MonitorsPublished on Jan 27, 2008
President Pervez Musharraf is doing what he likes to do best: promote himself. The week saw him on a whirl-wind tour of Europe--Belgium, France and Britain-addressing the media and others.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 3

< class="maroontitle">Musharraf Visits European Union

President Pervez Musharraf is doing what he likes to do best: promote himself.  The week saw him on a whirl-wind tour of Europe--Belgium, France and Britain—addressing the media and others. He had only one theme song: the elections would be held and it would be free and fair. He was emphatic in all his public appearances that “coming parliamentary elections would be free and fair and transparent’’. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he vowed to stop anyone from disrupting the elections scheduled for February 18.
Musharraf, in his own words, wanted to correct perceptions during his tour. One was about the fears of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists. He assured the European Union officials that the nuclear weapons were firmly under the military control and the fears were unfounded. Musharraf held discussions with several ministers and top political leaders of the region, focusing primarily on strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation in fighting terrorism. He was keen on assuring the EU leaders that Pakistan was a reliable and indispensable ally in the fight against terrorism but was handicapped by misperceptions and misunderstandings in the western capitals.

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Lingering  Conflict

The week was a grim reminder to the Sri Lanka government that unless serious efforts were made to defuse the internal conflict, the country would suffer immeasurably. The tourism industry, the country’s economic backbone, suffered a heavy blow when five major countries viz. Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia and Canada issued a travel warning to its citizens against visiting Sri Lanka. Though the Sri Lanka government maintained that it was a mere warning and not a travel ban, it cannot be denied that such a notice would cause immense loss to the exchequer.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) affiliated itself to the Muslim Congress of Britain (MCB). The MCB is reportedly a leading Muslim organisation in UK which is an umbrella body of over 500 national, regional and local organisations and runs mosques, charities and schools. According to SLMC General Secretary Hasan Ali, the affiliation would help them to seek support of the international community to maintain the identity of the Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The number of political parties in Sri Lanka rose to 58 this week when Election Commission registered 5 new parties in anticipation of the coming elections in Batticaloa district of the East. It marked the turning point in the history of the country when a paramilitary group Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP) was registered as a political party without first laying down its arms. US Ambassador Robert Blake expressed his concern that the free and fair polls might not be possible in the East if one party is allowed to bear arms and intimidate voters and contestants.

A high-level defence delegation from Pakistan arrived in Sri Lanka to hold talks over defence deals with senior officials. Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) chief also participated in the discussions attended, among others, by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. POF is Pakistan's largest conventional arms and ordnance facility and its 14 factories and four subsidiaries produce several varieties of armaments for export. With India reluctant to supply military weapons to Sri Lanka, the country is desperately looking for other options that could facilitate the supply of offensive as well as defensive weaponry. But Sri Lanka prefer to buy only small and light weapons from Pakistan as the arms in Pakistan are much costlier when compared with that of China.

The LTTE continue to reel under the severe shortage of man and material in its offensive for the separate Tamil Eelam. It was trapped from all sides by the Sri Lanka forces in the North. The land forces were ably accompanied by the Sri Lankan Navy that has heavily mined the underwater off the Sri Lanka coast to cripple the LTTE movement on sea. Sri Lanka Air Force bombed the X-ray base of LTTE which was believed to be frequented by the LTTE Chief Prabhakaran. LTTE is tight-lipped on the fate of Prabhakaran but Sri Lanka forces are confident that they have accurately hit the target.

With the battle in Sri Lanka almost entering the decisive phase, India kept its forces on the high alert in Tamil Nadu. The arrest of seven LTTE men from the State and a manhunt for 50 others point to India’s seriousness. A bit of warmth in the relations between Sri Lanka and India came about when India praised the efforts of the Rajapaksa government in dealing with the rebels.

In keeping with the aspirations of the Indian government and international community, the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) came out with the devolution proposals to Tamils. The Committee said the basis of the devolution proposals would be the 13th Amendment as recommended under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. However, as expected, the Tamils found it dissatisfactory and inadequate.
< class="maroontitle">Defusing Student Crisis

The Bangladesh government decided to adopt a softer approach to defuse the students’ protest by ordering the release of some students and teachers who were arrested for violating the emergency rules. On January  22, all four Dhaka University (DU) teachers, arrested after the student’s unrest in August 2007, were released.  Three of the teachers – DU Teachers Association President Dr. Sadrul Amin, General Secretary Dr. Anwat Hossain and Dean of faculty of Social Sciences Dr. Harun-ur-Rashid were granted Presidential mercy as they were convicted of breaking emergency rule and had been sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a Dhaka Court same day. The fourth teacher Prof. Nim Chandra Bhowmik, was acquitted by the court in the same case.  The President had also pardoned 10 students of Rajshahi University (RU) who were convicted in connection with student’s unrest which took place at RU in August 2007. The students had come out on to the streets in protest against the beating up of a DU student by some army men inside the DU campus. The Bangladesh Home Ministry said the government’s decision to release the teachers and students was a step to calm the unrest prevailing in universities

< class="maroontitle">Continuing turmoil in Tarai

The interim government in Nepal has announced April 10, 2008 as the date for holding elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA)..Success of the polls will depend on the overall security situation in the region and an early resolution of the Tarai issue. The Tarai parties have warned of a poll boycott if the government continued to ignore their demands. They want their grievances to be addressed before the elections.

The three big parties of Tarai, the newly formed Terai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) under Mahantha Thakur, Upendra Yadav-led Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), and Rajendra Mahato led Sadbhawana Party (SP) decided to build a working alliance to press for their demands. The new alliance has formed a taskforce to devise strategies to strengthen their movement. A faction of the Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) led by Jay Kishan Goit has agreed to join ther talks but under the supervision of the United Nations (UN). Another JTMM faction led by Jwala Singh,however, has chosen the path of violence to achieve its objectives.

What has caused immediate concern is the decision by the three Madhesi groups to launch an indefinite strike across the region starting from January 24. The strike has already crippled normal life in the eastern part of the country. Major towns in eastern region-- Janakpur, Dhanusha, Siraha, Mahotaari and Saptari districts—are reeling under the impact.. Most schools, colleges, market places and industries and road transport remained closed.

Though, the three Tarai parties have registered at the Election Commission (EC) to contest the polls, they are clear about contesting. They have threatened to wage a stronger movement if the Madhesi problem was not resolved before the polls, warning the government of a `civil war.

< class="maroontitle">Gayoom rules Supreme

The week started with the controversial sacking of the Presidential appointee Imad Solih from the People’s Special Majlis (PSM) for not toeing the ruling party’s line. In the past few weeks, Solih has emerged as a bitter critic of the Gayoom’s seventh presidential candidature. He defied the government whip on various issues including the passing of the ambitious 2008 budget. His alignment with the Opposition alliance was also one of the reasons for his dismissal. But no official explanation was given for his sacking. In his place, the youngest-ever Vice President of the Youth Wing of ruling DRP Ahmed Mahloof was appointed to the Special Majlis. The 27 year old Mahloof is known for his loyalty towards the party and most importantly, towards the President.

Another fact that has put the government in a spot was the unearthing of a top secret investigation named “Project Dodo” or “Project Factory” set up by President Gayoom to focus on counterfeit currency. An investigation was launched in 2007 against some top-notch government officials suspected of financial crimes like money laundering. But it was immediately suspended because the officials conducting the investigation were not receiving support and feared “the fate worse then dismissal”.

Another development was the approval of the composition of the Special Majlis. It was unanimously agreed that the Majlis will comprise two members from the 21 administrative sectors (20 atolls plus Male) plus an additional member for every additional 5000 people in the administrative sector.  Majlis will then have 72 elected members in addition to the eight members appointed by the President.

The new Majlis will not have any Presidential Appointees. As was the case with the earlier constitution, there shall be no Special Majlis to amend the constitution. The new Majlis shall be responsible for bringing about any change in the constitution, formulating legislations, to check and monitor the affairs of the government and the President as well as to make the government and the president accountable in accordance with the constitution. A proposal regarding the impeachment of the President was also approved by the Special Majlis. A two-thirds majority was needed to bring about such a proposal.

< class="maroontitle">CONTRIBUTORS:

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


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