MonitorsPublished on Nov 10, 2008
In a major turnaround, the two former Prime Ministers and bitter rivals, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda, have agreed to meet each other. This is a significant event as both of them have not been on talking terms for nearly two decades.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 45

< class="maroontitle">Battling Begums prepare for talk

In a major turnaround, the two former Prime Ministers and bitter rivals, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda, have agreed to meet each other. This is a significant event as both of them have not been on talking terms for nearly two decades. Their personal animosity has had considerable influence over the country’s politics. The country’s interim administration for long had been trying to arrange talks between the two leaders. Details of the meeting like time,  venue and agenda were yet to be decided. There are some differences between the party leaders about the modalities of the discussions. While Begum Zia is keen on keeping the talks open, Hasina would like the issues to be decided in advance.  Awami League suggested that both sides must discuss ways to make the election fair and credible, and a pledge to accept the election results and not resort to violence or strikes if they are in opposition. It is also suggested that the talks should be televised live so that people can know what they agreed to, and what they have not. 

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Army closing in on LTTE

The Sri Lankan Army is closing in on its final destination, Killinochi, a LTTE stronghold 350 kms north of Colombo, after regaining control of a strategic town, Pooneryn, from the rebel group last week. LTTE had the control of the town for over 15 years. Pooneryn was considered the last defence of the rebel group which had been steadily losing ground to the armed forces. A jubilant government declared a week of celebrations-- Ranaviru Upahara week"-- to honour the military victory. The impending defeat of LTTE has raised fears among the Tamil community about their future in the island nation. The Indian Tamil parties have been demanding an active intervention by the Indian government in Sri Lanka.

< class="maroontitle">Prachanda’s diplomatic forays
Nepal seems to be keen on expanding its external relations at the international and regional level. Following his visit to China, the US and India, Prime Minister Prachanda, accompanied by Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav, Water Resource Minister Bishnu Poudel, Chief Secretary Bhoj Raj Ghimire and Water Resource Secretary Shankar Koirala visited New Delhi on November 13, for the second time, to attend the second meeting of the BIMSTEC Summit. On the sidelines of the Summit, he met with the leaders of BIMSTEC countries, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and called upon them to invest in Nepal’s hydro-power projects and assist in its development effort.
During the bilateral talks with his Indian counterpart, Prachanda urged India to release the Nepali Maoist cadres languishing in the Indian jails. There are about 20 Maoist cadres serving terms in Patna jail. The two leaders also discussed the disputed Susta and Kalapani and other border issues. The two disputed border areas are of immense strategic interest to India. On this occasion, India also raised the problems faced by the Indian companies like United Telecom Limited (UTL), Dabur Nepal, and Unilever, among other companies, operating in Nepal’s Terai region. The frequent labour strikes and continuing turmoil in Terai has brought these companies to a complete shutdown.

< class="maroontitle">Search for new home

Of all the challenges facing the new President, Mohamed `Anni` Nasheed, the most critical perhaps is the threat to his homeland from the rising sea levels in the near future. President Nasheed revealed that his government would be pursuing the possibility of relocating the population. ’We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens, ` he said. Maldives, a  group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, faces threat of submergence by rising sea levels caused by global warming. The Maldives government has been talking with several countries, including India, about buying land. Australia is one of the options. Eighty per cent of the Maldives’ 1,200 islands, of which 200 are inhabited, are less than 1m above sea level. Studies have warned that Maldives, with 380,000 residents, could be submerged within 100 years.

< class="maroontitle">Waiting for IMF bailout

Pakistan awaited the final nod from IMF for the $9 billion loan it had assured early this month, and the meeting of the Friends of Pakistan, in the coming days, to find a toe-hold to stop the country from being dragged into the quicksand of economic collapse. Pakistan needs about $10b to $15b as support from foreign lenders to prevent it from facing a balance of payments crisis. Pakistan’s foreign reserves are said to be falling at the rate of $1b per month and are enough to cover a few weeks of imports. Inflation rate has reached an all time high of 25%, government borrowing from the central bank has squeezed the liquidity from the banking system. Appeals for aid by Asif Ali Zardari to international community  (broadly China, the US and Saudi Arabia) has only resulted in a $500m aid by China. The global financial meltdown is partly the reason why these countries are reluctant to lend money to Pakistan, the other reason being the failure of Pakistan to adopt a policy of economic reforms. So serious is the problem that President Asif Ali Zardari does not miss any opportunity to plead for money. Speaking at the UN “Culture of Peace” conference in New York, Zardari could not resist seeking the forum’s help in persuading the international community to help resource-depressed nations like Pakistan which are engaged in fighting extremism.        

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

Anjali Sharma                                           – Sri Lanka, Maldives
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee                           – Bangladesh
Paul Soren                                                 – Nepal, Bhutan
Kaustav Chakrabarti, Aashti Salman  – Pakistan


The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.