MonitorsPublished on Mar 14, 2014
The south Asian region has been a region of disjointed congruity for decades. Efforts at integrating the countries that make up the region have been in place through a variety of mechanisms such as diplomatic efforts, regional and sub-regional organisations.
Nepal: What BIMSTEC Summit means for the country
< class="heading1">Analysis

The south Asian region has been a region of disjointed congruity for decades. Efforts at integrating the countries that make up the region have been in place through a variety of mechanisms such as diplomatic efforts, regional and sub-regional organisations. In this regard, in recent years, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, or the BIMSTEC, has been gradually assuming importance. The forum held its third Summit meeting earlier this month and witnessed the participation of all the member-countries, namely, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.

The third summit was held at Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, and is important for all the member-countries and particularly Nepal, because first, the summit pledged its commitment to make room for cooperation in the process of development of the Least Developed Countries (LDC’s). For Nepal, the assistance that a regional body such as the BIMSTEC can offer will go a long way in expediting the process of re-stabilising the country.

This is precisely why Mr. Sushil Koirala, the recently-elected Prime Minister of the country, emphasised this aspect of the deliberations that took place when returned from the Summit. Second, it was also decided at the Summit that the member-countries would assist in reducing the effects of climate- change and its subsequent adverse-effects, work towards poverty alleviation, and cooperate in sharing energy and enhancing tourism.

Regional cooperation

The key area in which Nepal requires the assistance of countries in the region includes steps towards making and increasing scope for the development of the country. This entails collaboration with neighbouring countries in the betterment of communication and transport which will pave the way for augmenting trade and investment and deepen ties within the region.

Working towards this is of particular importance for Nepal because of the marked increase in youth migration to other countries in search of better opportunities. Mr. Koirala also met with the Heads of State from the member-countries on the sidelines of the Summit of which the most significant was that with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He and Dr. Singh discussed several key issues of mutual interest, including the resumption of the Foreign Ministerial Joint Commission meetings (which has been mired since 1991) along with investment promotion, bilateral trade and transit.

In his statement at the Summit, Mr. Koirala emphasised on the benefits of pooling the resources and strengths of the member countries to "unlock the potential economic growth and development." It cannot be exaggerated and has in fact been highlighted for years that the countries comprising the region share certain strengths such as similar cultural ties and customs, which need to be tapped in order for the region to achieve the kind of cohesion and integration that it has been seeking for a long time. What Nepal can bring to the table for the benefit of the other countries is the utilization of the vast reserves of natural resources that Nepal possesses would further complement the enhancement of trade and communication in the region.

Enabling mechanisms

Given the fact that organisations such as the SAARC have largely been unable to deliver on any public goods that have been part of their agenda, it is important for those like the BIMSTEC to keep their initiatives alive. An important part of the priority sectors of the BIMSTEC focus on public health, trade, transport and communication and poverty alleviation which are essential to the development and prosperity of the south Asian region. The reasons for SAARC being essentially ineffective do remain in the context of the functioning of the BIMSTEC too as is the case with other such initiatives. What is important is to therefore keep the political will both alive and interested.

In the context of the transitions that the region is going through especially in Myanmar and Nepal and to an extent the recent tumult in Bangladesh, the enabling mechanisms of cooperation which form the agenda of BIMSTEC need to be encouraged and maintained. As the global lens shifts to the Asia Pacific, the south Asian region needs to step up its game and one of the ways in which it can do so is to rejuvenate regional and sub-regional cooperation.

(The writer is a Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pakistan : Not everyone on the same page on TTP peace talks

Aakash Tolani

With the announcement of talks between Islamabad and representatives of the Pakistan Taliban, a few would be surprised if the talks do not bear a positive outcome, given that the objectives of the talks itself are unclear to begin with. Renowned Pakistani analyst Imtiaz Gul notes that since Pakistani state institutions will most probably never give in to the demands of ’shariatisation’ of the State, the talks are doomed to be a non-starter.

As per well-placed sources, many sections of the Pakistani defence establishment are in favour of a direct operation as opposed to holding talks. Notably, the army may have assured the government of full support for the talks. However, here too they shall not be direct participants. This once again raises questions either on the army’s willingness to join the talks or perhaps the government’s reluctance on their active inclusion.

On the political landscape too, there seems to be a lack of confidence in the talks. Even though Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is participating, PTI head Imran Khan is not on the party committee. This is despite the fact that he has been a long-time advocate of such talks and had previously refused to represent the Taliban, claiming that he would rather speak on behalf of the government.

In this regard Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also seems to have left the masses puzzled, with the announcement of the talks, as not long ago he had reportedly approved in principle a decisive military action against the Taliban. Insiders claim that the reason for this is that Mr. Sharif did not want the pro-talks politicians to blame him for resorting to the military option without having tried dialogue.

Unclear objective

The government’s peace efforts had suffered a major setback in February, 2014 when Maulana Abdul Aziz, a member of the Taliban mediation committee, sought assurance that the ’Shariat’ would be implemented in the country, as a precondition to the negotiations. Furthermore, the Lal Masjid Khateeb had in the recent past said that the TTP team of negotiators was constituted with the aim to hold negotiations, but the government’s demand that the negotiations be held within the limits of 1973 Constitution will delay the process.

Against this as a backdrop, it is hard to foresee what would be negotiated, let alone hoping for a positive and lasting outcome. Nonetheless, eminent Pakistani journalist and security analyst, Hamid Mir, reports that Taliban has indeed softened and come down to two demands- release of non-combatant women and children, and secondly, withdrawal of the army from South Waziristan only.

Should this be the case, then it definitely seems worthwhile to engage in the talks. However, other analysts such as Amir Mir opine that the government has already wasted almost nine months trying to appease the Taliban in one way or the other in its quest for peace, but the net result is the loss of thousands more lives and further destruction.

Decisive operation?

Some security analysts view that perhaps a decisive operation against the Pakistani Taliban over peace-talks is necessary for the maintenance of peace. This is essentially because talks with an indefinable entity, such as the TTP, with its associated or rivalling splinter groups that work under the slogan of ’takfeer’(an ideology that acquits them of the guilt in killing the innocents) have always been dubious and aggravating. Each time the process is initiated, they end up with the killing of the TTP leader who has shown willingness to talk, or die down due to the persistent distrust between the different sides.

Moreover, after the ruthless murder of 23 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers, attack on district court in Islamabad, bomb explosion in Hanggutargeting security forces and other such recent characteristic attacks against the establishment and civilian population despite the call for cease-fire, holding peace talks with such an entity has been perceived by many as nothing short of the government mentally surrendering to the Taliban.

Interestingly, with regards to Islamabad’s deadly attack on a district court, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan has recently made an absurd claim that judge Rafaqat Awan was killed in an accidental gunfire by his own security guard. Many perceive this move to be a cover up to ward away opposition’s criticism on the government proceeding with the talks while the attacks still continue; indicating that the government does not wish to hinder the peace process at least for now.

Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that an effort to bring TTP to the talking table still signals a positive move forward to some extent. It must be noted that this move, which is preceded bythe Pakistan Army’s raids, is certainly indicative of TTP losing its ground and the Pakistan army gaining an upper hand. Additionally, getting at least a major player such as TTP on-board could not only help the government in holding talks with other willing splinter groups but also aid in tracing the rest.

However, it still must be stressed that the possibility of TTP only buying time to restructure and regroup cannot be ruled out.As per Mr. Amir Mir, Taliban’s strategy seems to be the same old one of buying as much time as they can in line with the wider militant strategy of securing a sanctuary in the hinterlands of the post-NATO Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Success or failure...

The PTI indeed would be represented in the peace talks by Gulzar Khan. However, Imran Khan not willing to be a direct participant in the talks, despite Taliban previously seeking his involvement, does indeed raise questions on his stance with regards to the talks.

Some analysts believe that his involvement would have certainly been crucial in having a moderate member on the panel whose words would have added weight with both the Government and the Taliban. However, his unwillingness to take larger pro-active role is suggestive of his lack of confidence in either the talks or Taliban itself.

Interestingly, as per some analysts, the PTI would benefit from both the success and failure of these talks. If the talks are successful, PTI certainly would get the credit for being a participant. If the talks fail, then it would be seen as a failure of the PML-N led central government which would perhaps help PTI in the next elections. Nonetheless, PTI’s presence on the discussion table would still be a valuable asset in appealing to the sentiments of the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

Half-hearted participant

Although the Pakistan army has assured its complete support for the peace talks, their role indeed is limited. Well-placed sources have said that there will be no representative of the army in the talks-committee. However, it has been agreed that a high-ranking army officer will remain in contact with the negotiations team, which still remains to be formulated.

This limited role of army’s engagement could be attributed to either elements in the army establishment unwilling to engage in the talks or senators lacking confidence in army’s proactive inclusion. To this end, it is reported that a corps commanders’ conference was held at the General Headquarters on 7 March 2014, reviewing the prevalent internal and external security situation of the country and weighing options in the peace talks with the Taliban. The meeting decided that air strikes would continue on militant hideouts in the event of attacks on military installations in the future. Furthermore, it expressed remorse over the brutal murder of 23 paramilitary soldiers.

It is reported that Taliban does not oppose the army’s inclusion in the negotiations since it is what the government itself wanted. However, it is not quite certain if the army wishes to hold such talks given the fact that they now have seemingly gained an upper hand in displacing and destabilizing the terrorist infrastructure in KPK, as per a Pakistan army spokesperson.

Therefore it must be added that, although democratic institutions in Pakistan may have succeeded with the last PPP led National Assembly successfully completing its term, it nevertheless goes without saying that should the peace process fail or the government decides to give more than what the army deems required, then it certainly can resort to its own course of action, as it had in the past.

(Aakash Tolani is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No civilians killed by US drones in 2013: UN

According to a UN expert, no Pakistani civilians were killed by US drones in 2013 as Washington reduced its use of the unmanned planes in the country.

The total number of recorded strikes in 2013 was down to 27 from the maximum of 128 in 2010 according to Ben Emmerson who monitors respect for human rights in counter-terrorism operations.

He added that for the first time in nine years there were no reports of civilian casualties in the FATA area of Pakistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 12 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blast in Peshawar kills nine

An explosion in the Sarband area of Peshawar killed nine persons and wounded 47 others. Women, children and policemen were amongst the victims of the blast.

The blast appeared to have targeted a police mobile van and was carried out by a suicide bomber.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Baloch rebels, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi ally in Balochistan

Separatists have teamed up with radical militants in their fight against the government in Pakistan’s volatile province of Balochistan. The Baloch rebels are a band of separatists fighting for independence from Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a group of religious militants bent on killing Shia Muslims.

According to the Baloch Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti there is coordination between the two and both the groups share the common goal of fighting against the state. A senior security official in Balochistan said that the LeJ had been spotted recruiting fighters from among locals of the province. LeJ operates bases in the same area as the separatist rebels which has helped the groups turn into natural allies.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 March 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’India wants Tamils to talk to Colombo’

India’s Minister of External Affairs, Mr Salman Khurshid, while answering a question after a talk at SOAS London on Wednesday, said that "Tamils (in Sri Lanka) should have a dialogue with the (Sri Lankan) Government. Then only we can have leverage on Sri Lankan Government."

Mr Khurshid, an Oxford-educated lawyer, was delivering a lecture on "Challenges of Democracy in India," at the South Asia Institute of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

"We are working on it. Tamils should have a dialogue with the government. Then only we can have a leverage on Sri Lankan Government," Mr. Salman Khurshid replied.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tamilnet, 13 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UK reiterates call for ’strong’ resolution

The UK has declared its support for a strong resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council against the government of Sri Lanka as it is yet to make substantive progress on reconciliation, human rights and accountability.

"Accountability plays an important part in the reconciliation process, and must not be ignored. This is intended to be a resolution which will help to address the legitimate concerns of all communities," Foreign Secretary William Hague told British Parliament.

"The adoption of the (Anglo-American) draft resolution (now in circulation) is not a foregone conclusion. Ahead of the vote, the Prime Minister and I, and other Foreign & Commonwealth Office Ministers, have been in contact with a wide range of UNHRC member-States to encourage them to support a strong resolution that calls for an international investigation," he said.

"We welcome the offer of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist in an international investigation, which would be a significant step forward in ensuring that the Sri Lankan people will know the truth behind events during the conflict. We are confident that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with Special Procedures, can provide a full and comprehensive investigation," he added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NGO project to tarnish nation’s image: President

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has alleged that those seeking to destabilise the country were now accusing the government of causing religious tensions.

Addressing an UPFA propaganda rally at Galle, President Rajapaksa said that it was the latest NGO project directed against Sri Lanka during the ongoing sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

The President stressed that there was absolutely no basis for allegations that religious minorities were being targeted in the post-war era. The war, the President said, had been waged against the LTTE not the Tamil speaking people, the majority of whom were living outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The President who is also the SLFP leader was responding to a report commissioned by the South Asia Policy and Research Institute (SAPRI) founded by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and dealt with what she alleged was government backed campaign against Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious places of worship.

CBK lambasted the government for turning a blind eye to what was going on in the country, after having met UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo.

Turning towards Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic priests on the dais as well as followers of all religions at the rally, he said the make-up there itself showed that there was no basis for what those trying to cause trouble for the country were propagating.

Ms. Kumaratunga earned the wrath of UPFA constituent, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) as well as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), for spearheading the SAPRI attack on the government of Sri Lanka. Both JHU and BBS addressed the media regarding the "unsubstantiated allegations" directed against the country.

They claimed that Mrs. Kumaratunga launched the SAPRI report in the wake of UPFA constituent, the SLMC, alleging systematic attacks on Muslims. They pointed out how SLMC leader and Cabinet Minister Rauff Hakeem went to the extent of calling for UNHRC intervention to save Muslims.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Cabinet Minister Wimal Weerawansa, too, alleged that Minister Hakeem had collaborated with those bent on subverting the country. He said that the SLMC leader had obviously contributed to the UNHRC chief Navi Pillay’s damaging report meant to justify international war crimes investigation over accountability issues.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 14 March 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban threatens to derail elections

The Taliban issued a statement this week warning Afghan citizens against participating in the Afghan presidential and provincial council elections. The warning claimed that their participation could see them suffer the consequences of the violence planned by the Taliban to disrupt the electoral process.

The statement, the first explicit threat issued by the Taliban regarding the 2014 elections, said, "We have given orders to our Mujahideen to use all force at their disposal to disrupt the upcoming sham elections and to target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices". The insurgents said they would not hold themselves responsible for any loss of life that may result from their attacks on election day.

"We once again call on all of our countrymen to keep away from electoral offices, voting booths, rallies and campaigns so that may Allah forbid, their lives are not put in danger," the Taliban statement said. "If anyone persists on participating, they are solely responsible for any losses."

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Vice-President Aasim Fahim dead

The first Vice-President of Afghanistan, Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, passed away this week following a heart attack.

Mr. Fahim was a military commander under Ahmad Shah Massoud and took over as the leader of the Northern Alliance following Mr. Massoud’s assassination in 2001. He had been the first Vice-President of Afghanistan since 2009 and had also served as the country’s defence minister between 2001 and 2004.

His death was condoled by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a number of presidential candidates like Ashraf Ghani, Zalmai Rassoul and Abdullah Abdullah. The head of the Jamiat-e-Islami Party, Abdul Sattar Murad, claimed that his death would create a political vacuum in the country.

The Afghan Government announced three days of national mourning in honour of Mr. Fahim.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 9-10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ghani gains religious scholars’ support

Ashraf Ghani, a presidential candidate, received the support of a number of religious scholars this past week.

The scholars desire a larger influence in the decision-making process of the country claiming that their role in the present administration is merely symbolic. However, despite showing support to Mr. Ghani, some scholars still remain sceptical about his commitment to raising the profile of the religious scholars in the next administration.

Mr. Ghani has received tremendous support from different sources in the past few weeks. He believes that the majotiry of people are with him and if a credible election is held he would be the next president of the country.

His opponent Zalmai Rassoul, who received a huge boost with Qayum Karzai joining hands with him, also received the support of a number of tribal elders and political parties, such as Melat and National Unity parties.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 13 March 2014; Pajhwok, 8 March 2014; Tolo News, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign targeted again

Afghan presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign was the target of an attempted suicide attack again. His office in Western Herat was targeted after a motorcycle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) went off near the campaign office where a gathering was organised.

At least two security officials were killed and four election campaigners were injured during this attack. Dr. Abdullah’s campaign has been attacked several times in the past month and as many as three of his campaign officers have been assassinated.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban suffers heavy casualties

At least 26 Taliban militants were killed and 17 injured in operations conducted by the Afghan National Security Forces in Kunar, Nangarhar, Samangan, Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, Zabul, Uruzgan, Maidan Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Paktika and Helmand provinces.

Afghan National Police forces conducted the operations the operations in coordination with the Afghan national army and Afghan intelligence - National Directorate of Security operatives.

Afghan national security forces also discovered heavy and light weapons, ammunition and explosives during the military operations.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 13 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Suicide-attack on Indian consulate foiled

The ANSF foiled an attempted suicide-attack on the Indian consulate in Kandahar. The suicide bomber was shot dead by the ANSF following which the bomb disposal unit was deployed to defuse the suicide vest.

Only the day before, the National Directorate of Security compound in Kandahar was attacked by three suicide bombers. While two were shot dead, the third suicide bomber continued to exchange fire with the ANSF before being shot down as well.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 13 March 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Consortium for deep-sea port project

The Government is planning to form a consortium involving several countries to build the deep-sea port at Sonadia, Cox’s Bazar. However, a decision will be made after reviewing all the proposals.

Countries that might be included in the consortium for the project are China, India, the Netherlands and the UAE. The US, Japan and Germany might also be involved. China has said it will remain open to partnership with other countries.

The government had wanted to start the first phase of the construction during its last tenure. But it had failed to move ahead with the project apart from undertaking feasibility studies.

The deep-sea port was one of the major electoral pledges of the ruling Awami League back in 2008. Commenting about the delays, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, also a member of the ruling Awami League’s policy-making body, said, "As a small country we have to think about the country’s sovereignty and security before implementing such an important project which has strategic importance."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Arms exports on cards?

Bangladesh Ordnance Factories (BOF), a State-run manufacturer of arms and ammunition, will soon export arms and ammunition manufactured by it.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already given approval for export of arms and ammunition from the BOF. However, it will also need clearance from the ministries of home affairs and foreign affairs, and the commerce and law ministries, before it can export arms and ammunition.

BOF commandant Maj. Gen. Anwarul Momen informed that they are exploring the arms market, to export their products.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Home-made drones for surveillance

The Bangladesh Navy (BN) has begun production of indigenously manufactured unmanned air systems (UASs) to be used for targeting practice and maritime surveillance, informed Chief of Bangladesh Navy, Vice- Admiral M Farid Habib.

"We will build many drones. We have just started building the vehicles," said Adm Habib following a 16-day annual exercise in the Bay of Bengal. "There are cameras in the drones to send photographs so that we can monitor fishing trawlers or any unauthorised ships in our jurisdiction," he added.

Surveillance at sea has been a priority for Bangladesh since it won a longstanding maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar in March 2012.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 11 March 2014; The Daily Star, 8 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India hands over list of insurgent camps

India handed down to Bangladesh’s border guards a list of 66 insurgent camps that exists in Bangladesh. Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) has promised firm action against insurgents from India’s north-eastern States taking shelter in that country, said an Indian official.

India hand down the list of camps of Indian insurgent in Bangladesh during a four-day-long conference of the officers of border guards of both the countries held in the week at Shillong. Inspector-General of Border Security Force (BSF), Sudhir Kumar Srivastava, in-charge of Guwahati Frontier, led the Indian side while the BGB delegation was led by its commander north-east region Brig-Gen Habibul Karim.

Most of these insurgent camps are located at several areas in Bangladesh’s Mymensing, Moulvibazar, Netrakona, Khagrachari, Rangamati, and the Kasalong Reserve Forest, informed sources in the BSF. The camps included those of the ULFA, NSCN (IM), NDFB, PLA, ANVC-B, HNLC and other rebel groups active in India’s north-eastern states with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.

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


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM urges BIMSTEC for economic integration

Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay stressed on the need to capitalize on the enormous potential of the region for the benefit of its people. The Prime Minister said that though BIMSTEC had been making steady progress, much still remains to be done especially in terms of economic integration and trade facilitation which continues to remain a priority for the region.

The Prime Minister called on member-countries to hasten with the re¬gional transformative ac¬tions which are vital to remain globally competitive.

At the Summit, in the presence of the leaders, the Ministers for Foreign, External Affairs signed three agreements including "Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory (BCIO) in Bhutan".

The BCIO, which is to be established in Bhutan, is expected to promote Cultural Industries as a strategy for poverty-reduction and community- vitalisation in the BIMSTEC region. Bhutan has also offered to host the Fifth BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting on Energy in 2015.

On the side lines of the Summit, the Prime Minister also held bilateral meetings with the leaders of India, Nepal and Thai¬land during which wide ranging discussions were held on issues of common interests.

On 5 March, the Prime Minister met with the President, Speaker and other senior Ministers of Myanmar. The discussions included promotion of bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the areas of agriculture, trade, tourism, civil aviation and health. The Leaders also ex¬changed views on regional and international issues. The Prime Minister also met with Aung Sang Sui Kyi, Leader of the Opposition in the lower house and Nobel laureate.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Bhutan Observer, 8 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India pledges Rs 8.5 b

India has pledged to provide Rs 8.5 billion to Bhutan for its 11th Five-Year-Plan, helping the landlocked country to implement major projects that will improve the livelihood of its people.

The decision in this regard was taken at the first meeting of the small development project committee (SDP) for the 11th Five-Year-Plan, comprising representatives from the Royal Government of Bhutan and two from the Embassy of lndia, held here last week.

The committee reviewed the SDP activities of the 10th Plan and expressed satisfaction with their positive impact on the livelihoods of the people in rural Bhutan.

During the meeting, the committee approved 59 projects amounting to over Rs 1.8 billion. 39 projects are to be implemented by local governments and 20 by central agencies.

It also decided on the formats to be adopted for project formulation, implementation, reporting and assessment.The meeting was co-chaired by the Director of the department of bilateral affairs, ministry of foreign affairs and the deputy chief of mission of the Embassy of lndia, Thimphu.

The next meeting of the committee will be held in September this year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Four hydro projects cleared

Bhutan’s target to harness 10,000 MW of hydro-power by 2020 got a huge boost with the government of India giving the green signal for the construction of four hydro-power projects. This was decided at the 12th Empowered Joint Group (EJG) meeting held on 12 March in the capital, Thimpu.

The four projects are the 600-MW Kholongchhu, the 570-MW Wangchhu, the 770-MW Chamkharchhu and the 180-MW Bunakha, all of which will be undertaken as joint venture projects between public sector companies of India and Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) with 50 percent equity shareholding each.

However, the financing would be done on a 70 percent loan and 30 percent equity basis. This means that DGPC and the public sector companies from India would be investing 15 percent each to make the 30 percent equity. The two investors will also have to seek 70 percent loan.

Economic affairs secretary, Dasho Sonam Tshering, said one of the most significant outcomes of the meeting was that the Indian government agreed to provide the 15 percent equity grant to DGPC.

The Kholongchhu Project, the secretary, said would start immediately after an inter-government agreement is signed. The signing, he confirmed would take place by April this year.

The other three projects are yet to complete its formalities like internal and financial reviews after which fund has to be approved.

Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SVNL) will be DGPC’s partner for the Kholongchhu project, which is worth over Nu 26B and the Nu 46.4B Wangchhu hydropower project. The Nu 29.5B Bunakha project would be undertaken as a joint venture between DGPC and Tehri Hydro Development corporation limited.

The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation will partner DGPC in the Nu 47.7B Chamkharchhu project.

The review for the 2,560MW Sunkosh project will be done in July, while the 2,640MW Kuri-Goongri project is already in the advanced stage of signing.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, 14 March 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC sets one-year limit for legislators’ trials

In order to expedite proceedings against sitting MPs and MLAs in criminal cases, the Supreme Court has set a deadline for lower courts to complete trial in cases involving lawmakers within a year of framing of charges. A bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha also said that trial courts will have to give explanation to the Chief Justice of the respective high court if the trial is not completed within a year. The Chief Justice can decide to extend the period, if they are satisfied with the reasons.

It said all such proceedings involving lawmakers must be conducted on a day-to-day basis in order to expedite the trial. The offences for which such trials need to be concluded within a year are those specified under the Representation of People Act.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that sitting officials found guilty of offenses carrying a jail term of at least two years should be barred from elections. Many trials against lawmakers have been kept pending for years, however, allowing members of parliament and assembly to continue to serve despite facing corruption and criminal cases. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog, 1,460 serving lawmakers across India currently face criminal charges.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 10 March 2014; Indian Express, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Energy talks with US resume

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz arrived in India on 10 March to begin a three-day dialogue on energy with his counterpart Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of India’s planning commission, during which India is expected to seek a waiver from the US to enable investments in its upstream oil and gas sector.

In addition to discussing upstream oil and gas investment that includes waiver due to legacy operations in sanctioned countries the talks will touch on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and shale oil.

Indian companies have signed an off-take agreement with a U.S. company for the supply of 3.5 million metric tonnes of LNG per annum. More significantly, this is the first LNG project in the U.S. with non-Free Trade Agreement (FTA) authorisation. According to the U.S. policy, a special waiver is required for countries interested in purchasing U.S. oil and gas but do not have a bilateral FTA.

On the strategic front, energy policies of both countries, security of supply and strategic oil reserves will form part of the talks as will discussion on South Asia regional energy integration, including promoting intra-regional energy trade. India and the U.S. will also touch on issues associated with civilian use of nuclear energy and its control and the exchanges between the U.S.’ Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and India’s Department of Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 10 March 2014, Times of India, 4 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Naxals kill 16 in Chhattisgarh

Fifteen security personnel were killed in a Maoist ambush on 11 March in Sukma district of south Chhattisgarh. One civilian also died in the crossfire, while three were injured. 11 of the personnel who died belonged to the CRPF, while four were from the Chhattisgarh police.

The incident took place when a joint team of the CRPF and the police —about 50 personnel divided into two platoons —were moving from Tongpal village to Jeeram Ghati, the same area where a Maoist ambush had killed 27 people last May, including PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and former minister Mahendra Karma. The team was engaged in an area domination exercise to sanitise the area for troop movements and also to provide security to road construction workers. About 100 Maoists surrounded them and opened fire.

The intelligence department, it is learnt, sent at least six inputs from March 5 to March 9 about Maoists assembling in the area and the possibility of an attack. This is the second major attack on security forces in the past fortnight. On February 28, five security personnel were killed in a Maoist attack in Dantewada.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Express, 11 March 2014; The Hindu, 13 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Visa-fraud charges against Devyani dropped

Charges against former deputy consul-general at New York, Devyani Khobragade, accused of visa fraud and making false statements about a domestic worker she employed have been dropped by a US judge, ending a chapter in a dispute that frayed U.S.-Indian diplomatic relations.

The judge ruled that Devyani Khobragade had diplomatic immunity, as she had been named counsellor to the Indian mission at the United Nations, when she sought on January 9 to dismiss the indictment, and thus could not be prosecuted. The judge also lifted Khobragade’s bail and said open arrest warrants based on the indictment must be thrown out.

While Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack released a statement saying "justice had prevailed," the reaction of the Indian foreign ministry has been more cautious. Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the Indian Foreign Ministry said, "our lawyers will need to have a look at it and the implications". Indeed, the U.S. has the option to re-indict Khobragade on charges of exploiting her housekeeper.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 12 March 2014, Times of India, 13 March 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President for respecting court verdict in EC case

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said that the independence of the Elections Commission (EC) is questionable if it must be made up of specific people, as encouraged by the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Addressing a parliamentary poll rally for the ruling Progressive Coalition, he criticised the concerns raised by the MDP and some foreign groups regarding the independence of the Elections Commission following the Supreme Court’s removal of EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice-President Ahmed Fayaz from their posts.

"I ask myself, if their removal is being questioned by people who are sincere, who want what’s best for the people. People will not accept the same group of people being in the commission forever," President Yameen said. He declared the verdict of the highest court is final and cannot be reversed, and urged everyone to respect this verdict.

"There’s one group of people claiming that certain people should be members of Elections Commission. My question is, aren’t they the same people calling for the independence of the Elections Commission?" he asked.

The Pesident said that the law states that there should be five members in the Elections Commission, but it does not specify who those five members should be - and this will be decided by the people. He said that the independence of the commission can be ensured only if it is made up of five members who carry out their responsibilities within the limits of the relevant laws.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nasheed criticises Chief Justice

Former President Mohamed Nasheed strongly criticised Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, at an MDP campaign rally, claiming that in 2010, the latter had told him that the Supreme Court was not working to implement justice, but was rather making business transactions.

Nasheed was President in 2010, and the current Chief Justice was a judge ofthe interim Supreme Court established following the enactment of the new Constitution in 2008.

"I swear upon God almighty, I have always said this. Faiz told me that some of the judges in court now are taking bribes. Faiz told me the Supreme Court was not trying to implement justice. He said they were carrying out business transactions. The court has to be brought to a halt, he told me," Nasheed said in the election rally.

Nasheed also accused Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz of being dishonest with him and misleading former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Welcome people with varying ideologies: Gayoom

Former President and leader of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has stated that a democracy is a system in which people are free to work with their personal political ideologies, and that in such a system people with varying ideas must be welcomed.

Speaking at an election rally, Gayoom expressed concern that residents of some islands harassed ruling combine’s candidates campaigning in the 22 March parliamentary polls. "Since we are in a democracy, we must welcome people with different ideologies. We have to listen to what they have to say. It is a completely different matter whether you accept what they have to say or not," Gayoom said.

Gayoom further said that it is very important to acquire a majority in the next Parliament, and opined that failure to garner a majority would cause difficulties in fulfilling the ruling combine’s manifesto.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 13 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gasim asserts importance of Majlis majority for the Maldives’ development

Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim has stated that, in order to lift the Maldives out of its current situation and to ensure that it has a better future, President Abdulla Yameen needs to be given his five years in office.

Speaking at a poll campaign of the ruling Progressive Coalition, Gasim said that Maldives will find itself in severe hardship if the majority cannot be achieved.

Speaking of the past ten years, Gasim claimed that things had failed to go according to plan. "The first five years were spent in establishing democracy within political chaos. In other words, it was spent in the establishment of reasonable norms and democracy within a peaceful environment. However, not much thought was given to economic matters within these five years, and not much was achieved on that front," Gasim stated.

"The last five years were spent to bring economical stability within democratic norms, but even that failed to go according to plan," he continued.

Gasim claimed that the MDP was resorting to unethical campaign practices and said that during a visit to some islands, a group of toddlers were forced to use profanities against him, with encouragement from some elected representatives of the people. He said that no one who upheld democratic principles would ever fall into such lowly acts so as to send school children to cause unrest.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 13 March 2014, Miadhu 13 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MDP campaign hall set afire

A campaign hall of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and three motorcycles have been set on fire in Haa Dhaalu Kurinbee. A resident of Kurinbee said that there were no casualties.

He said that one of the motorcycles was completely destroyed in the fire, while the other two were also damaged to a great extent. A sound system, two TVs, and two chairs were burnt in the MDP campaign hall.

Police said that the case is under investigation and no one has been arrested yet.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Sunonline, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt will enforce death penalty

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has declared that the Progressive Party of Maldives-led (PPM) coalition government will implement the death penalty despite international pressure. Speaking at an election rally, President Yameen said his administration’s decision to enforce the death penalty was a "historic day" in the Maldives’ democracy.

"Enforcing the death penalty is not something I will do because I want to. This is a very difficult thing. This is not an easy thing to do for any president or (public) servant. But our society cannot bear the loss of a life as well as the opportunity for further loss of life as a result of not respecting (the value of a human life)," he said.

"For that reason, no matter how much I don’t want to do it or how difficult it is, I have to do this on behalf of the people as they have placed that trust in me." He said that the government had formulated regulations on implementing capital punishment, based on the advice of the Cabinet.

The government decided to enforce the regulations to ensure the safety and security of the community, he said, adding that the public wished to see action taken to stop the "slaughter of innocent citizens".

Moreover, a majority of the Maldivian people were in favour of introducing the death penalty despite opposition from international partners, the President contended.

He stressed that a convict would only be put to death in accordance with Islamic Shariah following due process through the courts. At the final stage, he explained, the Supreme Court would decide whether capital punishment was warranted as qisas (retaliation).

Under the new regulations specifying procedures for enforcing the death penalty, President Yameen said that both the victim’s and the convict’s family would be consulted after the Supreme Court decision to see whether the former demanded the death penalty and not blood money as retaliation.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 13 March 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ceasefire talks get a push

Ethnic leaders have declared themselves "very satisfied" with the latest round of informal talks, particularly the increased role played by representatives of the Tatmadaw.

The military sent six representatives to the talks and they proposed having a nationwide ceasefire agreement signed by August.

"We proposed to them that we need to sign it by 1 August, and told us they will try to sign it before then," said Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe from the Tatmadaw.

The ethnic groups were represented by the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) at the March 9-10 meeting at Myanmar Peace Center.

NCCT members reached an agreement with the government to form a joint working group to create a new draft ceasefire. Currently, both the government and ethnic groups have their own drafts.

NCCT leader Naing Han Thar said the working group would have 18 members, with nine from each side. The nine government members will comprise three representatives from the Union Government, three from the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or parliament, and three from the Tatmadaw.

"At the moment we have two drafts so this makes it hard to reach an agreement. We need a new, single draft and we agreed it would only have seven sections," he said. The next meeting was also scheduled at the talks, with NCCT members expected to meet government peace negotiators at the end of March in Yangon.

The Tatmadaw’s lead negotiator, Lieutenant General Myint Soe from the Commander-in-Chief’s office, said he was optimistic a deal can soon be reached. "We are truly achieving peace with the ethnic militias," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Myanmar Times, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Panel for enforcing citizenship law

The Ducheeratan Investigation Commission formed by the government has advised President Thein Sein to live up to the government’s pledges in Rakhine State.

The report sent to Thein Sein suggests that tasks should be carried out as pledged, in order to build trust between the two affected communities. The government must have transparency in carrying out the tasks, and severe actions must be taken against those who instigate violence or cause instability.

Trust in the government will increase and further problems can be avoided, the report said, if the government enforces the 1982 Citizenship Law. The report also suggested that local authorities should take morality courses, that incentives should be provided for future prospects, that police forces should be equipped with advanced weapons that courses on political science should be offered, that duty and authority should be respected and that local authorities should be protected under the law.

The commission suggested that counter-media should be formed to respond to the influence of the news media and that news conferences be organised in a timely fashion, so as to be able to counter international criticism.

The report also stated that actions of some international non-governmental organisations have only heightened regional tensions. INGOs are required to work more closely with the government and to realise rules and regulations. Effective actions should be taken against undisciplined organizations.

INGOs and the government should conduct cooperative measures to carry out rescue work and development. INGOs are required to build good relations, the commission report said.

In Maungdaw, Rakhine ethnics and Bengalis have not been coexisting peacefully in the villages, the report said. Thus it is difficult to take administrative measures in such areas. These villages should be directly governed by the township administrator, the commission suggested.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Eleven Myanmar, 13 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Transition ’fragile’, says UN envoy

Myanmar’s transition to democracy remains "fragile" with ethnic minorities still suffering widespread abuse and the military maintaining its influence in most institutions, a UN expert said on 12 March.

"The rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar," Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.

"For the time being, the military retains a prevailing role in the life and institutions, (which) in general remain unaccountable," he said of the situation three years after Myanmar emerged from military rule.

If authorities did not tackle "impunity and systematic discrimination in Rakhine State", it could jeopardise the entire reform process, Ojea Quintana warned. Ojea Quintana said it was essential that Myanmar authorities work with the UN Human Rights Council to establish a "credible" probe into events in January in Du CheeYar Tan village.

"A critical step will be to secure ceasefire and political agreements with ethnic minority groups, so that Myanmar can finally transform itself into a peaceful multi-ethnic and multi-religious society," he said, urging the country’s leaders to "set a clear timeframe for prompt progress towards political talks."

The current nominally civilian government has reached tentative peace deals with most rebel groups, but a nationwide ceasefire has so far proved elusive. Ojea Quintana ended his ninth and final visit to Myanmar as special rapporteur on 19 February. He will present a report on his visit to the UN Human Rights Council on 17 March.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima, 13 March 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Local polls look distant

As the coalition of Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML is gearing up for local elections, opposition parties, including the UCPN (Maoist), have vehemently stood against it saying local elections before promulgation of the new statute would jeopardize the agenda of federalism. NC and UML have been reiterating that the local elections should be held by mid-June, saying they had vowed to hold local elections within six months after formation of the new Constituent Assembly (CA).

However, both the Maoists as well as Madhes-based parties have argued that local elections would before promulgation of the new statute would jeopardize the agenda of federalism. If political parties reach an agreement, the Election Commission is prepared to hold election within three months. Despite EC´s readiness, the local elections look distant at least for the next nine months.

Rainy season begins in mid-June and holding elections would not be possible before early November. To hold elections by mid June, the government should announce election date within a week. But as things stand, parties are unlikely to reach an agreement on holding local elections any time soon.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Easing traffic on Everest

Nepal is considering a plan to lease Himalayan peaks to private tourism companies, an official said Tuesday, in a bid to ease traffic on Mount Everest and help jumpstart the economy. The proposal would involve hiring out some of the 326 Himalayan peaks that are currently open, in an attempt to lure climbers away from the main draw-card of Everest amid fears of congestion.

In one of several new measures -- including lower mountaineering fees, designed to attract more climbers to the impoverished country, which counts tourism as a key revenue earner. The proposal would need to be passed by cabinet to get the green light and if agreed may take several months before its implemented. The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), a national body representing tourism promoters, welcomed the proposal, saying it would be "a very good step".

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 11 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Women law-makers demand higher share

Nepal’s women law-makers affiliated to different political parties have demanded 33 percent representation of women in the Constituent Assembly (CA) and other state mechanism. They have also criticised the dismal representation of women in the current 21-member cabinet where only two members are women.

Speaking in Parliament Monday, they urged the party leaderships and the government to give more priority to women leaders while appointing 26 members of the Constituent Assembly. Out of the 601-member body, 26 seats are yet to be filled by the government.

The number of female lawmakers in the second Constituent Assembly has fallen to 30 percent from 33 percent in the earlier Constituent Assembly. The women members have also demanded that the parties and the government adopt special measures to increase the number of the women.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 10 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MP under fire for alleged Indian links

A member of Nepal’s newly-elected Constituent Assembly has come under fire after media in this Himalayan nation exposed his alleged association with Indian politics in the past. Sections of the media reported that Kedar Nandan Chaudari, representing the Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) in the Constituent Assembly, contested and lost the local election of Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation in India’s Uttar Pradesh State in 2004 from Khora-Makanpur area.

A section of Nepali media reported that he was made member of Parliament after he "financially assisted" chairman of the party, Mahantha Thakur, during the Constituent Assembly elections in November last year. Some law-makers of the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) like Ram Hari Khatiwada, Bhishma Raj Angdambe and Kamal Pangeni has demanded a probe into his alleged dalliance with Indian politics and sought a clarification on the allegations made by media.

The NC law-makers also wanted to know how Chaudari obtained dual citizenship, on what basis a person who had lost an election in India was picked as an MP and why he should not be expelled from the house.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 7 March 2014

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

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