MonitorsPublished on Jan 10, 2014
The year 2013 ended on a note of strengthened confidence between Nepal and India. On 21-22 December 2013, the Inter-governmental Committee Meeting on Trade, Transit and Cooperation to Control Authorised Trade, between the two countries was held in Kathmandu.
Nepal: Trade ties with India recharged
< class="heading1">Analysis

The year 2013 ended on a note of strengthened confidence between Nepal and India. On 21-22 December 2013, the Inter-governmental Committee Meeting on Trade, Transit and Cooperation to Control Authorised Trade, between the two countries was held in Kathmandu. The Nepalese delegation at this Commerce Secretary-level meeting was led by Mr Madhav Prasad Regmi, while the Indian delegation was led by Mr S R Rao.

There was much anticipation regarding several key areas of increased trade and transit facilitation in the days leading up to the meeting. The agenda for the meet was also very comprehensive because the meeting was held after a gap of two years. It was also the first such high-level meet between the two countries after the second round of polls to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal.

Both countries have not had a very smooth year in 2013 and hence the onus of revving bilateral ties rested heavily on the outcome of this meet. The broad issues that were on the agenda ranged from Transit Facilitation Measures, Trade Facilitation Measures, Dispute Resolution Issues, and Trade in Import of Energy among others. These broad areas encompassed all the different aspects, including scope and challenges that would be incurred in the event of increased collaboration.

Points of discussion and agreement

As part of discussions on the Treaty of Transit, Indian permitted Nepali vehicles which are imported from third countries to enter Nepal via the Kolkata Port. Among the most important areas of cooperation agreed upon include import of agriculture and livestock from India on a more frequent basis, removal of technical and no-tariff barriers, and import of bulk cargo from third countries via Jogbani-Biratnagar and Nautanawa-Bhairahawa customs points, in addition to Raxual-Birgjunj customs point. India in addition promised 10,000 hybrid cows for Nepal to meet its demand for milk and to boost the production of milk for Nepali dairy farmers.

The import of vehicles through Indian roads had been a long-standing demand of automobile dealers in Nepal for whom transport of imported vehicles via shipping containers was very expensive. Investment promotion and the three awaiting Letters of Exchanges regarding commerce, trade, and transit were discussed. Besides these agreements, it was also decided that work on the High Voltage Direct Current (HDVC) power transmission line to Nepal and Bhutan would be looked into.

Several other logistical and technical details of cooperation were also deliberated during the course of the meeting. Informal trade is very important for people living on the open border between Nepal and India, but on the other hand, it facilitates smuggling of fake currency, arms and drugs, and is hence a complex and delicate issue for talks between the two. Unauthorised trade control measures were therefore another very essential issue at the meeting.

Outcome of the meeting

The vital outcome of the meeting was that it signalled the willingness of the two countries to work on improving and developing their partnership. The decisions were synthesised into an agreement signed by the Commerce Secretaries of both countries.

The agreement covered a host of imperative concerns and despite the fact that political dialogue is driven a country’s domestic demands and the maximum gains it can draw from cooperation, in itself, it is not a weak agreement. Nonetheless, how far the objectives and decisions arrived at in the meet are realized in entirely dependent on the willingness of each country to negotiate differences and difficulties for the benefit of larger gains.

Despite the fact that Nepal has joined the WTO, India still remains its largest trading partner and Madhav Prasad Regmi emphasised that because of this, both countries should locate ways in which mutually beneficial trade relations could be encouraged. Mr Rao in turn stressed on the need to focus on investments because although bilateral trade grew by 11 percent in 2012-13, exports from Nepal to India have declined. In this vein, he encouraged Nepal to steadily harness its hydro-power capabilities and was hopeful about a joint venture between the two countries in power-trading.

The recently held IGC meeting saw the materialisation of certain issues that have been on the agenda not only since the previous meeting held in December 2011 but for quite a while. Nonetheless certain areas still need stronger resolve for enhanced economic and energy coordination between the two countries. Most importantly, the meeting helped both sides to hear and understand mutual concerns and thus decide on steps to assist smoother and deeper bilateral ties.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pakistan: Musharraf’s trial challenges civil-military ties

Ananya Pandey

The first-ever treason trial in the 66-year-long history of Pakistan against an a former Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf, has created quite a stir in the political atmosphere. The trial does not just represent a contest between a man of such stature and the rule of law, but also puts a question mark on the authority and independence of one of the most important institutions in Pakistan, namely, the Army.

After years of civilian-military uneasiness, the emergence of two successive democratically-elected governments in Islamabad seemed to suggest that the Army has to necessity accept the inevitability of having to share the political space with a civilian establishment. The civilian government also seems to have understood where to draw the line when it came to interfering in the affairs of the military. Thus, in the midst of this tentative rapprochement between traditional rival power centres, the controversial trial threatens to undo this process.

Judiciary in the mix

The Musharraf trial also brings in the judiciary into the mix. The military-judiciary relation has been problematic since early 2007 when Gen Musharraf, then heading the country, decided to summarily sack the Chief Justice without any substantial ground. Musharraf’s second sacking of the Chief Justice in November 2007 and imposition of emergency deepened the divide even more. Is the Musharraf trial the judiciary’s revenge? Or is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has no love lost for Gen Musharraf, leading the campaign against the former military dictator who had ousted him in a coup in October 1999?

Musharraf had taken over the Government in a bloodless coup when he dismissed the then elected Prime Minister Sharif in 1999. His imposition of emergency rule and suspension of the Constitution in 2007 were/are viewed as treason. Prime Minister Sharif, after he took over as the Prime Minister last year, had first announced the filing of high treason charges against Pervez Musharraf in his speech to Parliament in June 2013.

The present Government seeks a Musharraf trial, conviction and punishment as envisaged in Article 6. The Government wants the former Army chief to be held guilty and punished under Section 2(2) of High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973, which says: "A person who is found guilty of high treason, as defined in Article 6 of Constitution, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life."

Conflicting reports

How does the Army view the trial? There are conflicting reports about the military’s reaction. Musharraf has publicly claimed that he had strong military backing. He was also trying to project his trial as a collective humiliation of the armed forces. Pakistan Army, at least officially, denies any such support. Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik declared that the army had no connection with the trial.

But, then, at another function, a group of senior retired military officers spoke publicly in Musharraf’s defence. What has muddied the waters further is the statement made by Musharraf’s lawyer who argued that the former General should be tried by a military court and other military officials involved in the October 1999 coup should also be brought into the gambit of the trial.

The army is thus caught in a Catch 22 situation. It cannot openly support Musharraf fearing possible public criticism. On the other hand, it cannot allow a former Army chief to be dragged through the mud without some of it sticking to its own image. The army, for the moment, has adopted a wait-and-a-watch attitude. It will be keen to put an end to the spectacle and get on with some very serious challenges it faces today.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Court orders Musharraf’s presence

A Pakistani court trying former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf for treason has ordered him to appear at a hearing next week, despite his lawyers saying he is too sick to attend.

The ruling was announced in Islamabad by court registrar Abdul Ghani Soomro, who also said that a medical report on Musharraf’s health submitted earlier this week to the court indicated he had not suffered a heart attack as was rumoured.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Guardian, 9 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban bombing claims top cop

Chaudhry Aslam, who had survived numerous assassination attempts in the past, died along with two other officers when the bomb targeted the convoy on the Lyari expressway in Karachi.

Senior police officer Iqbal Mehmood confirmed to reporters that SP CID Chaudhary Aslam Khan died in the attack, which took place around 4:40 pm near the Essa Nagri area. A suicide-bomber smashed his vehicle into Aslam’s convoy and he and two other policemen were killed, Iqbal Mehmood, a senior officer with the criminal investigation department, told news agency AFP.

The blast was so powerful that it threw the shattered wreckage of Aslam’s vehicle some 20 metres from where it was hit. The Mohmand agency chapter of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban kills 6 for visiting Sufi Muslim shrine

Six bodies were dumped at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi on 7 January, accompanied by a note purporting to be from the Taliban saying the men were killed for visiting the shrine, police said.

The six bodies were found outside the shrine in Karachi, with a note claiming to be from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Fazlullah Group.

"People visiting shrines will meet the same fate," the group was quoted saying in the note.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 7 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Saudis pledge regional cooperation

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal met President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz to garner Pakistan’s support on regional issues of concern to his country.

The first high-level visit to the country by a Saudi leader in six years was described by the Government as a "historic event", while the Saudis felt "satisfied and happy" over the outcome of the two-day trip.

Prince Faisal delivered a ’special message’ to President Hussain from Saudi monarch Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. He said the message was about "friendship, cooperation and a commitment to stand by each other under all circumstances".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 8 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Yemen to expand economic ties

Pakistan and Yemen on 8 January signed documents aimed at increasing cooperation in sectors of economy, trade, investment, oil, gas, agriculture and technical education. The documents were signed at the seventh session of Pakistan-Yemen JointMinisterial Commission held on 7-8 January.

Minister for Industries and Production, Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi and Yemeni Minister for Industry and Trade, Dr Saadaldeen Ali Salim Talib, who led their respective delegations, signed the agreed minutes of the meetings.

During the two day sessions of the Commission, meetings were held between the experts of the two sides on a number of issues especially focusing on trade, finance and investment. Similarly matters pertaining to deepening cooperation in education, vocational training, health and population, agriculture, fisheries and infrastructure development also came under discussion.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pakistan Observer, 9 January 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US wanted cluster-bombs used against LTTE

Even though the US recommended that the Sri Lankan Government swiftly acquire cluster bombs to target the LTTE, the country never felt the need to do so, an authoritative source said in Colombo.

The US made the recommendation in the wake of the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the then Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE. It was among a series of recommendations made to the Sri Lanka Army, Navy and Air Force to strengthen their capabilities during the CFA.

Although Sri Lanka hadn’t been signatory to an international convention that prohibited the use of cluster-bombs, the Government refrained from acquiring the capability in spite of US recommendations, the source said. Asked whether Sri Lanka had the required ability to deliver such munitions, the official said the Israeli built Kfirs, Russian MiG 27s and Chinese F-7s were equipped to deliver them.

The Government was responding to a call for an international war crimes probe by Bishop of Mannar Rev Rayappu Joseph and Bishop of Jaffna Rev Thomas Saundaranayagam to find out whether Government forces had used cluster munitions and chemical weapons in populated areas during ’Eelam War-IV’. The call was made during a meeting with Stephen J. Rapp, Ambassador-at-large with the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the US on Wednesday.

The recommendation that the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) acquire Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs) for ’unarmoured area targets’ was made by USPACOM (United States Pacific Command) assessment team following a study conducted during 12 September to 24 October 2002. USPACOM was acting on the instructions of the US Department of Defence in the wake of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe seeking the intervention of then US President George W. Bush.

The US advice was meant to prepare the armed forces to face any eventuality in case of the Norwegian peace initiative coming a cropper. Having closely studied the capabilities as well as the weaknesses of the SLAF, the US suggested that the service deploy CBUs, guided weapons for Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships and Kfirs, multi-role combat aircraft in service since January 1996. The US stressed that guided-weapons were necessary as they had to engage LTTE targets situated close to friendly forces.

Military sources said that one-time AP Bureau Chief in Colombo Ravi Nessman alleged the deployment of cluster bombs on the basis of a statement attributed to Alan Poston, a UNDP technical advisor supervising mine-clearing operations in the former war zone. The New Delhi-based Nessman had been AP Bureau Chief for South Asia at the time the allegation was made. The then Army Commander Lt-Gen Jagath Jayasuriya said that Poston had failed to substantiate his claim though the Army requested him to furnish whatever evidence he could provide. When confronted, Poston admitted that he had never informed the SLA of any such recovery.

The Army Headquarters emphasised that the SLA and other privately- funded groups engaged in mine-clearing operations in the Northern Province had never come across evidence of cluster bombs. Those injured on the Vanni East front during the final phase of the offensive were brought under the supervision of the ICRC to Pulmoddai, where Indian military/medical personnel treated them.

Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetileke has since said that the SLAF never used cluster bombs, though it was in a position to launch attacks.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Should have prosecuted LTTE cadres: US

Sri Lanka’s post-war rehabilitation project to reintegrate former LTTE combatants into society has come in for criticism from the US. The US has faulted President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government for releasing those who had fought for the LTTE without prosecuting them.

Ambassador-at-Large, Office of Global Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp has told Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa that LTTE terrorists should have been prosecuted instead of being rehabilitated.

The meeting took place at the Defence Ministry on 6 January. Amb Rapp was accompanied by Michele J. Sison, US ambassador in Colombo. It was his second visit to Colombo since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009.

The Army captured nearly 12,000 LTTE cadres during the final phase of the Vanni offensive east of the Kandy-Jaffna A-9 highway. Of them, over 11,000 were released in batches after rehabilitation.

A senior Defence Ministry official said that the Government decided to release, after rehabilitation, the vast majority of those who had surrendered or been captured on the Vanni front or arrested in the South in a bid to reassure the Tamils. The Government had involved the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the rehabilitation project, the official said.

Asked whether any other country had objected to rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres, the official emphasised that many countries, including the Netherlands, Norway, Japan and UK, financially backed the initiative. Responding to a query, the official said that the US had never faulted Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation project earlier. In fact, many US officials had appreciated the project though the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was largely silent, he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">British minister talks to NGOs

Britian Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire met several Non- Governmental Organisations (NGO), including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, on Thursday and held discussions on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

In a twitter-post, Swire stated "Met NGOs @HRW @AmnestyUK @freedomfromtorture @SLcampaign this morning to discuss human rights in #SriLanka & impact of our attendance @CHOGM".

"I made clear the importance the Britain attaches importance to continued progress on human rights in SL, including on accountability," he stated.

He said he also discussed the impact of their attendance at the CHOGM in Colombo last November.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, 10 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US wants BSA signed within weeks

US officials this past week once again emphasised that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) should be signed soon to enable the retention of a residual US military presence in Afghanistan post-2014.

White House spokesman Jay Carney stated that although there were not any specific deadlines, the US wanted the pact signed within weeks not months. The US has already extended the original deadline of 31 December 2013.

Moreover, a cable sent to the White House this week, US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham claimed that it was unlikely that the pact will be signed before the April Presidential Elections.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 7 January 2014; The Washington Post, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban leader declared global terrorist

The US State Department this week declared a senior Afghan Taliban leader, Qari Saifullah as a global terrorist. Qari Saifullah, part of the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura, is the group’s shadow deputy governor and operational commander of Zabul province.

The US State Department has accused him of planning and executing a number of terror attacks against the ANSF and foreign forces in Zabul. These have included attacks on a Romanian convoy in January 2013, and a US Provincial Reconstruction Team in September 2011.

The designation includes a prohibition against US persons engaging in transactions with Qari Saifullah, and the freezing of all property and interests of Qari Saifullah in the United States, or come within the United States or the possession or control of US persons.

A number of the Afghan law-makers believe that the U.S. State Department move is beneficial for Afghanistan’s peace and stability. "Including these individuals on the list could be a positive move for Afghanistan, because it creates fear amongst the people and those involved in destabilising and damaging Afghanistan would realise that there are people who monitor their movements," said Semeen Barakzai, a member of Parliament’s Defense Committee.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 8 January 2014; Khaama Press, 8 January 2014; Tolo News, 8 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Attack on NDS official foiled

A plot to assassinate the second senior most official of the National Directorate of Security, Mohammad Zia was foiled this week.

The plot had been formulated on the orders of Taliban commander Maulavi Ismail, who according to the NDS, is based in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

"The NDS personnel have confiscated one RPG7, one Kalashnikov rifle, five magazines, 12 hand grenades, one balloon full of explosive materials and pressure cooker, 2 packs explosive materials, 18 electronic capsules, 9 remote control and a number of explosive wires while arresting the three criminals," the intelligence agency said.

The plot was said to be the group’s response to what they see a concerted effort on the part of the Afghan intelligence to assassinate its top leaders based in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban has accused the NDS of assassinating two senior Taliban figures in Pakistan in the last two months.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 6 January 2014; Tolo News, 8 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Clear victory for Awami League

Amidst controversy, 10th parliamentary election was held in the country on 5 January in which the incumbent Awami League (AL) was able to return to power by winning two thirds of the seats in the parliament.

As 153 candidates out of 300 constituencies were elected uncontested, elections to the remaining 147 parliamentary seats took place on 5 January, which was marred by widespread violence, low turnout of voters and stuffing of ballot boxes by ruling party men across the country.

Of the 147 seats, the AL bagged 104, HM Ershad-led Jatiya Party 13, Workers Party of Bangladesh 4 —Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal got 2, Tariqat Federation 1 and newly floated Bangladesh Nationalist Front got 1. 14 independent candidates also won seats. Announcement of election results of the 8 parliamentary constituencies were kept pending as widespread violence forced the returning officers to suspend polling in about 540 polling stations across the country. The EC is likely to organise the re-polling in suspended polling stations on 16 January.

Of the 153 candidates elected unopposed, the AL managed to have 127 seats in parliament, Ershad-led Jatiya Party 20, JSD 3, WP 2 and Anwar Hossain Manju’s Jatiya Party got 1. In the total 300 seats, the number of AL MPs-elect stood at 231, Ershad’s Jatiya Party 33, WP 6, JSD 5, Anwar Hossain Manju JP t 1, Tariqat Federation 1and BNF 1.

Out of 32 registered political parties only six contested the election. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition camp boycotted the polls demanding a neutral administration to oversee the polls with the resignation of the AL. The opposition declined to accept this election and termed it to be farcical. Soon after the election opposition observed 48 hour long shutdown.

The election had only 40 percent voter turnout making it one of the lowest in the country’s history. It also needs to be recalled that over 52 percent of the voters did not have the chance to cast their vote as polling did not take place in the 153 constituencies as candidates were elected uncontested. The election was also the most bloodiest and 19 people were killed during the election.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 7 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Khaleda says Jamaat ties not permanent

In a major development opposition leader and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia, in an interview with the New York Times, has "signalled some willingness to reconsider her party’s ties with the banned pro-Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, as the Government has demanded".

"With Jamaat, it’s not a permanent alliance," Khaleda told the leading international daily. However she refrained from giving specific timeframe and said, "At this moment, I cannot, but when the time will come I will see."

The BNP often have been criticised for its association with Jamaat, a party discredited for supporting Pakistan army during Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 8 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Minorities attacked

Lives and property of religious minorities were attacked by supporters of Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami this week. Hundreds of Hindu families fled their homes following post-poll violence in different districts and are scared to return as they alleged that the administration could not ensure their security.

The districts that were most affected are Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi, Chittagong and Jessore. As soon as the voting ended on 5 January, BNP and Jamaat-Shibir men looted, vandalised and burned Hindu houses.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 7 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Polls a constitutional need: India

Condemning the violence in Bangladesh during the elections, India’s official spokesperson Syed Akbarudin said that the polls are a constitutional requirement and it is the people of that country who will decide their future.

"Elections in Bangladesh on 5 January were a constitutional requirement. They are a part of the internal and constitutional process of Bangladesh." The spokesman added that it is the people of Bangladesh who should decide their own future and choose their representatives who will fulfil their aspirations.

"Violence cannot and should not determine the way forward. The democratic processes must be allowed to take their own course in Bangladesh" The spokesman said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 7 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Resume dialogue: UN

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the political parties to resume meaningful dialogue and urgently address the expectations of the people of Bangladesh for an inclusive political process.

"The UN will continue to support the country’s democratic processes in accordance with the principles of inclusiveness, non-violence, reconciliation and dialogue," spokesperson for the Secretary-General said in a statement.

The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of lives and incidents of violence that marred the parliamentary elections. He regretted that the parties did not reach the kind of agreements which could have produced a peaceful, all-inclusive election outcome. The UN chief called on all sides to exercise restraint and ensure first and foremost a peaceful and conducive environment, where people can maintain their right to assembly and expression.

The international community is pressurising for initiating dialogue for fresh election. The United States, Canada, UK and the Commonwealth this week called for immediate dialogues between major political parties to hold a fresh credible election.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 7 January 2014; The Independent, 7 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to continue support

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has conveyed to Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck India’s full commitment and support to the Himalayan kingdom’s socio-economic development and also for development of its hydropower resources.

The meeting with the Bhutan King was held in a very warm and friendly atmosphere, reflecting the spirit of trust, cooperation and understanding that underpins the bilateral relations between the two countries, said a joint statement.

The Bhutan King is visiting India from 6-20 January along with his Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck. The Kind held extensive talks Singh, who also hosted a lunch in the honour of the royal couple.

The two leaders exchanged views on bilateral relations and on regional and international issues of mutual interest. They recalled the strong historical ties of friendship and understanding that exist between the two countries.

The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the excellent state of bilateral relations and reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen them. The King conveyed the Bhutanese people’s appreciation for the invaluable support and assistance that the Indian government provides to Bhutan.

The prime minister and other Indian leaders reiterated their full commitment and support to Bhutan’s socio-economic development and to further development of Bhutan’s hydropower resources.

The royal couple also held wide ranging discussions with President Pranab Mukherjee on issues of mutual interest. The king and queen expressed their appreciation to the president for inviting them to be the first guests at the refurbished guest wing of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The president hosted a dinner in their honour.

Pointing out that bilateral ties were based on shared strategic perceptions, President Pranab Mukherjee has assured Bhutan that India will continue to support capacity-building efforts in the neighbouring country.

The visit reinforced the tradition of regular high-level exchanges and further strengthened the special friendship between the two countries, the statement said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Agencies, 9 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Banking on hydel-power exports to India

Bhutan is banking on hydro-power exports to India to revive the fortunes of its faltering economy. The urgency for building hydropower plants in the picture-postcard country is palpable.

"At this stage of development, we are highly dependent on exploiting the water resources of Bhutan," said Sonam Tshering, Bhutan’s Secretary of Economic Affairs.

Workers at the site of the Dagachu hydropower plant are busy giving final touches to the project which is expected to go on stream by the middle of 2014.

The 126 MW plant is the first under the public-private-partnership model and has already connected 9,000 rural households in Bhutan. The plant, located in the remote Dagachu river, has been built under the PPP model and is the first foreign direct investment for the Himalayan country.

This is also the world’s first cross-border clean development mechanism (CDM) project. The CDM allows emission reduction projects in developing countries to earn certified emission reduction credits and these can be traded and sold to meet part of the emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Several large projects are underway and companies such as Jaypee, Larsen & Toubro and Gammon India are taking part in the massive construction underway.

Bhutan is grappling with a large current account deficit estimated at 20% of its gross domestic product. The sale of electricity from these projects to a ready-and-captive market in India will help it earn precious foreign exchange to sustain its economy. New Delhi has lent a helping hand and, in turn, will receive steady supplies to meet its growing energy needs.

"The best part of the hydel power development in Bhutan is that hydro power projects are all funded by the Government of India through a very generous combination of grants and loans," said Nam Dorji, Bhutan’s finance secretary.

In 2010, electricity exports from Bhutan to India amounted to 5.579 kilowatt hour, helping the country earn about US$223 million, according to ADB data.

India and Bhutan signed a pact in 2008 to develop hydropower projects in the country and about 10,000 megawatt power would be exported to India by 2020.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 6 January 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">ISRO successfully launches GSLV-D5

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched GSLV-D5 rocket on 5 January, which is powered by an indigenous cryogenic engine, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

Seventeen minutes after liftoff at 4.18pm, the rocket successfully injected GSAT-14 communication satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

With the launch of GSLV-D5, India is joining countries like the US, Russia, Japan, France and China which have successfully developed their own cryogenic engines.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 5 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prithvi-II test-fired, covers full range

The Strategic Forces Command test-fired Prithvi-II, a surface-to-surface strategic missile, from a mobile launcher in the Integrated Test Range, near Chandipur, in Odisha on 7 January.

The missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead of 500 kg, lifted off at 9.50 a.m. and covered its full range of 350 kilometre.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 7 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Strategic ties with Japan to go up

India-Japan relations kicked off 2014 on a positive note. On 6 January, India and Japan resolved to strengthen their strategic and global partnership, which was formally established in 2006, with the addition of a series of new accords on defence cooperation.

Indian Defence Minister A K Antony met his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera in New Delhi and the two ministers agreed to increase bilateral cooperation in the field of maritime security, counter-terrorism, and anti-piracy operations.

While both Japanese and Indian diplomats are careful not to mention China in their official statements following important bilateral interactions, the rise of China has precipitated greater security cooperation between the two countries.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 8 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Minority’ status for Jain community

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the government has finally decided to provide minority status to the Jain community at the national level. For now, Jains enjoy minority status in 14 States. The Union Law Ministry has given its go-ahead to a minority affairs ministry proposal for making the Jains, with an estimated population of five million in the country, eligible for minority status nationally.

So far, five communities - Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis —have been recognised as national minorities under a Central law.

The Law Ministry has justified its decision. "An earlier judgment of the Supreme Court that the Jain community was a part of the Hindu tradition does not interfere with the Government’s decision to accord it the minority status, which will become effective after the Cabinet approval," said an official.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, 8 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Devyani indicted, leaves for India

The US prosecutors informed a court there on late Thursday that the New York-based Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest sparked an intense row, has left the country as a grand jury unveiled charges of visa fraud and making false statements against her.

Reports suggest that Devyani has left for India after being granted full diplomatic immunity by the US.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also confirmed that Devyani is on her way back to India and she has been transferred to New Delhi.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 10 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Extraordinary Majlis sitting to pass revenue bills

The Parliament Secretariat has said that an extraordinary sitting of the House has been scheduled for 9 am on Tuesday, 14 January.

Debates will take place during this sitting on Bills proposed by the Government on amendments to the Goods and Services Tax Act and Tourism Act. The announcement came after Government MPs submitted a memorandum submitted by over 26 of them, the minimum required for convening an extraordinary session, to Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Earlier in the week, President Abdulla Yameen said revenue bills should be endorsed by Parrliament before he could announce any new development projects.

If approved, the amendment to the Airport Service Charge Act would see the fee of $18 charged from passengers leaving Maldives to $ 25. The amendment to the GST Act would also introduce GST on telecommunication services.

Under the amendment to the Tourism Act, the Government aims to secure revenue of MVR 1.2 billion in fiscal 2014 by charging the fee for resort lease-extension.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 10 January 2014, HaveeruOnline, 8 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Small parties will not be dissolved: SC

The Supreme Court has ruled that small parties that have less than 10,000 members will not be dissolved, as declared by the Election Commission.

The ruling signed by Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain states that the Supreme Court had earlier declared that signatures of only 3,000 members are required to register a political party.

The ruling details that Elections Commission’s request from political parties with less than 10,000 members to increase membership within three months to meet the requirement under amended Article 27 (b) and (c) of the Political Parties Act, was a violation of an earlier Supreme Court ruling.

The court informed Elections Commission and all registered political parties that the Elections Commission’s notification is void and should not be implemented.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 9 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC orders Criminal Court not to halt proceedings

The Supreme Court has ordered Criminal Court not to halt proceedings in spite of the absence of a Prosecutor-General.

The Supreme Court notified Criminal Court that criminal proceedings are necessary to uphold the Constitution and rule of law.

The Criminal Court had earlier stopped accepting new cases and ceased all exiting proceedings after stating that the court will not accept cases from the State in the absence of a Prosecutor-General.

Following this, the Prosecutor-General’s Office said it will appeal Criminal Court’s decision to stop proceedings.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 9 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese funds for development

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has said that many development projects of the Government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will receive Chinese Government’s assistance.

Inaugurating the visa section of the Chinese Embassy in Male, the Minister highlighted that the strong diplomatic relations between China and Maldives had resulted in unprecedented close cooperation and benefits for the peoples.

Underscoring the need to promote people-to-people ties between the two countries, the Foreign Minister pointed out that facilitation of travel visas will be equally beneficial to both countries.

Dunya expressed her gratitude to the Government of China for opening the visa section, and noted the significance of the facility’s role in furthering trade and investment, between the two countries.

Chinese Ambassador Wang in his speech thanked the Government of Maldives for the support and assistance it has provided in enabling the Chinese Embassy to establish the visa section. He noted the previous hurdles they had faced in their endeavour for the purpose.

President Yameen recently thanked China for its support and assistance to Maldives, and expressed confidence that the diplomatic relations would continue to grow from strength to strength.

Speaking about the mutual respect accorded to each other, President Yameen said that Maldives cherished the Chinese Government’s confidence in Maldives in its capacity to resolve domestic issues.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Improving ties with Arab countries

Improving relations with Arab countries is a high priority of the government’s foreign policy, President Abdullah Yameen has said.

Speaking to the Ambassador of Iraq to Maldives, Kahtan Taha Khalaf who made a courtesy call, President Yameen said that he will work towards improving bilateral relations with Iraq, and that it has been 43 years since diplomatic relations with Iraq was established.

Taha congratulated Yameen on his being elected President.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 9 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian IT major to help improve governance

With its economy opening up after decades of isolation, the reformist government in Myanmar is trying to make the country’s presence felt on the global information-technology (IT) map. The South-East Asian nation is learnt to have roped in technology major Infosys to devise a strategy on using IT to improve governance efficiency. This would focus on grooming the local eco-system.

Sources say Infosys, India’s second-largest IT services company, has bagged a consulting project from the Myanmar government for the same. This deal would give Infosys an entry into the country once considered untouchable by global investors, owing to its prolonged civil war under the military junta.

In November last year, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Infosys headquarters. During her interaction with senior company officials, Suu Kyi discussed on how technology could play a role in the Myanmar’s development. Infosys had also committed to undertake a six-month training programme for 100 engineering students from that country. "Infosys is trying to take its success in India in various e-governance projects to countries in South-East Asia," a company source said.

According to research firm IDC, the IT spends in Myanmar is estimated to reach US$233.56 million by 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent between 2011 and 2016.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 9 January 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mines-planting along Bangla border denied

Myanmar denied having planted mines along the border areas with Bangladesh. It is learnt from a letter sent by a responsible Burmese official from Maungdaw, Arakan State of Myanmar.

The letter, sent by an authorised person from Maungdaw police station to Narinjara, rejected the claim made by the Bangladesh Border Guards (BBG) that Myanmareseagencies were involved in planting mines in Myanmar-Bangladesh border areas.

"It (planting of mines) is not related to our border security forces. It may be handiwork of some miscreants who wanted to destroy our goodwill to a neighbouring nation," said the letter sent to Narinjara through e-mail.

It should be mentioned that the Bangladesh border security forces had discovered 39 mines along the international border with Burma in the last week of December, which were later removed, said a report published in The Daily Star recently.

"As far our knowledge goes all those reported mines were actually handmade and locally manufactured bombs only. Our forces do not deal with those kinds of explosions. So the accusation does not have the merit," added the letter.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 7 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cease-fire tops Karen meet agenda

A Karen National Union (KNU) delegation of 10 and led by General Mutu Say Poe met 5 January with Burma’s President Thein Sein and Defense Minister Min Aung Hlaing. The KNU’s Joint Secretary, P’Doh Mahn Mahn confirmed with Karen News that, "the objective of the trip is to meet with the President and the Defence Minister in Nay Pyi Daw. The meeting will focus on the cease-fire process and how to proceed future political dialogues".

In a earlier KNU statement said that the political organisation would meet with U Aung Min from Peace Center in Rangoon on 4 January and on 5-6 January to meet the President.

The KNU statement said that the objective of the meeting was to discuss a nationwide cease-fire. The KNU said armed forces units and relevant military officers and high level government officers would then discuss and will report to the KNU.

P’Doh Mahn Mahn explained to Karen News that to reach a nation-wide ceasefire it is important to get the detail right.

"The ethnic armed forces will hold a conference at the KNU headquarters in Law-Khee-La . We will discuss the role of the country’s armed forces in the nationwide ceasefire agreement. We will take the government’s position to the conference for discussion to prevent any impediments, as the military forces are the most critical in any ceasefire agreement reached between ethnic armed forces and government."

< class="text11verdana">Source: Burma News International, 6 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Japan pledges support for peace process

Japan has pledged Yen 10 billion to aid conflict-affected communities and to support the peace process in Myanmar, Japanese Ambassador Mikio Numata told a press conference on 6 January.

"The peace process between the Myanmar government and the ethnic is a must implement plan. The Japanese Government at the moment welcomes the progress being made between them," said Ambassador Mikio Numata.

The Japanese government has already provided Yen 91 billion when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Myanmar last May. Myanmar also received Yen 63 billion at the Myanmar-Japan Summit held in Tokyo in December aimed mainly at supporting development and infrastructure projects.

Special envoy to Myanmar, Yohei Sasakawa was appointed to help Myanmar’s peace process and to coordinate between the Myanmar government and ethnic armed forces.

The Yen 10 billion assistance will be provided over a five year period. At first, assistance will go to fulfilling the basic needs of the refugees such as food and medicine. Later, it will help in building houses for refugees and providing vocational training.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 8 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Peace-keepers for South Sudan

Two weeks after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested the Chairman of Election Council Khila Raj Regmi to deploy Nepal Army (NA) peace-keepers in the conflict-hit South Sudan, the government on 9 January decided to deploy 850 NA personnel in the region. A cabinet meeting held at the Prime Minister´s Office has decided to send an infantry battalion at the earliest.

The last battalion, which is currently serving in Haiti as peacekeepers and were about to return back after the mission completion, will now be transferred to South Sudan. Nepal is the sixth largest troops contributing nation to the UN peacekeeping. Over 99,501 personnel have participated in the UN peacekeeping operations in the past 53 years covering 37 UN Missions.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NC for three thematic panels in CA

The Nepali Congress (NC) has proposed forming only three thematic committees in the new Constituent Assembly for promulgating the constitution within a year. The previous CA by contrast had a total of 11 thematic committees.

A Political Dialogue Committee comprising representatives of all political parties in the new Constituent Assembly (CA) is to be formed to resolve the disputes concerning various constitutional issues. A CA Meeting Operations and Procedures Suggestions Committee (MOPSC) formed earlier by the party proposed forming the Political Dialogue Committee during an interaction held with the newly elected CA members at NC headquarters at Sanepa, Lalitpur on January 9.

Only 38 out of the 196 new CA members from the NC were in the previous CA. The meeting was held also to inform the newly elected CA members about the position of the party on various issues and to seek their suggestions as to how the NC could take the initiative to promulgate the new statute within a year.

The meeting asked the new CA members to submit their suggestions to MOPSC on various constitutional issues within the next five days. Though the NC, UML and UCPN (Maoist) have all announced they will take ownership of the work accomplished by the previous CA, confusion remains as to the extent to which the parties are ready to own that work.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 10 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UCPN (M) seeks power-sharing proposal

Keeping an option to join the next government open, the UCPN (Maoist) has asked Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML to bring a power-sharing proposal for the same. Party insiders say that the UCPN (Maoist) is open to be a part of the new government amid mounting pressure within the party to join the government if they are offered "dignified space".

The NC is the largest party with a total 196 seats in the 601-member Constituent Assembly followed by the UML, which has secured 175 seats. The UCPN (Maoist) ended up as a distant third with a total 80 seats. Nonetheless, the support from the Maoist and a few fringe parties is enough or either NC or the UML to form the next government under its leadership.

While admitting that they had received such a proposal from the Maoists, NC spokesperson Dilendra Badu said his party is conducting homework to prepare a proposal in view of forming a national consensus government. He also informed that NC has not taken any decision yet to form a majority-based government. The CPN-UML, however, said that they have not received any such proposal from the Maoists.

"We have always been in favour of a consensus government. But we have not received any such proposal from the Maoists. Nor are we doing any homework in that regard," said UML General Secretary Ishwar Pokharel. Pokharel claimed that the UCPN (Maoist) had instead asked NC and the UML to form a coalition government. Nevertheless, leaders within the CPN-UML do not rule out the possibility of forming government under their leadership with the Maoist support.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 9 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Trade expo with India next month

The Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industry in association with the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) will be organizing Nepal-India Trade Expo 2014 from Feb 13 at Adarshanagar, Birgunj.

President Ram Baran Yadav is scheduled to inaugurate the fair which is aimed at increasing international trade particularly with India and the Saarc countries. The 10-day exhibition will display a wide range of products from Nepal, India and the Saarc region, the organizer said. It will house more than 200 stalls showcasing products and services provided by industry, tourism, agriculture, small scale enterprises and financial institutions, among others.

The event will also offer cultural programmes, a food festival and entertainment shows. Ashok Kumar Vaidya, president of the Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the expo would help publicize Nepali products and boost exports to India. The southern neighbour is Nepal’s major trade partner accounting for two-thirds of its total exports and imports.

According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre (TEPC), India bought 66.9 percent of Nepal’s total exports in fiscal 2012-13. Shipments to India were valued at Rs 51.78 billion out of the total exports worth Rs 77.35 billion. Meanwhile, Nepal imported goods worth Rs 397.95 billion from India compared to its total imports of Rs 601.20 billion.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Ekantipur, 9 January 2014

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Ananya Pandey;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu

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.