MonitorsPublished on Jun 28, 2013
Myanmar has become a preferred investment and trade destination as the South-East Asian country has been able to generate great interest from businesses and nations worldwide.
Myanmar: A new frontier for India?
< class="heading1">Analysis

Myanmar has become a preferred investment and trade destination as the South-East Asian country has been able to generate great interest from businesses and nations worldwide. This interest in Myanmar as the new investment and trade destination was evident at the three-day World Economic Forum’s East Asia conference held in Nay Pyi Taw from June 5, attended by 1000 delegates from 55 countries.

At the conference, Myanmar left no stone unturned in its bid for attracting foreign investment and boosting its trade. Participating nations also reciprocated Myanmar’s efforts by showing their readiness to invest and trade with the country’s growing economy. India, which sent a high-level Government delegation to the conference, pledged to strengthen the bilateral economic cooperation.

A welcome beckon

Reviving their historic trade ties established over a thousand years ago by the Tamils from south India, India and Myanmar have had strong bilateral trade ever since India adopted its ’Look East Policy’ in the early 90’s. The policy was expected to reap benefits for India’s North-East through increased connectivity with Myanmar and help India access the high-growth South-East Asian economies. Myanmar has been on India’s foreign trade and investment roadmap ever since. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar in 2012 saw the two countries sign 12 pacts on security, trade and transport. Singh also promised that India would extend a $550-m credit line to Myanmar.

Myanmar’s investment and trade climate is conducive to India’s interest in the country because the initiation of economic and political reforms is seen as a counter-balance adopted by the country to fight the rising Chinese influence. India’s trade with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was at an estimated $ 76.3 billion and is projected to increase to $100 billion by 2015. India-Myanmar trade has also shown enormous potential and is likely to expand beyond the current levels of $2 billion.

India and Myanmar have already entered into agreements to build transport and infrastructure projects. For instance, for the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit-Transport Project which would connect Mizoram to Sittwe port in Myanmar, India has promised $150 million to set up a Special Economic Zone in Sittwe.

Myanmar, in the recent past, has also opened two border trade-points with India - Tamu and Reedkhawdhar in the Sagaing region and Chin state of Myanmar respectively. With the road being cleared for trade between India and Myanmar via the Pangsau Pass on the Arunachal Pradesh border, the historic Stilwell Road is likely to come alive with commercial activities.

Indian oil and gas companies have invested in sourcing gas from blocks in Myanmar and Bharti Airtel Ltd is co-bidding for a telecom license. India has welcomed Myanmar government’s approval to all Indian banks for setting up operations in Myanmar. The country has also discussed apparel, refineries and information technology sectors and has promised India assistance to Myanmar.

Challenges ahead

India’s North-East region was expected to be a beneficiary of increased India-Myanmar trade. However this is yet to become a reality as border trade has not seen a substantial increase. The two countries share a 1,600-km border, but trade only in 40 items. Also, the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project which is expected to fast-track trade between India and ASEAN countries is in a limbo. According to Indian commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma the highway would be completed only by 2016.

The 160-km Myanmar-India Friendship Road which forms an important link from the India-Myanmar border to central Myanmar and the cultural centre in Mandalay is in a bad shape on Myanmar’s side of the border. The road opened in 2001 is yet to see trade, especially because of the Myanmar government reneging on the pact signed between the two countries.

The proposed Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline aimed at boosting India’s energy security has also hit a road-block. Anand Sharma during his deliberations with his Myanmar counterpart has revived talks on the pipeline. On the other hand, India’s attempts to source gas from blocks where Indian companies GAIL and OVL have together a 30 percent stake, were quashed by the Myanmar government. It instead allotted the blocks to China, further boosting energy security of China.

A deep anxiety over the lack of clarity of opportunity in Myanmar has already been expressed by many on the Indian side. Myanmar’s domestic economy, which is reeling under unstable macro-economic policies, rampant corruption and poor enforcement of rule of law, further add to the woes for nations interested in trade and investment in Myanmar’s economy.

India has to closely watch Myanmar’s steps towards opening its economy for trade and investment. Myanmar has to reciprocate India’s initiative to increase economic cooperation between the two countries. The bilateral trade cooperation hence can be said to be at crossroads and a lot depends on the fate of reforms in Myanmar.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maldives: ’Human-trafficking’ to the fore again, but hopes remain

N Sathiya Moorthy

The US State Department’s continued placing of the country on the ’Tier Two Watch-List for Human-Trafficking’ could not have come at a worse - or, better -- time for the Maldivian authorities, particularly those intent on finding a way out and for good. Coming as it does after specific issues flagged by India over the past months, the US warning that Maldives could automatically slip into ’Tier Three’ with consequential sanctions of a non-humanitarian kind, should be seen as a wake-up call for Male to set right matters, which have been allowed to drift for decades now.

At the bottom of the Maldivian plight should be the surge in development and growth inconsistent with the expectations and consequent preparations of the nation, particularly in the tourism sector, over the past three or four decades. While successive Governments have continued with the original policy of allowing foreign investors in big-time resort tourism to expatriate their earnings in dollars, this has also made wages less attractive for locals, with their relative perception of higher educational qualifications, to take up those jobs that are otherwise on offer.

This has led to an ironical anomaly. While local youth can do with more and better-paying jobs, to match the very high cost of living in the country, the employer class on all fronts are dependent on immigrant labour to meet their needs. Thus, for a nation of 350,000, Maldives has an additional expatriate labour population totalling a conservative 100,000. The US State Department estimate puts the figure upwards of 150,000. It is also the only major ’labour recipient’ nation in South Asia, with most of them coming from Bangladesh and India, in that order but roughly in 5:3 ratio or thereabouts, followed by Sri Lanka - which used to be the dominant player, including the skills and white-collar sectors, earlier.

Better emigrant laws, regulations and enforcement in countries such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines, from where again immigrant labour have been working in Maldives, have made the country less attractive for the work-force from those destinations. With specific Government-initiated programmes and schemes aimed at promoting overseas employment at the lower and middle-levels in the likes of hospitality industry, aimed at larger forex earnings, their labour have found greener pastures, elsewhere, too.

In contrast, for India, despite being a ’labour-exporting’ nation from the days of the British Raj, and more so in the post-Independence period when the remittances by emigrant labour from the petro-rich Gulf Arab nations since the Seventies has become the highest source of income for States like Kerala, lax laws and lethargic enforcement have left their labour wide open to exploitation in the host-nations.

On paper, India, for instance, has a category of ’ECR (Emigration Certificate Required) nations’ for Indian nationals taking up overseas employment, for clearing Immigration formalities at Indian airports. Over the years, however, the restriction has been limited to around 20 nations. Maldives is not one of them. Given the laxity in the enforcement of recruitment procedures at the Indian end, and thre absence of stricter vigil over the same at State-level, the indifference of the Maldivian employer and the apathy of the authorities in the matter have only compounded matters over the years. The US State Department’s certification is only a reflection of the latter.

Learning from elsewhere

Maldives can learn from the US and the rest of the West, which as ’labour-receiving nations’ not only have strict laws and enforcement, but have also become stricter with issuance of visas for immigrant employees - most of them of the white-collar, technocrat variety. The US still however receive a large number of unskilled and semi-skilled labour from across the border with Mexico. Both the more regulated white-collar immigration and at times illegal immigration of Mexican labour have become hot election issue in the country, entailing Government intervention.

Even in the Gulf-Arab region, for which South and South-East Asian nations have been providing the labour class in large numbers from the Seventies, if not earlier, constant governmental pressure from overseas (alone) seems to have done the trick - or, substantially. There, the trend is getting reversed lately, with the locals too competing with the immigrants for the fewer available jobs. Some of the Gulf nations have already begun following the West, in restricting employment opportunities for immigrants, to facilitate better job opportunities for the locals.

Not just Maldives as a nation, but Maldivians as a people, and the society as a whole can benefit from the authorities approaching the immigrant labour issue with an open mind, and raising the standard of labour protection to international levels. At present, the (hospitality) industry (construction) infrastructure and household sectors are major employers of immigrant labour. Other than the high-end segments of the hospitality industry, others in these sectors do not address issues of labour concern - including minimum and sustainable wages, job-protection, legal remedies in case of employer wrong-doing, including with-holding of employee-passport and criminal intimidation, threats and at times attacks.

Ignorant & vulnerable

All these have made the immigrant labour class vulnerable in more ways than one. With-holding of passports and non-extension of work-permits by the employer automatically renders the employee ’illegal immigrant’, culpable to punitive punishment under the local laws. Seldom has there been a case of the authorities acting against the culprit-employer - or, working with host-governments to break the ’job-racketeer network’, which often exploit the illiteracy and/or ignorance of the migrant labour class in particular.

Some of the insensitivity, if it can be called so, may also owe to the large-scale employment of immigrant labour in the household sector, where long hours of work for relatively low wages may have blinded the officialdom and the political class to the impossibility of the existing situation. The politico-administrative insensitivity to addressing the issues on hand may have been a product of the process. This is seldom acknowledged, even less acted upon. The trend may have to change, with the political class taking the lead. Thus, the Government should initiate legislative and legal measures to ensure fixed timings, minimum wages and other benefits and security for the migrant labour also in the household sector. The message would then spread.

If however, linkages are made between better labour/employee conditions and enforcement, the Maldivian Government would be in a position to attract its youthful population to productive sectors of the nation’s economy, thus churning out a possible process of social re-engineering. In the absence of such pro-active measures, the society has been complaining against itself that their youth power has been exhausting itself on unproductive goals and an ’unfinished’ work culture. The Maldivian Government has programmes against drug-abuse and rehabilitation for long, addressing its youth, which otherwise constitutes over 40 per cent of the population. The dependence on the migrant labour could also become less, if only over a period.

A fourth major sector employing emigrant workers is the Maldivian Government, which has been recruiting teachers, doctors and nurses from countries such as India, which may also be the single largest supplier of white-collar workers of the high-skilled variety in the country. As instances have been reported in the past, even Government authorities have been in the habit of retaining the passports of Indians and other foreigners, at times recruited through shady job-agents. This by itself may ensure the safety and security of the passports for the immigrant worker, as long as it is voluntary. But the unwarranted and avoidable delays in returning the passport when an employee had to rush back home for an emergency has caused heart-burns, both to the affected people and the host Governments, which come under continual pressure from their constituencies in very many ways.

In the Maldivian context, it also means that an overseas employer returning home on an emergency call might have to spend an indefinite number of days at Male, spending heavily on an otherwise purposeless stay, to collect the passport. It is unfortunate that the recent Indian decision on registration for Indian visas for Maldivians has caused a similar problem for people from the interior islands with no relation or friend to put up with while in Male, which anyway is a crowded place for them to take such conventional courtesies for granted, any more.

In the famous ’Menaka Gandhi case’ in 1979, otherwise, the Indian Supreme Court, for instance, had held that the passport of an Indian citizen was the property of the Government of India. It also implied that confiscation/retention of the same without proper legal authority and authorisation (even by Indian Government authorities) could tantamount to an act against the Indian sovereign, entailing the Government of India to initiate appropriate measures - if some affected citizen were to approach the courts in India for redress.

India and the ’Enrica Lesie case’

It is in this context, Indian labour-receiving countries such as Maldives need to look at the more recent developments in that country. Apart from the fishers’ issue involving neighbouring Sri Lanka, where the southern Tamil Nadu State Government and individuals have approached the courts for appropriate directions to the Union of India, there have been episodes in the past year alone that the citizenry have learnt lessons from. In one such incident, a US navy ship fired at Indian fishers working on a Gulf owner’s boat, in the Dubai waters, killing one and injuring another. This became a public sensation in southern India in particular, and had the potential to strain bilateral relations with the US.

Only weeks prior to the Dubai incident, there was the globally trend-setting ’Enrica Lesie case’, involving an Italian merchant ship with Marines on board to check against Somali piracy, shooting down two Indian fishers, within Indian waters. The way the Italian Government and Prime Minister took up the issue with his Indian counterpart at a personal-level, visited New Delhi, and despatched his senior Ministers to the south Indian State of Kerala, to help the Marines in fighting their arrest and court cases, has made ordinary Indians with their kin working overseas, alive to the already existing perceptions of insensitivity of the Indian Government to their woes, repeated and reiterated ad nauseum.

That the ’Enrica Lesie case’ became an election issue in distant Italy also did not go unnoticed in the south Indian States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where from the affected fishers came. Incidentally, these are also possibly the two States accounting for the highest number of Indian labour working in Maldives. Considering that fishers from these two States, and labour from Kerala in larger numbers too used to be the victims of unfair labour practices in the Gulf countries - some of them continuing to be so even now - the Government of India could not have been but alive to the possibilities. From other parts of the country, including Tamil Nadu, becoming victims of Somali pirates and warring Nigerian war-lords while at work, the Government of India is slowly but surely getting its hands full. It is thus not without reason that the political head of the Ministry for Overseas Indians is from Kerala - and by a conscious choice.

Today, much is being said about the Government of India regulating the visa procedure for Maldivian nationals who visit India for medical care and education, their number being upwards of 50,000 each year. Suggestions are also being made linking the same to the controversial ’GMR issue’. Maldivians wanting to travel to India on work or medical care in particular may have suffered, but there have not been any reported case of the visas for ’emergency patients’ and their attendants either being denied or even delayed, since. If anything, the Indian authorities in Male are said to have prioritised such cases for fast-tracking visa issuance, though there is this avoidable tension for the next of kin who want to travel to India with their relation for emergency medical care.

The timing of the Indian action might have been the cause for mis-information based on ignorance or misinterpretation of facts and circumstances. it may have owed mostly to the likes of ’Enrica Lesie case’ around the time making waves in India, and the fact that two female nurses from Kerala State could not attend their own weddings back home as their employer (read: Maldives Government) did not release their passports in time, despite due notice - and also follow-up action by the Indian High Commission authorities in Male.

Over the years, there have also been other cases of Maldivian employers, including the Government, holding back passports similarly, denying Indian immigrant employees to visit their dying kin, or lit the pyre of a dead parent, which also has great religious and spiritual significance for most Indians in particular. What is not often known in Maldives - including the local media, which is otherwise sensitive to the perceived plight of Maldivians, likewise -- is that many of these cases make waves in the high-literacy Kerala State in particular, where the media is as well networked as families. The pressure is on the Governments in the State and at the Centre to intervene, as was more visible through public protests and court cases for the purpose over the ’Enrica Lesie episode’.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Lately, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. The Maldivian Government of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik has started addressing some of the international concerns, including those of India’s. The Immigration authorities have notified that it is illegal for employers to hold back the passports of foreign labour - and the Indian High Commission, maybe among others, in Male has given adequate publicity for the same. Between them, the Maldivian Immigration and the IHC have also put in place a system for prior clearance for the High Commission for employer-recruiters sourcing emigrant labour from India.

Indian immigrant labour in Maldives has also been advised to route their work-permit, passport, etc, through the High Commission’s consular authorities - entailing additional workload for its staff. If found successful it is not unlikely that the Indian Government may (have to) consider extending the process to other embassies, especially in such countries with similar problems.

For foreign employees of the Maldivian Government, a decision is said to be on the anvil for the passport-holders to retain their original document. For others, particularly the lower-end labour class, a via media would still have to be found as they may still not be able to have a safe place to secure their passports and work-permits other than the custody of their employers, some of whom tend to abuse the trust and faith in more ways than one.

Indians may be among the most visible of beneficiaries in this case, their homes not being not far away from the Maldivian coasts could save on time, cost and avoidable agony by not having to camp in high-cost Male for a couple of days to collect their passport, after the authorities in the islands and their respective departments had cleared their leave applications. Otherwise, a Government proposal before Maldivian Parliament to clear extradition treaty would help in facilitating prisoner-swap between the two countries, for nationals of one country convicted in the other could undergo their prison-terms, if any, in their native land. Given the limited healthcare facility in Maldives, Indian prisoners would benefit from such a course. It could still be open if Maldivian prisoners in India could choose to spent their terms in Indian jails, or otherwise.

Not just sand and aggregates

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader Mohammed Nasheed as the nation’s President-elect in 2008 had suggested that his country would consider approaching friendly nations like India, Sri Lanka and Australia for space, if the seas were to swallow the atolls-nation, as feared and predicted by environmentalists at the time. While questions over sovereignty and territorial integrity could come in the way of creating a Maldives outside Maldives, India with its 1.2-billion people now might be happy and considerate to accommodate all Maldivians, if the environmental situation worsened over the coming decades, as predicted.

Environment, but then, is concern also in India, where issues such as sand-mining and rock-mining have caught the attention of the courts and the civil society in a big way. Highly industrialised States like Tamil Nadu, from where much of the sand and aggregates for Maldivian construction industry come from, for instance, are caught in court directives on sand-mining and sales. The State has also been under 12-18 hours of power-cut each day over the past five or six years - and so do many other parts of the country - owing to environmental issues and protests, also attributed to the rise in tribal militancy in the north and central Indian coal-belt, where mining has been suspended for years now.

For long, India has exempted the water-logged archipelago of Maldives - other than land-locked tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan -- from all controls, even when specific bans used to be imposed on export of food grains and sugar, among other commodities, in years of domestic scarcity. The cache phrase ’all countries barring Bhutan and Maldives’ used to be written into occasional Indian ban orders of the kind, almost without specific request from these countries at times, or reference to higher-ups in India. New Delhi has thus been more than considerate in the matter, with or without any acknowledgement of the same, or appreciation thereof. Against this, the current Indian ban on the export of sand and aggregates, including M-sand (or, manufactured sand) has suddenly caught the negative imagination in Maldives.

Even while acknowledging the ground realities in India, which however needs to find a via media for the short, medium and long-terms to help a dependent and dependable friend as Maldives, Male should also consider creating new and additional constituencies in India, going beyond the suppliers of sand, aggregates and perishables. Already, Maldivian authorities are on record that they are also looking elsewhere for the sand and aggregates, but readily submit that the transport costs would be unbearable for the average Maldivian, including resort-investors and industrial users.

The authorities in Male, the local trading community and consumers, too, could consider the recurring benefit achieved from the cutting down on cost of other imports by providing tax and duty breaks on white-goods, which invariably are imported from relatively distant lands like Australia, Singapore and Malaysia - but could come maybe at half the cost, with large saving on transportation and petrol/diesel imports, if brought from India or Sri Lanka. It can create additional constituencies in these two countries for Maldives, as other nations have found in similar other situations, if only over a period.

Distracted by democratisation?

It is possible that the turn of political events centred on the advent of multi-party democracy over the past several years may have distracted Maldives, and diffused its attention from equally pressing issues like those flagged by the US Report and highlighted by the specified Indian concern. Yet, the world does not wait for Maldives to set its political house in order - as a succession of US/UN reports on human trafficking and human rights have shown over the past years. It is sad that a succession of political leadership in the country over the past years had not found the time -- and more so the inclination -- to address the larger issues cited in the annual reports of the US State Department - which for right reasons and wrong, have come to be acknowledged as bench-mark of an international kind, whether or not one likes it or not.

Yet, none of these can address Maldives’ immediate need for relief on the Indian visa and on the import of aggregates and sand - for which an early negotiated settlement would be required, post haste. Having failed to flag the immigrants’ concerns at the political level as India has done on other issues of common concern, New Delhi could now evaluate the forward movement and future commitments from Male, to review the current position. Maybe, it is time, India too created a ’watch-list’ or at least a ’check-list’ to calibrate the performance against commitments, and provide an internal time-frame for moving up and down the ladder, possibly restoring for the time facilities that were existing earlier.

On the ground yet, the results are mixed at best. The Maldivian police is known to have since registered a case against seven locals who had attacked an Indian teacher for awarding corporal punishment to a student more recently. It may be a precedent that the police have also forwarded the matter to the Prosecutor-General’s office for taking the accused to the court. Yet, at the height of the ’visa controversy’ the police in another island did free two Maldivians and held back a Bangladesh citizen for the brutal rape and robbery committed on an Indian teacher. While the woman had to be transferred to an Indian hospital for treatment, the Maldivian police did not seem to have offered any explanation about releasing the two locals in the case.

US action on Bangladesh

It is anybody’s guess why the Government authorities in Male do not seem to have asked for reports, and/or initiated action against erring officials in such cases. If there have been any action on that score, they do not get well publicised in the local media, whatever the reason. Nor is there any explanation why the pro-active (and at times over-active) parliamentary panels that have adopted imaginative approaches for taking up excessively politicised domestic issues have failed even to take note of the justifiable humanitarian concerns of a fourth of the nation’s resident population, only because they are not local citizens having a right to vote.

Instead, it may do a lot of good if the Maldivian authorities and also the political class began addressing the international concerns on the emigrant labour front, converting some of the current interim arrangements on the Indian front into more substantive institutional mechanisms and methods for application to other emigrants, including those from fellow South Asian countries as Bangladesh. There are also domestic apprehensions over long-term demographic changes and social order, with intervening law and order issues that could have serious consequences for the nation and the nation’s image as a global tourism destination’. If true, these issues have to be addressed, either way - through well thought-out policies and effective enforcement. There is no use crying over spilt milk, all over again, and on issues where delayed corrective would amount to no corrective.

A week after the State Department report on Maldives, the US has cut ’trade aid’ to Bangladesh, citing the death of 1,200 workers in a building-collapse in a ill-kept garment factory in a dilapidated condition. The decision to withdraw the ’Generalised System of Preferences’ (GSP) for duty-free export of 500-odd items, following long-term unattended complaints on the poor state of Bangladesh factories and non-existent/non-operational labour laws, would mean that the country would lose the ’competitive price advantage’ in the US.

In the case of Bangladesh, the American sanctions have arrived six years after the initiation of the process. As has been the wont in other cases of the kind, the European Union (EU) that is even more sensitive to human rights and humanitarian concerns for historic reasons could follow suit with more stringent actions of the kind under their own GSP. While the EU is often seen as more accommodative on the time-frame, it applies greater pressure on targeted countries with every visiting dignitary or delegation driving home the point, at every turn, particularly at times, the host-nation had already under other pressures to deliver, if only to fast track the process.

Maldives does not have much to export to the rest of the world. Applied to Maldives, if ’imaginatively’, it may - if at all - lead to ’travel advisories’ for their tourists who throng the Maldivian resorts, year after year, and account for the largest chunk of forex earnings. Purported friends of Maldives like China, leave alone perceived western friends of the MDP, had issues similar ’travel advisories’ after the political developments of February 2012. In the Indian Ocean neighbourhood of Sri Lanka, the EU withdrew GPS facility, citing HR issues, a couple of years ago - and it remains to be restored. There would be no use thus for Maldives to complain after the event, as all these nations have strong human rights/ labour rights movements - and policies -- influencing popular sentiments and political decisions even more.

India, now seen as Maldives’ ’tormentor’ by some in the country, has had its share of the same over the past two decades. Non-governmental organisations funded by counterparts in the West had come down heavily on the match-box industry in southern Tamil Nadu, leather and lock-making industry in various parts of the country, and even the makers of Kashmiri shawls and carpets in the troubled north Indian State for illegal exploitation of child-labour. They also criticised the Government of India and the respective State Governments with collective insensitivity contributing to wanton inaction.

While it did hurt national pride at one time, today, children in many of these sectors and States have taken to schooling and are leading a better-quality life, without burning out fast at a young age. Of course, there is also the other extreme of NGOs funded by overseas institutions stalling coal-mines and the Russian-aided Koodamkulam nuclear power-project in the name of environment safety, lifestyle and livelihood concerns of the locals. The Indian Government’s repeated reassurances and detailed explanations have not convinced the motivated campaigners, who seem to be having an agenda of their own, whatever the reason, justification and goal.

If the US report has covered the larger matrix on the Maldivian front, going beyond the enumerated Indian concerns under a handful of categories, instances involving Indians has to be seen as forming that matrix. It is possible that the US report drew extensively on the episodes of the kind, involving not only Indians but also other nationals working in Maldives, where the plight of the Bangladeshi nationals occasionally attract local media attention, in comparison, maybe because of greater visibility. After all, the US has said that countries were "getting comfortable being on the Tier-Two Watch List, doing a minimum amount, not really doing all that much, not on the upward trajectory of a Tier-Two or a Tier-One country". And Maldives has to beat that perception before the year is out, whether or not the country in the midst of a series of elections - for the presidency (September), local councils (December) and Parliament in May next.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Court rules PPM primary as legitimate

The Civil Court has ruled the Progressive Party of Maldives’ presidential primary as a valid election. The court passed the ruling in the case filed by Umar Naseer, who claimed that an excess of 8,915 people were allowed to illegally vote during the PPM primary held late last March.

The court declared that plaintiff had failed to produce enough evidence to prove that a person outside the PPM membership had cast a vote during the election. However, the court pointed out that the PPM had failed to publish the party’s voter’s registry two weeks prior to the election, as required by the party’s regulation. However, since Umar Naseer had not raised the issue during the period, it has to be regarded that he had consented to it.

The court ruling further stated that the law governing political parties does not require a person to be registered at the Elections Commission in order to acquire membership of a political party. It also stated that the decision by the PPM Strategic Committee that a member who had signed up for another party can still vote in the primary, is a fundamentally wrong decision, Umar Naseer was not able to produce enough evidence to prove that such a person had voted during the PPM primary.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, June 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’MACL can develop airport with loans’

Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) can develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) without leasing the airport to foreigners, new managing director of the company Ibrahim ’Bandhu’ Saleem said Thursday.

Saleem said the airport cannot be developed within a few days. In that regard, Saleem believes that a "mega project" is needed on national level to modernize the airport. To make the project a success, the people must bear three to four years in every phase, he said. Saleem is currently preparing to announce the plan.

Saleem also said securing the US$350 million needed by the government for the airport development plan through a loan was not a problem. However, he was quick to point out that a lot of things needed to be done before choosing to do so.

"This is a big asset. We admit that there are wastes here. That waste must be plugged. Make it more efficient. The financial return must be boosted. When we take a foreign loan we need to abide by their rules. Then our future will be really bright. I won’t say this is not possible. We can do this. We will do this," Saleem stressed.

Saleem further explained that the industries such as fisheries and tourism must be strengthened under the national plan to develop the airport. In order to boost tourist arrivals, stalled resort development projects must be expedited and bed capacity must be increased significantly, he said. The entire Maldives economic system is in dire need of discipline, he added.

"The major obstacle to this is Maldives’ budget deficit. If that is not rectified we won’t be able to get a loan with decent interest. If we don’t have a good budget we are required to pay four percent instead of just two percent interest. That is the penalty. So this cannot be done by MACL alone," Saleem detailed.

At present security is paramount for the airport, he said. The biggest aim is to construct a new runway and convert the present one into a taxiway, he added. Explaining the plan, Saleem aims to expand the apron, bring in new radars and fire trucks to boost the safety of the airport.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 27 June, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Work on Passenger Information System

Maldives Department of Immigration and Emigration has handed over the implementation and management of Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) eBorder system to Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated (ARINC), an international company that provides transport communications and systems engineering solutions.

The eBorder system will allow the government and airport authorities to review passenger information before aircrafts land at the airport, optimizing efficiency and passenger flow, as well as enhancing overall border security and control.

International media sources report that the five-year contract requires the company to implement the system in all international airports across the country.

Hamid Fathuhulla, Deputy Controller of the Department of Immigration and Emigration said that Maldives continues to attract an increasing number of visitors from all over the world and that ARINC was chosen to implement the system because of their industry leadership and their proven expertise and experience in working with the airports and airlines around the world.

The APIS processes information electronically and translates data into the formats required by border control authorities. It also allows communication and sharing of passenger information among border control authorities in the country of destination. Passengers will be charged $ 2 each, and airlines a fixed annual fee for the maintenance of the system, which is being set up with Indian aid.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, 28 June, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">12 Nepali citizens dead in Uttarkhand floods

Relatives of Nepali pilgrims missing in the Uttarakhand floods have flocked to places like Dehradun, Hardwar and Rishikesh in search of their lost kin. As of now, 12 Nepali pilgrims have been confirmed dead in the flood.

At least 300 Nepalis are missing in the June 16 flood and landslides that struck India’s northern State, which is home to four famous Hindu pilgrimage sites of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.

Nepalis are present in large numbers outside Rescue Coordination Centre and Uttarakhand State Emergency and Operation Centre and the security agencies in Dehradun.

News reports have emerged in India that some Nepali porters and labourers were involved in looting the victims after the flooding. The report was strongly condemned by various Nepali organisations in India.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, The Kathmandu Post, June 22-27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President returns after medical check-up

President Dr Ram Baran Yadav arrived home on Friday afternoon after undergoing medical check-up in Japan.

Upon his arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Yadav expressed happiness that suspicions of a serious health problem was removed after a series of medical tests conducted at Tokyo University Teaching Hospital. "I am happy that the suspicion has been removed. I do not have any health problems now," said Yadav in his brief remarks to media persons.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, June 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Honorary consulate in Adelaide

The Office of the Honorary Consulate of Nepal was inaugurated at Adelaide in South Australia amidst a special function on Thursday.

Issuing a press statement, Nepal´s embassy in Australia said that the consulate was jointly inaugurated by Nepal´s ambassador to Australia, Rudra Kumar Nepal and Chief of Protocol at Department of the Premier and Cabinet of South Australia Bev Smart.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Nepal embassy Australia, June 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rae, new Indian envoy

The Indian Government has formally named Ranjit Rae as the new Ambassador to Nepal. Rae, 56, is an Indian Foreign Service (IAS) officer of the 1980 batch, and is currently serving as India´s Ambassador to Vietnam.

"He is expected to take up his assignment shortly," the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement. Sources said his assignment was approved two weeks by the Government of Nepal. He will replace current Indian Ambassador Jayanta Prasad, whose tenure in Kathmandu will end in August.

Rae was a Joint Secretary for the Nepal-Bhutan Division at the MEA from October 2002 to January 2006. He was Press Secretary to the President of India from December 1995 to December 1997.

Rae was also the First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of India, New York. Previously, he served in different capacities at various Indian missions in countries, including Uganda and Hungary.

< class="text11verdana">Source: MEA statement, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ties with China have ’entered new phase’

China’s State Councillor of China, Yang Jiechi, who visited Nepal this week said that the age-old friendship and cooperation between the two countries have now reached a new turning-point.

While inaugurating the China-funded Kathmandu Ring Road Improvement Project, Mr Yang said that Nepal is not just a "dear friend" and a "close neighbor", but also an "excellent partner" of China. "I believe that we are now at a new turning point in our friendship and cooperation. And this friendship and cooperation will grow," he said.

China has committed to provide 340 million renminbi for the expansion of the Koteshwor-Kalanki section of the Ring Road as a part of the Ring Road Improvement Project, which was jointly inaugurated by Vice-President ParamanandaJha and Yang.

Mr Yang, who arrived in Kathmandu Monday leading an 18-member delegation, spoke about the recent meeting between the visiting Nepali delegation and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where the president firmly said China wanted cooperative and comprehensive partnership with Nepal.

Mr Yang held separate meeting with Chairman of the Interim Election Council of Ministers, Khil Raj Regmi. After the meeting, three different agreements were signed, including an Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, and two separate exchange of letters on the China-aided Nepal National Armed Police Force Academy project and on logistic materials for the Office of Supplies for the Constituent Assembly Election.

While China will provide 200 million renminbi for the construction of the APF Academy, it will provide 10 million renminbi as election support to the Election Commission as per the exchange of letters.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, June 26, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Plans for ethnic conference

The Myanmar Government has announced that a long awaited all-inclusive ethnic conference will take place shortly. It remains unclear, however, how ’all-inclusive’ it will be and who will attend.

The intended conference was announced not long after a draft ’Comprehenisve Union Peace and Ceasfire Agreement’ was presented on May 13 2013 to the Myanmar Peace Centre for deliberation by a group comprising: PadohKweHtoo Win (KNU); Sai La and SaiNgeun (Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS/SSA); HarnYawnghwe, director of Brussels-based Euro Burma Office (EBO); and HkunHtunOo, leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

The agreement was the result of a number of meetings held by the Working Group for Ethnic Coordination (WGEC) which is financed and supported by the Euro-Burma Office. The WGEC originally included members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), but, due to the fact that the agreement had finally been agreed to, the UNFC dissolved its relationship with them.

The one main rebel outlier, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has not yet reached a ceasefire agreement. The most recent round of talks between KIA and government representatives in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina held between, May 28-30 failed to yield the deal government authorities anticipated. The two sides agreed only to a seven-point agreement stating that "the partiesundertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities" and "to hold a political dialogue" - though no firm commitment was made concerning when such talks would commence.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Asia Times Online, June 25, 2013; Mizzima News, June 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mobile phone contracts cleared

Myanmar has awarded lucrative mobile telecom licences to Norway’s Telenor and the Qatari firm Ooredoo. Eleven foreign companies were short-listed in their bid to supply telecommunications infrastructure in the country. The winners overcame fierce competition from the likes of Singtel and Bharti Airtel, as well as a bid by the Digicel group involving one of Myanmar’s richest men, Serge Pun, and the billionaire financier George Soros. The successful firms will have to provide voice services across 75 per cent of the country within five years and data services across half of it.

Neither Telenor nor Ooredoo released figures on the value of their bids or how much money they will plough into establishing a mobile network across the country. However, one bidder said it would cost more than £2bn to build an extensive mobile network in Burma, while Digicel said it was prepared to invest £6bn if it won.

"We are looking forward to working with the government and people of Myanmar in developing the country’s telecommunication industry, a sector that will play a key role in Myanmar’s socioeconomic development," said SigveBrekke, head of Telenor Asia.

The move opens up one of the world’s last untapped mobile phone markets. At the moment, few people in Myanmar, can afford mobile phone handsets and call charges. It is estimated that just 9% of Burma’s 60 million people have mobile phones.

< class="text11verdana">Source: BBC, June 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Time magazine slammed

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has lashed out at Time magazine’s cover story on "Buddhist terror" for undermining Government’s efforts to ease sectarian tensions in the country.

In a statement issued Sunday night, President Sein said the Time lead article ’The Face of Buddhist Terror’, featuring Myanmar’s extremist monk Wirathu, could be "detrimental to the trust building between religions in Myanmar, and damage the image of Buddhism which has been the main religion of Myanmar for thousands of years." The President defended Wirathu as a member of the Sangha, the equivalent of the Buddhist clergy. The Government banned the issue of the magazine.

"The article entitled ’The Face of Buddhist Terror’ in Time magazine July 1 issue is prohibited from being produced, sold or and distributed in original copy or photocopy in order to prevent further racial and religious conflicts," Ye Htut said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu Business Line, Agencies, June 24, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Treason charges against Musharaff

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that his government would be initiating a high treason case against former military dictator Pervez Musharraf for subverting the constitution of Pakistan twice. He is said to be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution, the first time the article has been applied to anyone. Sharif, in a statement to the parliament which was simultaneously presented to the Supreme Court, said that the government "firmly subscribes to the view that the holding in abeyance of the Constitution on 3 November 2007, constituted an act of high treason".

A four-member committee of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had been constituted to prove treason charges against Musharaff. The Supreme Court has reserved its judgment on the case after hearing the government’s point of view and adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.

The main opposition parties, The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) supported the decision of the government to put Musharaff under trial. However, a PPP leader said that Article 6 of the Constitution should be applicable on everyone from October 1999 onwards. He said that applying the law only to the former dictator’s November 2007 actions was tantamount to double standards.

In the meanwhile, Musharaff was also named an accused in the Benazir Bhutto Murder case by the FIA in the anti-terrorism court. However, in what would a huge relief for the former military general, the Islamabad High Court declared that he had no role in the detention of over 60 judges of the superior courts in 2007.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, June 25, 2013; Dawn, June 27, 2013; The Express Tribune, June 24, 2013; The Express Tribune, June 27, 2013; The News, June 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TTP does not rule out peace talks

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a fresh video this week in which its spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and member of its council Dr. Asad declared that they have not ruled out the option of talks, they do not consider the present circumstances as being conducive for the talks.

The TTP claimed that the Pakistan government had no authority to hold talks. Ehsan said that only when it could take a stand against the country’s intelligence agencies would the talks be feasible.

The TTP spokesman further states that the Awami National Party has been targeted because it became a party to the war on terror and that the TTP is monitoring policies and views of the newly elected provincial government of the PTI.

In the meanwhile, the TTP has come under attack from rival groups in the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. TTP sources said hundreds of armed fighters comprising Lashkar-i-Taiba, Ansarul Islam (AI), ’Mohmand force’ and other local militias (lashkars) were part of a joint attack on Pakistani Taliban bases in Kunar and Nagarhar provinces in Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The News, June 25, 2013; Dawn, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">First call on US equipment

According to a top-ranking US official, Pakistan will get first call on all equipment that the US is likely to leave behind in Afghanistan post-2014. Washington believes that it is obligated towards Pakistan for facilitating the opening of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar. Moreover, as it begins its drawdown from Afghanistan it is going to be dependent on Pakistan for the exit route.

All the equipment that the US finds too costly to ship back would be left behind in Afghanistan. In particular, Pakistan could benefit from ammunition, vehicles, construction material, air-conditioners and so on. Much more could be left behind if the situation deteriorates. It is unclear how much Pakistan would have to pay for this equipment.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Business Standard, June 27, 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">APRC will be basis for PSC: President

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during a meeting with the leaders of the leftist parties, said the basis of the Parliamentary Select Committee process would be the recommendations of the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) headed by Minister Tissa Vitharana.

The President said this when making a presentation with regard to the 13th Amendment to the leaders of the Left parties, with the participation of representatives of "State agencies", sources said.

However during the discussion the President did not give reasons for the omission of Prof Tissa Vitharana from the PSC headed by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, despite the issue being raised by the Minister Vasudewa Nanayakkara, informed sources said.

Sources said that during the meeting attended by Ministers Vasudeva Nanayakkara and D E W Gunasekara, the President briefed the Ministers about "inherent administrative matters related to the granting of Police Powers" to the Provincial Councils. The Ministers had in turn presented their "unequivocal stance" with regard to the 13th Amendment, sources said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SLFP for amended 13-A

The ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), making its stance on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution for the first time, has said that it sought amendments to key provisions and would await the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the matter.

At a SLFP group meeting presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the government’s main constituent party had agreed that the legislation would not be done away in its entirety sources said.

Earlier there was confusion over the stance of the SLFP with longtime SLFPer Reginold Cooray, Rajitha Senarathne and Minister Dilan Perera taking a public stance for the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution, inclusive of land and Police powers.

Sources said that the SLFP had decided against providing Land and Police powers to the Provincial Councils, together with the removal of the merger and majority clauses enshrined in the Constitution. However, member of the executive group and cabinet spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella declined to provide specifics, stating that the group had decided to await the decision of the PSC and sought amendments to key provisions.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PSC to meet on July 9

A parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for Constitutional Amendments will hold its first meeting on July 9. The Committee comprises 18 UPFA parliamentarians.

Leader of the House Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Island that it would meet on July 9 at the parliamentary complex. Political parties such as the TNA, JVP and the UNP had not appointed members to the?PSC.

Minister de Silva added that the political parties not represented on the PSC would be allowed to appoint members even after July 9.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">LTTE women’s wing leader freed

The Government has released former LTTE women’s wing leader Siva Subramanium Sivahami, alias Thamilini, from the Poonthotam Rehabilitation Centre in Vavuniya, Rehabilitation Commissioner General Dharshana Hettiarchchi said. Thamilini underwent a one-year rehabilitation at Poonthotam following a court directive. She was handed over to her parents in Vavuniya.

Since the conclusion of the conflict, the government has released over 11,000 ex-LTTE cadres following rehabilitation, though several hundred personnel remained in detention pending legal action.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, June 26, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tension over peace talks

US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was ready to engage with the Taliban leadership. This comes days after Hamid Karzai had voiced his opposition to the reconciliation process on the grounds that his government was being undermined in the process and over the nomenclature of the Taliban office in Doha. According to Ambassador Dobbins the ball was now in the Taliban’s court.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry and the US Ambassador to Afghanistan also warned that the Doha office would be shut down if the Taliban did not agree to hold direct negotiations with the Afghan High Peace Council or as per the instructions laid out by the Afghan government.

The Taliban for its part had expressed frustration over the Afghan government’s reaction to the naming of the Doha office as the office of the ’Islamic Emirate’. ShaheenSuhail, Spokesman of the Taliban’s office in Qatar, said that Kabul’s way of handling the situation may derail the peace process. The Taliban reaffirmed their commitment to using the office for talking with the representatives of a dozen countries and members of the HPC.

However, the Taliban vowed to continue their armed struggle, despite the peace negotiations, until all their demands are not met and the US forces have left Afghanistan. True to their word, 8 Taliban insurgents, later in the week, attacked the Presidential Palace and the Ariana Hotel, believed to be the CIA’s base, in Kabul. All the attackers were killed in the armed struggle that followed, but this incident raises further doubts regarding the sincerity of the Taliban to hold talks.

In the meantime, the Afghan Senate asked President Hamid Karzai to take parliament into confidence on sending a government delegation to Qatar for talks with the Taliban. "We want the president to avoid taking any unilateral steps as long as parliamentarians, political leaders, tribal elders and religious scholars don’t take a unanimous decision on the opening of Taliban’s office in Qatar," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, June 26, 2013; Khaama Press, June 22, 2013; Khaama Press, June 25, 2013; Pajhwok, June 23, 2013; Pajhwok, June 26, 2013; Tolo News, June 22-23, 2013; Tolo News, June 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Leading opium producer!

According to the 2013 World Drug Report, launched by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan was the leading producer and cultivator of opium in the world in 2012. As much as 74 per cent of the world’s illicit opium production took place in Afghanistan.

According to UNODC data, nearly one million Afghans, between 15-64 years of age, are affected by drug use in the South Asian nation. UNODC added that addiction also poses a high social and economic cost, unlikely to be borne by the country’s current public budget. Currently, only 10 percent of drug users had received any form of drug treatment.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Herat Governor resigns

The Governor of Herat Province, Daud Shah Saba, resigned this week from his post. He claimed his resignation was a result of powerful figures and favour-seeking elements not wanting to continue his efforts at developing the province.

He accused the Independent Directorate of Local Governance of creating hurdles to his stay in the governor’s house. However, he refused to go into details or name anyone in particular.

Saba was appointed as the Governor in August 2010 by Hamid Karzai.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, June 27, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US suspends trade privileges

The US has suspended trade privileges for Bangladesh after a six-year review exposed the serious shortcomings in safety and labour standards. US President Barack Obama, in a communication Congress, said, "I have determined that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh’s designation as a beneficiary developing country under the GSP programme because it is not taking steps to afford internationally recognised worker rights."

As a result of this move, tariff will be imposed on the goods exported by Bangladesh to the US. In 2012, Bangladesh was spared $2 million in tariffs on $35 million worth of exports to the US.

The Obama Administration plans to initiate new discussions with the Bangladesh government on steps to improve the working environment so that trade benefits can be restored and tragedies resulting in loss of human lives in the work place can be prevented. However, there is no particular time table for these discussions to be held.

Analysts believe that while the economic cost of such a move may not be high, it carries a significant reputational cost and may encourage countries in the European Union to withdraw trade privileges to Bangladesh as well.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, June 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt eyes majority stake in Grameen Bank

The Government plans to turn the Grameen Bank ordinance into a law to gain a controlling stake in the microcredit organisation.

The Grameen Bank (GB) Inquiry Commission was set up by the government in September 2012 to review the operation of GB and 48 other legally independent organisations founded by Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus and to make recommendations about their future structures.

The commission plans to recommend bringing changes to the legal structure of Grameen Bank, which will allow the government to raise its share to at least 51 percent from 25 percent as mentioned in the Grameen Bank Ordinance 1983. The government is waiting for the commission’s final report before finalising the draft law.

The Government says it has decided to transform the GB ordinance into a law along with other ordinances promulgated between 1982 and 1986 by a military government to prevent those from becoming void in line with a court order. According to the draft, GB’s paid-up capital will be raised to Tk 300 crore from the current Tk 60 crore.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two indicted for 1971 killings

Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, among the "most wanted" for war crimes during Bangladesh’s Liberation War of 1971, were indicted this week for the killing of Bangladeshi intellectuals in 1971.

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 has framed 11 charges against the "Al-Badr leaders" for their alleged involvement in the killing of 18 intellectuals between December 11 and December 15 in 1971. Among their victims, nine were Dhaka University Professors, six were journalists and three were physicians.

The three-member tribunal led by Justice Obaidul Hassan with members Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and Judge Md Shahinur Islam also fixed July 15 for recording the prosecution’s opening statement and testimony of their witnesses.

This is the second war crimes case in which the trial is being conducted in absentia, as the tribunal’s attempts to have the accused in the courtroom had failed. Earlier, the court convicted "absconded" expelled Jamaat-e-Islami member Abul Kalam Azad also known as Bachchu Razakar.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, June 26, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China makes intrusion

According to a Times Now report, the channel has received an intelligence note which says that China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) has intruded into Bhutan, one of the most reliable allies of New Delhi in South Asia. The report said that the Chinese had not only set up three camps with PLA personnel to guard them but were also carrying out surveillance at two locations.

The three camps mentioned in the TV report were Sakteng, Pang La, Photegang. The report also claimed that 30 to 40 soldiers were till date within Bhutanese territory.

A massive diplomatic row had broken out between New Delhi and Beijing a few months ago after the Chinese Army intruded into the Indian territory in Ladakh and set up tents there. The incident had caused irritants in the bilateral relations just ahead of the visit of the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Times Now, June 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">River diversion inaugurated

Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, chief advisor to the Interim Government and chief justice of Bhutan inaugurated the river diversion of the 720-MW Mangdechhu Hydro Power Project on June 23. The ceremony was attended by Mr V.P Haran, Ambassador of India to Bhutan, Mr. Bimal Julka, Special Secretary and Financial Advisor, and Mr. Akhilesh Mishra, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs (North), Government of India.

In his address to the gathering, the Lyonpo commended Mr. A.K Mishra, Managing Director, Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Auhority (MHPA) and his able team and workers for achieving this important feat of river diversion and for setting the stage for the construction of the dam.

Lyonpo informed the gathering that the Royal Government was pleased to know that Mr. Ranjan Mathai, Foreign Secretary of India, during his visit to Thimphu, had reiterated the assurance of continued support of the Government of India.

"This will not only strengthen Bhutan’s economy and help drive the country towards economic self-reliance, but will also enhance the energy security of the two countries whose destinies are inextricably linked," Lyonpo said adding that it also recognizes the unalterable friendship and partnership that have been bestowed upon the two countries by their shared rich history and geography.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Bhutan Observer, June 23, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rs 60 for a dollar

The rupee entered unchartered territory slipping below the psychological resistance level of 60 on Wednesday as Reserve Bank of India gave up defending the local currency at the Rs 55.98 level -- a position that it had been holding for several days through intermittent dollar sales.

The rupee, which tracked global cues, weakened as the dollar gained against most emerging market currencies. Earlier, the rupee had closed at a record low of Rs 59.68 to a dollar and the benchmark BSE Sensex on Monday had fallen 233 points or 1.2 percent, to 18540-the lowest close in more than two months-as foreign funds continued to pull out from emerging markets after the US Federal Reserve signalled last week to wind down its monetary stimulus programme.

Gold price also slumped to a one-month low of Rs 26,145 per 10 gm on Wednesday, on the back of a steep fall in global prices while silver dropped to a three year low, at $ 18.63 an ounce. The slide set in on reports that the US was withdrawing its stimulus programme.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, June 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Militants kill 8 jawans in Kashmir

On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, militants carried out two deadly attacks in a of 30 minutes, killing eight soldiers and injuring over 13 others.

The security agencies had an input that militants were planning to carry out a sensational attack in the Valley ahead of the PM’s visit to make their presence felt.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said such attacks will not deter the peace process in Kashmir. Singh, who started his two-day visit to the state with a public rally in Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir, said his government will not let "terrorism survive". Dr Singh was accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Tribune, June 25, 2013; Hindustan Times, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cabinet go-ahead for CBI autonomy

Under pressure from the Supreme Court, the Union Cabinet gave its approval for enhancing the powers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

At a meeting of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the government cleared the proposals put forward by a Group of Ministers (GoM) for enhancing the powers of the CBI, seen till now as working under the shadow of the government at the Centre.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Tribune, June 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Narrowing differences with US

At the 46th strategic dialogue held between India and the US, a host of issues ranging from civil nuclear, immigration reform, trade and Afghanistan besides taking stock of progress made by their 30 Plus dialogue mechanisms.

India and the US have agreed to set a September target for signing the commercial agreement between the two entities representing them - Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and energy major Westinghouse Electric Company.

On India’s concerns on Afghanistan, Washington said that New Delhi’s apprehensions will not be overlooked, emphasising that discussion with the Taliban will take place only after conditions laid out by the Afghan government are met.

In order to provide further momentum to the expanding bilateral ties, US Vice President John Biden will pay a visit during late July, Mr Kerry said after co-chairing the meeting with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

At a joint Press conference, Mr Khurshid said the proposed talks with Taliban "is an experiment that is being done in order to find an alternative for sustainable peace in Afghanistan" and there cannot be disagreement with issues or dimensions which are of concern to India. He said Mr Kerry assured him that New Delhi’s concern would neither be "overlooked nor undermined".

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, June 24, 2013; The Asian Age, June 25, 2013; The Indian Express, June 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Border talks with China

India and China will hold the 16th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) on the boundary question in Beijing on Friday and Saturday, with the discussions sees as taking an added significance in the wake of leadership change in China and the recent incursion by Chinese troops in Depsang in eastern Ladakh.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the two sides would use the meetings to "follow through on the requirements of the leaders of the two countries," who had called on the two SRs to inject momentum into the negotiating process, as well as ensure that incidents such as the three-week stand-off in Ladakh do not occur.

Earlier, signalling its willingness to meet India halfway on creating a new architecture on confidence-building measures on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Beijing has accepted New Delhi’s condition that the proposed Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) will not amount to freezing current troop levels on the frontier.

Responding to the Indian draft of the agreement, sources said China has also clarified that it does not expect the clause on returning inadvertent border-crossers to apply to Tibetans as well. Many Tibetans cross over to India for fear of prosecution, a channel India has always kept open.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, June 25, 2013, The Hindu, June 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">International airport for Manipur

With land being acquired in Imphal, Manipur is set to get its first international airport. While Tripura will also have its first international airport soon, Manipur’s has a special significance because of the state’s close ties with neighbouring Myanmar.

Calling it his dream project, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said:"Guwahati has had an international airport for years. But with India becoming more aggressive in its Look East policy and Myanmar opening up, Manipur will soon become a significant regional hub for international flights to South East Asian countries."

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Indian Express, June 24, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CNG, gas prices up

As a result of the rupee depreciation, compressed natural gas (CNG) prices which were last hiked in January this year-have been further increased by ` 2 per kg in Delhi. The new consumer price of ` 41.90 per kg in Delhi will be effective from midnight on July 1, 2013.

In the meanwhile, the Union Government also approved a doubling of natural gas prices from the present $ 4.2 mbtu to $ 8.4 mbtu from April, 2014. Many experts feel the increase would likely to lead to a hike in power tariffs, increase fertilizer cost and make CNG transportation more expensive.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, June 25, 2013; The Hindu, June 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">External debt jumps 12.9 pc

India’s external debt rose 12.9 percent in FY13 to $ 390 billion on account of sharp rise in short-term trade credit.

There has been sizeable rise in external commercial borrowings (ECBs), short-term debt and NRI deposits as well, data released by the Reserve Bank of India said.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Economic Times, June 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Wagah-like ceremonies on Bangla border

In a marked difference from the border ceremony on the India-Pakistan frontier, retreat ceremonies planned for the India-Bangladesh border will include renditions from the works of famous Bengali poet KaziNazrul Islam, who spoke about undivided Bengal.

India and Bangladesh decided to organise retreat ceremonies after talks in March between their border forces. It was also decided to keep the ceremonies cordial, devoid of any feet stomping or aggressive body language.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Indian Express, June 25, 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan & Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr.Satish Misra

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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