MonitorsPublished on Feb 02, 2012
Senate's recent decision to pass the 'National Commission on the Status of Women Bill, 2012' was a step forward for the women's rights movement in Pakistan.
Parliament clears women's Bill
< class="heading1">Analysis

Senate’s recent decision to pass the ’National Commission on the Status of Women Bill, 2012’ was a step forward for the women’s rights movement in Pakistan. It replaces the current National Commission on Status of Women Ordinance 2000 that many considered as ineffectual. The Bill was tabled by Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Human Rights Adviser to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. It was the culmination of more than seven years of efforts when Majida Rizvi, the first woman High Court Judge in the country and then Chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Women Justice, proposed making it an autonomous body.

The commission would consist of a chairperson, two members from each Province, one woman official from FATA, ’Azad Kashmir’, Gilgit-Baltistan, the Islamabad Capital Territory, and the minorities. It would have autonomous status with powers of a civil court, which includes both financial and administrative powers. Some important powers of the commission include reviewing of all laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women; suggesting the repeal, amendment or new legislation essential to eliminate discrimination; to sponsor, steer and encourage research to generate information; facilitate and monitor implementation of international instruments and obligations affecting adult and minor females to which Pakistan is a signatory. However, it would not have powers of implementation.

In the last decade, the Women’s Caucus of Pakistan, the only one of its kind in South Asia, was in the forefront of the struggle to bring about laws pertaining to the welfare of women. The most recent of these include Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011.

This surge in pro-women legislations was a result of a larger change, ie, the implementation of 17.5 per cent reservation (60 seats out of 342) for women in the National Assembly. The system of reservation has its own disadvantages in the country as elsewhere in much of the Third World, as women are nominated by political parties and therefore are considered as mere seat-fillers. That it is the same case with their male counterparts does not help matters. Many also argue that in order to demonstrate their liberal attitude, political parties deliberately make women carry out interventions, questions, etc, in Parliament. They are also discriminated in terms of time and opportunities given to speak and raise issues.

These arguments could be right as the numerical strength cannot be considered as an indicator of quality. However, many scholars argue that symbolic representation, ie, being ’visible’ has underlying and manifold effects in the minds of the masses and are significant. Therefore, the very presence of women in Parliament and pro-women laws could be considered as a positive step in the right direction.

Most parliamentarians are generally known to be predominantly occupied with issues of national security, foreign policy, conflicts, etc, thereby pushing matters of gender equality into the background. However, with the on-going political tensions, the passing of the Bill, after debate and the inclusion of various amendments, demonstrates a slight change in the attitude of the political elites. Now a lot will depend on how the law is implemented effectively and how women legislators perform.

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

< class="heading1">Analysis

Towards fishing in calmer waters

N Sathiya Moorthy

The Joint Working Group (JWG) on the fishing issue between India and Sri Lanka, after many meetings, has been able to travel quite a distance. The meeting at Colombo in mid-January was no exception as the "two sides agreed to enhance cooperation that would allow both countries to pursue their fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner, including discouraging fishermen from using destructive fishing methods", as was later outlined in the joint press statement issued at the conclusion of the talks.

It was also at the crux of bilateral fishers’/fishing problem. From the Indian side, the Tamil Nadu fishers and the Governments have been stressing the need for ’safe fishing waters’, with complaints of mid-sea attacks, allegedly by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) continuing onto the post-war scene in the island-nation. Sri Lanka’s concern, which has also been the concern of their fishers, particularly from the Tamil-North, was that their counterparts from Tamil Nadu were over-exploiting the resources and destroying fish habitats through excessive deployment, that too of bottom-trawlers and purse-in nets.

Bottom-trawling and the use of nets that sweep away both eggs and young ones along with the regular catch have been banned in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan fishers, including the Tamil fishers of that country, while seeking ways out to increase their catch and improve their incomes, have not ever asked for a lift on the ban. Their demand, as well as that of their Government, has been for the Tamil Nadu fishers to discontinue destructive practices, which incidentally are acknowledged in private this side of the Palk Strait, but without much of an alternative source identified for diversification on the livelihood front.

The concern in Tamil Nadu, and hence that of India, has been about the mid-sea attacks. The joint statement had this to say on the subject: "The two sides noted that the Joint Working Group process on fisheries had a salutary effect. It was acknowledged that the Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements of 26 October 2008 had since led to a decrease in violent incidents. Both sides reiterated the highest priority accorded by their respective Governments to the well-being, safety and security of fishermen from the two countries. Both countries agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances, and reiterated in this regard the importance of extending humane treatment to all fishermen."

To this end, as the statement pointed out, "Both sides exchanged views on various measures to manage the fishery resources in their respective waters. Emphasising the need for conservation of marine resources and protection of marine ecology, they agreed to the joint development of fisheries and marine resources in the Palk Bay area and the Gulf of Mannar. The two sides agreed to develop programmes for bilateral exchanges in aquaculture and fishing-related activities, including training in fisheries management, genetic improvement of cultured species, fishing technology, exchange of scientists, etc." In this context, "the two sides held discussions on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Development and Cooperation in the field of Fisheries and agreed to work towards concluding the same at an early date".

Significantly, the run-up to the JWG meeting was marked by accusations of Sri Lankan Navy attacks on Indian fishers and increasing incidents of rescue act by the Sri Lanka Navy from the mid-sea - both owing to natural causes and mechanical failures. In this context, the joint statement noted how the "Indian delegation thanked the Government of Sri Lanka for its assistance in rescuing Indian fishermen stranded due to cyclonic weather conditions in the Palk Straits area in recent weeks, enabling their speedy repatriation and facilitating the visit of a team from India to salvage the grounded boats".

This has been a two-way street, with both sides also initiating moves to expatriate fishers from the other country arrested on its side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), for such violations, often without trial or consequent punishment. While Sri Lanka has a better record on this score, over the years Tamil Nadu from among the Indian States has developed a mechanism for speedy consideration and disposal of individual cases of fishermen arrested by the Indian Coast Guard and handed over to the State police at the nearest point on the coast.

Since the Delhi JWG in 2011, New Delhi has also been impressing upon other coastal States in the South, particularly the administrations in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha (formerly Orissa), and also the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, to set up similar mechanisms for an expeditious disposal of such cases. Only days after the Colombo JWG, the Andaman administration thus expatriated six Sri Lankan fishers from the south of the country, languishing in prison for close to two years. The sensitivity of the issue can be understood in a deeply-polarised country like Sri Lanka if one remembers that all Sri Lankan fishers arrested in the Indian waters are Sinhalas while those arrested by Sri Lanka are Tamils from India.

Yet, the fact also remains that Sri Lankan fishers, mostly Sinhalas, have been fishing in Indian waters, travelling as far as up to the Odisha coast even as their Government keep reiterating how Tamil Nadu fishermen were going as far deep into Sri Lankan waters as Pulumodai in the East, from where the SLN arrested a handful of them a fortnight back. Sri Lanka Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senarathne is however on record, and more than once, that their fishers were going into Indian waters at their own risk, and that the Government would not interfere on their behalf. It is not the case of Indian fishers, who often charge the SLN with attacking them, destroying their catch, and causing the death of some, over the past decades of war and mid-sea violence. Yet, Minister Senarathne was also in the forefront of the campaign to have the six Sri Lanka fishers freed from the Andaman prison.

At the Colombo JWG, the Indian delegation also thanked the Sri Lankan authorities for continuing to facilitate the visit of Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Kachchativu for the festival of St Anthony. Kachchativu remains a problem area, what with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa reiterating her resolve to take it back from Sri Lanka, even in a post-JWG statement in the State Assembly. Her petition in this regard, filed when she was in the Opposition, is pending before the Indian Supreme Court. Since her return to power, the Tamil Nadu Assembly has passed a resolution, directing the State Government to implead itself in the case. Likewise, a private petition, seeking a direction for the Governments of India, Tamil Nadu and the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, to protect the Tamil Nadu fishers, is pending before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.

A section of the local media, more out of ignorance than otherwise, has been saying that India ’ceded’ Kachchativu to Sri Lanaka in 1964. The Supreme Court case is also based on the argument that while the Union of India, under the Constitution, was empowered to alter the international borders, the mandatory parliamentary resolution in this regard was not put forth or passed, as required. What happened in 1964, however, was not necessarily any ceding of Indian territory to Sri Lanka or exchange of territories between the two countries, as may have happened between India and Bangladesh through a more recent agreement in 2011 -- again based on international best practices.

Instead, the IMBL between India and Sri Lanka was being marked for the first time ever in 1964, under the existing international laws and rules. Under the scheme, Kachchativu fell within Sri Lankan territory and Wadge Bank, south of Kanyakumari fell on the Indian side. On contest however is also the argument that the Raja Sethupathi of Ramanathapuram had a lien on Kachchativu, and hence should have remained part of India, both before and after Independence -- and hence the need for ceding, if that was the decision, and in turn requiring a parliamentary resolution. The issue is also being agitated before the Indian Supreme Court.

Sri Lankan Tamil fishers and academics from the region too have since begun arguing that the problem of Tamil Nadu fishers would not be resolved through the mere transfer of Kachchativu. They point to the frequent incidents of Tamil Nadu fishers being arrested deep in the Sri Lankan waters, at times closer to the northern coast, or deep beyond Trincomallee in the East. From time to time, the SLN too has argued that such arrests only proved that the Indian fishers had not mistakenly drifted into Sri Lankan waters. Alternatively, the Tamil Nadu fishers used to argue that the SLN boats chased them into Indian waters. This complaint has mostly stopped, particularly after the Indian Navy pointed out a couple of years back how it was capable of protecting the territorial waters from interference by their Sri Lankan counterparts, and how they would have been in the know if such violations had taken place.

The implication is clear. That it was the lack of fish resources around Kachchativu that forced the Tamil Nadu fishers to venture out deep into the Sri Lankan waters. On livelihood front, it meant that they needed accommodation from, not confrontation with their Sri Lankan counterparts. At the same time, the continuing sighting of Tamil Nadu fishers closer to the northern Sri Lankan coast also meant that they were interfering with the livelihood of the locals, that too when the latter are just seeking to revive their lives after three long decades of war.

There is a political element to this. In northern Sri Lanka, where Provincial Council elections are yet to be held, ’competitive Tamil politics’ could lead to a situation in which the competing electoral players may have to end up arguing their fishers’ case as vehemently as the larger issues of ethnic concern. This could lead to a conflict of interest among the ’competitive Dravidian’ polity in Tamil Nadu. While arguing the case of their Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka on the ethnic front, they would be dumb-founded if the other side starts presenting the case of their ’unfortunate fishers’, whose hopes of reviving a forgotten livelihood was being affected by their counterparts this side of the Palk Strait.

Whatever the reason, thee is noticeably a fall in the decibel levels on the fishing issue in Tamil Nadu in recent months. While the affected fishing communities continue to present their case to the State and Central Governments through protests and boycott of fishing for days together, as used to be the case earlier, too, the State polity has since left it all mostly to the fishers, or to the fishermen’s wing of the respective parties. In a related but independent incident, a section of fishers in Rameswaram in southern Tamil Nadu staged a protest recently after a few political party cadres had beaten up Thiru Kumaran Nadesan, the nephew-in-law of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in Rameswaram. Nadesan is a Sri Lankan Tamil and was in Rameswaram as part of his regular pilgrimage to Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu. The protesting neighbourhood fishers wanted the State Government to take action against the attackers of Nadesan, arguing that they would have to face the consequences mid-sea, for what was being done on land, unthinkingly.

Independent of the pending cases, the proceedings in the JWG meeting was vitiated by a media observation of Minister Senarathne, that the Indian side did not press the case of the ’traditional rights’ of the Tamil Nadu fishermen to fish in these seas. Quickly going on a damage-control mode, the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs blamed it on the media and said, "These are misinterpretations of the positions taken by either of the parties, and do not reflect the cordial, friendly and constructive manner in which the relevant issues were discussed."

The Sri Lankan MEA statement in this regard came not far after the issuance of the seven-point Joint Press Statement on the JWG meeting, and was clarificatory in nature: "While maintaining their respective positions, including on the issue of traditional fishing rights, both sides expressed the genuine desire of their Governments to enhance cooperation that would allow the fishermen of the two countries to pursue their fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner," the new statement said. Reiterating the relevant portions of the Joint Statement, the new one also said that the "Government of Sri Lanka is fully committed to working towards fulfilling the mandate of the Joint Working Group to address issues relating to cooperation in the fisheries sector between the two countries". Already, the Joint Statement had resolved for the JWG to meet on a ’regular basis’, and setting the Indian capital of New Delhi as the venue for the next one.

A first of its kind

The Colombo JWG should be noted for the presence and participation of a representative of the Tamil Nadu Government. It was the first time that a State official was travelling to Sri Lanka for the purpose, after another had participated in the earlier JWG at New Delhi. It would have thus been an insightful meeting for all concerned, as the discussions, going by the Joint Press Statement, focused mainly on meaningful issues on the livelihood front, which are for real, rather than contentious issues of other kinds, which used to dominate bilateral fishing talks until not very long ago. As the Joint Statement may have indicated, the JWG discussions focussed on the livelihood angle, with the need for maintaining ’sustainability’ of the catch forming a part thereof, over the medium and the long-term.

To this end, the Colombo JWG, like the one before it in New Delhi, committed itself to encouraging the fishermen from the two countries to meet and discuss their problems and suggest workable solutions. At their repeated meetings over the past couple of years, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have also reiterated such a need. The two sides underscored the JWG decision when Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna called on President Rajapaksa only a day after the Colombo meeting. Over the past couple of years, there have been such exchanges between fishermen representatives from Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, and some progress has also been made in the matter.

Since returning to power in May last, the Jayalalithaa Government in Tamil Nadu has taken steps to encourage deep-sea fishing, as a long-term answer to addressing the issue of depleting fishing resources in the adjoining seas. To this end, the State Budget for 2011-12 has Budget for dressing issues of sustainability and longevity of fishing as earmarked ` 25 crores for grants for the conversion of fishing boats to long-liners. To this end, the Government has also been facilitating dredging of the seas in select locations for boats to go avoid a detour. The State Government has also taken up work on additional/alternate fishing harbours at Poompuhar in Nagapattinam district and Mookaiyur in Ramanthapuram district, two areas from where high incidence of IMBL-crossing are reported from the Tamil Nadu side.

The Budget also proposed the setting up of a fisheries university in Nagapattinam in the south, and a chain of 20 cold-storages across the Tamil Nadu coastline. The former, when implemented, could also facilitate avocation-centric higher educational opportunities for fisher-children, so that they could think and work on non-traditional forms of fishing, storage and marketing, if only over a period. The setting up of cold-store chains is also aimed to help the fisher-folk improve their earning capacity. With the State Government encouraging the fishers to go in for deep-sea fishing, sooner than later, it would have to consider concepts such as ’mother ship’, which will then have to be accompanied by assistance in identifying and establishing newer markets, overseas -- and necessary education in fish-farming, storage and pricing.

The proposed MoU between the two countries, it is expected, will address these and other issues, too. As may be recalled, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, during his maiden visit to Sri Lanka last year, also offered New Delhi’s assistance for the Tamil fishers in that country to go deep-sea fishing. The idea is for India to help them expand their earning-capacity beyond the limited catch that they may now enjoy under traditional fishing practices -- and support their efforts to revive their livelihood capabilities and sustainability to and beyond the pre-war period. When implemented, it would be akin to the Indian assistance for the farming community in the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka, where New Delhi offered agriculture implements, seeds, fertiliser, technology, etc, for them all to make a new beginning, post-war.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC summons PM Gilani

The Supreme Court has asked Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to appear before the court on February 13, to face a contempt charge for his refusal to pursue the case of alleged corruption against President Asif Ali Zardari. If he is found guilty, Gilani could face a six-month jail term and disqualification from public office.

Gilani, while addressing Parliament, said that he would appear before the court as he respected the Constitution. His lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan said that they would exercise their right to appeal. However, the decision to dismiss or accept the same lies with the court.

Security measures at the Supreme Court have been strengthened so as to avoid any untoward incident.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, February 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Obama confirms drone-strikes

US President Barack Obama confirmed that US drones had struck Taliban and Al Qaeda targets within Pakistan. The President said that most of the precision strikes had occurred in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan.

These operations had until now not been officially acknowledged and the US had refused to discuss them publicly. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry in a statement acknowledged the "tactical advantages" of US drone-strikes on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The Ministry added that they were "unlawful, counter-productive and hence unacceptable".
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Khar visits Kabul

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited Kabul on February 1 to declare support for the Afghan-led peace talks with the Taliban. It is the first high-level meeting between Afghan and Pakistani officials since September. The visit followed the leak of a NATO-coalition report on January 31 that accused the ISI of having control over the Taliban insurgency in the region. The Foreign Minister met Afghan President, Hamid Karzai and invited him to Islamabad later this month to revive trilateral negotiations with Iran.

Pakistan has announced that 150,000 Afghan refugees in its territory were likely to be granted visa permits for a long-term stay in the country. This step was taken in close coordination with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The News International, February 1, 2012; The Express Tribune, January 31, 2012.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PSC to decide on 13-plus

The Government has announced that the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) will have to determine the most appropriate solution to the matters of ethnic conflict. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that he will abide by the decision made by the PSC even though he himself has suggested the 13thAmendment Plus solution in the ’Mahinda Chinthanaya’ election manifesto.

According to reports, President Rajapaksa had assured S M Krishna, India’s External Affairs Minister, during the latter’s visit to the country last month, that the 13-plus solution would be implemented as a tool to national reconciliation. However, the Preisdent has now clarified that he only discussed the issue with the Minister.

According the 13thAmendment, part of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, Colombo agreed to devolve certain powers to the provinces. Following the Indian federal set-up, the amendment specified a power-sharing between the capital Colombo and the provinces according to three lists. Further, the provinces would have an elected council, and a chief minister and ministers.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, January 31, 2012; Daily News, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Special envoy for US on cards

The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is considering sending a top-level envoy to the US to discuss matters related to the impact of the US sanctions on Iran and the claims against Colombo of human rights violations during the war. A US delegation is set to visit the country to discuss the same issues. The delegation will comprise of Luke Bronin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and Stephen J. Rapp, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues.

Assistant Secretary Bronin is expected to discuss how the US sanctions on Iran will likely affect the Sri Lankan economy and how best to circumvent its effects. Sri Lanka depends almost entirely on Iran for its crude oil supply and Sapugaskanda, the lone refinery in the country can process Iranian crude oil.

More pressingly for the Government is the US’s announcement ahead of the upcoming UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva that it will support a motion against Sri Lanka for human rights violations during the war. President Rajapaksa is considering sending an envoy to Washington to brief President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and others, of the measures adopted by his government to improve the human rights situation in the country. Secretary Clinton had invited her Sri Lankan counterpart to visit the US and defend Sri Lanka against these allegations. The UN Human Rights Commission is scheduled to meet at Geneva later this month.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, January 31, February 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prison-riot perpetrators identified

The Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) has identified prisoners who were responsible for instigating the riot that took place at the Magazine prison last week. According to the report submitted to the Colombo Chief Magistrate Court, 47 suspects were involved in the riot that caused severe damage to the prison property and injured 31 people, including five police officers and 26 inmates.

The report states the cause of the riot as the failure of the inmates to secure a meeting with Emile Ranjan Lamahewa to discuss some administrative changes he’d made since his appointment as the Superintendent of the prison. However, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, the Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, has said that the inmates were intending to escape from the prison and they’d started a fire in order to destroy their records.

The CCD has requested all news television stations to provide them with the un-edited visuals of the riot in order to examine the evidence and make further identification of suspects.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, January 27, 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Security pact with European nations

President Hamid Karzai has inked strategic cooperation agreements with Italy, UK and France during his recent tour of visits to the European capitals. The agreement with Italy is focused on political, security, economy, counter-narcotics, cultural and media cooperation, Rule of Law and Capacity Building in Afghanistan after 2014. The UK would establish a military university among other fields of cooperation while the agreement with France will 20 years and would cover economic, security and political co-operation.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy stated that France would pull out of Afghanistan in 2013. A few troops would remain after their deadline to train Afghan forces. Prime minister, David Cameroon, stated that the UK would continue its commitment in Afghanistan and would withdraw troops as per NATO timelines. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO would stick to the 2014 withdrawal timeline. This shows rifts in the NATO camp.

Iran also signed an economic cooperation pact with Afghanistan during the two day economic committee meeting between the two nations. Discussions focused on mutual cooperation for customs sections, transportation and railway, formation of banking and insurance opportunities, establishment of a committee for the development of investments and facilities at Chabahar port, prevention of money laundering and formation of transport agencies. Trade between the two nations has exceeded US $1 billion annually.
< class="text11verdana">Source: France24, January 27, 2012; Independent, January 29, 2012; IOL News, January 31, 2012; Ariana News, January 28, 2012; Khaama, January 29, 31, 2012; Tolo News, January 28, 2012;.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Troops take charge from NATO

The security responsibility for Shebarghan, the central city of Jowzjan Province, was taken over by Afghan security forces from their NATO partners. Jowzjan provincial Governor, Mohammad Alim Saie, confirmed the news and added his confidence in the Afghan forces.

Residents of three districts of Paktia province, Dand-e-Patan, Zazi Aryoub and Ahmed Khe have stated their dissatisfaction with the local police forces and have demanded that the government send new units to maintain security in the province.

Another five thousand soldiers would be added to the 209 Shaheen Corps. The purpose of this increase is to maintain security along the south-north route and also provide security to the northern provinces of Afghanistan. This would raise the total no of soldiers in the core to fifteen thousand.

An ISAF soldier was killed following an armed attack by an individual wearing an Afghan soldier’s uniform. Joint operations between Afghan and ISAF forces seized 27,272 kilograms of marijuana in Panjwa ’i district, Kandahar province. In another operation ISAF forces discovered a cache of 150 kilograms of marijuana seeds in Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province. In Nimroz province security forces seized 308 kilograms of narcotics this catch raises the total of the last 15 days to 2 tons from the province itself. In operations the Afghan security forces have seized one ton of ammunition from Alga and Khenjan districts of northern Baghlan province among an assortment of heavy weapons.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama, January 28, 31, February 1, 2012; Ariana News, February 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parliament quizzes MPs

The Wolsie Jirga has sent summons to a number of its members who failed to utilise their development budgets. Members of the Lower House of Parliament(Wolsie Jirga) have stopped 200 development budgets due to corrupt practices and have summoned the Finance Minister to explain certain inconsistencies.

MTN mobile clinic provided locals in Nangarhar Province with free medical treatment. Doctors attended to 775 patients and provided information on seasonal diseases and personal hygiene. MTN is a mobile service that operates in Afghanistan. Locals have shown satisfaction of MTN foundations efforts to provide medical services throughout the countryside. They also operate a MTN’s Tele Doctor Service which helps civilians consult doctors and specialists over the phone.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Outlook Afghanistan, January 30, 2012; Ariana News, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Violent political clashes

Politics turned violent this week after clashes broke out between cadres of Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami with law enforcement agencies as they launched a country-wide street-protest. The protests turned violent after the law enforcement agencies tried to disperse opposition activists to take out rallies. The clashes caused five lives and left hundreds injured. BNP and its allies had called for a mass demonstration to demand that the government resign and call elections.

The BNP held the Government responsible for the killings and demanded exemplary punishment for the persons responsible for the killings. The police sued some 12000 BNP, Jamaat cadres on charges of violence including attacking policemen and vandalising public property.

Interestingly, Opposition leaders believe that they gained leverage over the Government in the last few days largely due to the government’s "wrong decisions" centring on their mass procession programmes in the country. The death of five people on the streets, imposition of a ban on the opposition’s programmes, and the ruling party’s counter political programmes bore testimony to the state of the Government, they claimed.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepal moots big power-plant

Nepal has proposed the setting up of a 3,000-MW power plant on its territory in a joint venture with Bangladesh. Nepalese Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun made the proposal at a meeting with Finance Minister AMA Muhith this week at Dhaka.

Muhith said that Nepal was willing to export power to Bangladesh, but for that to happen, Dhaka would need to be an equity partner in a joint-venture plant in the Himalayan country.

Nepal has huge resources for hydropower, but its potentials remain untapped for lack of investment, he observed. According to the Nepalese Government, the country’s total hydro-power potential is 83,000MW, of which 42,000MW is economically exploitable. Bangladesh, on the other hand, produces 5,000MW of electricity, which can cover only half of its 16-crore population, according to the Power Development Board.

Faced with acute power shortage, the Bangladesh government has been thinking of setting up joint-venture plants in Bhutan as well.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN peace commission chair

Bangladesh’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr A K Abdul Momen, has been elected chairman of the Peace-Building Commission. The six-year-old commission works to mobilise resources and key actors such as UNSC, UNGA, ECOSOC, donors, global financial institutions, national leaders, regional groups, banks and other stakeholders in a bid to help countries emerging from conflict to achieve sustainable peace.

Bangladesh is actively and constructively engaged with PBC since its inception in 2005, but Momen is the first Bangladeshi representative to be elected as the commission’s chief.

Currently, there are nine Security Council members -- five permanent members namely the US, Russia, China, France and the UK plus four non-permanent elected ones, namely, Colombia, Togo, India and Pakistan besides another 22 members representing regional groups and UN bodies in the PBC.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Resettling refugees in Nepal

The UN-sponsored resettlement of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal has received another shot in the arm with the US accepting the 50,00th refugee. This comes at a time when the current round of resettlement would in fact break the 59,000 mark.

So far, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration Bhutanese refugees in Nepal have found a new home for Bhutanese refugees in nations like Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, and the UK.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 30, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Media crisis

Representative of various media outfits of the nation whose primary language of publication has been English would request the Government to revisit its policy on Dzongkha editions, in the national language. This recommendation will be made to the Information and Communications Minister.

This follows the compulsion on private media houses to run a language edition, despite heavy financial strain. According to them, the Dzongkha edition only has limited takers. At the same time there already exist four exclusive Dzongkha newspapers with many more awaiting Government approvals.

However, English language newspapers carry a section in Dzongkha ever since the Government took a decision to that effect.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 27, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">France wins $ 18-b fighter deal

France has bagged the $ 18-billion dollar Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal of 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force, with Dassault Aviation -manufacturer of the state of the art Rafale.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Asian Age, February 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Iranian oil imports won’t be cut

India, the world’s fourth-largest oil consumer, will not take steps to cut petroleum imports from Iran despite US and European sanctions against Tehran, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Chicago.

The US wants buyers in Asia, Iran’s biggest oil market, to cut imports to put further pressure on Tehran to rein in its nuclear ambitions. Washington suspects Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons, but Teheran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful means.

India, which imports 12 percent of its oil from the Islamic Republic, cannot do without Iranian oil, Mukherjee said. Iran has agreed to accept 45 percent of the payment for its oil exports to India in rupees through UCO Bank (UCBK.NS), based in Kolkata, the Indian Express newspaper reported, without citing any sources.

Last month, Reuters reported that India would pay for some of its oil imports in rupees via an Indian bank, resorting to the restricted currency after more than a year of payment problems in the face of fresh, tougher U.S. sanctions.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, January 30, 2012,, February 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Coordination with China, Japan

India, China and Japan have started implementing a new mechanism to coordinate the movement of their warships in the Gulf of Aden to provide protection to cargo vessels from the sea brigands, according to an Indian news agency.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Joint maritime drill with Japan

A mock drill on the deep seas by the Indian and Japan Coast Guard units on Sunday demonstrated the inherent capabilities of the two forces to jointly counter a range of maritime threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Indo-Japan Coast Guard Joint Exercises, which alternates between India and Japan every year, was organised off the Bay of Bengal where fleets headed by the newly-commissioned Indian Coast Guard vessel Vishwast and the Japanese ship Settsu simulated a range of search-and-rescue, pollution control and anti-piracy operations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 30, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dabur to invest $ 20 m in Africa

Dabur India, a maker of personal care and food products, plans to invest about $20 million to build plants in Africa as competition intensifies in its home market.

Dabur’s international business, which contributes about a third of the company’s sales, grew 38 percent in the third-quarter to Dec. 31, excluding acquisitions. The growth was led by its business in Nigeria, where sales rose 33 percent.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Vice-President agrees to support Opposition coalition

The Vice-President, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, received leaders of the ’December 23 Coalition’ and reportedly agreed to abide by his "responsibilities as stipulated by the Constitution" and to support the coalition in their opposition of President Mohammed Nasheed’s rule.

Umar Naseer, interim President of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), later said that the Vice-President had agreed to lead the country and the people should the position of the President fall vacant for any reason. The Coalition had requested Dr Waheed to take over the ruling of the country and also called for the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) to pledge allegiance to him as the leader of the country.

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) retaliated to the Coalition’s announcement by accusing Dr Waheed of master-minding a coup. Thimarafushi MP Mohamed Musthafa said that by meeting with the Coalition, the Vice-President has betrayed President Nasheed, the Government and the people of the country.

Dr Waheed has been very vocal in his criticism of the Government in recent times, particularly since the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed, and thus finding favour with the Opposition parties.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Anti-Govt protests turn violent

Chaos is sweeping through the archipelago with the Opposition parties’ anti-Government protests taking a violent turn. The Opposition parties and supporters staged a protest against the arrest of the Criminal Court’s Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, who is currently in the custody of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), over the past two weeks.

The agitation turned violent with protestors attacking police officers as well as media personnel. Moosa Naushad, a reporter from Maldives National Broadcasting Company (MNBC), was seriously injured while covering the protest and has been sent abroad for treatment. A police officer was also injured when a fireball struck him, causing severe burns. It has also been reported that members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the members of the December 23 Coalition were attacking each other in clashes.

The Maldives Police Force has issued a media statement that it will exercise all legal authority to curb and stop the violence before it escalates into terrorism.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, January 27 -February 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Qatar Airways may stop flights

Qatar Airways has announced that it is considering discontinuing its operations in the country owing to the high handling fee charged by GMR India at the Ibrahim Naseer International Airport.

GMR India has planned a 51 per cent increase in handling fees prompting the Middle Eastern airline to consider ceasing its operations within the nation. Akbar Al Baker, the Chief Executive Officer of the airline, has urged the Maldivian authorities to carefully reconsider the proposed fee increase lest it hurt its tourism industry.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru, February 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Defence allocation down

The Finance and Revenue Minister, U Hla Tun had presented the annual budget that broadly echoed the on-going political reforms in the nation. To this end, the budget for the financial year 2012-13 has seen a hike in funds for health and education at the expense of the military.

The allocation for the military now stands at 14.4 per cent, down from 23.6 per cent last year. At the same time the combined expenditure on education and health stood at 7.5 per cent, up from 5.4 per cent of last year. For the financial year 2011-12 education sector received 4.7 per cent of the budget whereas health got a mere 2.8 per cent. Apart from this the Government has proposed an allocation of funds for salaries and benefits by a factor of two whereas infrastructure received an increase by a factor of 6.5 times when compared to the last year. At the same time initial reports on observations by Members of Parliament have said that the above figures could be as high as a factor of 4 times as n 8 times respectively.

According to the Government the nation at present owes $11 billion as debt. This includes debt that date from the era of Gen Nu Win (1962-1988). The national debt until 1988 was $8.4 billion and had risen $2.61 billion since 1988. until 1988 the largest creditor to Myanmar was Japan. Today this position is held by china. The government is currently negotiating with nations like Italy and Japan to overcome this debt.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January, 31 2012, February 2, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MoU for Singapore expertise

During a three-day visit by President Thein Sein to Singapore, the two sides signed a number of agreements that focussed on Myanmar tapping the city-State’s expertise on a broad range of issues and fields. It was President Thein Sein’s first visit to Singapore after the November elections, and the new agreements were in the areas of education, technical cooperation and also on economics.

The Memorandum of Understanding seeks to utilise the best practices of Singapore in trade, tourism and urban planning. Apart from this Myanmar also seek Singapore’s assistance on revitalising its stagnant economy. At the same time, the economic assistance rendered by Singapore includes measures that would strengthen Myanmar’s Central Bank.

At the World Economic Forum at Davos, Myanmarese Industries Minister Soe said that the Government was planning a eight-year tax-holiday for foreign investors in the country.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 28-31 and February 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cease-fire with NMSP

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) has reached a tentative agreement with the Government for a ceasefire with the Government. This came about after the second round of talks in the Mon State’s capital of Moulmein.

The two sides have yet to ink a formal peace/ceasefire agreement but have agreed in principle on the broad contours of it. The five-point understanding includes a cessation of fighting, the opening of liaison office by the NMSP, the demilitarisation of the demarcated areas, stationing troops of in predestined locations and a holding of talks with the Union Government.

According to the NMSP, the understandings agreed upon in the current round of talks could be made into a formal agreement once the Central Committee approves the points. The Central Committee is expected to make its decision by the third week of February, ahead of the next round of talks.

On the other hand, on the occasion of the Karen Resistance Day celebration the President of the Karen National Union Tamla Baw told supporters that the organisation will not relent on its struggle for self-determination despite the ceasefire agreement that it inked with the government. Tamla Baw also said the agreement with the government was an initial step towards its final goal. At the same time he also said that the KNU will team up with other ethnic groups in a bid to terminate military dictatorship.
< class="text11verdana">Source:,February, 1 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SRC fails to offer a way out

Amid dissent from a section of Constituent Assembly members, the State Restructuring Commission (SRC) submitted two separate reports to the Government on the federal model.

The major report includes the majority member’s suggestions with a corresponding note of dissent from the minority group, while the second report only includes the minority faction’s suggestions. The main report has recommended formation of 11 provinces with priority rights to dominant ethnic groups at the local level. The 11 provinces include Karnali-Khaptad, Madhes-Abadh-Tharuwan, Magrat, Tamuwan, Narayani, Newa, Tamsaling, Kirat, Limbuwan, Madhes-Mithila-Bhojpura and one non-territorial Dalit state.

The report prepared by the dissenting members has suggested to federate the country into six provinces ? two in the plains based on identity, history and culture, and four on the basis of economic viability. As for the residual power, they have advocated for the power to be vested with the centre, while the majority group wants the issue to be solved by either the centre or state depending on where the problem arises.

Like the political parties, the SRC members had huge differences on the names, number of states, priority rights, right to self-determination and structures of the government in a federal set-up.

The 11-Province model has been supported by the UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhesi Morhca. But some members of the Sherpa community have already denounced the report as they claim that the SRC has excluded Sherpa and Jadan states against the recommendation of the parliamentary report. The CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress too are dissatisfied with the report.
< class="text11verdana">Source:,, January 31, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to give Army copters

In a fresh effort to strengthen defence ties with Nepal, India has agreed to provide two helicopters to Nepal Army (NA) within this year to replace the two five-seater Cheetah helicopters, which are currently grounded. India gave the two Cheetahs in 2001 to crush the Maoist insurgency then. Nepal has been pushing for maintenance of those aircrafts since past few years.

Indian Defence Minister AK Antony made a commitment towards this during Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar’s India visit (January 17-21). Indian Army Chief Gen V K Singh is schedule to visit Kathmandu soon to sign a deal on military cooperation. Gen Singh will also attend a regional summit on disaster management and counter terrorism (between March last week and April first week) during the same time.

The Indian donation of helicopters will be the largest scale military aid provided to NA after the political change of 2006. India has also pledged to repair the grounded helicopters. India scrapped its military assistance to Nepal following the royal takeover in February 2005 and has not supplied any lethal weapons to the NA since then. It had agreed to resume supplies during the meeting of the Bilateral Security Consultative Group held in Kathmandu in 2009.

DPM Gachhadar has claimed that India is ready to resume all kinds of defence support, including lethal weapons, as required by the NA during his recent visit. He has also said that India has expressed commitment to provide three to four billion rupees for the construction of an academy for Nepal Police in Kavre. The proposal has, however, been opposed by Maoist lawmakers over the issue of appointment of a technical advisor from India. They have said that a foreign appointment in ’sensitive security installation’ is unacceptable.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, February 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Embezzlement charge against eight firms

A five-month long investigation conducted by Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI) has revealed that at least eight trading firms misappropriated a whopping two billion Nepali rupees (Rs 1.24 billion worth of Indian currency) through nine commercial banks on the pretext of imports from India, which never took place. According to reports, Rs 1.24 billion was embezzled by producing 2,341 fake Customs declarations.

Birgunj city-based branches of Shiddarth Bank, Laxmi Bank, Citizen Bank, Nepal Investment Bank, Nepal Bangladesh Bank and semi state-owned Nepal Bank Limited were also found involved in the embezzlement of Indian currency.
< class="text11verdana">Source: January 30, 2012.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan: Haripal Brar;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India: Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Astik Sinha and Aarya Venugopal;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: Preeti John;

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.