MonitorsPublished on Dec 09, 2011
Two events in as many weeks, and Maldives has been making news, both on the home front and in the global arena, for reasons that had been better left untouched. Coming as they did after the successful SAARC Summit in the southern Addu City.
Maldives: 'Islam' becoming an election issue?
< class="heading1">Analysis

Two events in as many weeks, and Maldives has been making news, both on the home front and in the global arena, for reasons that had been better left untouched. Coming as they did after the successful SAARC Summit in the southern Addu City, these developments have the potential to become a major political and poll issue ahead of the presidential elections of 2013, if the current trends remain un-reversed.

The first incident flowed from the SAARC Summit itself. Forgetting that Pakistan too was an ’Islamic State’, religious fundamentalists in Addu ransacked the SAARC memorial erected by Islamabad for depicting what they claimed were idolatrous, ’un-Islamic’ symbols. Customary as Pakistani memorials have mostly been, this one carried a bust of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the nation’s flag. At the foot of the pedestal were reliefs of archaeological finds from the Indus Valley Civilisation sites in the country.

Fundamentalists, first in Addu and later in the political capital of Male, claimed that a relief motif represented Lord Buddha. They burnt the whole monument one night and took away the rest. It is as yet unclear if their protests were only over the presence of a perceived representation of Lord Buddha, who is worshipped in many of the SAARC member-nations, or it also related to Jinnah’s bust, as worshipping fellow-humans was also banned in Islam.

It was possibly not without reason that subsequent to the destruction and disappearance of the Jinnah statue, fundamentalists also targeted the Sri Lankan monument, a replica of the nation’s ’Lion’ emblem. Investigators have to find out if this attack had anything to do with the Buddhist character of Sri Lanka, or was aimed at defusing the embarrassment flowing from the earlier attack on another ’Islamic Republic’, where again fundamentalism and religious extremism were thriving -- targeting not just the immediate neighbourhood but the rest of the world at large.

In contemporary context, Pakistan, along with neighbouring Afghanistan, are considered the global capitals of fundamentalism, from where Maldivian groups are perceived as deriving their strength. In Pakistan, unlike the other two nations, certain State agencies are believed to be aiding, abetting and funding fundamentalist efforts -- and for carrying the message to the rest of South Asia and outside, too. Thus the contradiction in the fundamentalist attack on the Pakistan monument was palpable.

A full month after the SAARC Summit, local media reported that the Nepalese monument for SAARC too has been ’stolen’. They quoted officials to say that the ’theft’ had taken place when the police on guard duty were in between shifts. With three such desecrations, the authorities, if is said, were considering the wisdom of shifting all SAARC monuments to a central place in Addu and providing 24-hour police security.

Uni-faith character and flogging

The fundamentalists got another shot in the arm not long after when the visiting UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chief Navneetham Pillay questioned Maldives uni-faith character that did not accept non-Muslims as citizens. Addressing the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, only a week after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first overseas dignitary to do so, Pillay also questioned the Maldivian law on flogging of women, describing it as inhumane and violating of international commitments by the nation. She called for a national debate.

Since Pillay’s visit, local media has come up with a belated news report, citing a lower court ruling, that growing beard was close to being a religious obligation for males in the country. According to the daily, Haveeru, Magistrate Ibrahim Hussein in Maafushi, Kaaf atoll, had overturned a Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) regulation that instructs its male employees to shave their beards. The DPRS has since challenged the ruling, as the magisterial verdict of March 2 has held that the regulation contradicts with Islamic principles, and cannot be made in a 100 per cent Muslim country such as Maldives.

Though wholly unexpected, and possibly taken aback after the monument-burning, the Government of President Mohammed Nasheed did not lose much time in expressing regret to the Governments of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It also arrested two persons for the desecration of the Pakistani monument. The public postures of rival political parties however surprised many. President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was not as unequivocal as the rest. It was only to be expected under the circumstances, and also given his pro-liberal attitude and public image but individual MPs did declare that there was no question of permitting the practice of other religions in the country.

The Opposition parties at one stage seemed to be competing with one another in expressing their solidarity with the Islamic forces. Fundamentalist Adhaalath Party (AP), which had left the Government only recently over religious issues, wanted Customs officials who had cleared the ’banned monument’ into the country sued. A section of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), founded recently by those owing allegiance to former President MaumoonGayoom, was shriller. Undiluted as yet, a party leader described the two arrested persons as ’national heroes’ and wanted PPM to defend their case/cause.

Other parties, including the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) with Thasmeen Ali, a former running-mate of Gayoom in the 2008 presidential race, could not be seen as being left far behind. Some of them, including a section in Gayoom’s PPM, sought to draw a distinction between fundamentalism and modern-day issues of sovereignty, in this regard, arguing that installation ofidolatorous monuments and statues challenged the sovereign right of the Maldivian State, including Parliament, to frame a Constitution and laws that reflected the people’s sentiments -- and enforce them, too.

Pillay’s utterances, which she repeated at a news conference in Male, revived the argument even more, as political parties felt uncomfortable about commenting unfavourably an issue involving fellow nations like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. To them, the former was an Islamic nation as Maldives, and the latter, the closest neighbour and economic partner, too. Unacknowledged, they were also concerned about possible retaliation in Sri Lanka, where a large number of Maldivians reside, for work, studies or medical care, or use as a transit-point to travel to the rest of the world.

’Missed opportunity’, says President

Historically, Maldives was home to Dravidian people from south India and also Sri Lankans. Before the arrival of Islam in the atolls-nation in the twelfth century when it was adopted by the ruler and his subjects soon enough, Buddhism was the dominant religion. As critics of the Addu attacks point out, the National Museum in Male, built by the Chinese in recent years, houses Buddhist artefacts from that era. Maldivian history also has it that among the earlier non-Islamic, non-Buddhist rulers were women -- thus possibly explaining relative liberalism to date, barring of course flogging for extra-marital relationship.

Even granting that the Addu incidents were a stand-alone affair, the Pillay controversy, identifiable with the UN system, has triggered calls for condemnation of the parent-organisation. Fundamentalist protestors shouted slogans outside the UN office in Male soon after the Addu incidents.

For starters, Maldivian parliamentarians in general and the mild-mannered Speaker Abdullah Shahid in particular would be uncomfortable until a future guest had completed his or her address to the People’s Majlis, if and when invited. Answering criticism in this regard, Speaker Shahid said that he too was not privy to what Pillay intended saying. Fresh to such engagement with visiting dignitaries as much to the rest of the democratic scheme, Maldivian parliamentarians had possibly taken Prime Minister Singh’s address as the standard practice. Pillay may have now set them thinking.

Sometime after the dust from the Pillay fiasco had begun settling down, President Nasheed provoked fellow-Maldivians into a national discourse by declaring that "Our faith should not be so easily shaken" by utterances theNaviPillay kind. "To build a nation, we should all have the courage, the patience and the willingness to exercise our minds to its deepest and broadest extent," the local media quoted him as saying at an official function. By coming down heavily on Pillay’s suggestions, the President said elsewhere that Maldives might have "missed an opportunity" to demonstrate the nobility of the Islamic Shariat.

"We should have the courage to be able to listen to and digest what people tell us, what we hear and what we see," said Nasheed, adding that Maldivians should not be "so easily swayed and conned?For that not to happen, we have to foster in our hearts a particular kind of national spirit and passion?This national spirit is not going to come into being by not listening, not talking and hiding things, (but) by clearly and transparently saying what we think in our hearts, discussing its merits among us and making decisions based on (those debates)."

Given his democratic credentials and the tendency to throw up issues for national discourse through his weekly radio address, President Nasheed’s observations did not raise hell as his detractors would have hoped for. Nor did it stir the nation into a discourse as he may have hoped for. However, attackers did take on others, and physically so. A small group of pro-tolerance protestors under the banner of ’Silent Solidarity’ were stoned by unidentified men when they gathered for a rally, advocating openness to all faiths in the aftermath of Pillay’s advocacy.

Even as the controversy over the Pillay statements was unfolding, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed Naseem lost no time in trying to smoothen out the ruffled Opposition feathers. "What’s there to discuss about flogging?" Minister Naseem was reported as saying, "There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God." The Minister clarified that Maldives had submitted certain reservations to the international conventions that Pillay had referred to, including the provisions on gender equality and freedom of religion. "On these points the country could not be held legally accountable by an international body," he said further.

Islamic Minister, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, a renowned religious scholar, had lost no time in calling for the removal of idolatrous SAARC monuments. Later after the Pillay controversy, he said that the Shariat could not be made a subject of debate. A representative of the fundamentalist Adhaalath Party who chose to return to the Government after the party had pulled out, Dr Bari appealed to the people not to vandalise symbols of other religions. He referred to what he claimed was a retaliatory attack on a local mosque in Addu City and quoted the Quran 6:108, which reads "And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return and He will inform them about what they used to do."

Dr Bari’s junior colleague and State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Rasheed Hussein Ahmed, had a different take on the former’s suggestion for the host nations to take back the monuments. A former president of the Adhaalath Party and native of Addu atoll who has chosen to stay back in the Government (though the party has no parliamentary representation under the Executive Presidency), Dr Rasheed seemed to concur with the official position that it was improper for Maldives to suggest such a course. At the outset thus he indicated the need for securing all SAARC monuments in a common place at Addu. The media has reported that the Government was looking at the option in the aftermath of the attack on the Nepalese monument.

Nation-wide protest on cards

Unimpressed by the Government’s explanations, if any, the Opposition parties have independently or otherwise, extended their support to over 125 non-government organisations (NGOs) that have called for a nation-wide protest on religious issues on December 23. Some in the Opposition, including one-time Minister and presidential aspirant, Jhumbooree Party founder Gasim Ibrahim, see in the Addu affair and the Pillay statements a governmental conspiracy aimed at twin-goals -- of, allowing other religions into the country and at the same time dilute the Shariat as is being practised in Maldives.

As observers point out, for the past over two years, the Government of President Nasheed has been giving a handle to fundamentalist elements to make a hue and cry, every now and again. Starting with the Government’s decision to accept a Guantanamo Bay detainee at the instance of the US, inviting Israeli doctors, farm experts and now their airline, considering permission for liquor sale and consumption in inhabited islands, starting with the national capital of Male, seeking to make the study of Islam and the national language, Dhivehi, optional for A-Level students, they say, the Nasheed leadership has been seeking to dilute Islamic traditions and practices, one after the other. On the economic front, they have added the IMF-induced reforms and the ’managed float’ of the dollar to the ’conspiracy’.

On the one hand, the emergence of one religion-related controversy after another, almost at periodic intervals, has the potential to keep fundamentalism alive, and possibly expanding to take extremist colours, if only over time. On the other, the ever-expanding political support-base that such issues have been attracting confers on the more identifiable practitioners, greater and otherwise unintended legitimacy that is otherwise lacking. Greater legitimacy could strengthen their political cause and electoral presence, as the Adhaalath Party has proved in the local council polls of March 2011. The party materialised unexpected gains in the council polls, limited still as they were. Continued irrelevance on the electoral front, as happened in the presidential polls of 2008, could strengthen the resolve and determination to adopt a more extremist course.

The formation of the PPM and its political identification with the AdhaalathParty for now on the religious front has the potential to keep fundamentalist issues on the fore of the nation’s political and electoral agenda, during the run-up to the presidential polls of 2013. Shriller these sections become, in an attempt to take the elections out of better debatable issues like democracy and economy, greater will be the claims to mass-representation for their otherwise limited support-base. When, where and how the former would drown the latter, if it came to that, is hard to predict at the moment, given in particular the vastness of the nation in terms of the logistical nightmare that an election campaign faces and the prohibitive expenses that it entails. Thus Islam also becomes the first and natural choice to unite the divided Opposition in electoral terms.

President Nasheed’s camp is hopeful of his winning re-election in the first round in 2013. Yet, some voices in his MDP are already talking in public about his scoring 40-per cent and above, much less than the 50-per cent victory-mark and far lower than the 60 per cent his campaign-managers say he was sure to win. With Gayoom and his family ties to the PPM needing no reiteration, some observers think, talking about the ’misrule’ from the past could help the Nasheed candidacy, particularly if the party were to stick to its new-found Adhaalath ally, for the second round.

From the Opposition camp, too, there are hopes that focussing on religion-based issues, rather than those of democracy, economy and family rule, would take their campaign away from further internal strife within parties like DRP and PPM -- and among the larger numbers, too. Yet the official DRP Opposition sounds relatively uncomfortable flagging religious issues compared to larger political and economic issues. The DRP’s weakened DQP (Dhivehi Quamee Party) has been focussing on such issues, and is now credited with obtaining a civil court order restraining the Indian infrastructure major GMR Group from collecting a higher $ 25 entry-fee at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) at Male, for which it has a 25-year modernisation and maintenance contract.

Incidentally, this means that GMR’s projected revenues will fall short by $ 25 million a year, and the group, it is reported, intends appealing the lower court order. In a way, the court order may have taken the arguments against the GMR contract further away from the hands of fundamentalist groups. When the contract issues first came up before Parliament and public arena in 2009, when it was signed, sections within the undivided DRP of the time, and a few others in the Opposition had raised legal, constitutional and procedural issues. They had argued that involving any foreign company in airport modernisation would challenge Maldivian sovereignty. The debate lingers.

For all this however, mainstreaming of fundamentalist ideas and politics may have positive fallout, however limited, under a guided process. Mainstreaming of extreme viewpoints in other democracies has often led to moderation, if only over time. Over the short and the medium terms, sections of the polity with strong and extreme viewpoints have often tended to push their agenda, convictions and beliefs, whether in government or outside. As an Islamic democracy, Maldives is uniquely placed -- and could thus become a test case, too. The question is if the nation can allow itself to be one, now or ever. In a country, where religious moderation has been the hallmark of the society for centuries, the reverse should also be true. Allowing for evolutionary processes to take shape would be a better option rather than imposing externally-induced debates and changes on an otherwise moderate and harmonious society, it is said.

Over the past years, there have been reports of Maldivian youth attending Pakistani madrasas where they were reportedly being taught not just religion and theology but also jihadimilitancy. A 2009 report said that close to a dozen Maldivian youth were among the jihadi militants captured by the US-led forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and that they had confessed to being trained in Pakistani madrasas. The attack thus on the Pakistani monument in Addu City thus raises questions about the authorship of fundamentalism in Maldives, but at the same time also highlights the possible consequences of either course, for Maldives in particular and neighbouring nations, otherwise.

Either way, it is felt that any Islam-centric campaign for Elections-2013would keep the fundamentalists going. They would be targetting larger stakes and goals. Considering that the Maldivian State structure and institutional mechanisms, starting with the national police force, are ill-equipped to address such issues and concerns with any amount of clarity, certainty and work-plan, in terms of intelligence-gathering and dissuasive power at the grassroots-level, President Nasheed, it is said, would be handing himself a tougher task than already in his second term, if his leadership does not drag the nation away from Islam as an election issue. Deferring such a predicament, either for the self or for successors might still be in his hand, instead.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Budget criticised

The proposed 2012 budget that was presented to Parliament on November 28 has received a mixed reaction. Pro-Government members have hailed the budget as beneficial to the people, while it has drawn severe criticism from the Opposition parties, with some claiming it will put the country into debt for years.

According to the proposed budget, the Government will provide loans worth US$30 million (Rf462 million) through the Bank of Maldives (BML) to complete the resorts under development and a further US$500 million as loans to complete the unfinished houses in Male. An additional US$50 million is also allocated to provide loans worth Rf50 million to improve small and medium businesses.

Opposition Jumhooree Party MP and Chair of the Budget Review Committee, Gasim Ibrahim, a former Finance Minister himself, said that the budget has failed to include details specified in the Constitution. DQP leader Dr Hassan Saeed said the budget does not benefit the Maldivian people while accusing the Government of adopting only those foreign policies that are beneficial to foreign parties and investors. The Parliamentary Budget Review Committee has sought detailed information from the Finance Ministry about the proposed budget.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, December 5-7 201; Minivan News, December 6, 2011; Miadhu, December 8, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Joins IOM

Maldives is among 14 nations that have been admitted into the International Organisation for Migration during the three day council at Geneva, taking the organisation’s membership to 146.

The IOM is already working with the government to significantly improve the management of migration into the country, especially in the cases of migrant workers.

The US State Department recently noted a significant rise in human trafficking into the country, with high rates of exploitation especially of Bangladeshi workers. Migrants from South Asia account for around twenty five of the country’s population.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, December 6, 2011; Minivan News, December 6, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">DRP loses 800 members to PPM

The Elections Commission has informed the main Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that it has lost 800 members to the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The EC informed the DRP that it currently has 34,348 members as compared to the 35,148 members in the previous list. However, the DRP has announced that it has submitted 900 new membership applications to the EC.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, December 7, 2011

Myanmar
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No secret nuclear programme

The Speaker of the Parliament and former senior military official, Gen Shew Mann has denied allegations of any secret nuclear program with North Korea. This comes in the light when the general had leaded a secret delegation to North Korea in November 2008.

Gen Shew Mann had told media persons that the visit to North Korea was to sign a MoU on bilateral military ties between the two countries. He said the Korea has a better military technology and that its army was better that the Myanmar in a few aspects.
< class="text11verdana">Source: irrawaddy.org, December 7, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">$1.2 million aid from US

The visiting American Secretary of State Clinton offered Myanmar aid amounting to US$1.2 million, aimed at supporting microfinance, victims of the internal ethnic conflict and landmines. Of the total amount US$200,000 is for landmine victims, whereas a serious US official has said that the aim is to raise US$800,000 towards landmine victims.

The US will initiate an English language programme with support from the East-West Centre in Hawaii. The two Governments will also resume the search for missing dead of US military from the days of the Second World War.

The US through various programmes provides more than US$38 million to Myanmar for various programs.
< class="text11verdana">Source: channelnewsasia.com, December 2, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Protests made legal

The Government on 3 December has formally approved a Bbill that permits public protests. The bill that was passed by the Parliament was signed into law by President TheinSein. The new law required protesters to inform the authorise at least five days prior to the day of protest, giving in the details of the venue and time of the protest and also the reasons to do so, and also the detail of the protests pertaining to the speeches that would be made.

The new law does not permit protests that would obstruct daily life and unlawful protest will carry a jail term of a year.
< class="text11verdana">Source: channelnewsasia.com, December 3, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Friendship Bridge reopened

The Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge was reopened on 5 December after Myanmar’s authority closed it last year. The Bridge was closed on July 17, 2010 in response to the incursion by Thailand into the Moei River on the border.

The closed border crossing resulted in economic losses to the tune of US $3 million per month. This has resulted in an increase in crosser border smuggling and use of illegal border crossings along the Moei River.
< class="text11verdana">Source: irrawaddy.org, December 6, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Demise of the old guard

The 88-year-old Col U Lwin (Retd), the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the former Deputy Prime Minister of the Burmese Socialite Programme Party passed away in Yangon on 6 December 2011.

Col U Lwin joined the Burma Independence Army in 1942 during the Second World War. His career in the army had seen him serve as the Military Attaché in Washington in 1959, among other positions. After the 1962 coup by Gen Ne Win, the Colonel rose to prominence as the Minister for Finance and Revenue and also as Deputy Prime Minister.
< class="text11verdana">Source: irrawaddy.org, December 7, 2011

Nepal
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Glacial area depletes by 21 pc

In a shocking revelation, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has said in its latest report that glacial area in Nepal had depleted by 21 percent over the past 30 year.

Attributing the report to the findings from the most comprehensive assessment to date on climate-change, snow and glacier melt in Asia’s Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region, ICIMOD said the findings highlight the region’s extreme vulnerability to climate change threatening millions of mountain people and 1.3 billion people living downstream in Asia’s major river basins.

"These reports provide a new baseline and location-specific information for understanding climate change in one of the most vulnerable eco-systems in the world," the report quoted Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Dr RajendraPachauri as saying. "They substantially deepen our understanding of this region -- and of all mountain systems -- while also pointing to the knowledge gaps yet to be filled and actions that must be taken to deal with the challenge of climate change globally and to minimize the risks from impacts locally," it quoted Pachuri.

The report titled ’Status of Glaciers’ put the number of glaciers in the HKH region at more than 54,000 and the area covered by them 60,000 sqkm attributing the findings to remote sensing studies. However, the report has acknowledged the need for more field verification and additional data collection before a firmer conclusion about the glacier retreat can be drawn.
< class="text11verdana">Source: myrepublica.com, December 5, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India strikes off additional duty

In a bid to offer some relief to Nepali exporters who are finding it difficult to compete in Indian market, New Delhi has agreed to waive off additional customs duty on 162 Nepali export items.The breakthrough on the long-standing trade issue came during the two-day Inter-governmental Committee (IGC) meeting of Commerce Secretaries of the two countries concluded in New Delhi.

India had imposed an additional customs duty to 331 Nepali exportable items in 2006. Although it waived off the duty on 169 items in 2008, it continued such a duty on 162 items till date. Nepali business people hailed the removal of fourpercent additional customs duty, saying that it would increase competitive strength of those products in the Indian market.

Economists in Kathmandu have said that the exporters of products like metal products, steel, iron alloy, copper sheet, yarn, textile and cotton will benefit from the new agreement. Records of Trade and Export Promotion Centre (TEPC) show iron and steel items are Nepal’s largest export to India. Their export was valued at Rs.2.7 billion during the first quarter of 2011/12. Similarly, export of yarn products - the third largest export item to India from Nepal - was valued at Rs.1.63 billion during the period.

The Indian side even issued a notification of waiver, but it is said that will come into effect from March 2012. India has also agreed to end the Duty Refund Procedure (DRP) - a process of refunding the excise duty levied in India on Nepal-bound products - and allow Nepal to collect excise duty at customs points, which will simplify imports.

On Nepal’s demand, India also agreed to hold a meeting to review the Railway Service Agreement (RSA). The review meeting will be held in Kathmandu on January 23-24.

Nepal has been pushing for the revision of RSA mainly to pave the way for linking cargo train services between Birgunj dry port and Bangladesh via Rohanpur-Shinghabad route, and Visakhapatnam port in India. Both sides are now positive to operationalise Rohanpur-Shinghabad railway line and Visakhapatnam ports at the earliest. Unfortunately, the issue of constructing the 42-km Amlekhgunj-Raxaul petroleum pipeline could not be settled during the talks.
< class="text11verdana">Source: myrepublica.com, ekantipur.com, thehimalayantimes.com, December 6, 2011.

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Renewed negotiations with US

In the aftermath of the NATO air-strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that Islamabad desired good relations with the U.S that was based on mutual respect. He said that through renewed negotiations it was doable and wouldn’t take too long to mend ties. The incident led the US to vacate its forces from the Shamsi airbase following demands of withdrawal by Pakistan.

As steps for improving relations, Minister for Interior Rehman Malik, said that US must take action against Mansoor Ijaz for violating US laws and propagating false information about the Pakistan Army and the civilian Government.

In order to reiterate Pakistan’s stand over the issue of sovereignty, as reiterated by all top leaders Pakistan did not overturn its decision to boycott the Bonn Conference. PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif praised the government for this decision and sought further action of suspension of all NATO supplies until a formal apology is attained.

On the other hand, the US State Department defended the aid given to Pakistan on account of several Senators calling for a review of the programme.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, December 5, 7, 9, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Terror suspects on the loose

Close to 65 extremists from different militant outfits were released from Punjab prisons in the last one year. It is believed that many of them have gone back to old ways and are active in sectarian violence and terrorist activities.

The Home Ministry has directed the police and other law enforcement agencies to look into the matter and submit a report regarding their whereabouts and daily activities.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Tribune.pk, December 6, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NATO strikes issue to be raised in ICJ

The Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said that Pakistan would take up the issue of the NATO strikes on its border posts, with the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He added that this decision reflected the people’s aspirations and concerned Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Islamabad has refused to participate in the US investigations into these strikes, according to the Defence Department press secretary, George Little. The German Brigadier General, Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, said it would take much of December to complete the investigation. He further said, "We need Pakistan to join this process so that we have a rounded picture". However, military officials in Pakistan are sceptical of NATO’s investigations yielding any results.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, December 3-4, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US vacating Shamsi air base

At least seven aircrafts landed at the Shamsi air base on December 7, to airlift personnel and equipment out of Pakistan. The deadline for the removal of all US personnel and equipment from the base in the remote south-western province of Balochistan was set for December 11.

The government had deputed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) personnel at the Shamsi Airbase to compile a list of data on the number of foreigners stationed there and to facilitate the immigration process. Earlier, the Federal Interior Minister, Rehman Malik had said that the United States would have to vacate the Shamsi airbase as per the government’s deadline.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, December 3, 2011; APP, December 7, 2011; Daily Times, December 8, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President Zardari to resign?

According to a report in the Foreign Policy, President Asif Ali Zardari might resign due to health complications. President Zardari is said to have undergone a minor heart attack, followed by an angioplasty in Dubai. However, PPP lawmaker and Sindh Information Minister ShaziaMarri trashed these reports and said that he had gone to Dubai for a routine health check-up.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wished President Zardari a speedy recovery and refused to give in to reports regarding a forcible resignation.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, December 7, 2011.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM calls for ban on wheat imports

Prime Minister D M Jayaratne has called for a ban on wheat flour and fruit imports in order to boost the plantation and baking industries in the country.

According to him, there is enough fertile land available in the country in order to cultivate paddy and rice flour, which is an apt replacement for the wheat flour. Additionally, the PM has encouraged people to cultivate and grow their own fruits rather than buy imported ones, in order to be less of a burden to the economy.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, December 7, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Plans for 6,000 more schools

The Education Ministry has announced that it will undertake a new drive from January 2012 to improve the educational sector in the country.

Under the development programme, the Ministry will set up 5,000 primary schools and 1,000 secondary schools. Each school will have a computer centre with 50 computers, a specialised maths centre and a vocational training centre.

The Rs.2500 million development-drive will be funded from the Budget with help from foreign donations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily News, December 8, 2011.

Afghanistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India calls for a Marshall Plan

In the recent conference at Bonn, international donors pledged their continued support to Afghanistan post the 2014 withdrawal of the US backed NATO coalition. The international community represented by 1000 delegates assured President, Hamid Karzai that they would continue to provide Afghanistan with economic, military and political assistance for another 10 years till 2024.

The Taliban was not brought to the negotiation table, and Pakistan, which is considered a key member of the peace process, refused to participate in protest against NATO air-strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a border-post. But despite the cynicism at the conference, the message for the Afghan people was re-assuring.

Till date the international community has spent $ 350 billion a year in Afghanistan. Out of this amount $33 billion is spent on non-military aid. Progress has been made in several fields. The number of girls attending school has gone up to 2.7 million while 20 per cent of the civil service and Parliament representatives are women. The Bonn conference has been able to provide a framework for international assistance and cooperation with Afghanistan after 2014.

S M Krishna, External Affairs Minister of India, while speaking at the Bonn conference, mentioned the need for an initiative akin to the Marshall Plan for post-War Europe, to rebuild Afghanistan.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Surgar, December 6, 2011; Khaama, December 6, 2011; Outlook Afghanistan, December 7, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karzai cancels London visit

President Hamid Karzai cancelled his visit to London following explosions that rocked Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul on Muharram day. Karzai was to visit London to discuss a long term strategic cooperation agreement with British Prime Minister, David Cameroon. The explosion triggered by a suicide bomber left 58 people dead and 150 injured.

These recent attacks on Shia’s in Afghanistan have raised concerns over sectarian violence being added to the existing set of power kegs waiting to explode. Lashkar ? I ? Jhangvi (LIJ) militants have taken responsibility for the attacks. LIJ is a Sunni terrorist outfit that is entrenched in sectarian violence in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama, December 6, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Drugs and weapons seized

According to ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) sources, a combined operation conducted by the ISAF and Afghan Security Force (ASF) discovered a huge cache of drugs in Zumat district of eastern Paktiya Province. The cache consisted of 10000 pounds (4545kg) of hashish.

In another combined operation, a joint search was launched for the leader of the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan in ChaharDarah district, Konduz province. The leader is said to train and conduct operations in the ChaharDarah district. His operational sphere included the organisation and conduct of road side IED’s (improvised explosive devices) and recruitment and training of suicide bombers. During the operation several suspected insurgents were taken into custody.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama, December 8, 2011

Bangladesh
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Witness-examination in war crimes trial

In a historic move to bring justice to victims of the 1971 War crimes, International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) started recording testimony of the witnesses. In this regard two freedom-fighters testified against detained Jamaat-e-Islami’sleaderDelwarHossainSayedee on December 7.

The ICT was instituted to try suspects of war crimes committed during the country’s Independence struggle in 1971. To record testimony the tribunal has introduced, for the first time in Bangladesh, computer transcription of witnesses’ testimonies.

Many leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, a major ally of Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party, have been arrested on the charges of war crimes. Opposition accuses the trial of war criminal to be politically motivated and doubts its impartiality.
< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, December 8, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ershad wants joint study on dam project

Politics over Tipaimukh Dam hardly tend to settle down. Lt-Gen (retd) HM Ershad, former President of the country and chairman of Jatiya Party, a major partner of the ruling Awami League, this week urged India to conduct a joint study to assess the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of Tipaimukh Dam project in the region before implementing it.

Ershad even threatened that if India took the final decision for implementing the Tipaimukh project, his party would force the Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinato go to the International Court of Justice to resist the Indian bid.

India proposed construction of a hydro-power project on river Baraka in Tipaimukh in its north eastern state of Manipur. The project is popularly referred as Tipaimukh Dam. A ’Promoter Agreement’ has been signed between Government of Manipur, NHPC and Sutlej JalVidyut Nigam Limited earlier this year. This has raised reactions in Bangladesh.

Ershad also claimed that Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, during his visit to Dhaka in September this year, had assured that India would never take such a step that might harm Bangladesh. "But, unfortunately they’ve already signed a deal to implement the Tipaimukh Dam project. They (India), we think, have broken their promise," he added.

The Jatiya Party is organizing a ’Long March’ to Sylhet, starting from the capital Dhaka on December 10, to mark its protest against India’s move to construct the Dam
< class="text11verdana">Source: UNBconnect.com, December 8, 2011.

Bhutan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tobacco laws to be amended

Following mounting pressure from various sectors including some Members of Parliament, the Parliament is preparing to amend the "tobacco law" as urgent bills in January 2012.

The tobacco law has that came into force has from January 2011 has already caused the conviction of ten people for smuggling.

The government and Parliament received much criticism when a local court slapped 3 years of jail term to a monk student, who was caught with chewing tobacco worth Nu 120.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bhutannewsservice.com, December 8, 2011.

India
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">FDI logjam ends, industry slams Govt

The deadlock in Parliament over the government’s decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail ended on Wednesday after an all-party meeting passed a resolution to suspend the move till consensus is reached. Leaders of political parties coming out the meeting said Parliament would function and they had agreed on the government’s decision to suspend foreign investment in retail.

Both Houses were adjourned every single day of the session. In the first few days, the protests were over price rise and the demand for a separate state of Telangana but once the cabinet approved 51 percent FDI in multi-brand and 100 percent in single brand retail as party of crucial reforms, some ruling allies as well as the opposition strongly protested the decision.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, December 8, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Infra debt fund likely in two months

India’s infrastructure debt fund may get announced in next month or two, GajendraHaldea, Infrastructure Adviser at the Planning Commission, said on Thursday.He also said India was likely to miss by $22 billion its target of investing $500 billion in infrastructure under the current five-year plan ending in March 2012.

India has pledged to spend $1 trillion on upgrading its creaking power plants, railways and ports in the five years to 2017 to deal with a key bottleneck to continued growth. Private cash has been pencilled in for half of that.
< class="text11verdana">Source: reuters.com, December 8, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China to deport ’diamond smugglers’

A court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzen has handed down a verdict in a case involving 22 Indians found guilty of smuggling diamonds. Thirteen men will be deported, while the remaining nine will be sent to prison, reports say. They were allegedly working as "carriers" for a group involved in smuggling diamonds from Hong Kong to China, reports said.

Many jewellers in Shenzen hire Indians to source supplies.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bbc.co.uk, December 8, 2011.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan: Haripal Brar;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India: Satish Misra;
Myanmar & Bhutan: Sripathi Narayan;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Astik Sinha and Aarya Venugopal;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: Preeti John;

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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