MonitorsPublished on Feb 10, 2008
The series of bomb blasts killed 48 people between February 2 and 4 marred the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Sri Lanka's Independence from the British rule... The celebrations, held at Galle Greens in full public view despite repeated threats, were also marred by party politics when opposition parties including UNP, JVP and TNA refused to be a part of the procession.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 5

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">A blood-soaked Independence

The series of bomb blasts killed 48 people between February 2 and 4 marred the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Sri Lanka’s Independence from the British rule... The celebrations, held at Galle Greens in full public view despite repeated threats, were also marred by party politics when opposition parties including UNP, JVP and TNA refused to be a part of the procession.

The attacks opened up the Pandora’s Box when the US condemned the group for targeting civilian population and Rajapaksa ordered his troops to step up its operations three times to wrest the control of Wanni region from the rebels. The call for the “Final Battle” has already been given by the President with government authorities maintaining that the war in the North will be over within three to four months time. LTTE’s calling of the Northern theatre “Highway of Death” appeared to give the organization the false image of a battle-hardened force but in reality, it’s not the case. Though LTTE still has enough number of cadres to fight the government forces out, majority of them are the underage unwilling new recruits who are unaware of the battle hardships. Majority of their ships were drowned by the Sri Lanka Navy and of late, the group has also lost three of its aircrafts.

Though the Sri Lankan government asked India to take immediate action against LTTE taking advantage of the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet to attack its naval forces, it is a known fact that the Indian support to the Tamil rebels has been waning. Three persons were caught smuggling 700 kgs of coins to the LTTE in Sri Lanka by the Indian authorities. In the meanwhile, the Indian TV Network ‘Times Now’ reportedly claimed to have been spotted the LTTE Chief Prabhakaran’s wife Mathivathani in Kerala. If that be the case, there is a growing fear that LTTE might start using the Kerala Coast for its clandestine operations in India and Sri Lanka.                   

< class="maroontitle">Lift emergency, make way for polls

Bangladesh’s Election Commission (EC) urged the Caretaker Government to lift emergency by early March to ensure holding of the city corporation and municipality elections in April end. EC felt that lifting of emergency is an imperative for creating a congenial atmosphere for election, specially, in those areas where election will be held. It is expected that EC will hold elections to four city corporations and seven municipalities.  However, the ultimate decision lies with the government whether it relaxes the state of emergency or withdraws it completely. However, clearing all doubts about the time for the election for the national parliament ATM Shamsul Huda, Chief Election Commission, on February 3 said that EC could announce the date for national election only in September.  But, Awami League feels that this long waiting for the announcement of the date for national election could hamper the election roadmap earlier declared by the EC.  Zillur Rahman, acting Awali League President, felt that it would be difficult to hold election within 2008 if the schedule would be announced in September. Meanwhile, Fakhruddin Ahmed, Chief Advisor of the military backed Caretaker Government, on February 4 reassured his government’s commitment to hold election by December end this year.   

< class="maroontitle">HC declares case against Hasina illegal

In an epoch-making judgment, the High Court (HC) on February 6 had declared that the extortion case filed against Sheikh Hasina was illegal under emergency power. The case related to taking bribe from an entrepreneur Azam Jahangir Chowdhury for building a power plant during her regime (1996-2001).  Delivering the judgment, the Court said, “We have found that the authorities' action giving sanction of the case under EPR was without lawful authority. Because, the offence stated in the case took place before promulgation of the EPR. That is why sanction of this case under EPR is void.”  The Court had also found the proceedings of this case pending in the trial court to be illegal and quashed the case. This is significant as it may seal the fate of other cases pressed under similar circumstances.

< class="maroontitle">Maoist’s making tactical move

< class="maroontitle">The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) is making desperate attempts to pressurise the Nepali government and  to intimidate political rivals before the April 10 elections. Last week, in a major political decision, the Maoist party announced the revival of the United Revolutionary People's Council (URPC) people’s government. The Maoists re-constituted URPC central committee and appointed senior leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai as convener and Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Dev Gurung as deputy-conveners.

On February 6, Maoist party held a meeting of the URPC and decided to revive the people's government and resolve people’s problems at the district and local level. The Maoists claim that this will assist in holding of smooth elections and also extend support in development related works. Subsequently, the Maoists also announced to initiate model joint development projects in eleven autonomous regions.

According to the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and Maoists in November 2006, the Maoists had agreed to dissolve their parallel government. The recent announcement of reviving local government is a gross violation of previous peace agreements. The Maoists decision has also drawn criticism from several quarters. All major political parties strongly reacted to it and raised suspicion over the Maoists move. The parties termed the decision as violation of the peace accord and other understandings signed in the past. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) assisting in managing the arms and monitoring peace process termed the decision violation of earlier accords and questioned the rationalization behind it.

Over a period of time, the Maoists have lost their popular support base across the country and there is a growing realization that they may fair badly during the elections. Thereby, the Maoists are attempting to maneuver the local government by reviving their local body. Though, the Maoists have rhetorically stated to cooperate and participate in elections but their recent move has left scope for suspicion about their sincerity towards the peace process and elections.

< class="maroontitle">Secular vs. Taliban forces in Maldives

< class="maroontitle">Of late, increasing attempts to Talibanise Maldives were being made. The week saw an attack by the conservatives on the religious scholar and a liberal Dr. Afrashim Ali in a mosque immediately after the Friday prayers. The presence of media at the time of the incident clearly indicated the fact that the attack was pre-planned. Dr. Afrashim Ali was a controversial state Imam who had annoyed the conservatives when he said in an interview that singing was not un-Islamic. His way of conducting prayers were also disliked by the majority of the Maldivians and they used to leave the mosque when Afrashim conducted prayers.

Mohammed Nasheed, Maldivian Law and Information Minister, strongly condemned the attack by calling it an attempt by those who want to talibanise the Maldives. Being himself a lawyer, he lamented the lack of the well-trained jurists. In order to rectify the discrepancies of the existing legal system, Mohammed Nasheed unveiled his package of 87 bills comprised of Elections and Juridical package, Independent Commissions package, Fundamental Freedoms package, Administrative and Economic package, and Civil Justice and Social package. Though the opposition parties criticized the legal reform package as a time-consuming process, Nasheed was confident of carrying it through the Special Majlis at the end of February by marking them separately for public consultation and for the consultation with the political parties. The attempt is to westernize the Maldivian Law and make it more in consonance with the International standards.

The Civil Service Commission has also assumed its powers by a Presidential decree this week. It is going to be fully operational in May. The CSC is empowered to appoint, dismiss and transfer the civil servants and allocate their salaries and other remuneration. After assuming powers, the Commission set the retirement age of the civil servants to 65 and also prohibits them to participate in the party politics. However, both the directives came as a shock for the country which has no traditional retirement age and where the civil servants are the MP’s contesting elections and holding posts in various departments simultaneously.

Appreciating and praising India for its unconditional support during the time of national crisis, Gayoom arrived on a state visit to India this week. Calling India his all-weather friend, Gayoom said on board while talking to a media that enhancing bilateral and development ties and exploring new areas of cooperation were the top priorities of his current India visit. He also emphasized that now his country need big projects instead of small and medium ones as Maldives is now graduated from Least Developed Country to a developing nation. “Its time now to stop walking and start running”, Gayoom proudly asserted.           

< class="maroontitle">Is peace for real in South Waziristan?

< class="maroontitle">After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, military operations intensified in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan, a stronghold of wanted Islamist warlord Baitullah Mehsud and his al Qaeda and the Taliban allies. CIA Director Michael Hayden told The Washington Post; in an interview on January 18, that al Qaeda and allies of tribal chief Mehsud were behind the killing of Benazir on December 27. More than 300 people have died in militant related violence this year, much of it in fighting between Islamic militants and troops in South Waziristan, the stronghold of Mehsud. The Taliban received a major blow when top al Qaeda commander Abu Laith Al-Libi was killed in North Waziristan last week. Libi’s connections with local political and foreign militants cannot be discounted. The newly formed Tehrik –i- Taliban, led by Baitullah Mehsud, offered a voluntary truce with security forces on the condition that  the government stopped the offensive. Though the Army denied any backroom negotiations, the media reported government officials holding secret talks with militants and tribal elders for a ceasefire announced by the Taliban militants who have been fighting the Pakistani forces near the Afghan border. The call for an indefinite ceasefire is suspected to be a ruse for regrouping to concentrate on attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

Anjali Sharma                  –  Sri Lanka, Maldives
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee –   Bangladesh
Paul Soren                       –   Nepal, Bhutan
Rahul Mukand                 –   Pakistan   

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