MonitorsPublished on Jul 10, 2010
By declaring fresh intentions to revive GSP-Plus talks with the European Union (EU), and ensuring the withdrawal of anti-UN fast by incumbent Minister Wimal Weerawansa, the Sri Lankan Government seems to be now engaged in damage control on the global diplomatic front, whose results are as yet unpredictable.
Sri Lanka: Delayed damage-control on global front?
< class="heading1">Analysis

By declaring fresh intentions to revive GSP-Plus talks with the European Union (EU), and ensuring the withdrawal of anti-UN fast by incumbent Minister Wimal Weerawansa, the Sri Lankan Government seems to be now engaged in damage control on the global diplomatic front, whose results are as yet unpredictable. Considering that both issues flow from alleged human rights violations and 'war-crimes', particularly in the context of the 'ethnic issue', the answers for ending the current crisis may lie elsewhere and in the hands of the Sri Lankan State and the 'Sinhala majority' polity.

Weerawansa and his JNP were protesting against UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointing a three-member 'advisory committee' on Sri Lankan affairs, and seeking its withdrawal. A strident supporter of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Weerawansa ended the fast abruptly after the former flew in from his weekend residence at Kandy to offer him a glass of water. In turn, the US, the EU, the erstwhile Norwegian facilitator of the Sri Lanka peace talks, not to leave out the one-time Soviet ally Romania, issued a joint statement against JNP protestors restricting the movement of UN staff. The US also issued a separate statement, stating that it was 'dismayed'.

There were notable absentees among the protesting nations. Russia and China, two P-5 members sympathetic to the Sri Lankan cause, also stayed away from the current controversy. Both had opposed the appointment of the advisory panel, when announced, and had defended the Sri Lankan Government in the UN Human Rights Council last year, along with nations like India. In the UN, where Colombo hoped to use the 115-member non-aligned movement (NAM) to add width, if not depth, to its case after the JNP launched its protest, the Sri Lankan draft did not seem to have found favour with a substantial number. At the time of the advisory panel's appointment, too, the NAM sent out confusing signals that did not do any good to Sri Lanka's standing and image in the comity of nations - considering that the continued relevance and diplomatic muscle of the NAM as a non-binding organisation remained suspect in the post-Cold War era.

'Unconvincing' Deniability?

Colombo's strident posture vis a vis the international community (read: West) served a limited domestic purpose in the years of 'Eelam War IV'. At the time, it helped to whip up 'nationalist pride' and keep unavoidable controversies like those attending on 'body bags' of Sinhala soldiers returning home under check. Not any more. At a time when Sri Lanka needed the international community on its side, both for post-war developmental funding and checking LTTE remnants still retaining refuge in some western nations, Colombo was overplaying its hurt. It had no appreciation in the global arena and limited appeal nearer home.

.The usefulness of unbridled rhetoric attending on Sri Lanka's otherwise justifiable case on issues of 'sovereignty' may not have served any electoral purposes in the months gone-by. For Weerawansa, wooing away the traditional 'Sinhala nationalist' constituency of parent JVP when the latter was still licking its electoral wounds may serve a purpose - but not to the Sri Lankan State and its people. The Government's half-hearted and indifferent efforts, if any, at distancing itself from Weerawansa's fast thus failed to convince anyone, nearer home or abroad.

It remains to be seen if Colombo would use the current pause to reset its agenda on the global scene and review its attitude and approach to issues and solutions. In the recent past, Sri Lanka did not give the impression that it was putting borrowed time of the kind to the use for which others believed it was intended. The Government now may have to spent precious time repairing the consequent damage when it could have been set off for more worthwhile pursuits of peace and prosperity.

The Government's sudden U-turn, if it is one, may tempt sections of the western nations to go hammer and tongs at issues and concerns that may be of no immediate relevance to issues that have been on the anvil. They should resist the temptation to play the Diaspora game of the pro-LTTE sections, which some of them have most definitely been doing. As part of the process and also of the post-war concerns that Colombo's actions may have triggered, more nations and international institutions may want to take keener and continuing interest in Sri Lanka's domestic affairs, particularly on the ethnic front but not excluding other aspects of human rights issues.

'Colonial' mindset, still?

This does not mean that there is no case for Sri Lanka on issues of 'sovereignty' that it has raised. The 15-point EU conditions for continuing with the GSP-Plus duty-free import regime for poor nations do not stop with labour rights or even larger issues of human rights. The EU's 'interventionist' approach for the implementation of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, providing in turn for administrative reforms nearer home, is also beset with conceptual mis-construct that seeks to take away the inherent powers of the Executive and Parliament in a democracy and confer them on a neo-oligarchy.

On the issue of UN advisory panel, a P-5 member like Russia has contested Secretary-General Ban's powers to set up one without involving the Security Council or the General Assembly. The Sri Lankan Government has also contested the claims of the UN chief's office that the panel was a product of a joint statement issued by Ban and President Rajapaksa after the former visited post-war Sri Lanka last year. Likewise, the UN could have avoided the confusion arising out of its current decision to close down the UNDP office in Colombo, linking - or, not linking - it to the JNP protests. Sri Lanka called it 'contradiction'. The announcement on the closure of UNDP office could have waited until the larger UN controversy had been sorted out.

Having launched a jet-set mission to sort out the domestic political crisis in neighbouring Maldives in 24 hours - that too when the UN office blockade raged nearer home -- President Rajapaksa now has the whole world as his stage to display statesmanship that goes far above domestic electoral concerns and divisive partisan approaches. He may have missed the bus once earlier at the conclusion of the ethnic war, when he got diverted by immediate electoral concerns. For the rest of the world, they need to understand that Sri Lanka, like many other one-time colonial nations, is coming on its own. Home-grown leaderships with domestic concerns and constituencies in their minds is beginning to replace elite predecessors with a global vision and acceptance. President Rajapaksa is a product and precursor of that change. Both sides need to reconcile themselves to existing and emerging realities - and need to work their way together and forward.

N Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">News & Developments Report

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Protest against UN

In an unprecedented move in the post-war era of reconciliation, Sri Lanka witnessed anti-UN protests when the JNP, a partner in the ruling coalition of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, staged a protest outside the UN office in Colombo. The protestors were demanding the withdrawal of a three-member advisory panel, appointed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon for Sri Lankan affairs, reiterating the Government's argument that the appointment challenged the nation's sovereignty.

At one stage, the protestors were charged with blockading the UN office, not allowing staff and visitors to move around freely. The police had to be called in to remove the blockade, and Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe had to accompany senior UN staff out of their office, sending out an unpalatable message. However, JNP leader and Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa began a fast-unto-death the very next day, to press the party's demand.

The UN chief promptly recalled Country Coordinator Neil Burhne for consultations. The UNDP, a UN affiliate, announced the closure of its Colombo office against the earlier decision to scale down the operations. A UN statement first sought to de-link the protest and the UNDP closure but soon clarified that both were linked.
Daily Mirror, Colombo

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President Rajapaksa intervenes in Maldivian crisis

In a move aimed at sorting out the domestic political crisis that sought to envelope neighbouring Maldives, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a flying visit to Male, where he met with his counterpart Mohammed Nasheed and the Opposition leaders. According to a statement from the Maldivian Government, the visit helped in mitigating the constitutional impasse, caused by the mass resignation of the 13-member Cabinet of Ministers, obviously at the instance of President Nasheed.

At the end of his day-long visit, President Rajapaksa hosted a dinner for political party leaders in Maldives, in which President Nasheed was present.

A day earlier, Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister G L Peiris visited Male. President Rajapaksa was away in Ukraine at the time, and hopped on to Male on return to Colombo.
The Island, Colombo

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TNA delegation meets Indian leaders

A six-member delegation of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders-cum-MPs visited New Delhi on a five-day trip, when they met with senior Indian leaders, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Indian leaders, who included Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, advised the TNA leaders to create a consensus among all parties of the Tamil-speaking people, and also work with the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to sort out issues pertaining to post-war rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation.

“We are satisfied with the meetings,” TNA spokesman and MP, Selvam Adaikalanathan, said. As he pointed out, the delegation briefed the Indian leaders on problems faced on rehabilitation front in particular, and overall reconciliation efforts. They also referred to efforts to house the families of Sri Lankan soldiers in the war-ravaged Tamil areas in the North and East and wanted New Delhi to take up the issue with Colombo.
The Island, Colombo

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jamaat makes massive earnings

Jamaat-e-Islami, the influential religious political party, generates Taka 15000 crores annually through various businesses. This was revealed by arrested Jamaat Ameer Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary-General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and Nayeb-e-Ameer Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

The party spends nearly Taka 300 crores on various organisational activities. The major business outfits of the party include Bangladesh Islami Bank, Islami Bank Medical College Hospital, Ibne Sina Trust, Social Investment Bank, Al Baraka Bank, Islami Bank Hospital, Bangladesh Masjid Mission, Chashi Kalyan Sangstha, Ababil, Rahbar, Anabil and Salsabil. This suggests the depth and penetration of Jamaat in the economy.

The arrested leaders also made certain startling statements about the party's activities. Jamaat is planning to sabotage the trial of the 1971 'Bangladesh War' criminals It has allocated Taka 6.6 million for a three-month campaign to disrupt the trial. The party has constituted a committee in this regard.

The Jamaat leaders were arrested on June 29, and the Government was preparing to frame charges against them for alleged atrocities against the freedom-fighters of 1971. The Jamaat was believed to have sided with Pakistan army during the country's Independence.
The Independent, 7 July 2010
The Daily Star, 6 & 9 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fatwa illegal

In a major verdict, the Bangladesh High Court has declared all religious fatwas to be illegal. The court directed the authorities concerned to take strict action against those who sought to enforce fatwas against women.

According to the verdict, anyone involved, present or taking part in or assisting in any of such conviction or execution would come under purview of the offences under the penal code and be subject to punishment. The verdict is the result of a writ petition seeking necessary directives from the court to stop extra-judicial punishment in the name of fatwas.

The present verdict has come as a major relief for the women of the country as they often face harassment in the name of religion and religious fatwas.
The Daily Star, 9 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Convenient FDI Destination

Bangladesh has been rated to be one of the friendly destinations for foreign direct investment (FDI), according to a World Bank report on 'Investing across Borders 2010'.

The report suggests that Bangladesh offered strongest land or property lease rights to foreign investors. This had made leasing a private land easy for foreign investors. Again, Bangladesh is one of the most open countries to foreign equity ownership. Starting a business in Bangladesh takes around 55 days.
New Age, 8 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Myanmar Railway link 2014

Bangladesh is all set to establish railway link with Myanmar by 2014. A rail line from Dohazari in Chittagong to Gundhum in Myanmar via Cox's Bazar will be constructed.

The Government has approved Taka 1850-crore investment on the project. When completed, this railway link will enhance the prospect of a possible railway linkage with from Bangladesh to China.
The Daily Star, 7 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cabinet restored

Ending a week of constitutional impasse and political uncertainty, President Mohammed Nasheed reinstated the 13-member Cabinet of Ministers after the mass resignation earlier. The resignations followed the Opposition-controlled People's Majlis, or Parliament, passing a finance bill in double quick-time, mandating legislative concurrence for leasing out/ privatising public property, starting with the Male International Airport.

Under the 2008 Constitution, Parliament has to approve all Cabinet appointments. Despite the new Cabinet having only all old faces, the Government has to go through the process.

Indications are that the Opposition may not come in the way, after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and US Ambassador Patricia Butenis engaged the Maldivian Government and the Opposition in talks aimed at reconciling their political differences. However, the Government fired a fresh salvo by detaining Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Nazim, on corruption charges.

Earlier arrests of two senior Opposition leaders in the aftermath of the mass resignations, on similar charges, was among the causes for further precipitation of the political crisis, it may be recalled.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GMR proposes business centre

Caught in the centre of the current political crisis in Maldives, Indian infrastructure major GMR Group has proposed a 50-acre business centre in Hulhule, north of the Male International Airport, if the Government and the people desired one.

"Our idea is to make that land a business centre of the Maldives. It was proposed based on our experience and the recommendations of US experts," said P Sripathy, CEO of GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited.

There are many business opportunities in that area, he said. "For instance, people would be surprised if we say it is a mini transhipment hub. Many international flights, including large aircraft, land there. So cargo is being transited through Maldives from Colombo and other places. There are noticeable aspects there. The place holds value."
The Haveeru

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President extends date of government-formation

President Ram Baran Yadav extended the deadline for government-formation for five days till 11 July, on a request from political parties. After the resignation of the Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal on 1 July, the President asked all major parties to form a 'consensus government' within a week.

However, internal bickering and disagreements over the ingredients of the proposed Constitution prevented them from presenting a consensus prime ministerial candidate. The question however remains if the political parties will be able to form a consensus government in five days was a moot question. If not, the President will have to opt for a 'majority government' which has few takers.
RTT News, 7 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fringe parties threaten to stake claim

The 22 small parties having representation in the Constituent Assembly have expressed deep concern over the lack of seriousness in the three major parties - UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) - to form a national government at the earliest and thus end the long-standing political deadlock. The smaller parties, including those from the Terai plains, have warned the three big players that if they failed to arrive at a consensus within a stipulated time-frame then they would not hesitate to stake claim for forming a government.

The smaller parties have also accused the Maoists and the Nepali Congress-UML alliance of taking important decisions without consulting them. The two big parties, viz. Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist and Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, have already started wooing the Madhesi parties, which form the fourth largest bloc in the Constituent Assembly. The leader of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) and outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadhar has said that they would support a national government only if the Big Three promised to take up the issues of Madhesis seriously., 9 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists' visit to China raises eyebrows in India

A visit by an 11-member Maoists' team to China, to study 'historical and cultural' ties between the two countries, has raised eyebrows in India. Although Maoists' chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias 'Prachanda' declared that the visit was not political, the timing has led to suspicions in India, as the infant Himalayan republic is groping with the job of finding a successor to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

Despite Prachanda's claims, senior officials of the Communist Party of China expressed their readiness to carry out inter-party exchange and cooperation with all Nepalese political parties.
Hindustan Times, 3 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India, China out of passport deal

Indian and Chinese companies are out of the race for the lucrative Nepalese contract to manufacture machine-readable passports (MRP). The business may instead go to a European, Singaporean or an Indonesian company.

Though two companies from India — including the government-run Security Minting and Printing Corporation — and a Chinese company bought the contract papers, officials claimed that their tenders had failed to meet the deadline set for Thursday. The Security Minting and Printing Corporation had earlier bagged the contract but it was withdrawn following objections from the Public Accounts Committee of the Nepali Parliament, which wanted tenders floated for the purpose.

In all, 16 companies bid for the contract but only four submitted their documents by the Thursday deadline, Foreign Ministry sources said.
Indian Express, 3 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">45 killed in Lahore Terror Attack

Suicide-bombers targeted devotees at the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, in Lahore killing 45 people and injuring 175. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which had claimed responsibility of the earlier bombings denied having a hand, claiming that it was a conspiracy by 'foreign agencies'.

One of the terrorists however was identified, in initial reports as being a resident of a suburb in Lahore.
Daily Times, 3 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Anti-Terror Sentiments

The aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Lahore saw the civil society, the Federal Government, the Punjab Provincial Government and Army officials echoing a need for a concerted anti-terror movement in the country.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that banned outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda were responsible for the attacks in the country. A 17-member parliamentary panel on the national security urged the Government to revamp its anti-terror strategy. ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, who was present at the briefing, suggested the involvement of 'foreign forces'.

In a meeting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had with the Chief Ministers of all Provinces, the need was outlined for a national conference of all political parties to discuss ways of combating militancy.

There were reports of the Army being irked by Punjab Government's inaction despite concrete intelligence inputs. Phrases such as 'adversary' and 'war-path' have been used to describe the deteriorating relationship between the Army and the Punjab Government, led by Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).
Dawn, 8 July 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NAB shake-up over case withdrawal

Eight senior officials of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) were transferred and one was sacked in what media reports indicate was an attempt by the Government to take control of the bureau. The issue came up when the spokesperson of the NAB was sacked for issuing a Press statement indicating that the cases against President Asif Ali Zardari would not be withdrawn without the absence of credible evidence, solid reasons on the basis of merits and the consent of the concerned courts.

Top NAB officials were known to have cleared this statement. Recent developments as well as the transfer of officials made it evident that the Government was trying to tighten its control over the bureau. The Supreme Court meanwhile expressed displeasure at the delay in the appointment of the chairman on the NAB.
Dawn 3 July 2010
Daily Times 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chashma-Jhelum link row deepens

The member from Sindh and the federal member of the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) decided to resign in protest against the move to open the Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) link canal. This is the result of Irsa's acting chairman and member Punjab, Shafqat Masud ,directing WAPDA to release 10,000 cusecs of water through the CJ link canal.

Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan have been locked in a bitter conflict over the opening of the link canal. Earlier, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa representative Aman Gul Khattak had resigned, while the Balochistan member is on a two-month leave. The President's intervention has been sought in the issue

The link canals were operated as part of the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 to manage the Indus Basin as an integrated entity as envisaged in the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991.
Dawn 7 & 8 July, 2010
Daily Times 8 July, 2010

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

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

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