MonitorsPublished on Dec 06, 2013
The last surviving member of Myanmar's '30 Comrades', Ye Htut, passed away on 27 November 27, in a Yangon nursing home at the age of 92. Ye Htut was the youngest member of the '30 Comrades' and Burma Independence Army (BIA), which was led by Gen Aung San.
Myanmar: A generation lost
< class="heading1">Analysis

The last surviving member of Myanmar’s ’30 Comrades’, Ye Htut, passed away on 27 November 2013, in a Yangon nursing home at the age of 92. Ye Htut was the youngest member of the ’30 Comrades’ and Burma Independence Army (BIA), which was led by Gen Aung San. The Burma Independence Army was instrumental in freeing Myanmar from the British rule.

The 30 Comrades are also credited as the founding fathers of the country’s Tatmadaw or military. While the military has often assumed the role of hegemon in the country, the 30 Comrades came to represent diverse shades of political opinion, more often than not in complete contrast to the absolutism of the military rulers.

Formative years

The coming together of the 30 Comrades is that chapter of Myanmar’s history when young Burmese vowed to free their homeland from colonial yoke. The days were of World War II and the place was Bangkok where the 30 Comrades under the leadership of Maj-Gen Aung San formed the Burmese Independence Army on 26 December 1941. Aung San’s anti-colonialist position shaped the freedom movement and his leadership made Burma emerge out of colonial rule.

The 30 Comrades who returned to Myanmar after being trained in China, which was then under Japanese control, led a popular movement in the country, in resisting the Japanese invasion of 1945. Myanmar army’s political clout was established in the aftermath of the Japanese surrender in the World War II, and the country’s independence in 1948 by fighting various insurgencies- including that of the Communist Party of Burma, Karen and other ethnic minorities.

Tatmadaw’s political role

Gen Aung San had realised early on that to fight against a powerful enemy (both the British and Japanese,) an army was needed and so he founded the BIA. He worked relentlessly towards modernising the force by opening military training schools and academies. Aung San even created the military institutions of today’s Tatmadaw. Aung San’s guiding principle, however, was that the future army should stay out of politics.

Military rule came to Myanmar in 1962 ironically at the hands of one of the 30 Comrades, Gen Ne Win. He brought the Burmese society under complete control of the military. The Tatmadaw by the late 1950’s had started witnessing the civil political structure as another enemy of national stability. Between the Sixties and the Eighties, another generation of military watched their Rangoon superiors pursue Ne Win’s half-baked socialism, while many of them believed they could have crushed the various insurgencies fighting the army on several fronts had they been given the resources to do so. These were largely the officers who seized power in 1988.

Under the United Revolutionary Council’s tenure that lasted more than a couple of decades, freedom became an increasingly distant dream, leading to a popular pro-democracy uprising against Ne Win’s rule in 1988. Ne Win got the army to suppress this mainly peaceful protest, killing at least 1,000 civilians.

Ye Htut was the last of the 30 Comrades. He served as a patron of the ’Patriotic Old Comrades League’, a group formed by retired army leaders during the peak of the 1988 uprising. He was active with the banned Burma Communist Party and later surrendered arms during Ne Win’s rule, and was purged several years later in an inter-party struggle. Burmese Communists were also not spared. Kyaw Zaw, one of the 30 Comrades, defected to the Communist Party of Burma, and later in 1972 left for China once Ne Win began a crackdown on Communists. Kyaw Zaw died in Myanmar in October 2012, after having returned from exile in China. Burma’s military began its overhaul in 1988 under the State Peace and Development Council, after the 8888 uprising, and Aung Sang Suu Kyi who had won the elections was kept under house arrest.

Forgotten heroes

With the death of the last of the 30 Comrades, Myanmar’s political history that began in 1941 has completed a full circle. However, the present quasi-military government of Thein Sein has remained silent on the death of the last surviving member of the 30 Comrades indicating the denial of recognition for the country’s freedom-fighters and founding fathers of Tatmadaw.

The Tatmadaw ideology which took shape in the Fifties came to view all of the society as potential enemies in its drive to mould the nation and its image and preserver of the sovereignty of the country. From its desperate early days, through its ruinous experiment with socialism and the turbulence of 1988 and pressures of reform, the military has never hesitated to use violence to maintain unity. The tensions sparked by internal ideological differences, localised versus centralised power and the growth of the Tatmadaw’s social, economic and political power is a crucial background to contemporary military rule.

Today, even at a time when Myanmar is undertaking reforms, the place of army in politics is prominently enshrined in the Constitution and it is unlikely in the foreseeable future to see a reduced role for the military. All of the 30 Comrades excepting a few like Ne Win who turned oppressors on assuming power, had envisioned a free, fair and prosperous ’Union of Burma’ where peace and justice were the rule of the day and not strife and mistrust, which till today haunts Myanmar. It is long due that the 30 Comrades be recognised by the Government for not just making Myanmar an independent country, but for demanding a disciplined military without political power.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepal: After the CA elections

Pratnashree Basu

Elections to a new Constituent Assembly (CA) being over in Nepal, the focus is now on how the CA is going to be composed. Although the elections failed to give an absolute majority to any of the leading political parties or pre-poll alliances, they were more successful than the previous one, held in 2008. The Nepali Congress (NC) secured the highest number of seats, 91, followed closely by the CPN-UML with 84, the UCPN 54 and the RPP-N with 24 seats.

As with the predecessor, the CA will also serve as the nation’s Parliament until a new Constitution emerges out of it. The parties have been given time till December 10 by the Election Commission to file the names of candidates in accordance with the seats secured in the CA. From over 100 parties which had fielded candidates for the elections, 30 parties have won seats.

This round of CA elections has been significant in many ways. First, the voter turn-out was much higher as compared to the 2008 election. This was despite the fact that violence in the days leading up to the polls had been increasing. Poll-boycott was also encouraged in certain areas by the Mohan Baidya-led faction of the Maoist parties. Secondly, the UCPN-M led by Prachanda, which had swept the the previous CA election, has been all but routed, winning only 80 seats.

As their loss in the election became more and more apparent during the counting of votes, the Maoists rejected the results, and demanded a recount and even fresh polling. The Election Commission however has flatly refused to acknowledge any of these demands. The Nepal Army (NA) has also said that it had carried out its duty with honesty and not tampered with the ballot boxes. Although the Maoists have challenged the poll results and have threatened to stay out of the constitution-drafting process, they will in all likelihood participate. Sushil Koirala, the President of the NC, called on Prachanda, for the Maoists to be part of the procedures of the Constituent Assembly and be responsible towards his party.

There are various factors for the dismal performance by the Maoist alliance. The Maoists, who had once been instrumental in transforming Nepal into a secular republic, have witnessed increasing factionalism. These factions have been unable to override their political differences. In the time preceding the elections, political infighting had become rampant among the Maoists.

The split in the UCPN-M, resulting in the formation of the CPN-M led by Mohan Baidya, turned out to be even more harmful as the latter promoted the idea of poll-boycott and also encouraged voting in favour of candidates other than the UCPN-M to ensure their defeat. In addition, the inability and inflexibility of Prachanda to accommodate and mediate the dissenting voices turned out to be equally harmful. There have also been several charges of corruption against the leaders of the Maoist parties and Prachanda was unsuccessful in addressing these issues.

As matters stand now, the CPN-UML has demanded that the posts of the President and the Vice-President of the country be divided between the two largest parties in Parliament. The Nepali Congress is against such a move. Both parties now have a delicate negotiating act to perform because despite the fact that the NC is the single largest party, it does not have an absolute majority and a coalition is inevitable.

Meanwhile, the UCPN and the RRP have also called for elections for the two posts. On November 5, four of the Madhesi parties had announced their decision to unite as a single party in addition to insisting that an investigation take place into what they are claiming as fraudulent elections. Some of the dissenting parties have threatened not to send their respective candidate lists if their voices are not heard. It is yet to be seen what would happen should such a scenario actually occur since no room for this exists in the electoral laws.

There was much speculation about the outcome of the election and even the organisation of the election given the political violence and fighting among the various parties. However, the election has been instrumental in offering Nepal a second opportunity at drafting a new constitution. While the ultimate composition of the Constituent Assembly remains to be seen, the general atmosphere is a more hopeful one. Nonetheless, there is still some time left and how the structuring of the CA takes shape is yet to be seen.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New President under new Constitution: NC

Nepali Congress General Secretary Prakash Man Singh has said that the president should be elected through voting only after promulgating the new constitution within a year. He said local body election should be held within six months under the leadership of the NC and new president should be elected following the promulgation of the new constitution within a year.

Speaking at a programme organised by the Association of Party Palace in Old Baneshwor in the Capital on December 6, Singh stressed on the need to resolve the contentious issues through dialogue. On the occasion, Singh said, the NC has the responsibility to move ahead forging consensus in its capacity as the largest party. He claimed that the party has been making efforts to bring all the parties on board by exhibiting utmost flexibility for the new government formation and constitution-drafting.

< class="text11verdana">, 6 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EC to proceed with PR seats allocation

The Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday said it will proceed with allocation of seats under the proportional representation (PR) electoral system even as some parties have refused to submit the list of their candidates. Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety said PR seats of concerned parties will remain intact even if parties do not submit the list of their candidates.

However, Uprety said that the EC believes that all winning parties would finally submit their lists. Nine of the 30 political parties elected under the PR electoral system did not attend the EC meeting held to allocate PR seats to parties. EC spokesperson Bir Bahadur Rai said that the UCPN (Maoist), Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), Madhesi People´s Rights Forum-Nepal (MPRF-N), MPRF-Republican, Sadbhavana Party, Tarai Madhes Sadbhavana Party, Rastriya Janamukti Party, Federal Socialist Party and Federal Sadbhavana Party did not attend the EC meeting.

The commission has given seven days to the political parties to submit the final list of their PR candidates. "We can give additional three days for submission of the lists," said Uprety. According to the EC, Nepali Congress (NC) is in the first position with 91 seats while CPN-UML is in the second position with 84 seats under the PR electoral system.

UCPN (Maoist) has secured 54 PR seats. Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which has not bagged any seat under the FPTP electoral system, is in the fourth position with 24 seats.

< class="text11verdana">, 4 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese delegation calls on UML leader

A Chinese delegation including Chinese envoy to Nepal Wu Chun Tai called on CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal at his personal residence Koteshwor on December 5. During the meeting, the delegation leader congratulated Nepal for being elected to the Constituent Assembly and expressed best wishes to pave the way for development after promulgating a new constitution at the earliest.

The delegation team in which former Chinese envoy to Nepal Yang Houlan also participated, appraised leader Nepal about the economic agenda and particularly the foreign policy endorsed by the 18th meeting of the Chinese Communist Party. On the occasion, leader Nepal thanked the delegation team for the endorsement of the important proposal by the meeting.

Meanwhile, Pakistani envoy to Nepal Arsad Saud Khosa also called on leader Nepal on December 5. In the meetings, former PM Nepal stressed on cordial relation among the neighbouring countries and expressed his belief that issues of bilateral and multilateral concern could be resolved through discussions.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to set up HVDC transmission line

India is working to set up an energy efficient power transmission line (HVDC) with Nepal and Bhutan as part of its energy security plans, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said on December 5.

India also hopes to have power transmission connectivity with ASEAN and SAARC countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar, he said while addressing the World Energy Policy Summit 2013. He, however, did not elaborate on the transmission connectivity plans to ASEAN nations. India has been working for the last few years to put in place a multilateral SAARC Market for Electricity (SAME) and has plans to set up a larger SAARC transmission grid.

In October, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had dedicated to the nation the 71-kilometre Baharampur-Bheramara HVDC transmission link, which connected electricity grids of India and Bangladesh. The link is designed to facilitate cross-border electricity transfer of up to 500 Megawatt from India to Bangladesh. As far as Bhutan is concerned, India’s transmission link with that country is already in place. The government has plans to augment the existing line to import upto 5,000 Megawatt power from Bhutan by 2020 through HVDC (high voltage direct current) transmission line.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, 5 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kashmir could trigger war: PM

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the budget session of the ’Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Council’ in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) emphasised that Kashmir is a flashpoint and can trigger a fourth war between India and Pakistan if the dispute is not resolved in a timely manner. He expressed his resolve to work towards an early settlement of the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions and the aspirations of the people of Kashmir.

The Prime Minister mentioned that he has attempted to highlight the issue of Kashmir and the stand of the Kashmiri people at various global forums including the UN General Assembly and during his meeting with US President Barack Obama. He also said that Pakistan did not want to indulge in an arms race and would implement ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC).

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 4 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Help for Afghans to meet Mullah Baradar

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised Afghanistan that he will help arrange further meetings between Afghan officials and former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as part of efforts to revive the peace process.

Pakistan announced that it had released Baradar, the former second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban in September but an Afghan delegation that travelled to Pakistan to meet him said that he was still not free of his Pakistani minders. Sharif, in Kabul, has insisted that Baradar is free and has promised to facilitate meetings.

Baradar’s captivity has been a source of much tension and speculation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 30 November 2013; The Express Tribune, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mullah Fazlullah returns

The recently-appointed head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mullah Fazlullah, is said to have returned to Pakistan’s tribal areas after spending several years in Afghanistan according to the group’s spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid. The TTP head has been mainly based in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan since 2009 when a military operation ended the Taliban’s two-year rule in the Swat valley.

Fazlullah was elected after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone attack on November 1. Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, head of the supreme council (shura) had been appointed as the temporary TTP functional head in Fazlullah’s absence. Under Mehsud, the Taliban had been open to peace talks with the Pakistan government but Fazlullah ruled out any negotiations from the day of his appointment and announced new attacks.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 3-4 December 2013; Reuters, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CJ inconsistent, says panel

A global group of 60 eminent judges and lawyers has said that the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has been inconsistent in his choice of cases and has left the Supreme Court vulnerable to accusations of partisan intervention.

The Chief Justice, who is due to step down on December 12, 2013, spearheaded a legal movement that forced out a dictator and established the independence of the judiciary for the first time in the history of Pakistan. But more reforms are needed or the justice system will continue to destabilise the nation according to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 6 December 2013; Reuters, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US halts ground shipments

The US military has halted ground shipments of cargo leaving Afghanistan via its Pakistan supply route in order to ensure the safety of drivers. This decision follows protests in Pakistan over American drone strikes according to a Pentagon spokesman.

The route that has been shut down runs from Torkham Gate at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to the Pakistani port city of Karachi and accounts for the majority of ground traffic of U.S. military cargo being moved through Pakistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 4 December 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Call for unity among all parties

Opposition United National Party (UNP) parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa has said that all political parties in the country should join hands to form an all-party movement and come to an agreement in order to face and defeat the upcoming resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNRC).

"We, the UNP strongly believe that if there is a domestic issue, it should be solved internally and not internationally. It is our duty to come together to save the country. If the resolution is passed next March at the UNHRC, the consequences could be adverse. There will be sanctions. Therefore, I suggest that all parties should come together to face threats posed by international forces," he said.

He said that the nation’s foreign policy of being unsuccessful and said the main reason for international interventions was the ’dilapidated foreign policy’ of the country. "When President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed with UN Chief Ban Ki-moon that there were human rights violations during the last phase of the war in a joint statement, our foreign policy took a decisive turn. And the false promises made to the international community by the government depicts the state of our present foreign policy," he said.

Mr Premadasa said the President should take the opportunity of chairing the Commonwealth organisation to win the hearts of its member-countries and to defeat the UNHRC resolution. He also suggested that there should be a special unit established in the External Affairs Ministry to deal with the Tamil Diaspora and to lower the mounting pressure of the Diaspora.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 6 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UK to talk toother countries

Britain said that it would continue to discuss on the situation in Sri Lanka, including human rights issues with a range of other EU, Commonwealth and international partners over the coming months.

In response to a question Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, told British Parliament, "The UK has been voted back on to the Human Rights Council and will play an active role in building international support ahead of the March Human Rights Council session. We will continue to discuss Sri Lanka with a range of other EU, Commonwealth and international partners over the coming months."

He also said that Prime Minister David Cameroon was clear with the Sri Lankan President at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in November that "we expect real progress on human rights, reconciliation, accountability, and political settlement. The Human Rights Council will assess progress in March".

In particular, the Prime Minister pressed for credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes and made clear that if these investigations have not begun properly by March, then we will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commissioner and call for an international inquiry, he added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 6 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army alleges international witch-hunt

The Australian High Commission in Colombo has declined to comment on its controversial decision to deprive Maj-Gen Jagath Dias of the opportunity to join an ICRC-organised project in Australia on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations made by UK media outfit, Channel- 4 News.

Maj-Gen Jagath Dias said he had been informed of the Australian decision. The former Commanding Officer (GOC) of the 57 Division alleged that a section of the international community was resorting to punitive measures citing unproven allegations. The Gajaba Regiment veteran pointed out that those commanding officers of other armies engaged in fight against terrorism in other parts of the world were never subject to such humiliation though they, too, were subject to a range of allegations. Maj. Gen. Dias said: "We are being singled out by those wanting to appease the LTTE rump working closely with the international community."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 6 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to host Wigneswaran next month

India is planning to host Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister Justice C. V. Wigneswaran next month. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had extended an invitation to Wigneswaran when he met him in Jaffna in October.

In his October 28 letter to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Wigneswaran wrote: "I shall most certainly avail myself of his kind offer at a mutually convenient time, when it will also be possible for me to meet Your Excellency."

Details of Wigneswaran’s programme are still being worked out. It is not clear just yet if he will visit Chennai too, to meet with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President Muthuvel Karunanidhi, among others.

Sources in New Delhi said that inviting Wigneswaran to India in January, barely three months before the country goes to parliamentary elections, may give political dividends to the Congress Party, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government here, in Tamil Nadu.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 5 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Impasse continues over BSA

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues to remain reluctant to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State this week suggested that the Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi could sign the BSA instead.

Kerry urged the Afghan Government to sign the security deal "sooner, not later" and said this priority was backed by all NATO Foreign Ministers taking part in a meeting on Tuesday in Brussels.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday that NATO would have to pull all its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 if Afghan President Karzai does not sign the BSA with the U.S.

"We have pledged to contribute to financing the Afghan security forces. That assistance is put at risk if we can’t deploy our own training mission to Afghanistan and furthermore the international community has pledged to provide development assistance to Afghanistan. That aid might also be put at risk" Rasmussen said.

However, the Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a statement categorically stating that only President Karzai had the authority to sign the BSA. The pressure from within Afghanistan on Karzai to sign the agreement has also increased. Members of the Lower House of Parliament expressed major concerns about the delay in signing the BSA and said that refusing to sign it would hurt Afghanistan’s interests. They called on President Karzai to respect the decisions of the Advisory Jirga.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 4-5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Iran, Taliban oppose BSA

Iran this week once again raised its objections to the BSA. Claiming that the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan has only worsened the security situation in the region, Iran urged Afghanistan not to sign the BSA. Iran claimed that the BSA was in fact against the national interests of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban also issued a statement this week in support of Karzai’s reluctance to sign the BSA. The Taliban, however, stated that Karzai instead of putting conditions before the US should reject the BSA outright.

Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that if Karzai "truly understands the real (situation), he should reject it without conditions, from a sense of Afghan spirit. The decision of the Afghan nation is clear: they don’t want any occupier in our homeland".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 3 December 2013; The Guardian, 2 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Election preparations underway

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) announced this week that about 1,000 individuals belonging to various media outlets and civil society groups have registered their names to be election observers for the 2014 Presidential Elections. This number is expected to increase to 3000 by April 2014.

"Special mechanisms have been undertaken for these elections, parties and observers are allowed to visit all the polling stations," IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said. "This kind of mechanism wasn’t implemented in the 2009 and 2010 elections and observers were present only in the centre of the provinces, but this time they will be able to visit any polling booth."

IEC Director Muhammad Yousuf Nooristani was also summoned to the Senate in order to address some concerns and answer questions. The IEC is facing a number of obstacles to hold a free and fair election. IEC said that a shortage of monitors and funding holes are undermining their ability to safeguard the process from the widespread fraud that marred the last poll in 2009.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 2 December 2013; Tolo News, 2-3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tops corruption list

In its annual report, Transparency International placed Afghanistan amongst the top most corrupt countries in the world, putting it in the company of countries like Somalia and North Korea.

The Afghan High Office of Oversight & Anti-Corruption, however, has suggested that the Transparency International report was unreliable. "The report has no scientific basis, it only says that Afghanistan is on top of corrupt countries and exists in the 3rd category," an official from the Oversight office said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Most Afghans optimistic: Study

According to a report prepared by The Asia Foundation titled "Afghanistan in 2013: A Survey of the Afghan People" a majority of Afghans seemed optimistic about their future, saying their country was moving in the right direction. More than half of 9,000 Afghans surveyed, 57 percent said Afghanistan was moving in the right direction, the highest number in more than half a decade.

The opinion poll also found that people’s satisfaction with the national government’s performance has been gradually rising over the past five years, with three quarters of respondents currently giving Kabul a positive assessment. Most of those surveyed (63 percent) say the government’s efforts can stabilise the country. Moreover, around 75 percent of respondents state that their household economic situation is better now than during the Taliban rule.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 5 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN warning over political violence

Expressing concern over escalation of political violence in Bangladesh, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay this week cautioned the country’s leaders and reminded them that the perpetrators of political or election related violence had faced prosecution in other situations.

Noting that Bangladesh is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Pillay said, "In other situations, we have seen cases of political or election-related violence where the perpetrators of such acts —including political leadership —have faced prosecution." "Whatever their differences, political leaders on both sides must halt their destructive brinkmanship, which is pushing Bangladesh dangerously close to a major crisis," she said in a statement issued from Geneva this week.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had earlier issued statements, made phone calls and written to Bangladesh’s two top leaders, and also sent his deputy twice to Dhaka to try for a dialogue between the two sides for reaching a consensus on the next election. US Secretary of State John Kerry also sent letters to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia with a similar request.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 2&6 December 2013;The Independent, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian FS holds talks

MS Sujatha Singh in her maiden visit to Bangladesh as Foreign Secretary of India discussed the state of politics in Bangladesh with major leaders of the country. During her 24-hour long visit she held separate meetings with leaders including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Opposition Leader Begum Khaleda Zia, Jatiya Party chief H M Ershad, Foreign Minister Abdul Hasan Mohamood Ali and Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohammed Shahidul Haque.

During the visit Singh also interacted with the media and informed that India wants the participation of a "maximum" number of parties in a peaceful and violence-free election in Bangladesh. "This is an important time for Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh like anywhere in the world deserve the right to choose their elected representatives freely and fairly," she added.

Talking about Singh’s meeting with Begum Zia, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, adviser to the BNP chairperson, informed that India wanted a continuation of the democratic process and stability in Bangladesh. "Stability in Bangladesh is needed in the interest of India and the region as a whole," he quoted Singh as saying at the meeting with Begum Zia.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 5 December 2013, The Independent, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ershad won’t join polls

Politics in Bangladesh faced yet another crisis as the Jatiya Party chief HM Ershad this week declared that his party would not participate in the upcoming national election scheduled for 5 January. Ershad’s declaration followed just a day after his party submitted nomination papers for the 10th parliamentary election.

Explaining the reason for withdrawing his party from the election, Ershad said that since all parties are not participating in the election, so he is not taking part in the polls as well. Ershad also directed his party leaders to withdraw their nomination papers. In consonance with Ershad’s decision 4 ministers from Jatiya Party in the poll time cabinet submitted letters to Ershad for resigning from the cabinet.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 6 December 2013; The Daily Star, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Duty-free access sought

Bangladesh demanded this week relaxation of rules of origin, duty and quota-free access to Least Developed Countries (LDC) products to developed countries, as well as preferential market access to service sectors, at the ninth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Taking part in a discussion of the WTO conference in Bali, Indonesia, Bangladesh commerce secretary Mahbub Ahmed urged member-countries to take a decision on these points. He also asked them to include the cotton issue in the Bali package. All 49 least-developed countries (LDCs) agreed to support Bangladesh’s four demands that would enhance its trade privileges.

At present, the country pays 15.3 percent duty on garment export to the US, although duty benefit was promised in the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial Conference in 2005. As a result, Bangladeshi garment exporters paid $ 746 million as duty to the US customs in 2012 for exporting a little above $ 5 billion worth of garment products.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 5 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India approves 39 projects

Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that India has given its approval to 39 new projects during the second round of talks on the 11th plan held in New Delhi.

Talks were held last week on the Project Tied Assistance (PTA) under which India has committed 28 billion rupees. According to the agreement between the two countries, another 42 projects are to be considered after submitting more information. It was agreed that projects above INR 500 million shall require detailed project reports (DPRs).

Bhutan is to allocate INR 2.3 billion or ten percent of the value of the projects under PTA as co-financing, which will be reserved as cushion to meet project cost escalations. In total, 81 projects will be taken up under the Project Tied Assistance.

India has already released INR 3.9 billion to Bhutan for its 10th Plan’s spillover activities, and INR one billion for its economic stimulus plan. During Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s visit to New Delhi in August 2013, India had committed INR 45 billion to Bhutan’s 11th Plan. In addition, India also committed INR 5 billion for the Economic Stimulus Plan and INR 3.95 billion being balance funds for the 10th Plan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 4 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Singapore Minister meets PM

Singapore’s Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Minister Mr Lawrence Wong on his visit to Bhutan, has met Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay. Mr Wong’s visit is at the invitation of Prime Minister Tobgay.Mr Wong also met the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs Damchoe Dorji.

Both sides discussed the growing friendship between Bhutan and Singapore, and noted that the direct flights between the two countries have resulted in an increase of Singaporeans visiting Bhutan, be it as tourists or volunteers in Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Singapore’s Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Mr Lawrence Wong, says Singapore and Bhutan have good people-to-people links.

Prime Minister Tobgay also expressed his appreciation to the Singapore Government for the support extended in the development of Human Resources, e-Government and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) master-plan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Channel News Asia, 1 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President’s Arunachal Pradesh visit irks China

India and China traded another round of diplomatic blows on Friday with Beijing officially taking up with New Delhi President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. While a government spokesperson in Beijing had made China’s reservation public earlier in the day, China later decided to up the ante by taking up the issue bilaterally with India, much to the chagrin of authorities here, diplomatic sources confirmed.

According to sources, India reacted promptly by giving an appropriate response to the reservations expressed by Beijing in its objection to the visit. Indian officials, in fact, reiterated what Mukherjee said after arriving in Itanagar earlier in the day, thatArunachal Pradesh was an integral part of India.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 30 November 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Not taking sides in China’s air defence row

Walking a tight-rope, India has kept a studied silence over China’s announcement of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea while stepping up engagement with regional countries that don’t see Beijing’s rise as benign.

Though the possibility of long-term strategic tensions are brewing with the US already sending two B-52 bombers to fly through ADIZ without notifying China, New Delhi isn’t keen to take a position on the issue.

Senior officials say New Delhi doesn’t have to "join the issue" on the ADIZ or "make its position known" even as it is prepares to host the South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in January next year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nuclear deal with Japan on anvil

Japan has said the main purpose of Emperor Akihito’s ongoing visit to India was to add more ballast to the bilateral relationship.

One of the elements that would add greater depth to the ties would be a civil nuclear agreement. "We are close to a bilateral deal on the peaceful use of nuclear energy,’’ said senior Japanese diplomats accompanying the Emperor, who is on a six-day visit to India.

"We are touched by the gesture of your Parliament paying tribute every year to Japanese victims of the nuclear bomb. Japanese people have strong feelings about nuclear weapons, but this aspect is not known to our people,’’ conceded an official.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GDP up, touches 4.8 pc in Q-2

India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at the rate of 4.8 percent during July-September 2013, according to official data released this week. The rate of growth of the GDP in April-June 2013 was 4.4 percent, a four-year low. The pick-up in the rate of growth has come from better performance of agriculture and industry.

"I don’t think at the moment we have signs of strong revival yet but I do get a picture that people think that the economy has bottomed out," Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was reported to have said on the side-lines of an event at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram had used in this year’s Union Budget a GDP growth estimate of 5 per cent for 2013-14 for the purpose of pegging various targets. This includes the target set for the fiscal deficit at 4.8 percent of the GDP. Since the GDP growth rate for the six months April-September is 4.6 percent, it will have to be at least 5.4 percent during October-March if India is to achieve a growth of 5 percent in 2013-14.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Hindu, 30 November 2013, The Indian Express, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pak help for Hizbul arrest

For the first time, India will officially ask for legal assistance from Pakistan to arrest Hizbil Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which filed a charge-sheet against the Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri militant group leader on Saturday, is now preparing to send a judicial request to Pakistan for his arrest. A red corner notice will also be issued soon against Salahuddin who has been declared a proclaimed offender.

The agency has filed a charge-sheet against Salahuddin in a 2011 case of terror funding where money was allegedly pumped into his outfit from Pakistan through overground NGOs.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 2 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Orbiter on course to Mars

With India’s spacecraft to Mars slung out of its earth-bound orbit early in the morning of December 1 and its cruising towards the sun-centric orbit, its 300-day voyage to the Red Planet has begun. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) accomplished this tricky manoeuvre called Trans-Mars Injection (TMI) of the spacecraft by giving commands to the spacecraft’s propulsion system to start firing at 00.49 hours Sunday (December 1).

"The spacecraft is now on course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun," said an ISRO statement. The orbiter is now in a hyperbolic orbit and it will escape from the sphere of influence (SOI) of the Earth around 1.15 a.m. of December 4. The SOI of the Earth extends to about 9.25 lakh km from the Earth.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 2 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to defend food security plan

Citing national consensus and political unanimity on food security, India took a tough line on the issue and slammed farm lobbies of developed countries a day before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in Bali.

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who is leading the Indian delegation for the Bali talks, said food security must be protected from all challenges at the WTO. Under the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, farm subsidy is capped at 10 percent of total farm production. India is arguing that food security is non-negotiable and also that the WTO-benchmarked prices are 30 years old and outdated as food prices have soared in the interim.

Speaking at the G-33 meeting -- a group of developing countries -- on the eve of WTO talks, Sharma said there was national consensus and complete political unanimity on food security and pushed for an interim solution that protects India from all challenges at the WTO.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cabinet clears Telangana

The Union Cabinet has approved a bill for the creation of the Telangana State with 10 districts, paving the way for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to give birth to the country’s 29th state. Though the idea of adding two districts of Rayalaseema to the new state was raised by at least two of the Ministers from the coastal districts of the State, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde apparently made it clear it was never under consideration.

The Cabinet has broadly approved most of the recommendations made by the Group of Ministers constituted to consider the contentious issues. The Cabinet’s approval came after the Congress Core Group decided to adhere to the Congress Working Committee’s decision on a Telangana with 10 districts.

The bill will now go to President Pranab Mukherjee with a request to make a reference to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly for its views, the Home Minister told journalists after a three-hour Cabinet meeting.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 6 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President appoints three officials

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has appointed three officials to his government. They are Mohamed Muizzu Adnan as Minister of State for Defence and National Security, Ibrahim Faisal as Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, and Mohamed Hanim as Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.

The President’s Office said that Hanim will work at the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS), run by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Among the State Minister, Mohamed Muizzu Adnan has served in the same post in the three previous governments, of Presidents Gayoom, Nasheed and Waheed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Yameen meets with IMF team

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has met with a team from the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) on Monday afternoon. The meeting took place when Chief of Mission to the Maldives, Dr Koshy Mathai paid a courtesy call on the President at the President’s Office.

At the meeting, discussions were focused on ways to promote sustainable developments in the economy. The President also briefed Mathai on the economic policies of the new government.

President Yameen was joined at the call by Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef, Governor of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Dr Fazeel Najeeb, and Deputy Governor of MMA Aishath Zahira. The Chief of IMF Mission was joined at the call by Dr Nandaka Molagodo.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 3 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No airport lease to foreign company

The government on Tuesday ruled out leasing the Maldives only operational international airport to a foreign company. Tourism minister Ahmed Adheeb, who co-chairs the ministerial economic council, told reporters that state owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) would continue to operate the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Adheeb stressed that "selling" state assets was not a method practiced in public private partnerships. "We don’t believe in Government monopolies. But if there’s just one airport, it should be under the direct of the government. I believe that we need to run the airport on our own," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 4 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC accepts Thasmeen disqualification case

The Supreme Court has accepted a case filed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) council member and prominent lawyer Mohamed ’Wadde’ Waheed regarding the disqualification of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader and MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali from Parliament.

Waheed claims Thasmeen had not paid back a MVR 1.9million (US$124,513) loan to Parliament Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim in accordance with a Civil Court ruling. The Civil Court ruling required the repayment of MVR 320,000 ($ 20,779) each month for six consecutive months to clear the debt by April 2012, but Thasmeen only settled the debt in July 2012 after the High Court upheld the Civil Court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court in October stripped opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Mohamed Nashiz over decreed debt. The pair were guarantors for five credit facilities worth MVR 117 million ($ 9 million) issued to Funadoo Tuna Products by the Bank of Maldives (BML).

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 4 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US seeks limited military ties

The Obama administration faced strong bipartisan opposition for its plans for limited U.S. engagement with Myanmar’s powerful military due to concerns over human rights and its lingering ties with North Korea.

Senior administration officials called for congressional support for non-lethal assistance to the military, such as training on human rights. But both Republicans and Democrats were sceptical about the military’s willingness to reform, saying abuses against ethnic and religious minorities persist in the country and the military remains involved in weapons deals with North Korea against UN sanctions.

"I personally don’t believe that the Burmese military needs to be trained to stop killing and raping and stealing lands from people within their own country," Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York told a hearing of a House panel that oversees US foreign policy towards East Asia.

Republican panel chairman, Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, also said the administration was being too hasty to engage with the military, and that the US risks losing its remaining leverage to encourage further reforms.

Senior US defence official Vikram Singh said there have been initial contacts between the US and Myanmar militaries, including discussions on military law, but current sanctions prevent a formal training program. He said engagement was an opportunity to shape the military’s outlook and dilute its reliance on old partners and arms suppliers, like China.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Associated Press, 4 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Delegation calls on Indian President

India stands ready to support Myanmar’s efforts in whichever way it can, President Pranab Mukherjee said during a meeting with a delegation from Myanmar at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

A 23-member Parliamentary Delegation from Myanmar —led by U Khin Aung Myint, Speaker of Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House) —called on the President. Mukherjee said both Parliaments have a big role in steering and supporting cooperation for the mutual benefit of the people.

Commenting on the relations between India and Myanmar, Mr. Mukherjee said ties between the two countries are, "rooted in our history; generations of our people have travelled, lived and worked together".

The President said over the past year there have been a series of high level exchanges with Myanmar and these meetings between the representatives of people help increase understanding and enhance friendship.

The Leader of the Myanmar Parliamentary delegation said, "Myanmar, which is reviving multi-party democracy has much to learn from India. India has shown ’brotherly spirit’ by assisting and providing training in Parliamentary matters."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 5 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian co’s bid for oil blocks

Reliance Industries has bid for three oil and gas blocks and ONGC Videsh Ltd for two in Myanmar’s maiden offshore licensing round. Besides RIL and OVL, State-owned explorer Oil India Ltd and gas utility GAIL India have bid for three exploration blocks each in separate joint venture with local companies, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Energy.

Cairn India, which was among the 61 firms pre-qualified to bid for 11 shallow water and 19 deep water blocks on offer in an international tender, however, did not bid. Bids for the licensing round closed last week. The Ministry declared the companies bidding but did not reveal which company has bid for which block.

Bidders were allowed to submit a maximum of three bids each. They had to necessarily team up with at least one Myanmarese company to bid for shallow water blocks while they could do so independently for the deepwater blocks.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 1 December 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

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.


Mihir Bhonsale

Mihir Bhonsale

Mihir Bhonsale was a Junior Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme and Indian Neighbourhood Initiative of ORF.

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