MonitorsPublished on Apr 13, 2009
To mark the beginning of the Tamil and Sinhala New Year celebrations in the country, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa announced a two-day unilateral ceasefire in the Northern Province. The truce declaration was also aimed at providing safe passage to civilians trapped in the "no-fire zone".
South Asia Weekly Report 67

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Sri Lanka declares two-day war truce

To mark the beginning of the Tamil and Sinhala New Year celebrations in the country, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa announced a two-day unilateral ceasefire in the Northern Province. The truce declaration was also aimed at providing safe passage to civilians trapped in the ‘no-fire zone”. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), however, rejected this offer and continued with its offensive in a bid to salvage the remaining 14 sq. km of area under its control. The international community, including India, while welcoming the ceasefire declaration urged the Sri Lankan government to extend it further in view of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country.

Meanwhile, a four-member delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a pro-LTTE Party, visited New Delhi and met the Indian National Security Advisor, M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon to seek Indian support for the Tamils suffering in Sri Lanka. The Indian External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee expressed India’s concern over the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils but he ruled out any active Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. In a significant development, the Sri Lankan government ended the Norwegian peace negotiators’ involvement in the ongoing peace talks between the government and LTTE. The decision was taken in the aftermath of an attack on Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo by LTTE’s supporters. The Sri Lankan government accused the Norwegian government and police for failing to arrest the culprits despite the whole incident being video recorded. It is possible that this will adversely affect the peace process in Sri Lanka.

< class="maroontitle">Parliament deadlock ends

After two weeks of political deadlock, the parliament resumed its session after the Unified CPN (Maoist) and Nepali Congress leaders signed an agreement on April 15. Earlier this week on April 12, the Maoists and CPN-UML had signed a 9-point agreement to ease tensions between the two ruling partners. The House proceedings had   stalled after district chairman of the Maoist affiliated Young Communist League (YCL), Sujit BK killed an UML activist, Prachanda Thaiba in Butwal. Following the incident, the UML boycotted the parliamentary session and demanded that the guilty be arrested. The NC followed and accused the Maoists of abandoning the democratic path and taking the law into their own hands and taking unilateral decisions on important issues. It also demanded implementation of past agreements signed between the NC and the government.
The political deadlock forced Prime Minister Prachanda to assure the NC and UML that the government will take major decisions only after consulting them. He also promised to return the properties seized by the Maoists, end the paramilitary structure of the YCL and take action against those involved in the Butwal incident. Although Prachanda has shown flexibility by agreeing to the demands of the UML and NC but his ability to meet the demands is still under doubt.

< class="maroontitle">Shiv Shanker Menon’s surprise visit

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, paid a surprise visit to Bangladesh on April 12. During his two day visit he had discussions with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Foreign Minister, Dr. Dipu Moni, Army Chief, General Moeen Ahmed and Foreign Secretary, Touhid Hossain and the entire range of India-Bangladesh relations was discussed. Not surprisingly, the Foreign Secretary’s visit prior to India’s general elections triggered speculations in that country. 
The major outcome of this visit was India’s invitation to Bangladesh to send a delegation to visit the construction site of the proposed dam at Tipaimukh in Manipur. Bangladesh has been opposing the construction of the dam on the ground that it will eventually dry up the Meghna River which is fed by the Barak River on which the dam is proposed to be constructed and, which is a major source of water for eastern Bangladesh, mainly Sylhet. India believes that the visit of Bangladesh’s delegation at the construction site of the Tipaimukh Dam will help them to understand the ground realities and minimise fears about water shortages in the future.

< class="maroontitle">Nasheed following predecessor’s footsteps

Contrary to what he had earlier suggested, the Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed made it clear in one of his interviews that he had no intention of announcing mid-term elections in 2010. The actual motive behind the announcement when it was made in a run up to the Presidential polls was to enhance the “electoral appeal” of the President Nasheed who was then a novice and was lacking popular support to win the presidential elections. Now with the government having a comfortable majority, a decision to convene mid-term elections would only lead to a political instability in the country.

The ever-increasing number of presidential appointees which includes senior political advisors to the president and the others who work in presidential palace as a household staff generated a heated debate among the members of the Majlis. It was pointed out that there are as many as 538 presidential appointees in the current dispensation whereas their numbers were much less (440) under the previous regime. This means that a top-heavy administration is adding to the financial woes of the country. Though load-shedding was one of the main planks of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party manifesto to which President Nasheed belongs, so far he has not been able to do much on this front, mainly to maintain his popular support.

< class="maroontitle">Zardari Signs Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009
President Zardari introduced the Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009 in the National Assembly on April 13. The bill was approved unanimously with the exception of Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) which abstained from voting. By introducing a legislation concerning Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) in the National Assembly, the President took the unprecedented step of breaking constitutional protocol, purportedly for the sake of ‘building national consensus’. According to the 1973 constitution, laws for PATA are enacted by the Executive and not the Legislature.  From now on, the entire Malakand Division along with parts of adjoining Kohistan will be governed under Shariah rule.
Now that Shariah has been enacted, Pakistan’s practice of bracketing pro-Taliban militants into ‘white’ and ‘black’ and making peace with the moderate elements is going to be put to test.
Two possible scenarios could emerge, depending on the scope and duration of army’s deployment. The government could retain troops in Swat, strengthen the local police force and implement already allocated development projects. A carefully planned Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of ex-Combatants (DDR) program will make peace a more viable option for the disaffected youth and isolate militants allied with al-Qaeda.
On the other hand, depleted security will most certainly enable Mullah Fazlullah to resume his campaign of religious vigilantism, carry out reprisals against government collaborators and sabotage development projects. If this is allowed to happen, Malakand division, which comprises one-third of NWFP’s landmass, will eventually become a safe haven from where al-Qaeda and its surrogates will mount attacks on Islamabad, Kabul and New Delhi. Donor countries exercising a degree of leverage must persuade Pakistan’s leaders to ensure that the Malakand does not become another Waziristan, not least for their own security.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

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