MonitorsPublished on Sep 05, 2014
Without most people noticing it and anyone acknowledging it, either inside the country or outside, Maldives' new President Abdulla Yameen launched the nation's new 'foreign policy' at a quiet ceremony in capital Male on January 20, 2014.
Maldives: Putting new 'foreign policy' to practice - and test?

Without most people noticing it and anyone acknowledging it, either inside the country or outside, Maldives’ new President Abdulla Yameen launched the nation’s new ’foreign policy’ at a quiet ceremony in capital Male on January 20, 2014. Coming as it did between the high-voltage presidential polls of November and the twin-elections to the local councils and Parliament, respectively within days and weeks, the local media reported the launch ceremony and left it at that.

A series of events and developments since may have made both supporters and critics of the Government nearer home and afar, the latter, if any, to take notice of the new foreign policy document. In what seems to be a bid to make for a successful development agenda, democratised Maldives seems wanting to make the new foreign policy a tool to achieving the same, keeping options global and open.

In the process, the nation also seems wanting to provide for a stand-alone security policy, where the concerns and consequent priorities still seem to be regional. It is the kind of security policy that nations like Sri Lanka have sought to adopt and adapt, making common cause with the shared, larger Indian neighbour.

Maldives thus seem wanting to strike a fine balance between the over-lapping Indian neighbour’s security concerns and priorities of every kind and the nation’s very own insatiable hunger for large-scale investments. The idea seems wanting to try and repeat the nation’s economic success formula of the Seventies, which has lately faced inevitable stagnation.

Successive governments under the democratisation model have tried to do something about it internally but have blamed the stagnation, if not outright retardation, mostly on external factors. This in turn has widened the rich-poor gap, as has been the case with more reforms-centred economies in the Third World over the past decades, contributing to internal security concerns that external forces have sought to exploit - again, as elsewhere.

It is also in this context, reports about the Indian Ocean archipelago, along with the Sri Lankan neighbour, emerging as a possible base and funding portal for al-Qaeda type religious terrorists needs to be understood. This apart, the two nations are said to be becoming an unwitting and unwilling sanctuary for stand-alone ISI-brand of anti-India terror.

In Maldives, the ’GMR row’ through the past couple of years brought to the street, political and not-so-political anti-India protestors, whose venom was matched only by their vehemence. While most of the peripheral, governments-centric, peripheral issues are being addressed since President Yameen assumed office, the assumptions and presumptions attending on them on the Maldivian side in particular may have submerged for the time being, ready to re-surface if stoked.

The multiple concerns of the larger Indian on multifarious concerns in context thus cannot be wished away, the nation having stood by Maldives, through and through, in terms of trade concessions and security considerations, not to leave out the traditional political equations at the highest levels. India being a reality in the immediate neighbourhood in every which way, the success of the new foreign policy will depend on how Maldives continues to posit the nation, or re-posit it, if that too is an underlying idea, if not philosophy, in the years to come with the full, five-year term of President Yameen holding the key and showing the way.

Crisp and open-ended

The new policy was/is noticeable as much for the crisp and PPt-style packaging of the vision & mission, goals and strategies for a quick view and review as for its non-dogmatic and non-verbiage approach to foreign policy-making and presentation, respectively. Clearly, a 21st century mind and mindset, the latter in terms of keeping Maldives’ post-Cold War options as open-ended as possible, seems to have gone to work, learning from the past two decades’ experience of the nation, the region and the rest of the world, accordingly.

Launching the new foreign policy at a quiet ceremony in the capital, Male, in January, President Yameen highlighted many similarities between the current one and that of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his half-brother and ruling PPM party boss, who had ruled the country for 30 long years, in the pre-democratisation era. The similarities stop with the urgency with which the foreign policy document has approached economic issues, concerns and prosperity for the future, the same way the Gayoom presidency had done in the Seventies, alongside counterpart J R Jayewardene in neighbouring Sri Lanka.

In the same way, the unmentioned options for attracting investments are kept wide open in the new policy, too. The last time, under President Gayoom, the insulated Islamic nation with its mix of the orthodoxy in private life and continuing relative modernity in public, opened up the unexplored - hence unexploited - tourism sector to high-end investments and returns. As a nation, Maldives gained the most, but as individuals, the trickle-down effect of economic liberalisation/reforms has stopped mostly with collective social security that had belonged to a ’socialist era’ elsewhere.

Whether the nation’s relative success in economic growth, which in turn also funded State-sponsored welfare measures for large sections of the society, owed to the power-structure and the political philosophy of the times, as against the huge hiccups that the Sri Lankan neighbour faced after a near-similar start may have no space for an academic appreciation in the post-democratised Maldives. But in trying to revive the spirit of those times on the economic front, through a conscious application of the tools of foreign policy more than ever, Maldives may need to look for pit-stops every now and again to collect its thoughts and calculate the net benefit(s) to the nation, every now and again.

Stoic, strategic silence?

To the extent that President Gayoom’s policies, both on the foreign and economic fronts, though not necessarily in that order, had helped Maldives to bounce from being an idyllic archipelago of poverty-stricken fishing hamlets into a high-end international tourist destination, it is a success formula, worth adaptation to the times. But Maldives should not lose sight of of the ever-changing global economic situations and attendant geo-strategic prioritisation by nations in the region and elsewhere, to be able to constantly tune and re-tune its policy priorities, including foreign policy priorities, from time to time.

What counted at the end in the case of President Gayoom was/is also the political enlightenment that came from State-sponsored education, and consequent employment, nearer home or overseas, that did not leave Maldives behind. The intervening global IT revolution may have hastened the inevitable. This, for instance, led to grater democratisation, for which President Gayoom might not have been prepared for, at least up to a stage. But when the movement acquired a momentum of its own - so to say - he did not falter much in moving with the times, either.

Yet, when the change did come about, President Gayoom lost the first multi-party presidential polls of 2008, as much to the new-generation beneficiaries of the welfare schemes that he had initiated in the early innings as to the newly-formed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) nominee, Mohammed Nasheed, who became the face and force of that democratisation process. The mutual dependence of politics, economy, foreign and security policies of the nation thus could not be compartmentalised after a point, as Maldives saw for itself in the recent past.

It is in this context, the current-generation rulers and the rest of the nation’s polity need to view the continuing influence of the democratisation process in funnelling the eternal restlessness of every new generation of a nation’s youth, to productive poll-centric policy changes and priorities. Domestic turbulence could be an alternative, which external players are ever-ready to stoke, and Maldives needs to be cautious about the possibility, too, if their current policies failed its people.

It may be tempting to conclude that the new Foreign Policy was a hurried work of a Government that came to power only in mid-November. A close look would show that it should have been up on the anvil at least for a few months, if not years, before being given the final shape. The fact that no one nearer home, starting with the inimitable and irascible Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Opposition too has been maintaining a stoic, if not strategic, silence for months now on the new foreign policy, could be a pointer.

The new Policy thus may have been the product of national consensus, post facto, even though not everyone might have been consulted or taken into confidence when it was on the works. That the slick document does not say anything much on anything, and is capable of being interpreted in whichever way one wants, could be another reason why prospective critics could not find fault with it until it had actually been put into practice, and thus tested in real-life situations - and in relation to the same.

Sovereign equality, Islamic identity

Launching the new policy, President Yameen said that it focussed on enhancing national sovereignty and protecting the Islamic identity of the country. Noting that a strong and strategic policy was vital for Maldives to maintain peace and stability, he said that the newly-formulated government policy promoted sovereign equality of States in accordance with international law, and gave emphasis to consolidating friendship with all countries based on mutual respect.

President Yameen’s introduction of the Policy, in a way, was a take-off from the new document, if it could be called so in the conventional sense of the term. The framework outlines the ’Five Principles of Foreign Policy’ for the country, thus:

1. Sovereign equality of States in accordance with international law

2. A rule-based and inclusive international system

3. Non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries

4. The supremacy of diplomacy in managing and resolving global problems, and

5. Friendship with all countries, based on mutual respect.

Underlining that the main objective of his foreign policy was to increase opportunities for the economic advancement of Maldivian, President Yameen said that in today’s world, an independent foreign policy could only be employed by becoming an economically sufficient and resilient nation. He also stressed that bilateral collaborations must be lead through diplomatic dialogue and that each country was entitled to sovereign equality.

In context, particularly in the post-Cold War, terminologies like ’sovereign equality’ and ’non-interference’ have acquired new meanings and relevance. Unilateral initiation of politico-military action by larger, faraway nations, unconnected to the region - hence dis-connected too - has had consequences that the affected nations and regions are unequal for repairing and re-setting.

Though not a victim itself, Maldives is among the long list of small nations that have been affected more than larger ones. Yet, even a quick read of the new Policy would throw up questions on the kind of Maldivian perceptions from the recent past which might have influenced the formulation. Again, the future holds the key to interpreting the new Policy on the ground, and in situations over which Maldives may not have full control.

Otherwise, the reiteration of the ’Islamic identity’ of the Indian Ocean archipelago, both in the new Policy document and President Yameen’s launch-speech could not be missed. Nor should it be over-stressed. Truth be told if there was one clause of the Constitution and the character of the nation that the democratisation process did not even dream of attempting to change it was the nation’s ’Islamic identity’.

Maldivians are both proud of their 800-year-long Islamic tradition, and are also modern in relative terms. While the democratisation process has opened up political space for religion-centric parties, the past five years of six rounds of polls have not shown any great advancement of the latter’s cause in electoral terms. If anything, alliance politics in the democratised era has involved successive and rival attempts at an ’inclusive polity’ involving Islam-centric groups like the Adhhalath Party, and their consequent mainstreaming. If the efforts did not succeed beyond a point, it owed mostly to politics and personalities than philosophies and practices.

Premise and practice

As if to put the new policy premise into practice, the Yameen Government did not lose much time in expanding its official overseas connections, which used to be confined mostly to India and Sri Lanka, in that order, in terms of government-to-government dependence, and in the reverse at the people-to-people level. Three months down the line, Maldives has already expanded its foreign policy reach, in form and content.

Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was the first to visit the country after the launch of the new foreign policy, at the invitation of President Yameen, in February, but it was a part of the former’s scheduled official tour of South Asia. His visit was preceded by Maldivian Vice-President Mohammed Jameel’s Saudi trip earlier in the month. Both visits were aimed at strengthening bilateral relations, in terms of religious identity and more so in fiscal terms, where Maldives can do with a lot more of foreign investment and aid than already, given the nation’s economic and fiscal structures.

An even-more engaging and inviting foreign policy initiative of the new Government was President Yameen’s visit to Japan in April. With that, he became the first Maldivian President to visit Japan. As was only to be expected, the two countries agreed on Japanese assistance and investments in Maldives, apart from bilateral cooperation in security affairs, pertaining in particular to piracy, etc.

As may be noted, Japan has been taking an active investment interest in South Asia. Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram too was in Tokyo at the height of the Indian economic crisis earlier, wooing Japanese investments. How it pans out in political terms in the years to come would unfold in good time. If such an investment-driven diplomacy of Japan is parallel to that of what China has been attempting in the neighbourhood for a decade and more now, or a stand-alone sharing of economic prosperity too would remain to be seen.

President Yameen’s approach differed from that of MDP’s predecessor President Nasheed, who had limited his economic foray mostly to the Indian neighbour, and expanded the political access to include friendly western nations, including the US and the UK. However, he has since taken his economic out-reach to Singapore, where he addressed a ’Maldives Investment Forum’, also in April, after his Japan visit. Back home from Singapore, he reported encouraging response from prospective international investors, though, as always, the taste of the food will be seen only at eating.

India and Indian investments

A fortnight before launching the new Foreign Policy, President Yameen was in India, his delayed and re-scheduled first overseas visit after assuming office. Given the India-China equations, on which no visiting leader from the neighbourhood in particular can escape questions, both from official interlocutors and the local media in New Delhi, he had this to say at the time: "Ties with China are very close?Our ties with India are far more precious?It’s based on sentiments? It’s a heart-felt relationship."

Both during his India visit and later - particularly ahead and after the Singapore Investment Forum, President Yameen made inevitable references to the ’GMR issue’, involving the India-based infrastructure major, whose construction-cum-concession contract for modernising the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) at Male, was scrapped by the predecessor Waheed regime, but with his PPM’s outright support. If the Delhi visit sealed any hope of reviving the GMR contract, President Yameen did concede, both in private and public, that his Government still owed compensation to the company.

Before emplaning for Singapore for the Investment Forum and on return too, President Yameen reiterated the compensation part of the GMR controversy, and in obvious good faith. The Singapore-based arbitration court having conceded the Male airport company’s right to cancel the contract long ago, President Yameen repeated the Government’s known position of a $ 300-m dues to GMR as against the latter’s compensation claim of $ 1.4 b.

Interestingly, Maldivian Government’s law officers have since claimed that what was due to GMR was ’reimbursement’, not ’compensation’ - thus possibly seeking to revive an earlier argument that the contract was ab initio void. How far, it would affect the arbitration proceedings on payment dues that are already on in Singapore will have consequences, not only for GMR or for prospective Indian investors, but also for the entire tribe of global investors, who might have smelt trouble, the GMR way.

Read between the lines, the Yameen Government and leadership are keen to put a final closure early on to the GMR dispute lest it should continue to plague future FDI proposals, with nervous investors not wanting to place their political bets on an economy, which anyway, does not have much to offer in terms of any massive returns on investments. To a strategic analyst from this part of the world in particular, it would only throw up the likelihood of an investor, with his Government’s blessings and possible funding, alone wanting to evince an interest in economies such as Maldives.

China, which is the only regional/global economic power to be sitting on a mountain of investible funds, becomes the natural first choice for such a speculated investor. Yet, Japan (too) may be the one that India’s neighbours like Maldives (and Sri Lanka, too) may want to prop up and project, even if simultaneously, if only to keep New Delhi’s known China-centric discomfort under check. Otherwise, too, India and the rest of South Asia would be watching with interest and concern, the kind of investors that Maldives is able to attract through the Singapore Forum and otherwise.

Whether they are from China, Europe or the US, their investments and interest-areas would all be a give-away to their intentions in more ways than one. The Maldivian compulsions in the matter would be minimal at this stage. They could balloon, and at times boomerang, only when it came to the return on investments - and the return of the investments. It’s what Maldivians with a long-term vision for the nation, and for their political families (and, there is more than one), too, would have to consider and feel concerned about, it at all it came to that.

All this is not to say that India-Maldives relations have slackened or weakened, either after the forced exit of GMR or the advent of the Yameen presidency. Read in context, mischief-makers have enough in it to interpret the new Foreign Policy document to imply that Maldives wants to be seen as being as much independent of India in the future, as it was dependent on the country for everything in the past.

Yet, in reality, the India-Maldives relations have only improved with the arrival of President Yameen, with many of the non-GMR, government-centric irritants encountered during predecessor Waheed’s time being addressed to mutual satisfaction. There are also signs of increased security cooperation between the two countries than already, though more needs to be done to put it on a firmer footing than already. It takes times, efforts and initiatives.

Shared security umbrella

In context, the Waheed presidency, despite the nose-diving political relations between the two countries, which Maldivian commentators and critics of India in the country linked to the ’GMR fiasco’, did work closely with India on the security front. Expanding the bilateral ’Dhosti’ series of bi-annual maritime security exercises to include the common Sri Lankan neighbour, the Waheed presidency also participated in the three-nation Maritime Security Cooperation Agreement, signed in mid-2013, focussing (initially) on shared non-traditional security concerns, from Somali piracy on the one hand, to oil-slick, ecology and environment on the other.

As may be recalled, the ’Dhosti’ series were a take-off from Indian military intervention, code-named ’Operation Cactus’, to successfully neutralise a mercenary-driven coup-attempt against President Gayoom in 1988. The origin of most, if not all, military cooperation agreements and exercises between the two countries can be traced back to those days.

In the post-Cold War, 21st century geo-strategic order, this has come to cover non-traditional security, including piracy, environmental pollution and larger ecological issues, for starters. The three-nation initiative thus began with what is the latest. In good time, it can be expected to wind its way back to what is more traditional in the security context and concern.

The new, trilateral venture has since been expanded to include Mauritius and Seychelles, two other common, island-neighbours of the three nations but farther as they may be from any and all the three, as observers under the Agreement. The shared idea seems to be inducting the two as full members, as if to provide a mutually-dependent security umbrella in the shared Indian Ocean waters.

The Indian contribution, in terms of resources, men and scientific inputs cannot be gainsaid. So should be their ready acceptance by the rest of them, either, considering that none of these countries, particularly the start-up three, cannot afford to have extra-regional powers reviving the Cold War era calculus for and in the shared Indian Ocean neighbourhood, and away from the territorial waters of super-powers, existing and emerging.

New terror-base?

Of more immediate concern to India and the rest of the South Asian region should be the emergence of Maldives, along with Sri Lanka, as a fresh launch-pad for religion-based terrorism, particularly targeting these countries. For years now, reports have been appearing at periodic intervals of Maldives possibly becoming a hub of religious terrorism in these parts.

More recently, the US State Department’s 2013 annual Terrorism Country Report for Maldives quoted the Maldivian Central Bank (MCB) and the Maldivian Monetary Authority (MMA) to say that their analysis of ’suspicious transactions report’ had indicated that "funds are being raised in Maldives to support terrorism abroad". Though a clearer picture about the people and amounts involved has not emerged, what seems to have surprised the authorities is that the transactions had mostly involved Maldivians.

The US report further noted growing concern since 2010 "about the activities of a small number of local violent extremists involved with transnational terrorist groups". As the reported pointed out, "There has been particular concern that young Maldivians, including those within the penal system, may be at risk of becoming radicalised and joining violent Islamist extremist groups. Links have been made between Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world."

As may be recalled, a couple of years ago, Maldivian youth were found fighting the US-NATO forces along with terror groups along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a way, it was as much a war against Afghanistan and Pakistan, as may have been against the US-NATO. But more recent reports have continued to indicate that Pakistan’s ISI too has been inducting Maldivian youth for anti-India terror acts, possibly targeting southern India.

Subsequent Indian cancellation of visa-on-arrival facility for Maldivians - since restored -- should have been read correctly, in the context of the ’Headley affair’, when an American citizen was found to have snooped on future ISI-terrorists’ targets in Mumbai 26/11 serial attacks. Sadly, in Maldives it was unwittingly, and at times mischievously linked to the ’GMR fiasco’, with some ’responsible’ people in the Government making personal attacks on Indian diplomats in office.

Around the time the US terrorism report was out, the regional media, starting with the Colombo-based correspondent P K Balachandran of the Chennai-headquartered New Indian Express, had something more to report. Quoting Singapore-based Sri Lankan terrorism-expert, Rohan Gunaratna, the newspaper said, Shakir Husain (37), a Sri Lankan national arrested by the Indian agencies in the southern Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai in early May was targeting all three South Asian nations for terror-strikes. According to Guanaratna, terror cells similar to Hussein’s are active in all three countries and pose a "severe threat" to the South Asia region.

Claiming that terror groups in the region are harder to track now as they are "becoming autonomous and developing a life of their own", Gunaratna has predicted that terrorist and extremist organisations will expand rapidly and become more active across South Asia due to the reduced US military presence in Afghanistan. "It is, therefore, of critical importance for India, Lanka, and the Maldives to have a joint approach towards terrorism," Gunaratna was quoted as saying. Incidentally, Gunaratna’s findings are independent of his recent predictions on the revival of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, using Maldives and India as possible bases, and targeting India, as well.

According to Indian intelligence agencies, Shakir Husain is not the global-type ’jihadi’ terrorist but an outright anti-India operative linked to Pakistan’s ISI. Based on his interrogation the Tamil Nadu police have since named two officials in the Pakistan Embassy for Sri Lanka (incidentally co-accredited to Maldives) in the First Information Report (FIR) in the ’Shakir Husain case’. Last year, too, Pakistan’s Colombo Embassy got mention when the Indian intelligence agencies intercepted a local operative in the southern Tamil Nadu city of Tiruchi, when he was on his way to meet with his ’ISI handler’ from the Pakistan Embassy in Colombo.

Whether Sri Lanka or Maldives, the question is what the host governments are going to do about such blatant ISI use of their territory (unproven in the case of Maldives, as yet) for anti-India terror. Considering that the larger and independent Al-Qaeda type of terrorism is targeting them all, jointly and severally, no country in the region, starting with Pakistan itself, can seek to distinguish between one and the other, and hope that they could succeed. Pakistan is already paying a heavy price for what the Americans would later dub, ’our terrorists, and their terrorists’.

’Surreptitious’ efforts?

Though there were no links whatsoever, these reports appeared ahead of Indian Army Chief, Gen Bikram Singh’s official visit to Maldives, in the second week of May. As Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Singh called on President Yameen and Defence Minister Mohammed Nazim, and held talks with MNDF officials, thus furthering military cooperation between the two countries.

What however did not go unnoticed was that the day Gen Singh arrived in Male, the local police was completing an anti-terror training programme, funded and conducted by the US. A China-link to the contract for the construction of an apron in the Male airport, from where India’s GMR had been evicted, rather forcefully, if not forcibly, too could not have missed attention.

The US training programme should not rise heckles in India in the normal course considering the bilateral strategic and defence ties between the two democracies. In turn, the two were/are also trying to help a tottering Maldives on the democratic path. What however may not have been forgotten is the ’surreptitious’ American attempt to sign the non-lethal SOFA military-centric agreement with Maldives during the Waheed regime, but behind the back of the Indian friend and ally -- for all practical purposes.

Both before and after the ’SOFA fiasco’, which would have ’harmed’ Maldives’ sovereignty more than Indian security, the US has been seen as taking unilateral decisions in the ’traditional sphere(s) of influence’ for the Indian friend and ally. The list includes the US initiation and continuance of the UNHRC resolution process against Sri Lanka, unilateral posturing on the parliamentary polls in Bangladesh, without reference to India’s geo-strategic interests, with reference to increased Chinese presence and influence in the neighbourhood.

Be it Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh, the Indian interests do not stop with ’domestic concerns’ in relation to Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, respectively, as is being understood or misunderstood in some quarters. It is thus that new American forays into Maldives too would be viewed in India, whatever be the political perception of New Delhi, both prior and after the on-going parliamentary polls across the country.

It is in this context, the signing of the $ 9-million agreement for the Chinese company Sinohydro to construct an apron at Male airport with a 12-month time-line needs to be viewed. To be underlined is the Maldivian announcement that the apron construction would be funded by profits of the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL), running the Male airport - as if to reassure India that it was only an internally-funded construction contract that involved neither concessions of the GMR kind, nor any security or sovereignty-related issues, not even investment-dependence on China in relation to a strategic asset of the nation.

A normal economic activity involving the funds-rich Chinese and the funds-starved Maldives otherwise, the ’GMR fiasco’ may have already injected an element of ’suspicion’ and ’surreptitiousness’ to the current contract, signed as it - coincidentally again - on the day the Indian Army chief landed in Male, with mutual commitment to take bilateral security cooperation forward. It’s also such conclusions that the Maldivian Government seems to have been keen on erasing from the Indian mind.

Re-phrased in context, the Indian Army chief -- the second one to visit Maldives in four years - was in Maldives the same day as the signing of the Chinese ’apron contract’, lest none should assume that there was something secretive about the latter. It could also be construed as an open, and not open-ended message to China, too, as to where Maldivian engagement with the country would stop, and what it could not assume, or expect, from the host-nation, now or later.

It is incidental that the MDP initiator of the GMR contract when President Nasheed was in office had begun flagging concerns that the 7 February 2012 change of government and the subsequent cancellation of the GMR contract after high drama were all aimed at inducting Chinese firms into these and other development works in the country. Word about the apron contract was thus doing the rounds even as President Yameen was in Singapore for the Investment Forum.

In the post-Cold War era, such stand-alone economy-driven episodes should not be seen as coming in the way of bilateral/trilateral security cooperation with India and involving Sri Lanka, to secure the common/shared neighbourhood, if not free it of extra-territorial State powers and non-State actors, overnight. But Maldivians should be concerned about the re-payment schedules and modes, as envisaged in any business contract on the one hand and as being practical on the other.

Having made a habit of pledging/trading off the nation’s islands for long-term economic prosperity, which again has remained with a few and the influential, a Maldives sworn to ’sovereignty’ and ’territorial integrity’, cannot misread the fine-print in a hurry now, and regret the nation’s misfortune at leisure. In the end, Maldives may have its prosperity, but not the ’sovereignty’, which they said it could not afford to lose to GMR by handing over the only international airport to an overseas entity - and maybe, rightly so.

It is in this context, the purported competition between India and China for building Maldives’ first naval dock at the Uthuru Thila Falhu Atoll (Sifavaru) needs to be viewed. The Maldivian media has since reported that Gen Singh visited the atoll-site. Before him, Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh too had visited the dock site. Confirming that Gen Singh had visited Sifavaru, spokesperson for the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) promised more information subsequently - not just now.

Independent of media reports about Chinese interest in the Sifavaru project, it is unclear if Beijing would propose another scheme of the kind, if it came to that. Media speculation across the region, and elsewhere, too, had for long claimed that China had a submarine base in Maldives. Apart from Maldivian authorities, naval experts and oceanographers have ruled out the possibility, pointing to the non-suitability of the nation’s rich coral-bed to locating any venture of the kind, whether by China, or India, or any other country.

Yet, such rumours refuse to die down, and the ’String of Pearls’ theory, born in the mind of a soldier-scholar in an American war college, continues to do the rounds. That apart, China cannot but continue with its aid and economic diplomacy, which has worked well as an ice-breaker, if required, elsewhere in the neighbourhood and beyond. China could thus be testing the waters after the reported success in acquiring the airport apron contract. GMR apart, India would be keenly watching if the unfinished tasks at the Male airport, for instance, would now be parcelled out to this or another Chinese firm, or to the public/private sector from third countries.

Ahead of Gen Singh’s three-day visit, the Indian High Commission said in a Press release that it will "further enhance bilateral defence cooperation," the Minivan News reported. "India’s commitment to Maldives defence has been growing with each passing year. Both countries have inter-linked mutual security interests which need to be protected for the safety and security of the South Asian region and the Indian Ocean," the statement said.

Independent of the increased defence cooperation of the kind - which in recent times has included India gifting two ’Dhruv’ helicopters and net-working Maldivian coastal security with that of India’s -- the concern would be even more if firms from third nations come to manage the Maldives’ only international airport, thus challenging the nation’s sovereignty. The ruling PPM (then it was the undivided DRP, again founded and headed by President Gayoom) had alleged that the concession part of the GMR contract entailed compromising the nation’s sovereignty.

The fact remains any infrastructure project of the kind for and in a cash-strapped nation has to be borne by an overseas government or its subsidiary on a long-term loan-basis. Alternatively, it has to be a private investor, who like GMR, would require a concession contract and ’sovereign guarantees’ of the kind that are now being agitated at arbitration. Otherwise, too, Maldives has been leasing out islands after islands for foreign promoters (some of whom may still have unverified linkages to their governments, security and intelligence agencies), for decades together, with the result arguments about ’compromising national security and sovereignty’ should fall flat.

Ground realities, then and now

In the years to come, the aim, particularly of the Yameen leadership, would be to recreate the economic success formula of the erstwhile Gayoom presidency, which however restricted itself to State support for the under-privileged from the additional revenues that high-end tourism generated, yet leaving behind ’islands of prosperity’ within the country and among the overseas investors. Even while seeking to introduce economic reforms in terms of new taxation proposals, which too had torpedoed the Nasheed presidency, no Government in Male could hope to keep the fiscal benefits of economic reforms and investments confined to a few - and not certainly in a democracy.

In seeking to achieve this goal, the Yameen Government, which now has a full five-year term, has readily recalibrated itself to the domestic reality of democratisation, has shared economic policy priorities and framework with the MDP rival, which is the single largest political party in the country. The Government will be tweaking and twisting foreign and security policy-priorities with the nation’s economic growth in focus, but which can cut both ways or in many ways, if not handled with care and caution. In turn, this can give rise to avoidable mistrust, starting with the Indian neighbour but not excluding other regional and global players, who too could start looking askance after a time.

In the final analysis, Maldives’ new Foreign Policy, like that of any other nation, post-Cold War, has to necessarily establish linkages with the existing and emerging global economic situation. Both have become more unpredictable than the ideology-driven, structured instruments of economic and foreign policies of the Cold War era, which were stand-alone affairs yet deriving from the same source.

Post-Cold War geo-strategic situation dictates that both foreign and economic policies cannot ignore/over-look security concerns that are more real than ever before. It was a different ball game during the Gayoom era, where the nation’s economy could grow independent of the fledgling foreign policy, if there was any, and a non-existent security concern, which alone would have caused the formulation of a security policy.

Once the perceived issues behind the failed coup attempt of 1998 had been squarely addressed, the nation did not have to really be concerned about a larger security matrix. It owed mainly to the collapse of the Soviet Union on the one hand, and the non-emergence yet of China in the pre-9/11 era. Owing to these very causes, the fulcrum of global geo-politics was moving away from the post-Wars shift from the Atlantic and the Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

Now, despite Ukraine and the rest before it, the post-9/11 strategic shift back to the Indian Ocean has made foreign policy-making, implications and implementation more complex than Maldives may have comprehended, if one were to go exclusively by the new Foreign Policy document. It may be as simplistic as it is simple and as cramped as it may sound open.

For the post-9/11 Maldives, limitations in securing the nation’s territorial integrity have come under greater stresses and strains than ever before. The return of non-State actors of the ’Somali piracy’ variety is only one cause for greater concern. There is religious extremism as different from Islamic orthodoxy, at times confused with fundamentalism, and third-nation players like the ISI using Maldivian territory for targeting friendly neighbourhood nations like India and Sri Lanka, through acts of terrorism - both physical and fiscal, the latter through distribution of counterfeit currency of the country concerned.

Maldives might have caught itself in a bind already - and not exclusively owing to any faltering step by the fledgling Yameen presidency. President Nasheed who wore his pro-India credentials on one sleeve and cover the other with his traditional pro-West affinity (from the UK before coming to power and the US, later) and yet was not non-desirous of doing business with China, and possibly on the latter’s terms, so to say, or Waheed, who was depicted as being pro-US, as well, for instance, could not, or did not keep China away, either.

It was thus President Nasheed chose to inaugurate the Chinese Embassy in Male, the very day Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was arriving in the country for the SAARC Summit in November 2011. Explanations apart, the politics of coincidence would not have been missed in the three capitals. Prior to SOFA, which the US proposed to the successor Waheed Government, the Nasheed leadership had signed the military-linked ACSA with Washington.

In Maldivian context just now, India is a trading and security partner, Sri Lanka a political friend, China presents big-time investment opportunity after the controversial Indian private sector’s exit, if it could be called so, in the ’GMR issue’, and the US, the omnipresent global super-power. In this context, the continuing Maldivian support for the Sri Lankan neighbour at the UNHRC, even when the erstwhile Nasheed Government, for instance, was otherwise swearing by global human rights standards, should be a pointer to the sovereignty-driven foreign policy initiatives that a democratised Maldives has continued with.

As if it were a measure of mutual reassurance, Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, was in Sri Lanka recently on an official visit, even as her father, President Gayoom, enjoyed a holiday on the island-nation, as many other Maldivian leaders are wont to. Earlier, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G L Peiris was in Maldives, seeking the neighbour’s support, against the US resolution at the UNHRC.

How, Maldives manages these equations, which are faulty in some or many aspects among these players, to the betterment of the people and certainly not to its detriment, will be the kind of tight-rope that the nation would be walking in the coming years, if not decades, to come. In doing so, the existing presence of the European Union (EU) and the possible re-emergence of post-Ukraine Russia back in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood cannot be wished away, either.

All this can strain the foreign, security and at times the economic security of Maldives in ways the policy-maker and enforcer may not have bargained for. It’s thus all about putting the new Foreign Policy as much to test as practising the same, a lesson worth learning for any up and coming nation, but not in ways it should regret the new experiment and consequent experience, in the end. The clichéd phrase, ’cautious optimism’ should say it just now.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Myanmar: On chemical weapons and more

Mihir Bhonsale

Myanmar has again been accused of possessing chemical weapons. In February, an indigenous news journal claimed that a factory in central Myanmar was secretly manufacturing chemical weapons. Since the 1988 pro-democracy movement in the country, the accusation has been made from time to time, but evidence, if any, has been elusive.

The former military regime as well as the present quasi civilian government has vehemently denied reports on chemical weapons. Though no new evidence has been produced, the fresh claims/charges come at a time when the nation’s reforms are at cross-roads.

The Unity Journal, a news-weekly published from Myanmar, claimed that the government has a secret facility for producing chemical weapons. According to the journal, the defence facility is said to have been functional since 2009 and consisted of tunnels burrowed under 1,200 hectares. Five journalists were booked for "disclosing State secrets".

Nothing new

So, what is new about the recent episode? Nothing new, a Myanmar-watcher might say. The only different thing has been the timing. The claims come at a time when the Thein Sein government is championing the democratic reforms with a fair bit of success in reconciliation with armed ethnic groups. The government has released political prisoners and has initiated media reforms.

However, the reconciliatory efforts might suffer a set-back, following the new claims. In the past, Myanmar was often accused of using chemical weapons against armed ethnic groups. The US was a chief international actor who claimed that Myanmar had chemical weapons.

A top Kachin commander on his visit to US in April this year appealed to Washington, to assume a role in the ceasefire talks underway in Myanmar. This, taken together with the US government’s stand on chemical weapons, is likely to cause a trust-deficit between the armed rebels and the government for involving US in the cease-fire talks.

Not enough

The country has also enacted a new media law, which has been in place since February 2013. This has enthused media-persons, and criticism about government policies has been common in the national media. The changes in the draconian laws of the past are a step in the right direction but many in the media feel it may not be enough.

So, the chiding of journalists for the supposed chemical weapons expose’ by the government, has again widened the gap between the Thein Sein administration and the free-speech campaigners. The appeal by visiting US Undersecretary of State Richard Stengel for expediting media reforms have added to the woes of the Myanmar government.

Ratifying CWC

Myanmar is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which has banned the production and use of chemical weapons. Almost all nation-states are signatory to the CWC which came into force in 1993. But, Myanmar and Syria have not ratified it, raising fears that the countries continue with its chemical weapons programme.

An argument persists that Myanmar’s conceding to the CWC is as good as ratifying it, because the country was under military rule in 1993 when the CWC was signed and considering that there was no parliament at that time and all powers rested with the military rulers, the question of ratification does not arise.

Moreover, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons held a workshop on chemical weapons last year and said that the Myanmar government has expressed desire to ratify the CWC soon, quelling concerns about the government’s intentions be evasive on the ratification of the CWC.

The claims and counter-claims about Myanmar’s chemical weapons programme, does call for the Junta-ruled state to consider bringing transparency into the operations. An essential step in this direction would be opening its military facilities for inspection.

Offsetting reforms?

Myanmar’s alleged production of chemical weapons might lack evidence, but the reports come at a time when the Thein Sein government is trying to win confidence of the armed ethnic groups.

Since, the military and the present civilian government have been accused of using chemical weapons against armies of ethnic groups, the ethnic groups might demand a confession from the government about the purported use of chemical weapons.

Mere ratification of the CWC would in no way silence the armed groups engaged in the cease-fire talks with the government. Hence, the timing of the supposed expose might threaten the government’s reconciliation efforts. Also, the lack of media freedom rhetoric has been extended too far.

Yes, Myanmar continues to be ruled by laws which undermine freedom of speech and expression, but free media campaigners within and outside the country need to be selective in picking the cases of abuse of press freedom. Campaigners need to build strategies by accessing the transition underway in the country.

The government still wants to keep the defence sector immune to public scrutiny and the arrest of journalists under Official Secrets Act, is nothing but a common in Myanmar. However, assuming the arrested journalists as whistleblowers without enough evidence to support their claims would be a folly.

Also, international actors need to tread caution and use their discretion in supporting claims. They need to press the Myanmar government for opening its defence facilities for inspection. The international actors at the same time also need to appreciate, Myanmar’s readiness to ratify the convention.

Needless be said that Myanmar’s transition to democracy is handicapped in many ways, but offsetting the political reforms path undertaken by Myanmar, would be in interest of none.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Interpol enlisted for ASEAN summit

Myanmar police have brought in Interpol to help with security measures at Rangoon International Airport ahead of the 24th ASEAN Summit due to be hosted in Burma this weekend.

Police Lt-Col Hla Myint, the deputy-director of the police’s International Liaison Department, told DVBon Tuesday that three representatives from Interpol have been working alongside Burma’s police and immigration officers at the airport since 3 May.

"We have three Interpol officers helping to check arrivals at the airport. They will stay until the end of the ASEAN summit," he said. "They may be able to prevent malicious acts in our country by employing technology to verify passports and fingerprints."

He said the three Interpol officers deployed at the airport are a South Korean, a Canadian and a Slovenian. The police are also assigning teams for security in Naypyidaw, including bomb disposal units, said Hla Myint.

The 24th ASEAN Summit is scheduled on 10- 11 May in the Burmese capital of Naypyidaw. The conference will be attended by the heads of state or representatives of all 10 Southeast Asian members.

Interpol was also enlisted to help with airport security during the Southeast Asian Games held in Burma in December, a move that led to the arrest of a US fugitive.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, 7 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Australian reporter deported

A foreign reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) news agency was deported from Burma on 8 May 2014 after covering a protest in support of press freedom.

Immigration authorities said 24-year-old Angus Watson, an Australian reporter working for DVB’s Rangoon bureau, violated the terms of his business visa by covering the protest in Magwe, central Burma.

Watson was also accused of participating in the protest, which had been organized without permission from the government to show support for another DVB reporter, Zaw Pe, who was imprisoned last month.

"Watson did not participate in the rally. He only went to cover the news," Toe Zaw Latt, the bureau chief in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy.

"DVB is a registered multimedia group, in accordance with Burmese law, and our reporter had a business visa to work at the Rangoon office. I wonder why he can’t cover the news," the bureau chief added.

Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, said Watson would not have been deported had he held a journalist visa.

"He was on a business visa, but he participated in a protest that did not have government permission. So he violated the immigration act and was deported," Ye Htut said in a statement on his Facebook page.

"We have many foreign correspondents on journalist visas here. They have never faced deportation. MOI is open to accepting and approving journalist visa applications. ? We have to question DVB and why their reporter was not on journalist visa.

"The deportation of the DVB journalist has nothing to do with press freedom. If he was on journalist visa, he wouldn’t be deported."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Irrawaddy, 8 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Census-ban on Rohingyas to stay

The government’s stance on banning the use of ’Rohingya’ to describe the Muslim minority groups in the ongoing national census will not change, said Khin Yi, minister for immigration and population.

As the chairperson of the Central Commission of National Census, he spoke at a press conference about the national census and New York trip on 7 May 2014.

The census taking process was already due for completion on April 10 but it had been extended another 8 weeks because of technical problems and delays reaching remote ethnic areas.

Officials from the ministry are attempting to finish taking the census in some Muslim villages in Rakhine State, together with religious chiefs and group leaders. Still their efforts have not yielded any results, Khin Yi added.

The minister added that he will personally go to Rakhine State on 9 May 2014. He plans to discuss with respective officials to retake the census across the region while maintaining the government’s stance on the ban of using the term "Rohingya" instead of the government’s preferred term "Bengali".

"Since ’Rohingya’ is not accepted in our country, we won’t change the stance regarding it. On one hand, if it is difficult to mention one’s nationality as a Bengali, then don’t say it. But don’t say ’Rohingya’ either. Making no answer for the question of one’s nationality is acceptable, and we will continue so. We will announce it in advance and carry it out," said minister Khin Yi.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Eleven News Myanmar, 9 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">72 new municipalities added

The government has added 72 more new municipalities across the country. A cabinet meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office Singha Durbar announced additional 72 municipalities, including previously-proposed 37 municipalities in line with the Local Self-governance Act 1999. With this the number of municipalities has reached 130. So far there are 58 municipalities, one metropolis and four sub-metropolises in the country.

Thirteen districts -- Manang, Mustang, Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Humla, Kalikot, Mugu, Ramechhap, Dolpa, Solukumbu, Rasuwa and Bajura - are still devoid of municipality. The government has also formed a six-member Municipal Areas Delineation Committee under Professor Keshavananda Giri to resolve disputes that affected the government’s plan to announce more municipalities.

The committee has been given a month to submit its report. The government had planned to add 41 municipalities last year, though, the decision was not implemented due to various disputes over delineation of the municipal areas.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 8 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese help sought in hydro-power

UCPN (Maoist) leader Baburam Bhattarai has urged China to partner with India to invest in Nepal´s hydropower sector. At a meeting with Chinese leaders, including Guo Yezhou, vice-minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in Chengdu, Bhattarai also urged China to expand Tibet railway to Nepal. In a telephone conversation with Republica, Bhattarai said he discussed with Chinese leaders the concept of developing Nepal as a vibrant bridge between China and India.

On the other hand, Guo expressed China´s concerns over Nepal´s support to maintaining peace and stability in Tibet. In his maiden China visit, Bhattarai has limited his journey to Tibet and Sichuan province of China. However, while talking to Republica, a noticeably exuberant Bhattarai said that he will soon go on yet another visit to Beijing.

"Even though I was on a personal visit, I had fruitful meetings," he said. "We also discussed my next visit to China. Next time, my visit will be more formal."

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 8 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kiran opposes Indian investments

A hard-line Maoist faction in Nepal on May 6 voiced its opposition to foreign investment in Nepal’s hydropower sector, particularly targeting Indian investment. Addressing a press conference here, Mohan Baidhya aka Kiran, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, said his party would stage protest rallies Thursday against such investment from outside the country.

Though the party’s position on opposing Indian investment in Nepal’s hydropower sector is not a new one, the latest move has raised a question mark over the future of Indian investment in Nepal, especially when two Indian firms are all set to sign a Power Development Agreement (PDA) with the Nepal government.

Baidya said the agitation would be against the Upper Karnali, Koshi High Dam Project, Upper Marsyangadi and Arun III projects. All these four projects have Indian investment and are at various stages of development.

"These projects are more in favour of India than Nepal. We will obstruct their implementation until the unequal agreement is scrapped and a fresh one is signed," Baidhya said. Earlier too, the party had called upon the Nepal government to scrap the agreement allowing Indian firms to invest in Nepal’s hydropower sector.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 6 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rs 35.7-m Indian aid for schools

India has provided Rs 35.7 million as financial assistance for the construction of two schools and a hospital in Nepal under a bilateral economic cooperation programme. Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae inaugurated the newly-constructed school building for Shree Sharda Higher Secondary School, among the oldest government-recognised schools in the district.

The building constructed under Nepal-India Economic Cooperation Programme with an Indian assistance of 19.12 million Nepali rupees in Deurali village of Bhojpur district will help create better facilities for over 700 students, 55 per cent of whom are girls, according to an Indian Embassy press release.

The India-Nepal Economic Programme has an outlay of over 65 billion Nepali rupees with more than 475 large and small development projects completed or currently being implemented in almost all the districts of Nepal.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 7 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">FBI agent detained

A US citizen detained at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi because he was carrying bullets in his luggage was discovered to be an agent for USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) according to police officials.

The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) for District Malir Rao Anwar said that the man arrived in Pakistan for a three-month mission, the purpose of which is yet to be ascertained.

The FBI agent, Joel Cox, was travelling from Karachi to Islamabad by PK-308 when 15 9mm pistol bullets and a magazine were found in his bag during a routine search by Airport Security Force (ASF) staff. Three small daggers, a laptop, a cell phone and spy cameras were also found in the agent’s luggage.

A local court in Karachi has granted bail to the agent. District and Sessions Judge Malir, Muhammad Yamin approved Cox’s bail application and ordered payment of a surety bond worth Rs. 10,00,000 ($10,000).

The US Consulate in Karachi has denied any link with any American spy or intelligence agency.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 8-9 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HR advocate gunned down

Human Rights Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was gunned down by unidentified attackers in Multan. Initial reports suggest that he was targeted by two gunmen inside his office at Kachehri Chowk.

Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was a coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The senior lawyer was defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy and had complained that he had been receiving threats on his life.

Human rights activists, locals and members of the legal community came together to condemn the murder.

In Multan, activists gathered in front of the Multan Press Club, led by lawyer Asma Jahangir. Rehman’s wife Beena told The Express Tribune that her husband had received threats since January. Chehlak police has filed a case against two unidentified suspects in the case.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 8 May 2014; The Express Tribune, 9 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army plans response to blast

The Chief of Army Staff, Gen Raheel Sharif, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a meeting to discuss the security situation soon after the killing of nine Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers in a roadside blast in North Waziristan.

Officials said the army chief conveyed his decision to the prime minister about the likely response from the military. A senior military official said that the army would respond to the provocation by militants as "terrorism and peace talks cannot go hand in hand".

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 9 May 2014

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN acknowledges progress

UN General Assembly President Dr. John W. Ashe who attended the inauguration of the 15th World Youth Conference met President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees today and acknowledged the progress Sri Lanka had made in the recent past.

"We have seen the development that has taken place", Dr. Ashe told President Rajapaksa and said he appreciated the speech made by the President at the inauguration of the World Youth Conference in Hambantota.

President Rajapaksa briefed Dr. Ashe about the progress that Sri Lanka has made after suffering from nearly 30 years of terrorism. "At present Sri Lanka’s annual average growth rate is seven percent. In the North it is around 22 percent. Sri Lanka is among the few countries in Asia with a high growth rate after China," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 9 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Praise for combating people-smuggling

Australia’s Defence Minister Senator David Johnston expressed appreciation of the role played by Sri Lanka in combating people smuggling and other illegal activities and underlined Australia’s resolve to work closely with Sri Lanka in this area.

He made these remarks at a meeting with Prof G L Peiris, Minsiter of External Affairs, in Parliament in Canberra on Tuesday, the Ministry said.

The two Ministers discussed the work of the Joint Working Group and declared their satisfaction with the progress made. They considered the priorities for the future.

Prof Peiris explained to the Australian Defence Minister the government’s plans to develop Sri Lanka as a hub for shipping and aviation, and gave an account of developments in the country after the establishment of peace and stability.

He thanked the Australian government for the gift of a coast guard vessel which has enhanced Sri Lanka’s capability in this regard. The Bay Class Coast Guard vessel has already arrived in Sri Lanka. A second vessel of the same type, also a gift by Australia, will arrive in the country in June.

The Ministers noted the exceptional strength of the defence relationship between the two countries and considered avenues for further development. Minister Peiris also interacted, during his visit, with Scott Morrison, Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 8 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TNA panel to study people’s problems

The Coordinating Committee (CC) of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which deliberated over two days (April 29th Tuesday and April 30th Wednesday) presided over by Leader R. Sampanthan in Trincomalee, had appointed a seven-member committee to look into problems faced by the people at district level in the North and East and provide solutions, TELO Leader TNA Parliamentarian Selvam Adaykalanathan has said.

The committee would look into problems faced by civilians in the eight districts of the North and the East at grassroots level so that the twelve TNA Parliamentarians, the 11 Eastern Provincial Councilors and the thirty Northern Provincial Councilors would assist them in finding solutions inside and outside Parliament and through the Provincial Councils where necessary, said PLOTE Leader and NPC member Dharmalingam Sithadthan.

The Committee comprises ITAK General Secretary MP Mavai Senathirajah, PLOTE Leader and Northern Provincial Councilor Dharmalingam Sithadthan, TELO Leader and MP Selvam Asaykalanathan, EPRLF Leader and MP Suresh Premachandran, ITAK member Lawyer and MP M.A. Sumanthiran, Batticaloa district MP Pon Selvarajah and Leader of the Opposition in the Eastern Provincial Council S. Thandauthapani.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 6 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cop killed, two abducted

Two unarmed traffic constables attached to Kurunegala police station were abducted, while they were on duty, by unidentified armed men, who arrived in a white van in the early hours of yesterday at Barawedapola junction in the Kurunegala town and one of them was shot dead about two kilometres away near a jungle.

The deceased had received two gun-shot injuries to his back. He was lying fully naked on the ground. The abductors had stripped them naked. The other constable had survived by hanging on to the T-56 assault rifle that shot dead his fellow constable and pulling out its magazine.

After killing the one constable, the abductors targeted the escaped constable who was at the time in the vehicle fully naked in a state of shock. He lunged at the T-56 assault rifle and had escaped from the assailants grabbing its magazine into the wood in the dark.

One million rupee reward would be given to the provider of correct information leading to the arrest of the assailants, he said. The public are requested use the mobile phone number 077-4784648 to provide any information.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 6 May 2014.


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Badakhshan landslide kills 2500

More than 2500 were reported to be killed in a landslide in northern Badakhshan. The incident took place in Argo district of the province when a number of the people were rescuing those already trapped in an earlier landslide, when suddenly rocks began falling causing another landslide. More than 300 houses were said to have been buried under rocks and mud on account of this landslide.

Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited the province to offer his sympathy and condolences to the family of the victims. He gave assurances about the timely delivery of the relief aid and claimed that houses will be provided for those, who had been displaced by the landslides.

Such assurances came against the backdrop of media reports that the distribution of aid had been halted on account of the mismanagement of the funds. A number of civil society groups in Afghanistan urged the creation of a special Argo Relief Commission in order to prevent the misuse of the funds. < class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 6-7 May 2014; Tolo News 3 & 5 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sherzai’s provincial teams endorse Ghani

The provincial campaign teams of Gul Agha Sherzai, a presidential contender, have endorsed the presidential runner Dr Ashraf Ghani in the second round of the Afghan Presidential Elections. The provincial campaign teams of Mr. Sherzai from Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar, Parwan, Paktia, Maidan Wardak, Parwan, helamdn, Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces announced their support for Dr Ghani.

This support comes despite the fact that Mr Sherzai himself has announced his support in favour of Dr Abdullah Abdullah.

A second round of elections will be required if none of the candidates are able to secure 50 percent of the votes in the first round. The results for the first round are expected to be announced mid-May, but preliminary results suggest that a second round is most likely.

Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani admitted, however, that the runoff round expected between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai could face delays.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 5 May 2014; Tolo News, 7 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pakistan clears use of airspace

Pakistan allowed Afghanistan to use its airspace for the shipment of military cargo. According to a statement released by the Ministry of Defense of Pakistan, the decision was taken as "Special gesture" to further strengthen the relations between the two nations.

The statement further added that the maiden flight of the "Commercial Multi-Model Operation" carried 15 military vehicles meant for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

The statement also added that the operation would be treated as "commercial" and would continue for next couple of weeks. The aerial operation was originally part of the MoU signed between Pakistan and the US in July 2012, which dealt with use of Pakistan’s lines of communications to and from Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 6 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Forex reserves hit record high

Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves reached a record high US$20.37 billion at the end of April, more than 37 percent higher than a year earlier, the central bank said this week. The higher reserves, which stem from a widening current-account surplus, came to cover more than six months of imports.

At the end of April 2013, reserves were $14.83 billion. The total last month was $1.06 billion above the March 2014 level. Rising exports and slow imports have helped build reserves despite a drop in remittances due to fewer Bangladeshis going abroad to work.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 5 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Exports up by 13 pc

The country’s export earnings rose by over 13 percent to $24.65 bn garment sector in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year (July-June) compared to the same period of last financial year. The earnings were slightly higher (0.40 percent) than the strategic target of $24.55 billion, according to the latest data released by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).

The RMG sector, major export earner, posted 15.4 percent growth to nearly $20 billion in July-April period of the current financial year, while in April it posted a 17.6 percent rise in the same period of last year. In July-April period, Bangladesh exported knitwear and woven products of $9.80bn and $10.16 bn respectively, registering growth of 17 percent and 14 percent for the same period of last year.

Leather and leather products marked 34 percent and 70 percent rise to $424 million and US$197 million respectively while frozen foods earned 23.3 percent growth, followed by tea 44 percent, vegetable 43 percent, ceramics products 27.75 percent and footwear 30 percent.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dhaka Tribune, 9 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Smuggling won’t be tolerated: PM

Voicing her government’s firm resolve to turn Bangladesh into a secure abode for people, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the country’s soil would not be allowed to be used for any arms or drug smuggling or any kind of terrorism act.

"We don’t want to let Bangladesh soil to be used by anyone for any anti-social, terrorist or any kind of subversive act. For this we’re taking adequate steps," she said. The prime minister made this observation during a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism.

Noting that gold smuggling had taken place very often in the past and that gone unnoticed, the prime minister said now security measures at airports have been strengthened for which there have been frequent incidents of gold hauls at the airports.

The English daily, Financial Express of Dhaka this week reported that there has been huge increase in customs seizures of smuggled gold into Bangladesh over the last year. Last March, 107 kg of gold was seized by officials at the international airport in Chittagong. Then more recently, 106kg was impounded at the international airport of the capital city Dhaka. The biggest seizure, however, was in July last year, at the same airport in Dhaka when 124kg of smuggled gold was discovered.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 9 May 2014;, 7 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New govt in India won’t hamper ties

Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed on Sunday said bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India will not be affected whichever party forms next government in India.

"It is not a matter which party forms next government in India?the existing bilateral relations between the two countries will not be affected," the Minister said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 8 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Assam seeks greater cooperation

The state is looking forward to more cooperation with the Bhutan government to cut off a suspected escape route of militants and stop them from fleeing the country, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said on 8 May.

The government is also mulling the formation of a special force comprising local residents to thwart violence in the state’s ethnically volatile Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), where more than 40 people were killed and thousands were displaced earlier this month.

Security forces on 8 May said the suspected Bodo militants had since fled to neighbouring Bhutan. Earlier, several homes and stores in Assam were set on fire by unidentified persons, police said, the latest attack in an area where Muslim villagers were killed in a massacre last week.

After a security review meeting, Gogoi held said the tough geographic terrains in BTAD made it difficult for security forces to respond quickly after the violence broke out.

BTAD comprises four districts: Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The trouble-torn area is infamous for frequent clashes between Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and the indigenous Bodo tribe.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, 8 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangladesh’s surplus bandwidth sought

Bhutan wants to import Bangladesh’s unused internet bandwidth as Dhaka in principle has decided to sell the surplus. The new Bhutanese Ambassador, Pema Choden expressed Thimphu’s interest in importing surplus bandwidth while meeting with State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam on 7 May.

According to the foreign ministry, Alam assured the envoy of taking "necessary steps" to this end. The government in February this year in a meeting decided to sell bandwidth after retaining enough to meet the national needs up to 2021.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 5 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Direct flight will draw more travellers

After a two-year gap, travellers planning to visit Bhutan from Mumbai will now be able to fly direct to the Himalayan country. Drukair, the national carrier of Bhutan, on Thursday operated a new commercial service from the commercial capital to the city of Paro.

"This service will operate twice weekly," a Drukair official said, and added that there is also a special discount on this sector. Hitherto, travellers had to take the flight to Bhutan from Delhi, Kolkata or Bagdogra.

The launch of the direct service from Mumbai was delayed repeatedly as Drukair could not give a definitive schedule of the operation, said sources at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA).

< class="text11verdana">Source: DNA, 7 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Curfew eased in Assam after violence

Authorities have relaxed curfew in violence-hit Baksa and Kokrajhar and neighbouring Chirang districts of Assam where 33 Muslims were killed since 1 May in the worst ethnic violence in the state in two years. Local television reports showed hundreds of Muslim villagers fleeing their homes with belongings on pushcarts or in their hands, after the massacre. Most were headed to nearby Dubri district, which is near the border with Bangladesh. Nearly 400 people had fled so far.

Inspector-general of police LR Bishnoi claimed a major attack was averted on 3 May with the killing of two NDFB-S militants in an encounter at Baksal village in Udalguri district where they had gone to unleash violence in nearby villages. On the same day, police killed three suspected rebels and arrested eight forest guards for alleged involvement in the initial violence. 22 people arrested earlier face charges of either burning homes or providing shelter to insurgents.

The attacks, which took place on 1 May, have been blamed on the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which has been fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic Bodo people for decades. The rebel group denies it. Tensions have been high in the region since a Bodo lawmaker criticised Muslims for not voting for the Bodo candidate, said Lafikul Islam Ahmed, leader of a Muslim youth organisation called the All Bodoland Muslim Students’ Union.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Guardian 3 May 2014, Hindustan Times, 5 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No clearance for probing graft cases: SC

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) does not need the government’s permission to investigate senior bureaucrats in a judgement that is an important milestone in the country’s fight against corruption.

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, declared Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act unconstitutional. Section 6-A said CBI needed government sanction for investigating officers at the level of joint secretary and above.

The judgement runs into 71 pages and contains an in-depth analysis of why Section 6-A does not fit in with the constitutional mandate of Article 14 that promises "equality before law". Indeed, amicus curiae Divan had argued that Section 6-A creates a special privileged class. The judgement noted delays in according government permission in 126 instances where CBI sought this.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mint, 6 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BJP protests after EC blocks Modi’s rally

District authorities refused to permit BJP prime ministerial candidate Mr. Narandra Modi to hold a rally at the Beniabagh Maidan in Varanasi, which was scheduled for 8 May. An upset BJP has accused district electoral officer Pranjal Yadav, who is the returning officer for the constituency and the district magistrate, of acting under pressure from the state government and announced it would protest against the decision outside Banaras Hindu University and the Election Commission in Delhi.

The party also cancelled all of Modi’s programmes scheduled in Varanasi and wrote to the EC demanding Yadav’s immediate removal. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley and the party’s UP in-charge Amit Shah alleged that the district administration was not being impartial and was "stopping Modi from campaigning in his constituency, which was the right of every candidate". The EC, however, rejected the BJP’s charge of bias and said it was looking into the issue and would ensure fair and peaceful polls there.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Express, 8 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese firm to build INIA apron

An agreement has been signed with Chinese company Sinohyrdo for the construction of a $ 9-million apron at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), Male. Talking to newsmen after the ceremony, Managing Director of Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) Ibrahim Saleem (Bandhu) said that the new apron will be located on the northern side of the runway, and the project should be completed within 12 months.

Bandu said that the new 350 m X 70 m apron is part of the efforts to develop the airport. "The apron can accommodate four large 777-300 aircraft, and several small," he said, adding that MACL’s profits will be used to fund the project.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 9 March 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GMR owed reimbursement, not compensation: AG

Indian infrastructure giant GMR is owed only reimbursement for expenses, not compensation for the abrupt termination of the concession agreement to develop Malé International Airport (INIA), Attorney-General Mohamed Anil has said.

Clarifying President Abdulla Yameen’s previous statement that GMR is owed a payment, Anil said the Government believes the company is owed reimbursement for a $ 78-million upfront concession fee and any other expenses.

"When the agreement was signed, $78 million was given to the Maldivian government. In addition to that, we can see that they have spent some amount. So in the worst case scenario, if we are to revert to the state before the agreement was signed, everyone believes that they are owed (what they spent). That is not as compensation for losses caused by the cancellation of the agreement," he said.

GMR has said it will stick to a $ 1.4 billion compensation claim - an amount that exceeds the annual State budget. "The forceful takeover of the airport by Maldives government amounts to repudiation of a valid contract and therefore damages, including loss of future profit has to paid," the company said in a statement on April 26.

Anil said GMR’s claim is unclear, as the company had not submitted documents detailing the assertion.In response, GMR’s legal team member Uz. Fayyaz Ismail said details of how GMR arrived at the figure will be revealed in the second part of the arbitration process, now on in Singapore.

The arbitration tribunal in August 2013 had acceded to GMR’s request to split the proceedings in two - firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 9 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President clears $ 25 as airport charge

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on Monday ratified the Eleventh Amendment Bill to Airport Service Charge Act, allowing the State to collect $25 from every overseas passenger departing from Maldives airports.

The Amendment was passed by Parliament at the Eighth sitting of its First Session, on 27 April 2014. Following ratification, the bill has been published in the Government Gazette. It will become operational on 1 July.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 7 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India’s Army chief meets President Yameen

The visiting Chief of the Army Staff of India, Gen Bikram Singhý, paid a courtesy ýcall on President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on Thursday. The two explored ways of expanding cooperation ýbetween the two countries in strengthening defence and security cooperation.

ý Gen Singh briefed President Yameen on ongoing engagements between the Maldives ýNational Defence Force (MNDF) and the Indian Army. He also expressed the ýcommitment of the Government of India to widening and deepening of relations ýbetween the two countries.

ý President Yameen was joined at the call by the Minister of Defence and National ýSecurity, Col (retd) Mohamed Nazim, Minister at the President’s Office, Mohamed ýHussain Shareef and the Chief of Defence Forces, Maj- Gen Ahmed Shiyam.

ý Gen Singh was joined at the call by the High Commissioner of India to the ýMaldives, Rajeev Sahare, Maj-Gen J.S. Negi, Col C.S. Dewgun and ýDefence Advisor, Captain R.S. Sunil at the Indian High Commission, Male.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, 9 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Anti-terror training for police

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has completed a three-day training programme on first responses to terrorism, in partnership with the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. A total of 71 MPS officials participated in the programme.

Singapore-based Sri Lankan counter-terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna told the Indian media that Maldives was a target of regional terrorists. Gunaratna who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University said Zahir Hussein, a Sri Lankan national arrested in Chennai on suspicion on terrorist activities, had been planning to launch attacks on locations in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

The US State Department’s 2013 annual Country Report on Terrorism quoted the Maldives government that funds are being raised in the country to support terrorism abroad. The report also noted growing concern since 2010 "about the activities of a small number of local violent extremists involved with trans-national terrorist groups".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 8 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Male council expels expat traders

The Male City Council has begun taking over cubicles at the travellers’ market that are operated by expatriates in order to hand over the space to interested locals. Only local travellers are allowed to trade at the market.

Councillor Mohamed Rasheed said that a large number of expatriates were illegally trading at the travellers’ market. A list of active sellers at the market is being prepared, he said.

"There are expatriates at the stalls mostly. They can’t clarify who owns the place. So the council has now decided to regulate the market area for Ramadan this year," the councillor said. The council stressed that the presence of many expatriate traders at the market had forced local sellers to do their trade on the roadside.

In early 2013, dozens of local traders protested over the presence of expatriate traders at the travellers’ market. But no action was taken at the time.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 9 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Criminal courts’ work stalled

Over 100 hearings had to be cancelled over the past three days due to the public prosecutors’ objection to represent the state in the courts, the Criminal Court said on Thursday.

With the Prosecutor-General’s post already vacant, and the Deputy PG Hussein Shameem resigning on Monday, the public prosecutors at the PG’s office on Tuesday declined to their representing the State, and informed their decision to the courts in Male through a letter.

A Criminal Court spokesperson said that 114 trials, including three major cases, had to be rescheduled owing to the absence of a prosecutor. He also said that 187 defendants are involved in these cases - some of whom are in remand.

The PG’s post became vacant after Ahmed Muizzu resigned in late November, hours before Parliament was scheduled to vote on the no-confidence motion against him.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 8 May 2014.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Bhutan and Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Niharika Betkerur;

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.