- Jan 29 2018
Afghanistan: Confusions cloud peace process
“We know from the past 40 years that bullets don’t stop war.”, said an Afghan when interviewed recently by a reputed UK daily. Wars in Afghanistan have gone on for too long. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that continued military operations are unlikely to bring peace to the war-torn country.
Afghanistan has been America’s longest enduring war but it has been a war that America has yet been unable to win. Thus, it must be realised now that war can no longer be an option in Afghanistan, and the solution lies in a peace process. But the peace process between the Talibans and the Afghanistan government seems to be stalled, if not regressing. The reason for this may primarily be the immense confusion and lack of clarity and information that is engulfing the peace proceedings at every step. These may be understood as the following:
US President Donald Trump has promised additional troops for Afghanistan, to assist the Afghan-American military. This may seem to be a blessing for the under-resourced and under-equipped Afghan commanders in the frontline areas who are desperate for foreign support. To the contrary, some reports have suggested that the White House is considering the lowering of troops-strength presently deployed in Afghanistan and there is this fear that additional military assistance might trigger more insurgencies.
As violence only instigates more violence, peace talks are unlikely to begin with promises of greater military assistance being made to one party. But either side would welcome foreign troops though for entirely different reasons, one for reinforcement and the other as an excuse to increase insurgencies. Hence the US course of action must be clearly stated with the view in mind that only a negotiated peace can end such hostilities.
Confusion of incoherence
The presence of several factions within the Taliban group and the lack of coherence in the Afghan government prevent either side from taking a united stance and thereby further delays the peace process. This fragmentation within the two parties was reflected in the unofficial discussions held in Turkey earlier this month.
Under the aegis of the Turkish government, an unofficial discussion was underway between the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, the political party founded by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Talibans. However, an Afghan government spokesperson stated that the Afghans who met Talibans in Turkey did not represent the Afghan government. On the other hand the Taliban spokesperson also reported that Talibans who interacted in this meeting were not representing the insurgent group but were members of some factions of the main group.
Adding to the confusion, certain circles are viewing this as an attempt by reality extremists to usurp the peace process. After all, a discussion held between two radical groups is likely produce an extremist political agenda contrary to Afghan interests. Another interpretation gives the idea that perhaps Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan who has been favourable to Hekmatyar in the past is hosting the discussion as a tool to secure Turkey’s own interests in Afghanistan. But the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan believes that the meeting may be the stepping stone for official negotiations.
The Afghan High Peace Council has seconded this view and hopes that the discussion will lead to future talks. The government too seems more favourable towards Hekmatyar loyalists after the discussions despite denying participation there. However, for the peace proceedings to successfully progress, both the Afghan government and the Talibans must clarify their representations.
The government must clarify if it recognises the Hezb-e-Islami to be a part of the Afghan political system. In the context of the Talibans, Mawlawi Abdul Rauf, a governor during the Taliban regime, recently announced that he was allowed to speak on behalf of all the Taliban factions. If this is found veritable, then it must be understood as a representation of the actual Talibans. This will significantly ease the initiation of peace talks, as no confusion will remain regarding the participation of the Afghan government and the actual Talibans and who are interested in intra Afghanistan peace talks.
There is still hope that some Taliban leaders can be made to see reason quit terrorism and agree to peace talks. The Afghan government, however, must be flexible in dealing with the Taliban demands and patient with the peace process. The government seeks a dignified resolution of the Afghan conflict.
However peace negotiations and talks will only succeed when there is clarity and communication between and within the two parties. A mutual and public recognition of what comprises both the sides is therefore necessary. Thus, to build a safer Afghanistan, the Afghan government and the Talibans must engage in mutually beneficial peace negotiations putting aside their internal differences and leaving no room for confusion.
(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter)
Maldives: Does international mediation still has place in an election year?
N Sathiya Moorthy
Independent of hopes to the contrary in the camp of a self-exiled predecessor, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, that international mediation of whatever kind could help, there seems to be little or no hope that the Maldivian system under incumbent Abdulla Yameen would accept the former contesting the nation’s presidential polls that are due by November this year. If anything, the Maldivian voter may even end up seeing any legitimate change-of-mind on Yameen’s side as ‘political weakness’ ahead of the all-important polls, as happened to half-brother adversary, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose yielding democratic ground in 2008 led to Nasheed defeating him in the much-hyped and less controversial presidential polls that year.
Nasheed’s international lawyers have once again urged the UNHRC to rule that their popular client’s trial in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ was bad in international law, as according to them, the trial court had rushed through the proceedings, and did not give his client adequate time and dependable legal assistance to prosecute his defence effectively. Be it as it may, even as the last-minute conversion of an ordinary criminal trial into a ‘terrorism’ case did cause eyebrows to raise, there was/is no denying Nasheed’s complicity in the ‘abduction’ of Criminal Court Chief Judge Mohamad Abdulla, when the former was still President in mid-January 2012.
If anything, appellate courts in Maldives have already rejected the pleas of Nasheed’s co-accused in the case, including then Defence Minister, Tholath Ibrahim, and ordered their serving out their long jail-terms, handed down by the trial court. The prosecution has also reopened the case against then Male area army commander, Brig-Gen Ibrahim Didi, after his case was separated from those of the rest when he developed serious heart-ailment, requiring emergency overseas travel for urgent medical treatment. Didi is at present an MP belonging to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the current court records in the case indicate that the prosecution would seek to make out an equally strong case against the former as with the latter.
Even granting that the Nasheed’s trial per se was a travesty even under Maldivian law, there is still no prohibition from the courts re-trying the case under the criminal law, if the prosecution chose to do so, immediately thereafter. Nasheed has also caused a piquant legal situation for himself by restoring to self-exile in the UK when his appeal was still pending before the nation’s Supreme Court, that too after obtaining ‘medical leave’ from his 13-year-long prison-term.
The alternative would have been for Nasheed to have gone through the motions of the Supreme Court proceedings and lived with the verdict, whatever it be, but all within Maldives. At the time, the international community could have talked Yameen into commuting Nasheed’s prison-term, even if it had meant that legally the latter might not be able to contest elections. As a free-bird in Maldivian legal and constitutional terms, he could still have worked with the international community for the restoration of his civic and political rights and his return home to be able to contest the presidential polls.
By not returning to Maldives and the prison, instead, and also by ignoring court directions in the matter, Nasheed now also faces ‘contempt of court’ charges, which may be exclusively in the domain of the nation’s judiciary – and as President, Yameen could shrug his shoulders that he was helpless, should the international community intervene on behalf of the former President. Why Nasheed could still have applied for the ‘medical leave’, which in some circles is caustically dismissed as ‘diplomatic ailment’, after the Supreme Court verdict, so that there would have been fewer cases and minimal violations against him, compared to now.
In seeming desperation, Nasheed seems to be committing one political blunder after another, not understood by his western friends – and possibly unknown to them, too. Given to instant reactions of over-stated self-importance, Nasheed has continually been talking about IS terrorism coming into Maldives in a big way, but without being able to convince his countrymen that the Yameen leadership and Government were colluding with them, unlike with his own western allies – governments, political parties and individuals.
On the ground, however, Yameen has drawn the distinction between not-discouraging Islamic fundamentalism and positively discouraging Islamic extremism and terrorism of the IS kind, involving Maldivians fighting on the Syrian front. This has also meant that the Government has been continuously coordinating with other nations in the region to bring back prospective IS recruits where identified and blocked in overseas airport check-in counters.
The Maldivian Government has also been coming down on those that come in the way of ‘moderate Islam’ or those practising the same, including women who continue to wear western clothes and no wear the Islamic ‘hijab’, or full head-cover. Yet, there is no denying that in the absence of positive discouragement of punitive police action kind, fundamentalist groups are known to be persuading individuals and families to ‘fall in line’, especially in terms of their dress code and other religious and social practices.
What the West does not know possibly still, but the average Maldivian has known all along is that not only is the Maldivian Government through all times has been trying to stall Islamic extremism even while not curbing Islamic fundamentalist religious practises, including ‘persuasive’ preaching in the neighbourhood. It was so under President Gayoom, which Nasheed convinced the international community, was bad for Maldives and South Asia as a whole. But then, with no extremism or terrorism in the air at the time, Nasheed’s MDP continued to hobnob with the ‘fundamentalist’ Aadhaalath Party (AP), then as now. Today, the AP, whose leader Sheikh Imran is serving a 10-year prison-term on ‘terrorism charges’ continue to be an ally of the MDP, though the party has lost the war for ‘Islamic identity’ to unnamed IS-linked groups and individuals, but without any help from Nasheed in any which way.
Nasheed also landed himself in a lesser trouble more recently after his remarks against large-scale Chinese and Saudi investments in Maldives came to be interpreted/mis-interpreted as his wanting to stall the nation’s development, if only to please anti-China sections in the international community that have been backing him to the hilt in domestic affairs. In a recent news conference in the neighbouring Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, Nasheed clarified that he was not against foreign investment into Maldives, but was only against the Yameen leadership compromising the nation’s ‘sovereignty’ in the allocation of islands for business development to Chinese firms, most of them ‘fronts’ of the Beijing Government, in political terms at the very least.
Independent of Nasheed’s accusations, all Governments in Maldives starting with the one led by late President Ibrahim Nasir had leased the nation’s islands for foreign investors to develop ‘luxury tourism, with full guarantee of repatriation. In the three-plus years of his presidency, citing inherited economic ills, Nasheed only extended the existing lease-period of resort-islands from 40 years against the original 50 years, against a higher down-payment and annual lease fees. If anything, the ‘December 23 Movement’ rallies that led to Nasheed’s untimely exit from office in early February 2012 was based on his Government allegedly compromising the nation’s ‘sovereignty’ to the GMR Group of India, over the Male airport expansion-cum-concession contract.
In the midst of all this, the court trying a ‘bribery case’ Gayoom’s parliamentarian son, Faaris Maumoon, has granted him bail, under the condition that he would not seek to influence witnesses, nor leave capital Male without court permission, apart from appearing before the court whenever required. Incidentally, these were the kind of conditions, some of which Nasheed was seen as flouting when facing trial in the ‘Judge Abdulla case’, though no one is drawing any parallels at the moment.
The options before Yameen for winning a‘re-election’ are obvious. The easy way out is to have Parliament amend the laws and Constitution, for him to have a easy way out, or a less risky poll process to face. In his time, Gayoom had a law that said that only candidates cleared by Parliament could contest the presidential polls – where he would be the only candidate, and would secure over 90 per cent of the votes cast, all the time.
While Yameen had got Gayoom and another strong Opposition leader in Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim (now in self-exile in Germany while serving a prison term) disqualified on a new age-bar rule, that too with MDP’s help in Parliament, his eagerness to see Faaris too behind bars seemed to suggest that he was possibly more uncomfortable than anticipated in facing a ‘credible candidate, even if only half as popular as he is, an much lower than Nasheed, the nation’s single-most popular electoral candidate. But Faaris’ inexplicable bail seems to suggest that Yameen may still be keeping his options open, and by having a relatively ‘light-weight’ candidate but with half-brother Gayoom’s blessings and family identity, he may hope to sow seeds of discord and divisions within the rival camp, more than anticipated by their supporters nearer home and sympathisers elsewhere!
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)
Terrorist plot foiled
A lethal terrorist attack planned on Jalalabad city was recently foiled by the Afghan security forces. Asrarullah, a Taliban member has been arrested by the intelligence operatives while he was transporting heavy weapons to the city in preparation of the attack. No insurgent groups have yet taken responsibility of the planned attack. This was the second attack in Jalalabad, the first being a coordinated ISIS attack on Save the Children office, earlier this week, which killed four people.
Suicide-attack in Kandahar
The Kandahar city in Afghanistan recently shuddered under the impact of an explosion in a suicide attack. No insurgent group has yet claimed responsibility of the act. This comes as the security situation in Kandahar was increasingly getting better though it is still subject to terrorist related insurgencies and counter attacks by the government. Provisional police has confirmed that one person died and four others were killed but the local hospitals report four dead and almost ten injured.
For Noor, chief executive of Jamiat-e-Islami, the international community will have to face dire consequences for not intervening in the political deadlock between him and the Afghan government regarding the political leadership of the northern Balkh province. It was their responsibility due to their commitment to fight against terror, rule of law and good governance. US however opined that this dispute should be resolved internally and in a manner which gives the Afghans confidence in the new governor.
Six individuals supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist networks in Afghanistan were declared Special Designated Global Terrorists by the US Department of Treasury. They were accused of being involved in smuggling and financing terrorist groups. Their interests and properties which are subject to US jurisdiction have been blocked and US citizens are forbidden from transacting with them. This comes as a part of President Donald Trump’s South Asia Strategy of disrupting terrorist organizations and exposing individuals facilitating them.
The development in Bangladesh has been more inclusive than many of its neighbours in South Asia, indicates World Economic Forum's Inclusive Development Index's (IDI) list of emerging economies. Bangladesh has been ranked 34th in the IDI list while other South Asian countries ranking comprise India in the 62nd place, Pakistan 52nd, Sri Lanka is 40th. The IDI scrutinizes the economic performance of 103 annually and measures how countries perform on 11 dimensions of economic progress in addition to the GDP. It has three pillars- growth and development; inclusion and; intergenerational equity -- sustainable stewardship of natural and financial resources.
The repatriation of the Rohingya refugees is likely to take more time than expected. The return of the refugees to Myanmar was scheduled to begin this week but some procedural work, including finalisation of the list of families, and setting up of repatriation camps are waiting to be completed. The authorities in Bangladesh refrained from giving any specific date for the community to pressurise the government of Myanmar in this regard. Around 6.5 lakh Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following violence in August last year.
Panel on power guidelines
India has set up a special task force committee, headed by the Power Secretary of India, to address Bhutan’s concerns over its Cross Border Trade in Electricity guidelines (CBTE). The committee was set up on December 29 last year and is expected to present its report and recommendations by the end of February.
Duty re-fund from India
India has declared a total excise duty refund (EDR) of Nu 4.001B (billion) to Bhutan for 2016, yesterday in Thimphu. The refund is an increase of Nu 1.084B from the previous year. Bhutan received Nu 2.91B as EDR for 2015. The increase is due to improved recording of imports data and maintenance of documents in a manner desired by GoI delegates.
PMO raps corruption
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has asked the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate, Yeshey Zimba, the former Works and Human Settlement Minister, of official misconduct, and policy corruption.
Military power on display
India on Friday celebrated its 69th Republic Day displaying the country’s cultural diversity and military power. The ten heads of ASEAN states were invited as the Chief guests to the occasion. This also comes at a time when India-ASEAN celebrated 25 years of their partnership.
Fewer troops in NE
The Home Ministry will conduct a “security audit” in the Northeast and chalk out a plan to reduce the number of Central armed police force personnel deployed there. It is being said that the insurgency related incidents in the Northeast had come down to 308 in 2017, the lowest since 1997. This gives impetus to such a move.
Opposition’s bid to unite
The Opposition parties would be meeting on Monday to plan a contest with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the coming elections, said the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief, Sharad Pawar. Earlier Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) Sharad Yadav (rebel JD-U leader), D. Raja (CPI), Hardik Patel (Gujarat’s Patidar leader), Dinesh Trivedi (Trinamool Congress) and Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress) along with Pawar were part of the “save the constitution” march in Mumbai.
All eyes on Budget
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will announce the national budget for 2018-19 on 1 February. It is being speculated that the budget will be a populist one keeping in the mind the 2019 general elections. It is being speculated that the government will sale assets in order to raise revenues.
Nasheed says he is not against FDI
In the neighbouring Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, self-exiled ex-Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed said that he was not against foreign investments in his country, but was opposed to ‘selling’ the nation’s sovereignty in its name. Nasheed was referring to increasing Chinese and Saudi investments in Maldives even as his supporters urged the UNHRC to declare his ‘disqualification’ from contesting this year’s presidential polls in the country violated international law.
‘No’ to oppression
The four-party Joint Opposition (JO) in the country was working not only for the overthrow of the incumbent government of half-brother President, Abdulla Yameen, but also to ensure that no government in future can be ‘oppressive’, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said. Mauoon’s parliamentarian-son Faaris, following court-ordered bail pending delayed hearing into charges of bribing other MPs to vote against the Yameen leadership, meanwhile, has urged the government to free all political leaders held prisoners.
Two groups join ceasefire
The New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union will be the ninth and tenth signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. For the first time, ethnic armed organisations have acceded to the accord since eight initial non-state signatories joined the previous government and military in formally agreeing to its terms over two years ago.
UN for rethink on Rohingyas
The UN refugee agency and other groups have urged a rethink of the plan to send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar amid fears of forced repatriations and the inability of aid agencies to ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands who fled bloodshed at home.
US rap fighter sales
The US has called upon Russia and Myanmar on January 25 to reconsider a reported agreement for the supply of Russian fighter planes to the South-East Asian country.
Civil servants take charge
Amidst anticipation for the formation of new government in the country, the Ministry of General Administration (MoGA) took upon itself the task of accelerating the process of employing civil servants. At the very outset itself, 561 employees have been positioned for the Provincial Assembly Secretariat and also the Office of the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers in all the seven provinces. There would be a further recruitment of around 1500 officials by the next week for the Provincial ministries as well.
Road-link with China
Sino-Nepal friendship yet again sealed its triumph through the completion of the Galchi-Syafrubesi road-link. To be operationalised from mid-April, this road would be the shortest distance between China and Kathmandu. The Army of Nepal has played an instrumental role in the construction team and it will be handed over to the Department of transport by the third week of April. This is indeed a project of national pride and appreciation.
Coal power plant in Gwadar
China Power Company is to set up a 300-megawatt power plant for electricity generation at Gwadar. In a meeting with Provincial Minister for Environment and IT Prince Ahmed Ali Ahmedzai, the head of the power company declared that the Plant will provide free electricity to the fishermen in the coastal regions. The company also plans to set up a de-salinaation plant to provide safe drinking water in Gawadar.
Protection from India: PM
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has stated that his country has to protect its sovereignty from two of its neighbours, especially India. He declared that Pakistan has developed counter measures against India’s aggressive Cold Start Doctrine and is also prepared to face nuclear aggression from India. According to the PM, normalization of India-Pak relations will require resolution of the core Kashmir issue as per UN principles. He also stated that till now Pakistan has followed a policy of restraint towards Afghanistan and India.
The Foreign Office has condemned the drone strike in the Kurram Agency by Resolution Support Mission denouncing it to be a unilateral action by US. The strike reportedly killed a commander from Haqqani network and two of his accomplices. But, according to Pakistan’s statement an Afghan refugee camp was targeted, however, it did not talk about killing of terrorists. FO spokesperson Dr. Faisal emphasized upon the need for sharing actionable intelligence between US and Pakistan for effective counter measures.
President Sirisena ‘undecided’ yet
Playing hard to get on the subject, President Maithiripala Sirisena has said that he was undecided as yet on contesting the 2020 presidential polls, due possibly by end-2019. At the same time, Sirisena also continue to fire from all cylinders on the Central Bank bonds scam, hitting out at his UNP partners in government and also the predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, of which he was very much a part.
Reclamation, SL ‘territory’
Setting at rest all speculation, Megapolis Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka has said that President Maithiripala Sirisena would declare 269 hectares of sea-reclamation, forming part of the China-funded ‘Colombo Port City’ project, as Sri Lankan territory. Work on the $ 1-billion project involving three high-rise buildings with 60 floors each, to house a Financial City, but with special tax, rent, lease and administrative arrangements, will commence in June, the Minister said.
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Afghanistan: Sohini Bose
Pakistan: Mayuri Banerjee
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale
India: Ketan Mehta
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy
Nepal: Sohini Nayak