MonitorsPublished on Apr 29, 2011
Not many in Sri Lanka, particularly on the Government side, had expected China to play evasive on the report of the panel appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on issues of accountability pertaining to the end-game of 'Eelam War IV'.
Sri Lanka: China's prevarication on Ban's panel report
< class="heading1">Analysis

Not many in Sri Lanka, particularly on the Government side, had expected China to play evasive on the report of the panel appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on issues of accountability pertaining to the end-game of ’Eelam War IV’. China kept them guessing for too long, before coming out with a statement that was possibly positive from Colombo’s perception but cautious from Beijing’s emerging position on the issue. The question thus is not if China would go the whole hog with Sri Lanka on the issue, if taken to larger UN bodies like the Human Rights Council, Security Council or even the General Assembly, but how far would it go, particularly in using its veto power in Colombo’s favour, at every turn.

After an agonising, fortnight-long wait on the Sri Lankan side, China has since asked the global community not to complicate the issue and leave it to Colombo to handle it. "China believes the Sri Lankan Government and people will properly handle problems concerning its civil war, and urge the international community not to complicate the issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing. According to media reports, Hong also pointed to Colombo having set up the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), Sri Lanka’s own panel to investigate relevant issues. "The Chinese side is confident that the Sri Lankan Government and people are able to properly address all relevant issues." As such, "we hope that the international community could help develop a favourable external environment for the Sri Lankan Government to stabilise the country’s internal situation and accelerate economic growth, and avoid taking measures that could further complicate the issue," Hong said further in his statement.

The new Chinese position, and the delays involved, is far from what Sri Lanka might have hoped for in its hour of international crisis. Critics of the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, nearer home and afar, have constantly been talking about international intervention as in Libya, or domestic uprising, like it was in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet, the Chinese position is pragmatic, too. It acknowledges the role of the Sri Lankan State and its institutions - this time, the LLRC - as the near-final arbiter on accountability issues pertaining to war-time violations of human rights, if any. Simultaneously, it has also advised the international community not to meddle in the internal affairs of a friendly nation. More importantly, and possibly for the first time, the Chinese statement refers to a role for the ’people’ of Sri Lanka, without clarifying if it was referring to the Tamil community, or the larger population - or, if the reference was confined only to accountability issues raised in the Ban panel report, or would extent to the reconciliation process that is already on.

Last year, China, along with Russia, both members of the Security Council, had scuttled western efforts at bringing up the larger issues of accountability pertaining to the ethnic war. In the UNHRC meeting in Geneva, India joined them in defending Sri Lanka. A year earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the decisive defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lanka had worked closely with all these three nations and also Pakistan, to have the Human Rights Council rephrase its otherwise adversarial resolution in its favour, but that bonhomie was definitely missing in 2010, owing mainly to the lack of initiative on Colombo’s side. Or, so it seemed.

This time round, when the Ban-appointed three-member committee has submitted its report, India has also been elected to a non-permanent seat in the Security Council. Though it does not have veto powers like China and Russia, its contributions to the confabulations and also behind-the-scene initiatives would be closely watched, both by the international community and the Sri Lankan Tamils, particularly the Diaspora. The latter in particular has been painting New Delhi with a tarred brush ever since the LTTE was pushed to a military corner, and suffered a complete defeat, against a numerically and technologically superior armed force of the Sri Lankan State.

Nearer home too, New Delhi continues to face increasing political pressure from southern Tamil Nadu, where political parties are vying with one another, urging the former to work for taking the panel report to the International Criminal Court. While joining the chorus, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi however told newsmen in Chennai that India could not take hasty decisions as its own security concerns were also involved. Others are not as sensitive, but definitely one-sided.

New Delhi is playing cautious. In a brief statement on the panel report, India had this to say: "The Government has seen the report of the panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to advise him on accountability-related issues in the context of the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009. The issues raised in the report need to be studied carefully. As a first step, we intend to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka on the issues contained in the report."

Clearly, India is in no mood to jump the gun, as political parties in Tamil Nadu, their Diaspora-backers and a section of the international community would want it. Unlike China, India does not also have to press home its continuing interest in the affairs of a friendly neighbour like Sri Lanka, nor on the continuing contentious aspects of the ethnic issue. However, India needs to be alive to the way its evolving position would be compared with the emerging Chinese position, as outlined in the Beijing statement. Since the last leg of the war, the Sri Lankan Establishment has been projecting the decisive ’Eelam War IV’ for the cooperation that all nations that might otherwise be mutually antagonistic and/or suspicious pooling together their resources in aid of a common friend, to inflict a decisive defeat on terrorism in the post-9/11 era. Yet, it is not unlikely that elements in Sri Lanka would not use the twin-statements, to argue how the Chinese, even if delayed, were more forthcoming than India, and attribute the history of the ethnic issue, to argue their case.

Yet, the question would remain if Sri Lanka could continue to depend blind-folded on China, for defending itself wholly and whole-heartedly in UN bodies, including the Security Council. After Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, Beijing’s position on the current Sri Lanka issue seems to indicate that it would want western acknowledgement of its role as a ’responsible emerging power’ than acceptance by tested friends, near and far. It contradicts with the Indian position, which has been one of abundant caution, considering the balance New Delhi needed to strike in the immediate neighbourhood, for interlinked reasons, though. Yet, throughout the ’Eelam War IV’ period and beyond, New Delhi’s positions on Sri Lanka related issues in international forums have been based on principles, where it had consistently applied brakes on western temptations to put State and non-State actors on the same plane, and proceed from there in terms of comparisons and contradictions. In contrast, the emerging Chinese position contradicts with the existing one, where Beijing seems wanting to balance a desire for greater acceptance by the international community with a possible and continuing need for keeping Sri Lanka on its side in terms of strategic security interests, defined and otherwise.

For one thing, the Indian statement came just after Ban’s office had officially released the report, against earlier ’leaks’ that it had resented. Hence, the Indian justification for needing time to study the 200-page report, ’carefully’. New Delhi has also taken the right step to ’engage’ with Colombo, as to know its official position on the report - as against the vehement criticism of the same, from all quarters after the ’leaks’ - both in terms of Sri Lanka’s response to the report, and its strategy, if any, for handling the fallout in international forums like the Human Rights Council and the UN. Independent of issues involving friends like India, China and Russia, Sri Lanka may not have to be seen as doing the right thing by the panel report - and more importantly on larger issues flowing from it. It needs to convince the world, starting with its neighbours, that it was serious about post-war rehabilitation and reconciliation, and that it was not using one friend against the other, only to score a debating-point, or an UN vote, and not deliver anything, otherwise.

Having been hyper-critical of the report, blind-fold, it is now time for Colombo to go beyond the domestic constituency and take the international community quite seriously. Going beyond the report and its content, the Government would have to convince the world that it was serious at least about addressing larger issues of rehabilitation of, and reconciliation with the Tamil community. The frustrating delays, some of them not wholly unjustified, in these twin processes have upset the international community, as much as the ’accountability report’ may have angered some of them. But there is a need for greater and proper communication, even on procedural matters.

While the Government’s January initiative in holding direct talks with the moderate Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the electorally-proven greater voice of the Sri Lankan Tamil community nearer home, was/is welcome, it has not made much progress. Yet, to the credit of both sides, they have continued to be engaged in the talks even after the panel report contributed to a toughening of public posturing by both sides. An early and convincing conclusion of the negotiations has the potential of rendering the likes of accountability report infructuous, at least up to a point. The Sri Lankan Government is not unaware of it, and so is possibly the TNA - and the Diaspora, too.

There may be justification in the Sri Lankan position that the report team was a creature of the Secretary-General, and not the UN, per se, meaning either the Security Council or the General Assembly. The question would remain even more if on the receipt of the report, Ban should have taken it to either or both of the UN bodies than to Colombo, for the latter’s comments. The unilateral observations of the three-member panel, based exclusively on allegations by members of the ’victim-community’, have also continued with the war-time approach of a section of the international community, which tended to equate the Sri Lankan State with a ’non-State actor’ in the LTTE. Worse still, the reference to the LTTE as a ’disciplined terrorist force’ in the report too should have left a bad taste, particularly in the post-9/11 context.

In the immediate context, however, Sri Lanka is faced not with such technicalities, but the realities of the behind-the-scene international sponsors of the panel report taking the finding forward, one or other operative creations of the UN scheme. While the Colombo Establishment may not be way out when it argues that the UN interventions under the Charter relates only to war between two or more State actors, the Security Council does have powers under Chapter VII of the very same Charter, to be able to intervene in such cases. Or, so it is being argued.

All these are debatable points at one level, but are subject matters for voting in one or other of the UN bodies. It may still not pass on to a stage where independent of, and/or without reference to the international body, sections of the global community, could choose to initiate unilateral intervention proceedings of one kind or the other. Examples are many in the recent past. But a lot will depend on the Indian perception of the evolving situation in the international arena, given the immediate neighbourhood in which the two nations are located, and also the clout that New Delhi now commands in the western world, sans a veto-vote in the Security Council.

For friends of China in Sri Lanka, it may be a sad day. They had counted on twin-issues to argue their case with successive Governments nearer home, in Sri Lanka having to choose China over India. One was their theoretical construct that India needed counter-balancing by extra-regional powers. The US was their choice during the ’Cold War’ era, and China, since. Two, and more importantly in the contemporary context was the veto vote that China enjoyed in the Security Council, while India did not have any. According to them, even if it had a veto vote, New Delhi would not exercise it in Colombo’s favour, to the exclusion of the pulls and pressures exercised by Tamil Nadu on the one hand, and the Sri Lankan Tamil community, otherwise. They even used to claim that China not only had the veto vote, but would not also ask questions while exercising the same. The reference was of course to the ’human rights issue’ in the aftermath of the war, which is at the centre of the current controversy.

As events since the leakage of the panel report has proved, China, in the first round, had deliberately distanced itself from the ongoing proceedings in Colombo. Not only did it not come out with any reaction to the report early on, the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka did not even turn up for the official briefing for Colombo-based diplomatic community, by External Affairs Minister, G L Peiris. Subsequent explanations have not washed, as even at present, Beijing has not yet come up with its stand on the report. In contrast, Russia was quick to come out on Sri Lanka’s side, and its Ambassador Vladimir P Mikhaylov, in Colombo, said as much after a one-on-one meeting with Minister Peiris. India’s position, as explained, was measured but the underlying contours of the same were sensitive to the larger issues pertaining to the Sri Lankan State, nonetheless. More importantly, there was continuity and consistency.

It is in this background that US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake, is visiting Sri Lanka in the first week of May. He was due to be in Colombo a month earlier, ahead of the UN panel submitting its report, but Sri Lanka cited the foreign travel plans of Minister Peiris to have it put off by a month. Blake was the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka before assuming the new post under the Obama presidency. Along with his successor, Patricia Butenis, Blake has been known to be a strong critic of Sri Lanka, particularly the Rajapaksa presidency, on issues of human rights violations. With Washington otherwise playing hard and soft on Colombo in the post-war period, his visit now assumes added significance in the context of the panel report, the future course that it might traverse - and the posturing and positions taken by the US and other western nations, jointly or severally, at every turn.

Yet, the question would still remain, if Russia and/or China would want to go the whole hog on the accountability issue in various UN forums, if it came to that. Sure enough, post-Cold War, a resurgent Moscow has recently been seeking a foothold in South Asia, where China had sought to replace both the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union at one-go, wherever India’s neighbours are concerned. Unlike what Colombo might have concluded without justification, Beijing seems wanting to be acknowledged as a ’responsible emerging power’, as some of its friends in the West have been parroting for some time. Sri Lanka may also come to realise that in games that the big players, particularly extra-regional powers, play, smaller nations could at best be pawns. Definitely, they could not expect to dictate the course of the polity and policy that those larger players, one way or the other. Independent of the fallout of the panel report, if only Colombo acted/reacted with such realization from now on, it would be able to build relations that would stand the test of time rather than those that now are built on adversarial assumptions, based on inane presumptions.

(The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Panel report: ex-PM quits negotiations panel

Protesting the strong statement from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the report of the three-member panel set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to advise him on alleged violation of human rights and commission of war crimes in Sri Lanka, former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, now a minister, has declined to continue on the Government team for reconciliation negotiations with the former. The team met without him on April 29, as scheduled, and his place was taken by the ruling combine’s National List MP and former Secretary-General of the Government Peace Secretariat, RajivaWijesinha.

TNA member of Parliament and team member Suresh Premachandran confirmed the conduct of the third round of political talks, but however added that the Government seemed to be going through the motions, in the aftermath of the panel report, and was yet to demonstrate any sincerity of purpose.

The Government however got support from a section of the Opposition UNP, with one-time ruling combine MP, Wijedasa Rajapaksa, questioning the legality and the findings of the panel and the report prepared by it. Other senior UNP leaders like joint Assistant Leader, Sajith Premadasa, too had expressed near-similar sentiments earlier, though the UNP as a party was yet to take a position on the issue.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, The Island &Uthayan (Tamil)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mega container carrier enters H’totaharbour

In the wake of Opposition UNP allegation that the newly-built Magam Ruhunupura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port in southern Hambantota could not accommodate large ships due to a large rock blocking the entrance to the harbour, the Government on Thursday arranged for a mega container vessel to enter the harbour. ’Wan Hai 502’, owned by M/s Wan Hai Lines (Pte) Ltd, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, was the first large foreign vessel to manoeuver there.

However, short-term doubts remain about the immediate future of the Hambantota port’s use in promoting the nation’s service sector oriented economy, as the Lloyds of London is yet to register it as an international port, funded and developed by China on commercial finance terms.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, Colombo, April 28, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Continuity with change in US policy

US President Barack Obama has announced a major reshuffle in key national security posts related to Afghanistan. The impending retirement of current Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, set in motion a series of changes. Leon Panetta, incumbent Director of the CIA, is set to replace Gates. His current assignment will be handed over to Gen David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in Afghanistan, who will seek retirement from the Army.

Lt Gen John Allen, a Marine officer, who is credited with facilitating a split between local Iraqi insurgents and foreign al-Qaeda fighters, will replace Petraeus. Obama has also revealed that veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker will be the next Ambassador to Afghanistan. Crocker earlier served as interim envoy to Afghanistan in 2002, Ambassador to Pakistan during 2004-07, and Iraq during the famous ’surge’ in 2007.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The New York Times, April 27 2011

Note: Panetta favoured the use of military force to target (read: to kill) insurgents as the best way to defeat the Taliban insurgency, during the policy review in early 2009. Others in the ’Af-Pak’ team are strongly grounded in counterinsurgency principles which require ’whole-of-state’ solution and put politics, legitimacy, and nation-building above attrition of militants, more derisively refereed to as ’body bag’ tactics. Their retention and the addition of ’surge’ specialists strongly suggest that US strategy in Afghanistan will remain unaffected by the significant changes announced this week.


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India for better ties

Bilateral economic relations got a major boost following the visit of India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma this week. The Indian minister stressed on the need to further strengthen the economic ties between the two countries.

The two sides have agreed to intensify discussions not only at official but also at technical levels to provide further impetus to trade and economic exchanges.

During his two-day State visit, the Minister revealed that Indian private sector investment in Bangladesh is likely to increase to the tune of $ 3.5 billion. An increased Indian investment in Bangladesh would provide employment and value addition for exports from Dhaka.

The two sides also recognized that the bilateral trade had increased significantly. The exports from Bangladesh have increased six times in the last three quarters of the current year; the exports touching $ 359 million, which is higher than $ 304 million of last year.

Another important outcome of the visit was India’s offer to allow duty free access to 10 million pieces of readymade garments from Bangladesh, which is 25 per cent more than the previous years.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Grameen Bank gets clean chit

Grameen Bank, the leader in the micro-finance, have come up clear of corruption charges as the government committee, which was investigating the bank’s activity after a Norwegian television accused it of mishandling funds, gave it a clean chit. The government committee also discovered that Grameen Bank’s interest rate is the lowest compared to the country’s other micro-financiers.

In its report, the committee observed that the fund has not been misused for any dishonest purpose. The committee said it did not find any irregularity in the handling of the fund provided by the Norwegian government.

Grameen Bank had received some grants in the 80s and 90s from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). Norwegian state television aired a documentary that said Grameen Bank transferred a part of the grant to one of its subsidiaries. This sparked a controversy in Bangladesh and the bank had to face criticism.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, April 26, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Huji hideout busted

Two dreaded militants of banned Harkatul Jihad al Islami (Huji) were arrested this week. One of them is the acting chief of Huji, Abdul Hannan Sabbir. He is allegedly involved in various militant activities, including carrying out bomb attacks on an Udichi programme in Jessore and Pahela Baishakh (Bengali New Year) celebrations and planting a 76 kilogram bomb at Sheikh Hasina’s rally venue at Kotalipara in Gopalganj in 2000.

Following these arrests, the law enforcement agencies fear that Huji might try to reorganize. They claimed that Huji members were visiting different madrasas to recruit members and impart training to them.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, April 26, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bank of Bhutan to be disinvested

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has announced that investors would be able to buy shares of the Bank of Bhutan from June 1, when 25 percent of the government’s holdings in the bank are to be disinvested. The Financial Institutions Act of 1992, the RMA Act of 2010 and the prudential regulations of 2002 require all banks to go public and be listed on the stock exchange.

While the central bank maintains that divestment means 25 percent of the government’s holding in the bank should be floated to the public, officials said it was not yet decided whether that would be done, or the bank’s share capital would be raised through a fresh float. It was also not decided yet whether the divestment would include some portion of the SBI’s holdings in the bank.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online, April 29, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US Ambassador resigns

US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer has announced his resignation citing personal commitments and said that he had accomplished all strategic objectives set two years ago. The announcement coincided with Roemer expressing dissatisfaction with the selection process for a mega Indian Air Force tender for fighter planes in which both the U.S. contenders have been virtually knocked out of the race along with Russian and Swedish companies.

Roemer is known to be close to President Barack Obama and was among the first Democrat politicians from Indiana to have supported Obama’s bid for U.S. Presidency.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 29, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rs.7,000-cr project to clean Ganga

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved a Rs.7,000-crore project to clean the Ganga. It will be implemented by the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).The Centre’s share will be Rs.5,100 crore and that of the governments of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal Rs.1,900 crore.

The World Bank has agreed in principle to provide a loan assistance of $1 billion (roughly Rs.4,600crore) for the NGRBA project, which will form part of the Central share of the project. The duration of the project will be eight years. The NGRBA was constituted in February 2009 as an empowered planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating authority for the Ganga under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 29, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to go ahead with Jaitapur nuclear project

The decision to set up two 1650 MW reactors at Jaitapur was reaffirmed at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Various Government stakeholders including cabinet ministers and State Government officials attended the meeting. The members reviewed the current status of the Jaitapur project as well as safety concerns arising out of the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan and their impact on India’s overall nuclear energy programme. The meeting took the decision after reiterating the criticality of nuclear energy to address the fast growing energy concerns of India.

The Government has continued to push ahead with the Jaitapur project despite prolonged protests, which the government argues is politically motivated.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 27, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Centre likely to ban Endosulfan

Latest reports suggest that India has agreed to phase out the pesticide Endosulfan. At the Geneva meet of the Stockholm Convention, currently underway, India’s concern for the need to identify cost-effective and safe alternatives were accepted.

Earlier the Kerala State Government had hardened its stance on the Endosulfan issue, asking the Centre to ban the popularly used pesticide and supports the global ban at the Stockholm convention. The Centre however had continued to adopt a ’wait and watch’ policy stating that it would wait for the report from Indian Council of Medical Research before taking a decision.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 28, 2011, Economic Times, April 29, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Air India Strike

Cash-strapped national carrier Air India came under more pressure as talks between agitating pilots and Air India Management failed leading to cancellation of existing flights and suspension of booking for the next five days. The pilots had been agitating for better pay conditions.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 29, 2011, The Economic Times, April 29, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Godman passes away

Godman Sri Sathya Sai Baba was interred with state honours after he passed away due to multiple organ failure at Puttaparthi in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh State. He left behind millions of mourning devotees and an empire of educational, philanthropic and medical services.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, April 25, 2011, The Times of India, April 27, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GDP rebased to 2003 prices but inflation keeps mounting

The base period for measuring real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or national productivity of the Maldives has been updated from 1995 to 2003, the Department of National Planning has announced. Real GDP is an inflation-adjusted measure that reflects the value of goods and services produced within a country in a given year expressed in base-year prices.

"Changing the base period to a more recent year improves the accuracy of GDP estimates," read a Press statement by the department. "Internationally, regularly changing the base period is encouraged. In most countries GDP is rebased once every five or ten years. Maldives’ GDP has been rebased after an eight year period."

With the change in the base period, real GDP in 2011 is now calculated at Rf21,123 million while GDP per capita rises to Rf4,061, an increase of Rf1,217 from previous estimates. "Among the reasons for the difference, apart from richer information used to calculate GDP, include changes to methodology," the statement explains. Based on the 2003 series, it notes, real GDP on average grew 7.9 percent each year during the past decade, compared to 5.8 per cent under the 1995 series.

According to the last monthly economic review by the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), the pace of GDP growth in 2011 is projected at four percent. Increase in food prices meanwhile contributed to half of inflation in February 2011.According to the planning department, the consumer price index(CPI) for Male’ last month rose by 5.6 percent compared to March 2010.

Compared to the previous year, the highest inflation was recorded for education with 23 percent - driven by a 42 percent increase in school fees - followed by fish products, which rose by 14 percent. Food items such as coconut, green chili, watermelon, chicken sausage and oranges, showed a price increase between 25 per cent and 70 percent. However, the monthly inflation rate was low at 1.30 percent and showed deflation of 0.07 percent excluding fish.

The current moves and disclosures by the Government comes in the wake of the decision to effect a ’managed float’ of the Rufiah against the US dollar, contributing to an overnight increase in all prices, upward of 20 per cent, leading to criticism from the political Opposition and consternation among the people at large.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, April 27, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Z-DRP faction begins work

The Zaeem-DRP (Z-DRP) faction has announced that it has officially commenced its work as a separate branch of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).Formed amidst an ongoing dispute between incumbent DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and his predecessor and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Z-DRP aims to represent the former national leader and his supporters.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahouf told Minivan News today that the Z-DRP faction has now formed a council and a committee to officially organise and coordinate the work of the faction. "Last night, our first meeting was held and it was chaired by Azima Shukoor," Mahlouf said. "In the meeting, we decided to set up our own office."

Mahlouf said that during the meeting, the group’s members raised concerns that DRP Leader Thasmeen had disconnected the phone lines of island-based party offices and that the Z-DRP faction was unable to have contact with them. DRP MPs, including Thasmeen and Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef, were unavailable for comment about these claims when contacted.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, April 28, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists opt for peace, step back from new revolt

After nine days’ intense discussions to decide their future strategy, the Maoists have finally decided to step back from launching a new revolt and instead focus on the peace process, new constitution and rehabilitation of their nearly 20,000 trained fighters. Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, finally backed down from the call he had raised at a crucial meeting of the party last year to wage a "people’s revolt", identifying neighbour India as the arch enemy of the movement.

The discussions that began April 20 when Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna arrived in Nepal on a three-day official visit, ended in victory for the moderates who had been urging Prachanda to concentrate on drafting the new constitution and going forward with the peace process that began in 2006 but languished after the elections in 2008.

At the Maoist politburo meeting April 20-21, Prachanda did a surprise volte face, going against the proposal of revolt pushed forward by his fiery deputy Mohan Baidya, and instead agreeing with his moderate deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, that peace should be given priority.In the past, Prachanda and Bhattarai had been at daggers drawn, with Bhattarai being branded "Indian stooge" for advocating peace and asking not to go to war against India.

When the politburo meeting failed to resolve the differences between Prachanda and Baidya, the issue was placed before the central committee. As the crucial meet ended Friday, Maoist former minister Dev Gurung told the media the party had endorsed Prachanda’s line that priority should be given to the peace process, the new constitution and deciding the fate of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA).Gurung said it had been decided that a "unified draft" of the new Constitution should be ready by May 28, the deadline for enforcing the new statute.

There are fears that the new Constitution would not be ready by May 28, failing a second deadline, thanks to the major parties’ wrangling for power for almost three years.Now despite the Maoists’ endorsement of the peace process, it is virtually impossible that the 28 PLA camps can be emptied out and the new constitution be readied by May 28.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, April 29, 2011,, April 23, 2011, The Himalayan Times, April 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Krishna, Prachanda in diplomatic duel

Nepal’s Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s (Prachanda’s) meeting with Foreign Minister S M Krishna in Kathmandu on Friday (April 22, 2011) turned into a diplomatic duel with both sides raising their own concerns and denying the other’s accusation. At the meeting with Krishna in a Kathmandu hotel on the last day of the minister’s three-day visit, a somber Prachanda said his attention was drawn to media reports about his party’s anti-India activities. Krishna, too, had brought up security and economic issues as well as attacks on the Indian Ambassador to Nepal, RakeshSood, during the hour-long meeting, the former revolutionary said.

The Maoists have replied to the Indian charges with their own, accusing New Delhi of pulling strings during the Maoist Government and even afterwards to weaken the party. Prachanda said since the formation of his Government in 2008, he felt obstructed, especially during the incidents featuring then chief of the Nepal Army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal. Gen Katawal opposed the Maoist bid to merge their People’s Liberation Army with the Nepalese Army and had the support of the Indian Army, if not the Indian government. Prachanda’s bid to sack Gen Katawal caused his allies to pull out and forced him to resign. The Maoists say India influenced it into deserting them even after initially consenting to remove him.

The second case of obstruction brought up by Prachanda was the prime ministerial poll fiasco.

After Prachanda’s successor Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned last year, Prachanda fought the election seven times but failed to win, although he had got the highest number of votes in the three-cornered fight.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Times of India, April 23, 2011,, April 25, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepali Congress buries factional differences

The Opposition Nepali Congress has reportedly sorted out existing differences between party President Sushil Koirala and senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba over the appointment of key portfolios in the party at a time when Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was in Kathmandu, April 22, 2011.

Thus Sher Bahadur Deuba who had until Friday morning resisted appointment of Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad Sitaula as party Vice-President and General Secretary beamingly accepted their appointment in the respective portfolios as preferred by Sushil Koirala. Early hours on Friday, Koirala and Deuba had held an hour-long meeting at Koirala residence. Both Sitaula and Poudel are considered to be the close to the Indian establishment. The party later unanimously accepted the nominations.

"The party felt that we need to unite. Now onwards, the two leaders will discuss with each other prior taking important party’s decisions", said Bimalendra Nidhi after the meeting.It is also reported that Deuba came to terms with Koirala proposal only after Koirala assured him that he will be declared party’s leader of the parliamentary delegation in place of Ram Chandra Poudel. This Deuba informed the leaders from his panel. "If the President says so, we need not worry", Deuba told his panel and added, "The Government is about to change?Nepali Congress may be asked to take the lead. Let us accept this proposal."
< class="text11verdana">Source:, April 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepal opposes CA extension

CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal today said that only after completion of the peace process can the Constitution be promulgated. "It’s time all political parties zeroed in on peace and statute-drafting processes, but the Unified CPN-Maoist is all set to seize the state power," he said at a gathering in Jitpur.

Nepal claimed that the twin processes have taken a backseat because of the Maoists’ obsession with weapons and threat of a people’s revolt. If the Maoist party tries to impose authoritarianism in the country, its fate will be no different from that of rebels in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, he warned.

At the programme, the CPN-UML senior leader stressed the need to bring the Nepali Congress on board the government, and urged all political parties to concentrate on statute-drafting.

People will be disappointed if we give the CA another extension, he said, claiming that the remaining 34 days will be enough to prepare the statute, provided political parties are committed to the cause.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalaya Times, April 23-24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parties battle over budget

With the major opposition party as well as 10 others threatening to oppose a new budget, Nepal’s three-month-old Government faces a tough battle in Parliament three days hence. The Maoists, the dominant party in the two-member ruling coalition, are liable to get a dose of their own medicine with the Nepali Congress (NC), Terai parties from the south, and other fringe parties uniting to prevent Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari from getting the budget for 2011-12 passed in Parliament.

On Thursday, the 11 parties submitted a joint memorandum to both Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and Parliament chairman Subash Chandra Nembang, apprising them of their intention to oppose the new budget. The Khanal Government, under tremendous criticism for "having failed on all fronts", announced its intention to start the budget session from May 2 with the new budget to be tabled for discussions the next day. The Nepali Congress was the first to oppose the move, saying it would not allow the government to table a new budget before May 28, a crucial date.

As per the interim Constitution, now in force, a new constitution has to be enforced by May 28. However, the indications are that the Government will fail to meet the deadline, barring a last-minute miracle. Though Khanal met Nepali Congress chief Sushil Koirala on Thursday to lobby for support, Koirala rejected the overture.

It is a moment of just desserts for the Maoists who prevented the earlier Government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal from passing the budget in November. Sitting in the Opposition at that time, they had attacked the then Finance Minister Surendra Pandey in Parliament, forcing the government to enforce the budget by ordinance.

The current Finance Minister already carries on his shoulder the heavy burden of a bureaucratic dispute. Finance Secretary Rameshwor Khanal resigned recently after a tussle with his minister, who has been accused of drafting the new budget in consultation with a few corporate houses and seeking to shelter businessmen under investigation for tax evasion.

The Premier himself is accused of having abandoned the Nepali Congress, an old ally, and striking an opportunistic deal with the Maoists to win the prime ministerial election.Due to the bad blood created since then, no party other than the Maoists joined the Khanal Government and even the Maoists have been dragging their feet about sending ministers, causing the cabinet to be still incomplete.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, April 29, 2011, the Himalayan Times, April 29, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army considering Iraq mission

The Nepali Army is considering sending its troops to restive Iraq to become part of the ’stationary force’ under the United Nations, a highly placed source said. The UN had asked Nepal to commit around 222 personnel-including 35 personnel for mobile units-for deployment in Iraq around four months back.

Earlier, the Nepali Army was undecided as it was not sure whether request was from the UN or the invading forces- the NATO. Though the Army is certain to send troops to Iraq, it is unlikely that troops would be contributed to mobile units in view of the safety of its personnel.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan Times, April 27, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Trade ties with India to resume

India and Pakistan have resumed high-level trade relations, holding a two-day long meeting in Islamabad. Both countries agreed to create a joint working group to enhance bilateral trade. India also granted Pakistan the status of ’most favoured nation’, a gesture which is expected to be reciprocated.

Pakistan’s Commerce Secretary, ZafarMahmood, and his Indian counterpart, Rahul Khullar took part in the discussions. The two officials are also believed to have explored the possibility of India exporting petrol and diesel to Pakistan, which has been suffering from an energy crisis in recent past.

The trade talks were also suspended after the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008.
< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP, April 27, 2011; Dawn, April 28, 2011

Note: Trade between the two rivals is placed at around $2 billion. Clearly, they are not each other’s favoured trading destinations. The recent development should rather be seen in the context of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s latest peace initiative. However, his aides are divided over the issue of resumption of the ’composite dialogue’, and remain deeply suspicious of Pakistan’s commitment to prevent terrorism violence against India. In such a precarious situation, Prime Minister Singh appears to have adopted an incremental approach in expanding the scope of engagement without labeling it as ’composite dialogue’ so as to minimise opposition from the country’s political and policy elite.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban attack Navy personnel in Karachi

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan targeted Navy personnel thrice in the violence-affected port city of Karachi during the past week, killing nine people and injuring more than 70. On April 26, roadside bomb blasts hit two Navy buses and killed four personnel, including a lady doctor, a sub lieutenant, a sailor and a civilian employee. Later on April 28, the third bomb attack again hit a navy bus, killing five people, including an officer and a doctor.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, April 26, 28, 2011

Note: Karachi has for long been a safe haven for Taliban militants, who blend into the city’s Pashtun community and seek rest and medical treatment. Because of its utility as a sanctuary, and also as a major funding location, the Taliban have largely refrained from violence in Pakistan financial hub. The group has also avoided attacking the navy, as it is not involved in counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas. Last week’s attacks, therefore, represent a major break from trends in militant violence.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NATO supplies blocked

The Imran Khan led a rally of Tehrik-e-Insaf supporters from Lahore to Peshawar and blocked NATO supply convoys to protest against the continued use of drones in the tribal areas. The cricketer turned politician urged people to voice their opposition against the incumbent government and said, ’if the masses in Egypt and Tunisia can overthrow dictators, Pakistanis can sweep aside corrupt rulers who have stashed away billions in foreign banks.’

Political parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, JamiatUlema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), JUI-Sami, Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Pakistan Muslim League-Likeminded and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Istiqlal had pledged support, generating expectations that the event will draw crowds in large numbers. However, the parties limited their participation to speeches by party leaders. Resultantly, the event drew a relatively small crowd of 3000 to 4000 protestors.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The News International, April 23, 2011; Dawn, April 24, 2011

Note: In spite of raising the highly emotive issue of drones, the protest dismally failed in meeting its objective of inspiring millions to pour into the streets. Three certainties emerge from this failure. First, Imran Khan is yet to build sufficient political capital and clout to emerge as a serious contender, in spite of a spate of protests and public appearances in recent months. Second, despite much noise, the political opposition is disorganised and unwilling to cooperate meaningfully. Third, the dynamics of large-scale mobilisation, so profoundly apparent in Egypt and West Asia, are absent in Pakistan, notwithstanding repeated calls for a Tahrir Square-like uprising by opposition leaders.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kaustav Dhar Chakraborti;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & India: Akhilesh Variar;
Nepal: Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N SathiyaMoorthy;

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