MonitorsPublished on Jan 20, 2008
An unlikely crisis is causing headache to already besieged President Pervez Musharraf and his caretaker government. It is not Osama's men or the Taliban which is troubling Islamabad the most but the scarcity of wheat flour across the country.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 2

< class="maroontitle">Wheat Flour Crises

An unlikely crisis is causing headache to already besieged President Pervez Musharraf and his caretaker government. It is not Osama’s men or the Taliban which is troubling Islamabad the most but the scarcity of wheat flour across the country. The short supply of wheat has led to galloping prices which has created a lot of anxiety and anger among the people who see it as another failure of the Musharraf regime. So wide and intense has been the public protest that the Army had to be called in to protect the granaries, wheat flour mills and shops. So unprepared was the government that instead of finding a quick solution, it launched a blame game, accusing smugglers and hoarders for the price rice. The government machinery also chose to put the blame on the international market for a fault which was entirely the undoing of the administration. Long power cuts and transport problems only added to the woes of the public.
The real problem was in overestimating the production. The Punjab government, ruled by PML-Q, projected a wheat procurement figure of 23.3 million tonne, which was above the domestic requirement of 22 million tons, and allowed wheat export to support the domestic price. But the calculations were wrong and exports were quickly stopped after 0.5 million tonne had crossed the borders. One million tonne wheat was imported during the summers to bridge the gap between demand and supply but  barely 100,000 tonne were imported in October, triggering the crisis which only helped the smugglers and hoarders to hike the price of wheat from Rs 12 per kg to Rs 25-30 a kg.
The government should have immediately launched action against the hoarders and smugglers but it did not, allowing the prices to shoot up and cause widespread public protest. PML-Q blamed its opponents for creating the crisis while analysts believed that it was the Musharraf which wanted to divert public attention from the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">The fall and “fall” of LTTE

Breaking a week long silence, LTTE expressed its shock and disbelief over the government’s decision to unilaterally abrogate the five-year old Ceasefire Agreement and announced its intention to continue with the agreement and respect its provisions in total. To please the Co-Chairs comprising the US, UK, Japan and Norway, the rebel outfit also asked Norway to continue with its role of a peace negotiator.

The Sri Lankan government, however, rejected the truce offer put forward by the Tamil Tigers as they called it the tactical move to rearm and regroup. The government claims proved right when LTTE massacred 26 people many of whom were the school-going children in the Buttala bus blast and 10 people the following day in a village outside Colombo. This despite the announcement made by LTTE’s political chief P.Nadesan (to a BBC correspondent) that they attack only military targets. The week witnessed several bomb blasts in the southern areas of the country, especially near Colombo to terrorise  civilians and to prevent military victories in the north.  

While Tokyo expressed concerns over the termination of the CFA,  India wholeheartedly supported the Sri Lanka government’s military action against the  terrorist group. But  attempts to involve India in the peace negotiations proved futile as India scrupulously avoided being a party to it. Expressing his firm resolve to put devolution proposals in place soon, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an interview with the “Walk the Talk” programme on NDTV admitted that only the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 provided the best solution for the resolution of the ethnic conflict.

Sri Lanka Navy Commander Vive Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda expressed his gratitude towards Indian Navy with whose help they destroyed within one year more than 10,000 tonnes of material belonging to the Tigers which could be used for waging a war against the island nation. Back home especially in the South, Indian Naval wing’s admission of having helped Sri Lankan Navy in countering LTTE’s activities on sea was greeted with immense displeasure.

< class="maroontitle">Former Prime ministers’ corruption cases

Uncertainty mounts over the fate of Sheikh Hasina Wazed, detained former Prime Minister and Chief of Awami League, as she was formally charged of corruption by a Dhaka Court on January 13. In a separate case on January 14, a Dhaka court also issued an arrest warrant against Sheikh Hasina for her alleged involvement in the Barge mounted power plant scam. Meanwhile, the caretaker government has reaffirmed  its intention to hold elections; Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, Chief Advisor of Bangladesh’s military-backed government said on  January 11 that the main objective of his government was to hold free, fair and credible general elections. The government also agreed to hold dialogue with political parties following the Council of Advisors’ decision on January 10 to seek the cooperation of political parties in ensuring a free and fair election. Informally the process has already begun and some advisors contacted senior Awami League (AL) leaders. But the prospective outcome would depend on how the government responded to the AL demand for their leader’s release.
Meanwhile, negating all speculations the Chief of Bangladesh Army, General Moeen U Ahmed, on January 16 said he had no intention to grab power or to become the country’s President.

< class="maroontitle">Nepal Gearing Up for Polls

Nepal is finally gearing up to hold the much-talked about Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. On January 11, a cabinet meeting held at the Singh Darbar fixed April 10, for the CA polls. Senior leaders of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), mainly the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) approved of the decision. The elections had been deferred twice due to differences between the SPA leaders and the violence in the Terai.

In fact, after the election date was announced, the Election Commission (EC) decided to bring into effect the election code of conduct. The SPA, however, requested the EC to put off the code of conduct for some more weeks arguing that they need time to implement the 23-point pact. In a positive move, the SPA leaders have also expressed their commitment to hold the polls on the fixed date. They have already started their campaign to convince people to support and participate in the polls. Similarly, the agitating parties from Madhes and other Janjati political groups have also shown their willingness to participate in the April poll and have applied for registration with the EC. By and large, this is a positive indication and it appears that at least the major political stakeholders would work for the success of the electoral process.
There are some reasons for apprehension though. The two factions of Janatantric Tarai Mukhti Morcha (JTMM), an armed group from Terai, and the less known National Defence Army (NDA) which claims to be pro-monarchy, are creating havoc across the country. The JTMM cadres are continuing with terror activities, extortion and abduction. On January 14, the NDA cadres hurled a bomb on a vehicle carrying Maoist cadres near the venue of a mass meeting at Bhotahity in Kathmandu. Senior leaders of the SPA have expressed grave concern over this incident and have stated that coming three months would be really crucial for Nepal. On January 18, at a press briefing in Kathmandu, Maoist chairman Prachanda claimed that an attempt to assassinate senior leaders in Nepal cannot be ruled out. Despite all positive indications there are disgruntled groups in the country who intend to create obstacles for the upcoming polls.

< class="maroontitle">Economy in Deficit

Several new amendments found place in the new Constitution which gave an impression of Maldives being a free country steadily making its advance towards democracy. The changes allowed candidates of all registered political parties to seek presidential office in the upcoming multi-party elections and barred some individuals seeking the highest office of the country. In a similar vein, the members removed the gender bar that prohibited women from contesting the Presidential elections. Though the move was a welcome sign for the country that boast of its state-sponsored moderate Islam, it was widely criticised by many political parties including Maldivian Political Party and conservative Adaalath Party as against Sharia’h. There are speculations that the move could not be of much use to the Maldivian women as not many of them are politically active and even if they do come out, not many people would vote for them. At present, there are only two women legislators in the Majlis. The office of Vice President was also introduced for the first time to assist the President and performs his duties in case of latter’s absence.

In an apparent change of stand, opposition parties that were clamouring  a month back for the transitional arrangements, did a U-turn when they emphasised the need for independent commissions in the areas of elections, judiciary and media despite their extensive campaigning for a more radical interim government. While admitting defeat on one front, the opposition parties claimed victory on the other when a Bill limiting the terms of the Presidential Office to two was passed in the Majlis. There enthusiasm was however, belied when the ruling DRP declared the Constitution as the new one and not the amended version of the old Constitution whereby all the earlier six terms of Gayoom presidency became void. Under the new Constitution, Gayoom is well within his rights to contest for two more terms.

In a bid to make the system more transparent, the speaker of the Special Majlis decided to make the names of the members not attending the sessions, public. The absence of the legislators often led to the lack of quorum in the House and consequent delay in the legislative business. In another case, four policemen were sentenced for one year for torturing and beating a man held two years ago. The complaints against the police atrocities are increasing day by day, though the authorities reject them as false allegations.

Maldivian economy witnessed a downfall in its Gross Domestic Product to 6.6% in 2007 from 19.1 % the previous year. The fall was accompanied by a doubling of inflation from 3.5 % in 2006 to 7% in 2007. The World Bank also warned that “pressure of unsustainable fiscal deficits” could “offset or potentially roll back” Maldivian development gains. International Monetary Fund predicted a rise of 23.9% of the budget deficit in 2007 which was just 1.9% in 2004 and 7.3% in 2006. A decline in the fisheries sector was held responsible for the drop in growth. Nevertheless, the government predicts resurgence in growth to 9.5 per cent in 2008, fuelled by ever-increasing tourist numbers and a booming construction industry.

< class="maroontitle">CONTRIBUTORS:

Anjali Sharma                       - Sri Lanka & Maldives
Joyeeta Bhattaccharjee    - Bangladesh
Paul Soren                            - Nepal, Bhutan
Rahul Mukand                      - Pakistan

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