MonitorsPublished on Dec 07, 2009
The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on Sri Lanka released this week recommends that the US needs to adopt a fresh approach to this South Asian nation owing to its strategic importance in the Indian Ocean region.
South Asia Weekly 101
Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia" >US Senate report recognises Sri Lanka as a strategic partner
The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on Sri Lanka released this week recommends that the US needs to adopt a fresh approach to this South Asian nation owing to its strategic importance in the Indian Ocean region. The report, also known as the Kerry-Lugar report, observed that Sri Lanka is located at the crux of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia and, thus, is critical for American interests. The report also observed that since US has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, focusing more on the issues of the Tamil refugees and civil society, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West. It is one of the reasons for Sri Lanka’s growing intimacy with the non-western hawkish nations like China, Myanmar, Iran and Libya. Other recommendations of the report include a broader and more robust US approach towards Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and US geo-strategic interests, continuation of de-mining efforts in the Northern Sri Lanka and promotion of people-to-people reconciliation programmes throughout the country.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia" >The 5th National Council of BNP

The fifth national council of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was held in Dhaka this week. The council is significant to the country’s politics. It reelected Begum Zia as the chairperson of the party and also extended her term for three years. It also facilitated return of Tarique Rahman, Begum Zia’s eldest son, to the country’s politics by electing him as the vice chairman. Interestingly, the post of vice chairman was created for the first time. Tarique was a joint secretary of BNP earlier. Tarique’s elevation to the post of vice chairman led to consolidation of his position in the party. The vice chairman has been entrusted to take over the reigns of the party in the absence of the chairman and to assist the chairman in managing the activities of the party.  Significantly, the council had a long discussion over the present Awami League government’s policies towards India. The issues that found prominence were maritime boundary dispute, offshore gas block lease, India’s move to construct Tipaimukh Dam, transit to India through the Asian Highway. Terming such policies as against the interest of the nation and it’s people, Begum Zia accused the ruling party of making policies unilaterally on such issues. She threatened to launch a resistance movement if the government continued with such activities.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia" >MDP membership increases; DRP loses
As per the Election Commission, Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has increased its membership in the past few months due to a sustained recruitment campaign. As of December 10, 2009, the party’s membership stood at 28,995 members as against the rival Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s tally of 30,215 members. If the MDP maintains this pace, it will soon overtake Gayoom’s party. The DRP, however, questioned the recruitment tactics of the MDP as “being forced upon the people in atolls”. DRP put the number of “sincere” MDP supporters as “not more then 2000”. The growing MDP popularity among the masses can also be gauged by the fact that in the May parliamentary elections, the MDP won a total of 48,000 votes or 31 per cent of the votes polled, while the Gayoom’s DRP got 39,000 votes or 25 per cent of the total vote share.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia" >Islamabad grants greater economic autonomy to the provinces
The 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) on Friday (December 11) increased the quantum of federal budget allocated for provinces from 47 percent to 56 percent. The award, the first in 13 years, was announced by Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen who also heads the NFC. The commission earmarked an additional Pak Rs 83 million for Balochistan to facilitate the recently announced reconciliation process. Further, the provinces agreed to assist North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in reconstruction and development of insurgency hit areas. The distribution was decided on the basis of population, poverty, revenue collection and inverse population density. Resultantly, Punjab received the lion’s share (51.74 percent), followed by Sindh (24.55 percent), NWFP (14.62 percent) and Balochistan (9.09 percent). Even though Punjab continues to dominate over the other provinces, Islamabad’s decision to grant greater economic autonomy to the provinces and commit greater aid to disturbed areas is a move in the right direction.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia" >Contributors

Anjali Sharma - Sri Lanka, Maldives
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee - Bangladesh
Kaustav Dhar Chakraborti - Pakistan

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