MonitorsPublished on Sep 24, 2010
A few incidents in four weeks, and the Maldivian Government is not taking any chances. The illegal import of five double-edged swords and some 'toy guns', shipped from China, and that of a stun-gun and face-mask as
Maldives:  Security Concerns on the Rise?
< class="heading1">Analysis

A few incidents in four weeks, and the Maldivian Government is not taking any chances. The illegal import of five double-edged swords and some 'toy guns', shipped from China, and that of a stun-gun and face-mask as accompanying baggage of two youngsters with non-militant criminal background travelling from Colombo did make the security forces in the country to sit up and take notice.

Though the Customs said that the ex-China shipment was addressed to a 'prominent businessman' in the Maldivian capital of Male, they have since clarified that they were for a toy-shop in town. When reports last came in, they were continuing the investigations as there was no clear explanation or justification as yet, to the toy-shop's requirement for double-edged swords, if not the powerful toy guns, in comparison.

Threat to President, Predecessor

However, the Government was not amused by the receipt of an anonymous letter to an Opposition Member of Parliament, threatening the lives of President Mohammed Nasheed and his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The letter to Ahmed Maulouf also named a few other assorted leaders from across the political spectrum, and also judges and UN officials, attributing the threat to an unnamed 'foreign terrorist group'.

Initially, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) sought to make light of the Opposition revelation through the media, and at least one senior party leader questioned the motive of the MP belonging to the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP) in going public on the issue. The President's Office soon stepped in and thanked Maulouf for alerting the Government.

The Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) and other agencies like the Customs and Police were inquiring the various angles and elements in these different incidents. Weeks later, it was unclear, if the letter was a hoax ? or, if not which 'foreign terrorist group' was involved, and if so why. Whether hoax or not, Maldives cannot be lax in such matters, particularly in the light of events and developments, nearer home and afar.

Confusing signals from Govt?

Much as the Government is seen as wanting to act firm on terror-threats and other issues and groups that could jeopardise State security and that of the people whatever be the cause and reason, it has for long been seen as sending out confusing signals. In the midst of talking tough against militancy, President Nasheed granted amnesty to one of those jailed for the 2007 'Sultan Park blast' , which was the first and only one of its kind in Maldives thus far. Purportedly under American pressure, his Government also committed to providing shelter to one of those prisoners from the infamous Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

There has been a reported increase in the activities of certain fundamentalist elements in the country. Controversial religious preacher, Zakir Naik and his 'Peace TV', have been active in Maldives for months now. However, India, for instance, cannot complain, as Naik is based in Mumbai ? and the authorities in India have not done anything about him, as is often pointed out by moderates, constituting a massive majority in Maldives.

Before the Ramadan month, religious scholar Sheikh Ilyas delivered a sermon to the MNDF personnel. In the sermon, which was telecast live by various channels, including the State-run TVM, Ilyas reportedly praised 'faith' as a way to record war-victories and quoted the scriptures in support. It did not go down well with a section of the Establishment, particularly because Ilyas did/could not quote the scriptures to support any 'military strategy' per se that could be an inspiration for the nation's soldiers, but may have implied jihad, instead.

Madrasa training in Pakistan?

The US-led forces operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border had arrested in 2009, a batch of Maldivians trained in madrasas in Pakistan. The practice of Maldivian students going to Pakistan for madrasa education had commenced in the mid-Seventies, around the time the Zia administration in Islamabad had settled down for 'zero-option' terrorist attacks on India, in the aftermath of the debacle in the 'Bangladesh War'.

Maldivian youth desirous of pursuing religion-centric studies had begun travelling overseas, particularly to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, after the Government of then President Gayoom had pursued English-based modern education as the way forward for Maldives. Whether or not it had induced select Maldivians to go to Pakistan for what they missed out nearer home in terms of religious education, some definitely did go ? and have been doing so, since.

Clearly, Maldivian authorities are not amused. But there are limitations to what they cannot do - or cannot do. Anyway, there is no tide of people wanting to pursue madrasa education in the country, though it would be enough for a few with intent to create trouble. Predictions and propositions thus far related to the possibility Maldives, like other neighbours of India, being used by Pakistan-centric terror groups to target the country.

The recent threat mail to Maldives thus adds a new dimension, particularly if the ongoing investigations led to anything. Even otherwise, the Maldivian authorities are not expected to leave it at that. For, the inclusion of an assortment of leaders, both from the ruling party and the Opposition as possible targets ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, might have implied a lot more than the work of a prankster, considering in that the recent political turmoil and constitutional deadlock had frustrated the nation, particularly the youth, who had laid much hope on Maldives becoming a 'multi-party democracy' in 2008.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Troubles within DRP

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Umar Naseer has accused the party's Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali of attempting to dismiss him from the party, after the DRP council voted narrowly to recommend Umar to the disciplinary committee. With five absentees, the 33-member DRP council voted 16-11 against the former presidential candidate of the Islamic Democratic Party.

"I know that the disciplinary committee will decide to oust me from the party, that is very clear to me,'' Umar told press after the council meeting, adding that the committee was "full of Thasmeen's people who would do whatever he says".

"The sincerity of our leader Thasmeen is questionable," Umar said. "Some of our senior officials are known to be involved in secret deals with the Government," he said in an obvious reference to the discussions on the identification and clustering of constituencies for local government elections, due by December-end.
Source: Minivan News, September 23, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dhaka help in diplomacy?

Maldives may soon be invited to use Bangladeshi diplomatic missions abroad to negotiate with the international community, it emerged this week.

Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary, Mijarul Quayes, is drafting a conceptual plan that will allow the Maldives to open 'outlets' within Bangladeshi diplomatic through which to conduct its international relations, according to Associated Press of Pakistan.

The Maldives has only 13 missions abroad and opening 'Maldivian outlets' within Bangladeshi missions would help the island nation. Bangladesh has 60 diplomatic missions world-wide. Offering the Maldives office space within their missions is part of Quayes's plan envisaging a "new role for Bangladesh regarding the Maldives".

"Bangladesh may be thinking of making such a proposal but we are not aware of it yet", Maldivian State Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said in Male.
Source: Minivan News, 23 September 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepali Congress elects Koirala as president

The 12th general convention of the Nepali Congress (NC) has elected Sushil Koirala, a member of the influential Koirala family, to the post of party president. Sushil Koirala defeated former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba by a narrow margin. This was NC's first convention after the death of party president, Girija Prasad Koirala, last March and after the merger of the splinter group, NC (Democratic) led by Mr. Deuba, with the parent party two-and-a-half years ago.

The party convention and the choice of a new chief come at a time when Nepal constitution-building and peace process is stuck in the vortex of personal politics. With the result, the Nepali Congress convention emphasised on the two issues, and called for bring about their successful culmination. In this context, the party wanted the Maoists to first fulfil all their pledges, including return of the seized properties and dissociation from its para-military wing, as enshrined in the Ceasefire Agreement.

The issue of the role of India and China in the tiny republic also came up during the convention. It was however, decided to keep the balance between the two regional powers in Nepal. The party agreed that the issue would remain foremost in the coming years for the country's foreign policy.
Source: The Hindu, September 23, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists-UML coalition likely?

At a meeting with fringe supporting parties, the United Communist Party of Nepal- Maoists (UCPN-M) has hinted at the possibility of forming a coalition with the United Marxist Leninist Party, if no consensus government emerged soon in the country. Senior leader of the Maoist party Prajapati told the six fringe parties who support its nominee Prachanda for prime minister, that he had earlier suggested to the Maoist leaders to amend the nation's Constitution and include a provision for allowing the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly to form a government if three consecutive elections failed elect a new government, with a condition that the party had to garner majority within three months. It failed to materialize as the Nepali Congress and the Madhesi parties were not in its favour.

While the Maoists appear to be upbeat about their possible coalition with the UML, caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Nepal in his capacity as a senior leader of the UML has categorically maintained that no polarization of the left parties was taking place in the country, at least till the time the new Republican Constitution was completed. This also set aside the NC speculation over the possible unity of the above two.
Source: Himalayan Times, September 19&24, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian investors face fresh hurdles in Nepal

Indian investors in the hydro-power sector in Nepal are facing fresh hurdles from the Maoists who are forcing the current dispensation to review all hydro-power deals made with foreign investors that have the potential to generate more then 100 MW in the name of 'national interests'.

The Maoists are demanding fresh parliamentary approval for such projects, numbering 14 out of which 13 relate to Indian firms. Interestingly, some of these projects were cleared when the Maoists were in power. The Maoists now allege that then Energy Minister Bishnu Poudel, who belonged to the UML, had indulged in irregularities and hence, there was a need to review the projects.
Source: sify news, September 22, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ex-ruler stopped from religious ceremonies

The caretaker government of Madhav Kumar Nepal has come down heavily on the alleged attempts of former King Gyanendra to stage a comeback as a 'culture king' by restraining him from attending religious ceremonies. The ex-ruler was barred from going to his ancestral place Rautahat, where he was supposed to felicitate former Kumaris in the presence of thousands of people who were gathered to celebrate Indra Jatra festival.

Prime Minister Nepal told the media that the Government will stop any programme intended against the Republic and that the former king was stopped because of his 'bad intentions'. Lately, Gyanendra was actively seen cheering crowds and attending religious ceremonies across the country along with his son Paras and daughter-in-law, who is active in social circles.
Source: My Republica, September 23, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bid to derail democracy

The federal Cabinet has expressed its resolve to ensure the supremacy of Parliament and to resist any move to change the government by unconstitutional means. The statement came in the backdrop of media speculation about the future of the democratic system. There have also been persisting rumours about alleged conspiracies and an army takeover, to which the Government has taken strong exception.

In a mid-term review meeting chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, the members including federal ministers, adopted a resolution expressing full confidence in the present leadership. The Prime Minister's speech in the National Assembly also indicated that the Government had respect for all vital organs of the State, including the media and judiciary. However he warned against any 'encroachment upon its space'.

Even though the country faces terrorism, flood-related and economic crises, there is no clarity on any event posing a serious 'threat' to democracy. In such a situation, a strong response from the Government was surprising.
Source: Dawn, 18 September, 2010, Daily Times, 19 September, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rs 5.5-bn unaccounted money for ISI

Finance ministry officials have informed the Public Accounts Commission that Pakistani Rs 5.5 billion had been allocated as a lump-sum to the ISI for its operations during 2007-08. The Finance Secretary, while refusing to divulge any details, admitted that the money had been provided under a false head as a supplementary grant for provision of relief. He added that strategic considerations had forced the Government to make the payment.

Meanwhile the defence budget was also hiked by 25 per cent from Rs 442 billion to Rs 550 billion.
Source: Dawn, September 22, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China confirms n-reactor plans

China, which has already helped build two reactors at Pakistan's main nuclear facility at Chashma, Punjab, has contracts to build two more. It is also holding talks with Pakistan authorities to build 1 GW nuclear reactor in addition to the four smaller units.

The US has expressed concerns about non-compliance of the provisions laid down by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and has asked the NSG to address the issue. However it was argued that the Chinese would not need to seek approval from the NSG to build the two new reactors as the contract with Pakistan was signed in 2003, before China became a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreement.

The China-Pakistan cooperation on nuclear issue has caused considerable concern to both India and the US. This can be addressed only through timely action by the NSG and IAEA.
Source: Dawn, September 21, 2010, The Nation, September 24, 2010

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President meets Norwegian PM

Former chief Norwegian peace facilitator, Environment and International Development Minister Erik Solheim, is expected to visit Colombo to explore ways and means of promoting cooperation between the two countries.

This was decided at talks between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Norwegian Premier Jens Stoltenburg on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Sri Lanka's chief peace negotiator during the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNF Government, External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris and Minister Solheim participated in the discussions.

Presidential Secretariat quoted the Norwegian Prime Minister as saying that it was very important for President Rajapaksa to engage in both rebuilding the country and reconciliation among communities. He said that Norway was eager to play a supportive role in Sri Lanka.

When asked what role Norway could play in strengthening the peace and also assist in reconciliation, President Rajapaksa said the best role for Norway today would be to assist in development.
Source: The Island, Colombo, September 22, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TNA branches world-wide

The Tamil National Alliance is to set up branches worldwide among the Tamil Diaspora, including the European countries. TNA Batticaloa district parliamentarian Pakkiyaselvam Ariyanenthiran, who returned from Switzerland, after a stint of two weeks, said that the branches would begin after the registration of the TNA as a recognised political party in Sri Lanka.

"We are still waiting the return of the Elections Commissioner. After the registration we will also get Tamil youths from all over the world for this branch. We have requested the Tamil Diaspora to help," he further said.
Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, September 23 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN Award

Bangladesh has been given the UN award for outstanding achievement in the reduction of child mortality, one of the eight of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received the award on behalf of the country.

The country has been able to reduce child mortality by half. In 1990, the year based on which MDG targets were set, child mortality was 149 per 1000 which came down to 54 per 1000 in 2008. The award comes as a major encouragement for the country to achieve the MDG targets.
Source: The Independent, September 21, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Border-crossing: BDR backs BSF

Bangladesh this week urged India's Border Security Force (BSF) to stop firing at its citizens that had cost many lives. The request was placed before the chief of BSF during his visit to Bangladesh to attend a conference between the border guards of the two countries.

The BSF chief said most incidents took place within Indian territory, as criminals crossed over the border at night. As a remedy to this impasse, he requested Bangladesh to restrict crossing of the border after sunset.

Interestingly, BDR chief endorsed the BSF chief's observations and expressed the intention to impose restrictions on crossing border at night. The BDR would alert the local administration on the matter.

The issue of cross-border firing is a major irritant in the India and Bangladesh relations that often hamper the relationship.
Source: The Daily Star, September 24, 2010

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

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

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