MonitorsPublished on Feb 04, 2011
It's heartening to note that the two rounds of talks between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Government on finding a political solution to the vexatious ethnic issue have gone off well over the past weeks.
Need for the Tamil polity to stay relevant in Sri Lanka
< class="heading1">Analysis

It’s heartening to note that the two rounds of talks between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Government on finding a political solution to the vexatious ethnic issue have gone off well over the past weeks. Or, at least that is what news reports, quoting TNA leaders, say. These reports have not been contested by either side so far.

There is thus nothing to suggest that the process would not continue smoothly onto the future rounds. Hiccups and hurdles, when they come, could well be over substantive issues, where differences do persist. It is these differences that had hampered a political solution in the past.

It is these differences that the two sides would have to sort out now, and in a way that is acceptable to other segments of the Tamil-speaking communities, the divided Sinhala polity, the Sri Lankan State (as different from the Government of the day) and the higher Judiciary, that final arbiter of constitutionality and legality of the accepted solutions.

It is here that the TNA has got its job cut out. Despite the unified image that the alliance has been able to project, it continues, at best, to be an amalgam of four diverse parties of a limited section of the ’Sri Lankan Tamil’ community, and of other desperate groups and individuals.

The TNA was a creature of the LTTE. If anything, the four parties and a larger group of non-party members of Parliament constituted the TNA. Despite perceptions and projections to the contrary, they have remained as disparate as in the past. Or, at least that is what the position of individual parties, groups and individuals within the TNA during the run-up to the nominations for the upcoming local government polls have shown.

Leave alone the reservations of some of the TNA players against the induction/inclusion of other Tamil political parties and leaders into a loose alliance for contesting the local government polls together. There were also symptoms of some of the TNA members or parties seeking to outsmart one another. Specifics are one too many to merit repetition.

Suffice is to point out that after forcing the rest of them to fall in line and contest under the Federal Party’s ’House’ symbol, which the TNA has adapted as its own, the Alliance had to allow/accept that the combined team (which also included select non-TNA parties) contested the elections under the ’Rising Sun’ symbol of the pre-TNA, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in some places.

The coming together of some, if not all the Tamil parties with the TNA in the vanguard, also means that the differences within the TULF, the umbrella organisation of moderate, pre-LTTE Tamil political parties have been diminished, if not wholly overcome. At the height of the LTTE era, the TULF too remained divided with a vocal and majority section identifying with the LTTE cause and joining the TNA.

Contesting along with the TNA in the local government polls is another anti-LTTE, ex-militant outfit from a distant past, namely, the People’s Liberation Organisation Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). The party, along with some anti-LTTE, non-TNA sections of the Tamil polity had contested the urban council polls in Jaffna and Vavuniya, post-war, in 2009, and won the latter, too.

It is also in this context that the TNA needs to look at the decision to keep some of the rest of the political parties of the ’Sri Lankan Tamil community’ from the electoral alliance. It defies logic in every which way. It smacks of personal prejudices of individual leaders ? or, is it an eternal sense of insecurity? -- within the TNA, or select groups, both within and outside of the established pantheon within the Alliance.

More to the point, it cannot be seen as retaining past prejudices that were personal in nature, and also conveniently reflect the sentiments of a certain segment of the Diaspora view. If nothing else, it would not take the Diaspora, much time to brand the TNA or its select leaders the same way it had got used to doing with the earlier lot in the ’LTTE era’. The Alliance hence would have to decide if it was reflecting the sentiments of those Tamils that are left behind in the island, or the reactions of those that have gone overseas, never to return.

The case of a faction of the left-leaning Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), led by Varadaraja Perumal, the one-time and only Chief Minister of a merged North-East, and that of former leaders of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) like M K Sivajilingam requires mention. If they all were/are speaking for themselves, or for their parties, those that were opposed to the TNA aligning with these two sections, cannot any more blame the Sinhala polity or community being divisive as a people.

It would be tempting for some to argue that the views of the Diaspora could not be over-looked given its commitment to the ’cause’ and that the latter has been strongly against one leader or another group. Any political solution, it has to be acknowledged, would imply a compromise of the ’cause’ in one way or more. It could well be the TNA’s turn someday to be dubbed ’traitors’ by the Diaspora, if the latter were to pursue the political negotiations with the Government to the logical conclusion.

Weakening the other non-cause driven Tamil parties and leaders, and allowing those with an agenda of their won ? reflecting either their personal predilection or the political views of the Diaspora ? could only weaken the societal and political strength, and the consequent courage derived from the same, for the TNA to negotiate with the Sri Lankan State and sections of the Sinhala polity, which would need convincing.

If they were/are speaking for a group outside of their own personality or their own parties as groups ? and such groups branding such others nearer home as ’traitors of the cause’, the TNA may have already lost credibility in that sense ? and ’legitimacy’ of the claim that the Government too has conferred on the Alliance, by opening political talks with it. The TNA, having been invited by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, for substantive and structured dialogue on the ethnic issue and a political solution cannot be found wanting.

Fair enough, there are those like Minister and founder-leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Douglas Devananda and Eastern Province Chief Minister and leader of the ’Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal’ (TMVP) S Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, who had opted to contest on the Government side in the Local Government polls. The former in particular had expressed a desire to retain the engagement with the rest of the Sri Lankan Tamil political community, their infant common cause on the common, ethnic issue. Post-poll, with the on-going talks with the Government too advancing on a positive note, the TNA has to accommodate all views and ideas, all parties and personalities.

As far as the TNA is concerned, it is not just an internal affair of the party, as to who it should align with and whom it should not, at election-time. Between them, the presidential polls and the parliamentary polls last year showed that twice as many voters in the Tamil-majority North voted Sarath Fonseka than they did the TNA candidates. Having embarked upon political negotiations with the Government, the TNA should not in word, deed and not certainly in spirit be seen as wanting to arrogate to itself the status of ’sole representative’ of the Tamil-speaking people. It is unrealistic and has a ring of the past around it.

Among all the political parties/groupings of the ’Sri Lankan Tamil’ community, only the TULF and the TNA do not carry any trace of ’Eelam’ or the ’LTTE’ in their nomenclature. As and when a political pact is sealed with the Government, the TNA needs to acknowledge the insolvency in its ranks in the ’capacities’ department, in terms of politico-administrative efficiencies and experience. It is a different ball-game, particularly in the case of the TNA, or much of the rest of the Tamil polity in the country, as they had never ever played the role of a traditional political Opposition in a multi-party democracy.

This role also includes a certain aspiration for a party and/or Alliance and its leader(s) to aspire to be acknowledged as a ’government-in-waiting’. Having had no such aspirations, and consequent understanding of the system in which and with which they will have to work with, if and when then win the Northern Provincial Council polls, as and when held, the TNA has to look inside, should have looked deeper in the weeks and months after the conclusion of the ’ethnic war’.

Not having done that already ? not that it would have helped in capacity-creation, other than in acknowledging the reality ? it might have become more accommodative than some of its leaders wanting to be aggressive. If elected, and with financial powers and taxation powers, among others, the TNA, if nothing else, would have to learn to ’tax’ their people who have lost their everything ? and yet, not do that, either. Running a government, and administering a government more importantly, is a tall order. And taller the order, greater are the chances of early collapse, and bottom up.

N Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President calls for ’change of mind-set’, reiterates ’unitary State’ character

The country couldn’t be developed solely on populist decisions, and inconvenient and difficult decisions were necessary for the nation’s progress, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, in his address to the nation after unfurling the national flag at the 63rd Independence Day celebrations in the historic southern temple-town of Katargama, revered by both Sinhalas and Tamils.

"We are one of Asia’s oldest democracies. We have, similar to this democracy, the unity and unitary nature of our motherland should protected?. We are a country that respects the policy of non-alignment. We have close relationships with all countries," he said, drawing a parallel between the political victories of the Sinhala King Dutugamunu and the economic victories that the country would have to now achieve.

At a different venue, President Rajapaksa sought to scotch rumours about his health, which followed his week-long, unscheduled, unofficial visit to the US last month. "It owes to the ’political sickness’ in the mind of his adversaries, he added.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, February 4, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt-TNA talks focuses on political solution, para-militaries

At the postponed second round of talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), for a political solution to the ethnic issue, the Government reportedly conceded the latter’s demand for disarming the Tamil para-militaries in the North and the East, according TNA spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran, MP. Accordingly, the Government would set a deadline for the para-militaries to surrender their weapons, after which their cadres would be arrested, he said further.

While the two sides have been maintaining silence on the progress made on finding a political solution, based on a common decision in this regard, the Government also agreed to publish the names of LTTE cadres in custody in the northern Vavuniya town, for family members to access the information. Likewise, the Government has also acceded the TNA’s demand for gradually reducing the area declared ’High-Security Zone’ (HSZ) and allow the owners of property to take over possession in a phased manner, Sumanthiran added.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Uthayan Online (Tamil), February 4, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Freedom for army deserters

The army says arrangements will be made for all officers and soldiers who are absent without leave, whilst on active service in the Sri Lanka army, to leave the force officially. These arrangements will be made to coincide with the forthcoming Independence Day celebrations, starting from February 4-15. The absentees can report to their respective regimental headquarters and get official clearance from the army at special counters opened for this purpose during the specified period, the army said.

This should not be considered as a General Amnesty but a special concession for the absentees. The arrests of army deserters those who do not report will be continued, the army said.

Neither the army notification, nor President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to free 1,500 prisoners on Independence Day affect the 30-month jail-term for former Army commander, Sarath Fonseka ? who has already appealed against the same.
< class="text11verdana">Source:The Island, Colombo, February 4, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fishermen’s issue: ’Force cannot be justified’

Sri Lanka and India have agreed that force was not a justifiable means of reconciling issues between the two countries. During a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao expressed the deep concern of the Government of India over the recent violent incidents in the waters between the two countries, which had resulted in the tragic death of two Indian fishermen in as many weeks in the recent past. She stressed that these incidents should be fully investigated and all steps taken to prevent their recurrence in future.>

The Sri Lanka authorities emphasised in this regard that it was the consistent policy of Sri Lanka to treat in a humanitarian manner all fishermen, including those from the Indian fishing community, who cross into Sri Lanka waters. Given the very close bilateral relationship between the two countries, any development which impacts on the wellbeing of the Indian fishing community pursuing their livelihoods in the waters between the two countries, was of the utmost concern to Sri Lanka, they said. "The Government of Sri Lanka is therefore committed to ascertaining the facts behind the incidents," they said.>

While continuing with further inquiries, the Sri Lankan authorities had requested that additional information be made available by the Indian side. Both sides agreed that the use of force couldn’t be justified under any circumstances. The two sides noted that the Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements of 26 October 2008, which had put in place practical arrangements to deal with bona fide fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), had led to a decrease in incidents.>

In a related development, the Opposition UNP’s Tamil member of Parliament under the National List, D M Swaminathan flayed the Colombo dispensation for allowing high-speed Indian fishing craft in the northern waters, as they deprived the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen in the area of their catch, and also destroyed their nets and the natural habitat of the fishes.>
< class="text11verdana">Source:Daily Mirror, Colombo, February 1, 2011 & The Island, Colombo, February 2, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karzai in India, discusses terrorism

President Hamid Karzai met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a two-day visit to India. According to a Joint Statement, the two leaders discussed issues of terrorism as a common threat to both countries. Prime Minister Singh reiterated Indian concerns for the safety of its citizens engaged in reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. He also assured Karzai of continued support to nation-building and reconstruction.

The visit assumes significance as the deadline for American exit from Afghanistan draws closer. According to US plans, foreign troops will pull out of Afghanistan by 2014, with the process beginning as soon as July of this year. With limited progress against the Taliban, India is concerned that Kabul and Washington will accept Pakistan’s ascendency is the ’reintegration’ process, which it fears might snowball into an outright victory for the insurgents. India’s forced exit from Afghanistan following Taliban’s victory in 1996 is fresh in the minds of strategists in New Delhi, who emphasised that any reconciliation with the Taliban must be ’Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’, an obvious remark against Pakistan’s attempts at jockeying for power in post-US Afghanistan.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Times of India, February 2, 2011, Dawn, February 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US dismisses Pak indispensability

Lt-Gen. David Rodriguez, the second senior-most US military commander in Afghanistan has surprised analysts by saying that the Taliban can be defeated in spite of Pakistan’s refusal to close insurgent safe-havens in its tribal areas.

According to this recent thinking, Pakistan’s inaction in North Waziristan has saturated the tribal Agency with insurgents, making it a ’target- rich environment’ for armed drones. North Waziristan is a base for groups like the Haqqani network, who are believed to be allied to Pakistan’s strategic interests.

The US declaration comes only days after President Barack Obama reiterated his poll promise to begin pulling out foreign troops from Afghanistan from this year.
< class="text11verdana">Source:New York Times, February 1, 2011, Pajhwok, January 30, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Senate elects chairman and deputy

The Meshrano Jirga, or the Upper House of Parliament,has elected Fazal Hadi Muslimyar as its chairman and Muhammad Alam Ezedyar as its first deputy chairman. Muslimyar earlier served as first and second vice-chairman of the Meshrano Jirga. According to the Constitution, the legislators will hold the post for a period of one year.

Voting for the Speaker of the lower house, or Wolesi Jirga, entered its third iteration on Saturday as parliamentarians failed to elect one with a clear majority. Prof Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, a Pashtun leader, and Muhammad Younis Qanuni, a Tajik and former member of the Northern Alliance, are in the fray. While Sayyaf won 119 votes, Qanuni secured 116 ballots in the 249-seat House.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, January 30, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Clashes over plan of a new airport

A police officer was killed and around hundred people, including journalists and policemen, were injured when demonstrators opposing the Government’s plan to build a new international airport clashed with the law-enforcers at Munshiganj, south of Dhaka, on January 31. The protestors took to the street to oppose the acquisition of land for building the airport. The protestors claimed that this move by the Government would leave thousands unemployed.

Around 11,250 acres of land is needed for developing the new airport and the project is estimated to cost Tk 500 billion. The Dhaka and Munshiganj district administrations have been assigned to acquire the land. Looking at the broad public uproar, the Government has abandoned the project for now. However, the ruling Awami League has accused the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for instigating the chaos. A local Awami League leader has filed a case against BNP chief Khaleda Zia on this account.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 31, 2011, The Daily Star, February 2, 2011, New Age, February 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dhaka to claim 450 nautical miles in the Bay

Bangladesh is all set to redraw its maritime boundary as the Cabinet approved a ’position paper’, which claimed over 450 nautical miles from the coastline in the Bay of Bengal. UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) wing of the Foreign Ministry prepared this document and is likely to be submitted to the United Nations within this month. The document has been prepared following the Gardiner method under Article 76 of the UNCLOS.

Bangladesh has a long-standing dispute over the delimitation of maritime boundary with India and Myanmar. The main problem is on the issue of ’starting-point’ on how to identify the coastline to draw its marine boundary, with apparently overlapping claims of the three neighbouring countries because of the funnel-like coastline of the Bay of Bengal.

The country has been involved in discussions with India and Myanmar for long to resolve the issue, but not much success has followed till now. Hence, in 2009, Bangladesh registered its objections with the United Nations regarding the claims of India and Myanmar to its territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is scheduled to submit a memorandum to the UN body claiming its legitimate authority over its territorial waters adjacent to Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal by July 1. Myanmar is scheduled to submit its memorandum by December 1.

Bangladesh is also scheduled to submit a memorandum to the UN body claiming its legitimate authority over its territorial waters adjacent to India in the Bay of Bengal by May 31, 2011. India is scheduled to submit its memorandum by May 31, 2012.
< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, February 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Leap in IT and communications

A new report from ’Research and Markets’ has provided an overview of the telecom market and its potential in the ’Kingdom of Gross National Happiness’. In less than six years Bhutan has gone from having no mobile phones to claiming in excess of 50 per cent mobile penetration. In 2008 the annual growth in mobile subscribers was close to 100 per cent.

Back in 1974, Bhutan and India formally agreed to the introduction of trunk calls between the two countries. However, in a remarkable contrast with the rest of the world, it was not until 1999 that the country saw television stations, satellite dishes and internet services for the first time. Between 1996 and 2001, Bhutan invested more than $21 million in telecommunications infrastructure. The country has quickly developed a modern, fully digital fixed-line network, which covered all 20 Provinces and the key commercial and population centres.

India donated a 1000-line C-DOT Telephone Exchange to Bhutan in late 2000 as a goodwill gesture. Bhutan had been discussing the possibility of using INSAT (Indian satellite system) for national telecommunications. In mid-2001 Bhutan Telecom launched a GSM-based mobile satellite service in conjunction with Thuraya Satellite Co Ltd. This service was expected to fill the gap until a conventional national mobile network was established. Then, in late 2003, the country’s first mobile telephone service was launched.

While initially established with relatively limited coverage (five towns including the capital Thimphu), the Government was keen to see this service, operated by Bhutan Telecom and branded B-Mobile, providing national coverage by 2006. In late 2006, in what was a landmark step for the local telecom market, the regulator awarded a second national mobile licence to local industrial conglomerate, the Tashi Group, requiring a commercial service to be launched within one year.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 1, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gathering support for permanent UNSC seat

India will make a determined bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council this year, with the process having begun last month, sources in the Government said. With the go-ahead for the text-based negotiations on expanding the Security Council, India is now gathering support, primarily from developing countries seeking concrete action.

New Delhi began the year by inviting 12 Permanent Representatives to the UN from the Caribbean nations to visit the country. Besides showcasing its economic strengths, it sensitised the Ambassadors to the need for urgently making the Security Council more representative.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will leave for New York to attend the first session of the Security Council, in which India is a non-permanent member. On the sidelines, he will interact with Foreign Ministers from the other G-4 countries, a grouping of India, Germany, Brazil and Japan, all of whom claim to be ideally placed for seats on an expanded Security Council. Along with Brazilian Foreign Minister, Krishna will separately meet his South African counterpart to discuss the issues affecting unanimity on representatives from the African continent.

On his return, the Ministry of External Affairs will host a Ministerial meeting of 45 least developed countries here. After a mini-gathering of East African nations on February 10, India will host an African Summit in Ethiopia in the middle of this year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also arrive here around this time of the year. Besides other issues, the two sides will review the progress made in the bid for expanding the Council.

"We have started the work for a non-permanent seat," the sources said, pointing out that 40 countries, including India, had already called for a much shorter text to accelerate negotiations. Called L-60, the group has rejected the proposal to have an intermediate solution in place till the real issue is decided.This group has decided to seek the expansion of the Council from 15 (five permanent and 10 rotating) to 25 or 26. The permanent category should be increased from five to 11, with two each of the new members from Africa and Asia and one each from South America and the Caribbean. The non-permanent category should be increased from 10 to 14 or 15.

The group has sought restrictions on using the veto by proscribing it under conditions such as genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and terrorism.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Diplomatic engagement with US

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will visit Washington soon, to take forward US President Barack Obama’s assurance to help India secure full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and three other non-proliferation multi-layered organisations. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to arrive in India a couple of months later to hold talks with her counterpart S M Krishna

Sources termed Washington’s removal of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from the ’Entities List’ as important and that felt these changes were in line with the US commitment.

President Obama, in a recent meeting with National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon, in Washington, was specifically said to have reaffirmed his commitment to building a "true global, strategic partnership with India." and relayed his priorities for the current year, including advancing bilateral economic relationship and making progress on nuclear security efforts.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 30, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">DRDO plans another K-15 missile launch

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has planned another test-firing of the K-15 missile from a pontoon, off the coast of Visakhapatnam. Developed under the Sagarika project, the K-15 has been test-fired several times from submerged pontoons off Visakhapatnam.

The missile, which is under production, can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. It will form part of the lethal arsenal of the country’s first nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant, which is undergoing sea trials. India is building two more such submarines.The sixth launch of the interceptor missile, developed by the DRDO, is scheduled for the first fortnight of February. A modified Prithvi missile, taking off from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur on the Orissa coast, will act as an "enemy" missile which will be intercepted by the interceptor.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 29, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ministry to decide on Defence FDI

Backed by the strong endorsement from the Ministries of Finance and Home, the Commerce and Industry Ministry is preparing to move a Cabinet note on allowing 49 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in defence sector . The present limit allowed is 26 per cent.

The Government was keen on allowing increased participation of the private sector and established players in the defence sector and had asked the Defence Ministry to come up with a "final view’’ on the issue soon.

In the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2008, the Defence Ministry had permitted a 49 per cent FDI on a case-by-case basis. The Economic Survey of 2010 had also suggested that 49 per cent FDI be allowed. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), under the Commerce Ministry, in a discussion paper floated last year, had favoured 100 per cent FDI in defence to attract foreign technology and position India as a global hub for defence production.

Industry chambers have also been demanding increase in foreign investment limit in the defence sector to 49 per cent for growth of the domestic industry as foreign companies were also reluctant to invest without getting a significant degree of control in the new entities.India is the 10th largest defence spender in the world and depends on over 70 per cent imports for its requirement. As one of the largest users and importers of conventional defence equipment, India’s cumulative defence budget has been growing at 13.4 per cent since 2006-07 rising up to Rs 1,47,344 crore.

However, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, during the meeting, expressed reservations on further opening up of the sector.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 29, 2011, Economic Times, February 1,2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt in a fix over ’Thomas issue’

The Congress, leader of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the Centre, has distanced itself from the controversial appointment of a Kerala State cadre Indian Administrative Service official, P J Thomas, as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC).

The Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh found itself in a bad situation after the BJP Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, or Lower House of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj, indicated the possibility of her filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court, challenging the Government’s assertion that it was not aware that Thomas had been charge-sheeted for his role as Food Secretary in the’palmolein import case’ in native Kerala, at the time of his appointment as CVC.

Swaraj was on the high-power committee, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which finalised the appointment. She objected to Thomas’ appointment but was over-ruled. The third member was Home Minister P. Chidambaram. The UPA Government had apparently been trying to persuade Thomas to quit on his own after the Supreme Court was seized of the matter, but he made it clear that he was in no mood to step down.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 29, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ex-minister arrested in 2-G scam

The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) at New Delhi arrested A Raja, former Telecom Minister, and two former officials serving under him, in connection with the multi-million ’2-G scam’ and obtained their court custody for further interrogation. In the south Indian Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, a partner in the coalition Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, declared that Raja could not be presumed guilty following the arrest, and a court verdict should be awaited.

The one-man committee that went into the processes and procedures followed by the Department of Telecommunications in the allocation of licences and spectrum between 2001 and 2009, meanwhile, identified officials responsible for serious lapses in implementing the telecom policy transparently and fairly.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Shivraj Patil, who submitted a 150-page report to Communications Minister Kapil Sibal, said: "I have identified the officials on whose part there were deficiency or lapses."
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 1 & 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Infant mortality rate shows decline

The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in the country has come down to 50 (deaths per 1,000 live births) from 53, showing a reduction of three points as compared to 2008, and eight points since 2005, when the national average was 58.

The latest data released by the Registrar-General of India (RGI) in its Sample Registration System for the calendar year of 2009 shows a nine-point decline in rural IMR during 2005-2009 compared to six points in cities and towns.

The IMR is the lowest in Goa at 11, though it was 10 in 2008, followed by Kerala at 12. The worst performers are Madhya Pradesh at 67, Orissa at 65, Uttar Pradesh at 63, and Assam at 61. In Tamil Nadu, the IMR has come down from 31 in 2008 to 28 in 2009.

Crediting the implementation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) for the decline, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said that he was still not satisfied with the figures as they were below the expectation of 30 by 2015, as stipulated under the Millennium Development Goals.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 28, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Resolve NCHER-NCHRH issue: PMO

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has asked the Ministries of Human Resource Development and Health and Family Welfare to identify linkages between the two proposed regulatory bodies ? National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) and the National Commission on Human Resource for Health (NCHRH) ? being promoted by them respectively to speed up the process of setting up the two authorities.

The two Ministries have been fighting a turf war for more than a year now with the task force, set up by the HRD Ministry, bringing all higher education, including medical education and legal education under the purview of an overarching regulatory body ? the NCHER ? while the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been opposing it saying that medical education was closely linked with health infrastructure and should come under the ambit of the NCHRH.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 29, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karmapa under investigation

The Himachal Pradesh police, aided by Intelligence Bureau officials, have questioned the 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, who is under the scanner for suspected illegal activities. There were suspicions of Chinese links.Besides Rs. 53.65 lakh in Indian currency, officials involved in the investigations said, the Central agencies had seized Rs. 12 lakh worth of Chinese yuan, Rs. 16 lakh worth of Indonesian rupiah, Rs. 8.10 lakh worth of Vietnamese currency, Rs. 7.42 lakh worth of currency of Tiawanese dollars, Rs. 6.50 lakh of U.S. dollars and smaller amounts of other currencies.

These were seized from the residence of Shakti Lama, treasurer of the Karmapa Lama, during search operations at Sidhwari near Dharamshala. Central investigating agencies including the Enforcement Directorate, the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the Income Tax Department have taken over the probe. The Chinese Government has denied suggestions that it had links with the Karmapa, whose monastery was recently raided in Dharamsala, saying the accusation reflected the Indian government’s mistrust towards China.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, February 1, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President calls for Mubarak to step down

President Mohamed Nasheed has joined the first wave of world leaders calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation "heeding the will of the Egyptian people".

"Egypt is a mature country. It contains many reasonable people who are capable of ruling reasonably," President Nasheed said in a BBC interview.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, February 7, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Local polls, opportunity to ’fail’ Govt : DRP

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has said that the weekend local council election across the country was a good opportunity for the people to ’fail’ the present Government. This would expose the shortcomings and evil intentions of the Government of President Mohammed Nasheed both domestically and internationally.

"The people do not support the current Government," he told a campaign rally, adding that the opponents of the Government should vote only the DRP as the party alone could change the policies of the present Government. "This is a good opportunity for the people to resist the Government’s failed policies," he said.

With internal bickering within the DRP too coming out in the open, People’s Alliance leader Abdullah Yameen, MP, said that he would join the party’s election campaign along with former President and half-brother Maumoon Gayoom. Yameen had earlier expressed an intention to contest the DRP primaries for choosing the presidential candidate, if and when held.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru & Minivan News, February 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NTPC examines solar-power potential

India’s State-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is examining the potential for solar projects in the Maldives. The company is currently conducting a feasibility study within the islands, which it expects to complete within 3-4 months.

NTPC Chairman and Managing Director Arup Roy Choudhury declined to offer specifics about the investment that India’s biggest power-generator would potentially make in the island nation, until the completion of the study.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, February 7, 2011


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">A Prime Minister, at last

After six months and 17 rounds of unsuccessful polling, Nepal finally managed to elect the chairman of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Jhala Nath Khanal, as the 34th Prime Minister. Khanal defeated his rivals, Ram Chandra Paudel of the Nepali Congress and Bijay Kumar Gachhadhar of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik), polling 368 votes, against 122 and 67, respectively, of the other two.

Under the Republican Constitution, the prime minister-elect has to obtain 301 votes in the 598-member Constituent Assembly, which at present is doubling as Parliament. Apart from his own party, Khanal got the support of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal ? Maoists (UCPN-M), or Maoists for short, which is the largest party in the legislature. His election became possible after Maoist leader Pushpa Kumar Damal alias Prachanda withdrew his candidature at the eleventh hour and committed his party’s support for Khanal.

A Maoist party faction led by the Vice-Chairmen Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya registered a note of dissent with the party’s decision. They also planned to boycott the elections but later on fell in line. Another big party, namely, the Nepali Congress, decided to sit in opposition as the party President Sushil Koirala asked his members to boycott any Government which had the Maoists’ support. Some Madhes-based political parties have also decided to sit in the Opposition as they were against the amendment to the constitutional provision, which now mandates against boycott of the polls.

After his election, Khanal told the media that his Government would soon transform from a majority Government to a consensus government and his agenda would not remain hostage to the Maoists’ agenda despite assigning important portfolios of Home and Finance to the party. Constitution-making and peace-building will remain his top priorities, he said further.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 3, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tightening citizenship laws?

The draft citizenship laws which are proposed to be included in the new Constitution seem to be biased against the rights of local women. While a foreigner marrying a Nepali man can become a naturalized citizen immediately on submitting proof of having rescinded the citizenship of her country of birth, foreigners marrying Nepali women will have to wait for 15 years in order to be eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship.

Likewise children of Nepali men married to foreigners can become citizens by descent, but children born to Nepali women married to foreigners are not granted naturalized citizenship. "Besides being discriminatory towards certain sections, many chapters of the new Constitution are also against international human rights treaties that Nepal has signed," said Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay lawmaker. Likewise, the draft criminal laws also have several clauses that are non inclusive of rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and citizens with certain disabilities and diseases.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, January 31, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Minorities demand final resting place

Following strong protests by the Kirats against the Government’s decision to forbid non-Hindu Christians and ethnic Kirats to conduct burial in the Sleshmantak forest, outgoing Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has directed the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) to allow the community to bury their dead in the area until an alternative arrangement could be made. He gave this direction after holding meeting with representatives from the Kirat community, and also promised to set up a task force to sort out the issue.

Both the Kirat community and minority Christian community have asked the Government to allow them to conduct burial in the forest until another arrangement is made for them (by providing land elsewhere) to bury their dead. Christian community has even warned they would parade their dead in front of the prime minister’s office unless granted a burial site of their own.

Hindu activists in the country have rejected the Christian community’s claim for a burial site in the forest near the world famous Pashupatinath temple during a meeting of the governing board of Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) that manages the Hindu shrine. Representatives of Nepal’s Christians claim they do not have enough burial grounds for their dead in the overcrowded capital. C.B. Gahatraj, General Secretary of ’’Christian Suggestion Committee of Nepal’’, has asked the Government to allocate the land for the minority community for burying their dead.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Oneindia news, January 29, 2011


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Debt at record high, violates law

A mandatory debt policy statement for 2010-2011 released by the Ministry of Finance stated that the total public debt stood at US $103.8 billion (Pak Rs 8.894 trillion) as of June 30, 2010, and had increased by 16.6 percent in comparison to the debt stock at the end of the last fiscal year.

The government borrowed US $ 3.1 billion (Pak Rs 271 billion) from the International Monetary Fund for balance of payments support and incurred an exchange loss of US $ 2.4 billion (Pak Rs 200 billion) on the external debt portfolio due to the rupee depreciation against the US dollar.

The debt has reached such a high that it has violated the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act of 2005, which requires the federal government to take necessary measures to reduce total public debt and maintain it within prudent limits.

The current governmental proceedings and increasing economic vulnerability due to public debt suggests that it is crucial for the government to take action by increasing the tax revenue pool through the implementation of the RGST or other policy reforms.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 02, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pakistan’s exports to China grew by 37 percent

Pakistan’s exports to China increased by nearly US $ 500 million in 2010 and their overall growth rate was 37.4 percent, increasing from US $1.2 billion in 2009 to US $ 1.7 billion.

Textiles, ores, mineral products, leather, chemicals and plastics, sports goods, iron and steel, surgical instruments showed the trend of faster growth rates.

There have been various measures to increase the trade and interaction between Pakistani and Chinese businesses by organizing major trade exhibitions in many Chinese cities such as Kunming, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Urumqi, Kashgar, Dalian, and Beijing. This can be seen as a positive step in reducing Pakistan’s trade deficit which currently stands at US $ 5.2 billion.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 4, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Raymond Davis’ diplomatic status dubious: Govt. sources

The US consulate employee, Raymond Davis, who was arrested a week ago for killing two men at a traffic light in what he claims, was self-defence, is being questioned by the Pakistani government on his diplomatic status.

Sources in the Pakistani government claimed that the Foreign Office had not issued the ’diplomatic card’ to Davis, and that not all embassy and consulate employees in Pakistan have diplomatic status, and thus are not protected under diplomatic immunity chartered in the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations.

The court had extended Raymond Davis’ detention for eight more days pending investigation while another court had blocked any move to extradite him. The US government has stressed that if Raymond Davis’ diplomatic status cannot be established then the issue should be < class="text11verdana">Source:Dawn, February 4th, 2011

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan: Mr. Kaustav Dhar Chakraborti;
Bangladesh: Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Mr. Akhilesh Variar
Nepal & Bhutan:Dr. Anjali Sharma;
Pakistan:Ms. Anjana Verma;
Maldives & Sri Lanka:Mr. N SathiyaMoorthy;

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.


N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

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

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