MonitorsPublished on Mar 08, 2013
The rapidly-approaching March 16 deadline for the dissolution of the Government led by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, ahead of scheduled May elections, is an occasion worthy of note and reflection for Pakistan.
Pakistan: Post-poll challenges before the nation
< class="heading1">Analysis

The rapidly-approaching March 16 deadline for the dissolution of the Government led by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, ahead of scheduled May elections, is an occasion worthy of note and reflection for Pakistan. At the beginning of the term, few, if any, gave the fragile coalition, led by President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), much of a chance of completing its five-year mandate. Such an accomplishment has, after all, never come to pass in Pakistan’s 65 years, and there was little to suggest five years ago that this Government had the capacity to be the first of its kind.

Civilian authorities had a thin line to walk, with the PPP-led coalition facing threats not only from the ever-looming military (which, while perhaps not in condition to take power directly, could very well have engineered defections to topple the coalition Government and install one more to its liking, as it did throughout the Nineties), but also from an increasingly-assertive Judiciary, who went so far as to effectively sack an incumbent Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on contempt of court charges in April, 2012. Yet, now that the most recent attempts to interrupt the democratic transfer of power, in the form of Tahir Qadri’s "Long March" and subsequent short-lived court case, have been decidedly squelched, the stage appears to be set for fresh elections.

Negotiations for an interim government are entering their final stages, and virtually all the major stakeholders have voiced their commitment to the electoral process, including -most importantly -Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani, whose most recent statement in favour of constitutional supremacy and a peaceful transfer of power between civilian authorities, has garnered significant attention. It may not have been pretty, but the finish-line is within sight.

This is, no doubt, a milestone for the country -one worthy of a moment’s pause to take note of the accomplishment and reflect upon the importance of the precedent that has been set. There are few within Pakistan, and even fewer outside of it, who doubts the importance of strengthening civilian institutions to ensure the country’s future stability. If all goes well, the upcoming elections could indeed be a significant boost to the notion of civilian supremacy, the strength of which will grow with future civilian transitions of power, for which this election can serve as a template. Unfortunately, Pakistan can spare little more than a moment for self-congratulatory pause, however deserved. The future governing coalition, whatever its make-up, will have its hands full, to say the least. The following are among the country’s most significant challenges.

Economic stagnation

Though often over-shadowed by the menace of extremism (with which it is intricately connected), confronting Pakistan’s struggling economy will be a top priority for the future government. After a decade of relative growth in the 1990s, Pakistan’s economy has taken a backward slide throughout the 2000s -the result of poor management, growing security threats and a crippling energy shortage. The latter two factors were put on dramatic display in recent weeks, with a rash of bombings on minority Shia targets in Quetta and Karachi and a rare country-wide black-out on 24 February.

The poor performance of the economy will most certainly require a new round of IMF loans to offset the nation’s ballooning debt (a 7-7.5 per cent budget deficit is projected for this year, on top of a 62.6 per cent debt-to-GDP ratio, plummeting rupee, and shrinking reserves). After the most recent round of IMF loans ended in a stoppage of payment in 2010 as a result of the Government’s inability to expand the country’s dismally low tax collection ratio (estimated to be about 10 per cent of the GDP, amongst the lowest in the world, excluding oil-producing States), international authorities will likely insist on front-loading reforms as a precondition to any loans being granted. Confronting the need to increase tax revenues and clamp down on evasion and political favouritism will be a huge challenge for the next coalition government, but it is vital for the long-term fiscal viability of the state, IMF-mandated reforms aside.

Pakistan faces a steep uphill battle if it is to grow its economy at a rate commensurate with its prominent youth bulge (approximately 60 per cent are under the age of 29) and avoid the potentially disastrous effects that a further swelling in the ranks of unemployed youth would bring. Among the most important steps the new government must take in promoting economic growth is to invest significantly in infrastructure improvements and address its nagging energy shortage, the effects of which continue to stifle investment prospects and drain efficiency. Unfortunately, resolving the crisis with internal resources is not feasible in the near future. There are, however, some steps a new government can take to ensure a more secure energy future, and thus begin to lay the groundwork for an economic revival.

Energy crisis

In the short term, many analysts have argued that phasing out some of the present enormously costly fuel subsidies would be a politically challenging, but ultimately beneficial step forward. Dr Maleeha Lodhi, for instance, has pointed out that the Untargeted Tariff Differential Subsidy is presently costing the Government 2.5 of the GDP per year, while primarily benefiting wealthy segments of society and doing little in the way of improving the lives of the poor -as many as 30 per cent of the Pakistanis don’t have access to the power grid in the first place. Reforming the tariff structure, while cracking down on non-payment of bills (another rampant problem), would have the dual benefit of increasing revenue while encouraging the conservation of precious energy resources.

Pakistan’s long-term strategy for resolving its interlinked energy and economic crises, though often pursued haphazardly, is to leverage is geographic position between the energy-rich Central Asian States and import-dependent South Asia to act as a transit point for a long-envisioned gas pipeline network. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline, which has strong US support, would be an enormous boon to the country’s energy needs (providing a projected 12.5 billion cubic metres per year), as well as a significant revenue booster through transit fees paid primarily by India.

The feasibility of such a massive project is still very much up in the air, however, and much depends on the security situation in Afghanistan following the ISAF withdrawal -not to mention within Pakistan itself. Negotiations over the aforementioned transit fees are also ongoing -the success of which will be dependent on a continued warming of relations with India, another goal worthy of the succeeding government’s attention, to be discussed further below.

In the absence of a clear path forward on TAPI, Pakistan has recently turned to Iran as a means to relieve some of the pressure from its energy crunch. Long-delayed negotiations over an Iran-Pakistan pipeline were kick-started by President Zardari early this year despite objections from the US, who told the Pakistanis that such a deal was "not in their interest". American pressure aside, ground-breaking on the Pakistani portion of the pipeline (one third of which will be funded by Iran) is scheduled to begin 11 March, with officials pressing for its completion by the end of 2014. While the timing of such a deal is no doubt political from Zaradri’s end (he has been loudly applauded in the Pakistani media for addressing the energy crisis and standing up to America), the necessity of securing alternative sources of energy for Pakistan is very real indeed, particularly if TAPI continues to look unlikely. Should the Iran-Pakistan pipeline go forward as scheduled, the US and Pakistan will have some delicate negotiating ahead of them.


Pakistan’s internal security situation continues to deteriorate, posing a particularly deadly risk to minority communities throughout the country, as evidenced by two massive bombings of Shia communities in Quetta on 10 January and 16 February, and one in Karachi on 3 March. In response, the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Sunni militant outfit claiming responsibility for the attacks, Malik Ishaq, has been detained by Pakistani authorities. Given a "lack of evidence" against him, however, it is unlikely he will remain in custody for an extended period of time. In the meantime, an All Parties Conference held on 28 February and sponsored by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl party chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has unanimously endorsed the inclusion of Pakistani Taliban (TTP) elements in a Grand Tribal Jirga for the purposes of pursuing a peace agreement with the insurgent group. TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, has expressed support for the proposal, which does not require the group to lay down arms as a precondition for dialogue. Critics argue, however, that there is little reason to expect the Taliban to cede ground on vital issues, such as recognising the supremacy of the Pakistani civilian authorities. If this is the case, there may be little to talk about. The military, notably, has been markedly unenthusiastic.

Despite a marked change in tone by Army chief Kayani, announcing a shift in the Army doctrine recognising the lack of internal stability as the primary existential threat facing the country, there no doubt remain elements of Pakistan’s security forces who continue to view some militant outfits as a strategic asset for the State. This applies not only to Pakistani interests in Afghanistan, where intelligence agencies have long viewed networks of former mujahideen fighters (including the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura) as a balance to Indian influence in the country -a policy dating back to the 1979 Soviet invasion -but also to the Military’s goals in Kashmir, where groups like LeJ and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have consistently launched attacks on Indian targets, as well as in Baluchistan, where Sunni extremist networks have served the purpose of combating an ongoing separatist movement. Reducing the influence of these one-time "assets" will be a long and difficult process, but there appears to be a growing consensus, even within some military circles (the result of ever-more-bold attacks on military targets by the TTP) that the country has little choice.

The challenges for doing so are numerous, and include improving ties and building trust with rival India to remove some of the impetus for the harbouring of such groups, using whatever leverage Pakistan possesses in ensuring lasting Taliban integration with the Afghan government to ensure stability there, and granting concessions in the form of autonomy and more generous development initiatives to Baluchistan, which lags behind the rest of Pakistan in virtually every measurable development-indicator despite its wealth in natural resources.

Developments in Afghanistan and India are closely linked, and the future government (not to mention the military) must continue to back meaningful dialogue and trust-building with Delhi if it is to refashion itself as a productive contributor to Afghan stability. Pakistan’s future as a transit point for oil and gas shipments clearly depends on its regional integration and better relations with its neighbours. Building trust with India and moving away from the "existential threat" paradigm can also build a foundation for cooperation between the two states in jointly promoting stability in Afghanistan.

As it stands, continued support for Taliban elements by Pakistan is rooted in the perceived strategic imperative of reducing Indian influence in Kabul (India has strong ties with many Tajik and Uzbek leaders that made up the former Northern Alliance, as well as with the Karzai regime, and unfriendly Afghan governments have presented a security concern in the past). As long as the two countries continue to work against each other in Afghanistan, the path to long-term stability is difficult to see. A renewed civil war and the influx of refugees it would undoubtedly bring, however, is diametrically opposed to Pakistan’s interests in regaining stability within its own borders.

Even given success on these counts -each a truly mammoth undertaking on its own -the challenge of disarming, demobilising, and reintegrating former militant forces raised on radical Islam will remain. There is a grave fear that as international forces exit Afghanistan, many jihadists currently fighting there will turn their eyes toward Pakistan in the manner of the TTP. If the spectre of militancy is to be defeated in the long term, future authorities must, in addition to growing the economy and expanding opportunities for normal Pakistanis to better their lives, make concerted efforts to change a political and social climate all-too-often centred on exclusionary ethno-religious rhetoric. This is, without a doubt, Pakistan’s greatest challenge.

Eye on the prize

The first democratic transfer of power is a significant milestone in the growth of any democracy -one that ought to be recognised for what it is: an achievement, no matter how imperfect. For Pakistan’s next government, however, there will be little time to reflect on the recent past. While its democratic institutions may be strengthening, they are still very much in their infancy, and the challenges before them are enormous -this list is, in fact, only the beginning. The next five years will almost certainly not see each of them put to rest.

Pakistan’s next government can, however, begin to pilot the country in the right direction and build momentum in favour of desperately needed reforms. It is unrealistic to expect democracy, stability, and prosperity overnight. It is foolish, however, to be delayed further by the magnanimity of the task. It will, after all, only grow bigger with time.

(The writer is an Intern and Boren Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sri Lanka: More to it than a ’consensus resolution’

N Sathiya Moorthy

With media reports indicating that the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka could be a consensus document -only to be spiked by Colombo since -- speculation should be rife as to what it could be all about its impact on the stake-holders in the months and years to come. Of course, the Sri Lankan Government, and by extension the nation as a whole, is one of them. The other is not necessarily the affected population of Sri Lankan Tamils. After a point, it is not even the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. Instead, it is the campaigners that they had unleashed, wittingly or otherwise, wantonly or otherwise.

Earlier, media reports had indicated that there could be a consensus resolution, after all. However, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, has seemingly ended that possibility. At an informal meeting chaired by US counterpart Donahoe, he rejected "entirely the premise on which this resolution is based, and as has been its consistent position, does not intend negotiating with the US on the text". Many members and observer-States of UNHRC participated in the discussion. A number of NGOs were also present at the event.

"The GOSL does not recognise the resolution and maintains its consistent position that, through resolutions of this nature, what is being perpetuated is a politicised process in a manner which is unfair, biased, unjust, and contrary to the principles of cooperation, genuine dialogue and the founding principles of universality, impartiality non selectivity, that should guide all member-States in facilitating the method of engagement and the mandate of the Council," Sri Lankan media reports have since quoted Aryasinha as saying.

Yet, discretion could still be the better part of valour, just as magnanimity should have been at the sight of war-victory. For starters, no one in Sri Lanka or outside -barring the Indian neighbour and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -is today talking seriously about a political solution to the ’ethnic issue’. In a recent intervention in the Indian Parliament, Prime Minister Singh expressed New Delhi’s concern about the fate of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and called for Colombo to revive the internal negotiations process for a political solution.

Even in India, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which New Delhi had helped fashion as far back as 1987 -or, any other form of political solution acceptable to the Tamil polity and society in the country -has got only a brief mention through the past weeks of Sri Lankan ethnic discourse. What are in focus instead are ’war crimes’ and accountability issues’ with the focus being kept exclusively on the Sri Lankan Government and the armed forces.

The Indian Government has sought to stay as clear as possible under the prevailing circumstances from the external controversies and internal pressures in the matter. Singh’s brief reference to Sri Lanka, what he said and did not say, is a pointer to what needs to be done. It is another matter that the Sri Lankan Tamil polity and society will need more than promises, now or later, from their Government or from the international community. Taken to its logical conclusion, Singh’s appeal to Sri Lanka to revive the political process in the country could help the nation steer clear of global controversies of the UNHRC kind and focus on issues and methodologies that it could resolve ultimately -but could handle on its own steam, before that.

Interestingly, barring an occasional politician from peripheral pan-Tamil politics in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu, no one has talked about bringing Sri Lankan Government leadership to book for alleged war-crimes. They also have no specifics to offer. If the culpability of the leadership, if any, has to be brought to book, then war-time Army commander, Sarath Fonseka, cannot escape blame. At a time when international human rights groups are not tired of arguing that security forces in no country should follow ’inhuman’ and ’illegal’ orders of their Governments, the blame should then lie there -and nowhere else.

Unfortunately for the Tamils then, the TNA had backed Fonseka for the presidency as far back as January 26, 2010. It was just eight months after the conclusion of ’Eelam War-IV’ -and against President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Does it flow that the armed forces commander of the time could be condoned now with retrospective effect, or a new tirade will be launched against him, as well. Revived media discourse in Sri Lanka now, on Fonseka’s political posturing on the issue during his poll campaign could call to question the TNA’s decision of the time -and by extension, that of the Diaspora sections that had egged on the TNA to do so.

Independent of the TNA decision, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court decision on the ’white flag case’ and the consequent cashiering of Fonseka throws up possibilities of every kind, if one were to revisit the issues involved. It will all depend on what he chooses to speak -or, not speak -on the ruling combine’s allegations of certain sections of the international community backing him, or fielding him, to begin with. Such arguments could then have the tendency to fast-forward to the present, when again the Colombo dispensation has been charging western interests with jeopardising Sri Lanka’s growth, prospects of peace, etc, etc, etc.

’Sinhala nationalist’ identity

It is not always that the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa could keep the ’Sinhala-Buddhist’ national fervour flaming, against the perceived machinations of the international community, nearer home or afar. If during the war, the Sinhala constituency nearer home seemed to have bought it, the Government was on a winning streak in the war against the LTTE. People did not want its energies exhausted or its attention distracted. Not anymore.

Today, independent of the constituency-fervour in a section of the ’Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists’ in the country, much of it has dissipated in the past months and years after the war. Of the two ’nationalist’ groupings, the JVP -with its larger vote-share and cadre-commitment, before it split during the course of the war -has openly started accusing the Government combine and leadership of not giving the Tamils enough. The JHU is steadfast, but does not make the numbers.

The one-time militant Left has splintered away in different directions. The older generation has retired. To the younger generation, none of them seem to have held their appeal. New-generation Left-leaning youth may have identified with President Rajapaksa’s SLFP. At birth in the early Fifties, the party was more aggressive than the traditional Left before it. It has remained more moderate than the JVP that came afterward.

The traditional Left has weakened. So has the militant Left. The SLFP, for instance, may have been weak on ideology, weaker still on ’methodology’ of the militant kind. It has survived and expanded. It owes its sustenance and success now, to war victory, yes, but not the perceived ’Sinhala-nationalist ideology’ that has never ever been the party’s philosophy to begin with. If ideology was at the root of the SLFP’s success, then President Rajapaksa would not have been accepted as an icon of sorts. He would have been acknowledged as a contributor to the war-victory. Nothing more, nor is there anything less.

Lost opportunity

Yet, Sri Lanka may have lost an opportunity for a ’consensus resolution’ at the UNHRC this time last year. Such an approach could have made easier for it and the rest of the world this year, as well. Today, the UNHRC resolution has become a pre-occupation with all critics of the Rajapaksa leadership and obsession of sorts for the Sri Lankan Government. The Tamils, still in Sri Lanka, have nothing to say, no one to hear them. Others take their decisions for them. Their suggestions, if any, are not aired, hence not heard.

Denials and self-delusion to the contrary, Sri Lanka got caught in the UNHRC net on the ethnic issue, war, violence -and ’accountability’ issues -not in March 2012, but in May 2009. The vote that the European Union (EU) lost just 10 days after the conclusion of ’Eelam War IV’ said it all. A group of nations, loosely called the ’Like-minded Group’, worked for Sri Lanka to have the EU resolution defeated. Better still for Sri Lanka, they got another resolution passed, backing Sri Lanka to the hilt.

The Group comprised China, the informal chair, India, Pakistan and Russia. The resolution obviously had Sri Lanka’s backing -hence acceptance. The US resolution of 2012 at least partly derived from the 2009, and was a reminder to Colombo that it had not stood by its commitments. The latter, when passed, did not talk in vague terms. It sought to use the Government-constituted LLRC Report as the bench-mark. The American report-card now reads that Colombo has not measured up to the findings of the LLRC Report, commissioned by it.

Issues pertaining to the ’independence of judiciary’ apart, the ’substantive’ part in the US resolution this time derives mostly from the references to the LLRC Report in last year’s resolution. It is this that makes the resolution itself, ’procedural’ in nature. For Sri Lanka to oppose the American resolution this time means denying/declining the LLRC Report. The last year, LLRC became a part of the product, not the starting-point. Colombo had challenged the start, others fell in place for its argument. Not this time.

’Deniability’ is still an option for Sri Lanka, but that will come to be interpreted as denying the LLRC Report, now or later. A favourable vote is a success for the US and the rest of the western sponsors, but it stops there. Despite what UNHRC’s Navi Pillay and the rest would say -and would have to say -for any meaningful resolution to emerge from Geneva or elsewhere, the easiest way is through Colombo, none else.

For UNHRC, the US or any other to recalibrate their position in the coming months and years to levels of ’independent inquiry’ into allegations of ’war crimes’ in Sri Lanka, whether it stages or at one-go, will be that much and nothing more. It can leave Sri Lanka in tatters -unless of course that is what the ’hidden agenda’, if any, behind the resolution is all about. Any other means, like UN-sponsored sanctions, will have to pass through the Security Council. China and Russia are not for it -at least, as yet.

History is replete with instances, particularly in the post-Cold War era, where targeted nations have positioned or re-positioned themselves -or, were calibrated to in ways that they would reach precisely where the West wanted them. The result was that their ’friendly-backers’ like China and Russia, the ’anti-Establishment’ veto-powers in the Security Council, would ease their opposition -again in stages. It is here carrying the Sri Lankan population as a whole alone would help. It is also here ’Indian support’ for the larger Sri Lankan cause (alone) could make all the difference.

It is understandable that the Sri Lankan State apparatus, independent of whoever is in power, could well have apprehended the arrival of such a stage in its post-war career, and would not want to have anything of it. Its defensive opposition to the resolution is possibly aimed at thwarting future possibilities. Given the possibilities, Colombo’s current strategy would end up at best as ’deniability’ without ’nullifying’ anything for the future. Rather, it is now playing with variable, session-on-session tactic at the UNHRC. It is yet to frame a strategy -or, so it seems.

In 2012, Sri Lanka was not a voting-member at the UNHRC. The rotational scheme of voting-members does not include it this time, too. China and Russia, who had backed it to the hilt last year, are not there this time round. In 2012, Sri Lanka protested and called the vote. It could have allowed the vote not to be called, and settled for a ’consensus resolution’ one way or the other. The Sri Lankan chinks in the numbers game would not have been exposed.

This did not mean that Colombo could not have protested. It could have still registered its protest, where it concerned Sri Lanka’s national interests and concerns for the future, and left it there. It could have then focussed entirely on the full implementation of the LLRC Report, both inside the UNHRC and back home once the vote was behind it. Today, between any two sittings of the UNHRC, the entire Sri Lankan State apparatus seems immersed in strategising for the one ahead, six months hence.

Why the ’Indian vote’?

Whether one likes it or not, the Indian vote at the UNHRC has become crucial for Sri Lanka. The belated Indian decision to vote with the resolution, Colombo, believed, tilted the scale in the numbers game. According to Sri Lanka, at least a few fence-sitters voted for the resolution when India, the closest neighbour to the country, chose that path, after much internal deliberation and dissension.

This time round, the Indian vote, one way or the other -abstention is still a technical possibility -does not add to the numbers. The US resolution has it already, thanks mainly to the restructuring of the voting-members’ list. India’s would hence be a political statement at the bilateral level. It would be a political compulsion of sorts, nearer home. Democracy has its own baggage. India respects it. Other friends of Sri Lanka, like China and Russia, do not have to bother about it.

For a friendly neighbour like India, the Sri Lankan commitments in 2009 meant that the nation’s otherwise divided polity, starting with those in the ethnically-sensitive southern Tamil Nadu, had something to go by. Independently, New Delhi went by the ’peace commitments’ of Colombo just as it was appreciative of its ’war compulsions’. When the promises were not kept, the Indian Parliament raised in one voice. The Government in a large and complex democracy such as India’s could not be unmindful of the nation’s mood and sentiments as reflected and communicated by the elected representatives of the people. New Delhi did not have much choice last year. It does not have any this year.

’Unitarianism’ was/is not a solution for India’s tryst with democracy, as some in Sri Lanka may tend to believe. They are unaware of democracy, still. In Sri Lanka’s case, too, these are the problems and solutions. Shorn of the Tamils’ demands and the spirit behind the ’JVP insurgencies’ particularly the first one in 1971, where political philosophy over-rode consideration of electoral expediency, which the party could not escape -again, in a democracy -that is what it has been all about. Successive Governments in Colombo have either not understood it in full -or, do not want to appreciate what all they have understood!

Negotiated settlement

The one -and possibly the only way -for Sri Lanka to set the perceived efforts of the international community at naught is by effecting a negotiated settlement to the ethnic issue, nearer home. If the Sri Lankan State apparatus and Government party leaders think that the rest of the world is out to get at it, then postponing the agony does not provide any solace -now or ever. It could complicate matters even more, nearer home and afar. History has it, longer the delay of the kind, greater are the chances of pressures from all sides putting paid to even genuine efforts of a government in an ’encircled’ nation slipping into a ’seized mentality’ and behaving like one.

Such postponement, with the possible hope that the Tamil polity in the country would weaken itself after a time -as is becoming visible at present -is again a short-sighted, beguiling mode of self-denial, at best. For, even as the Tamil polity nearer home still seems ready to negotiate the tangibles, the international community, which has sort of ’hijacked’ the Sri Lanka’s ’national problem’, has given an entirely new twist to the whole episode. They will now decide the turns, as well.

Faster the weakening of the Tamil polity in the country, greater are the chances that these twists and turns gain a momentum of their own, externally initiated but internally mobilised, all the same. Irreverence to contemporary history being played out elsewhere in the world does no one any good. Not certainly, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, Sinhalese or Tamils, Muslims or Burghers, rich or poor, urban or rural. They all would have to face the consequences -and in it they would be bound together, for a change.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No negotiations on US resolution

Sri Lanka will not negotiate with the US on the text of the forthcoming US resolution before the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha on Friday told the US Ambassador for Human Rights, Eileen Donahoe. "I conveyed to Ambassador Donahoe, that GOSL rejects entirely the premise on which this resolution is based, and as has been its consistent position, does not intend negotiating with the US on the text," Aryasinha said intervening at a meeting called by the US to discuss its draft resolution on "Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka".

"The GOSL does not recognize resolution 19/2 and maintains its consistent position that, through resolutions of this nature, what is being perpetuated is a politicised process in a manner which is unfair, biased, unjust, and contrary to the principles of cooperation, genuine dialogue and the founding principles of universality, impartiality non selectivity, that should guide all member states in facilitating the method of engagement and the mandate of the Council," Aryasinha said.

He said that he was participating in the meeting as he did not wish to dismiss the interest taken in Sri Lanka by member and observer states, representatives of international organizations and civil society, irrespective of whether such interest is justified or not.

In New York, the Sri Lankan Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Maj-Gen Shavendra Silva (retd), said that since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, not a single Sri Lankan Tamil had committed suicide in Sri Lanka or abroad calling for an international war crimes investigation targeting the Government. Regardless of unsubstantiated allegations against the Government by politically-motivated elements, those who had been saved from the clutches of LTTE were now enjoying peace and stability, Silva, who commanded the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army, during ’Eelam War IV’, said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, March 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UK defends participation in GTF meet

The British High Commission in Colombo has said that the participation of senior government members at the recently concluded third anniversary conference of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in the House of Commons shouldn’t be considered as an endorsement of "every policy position taken by the host or partner organization".

A spokesman for the British High Commission was responding to a query whether the participation by Deputy Premier Nick Clegg and Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps meant the British government supported the GTF’s call to shift Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) from Sri Lanka. "Ministers regularly attended various community events hosted in Parliament to demonstrate their support for those communities as well as recognize their contribution to the UK," the spokesperson said.

Commenting on the forthcoming CHOGM, the official said "As the UK has repeatedly stated, we have not yet decided on the level of any attendance at CHOGM, but will be looking to Sri Lanka, as we would any host, to demonstrate its commitment to upholding Commonwealth values."

Arriving in Colombo to seek justice for his constituent Khuram Shaikh, a Red Cross worker killed in Thangale, Sri Lanka, British MP Simon Danczuk, meanwhile, said he would take up the matter with Queen Elizabeth, and urge her to boycott the Commonwealth Summit in November. He regretted that Sri Lankan Ministers had refused to meet him to discuss the case.

The British MP also expressed concern over the political interference in the case as one of the main suspects was a local council politician in the ruling Government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, March 8, 2013, Daily Mirror Online, March 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India, worried: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here today that India is "worried" about the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Indian Parliament, Dr Singh declared that India wants them to live with "dignity and self respect.

"There are problems in Sri Lanka; we have been worried about the fate of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka," Dr. Singh said. "It has been our effort to plead with the government of Sri Lanka that there must be political reconciliation, that without national reconciliation, the situation cannot remain calm."

Dr Singh asked Colombo to take the initiative to talk to the "Tamil top leadership" in Sri Lanka. "It has been our effort to work with the leadership in Sri Lanka and to ensure that Tamil people there do get a chance to live a life of dignity and self respect as equal citizens of the country."

Meeting with US Assistant Secretary of South Asia, India’s Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy has asked the Obama Administration to undertake bilateral consultations with Colombo to work out a consensus on the draft of the alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka proposed to be tabled in UNHRC in Geneva.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, March 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President to visit Japan

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be visiting Japan from March 13-16 to further strengthen the existing ties between the two countries, official sources said.

Japan assists Sri Lanka on major development projects in the country becoming the major donor to the country, in addition to China.

The President is expected to meet Japanese Emperor Akihitho, Prime Minister Shinso Abe, Trade and Defense officials during his four-day official visit to Tokyo, they said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, March 8, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Drone for Army

A top US military commander stated that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be equipped with drone capabilities. This is measure is aimed at enhancing the capabilities of the Afghans to keep a watch on the areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

This is a measure that the US is keen to take before the drawdown starts in 2014.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, March 7, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pak ulema endorses suicide-attacks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has lashed out at Pakistan, claiming that the statements made by Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, permitting suicide-attacks in Afghanistan. Ashrafi is said to have endorsed suicide attacks as a weapon against the foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Ashrafi was appointed by the Pakistan Government to lead a delegation to meet with Afghan clerics to discuss the legitimacy of suicide bombing under Islam and other religious matters. His statements have been strongly denounced by the Afghan Government and NATO.

Karzai claimed that such statements clearly showed Pakistan’s insincerity in its efforts to wipe out terrorism. The National Security Council of Afghanistan urged the international community to blacklist intelligence organisations that support insurgent groups, being seen as a clear reference to Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.

The Afghan High Peace Council also denounced the statements remarking that the people of Pakistan deserve better representation from their religious leaders, expecting the government of Pakistan to impede war-making individuals and groups.

However, Ashrafi maintains that he never endorsed suicide attacks affirming his strong aversion to civilian deaths in such attacks. He claims he was misquoted by the media. He also insisted that Karzai should apologise for his remarks and outburst.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, March 5, 2013, Pajhwok, March 3, 2013; Tolo News, March 3-4, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karzai blames ANSF for torture

Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) for the incidents of torture and abuse. This was the first time that Karzai has blamed his own forces with all his earlier allegations being levelled against the foreign forces.

In an address to Parliament, Hamid Karzai said Afghan forces are also violating their own people’s rights, making it harder for him to raise the issue when abuses are carried out by foreigners. The Afghan leader said he did not initially want to believe reports that his own security forces had tortured prisoners, for instance, but that now he was calling on Afghan forces to respect human rights.

A Government investigation last month found widespread cases of abuse at prisons, backing up the results of a UN investigation that Karzai had initially repudiated.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, March 6, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Foreign funding on

Both Japan and the UK have announced new financial aid packages for funding the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Japan, which is the second largest donor to Afghanistan after the US, has agreed to fund an additional $117 million, which will cover four main projects: road maintenance, purchase of oil, development of the Kabul International Airport and development of the water supply network of the New Kabul Project. It has also been announced that Japan, along with the International Organisation for Migration, will give medical diagnostic equipment to the Indira Gandhi Child Hospital in Kabul amid ongoing efforts to train the staff and equip the centre.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a $10 million fund to the Afghan Ministry of Mines in a three year program to help exploit the natural resources of Afghanistan. The announcement by David Cameron was welcomed by mining companies in United Kingdom.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, March 7, 2013, Tolo News, March 5-6, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jail-term in bank scam case

A court has convicted 20 persons for the multi-million dollar Kabul Bank loan scandal, which almost led to the collapse of the Bank in 2010. Kabul Bank’s former chairman Shirkhan Farnood and former chief executive Khalil Ferozi were sentenced to five years in prison each and ordered to pay $278 million and $530 million respectively.

Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, the former central bank governor who has fled to the US, was convicted in absentia and was sentenced to a 30 month imprisonment. The other people convicted included former Kabul Bank deputy chief Mohibullah Sapi and the New Kabul Bank, which replaced the old bank, head Masood Khan Moosa Ghazi. Four Indian citizens have also been sentenced.

Another 20 people linked to the scandal are reportedly still being probed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, March 5, 2013, Tolo News, March 5, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">A week of protest

Political unrest that erupted following the International War Crime Tribunal’s (ICT) verdict of Jamaat-e-Islami(JI) leader, Moulana Delwar Hossain Sayedee, continued in the week. The week began with JI observing three-day countrywide hartal (street protest). The hartal turned violent as JI supporter got engaged into clashes with members of law enforcement agencies.

Around 25 persons died and hundreds were injured on March 3rd, the first day of the hartal. During the three-day hartal, supporters of JI vandalised both public and private properties and set vehicles on fire across the country. To control the situation security forces in some places had to open fire. Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), a major ally of JI supported the hartal.

The Opposition has been protesting against the ICT’s verdict that handed over death sentence to JI Sayedee for his crimes committed against humanity during the country’s independence war in 1971. As soon as the verdict was pronounced JI started agitation against the verdict and the country is passing through chaos. Around 80 people have died since then and thousands have been injured.

To control the situation, the ruling Awami League is offering to sit in a dialogue with the opposition. The BNP in response said that it might consider the Awami League’s offer for the dialogue only if it could have a specific agenda of non-party, election-time administration.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, March 4, 2013; The Independent, March 7 & 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Warm welcome to Indian President

India-Bangladesh relations got a major boost following visit of Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, to Bangladesh this week. The visit coincided with the on-going country-wide protest movements of the Opposition Jamat-e-Islami, and came as a major morale-booster for the ruling Awami League.

In his three-day visit, Mukherjee was given a warm welcome. He met many leaders of Bangladesh including President Zillur Rahman, Prime Minister Shiekh Haisna, Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni, Finance minister A M A Muhith and Jatiya Party chairman and former military ruler H M Ershad. However, Opposition BNP leader Begum Kaleda Zia cancelled her meeting with Mr. Mukherjee citing recent political unrest in the country.

Major highlights of the visit were:-

a.    The ’Bangladesh Liberation War Honour’ was conferred on Mukherjee for his outstanding contribution during the 1971 Liberation War.

b.    Mr. Mukherjee was conferred the degree of Doctor of Law Honoris Causa by the Dhaka University.

c.    On March 5, Indian President and Shiekh Hasina jointly flagged off a freight train from Dhaka. The freight train comprises tank wagons and locomotives being supplied from India under the line of credit.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, March 4,5 &7, 2013;, March 06, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pact with India on banking, tax info

India and Bhutan on March 4 signed the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA). This agreement will facilitate exchange of information on banking between the two countries and help check tax evasion. This is the first ever DTAA for Bhutan with any country. The treaty was signed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and his Bhutanese counterpart Lyonpo Wangdi Norbum.

Under the pact, business profits will be taxable in the source state if the activities of an enterprise constitute a permanent establishment in there. However, dividends, interest, royalty income and fees for technical or professional services will be taxed both in the country of residence and in the country of source of income.

The maximum rate of tax to be charged in the country of source will not exceed 10 per cent on such dividends, interest, royalties and fees for technical services. Capital gains from the sale of shares will be taxable in the country of source. Profits derived by an enterprise from the operation of aircraft in international traffic shall be taxable in the country of effective management of the enterprise.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 4, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Transit draft likely with B’desh

The upcoming Secretary-level meeting between Bangladesh and Bhutan is likely to finalise the draft agreement on transit between the two South Asian economies, a senior trade official said.

The official said an inter-ministerial meeting will be held March 10 on how to push the issue forward. The high-level meeting between Bangladesh and Bhutan will be held on March 20 and 21 at the ministry of commerce (MoC). Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed will lead the Bangladeshi delegation while the 10-member Bhutanese team will be led by Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Dasho Sonam Tshering.

Earlier Bangladesh had sent the draft recommendations on transit to Bhutan through the ministry of foreign affairs (MoFA) for their approval. Bangladesh will try its best to finalise the transit deal that would definitely buttress bilateral trade and investment between the two countries.

Officials expect the Bhutanese delegation to give its green signal in finalising the transit deal with Bangladesh during the meeting.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Financial Express, March 7, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SAARC Road blocked for water

The SAARC Road linking India and Bhutan was blocked in Jalpaiguri district of India’s West Bengal State following protests in the district against an acute drinking water scarcity. The local protestors blocked the road close to Kanthalguri Tea Garden and Chaimurchi in Jalpaiguri from 6 am. Their primary demand was for ensuring availability of drinking water.

The Block Development Officer from Dhupguri bloc, Soumen Dutraj said that the authorities had requested the protestors to lift the blockade and arrangements for additional police deployment was made in case the situation went out of hand.

Besides goods-laden trucks, businessmen and tourists bound for Bhutan, students and daily commuters who travel to Banrhat, Birpara and Binnaguri were affected. Examinees had to take a significantly longer route to reach their examination centres in the district. Dutraj also mentioned that despite installing a water pump to solve the drinking water problem, the problem persisted because it could not be operated due to erratic power supply in the area.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Statesman, March 6, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Eligible ones left out of farm waiver: CAG

The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has found several shortcomings in the implementation of the first UPA government’s Rs 25,000 crore farm loan-waiver scheme-while thousands of ineligible farmers got the benefit, many eligible applicants were left out.

The CAG report tabled in Parliament on March 5, disclosed that it had audited 80,299 beneficiaries across 25 states, which was less than 1% of the total 34.5 million recipients.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, March 6, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">We’ll make it again, PM tells BJP

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today donned an unusually aggressive mantle in the Lok Sabha as he tore into the Opposition BJP’s recent tirade against the Congress and dared it at the hustings, saying people will repeat UPA at the Centre if they saw its track record. The quintessential economist listed one development statistic after the other to prove that in numbers, UPA’s nine-year rule was way above NDA’s.

But more than the figures, it was the PM’s combative stance against the BJP leadership that took Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and party president Rajnath Singh seated in the House by surprise. By the end of it, both were agitated enough to seek the right to reply to the PM, whose speech was described by Rajnath Singh as "ballistic, never heard before, but one that was akin to the last flight of a flame before it died".

As for the PM, he denounced Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s (without naming him) recent attack on him and the Congress leadership, saying, "At the BJP National Council meeting, leaders used choicest of abuses for the Congress leadership. It is not in my interest to reply to them in that language. Our work will speak for itself."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, March 7, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Chopper deals’ with middlemen

While Augusta Westland has consistently claimed that it has not violated Indian laws that bar the use of middlemen to secure defence contracts, it has now come to light that the Anglo-Italian firm had signed at least three contracts with middlemen in the VVIP helicopter deal to pay alleged kickbacks.

One of the three contracts was an agreement to pay 5 percent of the worth of the deal to Mohali-based IDS Infotech and another to manage "hostile" media.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 5, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CBI probe into cop murder

Facing criticism over the murder of a police officer in Pratapgarh district, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on March 4 assured the slain officer’s wife of recommending a CBI probe into the killing.

Earlier in the day, controversial Kunda MLA and Uttar Pradesh Minister of Food and Supplies Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, resigned from the post after being booked for conspiring to kill Deputy Superintendant of Police Zia-ul-Haq.

The Chief Minister had asked the MLA to quit in a bid to defuse the political crisis arising out of the murder of the DSP and two others in Balipur village of Kunda on Saturday. Raja Bhaiya’s resignation has been accepted but he has not been arrested so far.

Akhilesh, who visited the DSP’s native village, assured the slain officer’s wife, Parveen Azad, of taking stern action against those found guilty of murder. The DSP’s wife had filed a case of murder and criminal conspiracy against the minister and four of his associates-Praapgarh district Panchayat chairman Gulshan Yadav, Raja Bhaiya’s driver Guddu Singh, Rohit Singh and Hari Om.

The CBI, which was asked under civic pressure probe the murder, has booked the former Minister for criminal conspiracy. The agency-which filed four FIRs on Thursday (March 7), had taken over the case following recommendation from the state government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, March 5, 2013, Hindustan Times, March 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rahul says party first

As the hype continues to build around a potential face off with BJP’s Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the country’s most important job in 2014, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday (March 5) spelt out clearly that becoming PM was not his priority.

"Asking me whether you want to be prime minister is a wrong question," he told fellow members of Parliament after the day’s session was adjourned, adding that his ideal was Mahatma Gandhi and he believed in "nishkam karma"-work without expectation of rewards-a principle enunciated in the Bhagvad Gita.

Gandhi, whose anointment as Congress vice president in January sparked talk of his becoming PM candidate, told the MPs in an informal chat that he believed in long-term politics, adding that his priority was to build up the organisation while broad basing the power structure and decision making.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, March 6, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BJP projects Modi for PM

The main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rallied behind Gujarat Chief Minister leader Narendra Modi, giving the clearest sign yet the Hindu nationalist party will make the politician tainted by religious riots its candidate for prime minister.

Leader after leader at the three-day national executive meeting, showered praise on Modi, who is chief minister of the western state of Gujarat. They draped him with rose garlands in a sign of respect.

A senior party leader said there was a groundswell of support for Mr Modi as a candidate in elections in Asia’s third largest economy due within a year, when he is likely to face Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s oldest political dynasty.

"There’s a growing interest in Mr Modi as the PM candidate," Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament said in an interview with the television network. "And it’s just not because of a media buzz."

< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 3, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Wharton cancels Modi’s speech

The Wharton India Economic Forum at Princeton University, US, cancelled a scheduled video-talk by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a section of the teachers and students protested to his human rights track-record, flowing from 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the State.

Many Western Governments broke off contact with Modi’s Government after the riots. The US continues to refuse visa to him, though a few other Governments have revived ties, following expectations that he could become India’s Prime Minister after parliamentary polls next year.

"Our team felt that the potential polarising reactions from sub-segments of the alumni base, student body, and our supporters, might put Mr Modi in a compromising position, which we would like to avoid at all costs, especially in the spirit of our conference’s purpose," the Wharton India Economic Forum said in a statement.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 4, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BJP won’t back border pact with Bangladesh

The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has asserted that the 2011 Indai-Bangladesh Boundary Agreement is flawed and the Government cannot bank on its support when the Constitution Amendment Bill to facilitate implementation of the pact comes up in Parliament during the budget session.

Last month, the Cabinet cleared the Bill to amend the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement, 1974. In his inaugural address at the BJP National Council here, party president Rajnath Singh said the pact signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Dhaka was one-sided.

Additional protocols for the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, signed during Dr. Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September 2011, require a Constitution amendment for ratification as these involve exchange of land in 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves on Indian soil.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 3, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Investment safety pact with UAE

The Government is moving fast to assuage the UAE government’s concerns regarding investments from that country in India, an assurance that is seen as a crucial prerequisite to successful completion of Jet-Etihad deal.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be visiting Abu Dhabi later this month to discuss, among other things, an investment protection treaty between the two countries.

The bilateral treaty will assure the UAE that investments made by its companies in India will be protected from unilateral arbitrary action.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, March 5, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nasheed produced before court

Acting on court orders, the Maldivian police detained former President Mohammed Nasheed for a night and produced him before the three-Judge Bench in suburban Hulhumale’, after he dishonoured summons, to stand trial for the alleged illegal detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Mohammed Abdulla while in power in January 2012. The court declined the defence request for adjourning the trial until after the presidential polls of September, for which Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has named him the candidate -and slated the case four weeks, hence.

If convicted in the case and sentenced to more than a year in office, Nasheed would be barred from contesting the law. The last time he was asked to appear before the court, Nasheed staged a surprising 11-day sit-in in the Indian High Commission in Male, and left the premises after a high-level Indian delegation held talks with various stake-holders. Both India and the Maldivian Government denied any deal.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, March 5, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Held for funding Maldivian terrorist

A US citizen has been charged in the States with conspiracy to provide material support to a Maldivian terrorist who helped carry out a deadly attack in Pakistan in 2009. Reaz Qadir Khan, 49, a waste water treatment plant operator for the city of Portland, US, was arrested on Tuesday (March 5) on a charge of providing advice and funds to Maldivian national Ali Jaleel.

On May 27, 2009, Jaleel -along with two other men -stormed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Lahore and detonated a car bomb that left around 23 people dead and a further 300 injured. Prior to the attack, US media reported that in 2006 Khan had received an email from Jaleel "goading" him about his past devotion to seek religious martyrdom.

Following the message, Khan had then allegedly communicated and provided financial backing through email to Jaleel and his family, making it possible for the Maldivian to attend a training camp in Pakistan ahead of the 2009 bomb-attack.

The emails cited in the indictment against Khan -sent in October and November 2008 -were said to have included a coded note from Jaleel telling Khan that he needed $2,500 to pay for admission into a terrorist training camp. The Oregonian reported that Khan had replied to Jaleel instructing him to pick up the training camp The indictment does not cite that there had been any other emails between November 2009 and the May 27, 2009 ISI attack. However, US media reported that less than a week after the bombing, $750 was wired from Khan to one of Jaleel’s wives from an Oregon store.

Khan, who has pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on Tuesday, could face life imprisonment if he is convicted at trial, US media reported. According to The Oregonian, Khan must now remain in his Portland home until his trial on the terrorism-related charge begins.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, March 8, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Military ties with Russia

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Napypitaw this week. This is the first visit to Myanmar by a Russian Defence Minister in 50 years. His visit is being viewed by defence and intelligence analysts IHS Jane’s as a sign that the two nations are heading towards an enhanced military cooperation.

Shoigu was in Myanmar and Vietnam on March 4 -6. Although, no transactions or specific areas of collaboration were mentioned by either office, Myanmar’s state media confirmed that Naypyitaw and Moscow were seeking closer relations in matters of trade, as well as extending economic and defence ties.

Myanmar’s President’s Office confirmed that the Russian Defence Minister met on March 4 at the Presidential Palace with Vice President Nyan Tun who was accompanied by Gen Hla Htay Win of the Commander-in-Chief’s Office, Deputy Minister for Defence Commodore Aung Thaw, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Zin Yaw and other officials.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima, March 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Inflation at 1.95 per cent

Minister of Finance Win Shein at the Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House of Parliament) session in Naypyitaw on March 4 announced that Myanmar’s rate of inflation is at 1.95 percent, while the country has about $ 77 billion in circulation.

According to the modified 2012-13 financial statement, the budget record shows that the country had 12,774,520 million Kyat ($14 billion) of total revenue for the year and 14,439,466 million Kyat ($17 billion) in expenditure, therefore, a 1,664,046 million kyat deficit. The GPD is currently 51,207,577 million kyat ($59 billon).

< class="text11verdana">Source: Mizzima, March 7, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">ADB aid for civil society

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide Myanmar with a US$225,000 grant to help the country’s civil society develop a strategy for participating in ADB-funded programs, Lainie Thomas, Social Development Specialist in ADB’s Southeast Asia Department announced on March 7.

ADB’s official statement says it will identify key stakeholder groups and equip them with the skills needed to maximise their participation in ADB-supported consultation processes. ADB will also look at ways to bring government civil society organisations together to discuss development challenges and potential solutions, the statement continues.

Since January 2012, ADB has provided Myanmar with over $5.4 million in technical assistance grants. ADB has also undertaken sector-specific assessment, including energy and transportation. ADB resumed operations in Myanmar in January 2013 after a 30-year absence.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Myanmar Times, March 7, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Strike brings nation to a halt

Normal life across the country was crippled on March 6 and 7 due to strikes called by CPN-Maoist-led Nepal Federal People’s Republic Front. The Front has been saying that the proposal to form a new government under the leadership of Chief Justice is unconstitutional.

Educational institutes, industries, offices remained shut while vehicles remained off the road due to the two-day strike.

< class="text11Verdana">Source:, March 7,8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">112 still in world tourism

Nepal remained unmoved on 112th spot in the world travel and tourism ranking, according to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 published by World Economic Forum (WEF) .

Among the South Asian countries, Nepal is ranked above Pakistan and Bangladesh which are ranked at 122 and 123 places respectively. However, Nepal is way below India and Sri Lanka that are at 65th and 74th in the rankings.

The report shows that Nepal is in 52nd spot in terms of government prioritisation of the travel and tourism industry, while the country stands at 36th place in government’s expenditure in travel trade industry.

Nepal is ranked sixth in price competitiveness in the travel and tourism industry. Ranked at 25th place, it is also among the countries with the lowest ticket taxes and airport charges. It is placed fourth from bottom among 140 countries in terms of ground transport infrastructure. However, the good news is that Nepal is among top 25 least restrictive destinations to visit.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">First billionaire

Nepali businessman, Binod Chaudhary, who is of Indian-origin, has made it to the Forbes’ billionaire list, becoming the first man from the Himalayan nation to do so.

Chaudhary, 57, is the owner of Cinnovation/Chaudhary Group, popular instant noodle brand Wai Wai, a controlling stake in Nabil Bank and a string of luxury hotels with India’s Taj hotel chain. He had a 1,342nd position in ’The 2013 Billionaires List’ compiled by the New York-based Forbes magazine.

Chaudhary’s net worth is $ 1 billion, according to Forbes. He is among 210 people who joined the Forbes Billionaires ranks this year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Economic Times, March 5, 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban peace talk

Delegates from nearly all major political parties met at an All Parties Conference on 28 February hosted by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), to discuss prospects of peace negotiations with insurgent organizations carrying out attacks in the country, including the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The meeting was held in response to peace overtures from TTP leaders dating from December, 2012.

The participants unanimously agreed to create an expansive Grand Tribal Jirga which would include members of "all concerned parties," including TTP leaders, to facilitate negotiations between the Government and insurgents. While the TTP has thus far embraced the prospect, critics argue that the lack of clear terms, as well as a timeline, could present a challenge to future negotiations. The TTP has thus far refused to disarm as a precondition for talks.

TTP Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan welcomed the APC’s decision, however he noted that progress would depend on the Military’s reaction to the proposed dialogue. In this regard, officials within the Pakistani security establishment have expressed some reluctance toward the peace talks. The 157th Corps Commanders’ conference, held on 14 February in Rawalpindi, for instance, had already rejected the prospect on unconditional talks.

Military officials also point to ties between the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who recently carried out several massive bombings on Shia communities in Quetta and Karachi, arguing that the government cannot order a crackdown on one outfit while negotiating with the other.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 1 March, 2013, Dawn Pakistan, 2 March, 2013, The Express Tribune, 2 March, 2013, The News, 3 March, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Iran pipeline progresses

Progress on the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline is continuing despite pressure from the US, which has stated that the project would be considered a violation of current sanctions on the regime in Teheran. Speaking to reporters last weekend, President Asif Ali Zardari insisted that "no power can disrupt" its construction, referencing Pakistan’s right as a sovereign nation to pursue its own interests in mitigating its current energy shortage.

Construction on the Pakistani section of the pipeline, which has been hampered in the past by US pressure and fiscal shortfalls, is set to resume on 11 March. Iran, which has nearly completed construction of its portion, has agreed to finance one third of the $1.5 billion cost of constructing the pipeline in Pakistan, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014. Zardari is scheduled to travel to Iran for the groundbreaking ceremony.

Talking to newsmen, Pakistani Foreign Minister Moazzam Ahmed Khan expressed the hope that the US would demonstrate "more understanding" regarding the importance of the project to Pakistan’s interests.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Nation, 3 March, 2013, The Nation, 8 March, 2013, The Express Tribune, 8 March, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kayani for action to stem violence

Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met with President Asif Ali Zardari on 7 March to discuss the deteriorating law and order situation in the country, particularly in light of the recent bombing of Shia targets in Quetta and Karachi. Few specific details of the meeting have emerged, however officials reported that the discussion revolved around the civilian authorities’ inability to curtail the violence and on the need for further action to be taken against the banned militant group held responsible for the attacks, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Kayani, however, has repeatedly stressed his commitment to support civilian institutions, particularly as the upcoming elections loom closer on the horizon.

The General had reviewed the security situation with military staff at a corps commanders’ conference held earlier in the day at General Headquarters. Reports from the meeting indicate that participants discussed the need for immediate action to be taken to disarm the militant outfits, often affiliated with major political parties, presently waging "turf wars" in Karachi. The presence of religious extremists in the city has further complicated the situation. Military sources expressed the need for political factions to engage in dialogue to "de-weaponise" the city, and emphasised that the Army was prepared to assist civilian authorities in any way requested.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Dawn Pakistan, 8 March, 2013, The Express Tribune, 8 March, 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Medha Chaturvedi;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Daniel Rubin and Louis Ritzinger

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.