MonitorsPublished on Jun 23, 2008
Pakistan is struggling with two monumental crises--one is political and another is terrorism. On the political front, there is a prolonged drift with PPP and PMLN not quite willing to move forward from their respective positions.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 25

< class="maroontitle">Battling twin crises

Pakistan is struggling with two monumental crises--one is political and another is terrorism. On the political front, there is a prolonged drift with PPP and PMLN not quite willing to move forward from their respective positions. Both are in fact jockeying for survival. The challenge before PPP is to sustain the coalition for a reasonable period of time while Nawaz Sharif is keen to pull it down once he is elected to the National Assembly. He knows that political fortunes might change rapidly in Pakistan if Zardari were to, with Yousuf Gillani, keep Pakistan together, and resolve some of the economic problems at least, even if it were to seek the help of Uncle Sam. On the western front, Pakistan   is faced with the spectre of militants taking over Peshawar which has propelled the Army to launch a strong offensive in Khyber Agency where militant groups have had a free run since 2006. Although the Army wants to push the militant away from the settled areas, the real challenge looming before the Gillani government, and the Army would be how far can they go in fighting the militants?

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Indian visit draw ire

The week started with the visit of a powerful Indian trio--National Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh to the island nation which left many perplexed as the real purpose of the visit remained shrouded in mystery. The adverse reaction arose not only from across the borders by ultra-nationalist Janata Vimukti Peramuna but also within India itself with Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam General Secretary Vaiko blaming India for equipping Sri Lanka with military hardware to carry out genocide against Tamils. In a faint bid to clear the air, President Mahindra Rajapaksa told the Cabinet Ministers meeting that all was well with India which was quite positive about the appointment of a Tamil as the Chief Minister of the Eastern Sri Lanka.

< class="maroontitle">Koirala steps down
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala announced his resignation at the parliamentary meeting of the Constituent Assembly (CA) on June 26 when the Fifth Amendment bill was tabled for discussion. Soon after, Koirala urged all political parties and other stakeholders to continue to maintain the unity till a new Constitution was drafted. He urged the Maoists to initiate the new government formation process based on consensus and abide by the Constitutional provisions. Koirala will formally tender his resignation to the new President.
Notwithstanding Koirala's decision, there is no sign of an early end to the political stalemate. The three Terai-based parties obstructed the CA proceedings and demanded that the government include the 8 point-agreement signed between the government and Terai parties in the amendment proposal. The Terai proposal includes "One Madhes Province" and recruitment of Madhesis in the government departments. The Terai parties have also threatened to start an agitation if their demands were not met. In fact, the Seven-Party Alliance and other communities from Terai were vehemently opposed to the proposals. These conflicts are bound to prolong the political deadlock and delay the process of government formation in the country.

< class="maroontitle">Elections to local bodies

The country geared up for elections to local bodies beginning early August. The grass root leaders of different political parties have started preparing for the elections immediately after the official announcement last week. Major political parties, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami League (AL) have reservations about the elections.  While BNP and JI have threatened to resist the local body polls, AL first criticised the decision to hold the local elections before the national parliamentary election but on June 26 consented to participate in the elections for city corporations with certain conditions--permanent release of party chief Sheikh Hasina, withdrawal of emergency and release of arrested party workers.   Jatiya Party of former military ruler HM Ershad has decided to take part in the elections.

Meanwhile, BNP and AL demanded the holding of parliamentary elections in October this year. The government rejected their demand on the ground that the final voter list was yet to be completed and said the elections would be held as scheduled in December. In another important development, the government decided to relax Emergency 21 days before the date of election of the local bodies to enable parties to carry out campaigns. 

< class="maroontitle">India the biggest import destination

India has emerged as the biggest source of import for Bangladesh, leaving behind  China. According to Bangladesh Bank (BB) data, the country has imported goods to the tune of $2,292.12 million from China as against $2,454.83 million worth of goods from India during July2007 –March 2008. China constitutes 15 percent of the country's total imports and India 16 percent. This year the country imported most of its essential commodities from India.

< class="maroontitle">Postponement of elections likely

The Presidential elections are likely to be postponed from October to December following criticism by the leader of the Social Liberal Party Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) that there was little time to complete the electoral formalities necessary for free and fair elections.  The government, however, ruled out a postponement. The week also saw the completion of the New Constitution of the Maldives after four years of hard labour. The President of Maldives pledged to ratify it next week. The new Constitution is more democratic and less President – centric as compared to the current Constitution.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors

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


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