MonitorsPublished on Mar 25, 2011
The removal of Prof. Muhammad Yunus from the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has left a dent on the image of the Awami League Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, both at home and overseas.
Row over the sacking of Grameen Bank chief
< class="heading1">Analysis

The removal of Prof. Muhammad Yunus from the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has left a dent on the image of the Awami League Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, both at home and overseas. It also appears to have also impacted on the popularity of the Government, which has been sliding.

’Father of the Microcredit Movement’ and Nobel laureate, Prof. Yunus was removed from the position of the Managing Director of the Grameen Bank, founded by him, through a letter from the country’s central bank on March 2. The Grameen Bank did not accept it and challenged the decision in the court. The Government, which holds 25 percent shares in the financial organisation, said that at 70, Prof. Yunus was no more eligible to hold the position as he had crossed the retirement age of 60 years, as per the law of the land. Besides, he had also failed to secure special permission from the Government to continue in the position beyond 60 years.

It is, however, said that the real reason behind the move is political vendetta. He was chosen for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, for the pioneering micro-credit scheme which is widely acclaimed the world over. In turn, and even without it, he is a popular figure in the country, having the Grameen Bank brought hope into the lives of poor people through innovative micro-credit schemes, benefitting more than 80 million members.

The popular belief is that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina envies Prof. Yunus for his popularity and his being chosen for the Noble Prize. Some reports claim that Sheikh Hasina had been lobbying for the Noble Prize. She felt that she was the only deserving candidate for the award from Bangladesh. Some analysts argue that Sheikh Hasina could not accept the fact that the Noble Prize instead went to Prof. Yunus. Validity of such an argument demands verification -- and it is not easy.

Prof. Yunus’ equation with the present Government has not been smooth. The discord with the Awami League had begun way back in 2007, during the military-backed caretaker regime, when he tried to launch a political party. Although the venture did not take off, he became a thorn in the eyes of the Awami League. The party could not accept it easily. The Awami League’s anger could very well be sensed from the fact that Prof. Yunus was being referred by the party as the sudhkhor (lender) in public rallies in 2007. Various stories also came to be published/publicised as to how the microfinance organisation was exploiting the poor. These stories hardly convinced people who termed them as exaggerated.

Ever since the Awami League came to power in 2008, media reports also began charging Prof Yunus with tax-evasion, benefiting kins by giving printing contracts of Grameen Bank to companies run by his family members, and the most significant of them, diverting Norwegian funds meant for the bank to a sister organisation without the knowledge of the donor. The Norwegian Government, however, refuted the report. This added ground to people’s scepticism. The belief is that most of these allegations were concocted and were a part of a conspiracy to malign Prof. Yunus and that the Awami League was a party to it.

Reasons for such doubts and suspicions arise from other factors also. In 1999, the Government had expressed reservations for granting service-extension to Prof. Yunus beyond the retirement age of 60 years. After that, the Government never raised any questions about his continuing in the position. His sudden removal after 11 years now has given ground to doubts about the Government’s intention.

The appointment of Mozammel Hoque as the Chairman of the Grameen Bank has raised further doubts. Some reports claimed that Prof. Yunus had written to the Finance Minister, suggesting a plan for his smooth exit and also mentioned names for his possible successor. The list included Saiduzzaman, Prof. Jamilur Reza Chowdhury and Khaled Shams. None of them was selected. Instead, the Government chose Hoque, a former General Manager of the Grameen Bank, who was believed to have not having good relations with Prof. Yunus.

This move is going to impact Awami League politically. The Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has gone to the people over the issue, and the response is said to be positive. In fact, this has sparked questions about Government’s sincerity in addressing various problems which the country is facing. People feel that in a country like Bangladesh when the country is struggling to deal with problems like poverty, unemployment, etc, why the Government was harassing someone of the stature of Prof. Yunus, who was working to improve the lot of the poor.

The international community has also criticised the Government over the un-ceremonial removal of Prof. Yunus. ’Friends of Grameen’, an international organisation, and the US have been open in their criticism. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, flew down to Bangladesh to discuss the issue. Looking at the present trends, hope is that the Government would learn its lessons from this episode.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bank, IMF stop $500-m loan

Expressing concerns over governance issues, including anti-corruption and telecom licensing, the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have decided not to honour over $500 million of budgetary support that they had promised earlier for Bangladesh.

Previously, the two international organisations had agreed to provide two concessionary loans or credit to the Government which were to be the first tranche of a $1.75-billion support that they had planned to give to the Bangladesh Government over next three years. The IMF was planning to provide a total of about $1 billion and the World Bank $750 million during this period. Now the Bank will give only around $150-300 million, after these issues are resolved.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The New Age, March 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US wanted Bangladesh gas for India

The WikiLeaks recently disclosed that the US was keen on India importing natural gas from Bangladesh to reduce the latter’s dependence on Iranian fuel. According to leaked WikiLeaks documents, the US Ambassador to India David C Mulford in a State department cable had written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on September 13, 2005, that her upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh could create scopes to "challenge India to take equally difficult steps in relations with Tehran".

In the cable, Mulford pointed out that there was little warmth to the India-Iran relationship, suggesting that India’s attachment to Iran could weaken as and when New Delhi was able to secure other energy sources (eg, gas pipeline from Bangladesh) and alternative access routes to Central Asia (eg, overland transit through Pakistan).
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 21, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Water supply, sanitation plan ready

The Government has finalised a 15-year plan for the country to improve water supply and sanitation for all. According to the plan, the Ministry of Local Government will ensure piped water supply and modern sanitation system by 2025, at an investment of $71 billion.

The Government plans to bear 55 percent of the total cost, while 28 percent would come from public utilities and the remaining 17 percent from the private sector, NGOs and development partners.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 22nd, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bhutan to join ILO

Bhutan’s accession to the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a member-State has been approved in principle. The Bhutanese Government has directed the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) and the Foreign Affairs Ministry to complete the formalities in consultation with the ILO.

Labour Minister Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi said joining the ILO would help in employment- generation policies and programmes, adding that the economy had reached a stage where there was a need to restructure the labour market which included reviewing the employment, productivity and wage arrangements.

The Minister said it was not necessarily to ratify or accede to all the conventions and the instruments. He justified saying that Labour and Employment Act was already in place and a number of regulations issued based on this law pertaining to labour and employment were provided in the Act.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Bhutan Times, March 20, 2011,Kuensel Online, March 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prime Minister denies ’cash for votes’

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that no one from his ruling Congress Party or the Government had indulged in any unlawful act as alleged by the WikiLeaks cable report. On the WikiLeaks cables, he said it was not possible for the Government to confirm the veracity or the contents of such communication.

In Parliament, the Prime Minister said he wanted to leave it to the good sense of the House to decide for itself on the report of the committee constituted to investigate the issue substantiated the allegations levelled by some Opposition members against the Government.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, March 19, 2011, The Hindu, March 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Oil companies threaten to stall fuel supply to Air India

Cash-strapped public sector airline, Air India’s woes worsened with oil companies asking for the clearance of daily bills for aviation turbine fuel (ATF) amounting to Rs18.5 crores. Air India is able to pay only Rs 13.5 crore of the daily bill. Total dues have mounted to Rs 2400 crores.

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said in a statement in the Lok Sabha that while Air India earned Rs 36 crore daily, its expenditure was Rs 57 crores. The most serious threat that could lead to AI being grounded, over non-payment of dues is coming from oil companies, but there are other vendors who have been asking for payment.

The Cabinet Secretary has called a high-level committee meeting involving officials of the Ministries of Civil Aviation and Oil, to find a middle ground which would also address the concerns of the oil companies.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, March 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NIA likely to take over all ’Hindu terror’ cases

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is likely to take over all seven cases relating to ’Hindu terror groups’ being probed by police in different States and also the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The Union Home Ministry had decided to hand over all the seven cases to the NIA, a draft notification to this effect, sent by it last week to the Law Ministry, is likely to be approved soon. The decision to hand over the cases to the NIA was taken after security agencies expressed concern that the accused could use differences in the multiple probe at the trial stage to dilute charges against them.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, March 24, 2011, The Indian Express, March 21, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India submits White Paper to US on visa fee hike

India has sent informal written communication as a White Paper citing its opposition to the hike in professional visa fees and also additional import tax on Government purchases from the US. New Delhi believes that such moves are a violation of the WTO guidelines.

The US had raised the visa fees by $2000 for all US companies which have more than half its employees on these visas. The increase which will be applicable until 2015 is expected to adversely impact the IT industry and some companies are expected to be paying $200 million annually due to the hike.

Analysts predict that such a hike could be against the GATS Agreement.Similarly, the two per cent excess duty on Government purchases from countries like India is seen as a violation of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause which stipulates that all nations be treated equally.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, March 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Charges slapped on Justice Dinakaran

A three-member committee comprising Justice AftabAlam of the Supreme Court, Karnataka High Court Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Senior Advocate P.P. Rao have issued a charge-sheet to Justice P D Dinakaran, at present Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, on 16 issues, including corruption, land-grabbing and abuse of judicial office.

Justice Dinakaran’s response has been sought by April 9. After his reply, there will be regular hearing and the order will be sent to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari.

The name of Justice Dinakaran, then Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, was recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court Judge in August 2009. But the proposals were stalled after allegations of land-grabbing were levelled against him. It was pending enquiry, he was transferred to Sikkim High Court.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, March 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Arson charge against police

There have been charges of indiscriminate killing, rape and torching of 300 villages by CRPF’s elite CoBRA battalion and the commandos of the State police who were on a five-day anti-Maoist operation in Dantewada district in Chattisgarh.

The allegations were based on interviews with the villagers of Morpalli, two hours from Chintalgarh in Chattisgarh. Dantewada District Collector R. Prasanna has ordered an enquiry into the incident.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, March 23, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Interpol launches Maldivian terror-hunt?

Local media has cited unnamed officials at Interpol, the international police organisation, as confirming that two Maldivian nationals suspected of involvement with Pakistani militant organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) were now wanted for planned attacks at the high-profile World Cup cricket tournament being held in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

Prominent regional media outlets such as the Times of India have claimed that Iqbal Mohamed, who had been arrested by police in early March on charges relating to a home-made explosive device attack in Male’ in 2007, was suspected of being part of an alleged terror-plot at the cricket World Cup. LeT was implicated in the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India.

The Haveeru newspaper said that Interpol representatives had confirmed that two unidentified Maldivian nationals were now wanted alongside four Pakistanis and an Afghan for alleged involvement in plans to strike the tournament, basing its claims on "reliable" information.

The report claimed that Interpol’s information had been based on the interrogation of several terror suspects it had arrested, which it was now using to collaborate with officials from South Asian nations like the Maldives over the matter.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru News Service

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New SAARC chief begins work

After assuming the post of Secretary-General of the SAARC, Ms UzFathimath Dhiyana Saeed of the Maldives began her introductory calls at the SAARC Secretariat in Nepal.

She met with the Nepal Foreign Secretary Dr Madan Kumar Bhattarai and conveyed her gratitude to the Nepal government for hosting the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu and for extending it their full support.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, March 21, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’India for peace to return before Statute’

Madhesi party leaders who visited New Delhi recently have said that there was a rising concern in the Indian establishment over the present state of Nepali politics with senior leaders and bureaucrats saying that the conclusion of peace process should precede the writing of the new constitution.

Concerns were expressed during the various interactions that the visiting Madheshi leaders of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) had in New Delhi.

The Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic) Chairman Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar said, "The Indian leaders agree that the peace process must be completed before the promulgation of the new constitution," adding, "they feel that the constitution must be written well within the extended deadline."

Gachchhadar along with Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party Chairman Mahantha Thakur sand Sadbhavna Party President RajendraMahato met with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary NirupmaRao on Friday (March 18, 2011). They also met Nationalist Congress Party President SharadPawar.

Visiting Madhesi leaders expressed concern over Maoist intentions saying that the democratic forces in Nepal were under grave threat. "When the present coalition rotates (the prime minister), the Maoist will capture state power," Gachchhadar said and added that "this is a matter of serious concern".
< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, March 20, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Carter visible on Nepal’s scene

Former US President Jimmy Carter is visible once again on Nepal’s uncertain political scene, writes veteran local journalist YuvrajGhimre in his dispatch.

Last week, Carter reportedly called upon three major actors -- Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, Maoist chief Prachanda and Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala-- asking them to do everything to have a new constitution delivered and the peace mission accomplished.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Express, March 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">RPP-Nepal to launch nation-wide protest

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Nepal (RPP-Nepal) has declared a nation-wide people’s struggle from March 29 for ’peace and guaranteeing the Constitution’.

The national conference of the central committee and the district chairpersons of the party, held for four days, announced the phase-wise programme for struggle with the slogan of ’New election for peace and constitution’, RPP-Nepal Chairman Kamal Thapatold a news conference later.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan, March 18, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sharing information on cross-border crimes

India and Nepal have agreed on sharing information on cross-border criminal activities and have decided to swap criminals wanted by either country, officials said on Saturday, March 19, 2011.

A high-level meeting of the coordination committee, comprising members from both countries held at Bhairahwa in Nepal on Friday, decided to help each other in arresting the most wanted criminals, they said.

District Magistrate of Mahrajganj V K Srivastava said there would be identification of citizenship during the cross-border movement to strengthen internal security for both countries.
< class="text11verdana">Source: DNA, March 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian hands over assistance

Indian Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood handed over a cheque of NRs 545.35 million to Deputy Minister of Finance, Commerce and Supplies, Energy and Irrigation Bharat Mohan Adhikari towards contribution for the construction of embankment along the Lalbakeya, Bagmati and Kamla rivers in Nepal as was decided by the India-Nepal Joint Committee on Inundation and Flood Management.

Separately, India has committed a grant of NRs 226 million for flood-protection works along the Gagan, Trijuga, Lakhandei, Sunsari, Kankai, and Kaligandaki rivers in Nepal. The flood-protection works along Trijigua, Kankai and Lakhandei rivers have been already completed.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese Army chief doles out $ 19.8 m

In a sign of growing proximity between China and Nepal, Beijing on Wednesday, March 24, 2011, made a commitment of NRs 1.42 billion ($ 19.8 million) in military aid to Kathmandu.

Two agreements to this effect were signed by Nepal Army Chief Gen Chatraman Singh Gurung and visiting Army Chief of People’s Liberation Army Gen Chen Bingde in the Nepalese capital.

This is the biggest amount doled out by Nepal’s northern neighbour as military assistance. China had earlier provided US $ 2.6 million in non-lethal military aid and communication logistics worth US $ 3 million.

Chen, who is leading a high level 15-member delegation, arrived, in Kathmandu on Wednesday afternoon on a three day visit at the invitation of his Nepali counterpart.

Chen’s trip, the highest level military visit from China to Nepal in more than a decade, is expected to boost ties between the two armies and address sensitive issues like handling of Tibetan refugees. The latest Chinese aid will include engineering equipment including heavy construction vehicles, medical equipment to NA’s military hospital in Kathmandu and logistics for rescue operations.

In a statement, Chen stated besides benefiting both parties, increased cooperation between the two nations would help towards "maintenance of peace, stability and development in the region".

During his stay, Chen would hold meetings with President Ram BaranYadav, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal and Defence Minister Bishnu Poudel.

Till now, India has been the biggest provided of military assistance to Nepal, but it stopped supplying lethal military aid since former King Gyanendra Shah’s royal take over in 2005.

Since signing of the peace deal in 2006 after 10 years of civil war, Nepal has sought weapons for training purposes. Though, Unofficial talks are on between New Delhi and Kathmandu, supplies have not yet resumed.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, March 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tibetans voting disallowed

Approximately 20,000 exiled Tibetans living in Nepal could not participate in voting held by the Members of the Tibetan-parliament-in-exile to elect the new prime minister called Kalon Tripa.

The report said that exiled Tibetan residing in Nepal could not participate in voting as Nepali authorities, reportedly acting under pressure from Beijing, did not allowing election as they believed it was an unlawful activity.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, March 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lowest GDP growth in South Asia

Nepal’s Gross Domestic Production (GDP) is lowest among all South Asian countries, according to a report release by Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) here on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

Nepal’s GDP is estimated to be 3.47 percent in last seven months of the current fiscal year. The estimation is far below than 12 percent of Bhutan, 6 percent of Bangladesh, 10 percent of China and 9 percent of India.

Making public the overall economic index of the current fiscal year, including GDP, Director of CBS Suman Aryal said GDP continued to go down as production of agriculture; tourism, hydropower, agro-forest and other sectors couldn’t increase.

In the current fiscal year, the agriculture sector and non-agriculture sector are expected to register 4.11 per cent and three percent increase.

In the industrial production index, production of soybean, biscuit, beer, jute, leather, paper, plastic, concrete, iron rod, GI pipe and electricity wire decreased, according to the statistics. The growth rate of mustard oil, paddy, wheat flour, readymade garments, lube oil, paint, medicine, soap, brick and other materials is negative.

Sector-wise hotel and restaurant sector is estimated to grow by 7.3 percent, fishery by 6.8 percent and transport communication and storage by 7.15 percent compared to the last fiscal year.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan, March 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to declare energy emergency

The Nepalese Government has unveiled a $ 275-million plan to end a long-time energy crisis within four years by building power plants and giving tax breaks for investors.The Himalayan nation has suffered from rolling blackouts of up to 14 hours a day because of its overwhelmed power grid, forcing many industries to shut down or reduce operations.

Private investors who help build hydro-electric power plants would be exempt from taxes and given a discount on royalties they pay the Government.

The Government also said it would provide special security for investors and enact laws to make it a crime to hamper energy projects, punishable by five years in prison.

Nepal generates only about half its electricity needs, and imported from neighbouring India is not enough to make up the shortfall. Construction of new power plants was for years hampered by a decade long communist insurgency, which ended in 2006 with a UN sponsored peace process.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Associated Press, March 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bettering one’s scores in IPR Index

Nepal ranked at the 120thposition with a score of 4.4 out of 10, putting it in the bottom 20 per cent of the quintile in the International Property Rights Index for this year.

The International Property Rights Index (IPRI) is a publication of the Property Rights Alliance, with sixty-seven think tanks and policy organisations in fifty-three countries involved in research, policy, development, education and promotion of property rights in various countries.

The report launched globally today was launched by the Samriddhi Foundation here in the valley today.

Compared to last year’s score of 4, Nepal has scored a little higher to 4.4 due to improvement in physical property rights but in overall property right status, Nepal has scored 3.2, in legal and political environment 5.8, in physical property rights and 4.1 and in intellectual property rights 4.1.

Flanking neighbours to Nepal ? Peoples Republic of China and India ? on the other hand have scored 5.5 and 5.6 respectively, making it to the list of countries, where property rights are better honoured.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan, March 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Christians demand designated burial grounds

Hundreds of people from Nepal’s minority Christian community have protested in Kathmandu to demand designated burial grounds.

In February, Christians were reportedly prevented from burying their dead in the grounds of the Hindu Pashpatinath Temple-which they have done for decades.

They say that there are only a few places where they can bury their dead in predominantly Hindu Nepal.
< class="text11verdana">Source: BBC, News South Asia, March 23, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Zardari calls for ’consensus politics’

President Asif Ali Zardari opened Parliament’s session by addressing the two Houses on March 22. Besides legislators, the event was attended by Chief Ministers and Governors of the four provinces, except Shahbaz Sharif, as well as chiefs of the armed forces. His speech, however, was marred by protests by Opposition parties, who twice staged a walkout. Among the parties that boycotted were Jamaat-e-Islami, JamiatUlema-e-Islam, Pakistan Muslim League ? Nawaz and Quaid factions and Muslim League (Like Minded).

Zardari, facing mounting pressure due to his Government’s failure to revitalise the economy, curb growing inflation and stop corruption, urged his colleagues not to indulge in politics of confrontation and reminded them that ’it only weakens democracy in the long run.’ He also suggested that the challenges facing the country require consensus, and that ’future generations will inherit (the challenges) if not addressed through collective wisdom.’ He also spoke against extremism and reiterated that Pakistani soil will not be used by terrorists against neighbouring countries.

However, the manner in which opposition parties boycotted the event reflects not only the absence of consensus among political parties but also demonstrated disunity among the opposition.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, March 23, 2011, The News International, March 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt in peace talks with Pak-Taliban

The Government has reportedly started negotiations with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella group of militias based in the tribal areas. According to the newspaper, the government’s recent attempt at forging a peace agreement is driven by the believe that local insurgents will be tempted to target Afghan forces once they take over security tasks from coalition troops, who are set to begin their exit from the country in July this year. In this backdrop, Pakistani security forces recently withdrew support to anti-Taliban militias, which resulted in increased attacks against these village defence forces.

Previously in 2004 and 2006, similar peace deals with local insurgents had a negative impact both in the tribal areas and in Afghanistan. In places such as South and North Waziristan, the peace deal led to the ascendancy of militia leaders at the expense of village elders, and paved the way for a parallel state with its own Shariah courts and system of taxation. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, the session of control to pro-Taliban militias resulted in a three-fold increase in violence in the adjoining provinces in eastern and southern provinces.

If the news report is true, it does not bode well for the region. The Pakistan army, sensing ’victory’ in regaining control over Afghanistan, runs the risk of reversing much of its counterinsurgency accomplishments by once again delegating monopoly of violence to non-state actors.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, March 21, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fresh wave of violence in Karachi

More than fifty people were killed in violence among rival ethnic and political groups in Karachi, Pakistan’s financial capital, during the past week. On March 20, fifteen people, including three activists of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and two Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) workers were killed in separate acts of violence. In most cases, motorcycle-borne assassins targeted workers of rival party. The same day, a protest sit-in by MQM workers during the funeral of a fellow worker turned violent when armed men clashed with Rangers, a paramilitary unit tasked to maintain law and order in the multi-ethnic city, resulting in the death of one person. Drive-by shootings continued in ethnically sensitive parts of the town such as Orangi Town and led to eleven more deaths. Later on March 24, eleven more lives were lost, resulting in a paralysis of daily life for residents of affected colonies.

Violence among rival groups in Karachi has increased over the years as MQM, PPP and Pashtun groups such as Awami National Party (ANP) clash for diverse reasons. While commonly attributed as ’ethic violence’, in reality however, much of the killings have been motivated by a combination of political contestation, land grab and ethnic conflict. Karachi, like any other South Asia metro, suffers from an acute shortage of land, which is exploited by the thriving land mafia, who in turn, cooperate with the ethnic-political factions in mutually beneficial arrangements. At the same time, PPP’s ability to mediate between the belligerents is constrained by its alliance with both the ANP and the MQM in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and Sindh, respectively.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, March 21, 23, 2011; Dawn, March 21, 23, 2011; The Express Tribune, March 21, 2011

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">LG polls: SLFP takes lion’s share, TNA comes second

The Left Party Alliance in the ruling SLFP-led UPFA has won 71 seats at the March 17 Local Government polls. The UPFA secured 1,839 seats at the polls with the SLFP winning at least 1,600 slots.

UPFA General Secretary Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premjayantha told The Island that the SLFP had obtained as much as 80 per cent of the total number of seats secured by the ruling coalition. Minister Premjayantha said that there was absolutely no basis for the UNP’s claim that it had obtained the best results as a single political party at the LG polls. The UNP had secured 892 slots, whereas the SLFP had obtained about twice that number, the minister said.

The SLFP-led UPFA emerged victorious at Thursday’s LG polls winning 205 of the 234 Local Government authorities. The ruling coalition polled 3,338,401 votes (55.65%), while the ITAK, aka TNA, obtained 70,171 votes (1.17%) to secure 12 LG bodies (76 slots)

The UNP came third winning only nine local authorities in spite of a major propaganda campaign spearheaded by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and his bête noire Sajith Premadasa, MP. The UNP won 31 LG bodies in 2006.The UNP obtained 2,032,891 votes (33.89%), while its erstwhile partner, the SLMC polled 88,592 votes (1.48%) to take control of four LG bodies but as an active partner in the ruling combine.

Communist Party veteran senior Minister Dew Gunasekera told The Island that winning 71 slots hadn’t been an easy task due intense rivalry among partners. "The Left Party Alliance secured 71 seats in 44 LG bodies in 15 electoral districts," Gunasekara said. He said the LSSP (32 members), CPSL (31) Democratic Left Front (04) and Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (04) had 71 slots among them. They had sponsored some of their nominees as Independent Left candidates due to the rejection of nominations, he said.

Senior Minister TissaVitharana told The Island that the Left Party Alliance had done well under difficult conditions. The National List MP said that they were grateful to the electorate for backing their candidates. The Left Party Alliance won 8 seats in Western Province, 26 in the South, 20 in Sabaragamuwa, 2 in Uva, 4 in Wayamba, 4 in North Central, 3 in Central and 4 in Eastern Province.

The National Freedom Front, the MEP, Jathika Hela Urumaya, National Congress and the SLMC won about 150 slots.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, March 19, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ranil retains UNP leadership

The months long-tussle in the Opposition United National Party (UNP) for leadership ended with Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe retaining his position as the party leader, and Mr.Sajith Premadasa, who aspired to be the leader, finally agreeing to be deputy leader. Mr.Premadasa will also act as the deputy to the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

The party will amend its constitution to create two posts of deputy leader to be filled by Mr. Premadasa and Mr. Karu Jayasuriya. The UNP Working Committee (WC) met for three days.

According to the UNP constitution, party’s top five office-bearers, including its leader should be appointed through a secret ballot unless there is consensus among the members. Mr. Premadasa had vowed on several occasions to contest for the leadership along with Mr. Wickremesinghe.

At the working committee meeting, Mr. Wickremesinghe announced his candidacy for the leadership, and it was seconded by MP D.M. Swaminathan. At this point, Moneragala district MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara proposed the name of Mr. Premadasa for the candidacy, but no one seconded it. Eventually, Mr. Premadasa rose on his feet, and said that he was prepared to accept the deputy leadership as proposed by some party seniors the previous day.

The WC approved the creation of a second deputy leader’s post to be offered to Mr. Premadasa. Party sources said that the affairs of the party’s youth wing, women’s wing and some grassroots level organizations would be placed under the purview of Mr.Premadasa.

After the meeting, Mr. Bandara told Daily Mirror that Mr. Premadasa in fact wanted to take the leadership of an undivided party, and therefore the outcome of the meeting was satisfactory. "Mr. Premadasa did not want to create rifts in the party and take the leadership," he said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, The Island

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karzai announces security transition in July

President Hamid Karzai announced transition of security from foreign troops to Afghan forces in seven regions from July. Speaking to newly commissioned cadets at the National Military Academy on March 22, Karzai identified most of Kabul province, all of Panjsher and Bamyan; Herat city, Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand, Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman and Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh as locations of the first phase of transition.

The incumbent leader asked the international community to help raise the strength of the Afghan National Army to 370,000. Currently, Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police stand at 150,000 and 120,000 troops. He also noted that complete transfer to security and development tasks to Afghans will take time, indicating that the transition is likely to be staggered over years.

Taliban insurgents downplayed the event and termed it a ’symbolic act to deceive the people’ and said that ’it won’t help resolve the main problem, which is the occupation of Afghanistan by foreign forces.’
< class="text11verdana">Source: Panjwok, March 22, 2011; The New York Times, March 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US ’kill squad’ taints coalition forces

US Army went on damage-control after the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel released images of its soldiers posing with corpse of Afghans they had earlier killed. It emerged that the victims of the grotesque, and politically damaging act, were in fact civilians who were killed in mock encounters by what US officials have described as a ’rogue kill squad’. The killings took place in Kandahar in January, February and May 2010.

Given the rising frustration against collateral damage, US army quickly convened a court-martial and sentenced the key figure, Corporal Jeremy Morlock to twenty four years in prison. Morlock pleaded guilty and will assist investigators in identifying others involved in the murder of three civilians.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Al-Jazeera, March 24, 2011

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kaustav Dhar Chakraborti;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & India: Akhilesh Variar;
Nepal: Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N SathiyaMoorthy;

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