MonitorsPublished on Feb 23, 2012
The upcoming by-elections in Myanmar on April 1 have generated a lot of hype and justifiable attention. The polls have also generated a lot of expectations, but may not deliver much in real terms. However, in terms of trends and moods, it could be a pointer to the future.
Myanmar by-polls: less for now, more for future

< class="heading1">Analysis

The upcoming by-elections in Myanmar on April 1 have generated a lot of hype and justifiable attention. The polls have also generated a lot of expectations, but may not deliver much in real terms. However, in terms of trends and moods, it could be a pointer to the future. The nation’s democratic institutions are yet to acquire the status and teeth as their counterparts in other parts of the world with the result the elections may not change the legislative prerogatives of the Government, as the composition of Parliament is not expected to change drastically, to upset floor majorities.

Yet, the by-elections are crucial, for different reasons, to both the regime in Nay Pyi Taw and for the country as a whole. First and foremost, the international community is looking at the by-elections as a litmus test to gauge the pro-democracy reforms efforts. The successful conduct of the polls would decide the future trajectory of Nay Pyi Taw’s foreign policy and relation with western nations. At the same time, the polls would also become a benchmark Myanmar’s reforms process and might go down in the pages of history as event-turner.

Second is that the polls would also witness the participation of political parties that have followed mainstream politics such as the National League for Democracy (NLD), which has claimed to be the Opposition to the ruling junta for long. This would also be the first time that this globally-recognised Opposition group would participate in a political process that that has been sponsored by the junta in civvies.

The third factor is that the by-election would loosely address and cater to a new generation of Myanmarese. This symbolism incidentally cuts across the political spectrum. It might be still be a coincidence that Aung San SuuKyi of the NLD and President TheinSein, who are otherwise the faces of democracy and authoritarianism, respectively, are also partners of sorts to the continuing reforms process. In this light, the by-elections seem to be a romantic affair for the nation with democracy and reforms, from the morbid stories of the past. In over two decades, this by-election is the first political development that can be termed as a credible democratic process.

However, the election at best will go on to set the tone of politics in Myanmar in the future. For the present, it will have limited impact. The run-up to April 1 has generated a lot of steam and given the Opposition as a whole a lot of momentum in their re-entry into national politics. A lot will also depend on how fair and free the by-elections turn out to be. Even so the conduct of the political Opposition as a responsible legislative group, going beyond their street-smart image and access to international public opinion, would be watched with interest. They will now need to address the nation’s problems, and a domestic constituency.

Parliament is already flooded by members favourably pre-disposed towards the Government. The Constitution provides for a pre-dominant military presence, in the form of ex-Service men in the House. This is also the first time that Myanmar would have a participatory legislature. This in essence means that a better part of Parliament’s term and time would be taken up in establishing legislative procedures and precedents. Members of Parliament had visited India towards the end of 2011, for a better understanding of the legislative functions.

Yet, at the same time, the annual financial Bill was crowded by procedural obstacles when presented to Parliament. The presence of those who differ from the Government will have limited impact on the floor of the House. Yet, under the emerging circumstances of an infant democracy, the Government should not rail-road its legislative businesses on the Opposition. Nor should the latter feel frustrated and give up. It is a collaborative learning-effort, from which neither side could afford to distract. Balancing politico-electoral prerogatives and the demands of democracy-building is a tough task that the nation would have to address together, at the political, administrative, institutional and societal levels.

On the flip side the overall outcome of the polls, if it’s free and fair-- a commitment that been repeatedly been made by the Government -- will go a long way in changing the way the world looks at Myanmar and the way Myanmar looks at itself. As clearly conveyed by the actions of the junta in the past, the Government will be cautious in proceeding with political reforms. This in other words means that Nay Pyi Daw will take its next logical step only after assessing the pros and cons of the polls and poll results -- and the message it takes home from them. For, the by-elections will definitely set the tone for the next General Elections that are due in 2015, even if it may have only a limited say in the interim.

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

Maldives: Indian ’Roadmap’ on the right course

N Sathiya Moorthy

Despite ill-informed media reservations nearer home, the India-facilitated ‘Roadmap’ has taken off well on the ground in Maldives. Peace and normalcy have returned to the nation after weeks of unrest and disturbances that culminated in the resignation of President Mohammed Nasheed on February 7 and consequent street violence the next day. Other elements of the Roadmap have also taken off since, to varying degrees of success, but with the continuing aim of holding fresh elections to the presidency long before they become due in November 2013.

On Friday, 24 February, both the pro-Government parties and the Maldivian Democratic Party of former President Nasheed held parallel rallies in support of their respective cause. The venues of the two rallies in the national Capital of Male were not far from each other, yet peace prevailed. It was also the first public rally that President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik addressed after assuming office, and remained a political affair. The police that was first charged with revolting against the Nasheed presidency and then with attacking MDP protestors 24 hours later, was conspicuous by their small and non-interfering presence at these rallies.

The roadmap, crafted when Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai met Maldivian leaders less than 10 days after the ‘resignation episode’, has also succeeded to a greater or lesser extent in taking forward the political process. The Roadmap provided for the MDP to join the ‘National Unity Government’, proposed by President Waheed, on assuming office, but the MDP has stayed away. The MDP decision was not wholly unexpected under the circumstances. The party wanted President Waheed to replace Cabinet Ministers and senior officials, including the new chief of the Maldivian National Democratic Force (MNDF) replaced, charging them with direct participation in the affairs leading to President Nasheed’s resignation.

Yet, the MDP statement in this regard did not link their possible removal to the party joining the Government. At the same time, the MDP has not made a big issue of President Waheed’s choice for Vice-President. Philanthropist-businessman Waheed Deen does not seem to evoke much enthusiasm, but nor has his nomination been wholly unwelcome. However, the nomination wades through Parliament, which has to clear the name, remains to be seen however. The MDP will have to balance its political position in the matter with the personality of the choice before them.

After initial reservations and protestations, the MDP has joined the ‘Roadmap talks’, aimed at creating a conductive political atmosphere and constitutional provisions for advancing the presidential poll from November 2013, when alone it is due. The discussions during Secretary Mathai’s visit and the visit of other interlocutors have revolved around reforms to the electoral and judicial processes before the conduct of presidential polls. A section of the polity would want the Constitution amended to provide a five-year term for the new President after early polls. At present, any re-election would entail the President-elect only the residual part of the existing term, and the current suggestion seems to be in order.

The MDP seems inclined to participate in the Roadmap talks with the sole aim of finalising the date for presidential polls. The party has since compromised on its various positions with the sole aim of early elections in mind. Included in the MDP’s long wish-list was the demand for non-inclusion of political parties not represented in Parliament in the Roadmap talks. At the centre of the demand was former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). A break-away group from the Dhivehil Rayyathunge Party (DRP), founded by Gayoom earlier and registered with the Election Commission last year, the PPM cannot take away members elected under the DRP symbol, under the law. However, a sizeable number of DRP members of Parliament are known sympathisers of Gayoom and the PPM.

The fact is that the MDP has been making out successive cases against the new Government, only to climb down after a time. At a public rally, Nasheed has since claimed that the Waheed Government was going back on the written commitment to India on early polls. However, the Government refuted the charge and said that at no time had it given any commitment to any foreign country on the election date. Instead, it had only said that the election date would be decided by all the parties in the country through negotiations. The MDP’s reaction is awaited.

As if to focus on the central demand for early presidential polls, the MDP also seems playing down the earlier demand for an independent probe into the ‘resignation episode’ without in anyway giving up the same. The party has criticised the choice for Government-appointed committee for probing the incident, and want ‘foreign experts’ involved. The Government seems satisfied with the naming of the probe team as a part of the ‘Roadmap’ commitments. It seems to draw solace from the prevailing international opinion that Maldivians should be allowed to resolve their issues and problems among themselves without external influences or interferences.

With Parliament scheduled to meet on 1 March, after the usual recess, the MDP has expressed its desire to hear about the date for presidential polls beforehand. Having declared President Waheed’s Government illegal and illegitimate, the party could not be seen as allowing him to open the year’s first session with a traditional speech to the People’s Majlis. The MDP is also planning the next course of direct action, if only to pressure both the Government and the international community to come around to accepting its view.

Periodic announcement in this regard has been evoking disquiet, as the nation that takes pride in its institutions is yet to recover from the shock of country-wide street-violence of 8 February when MDP cadres torched court houses, police stations and other public property. Among the targets of arsonist violence was close to a fourth of around 175 police jeeps donated by India in the none-too-distant past. Replacing the lost property, for a nation eternally short of funds and existentially dependent on imports of all kinds, from sand to safety-pins, would be an effort in itself.

Simultaneously, both the Government and the MDP have begun taking their political war to far-away islands from Male, which is home to a third of the nation’s 350,000 population. MDP’s Nasheed was in the southern Addu City and Atoll, followed by President Waheed. Given Addui’s long history of being left out and his own contribution by making them feel inclusive by investing the local community with responsibilities in organising the prestigious SAARC Summit in November last, Nasheed declared that his vice-presidential running-mate would come from the place. His announcement was based on political considerations. After Male, Addu is the second largest urban and population centre, where the MDP has a strong base since inception.

There is general appreciation for President Nasheed’s at integrating the ‘rebel South’ with greater Maldives and involving the locals in the preparations for the prestigious SAARC Summit in November last -- with the choice of Addu City as the venue having its own political overtones. More recently, the post-resignation violence was at its worst in Addu than even in Male, according to reports. In intra-MDP politics, too, then Animal Husbandry Minister, Dr Ibrahim Didi, won the party’s presidency last year in a cadre-centric election, defeating better-acknowledged candidates, based in Male.

President Waheed made his first public, yet political appearance, at the non-MDP rally in Male on 24 February. In his speeches, both at Male and in the ‘rebellious South’ since, he has been harping on ‘national unity’ and Islam, the two issues that brought the anti-MDP parties and religious NGOs together under the banner of ‘December 23 Coalition’ against the Nasheed presidency. In a pre-recorded speech from Malaysia, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom asked the MDP to join the ‘national unity government’. As may be recalled, the MDP has been accusing Gayoom of being the ‘architect’ of the anti-Nasheed ‘conspiracy’ that led to the latter’s resignation.

The coming days could be difficult for political parties in the country to traverse together. Other than a continuing shared desire to have the entrenched man out of the way, the anti-MDP parties and groups do not have a clear-cut agenda, in terms of democratic and economic processes set in motion -- or, not set in motion -- by the Nasheed leadership while in office. It is similar to their shared desire for ousting President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom through democratic means prior to that. Their respective strategy for the presidential polls would determine their continued togetherness, where the presence of President Waheed, with no great political base to call its own, has made some difference.

On the policy/ideology front, the parties supporting President Waheed do not seem to be working towards putting the independence and inter-dependence of the various arms of the Government on a firm-footing. This was at the back of their coming together to form a new Government. Yet, any such move on their part in this regard would require a consensual approach in Parliament. The MDP is not too keen on extending cooperation in such matters, barring unlimited support for ordering early polls to the presidency.

The lack of delineated coordination and collaboration in a constitutional democracy was among the causes for the political deadlock that marked the Nasheed presidency. It cannot be allowed to repeat in the future if political stability and electoral democracy have to coexist in Maldives. Here, the responsibility of the MDP is even more than that of its divided yet desperate rivals. The party seems contend with flagging democracy issues still, punctuating every sentence of theirs with negative references to Gayoom. This may impress sections of the international community eating out of its hand, but does not address ground realities.

In the face of fresh presidential elections, the party leadership needs to think seriously in terms of acknowledging protocols and procedures that are among the bedrocks of democracy. Having upset the Government employees, who numbered a tenth of the nation’s population and represented a near-half dependency for family incomes, through non-populist measures and consequently the constitutionally-mandated Civil Services Commission (CSC), too, the Nasheed Presidency soon added to the long list other arms of the Government, through an uncanny knack -- from which the police and the armed forces have not been excluded since. The party leadership needs to initiate a collective mind-set for a future MDP Government to work with and within the system, and then possibly on the system -- rather than against the system. A post-poll Maldives cannot afford it.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ahmed Saleem new SAARC Secretary-General

The President’s Office has named former President of the Maldives Human Rights Commission, Ahmed Saleem, to the vacant post of SAARC Secretary- General, caused by the resignation of Dhiyana Saeed, over the erstwhile Government of President Mohammed Nasheed arresting Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdullah Mohammed, using the armed forces.

Saleem had also served in foreign services for an extended period of his career. He would be served with the appointment order, a presidential spokesman said. Under the SAARC Charter, the current Chair-nation normally appoints the Secretary-General, whose term would be for three years.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, February 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt may cut working hours

The new Cabinet has discussed restoring the working hours in Government offices from 7.30 am to 2.30 pm, as under the Government of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The successor regime of President Mohammed Nasheed had changed the timing from 8 am to 4 pm.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told newsmen that the Government would discuss the matter with the independent Civil Service Commission (CSC). President of CSC, Mohamed Fahmy Hassan told the local media that the Commission was in full support of the change of working hours and had proposed the same to the Nasheed administration.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, February 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ex-Minister Inaz leaves MDP

Former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz has confirmed his decision to leave the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).Inaz did not give a reason for his decision, but told local newspaper Haveeru that the move “puts an end to my political career for now”. In a response to Minivan News, he said he would “always remain independent and serving the national interest”.

Inaz was appointed after the then Opposition majority Parliament refused to confirm Finance Minister Ali Hashim in November 2010, along with six other Cabinet Ministers. The reformist face of the Nasheed Government on the economic front, he however had to quit the Government through an SMS message after some MDP cadres claimed to have caught him meeting with Opposition PPM leader and former President Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen in car on the beach, possibly without the knowledge of the party and Government leadership.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Minivan News, February 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to remove campaign-hurdles

The National League of Democracy (NLD) has complained that the Opposition parties were subjected to campaign restrictions. A party spokesman said that the NLD was facing a lot of difficulties in its campaign for the April 1 by-elections. The NLD said that such hindrances had given room for the Opposition to question the commitment of the Government to conduct free and fair elections.

Hours after the NLD expressed the obstacles that it faced in its campaign, the Government was quick in taking action. The authorities gave the necessary permission for NLD leaderg San SuuKyi to address rallies inside a stadium and other venues, as pre-planned. It has also promised all assistance for political parties to campaign in the elections.

The Government was also seriously considering ASEAN observers for the by-elections with President Thein Sein saying, "We will seriously consider having observers from ASEAN ... during the April elections. "In the elections of 2010 foreign election observers and international media were not allowed in the country and thus giving room for critics to term the polls as one that lacks legitimacy.
< class="text11verdana">, February 20- 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New law on media freedom

In an interview to with The Irrawaddy, Ye Htut, the Director-General of the Information and Public Relations Department in the Ministry of Information, has made an appraisal of media freedom in the country. The Director-General said that the Government was in the process of introducing a new media law, which would not be discriminatory or restrictive in nature. Ye Htut also that this new law that’s being discussed by the Government could be placed in the Parliament later this year (2012).

He also said that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division would be phased out once this law comes into effect. However, the Censorship Board will remain as a watchdog for media groups. It will monitor the media, solve problems and oversee violations of copyright. And there by act as a grievance redresser rather than a body that’s regulated the media.

The Government at present is also becoming more media-friendly and that is working towards formulating a guideline on public relation for the spokespersons for all Government departments. It is hoped that this will facilitate greater engagement with between the Press and the State.

At the same time the Director-General has also highlighted the progress made by Myanmar with compared with its neighbors. In Singapore, the media cannot carry news about the opposition on their front pages. The same is the case in Malaysia. “We are now better than Singapore, Malaysia and Laos. I hope our media will become a role model within ASEAN,” Ye Htut added.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EU lifts travel ban on officials

The European Union has relaxed the travel restriction to its member-States that was imposed on the officials of the Myanmar Government. As many as 87 officials can benefit from this move which includes the President, Vice-President, Cabinet members, Speakers of both Houses of Parliament and their respective family members.

The EU’s head of foreign policy, Catherin Ashton, said that the bloc strongly encourages the Myanmar Government to continue with its historic reforms process. The bloc is also expected to relax other restriction pending further reforms.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 17, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists name ‘people’s enemies’

A troubling report came to light concerning two former UN officials based in Kathmandu and another well-known advocate facing implicit death threats from the ruling Maoist party, appealing to the UN for help and protection.

Kul Chandra Gautam, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General and a long-standing Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Kanak Mani Dixit, a former Press Officer at the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) in New York and currently a senior Nepali journalist, have been declared “people’s enemies”. The third individual under threat is Subodh Raj Pyakurel is the Executive Director of Informal Services Sector (INSEC), the largest non-governmental human rights organisation in Nepal.

All three have been blacklisted in a cover story in the monthly magazine Lalrakshak, published by the ruling UCPN (Maoist).
< class="text11verdana">Source: Press Service News Agency (IPS), February 15, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM visits Bihar

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai visited Patna on February 17 on the invitation of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and inaugurated the ‘Global Bihar Summit 2012.’ While addressing the gathering, Bhattarai praised the progress made by Bihar under Nitish Kumar and expressed willingness to work closely with Bihar, which is one of the five India States that share borders with Nepal.

Nitish Kumar said that the PM’s visit has added a “new chapter” in Indo-Nepal relations. He said that Bihar wanted to work closely with Nepal on water issues.

The Bihar Government is keen on water management and completion of the Kosi high dam project, which is essential for agricultural purpose and to meet the rising power demand in Bihar as well as in Nepal.

The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions it had taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Today, The Hindu,, February 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Court jails Minister for graft

For the first time in Nepal’s history, the Supreme Court on February 21 convicted a sitting Minister of corruption and sentenced him to jail. Minister for Information and Communications Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta was handed down an 18-month jail term and slapped a fine of Nepali Rs 8.4 million for amassing illegal wealth.

The court also recommended that the Judicial Council take action against three Special Court judges who had “illegally” acquitted Gupta of all corruption charges on June 7, 2007. They made “grave mistakes”, the apex court said.

The court also ordered confiscation of Gupta’s property worth Rs. 8.4 million in addition to the fine. A division bench of Justices Shusila Karki and Tarka Raj Bhatta announced the verdict in the case that was in the SC since November 8, 2007.

A visibly disturbed Gupta pleaded guilty immediately after his conviction.
< class="text11verdana">Source:,, February 22, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian Speaker’s visit to boost ties

On the invitation of Dr Fehmida Mirza, Speaker of the National Assembly, India’s Lok Sabha Speaker Lok Sabha Meira Kumar made a five-day visit to Pakistan. She was accompanied by a seven-member delegation that included parliamentarians from both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.

The aim of the recent visit was to forge better ties and build cooperation between the Parliaments of both the countries. Speaker Meira Kumar was set to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani and Chairman Senate Farooq H.Naik.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 20, 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mansoor Ijaz testifies

Mansoor Ijaz testified from London before a judicial commission in Islamabad through live video link and he reiterated that it was on the behest of President Asif Ali Zardari that he delivered the letter to Admiral Mike Mullen on May 10, 2011.

He said that President Zardari had feared a coup after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He, therefore, wanted to place a new national security team and sought the aid of Hussain Haqqani former Ambassador to the US.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Musharraf to be charged for Benazir killing

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that former President Pervez Musharraf would be brought to trial and would face charges in the ‘Benazir Bhutto assassination case’ after the red warrants were issued to the Interpol. He said that Gen Musharraf had not provided adequate security to Bhutto in spite of knowing that she was under threat from terrorists.

The Minister said that former Sindh Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim would also be questioned for the following remarks he made on the day of Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan: “During the day they will beat drums, but after sunset they will cry when lights will be switched off.” The Sindh Assembly was briefed on the case and the investigation officers claimed that Al-Qaeda leader Abu Obaid Al-Misri was the mastermind behind the attack, which was executed with the help of Baitullah Mehsud.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 22, 2012

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US spreading rumours at Geneva: Govt

The US has spread rumours in diplomatic circles here in Geneva that Sri Lanka has agreed with them to draft the resolution to be presented at the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) with regard to the country’s human rights situation, diplomatic sources said.

“They have spread rumours that we have agreed to draft this resolution together. In this manner, they have tried to convince the other countries that Sri Lanka is also supportive of the proposed resolution. Once the member-countries are convinced that the resolution will be brought by the US with the consent of Sri Lanka, they will not take the issue seriously. That is the ploy. We will not allow such rumours to gain ground. "This is to discourage the countries supporting us. There is no any element of truth in such rumours,” the sources said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, February 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">‘TNA trying sell 13-A to Tamils’

“Accepting the implementation of the 13thAmendment that is already in Sri Lanka’s Constitution and failed to meet Tamil aspirations, was the subject matter the TNA was trying to impress upon the representatives of the Tamil civil society, in a meeting that took place in Vavuniyaa for five hours on Saturday,” the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet has said.

“The TNA also said that the Tamils should not ‘hang on’ to their right to self-determination was the argument of a Colombo-based lawyer backing the stand of TNA leader R. Sampanthan, while this right was the very basis of the struggle of Tamils in the last 60 years, democratically as well as militarily,” civil society circles told TamilNet. Many of the civil society representatives, especially from the East and Mannaar requested the TNA to conceive better ideas to bring in an interim administration for the North and East to face the current situation.

“The TNA members dodged questions on the vital points of criticism that were already in the discourse in the last 25 years. They said the Sri Lankan Government rejected these points as propositions of LTTE times…The TNA has been pressurised to hurry at pre-emption to bail out Rajapaksa regime and the Sri Lankan State at Geneva,” observers commented.

The TNA was ‘diplomatic’ in telling that they don’t in fact accept the 13th Amendment and they have fundamental goals. The civil groups in return, cited the address of M A Sumanthiran to the diaspora in Canada, where the TNA MP questioned the audience if talking about the 13th Amendment was a strategy (of the Sri Lankan President), there need to be no more hide and seek about it and there is no need to be afraid of asking President Rajapaksa about implementing it.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Tamilnet, February 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Protests over burning

The recent set of rioting triggered by the burning of the Quranat Bagram air force base has been followed by apologies from the COMISAF General Allen and US President Barack Obama. Gen Allan has authorised an investigation of the incident and has assured the Afghan public that the individuals behind the incident would be held accountable. The special representative of the Secretary-General to Afghanistan, JánKubiš met with Maulawi Qiyamuddin Kashaaf, the Chairman of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan. He has assured the Afghan people of the deep respect that the UN holds for their culture and Islamic tradition.

The incident has led to violent protests resulting in the deaths of several people when police opened fire on them in Parwan and Nangarhar Provinces. Protesters turned violent as stones were thrown at American compounds at camp Phoenix. The US Embassy in Kabul has remained in lock down since the protests began. In Kabul 500 university students gathered and marched to the parliament house to voice their anger. Protests continued in Jalalabad where one demonstrator was killed while another six were injured.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for a special meeting of the parliament to discuss the issue of the desecrating of the Quran at the Bagram air base. The House of Representatives issued a statement calling for the punishment of those responsible while also establishing a committee to look into the facts of the case.
< class="text11verdana">Source: CNN, February 22, 2012; Ariana News, February 22, 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Concern over peace negotiations

Leaders of the Hizb-i-Islami voiced their concerns over the peace negotiations, and have expressed fears over their being side-lined from the process. Senior member of the faction told reporters that the US-Taliban negotiations were still in their preliminary stages. Recent visit by the faction’s members to the capital led to a limited show of results for their efforts. There is anxiety in their ranks that the Afghan-Taliban talks would see them sidelined from the peace process.

The US has shown admiration for President Hamid Karzai’s initiative inviting Taliban leaders for direct negotiations with his government. Afghan officials have begun holding talks with Taliban leaders in Pakistan, according to Ata Mohammad Ahmadi, head of the provincial peace council in Kandahar province. These talks began after the recent trip of President Karzai to Pakistan. The Pakistan foreign minister has stated that Pakistan would not assist in peace talks between the US-Taliban in Qatar until they are backed by the Afghan Government.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama, February 20, 2012; Outlook Afghanistan, February 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EUCCI opens branch in Kabul

In an effort to boost ties between the European Union and Afghanistan the European Chambers of Commerce and Industry has opened a branch office in the capital city of Kabul. This according to EU Ambassador to Afghanistan, Vygaudas Usackas, the branch office of the EUCCI would help improve the economic situation in the country. He also mentioned the support of the EUCCI to the long-term trade objectives of the Afghan Government.

Official statements from the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industries have stated opportunities for private sector investment in the country. With the opening of the office the Minister for Commerce and Industry, Anwar-ul-HaqAhadi said it declares the confidence of the EU investors in Afghanistan’s economic future and business programmes.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Ariana News, February 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tension eases over rival protests

Heightened political tension over the March 12 grand rally of the BNP has eased slightly after the ruling Awami League (AL) decided not to counter the Opposition programme. The AL-led 14-party alliance, however, will form human chains on March 9 and 11 across the country.

The BNP has announced the grand rally to press home its demand for a restoration of the caretaker government system, scrapped through a constitutional amendment last year in line with a Supreme Court verdict.

Anxiety arose over possible incidents on March 12, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the BNP’s acting secretary general, has said if the AL agreed on forming a non-party interim government for holding the next elections, his party would be ready to attend Parliament to discuss the modalities of the formation of such a government.

Analysing reason behind such a change of mind, news reports opined that believing the BNP is looking for an alternative formula for the next parliamentary polls, senior figures in the ruling party have in principle agreed not to call any counter programme in the city on March 12.

AL insiders claimed that the party high command has taken positively the latest position of the BNP and now wants the opposition to discuss in parliament the formation of the interim administration.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jamaat’s threat

Leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the influential religious party, have said that no one in the country will remain safe there is any harm on their ex party supremo Ghulam Azam, who is now in jail. Selim Uddin, an assistant secretary of the party said that they urge the government to free their leader Ghulam Azam who is a 1952 Language movement veteran. No one on the soil of Bengal will be safe if any harm happens to him.

Former Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam was arrested and sent to jail on January 11 this year. He is charged of committing crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes in 1971. Azam is believed to have led pro-Pakistan militias which carried out atrocities on the people of Bangladesh during its liberation war of 1971. The government has now set up an International Crimes Tribunal to try war criminals of 1971.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No Ganges water beyond treaty

Experts in Bangladesh have trashed claims of Mamta Banerjee, Chief Minister of bordering Indian State of West Bengal, that Bangladesh is getting access water beyond the provisions Ganges Water Treaty of 1996 due to faulty sluice gates.

Experts of Bangladesh have claimed that there is little scope for the country to get excess water through the Farakka barrage as the Ganges water treaty provides for adjusting the additional volume. They further opined that even if extra water is released through faulty sluice gates, the flow through the other gates can always be reduced as it is India which controls the barrage operation.

The Farakka barrage that had long been a source of contention between the two neighbours has returned to the fore with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee crying foul over the Ganges water flow to Bangladesh. In a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mamta Banerjee had expressed concern that Bangladesh is getting more than its share of water because of two damaged sluice gates.

India and Bangladesh had signed an agreement on sharing of Ganges Water Treaty in 1996 at the Farakka Barage. As per the provisions of the Ganges treaty, Bangladesh and India will each receive 35 thousand cusecs in alternate three 10-day periods between March 11 and May 10. If the water flow is 70-75 thousand cusecs, Bangladesh will get 35 thousand and India the remainder. If it is more than 75 thousand cusecs, India will get 40 thousand while Bangladesh will get the balance. But if the flow is 70 thousand cusecs or less, both the countries will share the flow equally.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Better ties with Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan have agreed to boost tourism through mutual cooperation. A five-member Poverty Reduction Committee of Bhutan’s National Assembly, led by its chairman Dupthop, who visited the state recently, discussed the matter with Chief Minister NabamTuki. Pointing out that Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh had several similarities culturally and geographically, Tuki said the cooperation would eventually generate gainful employment and reduce poverty.

Tuki said that construction of a road from Tawang to Bhutan was progressing at a rapid pace and sought the Bhutan government’s cooperation to speed up work in its territory. With the completion of the road that would connect towns of Bhutan with Tawang, there could be a spike in the on border trade, which would be beneficial for both the sides economically. The Chief Minister envisages helicopter services to be introduced between Tawang and Bhutan, which could increase the tourist substantially.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nine CMs oppose anti-terror centre

The Centre’s ambitious plan to create a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) has come under severe criticism with several non-Congress Chief Ministers attacking the move on the ground that it “infringes upon the powers and rights of State governments.” Nine Chief Ministers and a former Chief Minister have opposed the NCTC.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, in separate letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urged him to “review and withdraw” the February 3 order notifying the NCTC. Similarly, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi said that in the name of fighting terrorism and Naxalism, the Centre was out to violate the federal structure of the country.

Amid the developments, Union Home Secretary R K Singh defended the government move, saying the counter-terror body was in national interest. He said it was being established under the existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which had been in force for the past many years. The NCTC is set to become functional from March 1.
< class="text11verdana">Source:The Hindu, February 17, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two Italian naval guards in custody

The Kerala Police have taken two Italian naval guards – Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone into custody for their alleged involvement in the killing of two Indian fishermen off south Kerala coast on February 15.

The detained persons were taken from the Italian vessel Enrica Lexie, which is being detained at Cochin Port since February 17.

Meanwhile, Italy has proposed monetary compensation to the families of two fishermen in an attempt to find a solution to a problem that has become a major diplomatic issue between India and Italy. New Delhi has agreed to let the proposal be placed before the fishermen’s families and the Kerala government for consideration.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, February 19, 2012; Hindustan Times, February 23, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EC issues notice to Minister Beni Prasad Verma

The Election Commission (EC) on February 18 issued notice to Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma, saying it was evident that the Congress leader "deliberately and wilfully" made remarks about sub-quota for Muslims. Verma said he respected the poll panel but had “not said anything wrong.”

In its notice, the EC said the model code of conduct specifies that "there shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes". Noting it has received a complaint against the Congress leader that he made the promise during an election meeting in Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh, the poll panel said it had obtained the copy of the video recording which shows that Verma violated the model code of conduct.

Verma is the second minister to face EC wrath of late. Earlier Congress leader and Law Minister Salman Khurshid was censured by the poll panel for a similar remark about a sub-quota for Muslims while campaigning for his wife Louise, who is contesting from the Farrukhabad assembly constituency.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC criticises crackdown on Ramdev protest

Coming down heavily on the Government and Delhi Police, the Supreme Court on February 23 ordered prosecution of police personnel involved in the midnight crackdown on yoga guru Baba Ramdev and his supporters in June last year. A woman who was injured during the incident died later.

A Bench comprising Justices BS Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar awarded a compensation of Rs. 50,000 for those who suffered grievous injuries in the incident and Rs. 25,000 for those with lesser injuries.

The Court passed the verdict after taking cognisance of media reports showing the brutality of police action against the followers of Ramdev who were sleeping.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, February 24, 2012.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan- Haripal Brar;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Bangladesh:Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr. Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;

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