MonitorsPublished on Apr 27, 2008
Both internal as well as external skepticism about the Rajapaksa government's warmth towards 'hard-line' countries like Pakistan, China and Iran is bound to grow with the impending visit of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 16

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Hard-line policy

Both internal as well as external skepticism about the Rajapaksa government’s warmth towards `hard-line` countries like Pakistan, China and Iran is bound to grow with the impending visit of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad. The visit is expected to give a major boost to the Iran-funded hydroelectricity project and the agreement on oil refinery to handle Iran’s light crude, taking the Iranian investment to an astounding US $1 billion. Iran is the largest oil exporter to Sri Lanka. Israel has already shown its displeasure by issuing an ultimatum to stop arms supplies to Sri Lanka.

< class="maroontitle">Bailing the former Premiers stalled

Two significant events took place during the week. First was the Bangladesh Supreme Court barring bail in cases filed under emergency power rules. Second was the visit of Chinese foreign minister.

On  April 23, the apex court ruled that  no one facing charges under emergency power rules would be eligible for bail. This decision has special implication for the country’s politics as it virtually rules out  the two former Prime Ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, getting bails soon. Both the leaders were arrested last year. The issue is likely to generate considerable heat in the country as both  Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which Hasina and Zia head respectively, are gearing up to launch massive agitation to press for an early release of the leaders.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s visit on April 24  underlined  the growing influence of Beijing in India’s immediate neighbourhood. Mr Jiechi invited Dr. Fakruddin Ahmed, Chief Advisor of the present government, to visit Beijing later this year besides offering an elaborate free aid package worth 60 million RMB (Renminbi, the currency of the People’s Republic of China)—US $ 8.5 million approximately.

< class="maroontitle">Maoists to head new government

The political landscape in Nepal has undergone a dramatic change after the Constituent Assembly elections. The Maoists have won 120 seats in the First-Past-The-Post system and 100 seats in the Proportional Representative system. Altogether, it has bagged 220 out of the 601 seats in the Assembly, emerging as the single largest party but not enough to get absolute majority. It is, however, certain that they would lead the new interim government and the Maoist Chairman Prachanda likely to become the Prime Minister. They are likely to get the major portfolios in the Cabinet.

The Maoists have underlined the need for an all-party representation in the new government. They have called for a common political consensus to address some of the pressing issues. The group has urged the Unified Marxist Leninist to review the party’s decision to withdraw from the government while exploring possibilities to enter into some kind of alliance with the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum which has won quite a large number of seats in the Terai region.

The government-in-waiting has stressed on the need to bring the peace process to a conclusive end and has announced a slew of development policies. The first priority would, however, be the abolition of the monarchy. Top on the list would also be the smooth integration of Nepal Army and Maoist combatants.

< class="maroontitle">Victory for Gayoom

The war of words between the ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ended with the victory of Gayoom’s DRP. All the proposals put forward by the ruling party were passed by virtue of its majority in the Special Majlis. The way is now cleared for the Asia’s longest serving ruler Gayoom to contest election for two more terms. It was decided that the President and his Council of Ministers will remain in office during the transitional period. The date for the Presidential Elections was also fixed at October 10, 2008 after which the parliamentary and the local elections will take place, completing the entire process by July 2009. The ruling party also decided to set up Independent Commissions before the Presidential Elections to ensure transparency. Accepting defeat, MDP expressed the hope that the elections would be free and fair. Gayoom, however, lost no time to lambast the Opposition for delaying the constitution-making process.

< class="maroontitle">Truce with the Taliban

The new Pakistan government has decided to follow what President Pervez Msuharraf tried with the militants holding the tribal areas to ransom, and failed. One of the first commitments Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani made on taking over as the 25th Prime Minister of Pakistan was to review the Musharraf policy on dealing with terrorists and negotiate for peace with the Taliban and al Qaida elements. Ironically, Gillani’s peace route was no different from what Musharraf had taken in September 2006 when he made a pact with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar to call off the bloody pow-wow between the Army and terrorist groups. The pact allowed al Qaida and the Taliban to strengthen their hold over the tribal areas and bolstered their plans to expand their reach to `settled` areas like Swat in North West Frontier Province. The militants called off the pact when Musharraf launched military operations on pro-Taliban Lal Masjid in July 2007. Although Gillani and his ministers are claiming that they are talking to the Mehsud tribes, it is Baitullah Mehsud, self-proclaimed leader of the Pakistan Taliban, who has put forward some conditions for truce. He wants immediate withdrawal of the troops from the area and freedom to launch attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan. Mehsud is one of the prime suspects in the Benazir Bhutto assassination. Although the US and other western  nations are worried over this development, the Gillani government is all set to walk into the Waziristan with eyes closed tightly shut.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

      • Anjali Sharma                      – Sri Lanka, Maldives
      • Joyeeta Bhattacharjee     – Bangladesh
      • Paul Soren                           – Nepal, Bhutan
      • Wilson John                        –  Pakistan


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