both in eastern Nepal. Substations will be built in the vicinity of Kabeli Bazaar and at the towns of Phidim, Ilam and Damak. The project’s location is significant from the perspective of the strategic development of the Integrated Nepal Power System as it will open up the extreme east of Nepal for power sector development and will shorten the distance required to transmit electricity to the country’s main industrial center around Biratnagar.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.waterpowermagazine.com, May 13, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Australian aid of NRS 2 bn

The Australian Government has announced to provide an estimated Rs 2 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Nepal in 2011-12.According to a press release issued by Australian Embassy in Kathmandu, the Australian aid managed by Australian Agency for International Development will focus on strengthening basic education, enhanced healthcare and improved access to clean water in Nepal.

Earlier, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had during his telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal said that that Australia would double its development assistance to Nepal.

"Australia remains committed to supporting Nepal to achieve the MDG target for universal primary education. Australian aid will help keep more children in school, improve completion rates and strengthen education planning system," the statement quoted Australian Ambassador to Nepal Susan Grace as saying.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.myrepublica.com, May 17, 2011

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gilani receives assurance from China

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited China in wake of growing international criticism and domestic backlash following the killing on Osama bin Laden. He held meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, and expectedly, received generous encouragement by Pakistan’s ’all weather ally’. The Chinese leadership urged the United States to reassess the policy of unilateral raids into Pakistani territory in pursuit of al-Qaeda militants, and reminded the world about Pakistan’s contribution, and sacrifices, in the war against terrorism. Prime Minister Gilani reciprocated in equal measure and said, ’In these turbulent times, the only voice of reason in international affairs is that of China.’

Besides the customary demonstration of mutual admiration and support, the two countries also signed three agreements, which include extension of lease for the Saindak Gold and Copper Mining till 2017, cooperation between Bank of Pakistan and China’s Banking Regulatory Authority, and economic and technical assistance. Regional cooperation, border management and trade, Chinese scholarship for 500 Pakistani students and other cultural programs were also announced.
< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP, May 16, 2011, New York Times, May 17, 2011, Daily Times, May 19, 2011

Note: The purpose of the unscheduled visit was to strengthen the incumbent Government, both domestically and internationally at a critical time when influential US policy makers have suggested replacing aid with coercive diplomacy, such as aid-cuts and international isolation, in order to force Pakistan to comply with its counter terrorism commitments. Domestically too, political opposition and elite opinion makers have condemned the Government for allying with an unreliable partner.

In this backdrop, Gilani’s visit serves two purposes. It reassures the domestic audience that Pakistan’s foreign policy is in good health. Internationally, it increases Pakistan’s leveraging power against the US by demonstrating that it does not lack options, and if pushed hard, would gladly assist China in its looming competition with the US. Given Pakistan’s geostrategic importance in the context of access to Central Asian energy resources and proximity to the Persian Gulf, and its utility as an ally in the Muslim world, the recent visit will compel the US to soften its stand on Pakistan, and in the process, restore the fragile equilibrium of their tenuous relationship.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US policy czars on firefighting mission

Marc Grossman, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, separately visited Pakistan to restore bilateral relations which have reached their nadir in recent months.

Kerry visited Islamabad on May 16, and held separate meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, besides other officials. Unlike his previous visits when he would highlight Pakistan’s commitment and sincerity, this time he gave an unusually terse message to his hosts and said, ’this road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions.’ Earlier while in Afghanistan, Kerry had said, ’there is some evidence of Pakistan Government knowledge of some of these activities in ways that is very disturbing.’

Grossman met with President Zardari and Gen Kayani on May 19. He was accompanied by CIA’s deputy director, Michael Morell, who also met with ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. Grossman is said to have conveyed US demands for military action against the Haqqani insurgent group, which it believes is ’irreconcilable’, or in other words, not to be included in future political negotiations. At the same time, however, informed sources suggest that Pakistan was reassured of its principal role in peace talks with the Taliban.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, May 16 2011, Dawn, May 17, 2011, New York Times, May 19, 2011

Note: Given Pakistan’s Government’s unenviable position, the US is clearly ratcheting pressure to extract greater cooperation against the Taliban as a pre-requisite for reviving last year’s strategic dialogue. The Obama administration is keen to show verifiable progress in Afghanistan before the troop pull-out begins in July, and will leverage bin Laden’s death to pressure Pakistan to use its influence on the Taliban to negotiate with the Government of Hamid Karzai. The next check-post for the two weary allies is Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit, which has been made conditional on Pakistan’s counter terrorism performance.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Talks with India resume on Sir Creek

India and Pakistan resumed official negotiations to resolve the Sir Creek border dispute. An eight member Indian delegation led by Surveyor General Subha Rao reached Islamabad on May 19 for two-day negotiations with the Pakistan’s delegation, led by additional Defence Secretary Rear Admiral (retd) Shah Sohail Masood.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, May 20, 2011

Note: Sir Creek, located in the Rann of Kutch, is an estuary that demarcates the Indian State of Gujarat and Pakistani Province of Sindh. The maritime border has been disputed by the two rivals. Owing to Pakistan’s historic insistence on giving primacy to the Kashmir dispute over other more ’manageable’ disputes, Sir Creek remained an obstacle till the two sides agreed to solve all issues of discord under the Composite Dialogue in 2004. The two sides held extensive talks and finalised the maritime boundary after conducting joint surveys in 2007.

Since the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008, India suspended negotiations with Pakistan. Recently, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani’s ’cricket diplomacy’ at Mohali, the Home and Commerce Ministers of the two countries met and conducted substantial talks, paving the way for resumption of full-spectrum bilateral relations.

India’s decision to reengage with Pakistan is believed to be the initiative of Prime Minister Singh. However, his enthusiasm is not shared with key members of his Cabinet, especially Home Minister P Chidambaram, the powerful diplomatic corps, as well as his political cohort, who fear that talks with Pakistan can prove costly in the event of another terrorist attack.

Given the lack of consensus, talks on diverse issues such as water sharing, trade, and border disputes represents an earnest attempt by the Indian Government, and especially the Prime Minister, on reestablishing ’composite’ relations with Pakistan without raising the politically problematic lexicon of ’Composite Dialogue’.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">LTTE leader in Oslo court

Norway-based LTTE leader Perinpanayagam Sivaparan also known as Nediyavan was produced in an Oslo court on May 20, the Sri Lankan Government website said, citing Norwegian media reports.A Dutch judge and five Dutch defence attorneys were in Norway to interrogate Nediyavan, who heads the post-war militant wing of the LTTE, where moderate sympathisers have floated/revived their Diaspora, political outfits.

"Norwegian police and prosecutors are following the issues closely, and I have full confidence that they will take the necessary measures," said Secretary of State Paul Lønseth to TV 2. In Norway the LTTE can operate freely, but not elsewhere in the West, or in Sri Lanka’s neighbourhood nations like India, where it is banned.

The Dutch came to Norway because of an investigation of a terrorist financing case, where seven Tamil Tigers were arrested last year.In April last year, Dutch police went to 16 different addresses and made the arrests after national security police (AIVD) had been investigating possible funding of the LTTE from the Netherlands for some time. LTTE’s 52-year old "chief accountant" and the alleged leader of the LTTE in Netherlands were among the arrested.

According to Dutch court documents, the LTTE in the Netherlands has an "iron-grip" on the Tamil minority in the country. Those who do not support the LTTE with money are threatened with retaliation, it says in the Dutch court documents, according to NRC Handelsblad.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC advises against leadership training

The Supreme Court has directed the Attorney-General to consider instructing the relevant authorities to postpone for one week the impugned mandatory training in military camps for the students who are eligible to enter the State universities. The court issued this direction in the wake of the training for the first batch which is scheduled to commence on May 23 at several Army camps.

The Bench comprising Justices K.Sripavan, Chandra Ekanayake and Suresh Chandra was hearing a writ petition filed by ’Students for Human Rights’. challenging the decision of the Higher Education Ministry allegedly compelling the students, who are eligible to enter university to undergo in-house training within military camps without their consent.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, May 20, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ranil to meet Tamil Nadu CM

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is to visit Tamil Nadu following an invitation by the newly-elected Chief Minister of the South Indian state Jayalalithaa Jayaram, according to sources close to him.

No date has been fixed for the visit but Wickremesinghe had told his close associates that he had accepted the invitation.

It is reported that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister had invited Wickremesinghe in her reply to the message he had sent when she won the Assembly election in the State.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 21, 2011

Afghanistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Protests over NATO targeting civilians

As many as 12 civilian protestors were killed and 80 others injured during clashes between security forces and some 2000 demonstrators in the northern town of Taloqan, Takhar Province, on May 18. The protestors, a few of them said to be armed, looted shops and tried to attack a German army base after a NATO night-time raid resulted in the death of four people, including two women.

The targeted house, officials say, was a known safe house of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants, a charge denied by the city’s police chief, who believes that the operation was based on false intelligence. Protests resumed the following day, when 200 people gathered to condemn the highly unpopular night raids. The town has since remained tense.
< class="text11verdana">Source: BBC News, May 18, 2011

Note: Taloqan was a crucial stronghold of the former Northern Alliance, a consortium of anti-Taliban militias that was based in northern Afghanistan in the second half of the 1990’s. The group, led by the legendary Ahmad Shah Masood, retreated to Taloqan after Kabul fell to the Taliban in 1996. Since then, the city and the surrounding regions have stood staunchly against the Taliban and have supported the Northern Alliance dominated Government of the present incumbent, Hamid Karzai.

In this backdrop, the intensity and apparent spontaneity of the protests starkly reveals the level of discontent against collateral damage caused by foreign (as well as local) security forces as well as high levels of corruption and mal-governance in regions that do not necessarily support the Taliban-led insurgency.

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ershad’s military rule held illegal

In yet another landmark verdict, the Supreme Court (SC) has declared the military rule of HM Ershad as illegal. However, the apex court categorically said that all actions taken during the military rule of Ershad between March 24, 1982 and November 10, 1986 will remain effective until their fate was decided by the Parliament. Also, the SC condoned forever the international treaties, which were made during that period.

Ershad, who was chief of Bangladesh army, seized power in a military coup in March 24, 1982 ousting the elected government of President Justice Abdus Sattar. Ershad’s military rule continued until November 10, 1986 after a parliament loyal to him legitimized his rule. He later became President in an election legitimacy of which often questioned. Ershad was ousted from power in 1990 following a mass movement.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 16, 2011

Note: The SC’s verdict ended all speculations about the future of the 7th amendment. Ershad’s Jatiya Party, an important coalition partner in Awami League government, did not express any opinion on the verdict. There is a feeling that the recent development might impact of the politics of the country. The opposition might pressurize the government to open case against the former military ruler for taking up power illegally. The government has reserved from commenting on this but if it open cases against Ershad following opposition’s pressure this might affect the alliance.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Arms cache from banned outfit

In two separate incidents law enforcement agencies had recovered huge amount of arms and ammunitions.

The law enforcement arrested a suspected operative of banned Harkatul Jihad Al Islami (Huji) and discovered a cache of firearms, explosives and bomb making materials on May 17. However, arrested Huji operative Abdul Alim denied his involvement with the banned militant outfit but confessed about confessed to dealing in illegal arms. In another incident, around 367 rounds of bullets were recovered from Jhenaigati upazila in the northern border district of Sherpur.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 19 & 17, 2011

Note: Recovery of large amount of arms and ammunition points to existence of a strong network of illegal arms trade in the country. In May 9 also the police seized 995 bullets in Jhenaigati upazila. Such incidents intensify need for the government to remain vigilant of the nexus between the network of the illegal arms trade and the militant organizations.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bhutan seeks airport use

To enhance connectivity Bhutan had sought to use Bangladesh’s northwestern Syedpur and Lalmonirhat airports as transit points for transporting their air cargos and passengers alongside establishing enhanced road and railway connectivity. The request was made by Bhutanese Information and Communication Minister Lyonpo Nandalal Rai who visited Bangladesh in the week. Bhutan made such a request on the backdrop of the country’s limitation on landing of large aircrafts in Thimpu airport for mountain ranges of the Himalayan, informed Bangladesh’s Aviation Minister Gulam Quader.

The Bhutanese Government will come up with a formal proposal for using those airports after checking the feasibility of such an arrangement. The Bangladesh government will work on the nitty-gritty of this after it receives formal proposal from Bhutan.

Some reports claimed that once India allows Bhutan to use its land for transit to Bangladesh, Bhutan will start using the airport.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bangladesh Today, May 17, 2011/ The Daily Star, May 19, 2011

Bhutan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Wedding bells for the King

Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck announced his intention to marry commoner Jetsun Pema in October this year. The announcement came at the opening session of the parliament. The King, an oxford educated scholar was crowned in 2008.

The country changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008 when Bhutan adopted a constitution and held its first parliamentary elections.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuenselonline, May 20, 2011.

India
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Constitutional crisis in Karnataka

Karnataka came close to a constitutional crisis when Governor H.R Bharadwaj sent a report recommending the imposition of President’s rule under Article 356 . The Governor refused to convene a special session on the advise of the Chief Minister of the BJP led government Y.S. Yeddyurappa to prove his majority.

The Centre however assured the protesting BJP delegation that no unconstitutional steps would be made and the issue was resolved temporarily. However the power tussle between the governor and the state government continues.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 20,2011.

Note: Article 356, which in Constitution draftsman B.R Ambedkar’s words to be a ’dead letter’, has today become one of the most abused provisions of the Indian constitution with over 100 instances of President’s rule in independent India, mostly being imposed to settle political rivalries, rather than to address a real constitutional crisis.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Talks with Uzbekistan focus on Afghanistan

India and Uzbekistan focused on regional security, especially the emerging situation in Afghanistan during the New Delhi visit of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Reconciliation with the Taliban and Uzbekistan’s own terror concerns were also discussed. Energy security, transnational communication links and possible alternatives to trade and communication systems also formed part of the deliberations.

India expressed special interest in routes that would bypass Pakistan and the restive southern Afghanistan while giving it access to Central Asia. Both originate from Tashkent, pass through Termez in Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharief in Afghanistan. They then branch off from the western Afghan city of Herat.

One goes through Delaram, follows the India-built road till the Iran border and, if the missing links are put in place, connects to the Iranian port of Chabar. The second alternative would pass through Iran’s Sangan and Kerman cities before ending at the Banda Abbas port.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 1, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC orders more grain for poor

The Supreme Court directed the Union Government to distribute five million tonnes of food grains to the 150 most backward districts in the country to prevent starvation deaths.

The current quantum is in addition to the five million that the government has already promised to distribute.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 15, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Steep hike in petrol prices

State-owned oil marketing companies (OMCs) increased the price of petrol by Rs.5 a litre. This is the biggest-ever increase in petrol prices, and the eighth since the prices were deregulated in June last year.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 15, 2011, The Economic Times, May 15, 2011.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

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

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.

Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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