MonitorsPublished on Sep 13, 2013
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) chief ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections in Sri Lanka, Justice C V Wigneswaran, could not have said it more candidly and categorically.
Sri Lanka: A strident message across the Palk Strait
< class="heading1">Analysis

Last month, the security forces of Bangladesh unearthed the existence of a new terrorist group called Ansar Ullah Bangla. The discovery of this group surprised many since the country for a few years has been having an active counter-terror operation in place. The existence of this group raised doubts about the counter-terror measures which the ruling Awami League often boasts as its major success.

Till now, the popular belief had been that the government’s counter terror initiative was able to help dismantle terror networks, which had proliferated in the country since the turn of the century. The absence of major incidence of terrorism-linked violence, particularly after the Awami League formed the government in 2009, gave credence to this belief.

However, the timing of the discovery of the group has caused concern as only a few months are left for the parliamentary elections. The fear is that the group might carry out subversive activities prior to the election, expected in January, and this might have implication for the country’s politics. Considering these concerns, it is necessary to understand this new group, its objective and ideology, leadership, cadre-base, area of activities and influence, linkages, etc.

Four-stage mission

Ansar Ullah Bangladesh is claimed to have started its activities under the banner of a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) in 2004. The group used to operate under the names of different NGOs and research organisations, like the Jamatul Muslimin. Besides, the group also had an active presence in the cyber world through blogs and websites. The group takes training on the use of hand grenades, rifle grenades, rocket and other lethal weapons.

The group has a four-stage mission called Imara. The first level is Dawah - Dawah , aimed at inspiring and inviting people for armed jihad; the second, Idad, is the planning and preparation phase of the jihad. In the third stage, Ribat, the organisation will carry out guerrilla attacks on atheists, rivals and government institutions. It will take responsibility for the attacks. The final stage, Kital , refers to the killing of all opposing forces to establish Sharia-based rule in the country. The team is currently at the Idad stage.

The group aims to target security personnel and those whom they think are against Islam. The group is accused of killing Ahmed Rajib Haider, a leader of Shahbagh movement, in February this year. The religious radicals of Bangladesh considered Shahbagh movement to be anti-Islamic.

Affluent families, ’sleeper cells’

The main goal of this group is to gain control of the country and conduct armed jihad (struggle) to make Bangladesh a Sharia-based Islamic state. Anser Ullah follows the ideals, policy and strategy of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Pakistan-based Tehrik-e-Taliban.

The group has a central body called Majlis-e-Sura. Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani is the chief and spiritual leader of Ansar Ullah Bangla group. Rahmani, along with 30 of his followers, was arrested on 11 August. Izaz Hossain is the second-in-command of the group. Izaz escaped to Pakistan in 2008. Izaz is in charge of running some of the group’s websites from Pakistan.

The cadres of Ansar Ullah are mostly from the affluent families, including students of private universities. The group operates through sleeper cells. Each cell consists of three or four persons, and is assigned to undertake an operation. Interestingly, none of these cells has information about the other cell. Law-enforcement agencies are yet to ascertain the exact strength of this group.

The group has close contacts with other Islamist militant groups inside the country. The group is claimed to be close with Islamist groups such as Hefajat-e Islam. Many of its members worked as volunteers at Hefajat’s May 5 Dhaka siege programme. Some English newspapers also claimed that Ansarullah had links with such banned Islamist militant groups as Harkat-ul-jihad-Al Islami (Huji) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

The group also sends its trained members to other countries, including the US, European nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bangladeshi national Quazi Nafis, at present in the US prison for planning an attack on New York’s Federal Reserve, and Rajib Karim, who is currently in the UK prison for planning to blow up a British Airways plane, are members of this group.

Inside the country, Ansar Ullah is active in Rajshahi, Cshapainawabganj, Barguna, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. The group’s finances mostly come from contributions from its affluent members, who include private university students and those working abroad.

The Independent, 13 September, 2013

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bhutan : New leadership and stronger neighbourhood ties

Mihir Bhonsale

Bhutan’s new Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s visit to India from 30 August to 4 September rekindled neigbhourly ties between the two countries. This being Tobgay’s first official overseas tour after taking over as Prime Minister, it cleared doubts raised within the Indian quarters about Bhutan’s ties with China. With India’s wait for a new leadership in the strategically located Himalayan Kingdom over and Tobgay’s assurances on his nation’s fidelity to Indian interests, hopes of reinforced ties and promises of bilateral cooperation got a new boost.

Tobgay came to power riding on the campaign that the then incumbent Druk Phuensem Tshogpa’s policy of wooing China had almost cost them their most important strategic and development partner, India. Tobgay’s coming to power assured New Delhi of Bhutan changing track by reversing Jigme Thinley’s China-friendly strategy.

At the same time, the new Prime Minister’s resolve to continue with border talks with China did not deter New Delhi. Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, during her maiden overseas visit to Thimphu after taking over, said in August that India has no objection about Bhutan’s engagement with China for resolving border issues.

Mutual security interests

During Tobgay’s Indian visit, an agreement was reached between two countries to work for realising "mutual security interests." India also managed to extract a promise from Bhutan on keeping New Delhi informed about the developments on Bhutan-China border talks.

Bhutan continuing its reciprocal relationship with India has, however, not dissuaded China from pursuing Thimphu for closer ties with its southern neighbour. Beijing has proposed to its northern neighbour to open a diplomatic mission in Guangzhou, where India already has a consulate. The Chinese have also conceded to Bhutan’s demand for conducting a joint technical field survey of the disputed areas on the shared border.

Aid, investment and ’welfare State’

Tobgay’s India visit has provided a fillip to the struggling Bhutanese economy. The Bhutanese Prime Minister was successful in securing India’s aid. To Tobgay’s relief, India promised Rs. 4,500 crores as a contribution towards Bhutan’s 11th Five-Year Plan as well as an economic stimulus package of Rs. 500 crores. New Delhi had earlier restored the subsidy on cooking gas and kerosene to Bhutan, and called it a ’bureaucratic lapse’. The two leaders of India and Bhutan also expressed satisfaction over the work of ongoing hydro-power projects.

Bhutan is also eyeing India’s Information Technology sector. Tobgay, while speaking in Hyderabad, invited Indian blue-chip companies to invest in Bhutan. The Bhutanese Prime Minister also addressed the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) , where he appealed to Indian companies to invest in his country. The image of Tobgay as a pragmatic leader might be suitable for Thimphu’s bid to attract investments but Bhutan needs to assure that investment earned returns. Bhutan’s ’welfare State modle’ and a protected economy have historically been fetters in the growth of private investment.

Delivering on the promises

Bhutan’s successful conduct of elections has boosted confidence of Asian economies like Japan and also non-regional players like the European Union in the Himalayan kingdom. Japanese and European government delegations have visited the country after Tobgay took over the reins. Japan would especially be happy to deal with a Bhutanese leadership that is wary of China. This presents an opportunity for Thimphu to seek more support from the developed nations.

With India being Bhutan’s primary developmental and trade partner, it is likely to make significant improvement on the country’s social indicators. However, the challenge would be of ensuring good governance, so that the optimum use could be made of the aid. Bhutan can also count on India for capacity-building of its work-force. In turn for India, strengthened ties with Bhutan would provide a leverage to show a dependable neighbour in South Asia when Sri Lanka and Nepal are seen as having gone the China way.

Like King Jigme Kesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s assurance that Bhutan is an "all weather friend" of India, New Delhi will continue to play a major role in determining Bhutan’s foreign policy in the near future and will further consolidate its position as the single largest donor and trade partner of Bhutan.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Bhutan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India, ’principal development partner’

Bhutan called India as ’the principal development partner’, as the country’s Parliament passed its annual budget for the year 2013-14 and supplementary budget bill for 2012-13. The National Assembly passed the bills after two days of deliberations.

In his opening address at the session, Speaker Jigme Zangpo said India has been the principal development partner ever since Bhutan embarked on its First Five-Year Plan.

"Even today, despite the unfavourable economic conditions in India, it has committed Rs 45 billion for successful implementation of the 11th plan, Rs 5 billion for the economic stimulus plan, and Rs 4 billion for the balance plans and programmes," he informed the House.

The National Budget for the financial year 2013-14 amounts to Nu 39,528 million. Out of the total, the capital expenditure amounts to Nu 20,368 million while the current expenditure amounts to Nu 19,160 million.

The Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill for 2012-13 amounts to Nu 5737 million. The revised total budget after the supplementary appropriation amounts to Nu 43,781 million.

Last month, India announced an aid of Rs 5,000 crore, including a special package of Rs 500 crore, for Bhutan as part of commitment to its continued socio-economic development.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI, 19 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Technical survey of China border

A joint Sino-Bhutan experts’ team has conducted a technical field survey as part of efforts to resolve their border dispute.

The 21st Sino-Bhutan border talks held in Thimphu on August 22 had agreed to conduct the joint technical field survey of the 495 sqkm in the Pasamlung area north of Bumthang, Foreign Minister Rinzin Dorji told Parliament.

The joint technical team that visited the disputed area in Bayul Pasamlung between September 6 and September 9 is yet to submit their report, Dorji was quoted as saying by Kuensel newspaper.The Minister informed the House that the latest round of border talk with China had been a success.

The two countries, which have not established diplomatic relations, conducted the border talks last year with Bhutan expressing its wish to work with China to solve the boundary issue as soon as possible. China shares a contiguous border of 470 kilometres with Bhutan and its territorial disputes with the country have been a source of potential conflict.

< class="text11verdana">Source:PTI, 18 September 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">First private airline

Tashi Air, operating as Bhutan Airlines, Bhutan’s first privately-owned airline, has announced the launch of a new daily international route between Paro and Bangkok, allowing visitors a second choice of airline when visiting the mountain kingdom.

The inaugural flight to the Land of the Thunder Dragon will take place on October 10 from Bangkok where the airline’s Airbus 320 is based. Flights from Kolkata and Bagdogra to Paro will be launched in the coming months.

Paro is a district-town by the same name in the Paro Valley of Bhutan. It is home to Paro Airport, Bhutan’s only international airport. The new airline will offer passengers the choice of economy and premium classes with a total of 150 seats.

Bhutan Airlines will join Drukair in being one of the exclusive airlines to fly to Bhutan. Plans to expand its routes are in the works and the company is currently looking at Dhaka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Nepal, Dubai, and Hong Kong as future destinations.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.breakingtravelnews.com, 17 September 2013

India

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Modi is BJP’s prime minister candidate

’Hindu nationalist’ Narendra Modi was crowned as the candidate for prime minister of India’s main opposition party on Friday, cementing the remarkable rise of a leader adored by business but tainted by deadly religious riots that broke out on his watch.

On a path that from humble roots as the son of a tea-shop owner to running for leadership of the world’s biggest democracy, Mr Modi has methodically built a fervent fan base for himself. But, a deeply polarszing figure, he has made many enemies along the way, even within his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Supporters believe he has the drive needed to salvage a sagging economy and make India a regional superpower. Detractors see an authoritarian extremist who could fan sectarian tension in the religiously diverse nation.

< class="text11verdana">Source:www.reuters.com, 13 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sensex, rupee on recovery path

In the most dramatic U-turn in the history of India’s currency and stock markets, the rupee and the sensex extended their scorching hot streak on Thursday.

The rupee made its second highest gain ever of 161 paise against the dollar while the Sensex recorded its second sharpest rise of 684 points in four years to close at 34 months high of 20.647 after the US Federal Reserve dropped plans to cut back its fiscal stimulus -- a plan which had sent emerging markets into a free fall since May.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 20 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sovereign wealth fund on cards

The government is setting up a company-India Overseas Investment Corporation (INOIC)-under the Finance Ministry on the lines of sovereign wealth fund to lend financial muscle for securing access to overseas natural resources.

A concept note prepared by the Ministry goes beyond the conventional reasons of acquiring energy assets to justify the need for INOIC. "Other key areas such as food security (also) require fertilisers to augment food stocks as well as to enhance farm productivity," the note said. With INOIC, India will join a select group of economises such as US, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Qatar and UAE that have pushed overseas acquisitions and business through such funds.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 17 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Food inflation rises to 3-year high

Food inflation hit a three-year high of 18.18 per cent on the back of a huge increase in the prices of onion and other vegetables, in turn pushing up headline inflation for the third month in a row to a six-month high of 6.1 per cent in August as the depreciation in the rupee in the past few weeks started to show its effect.

Meanwhile, the government on Tuesday hiked the import duty on gold jewellery to 15 per cent making it more expensive than the primary metal to protect the domestic industry against cheaper imports.

The Finance Ministry said while import duty on gold has been hiked several times to reach the level of 10 per cent, the duty on gold and silver jewellery has not been raised in lines with these changes and has remained unchanged at 10 per cent.

In a parallel development, companies lending money against gold jewellery deposited by borrowers will now come under tighter scrutiny by the RBI. As per norms announced on Tuesday, hose depositing gold jewellery for loans will have to comply with know your customer (KYC) norms.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, 17-18 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Uranium from Uzbekistan?

India is very close to importing uranium from Uzbekistan and an agreement in this regard is nearing completion, official sources said today. The issue came up for discussion during talks here between visiting External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz Kamilov, the sources said.

The agreement will not be a civil nuclear deal but a contract like the one with Kazakhstan, under which India will import a little over 2,000 tonnes of uranium by 2014, they said. Khurshid travelled to Tashkent yesterday after attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

Another important issue that figured in the bilateral talks was connectivity. "Uzbekistan is looking to extend the Friendship Railway bridge to Herat in western Afghanistan," said Joint Secretary (Eurasia) Ajay Bisaria, who is part of the Indian delegation.

If the rail link is taken further east, it could link the region with Mashhad in Iran. Iran will also build a railway line to Chabahar port, where India has committed to invest.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.dnaindia.com, 14 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two MoUs signed with Japan

India and Japan have signed two separate agreements for better cooperation in the fields of pure sciences and biotechnology.

The MoUs signed separately by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) with RIKEN, a Japanese multidisciplinary research organisation, are expected to help research in the fields of biology, life sciences, material sciences and computational sciences.

Speaking at the event, Noyori Ryogi, President of RIKEN and a Nobel Laureate, said "with these MOUs, we look forward to seeing lively discussions with Indian scientists and work together."

T Madhvan Mohan, Advisor in the DBT, said "there can be exchange of information in research and development and exchange of scientists. Further, students can seek doctoral and post—doctoral fellowships."

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.thehindubusinessline.com, 15 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Israel not to supply arms to Pakistan

With its defence ties with India growing at a rapid pace, Israel today asserted that it will not supply any weapons systems and military hardware to Pakistan, saying the policy in this regard was "very clear" and "strict".

Israeli Ambassador Alon Ushpiz said his country follows very strict guidelines in exporting weapons systems and there was no question of reversing its policy of not supplying military hardware to Pakistan.

"The policy of Government of Israel is (very clear) and we are tremendously strict about it that we do not export weapons system to Pakistan," he said.

A report by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper in June had quoted a British government report saying Israel exported military equipment, including hi-tech gear used in combat jets, over the past five years to Pakistan. Israel had strongly rejected the report, saying it would "not do anything that could undermine" India’s security.

"Very specifically we do not export weapons system to Pakistan. We have a very strict set of regulations for exporting. It is very sophisticated process and different agencies are engaged in that. India is a close friend," he said, replying to a question on the report by the Israeli newspaper.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.ndtv.com, 15 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Talks with US ahead of PM’s visit

India and the US on Tuesday discussed various aspects of defence ties between the two nations against the backdrop of the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington to hold talks with President Barack Obama on September 27.

Visiting US Deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton B Carter held talks with Defence Secretary R K Mathur, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and senior officials of the Defence Production Department to review progress in talks on various defence related projects.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, 18 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Insurance back-up for Iranian crude

India will provide a 10 billion rupee ($158 million) sovereign guarantee to back local insurance for refineries using Iranian oil, two government sources said, as it tries to boost imports paid for in local currency to ease pressure on the rupee.

India’s crude imports from Iran slumped 75 percent in July from June to just 35,500 barrels per day (bpd) because of problems over insurance for crude from Iran caused by western sanctions which aim to curb its nuclear ambitions.

But with oil imports in dollars swelling India’s current account deficit to a record in 2012-13, the government is trying to maximise purchases from Iran, which is now accepting rupees as its hard currency options are curtailed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.reuters.com, 18 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tatas revive airline plan

The Tata group on Thursday announced that it is launching a new full-service airline in a joint venture with Singapore Airlines with an upfront investment of $ 100 million.

The airline may take off next year after necessary clearances, source said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, 20 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Agni-V test-fired successfully again

In a milestone in defence capability, the Inter-Continental Ballestic Missile (ICBM) Agni-V was successfully test-fired for its full range of 5000 km on Sunday.

This is the second successful launch of the nuclear-weapons capable missile in 17 months. On April 19 last year, India staked claim to a place in the elite group of nations that possesses the technology to develop IVBMs, launching Agni-V for the first time with a huge success.

< class="text11verdana">Source:The Hindu, 16 September, 2013

Maldives

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt urges all to ’help’ resolve poll doubts

In the backdrop of allegations of vote rigging in the first round of presidential elections held September 7, the government on Thursday called on "anyone interested in promoting democracy in the Maldives" to help, not hinder, the State institutions in exercising their constitutional duties.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry highlighted that elections are the primary means of democratic participation and attempts to resolve questions relating to the electoral process through democratic means is also part of democracy. "These fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law should be accepted by all concerned," the statement said.

While lauding the role of both local and international observers in monitoring the elections, the government pointed out that state institutions are constitutionally mandated to address any question related to the elections and electoral process.

"It is in fact the people of the Maldives that wanted such an election more than anyone else, and the government did everything possible to ensure that the election is held in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution," the statement issued amidst international calls to proceed with the runoff of the presidential polls as planned said.

The UK, the Commonwealth and India which had sent independent teams of international observers monitoring the elections had called for the second round to be held as planned and urged all political parties and candidates to respect the wish of the people.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged all political parties in the country to respect the first-round verdict and allow the second-round run-off polls on 28 September, as scheduled. The US administration has also urged all political parties and all presidential candidates to respect the results of the first round and work together for a peaceful transition for the benefit of the Maldivian people.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 20 September 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Gasim denies talking polls with Nasheed

Presidential candidate of the Jumhooree Coalition has said that he discussed regarding the welfare and well-being of the state during his meeting with the presidential candidate of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) former President Mohamed Nasheed at M. Maafaunnu Ville on Thursday night.

Speaking to the media following the meeting, Gasim said that they talked about ensuring peace and stability of the nation. He did not say that he will support Nasheed in the run-off election. However, he said that it is likely that Nasheed might have compete with him following the conclusion of his petition in the Supreme Court.

Gasim said that he has no hatred and rancor for any person in his heart and that there is nothing personal with him and Nasheed. The latter said that Gasim was a family friend since long and Gasim has been a very useful guide during his childhood days.

Ibrahim Khaleel, spokesperson of Gasim said that the Jumhooree Coalition will not break apart following this meeting. He said that Gasim is firm and he will stand for the rights of the people. JP’s religion-centred poll partner in the Adhaalath Party declared that it won’t back Nasheed in the run-off.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, 20 September 2013

Myanmar

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN nuclear-watchdog to gain wider access

Myanmar agreed on 17 September to grant the UN nuclear watchdog wider inspection powers in the previously army-ruled Asian state, a move expected to help ease any lingering concern about its nuclear ambitions.

Myanmar’s foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, signed the so-called Additional Protocol in a brief ceremony with Director General Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency on the sidelines of the IAEA’s annual member state meeting.

Once ratified by Myanmar, it will allow the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear agency to carry out snap inspections outside of declared nuclear facilities, a vital tool at its disposal to detect any non-peaceful nuclear activities in countries.

Lwin said in a speech to the IAEA conference that the mere existence of nuclear weapons in the world "poses a threat to the security of all nations". The United States on September 20 welcomed Myanmar’s signing of an agreement with the U.N. atomic watchdog that will require it to declare any nuclear activities and allow inspections — the latest step by the former pariah nation toward openness.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Thompson Reuters, Associated Press, 20 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Suu Kyi wraps up East European tour

Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD), arrived back in Myanmar yesterday evening after visiting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic starting from September 10. She was warmly welcomed by hundreds of her supporters at Yangon International Airport.

This was Suu Kyi’s second European tour since being released from house arrest after the November 2010 elections. During the trip, Myanmar’s opposition leader met with presidents, prime ministers, house speakers, and Nobel laureates. The discussions focused on her South East Asian country’s political reforms.

Myanmar’s democracy icon delivered speeches at Warsaw University on the topic "Education and Politics" and, in Hungary, at Corvinus University on the topic "From Revolution to Reconstruction."

On September 15, she gave the opening speech at the 17th annual Forum 2000 Conference held in the Czech Republic. There she described the current period as one of the most important for Myanmar’s transition to democracy, so making the right decisions is crucial to facing the challenges.

Moreover, Suu Kyi offered praise to late former Czech president Vaclav Havel during her visit to the Vaclav Havel mausoleum. During the forum, she met separately with Nobel Laureate and Tibet leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama.

While meeting with reporters at the forum’s closing ceremony, Myanmar’s Nobel laureate called on the Czech Republic to support her and Myanmar’s reforms.Burma’s pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi came to the Forum 2000 conference in Prague with a two-fold mission: drum up international support for the democracy struggle in her Southeast Asia homeland of 60 million and learn from Central European countries that had already made the transition from authoritarian regimes to democracy.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.elevenmyanmar.com, 19 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Railway office to turn five-star hotel

Myanmar has planned to turn its Railways Head Office in Yangon to an international five-star hotel, in efforts to contribute to the development of tourist industry, tourist circle said on Wednesday.The rare five-star hotel in Yangon, upon completion, will have 154 suites with 450 staff to run the services.

The hotel is projected to accommodate 350 visitors per day.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, there are 859 hotels comprising 31,321suites in Myanmar, of which 217 hotels are in Yangon with 9,451 suites. Of them, five hotels are rated as five-stars.

In 2012, the number of tourist arrivals in Myanmar reached 1.02 million, an increase of 200,000 compared with 2011’s 820,000 due to the significant changes in the country during the year. Myanmar targets 2 million of tourist arrivals in 2013 and up to 3 million in 2014.

It is assumed possible that many foreign visitors would visit Myanmar to attend the 27th Southeast Asian Games at the end of this year and next year’s ASEAN Summit and other related summits.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Xinhua, 18 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Public support sought for 2014 census

Myanmar’s Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi Sunday urged the public to cooperate in the nationwide census in 2014 for working out a national development plan.

The 12-day census using a work force of 120,000 would be carried out from March 30 to April 10, 2014, reported Xinhua citing the minister.

The census would be based on statistics from 14 regions or states covering 70 districts, 330 townships, 3,051 wards, 64,346 villages and 13,620 village-tracts inhabited by 135 nationalities with five major religious faiths.

According to Khin Yi, of the expected cost of $58.5 million for the census, Myanmar government has committed $15 million and the United Nations pledged $5 million for materials and courses, leaving a fund shortage of $38.5 million.

Experts from 13 countries as well as UN Statistics Division, UNFPA, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the World Bank would also help Myanmar in the process, another report said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: IANS, 15 September, 2013

Nepal

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">601-seat CA plan gets assent

President Ram Baran Yadav has endorsed the government’s request to increase the number of Constituent Assembly (CA) seats by making changes in the Interim Constitution.

The government had forwarded to the President an ordinance that provisions a 601-member CA, in accordance with agreements signed with some key poll-opposing parties.

While there was a provision of a 601-member CA earlier, the major political forces — UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha — had later agreed to have 491 seats in the assembly and the President had accordingly amended the Constitution.

The High-level Political Committee (HLPC) had agreed to increase the number of CA seats to bring the Ashok Rai-led Federal Socialist Party-Nepal on board the election process. The HLPC has also agreed to elect 58 per cent of the CA members through the proportional electoral system and 42 per cent through the first-past-the-post (FTPT) category, from its earlier decision to elect half the CA members through the FTPT system.

However, the government is making preparations to hold the election on November 19 itself even if the Baidya party stays out of it.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Kathmandu Post, 18 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Parties want poll in November’

India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said that political parties in Nepal were in favour of holding elections in the scheduled date of November 19.

Speaking at a Press conference at the end of her two-day visit on September 15, she said, "I reiterated the commitment of the government of India for the logistic support sought by the government of Nepal well in time for the elections."

While she met leaders of the main political parties, Singh did not meet any representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) that has been demanding that the elections be postponed to April next year if they are to participate in the polls.

The Election Commission has said that the election programme will be affected severely if all the parties do not decide on the date of the elections within a week.

The Mohan Baidya-led Maoists had broken away from the parent party after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly last year and is believed to have the power to disrupt elections.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 16 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Concern over Bardiya incident

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today expressed serious concern about reports of a raid by Indian police on a house in Bardiya district and asked it to make sure such incidents are not repeated in future.

While sending a letter to the Government of India through the Embassy of India in Nepal, the MoFA also demanded strong action against officials involved in such activities.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed concern about the incident and requested the Indian side to investigate and make sure such incidents did not happen in future," read a MoFA Press release.

A team of armed Indian policemen from Lakhimpur district in Uttar Pradesh State had reportedly entered Nepali territory in uniform without notifying Nepal police and raided the house of Manjur Prasad Shrestha in Gulariya-8, Bardia, on the pretext of searching for runaway criminals on Wednesday.

According to MoFA, the Indian side has assured it will investigate and if it is found to be true, take appropriate action against officials involved in the incident. The Indian side also reiterated such incidents will not occur in the days to come.

The Embassy of India, in a separate statement, assured that action would be taken against officials if the reports were true. "The matter is under investigation," said the Embassy. "We do not condone such incidents and if these reports are true, action will be taken."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan Times, 19 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian food law sends ripples thru markets

With the introduction of the National Food Security Act in India, which is largest market for Nepali food grains and source of food grains for Nepal´s domestic market, Nepali business people and experts have hinted at possible adverse impacts in Nepal.

Given Nepal´s increasing dependence on India for food and other farm supplies, introduction of the food security law, according to experts, will weaken the competitiveness of rival products in Nepal. As the newly- passed law is aimed at reducing farm costs, Indian products will be available at far cheaper prices in Nepal itself, compared to the prices of locally produced products.

"Amid eroding of competitive edge among our farmers, Indian products will flush our products out of markets," Suraj Vaidya, the president of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), was quoted by local media in Kathmandu as stating.

Nepali farmers are already compelled to sell their produce at cheaper prices in the absence of an effective mechanism for minimum support prices from government buy farm produces. Poor market infrastructure and storage facilities have forced farmers to sell their produces at throw away prices during harvest season.

A study commissioned by FNCCI shows that the cost of production is already higher by as much as 30 per cent in farms in Birgunj compared to that right across its borders in Indian. On the back of soaring cost of production, the private sector has asked the government to support farmers with subsidies in farm inputs and market infrastructures.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, 19 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No decision on Pancheshwar

Nepal and India have agreed to expedite work on power trade, but were unable to reach a decision on the 5,600-MW Pancheshwar multipurpose dam project, proposed 15 years ago for sharing power and water on 50-50 basis.

A proposal for finalising a detailed project report for the Pancheshwar project figured during the two-day meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Technical Standing Committee, which was held in Kathmandu after a gap of two years. However, the two sides were unable to reach a decision on finalising the detailed project report, said a Press release issued by Nepal’s Department of Energy.

The two sides reviewed the ongoing construction of dams on Bagmati, Kamala and Lalbakaiya rivers. They also discussed matters related to head regulator of the Tanakpur Barrage under the Mahakali Treaty and irrigation facilities in Chadani Dodhara area. The Saptakoshi High Dam Multipurpose project, study of Sunkoshi-Kamala diversion project and Koshi and Gandak projects also figured in the talks.

The two sides also reviewed progress made in bilateral water resources projects and discussed issues related to water resources, electricity, flood forecasting and flood control. The officials have agreed to convene the next meeting in India in February next year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI, 14 September, 2013

Pakistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Senior army officials killed in blast

A roadside bomb attack killed two senior military officers and a soldier in the Upper Dir region of Pakistan on Sunday, 15 September 2013. Major General Sanaullah Niazi, Lieutenant Colonel Touseef and Sepoy Imran were killed in the attack as they were returning after visiting troops posted on the Pakistan Afghanistan Border.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the bombing and this attack comes on the heels of a decision taken by the military and civilian leadership of the country to engage the militants in peace talks. There is speculation that the attacks were aimed at derailing the peace process.

The TTP has stated that it is still at war with the military as the army is continuing to launch offensives and as the peace process has not yet officially begun. It has also laid out a set of demands that it considers prerequisites to the peace talks.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 15-20 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Drone-strikes taken to UN

On Thursday, 19 September, Pakistan raised the issue of American drone strikes in its tribal regions in the United Nations Security Council. It called for the cessation of the strikes and said that it was seeking urgent talks to resolve the issue.

Pakistan stated that being a primary target of drone attacks, it had suffered heavy losses of innocent lives apart from widespread social and economic costs.

The All Parties Conference that took place the week before had recommended raising the drone issue at the United Nations as they are deeply unpopular in Pakistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 20 September 2013; The Nation, 20 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India refuses trade across the LoC

Security officials of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday refused to allow trade of Pakistani goods on the Line of control (LoC), sources in the state administration said.

The two-member team from Jammu and Kashmir told counterparts from Pakistan that they have to follow the Indian government’s and orders which do not allow them to receive ’Made in Pakistan’ goods through the LoC, despite the latter’s request to resume trade for a short to allow the settling of dues to the tune of nearly Rs 200 million.

The Intra-Kashmir Trade Union Secretary Information Shaukat Hussain said that trade across the LoC was one of the main confidence building measures signed between the two countries to promote the peace process in South Asia, and that this move on the behalf of their Indian counterparts was a ploy to end trade that would be a setback to the peace efforts.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 20 September, 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ban Ki-moon sees polls as opportunity

The week-end’s elections to the Northern Provincial Councils were an important opportunity for reconciliation, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, calling upon all parties to take part in the electoral process in a peaceful manner, according to the UN News Centre.

A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon has said the UNSG?views the elections as a way to "foster political reconciliation and to build confidence between Sri Lankans after many years of conflict".

"Mr. Ban welcomed the provincial elections, which are scheduled for 21 September, particularly in the Northern Province, which has not had provincial elections since 1987."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 21 September 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’NPC won’t have special powers’

Minister and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakara ruled out the possibility of a federal solution to the national issue. Addressing the media at Nallur, Jaffna, Minister Nanayakkara pointed out that people would have to accept Provincial Councils as any attempt to go beyond that would cause a catastrophe. Senior Minister DEW Gunasekera was present.

Answering a query, the minister said that the TNA could demand a separate government or self-administration in the Northern Province through an election manifesto, but under the Sri Lankan Constitution that could not be given. "Only the President and Parliament could decide on the powers to the Northern Provincial Council and that fact has been recognised by the Constitution," Nanayakkara said.

Minister Nanayakkara said that the main allegation levelled by Opposition against the government was the military presence in the Northern Province. But, during the last six months that situation had changed as the military presence had been reduced by 95 percent.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 18 September 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Court case against TNA manifesto

The Supreme Court yesterday issued notice, returnable on 2 October, to Mawai Senadhirajah, Secretary and General Secretary of the Tamil National Alliance, President of the TNA, R. Sampanthan, and the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya.

They were ordered to be present in Court, in respect of applications filed by five organisations, which had petitioned the Court against the TNA election manifesto in the Northern Province, which is said to promote separatism.

The petitioners have said that the aforesaid manifesto has violated the Constitutional provisions that Sri Lanka is a sovereign, unitary state. The petitioners have requested to Court to declare that the manifesto sought to divide the country by inciting racial disharmony.

The petitioner organisations are the National Patriotic Movement, The Deshapremi Bhikku Peramuna, the Swarnahansa Padanama, the Bodhu Maga Sanvidanaya and the Buddhist Association of Jaffna.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Island, 18 November 2013

Afghanistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Presidential race kicks off

The registration process of the candidates for the Afghan Presidential Elections was formally kicked off this week by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC). The registration process is said to continue till 6 October. The candidates have to submit a fee of US $20,000 and voter information of about 100,000 supporters backing them.

Various political parties and coalitions have recently increased their political activities to form electoral alliance, and are due to introduce their candidate to run for the elections. However, still there are no clear favourites in the race. The IEC announced that although no candidate has registered so far, 46 people, including a woman, have been issued with information kits.

President Hamid Karzai also appointed five individuals as members of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The members included Abdul Sattar Sadat, Reda Azimi, Nadir Mohseni, Azizullah Aryafar and Paighambar Qul Doghan as members of the electoral watchdog. Abdul Sattar Sadat was appointed as the chief of the ECC.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 16 September 2013; Pajhwok, 16 September 2013; Pajhwok, 19 September 2013; Tolo News, 15 September 2013; Tolo News, 19 September 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MoU with Kazakhstan

Afghanistan and Kazakhstan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on strengthening cooperation in commerce and other sectors this week.

The MoU on cooperation in transit, trade, education and agriculture was signed between Minister of Commerce and Industries Anwarul Haq Ahadi and Kazakhstan’s Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko. The MoU was signed during the visit of a 30-member delegation from Kazakhstan to attend the sixth annual meeting on economic cooperation.

Kazakhstan announced that it was willing to invest in Afghanistan’s mining sector and would consider the establishment of a cement factory in Afghanistan. An agreement was also reached on increasing the number of business visas to Afghan traders.

Ahadi asked the delegation to increase the numbers of scholarships for Afghan students and draw a master’s programme for them. Currently there are 700 Afghan students in Kazakhstan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 17 September, 2013

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jamaat leader gets death

In a major development the Supreme Court (SC) this week awarded death penalty to Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah for war crimes during the country’s Liberation War in 1971.

In protest against the SC verdict Jamaat-e-Islami observed a 48 hour long country wise shutdown across the country which caused two lives and several were injured across the as the Jamaat activist resorted to violence to administer the shutdown.

The Jamaat leader in February this was sentenced life term imprisonment for committing wartime offences by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). The SC verdict came seven months after the appeal against the ICT verdict was filed in the SC.

Following street-protests, the government amended the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 to ensure the right of the State to appeal on behalf of the war crimes victims of 1971.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 17-20 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’War criminals’ can’t contest polls

The Cabinet, at its weekly meeting this week, approved the Representation of People Order (RPO), incorporating provisions such as exclusion of war criminals and convicts under the International Crimes Tribunal Act from the polls. The RPO is a legal framework used for conducting the national polls.

The amendment will be placed before the parliamentary committee concerned and before Parliament for final approval. The amendment will be effective only if passed in the House.

According to the draft RPO, persons convicted under the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, 1972, and convicted of crimes against humanity would be out of the national electoral race and voters’ list. The amendment, however, does not say whether a war crimes convict, who has challenged his verdict in the higher courts, will be able to participate in the elections.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Independent, 17 September, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN migration report rejected

The government declined to endorse the latest United Nations report on international migration, which said some 3.2 million Bangladeshis had migrated and settled in India over the past decades.

According to the report, prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), and released on this week termed the "migration from Bangladesh to India as the single largest bilateral stock of international migrants in the eastern hemisphere and also in the developing world."

Rejecting the latest UN migration report, the Foreign Ministry official claimed that the report was a carbon-copy of Indian media reports that had been claiming so over the past several years. "The government will take appropriate step against the flawed migration report, which also claimed that India was a favourite destination for Bangladeshi migrants in 3013," the official said.

The official also claimed that there was no exodus of migrants to India except in 1971, when some 10 million people crossed over the border during the nine-month-long Bangladesh liberation war. After the war, all refugees returned officially and there was no report of large-scale exodus as claimed in the UN report, the official claimed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Financial Express, 20 September, 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar

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.

Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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