MonitorsPublished on Jun 14, 2013
Reports that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leadership is in Delhi this week for an exchange of views with the Indian leadership should be utilised by both sides to review their known positions on 13-A, and should not stop with reiterating the same.
Sri Lanka: Need to revisit past positions on ethnic front
< class="heading1">Analysis

Reports that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leadership is in Delhi this week for an exchange of views with the Indian leadership should be utilised by both sides to review their known positions on 13-A, and should not stop with reiterating the same. Such discussions should be aimed at addressing the current and continuing concerns of the ’Sinhala majority’ in the island-nation, without the TNA team seeking to paint it all in black-and-wide, with no grey areas left for stake-holders’ negotiations back home.

Independent of what the respective positions may be, 13-A has remained mostly unimplemented in Sri Lanka. The accompanying Provincial Councils Act, also of 1987, was aimed at the merger of the North and the East, but merger is now a thing of the past. The Sri Lankan Cabinet’s compromised efforts at formally withdrawing the President’s ’residual powers’ at merger after the nation’s Supreme Court had ordered de-merger as far back as 2006 is possibly an indication of the shape of things to come.

For the TNA, the party should revisit its known positions on the need for the full implementation of 13-A, particularly on Police and Land powers for the Provinces, and also take it forward to make it current. Even while insisting on the same, the TNA in particular and the Sri Lankan Tamil community otherwise, should consider what more they may have to seek in terms of ’Police’ powers that will make the constabulary friendly to their people across the country, and not just to the Tamils in the Northern Province.

Demographic realities

Uncontested figures from Census-2012 have proved the Government claims that more Tamils/Tamil-speaking people(s) live outside the North. Given the emerging demographic pattern, the gap will only be widening. This means that the TNA should be talking about ’Police’ powers and/or availability to address the daily grievances of their people outside of the North. The current proposition, drawn from the bygone era, when most Sri Lankan Tamils lived in the North and the East, and the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord also provided for their merger, does not hold water.

There are also demographic projections that claim that the Muslims could constitute the second largest community in the country, over the coming years and decades. It is unlike the inexplicable decline in the population share of the Upcountry Tamil community in Census-2012, though there have been no recorded/reported incidence of large-scale external migration, unlike in the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Either way, there is no denying the composite strength of these two Tamil-speaking communities viz the Sri Lankan Tamil community, both at present, and possibly more so in the future. The question thus would arise if their legitimate demands as minorities themselves could allowed to be swarmed by the legitimate aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamil community.

On the land issue, too, the TNA demand now will have to provide for ’non-resident’ Tamils from the North. They want 13-A implemented for the Centre to alienate ’Land’ powers and ownership and possession of ’public lands’ in the North to the Provincial Council. It has also to think in terms of how best can such powers/ownership be utilised to serve the Tamils who had been forced to migrate outside the North, if not outside the country, by three decades of war and violence.

The TNA leaders do not seem to be thinking in those terms. Instead, by tying themselves to the past, they have only been seeking powers for their political class, not a stake in it for their people, in whose name they are demanding the same. Needless to say, any demand of theirs, other than those seeking the implementation of 13-A, should be made before Parliament, either through the Government-mooted PSC or otherwise.

On 13-A implementation, they will have to move the Supreme Court, if and when they get to rule the North, after the promised Provincial Council polls in September. They did not do so even after the de-merged Eastern Province had an elected Government to call its own. Yet, it would be crude and cruel to argue that the TNA was interested only in empowering its divided political leadership -which could also help the party united for a time -- and not at empowering their people, in whose name they are fighting their political cause now, and the Northern PC polls, not long after.

If they did not so for long, it was because they did not accept 13-A when it was on the Statute Book. If anything, the TNA and its predecessors had strong reservations to 13-A and the parent India-Sri Lanka Accord. All threats were to the implementation of 13-A, not to its existence. Today, when 13-A itself is being politically challenged nearer home, the TNA has woken up rather belatedly.

Political positions and posturing

Back in Sri Lanka, the ’Sinhala-Buddhist’ right-wing JHU has moved a private member’s Bill in Parliament, seeking to rescind 13-A in toto. The party has commenced political consultations, starting with the UNP Opposition. In turn, the UNP has come out with a new constitutional outline. The focus is on the Executive Presidency, an ’empowered prime minister’ and other issues of political administration and governance. The UNP has contained the ethnic issue by promising ’meaningful devolution’ but after reiterating its commitment to the existing ’unitary State’ model.

Hair-splitting arguments may lead to the conclusion that the UNP, having piloted and backed 13-A while in power in the past, may be hinting at a reversal. Yet, the UNP’s intention does not seem to be emaciating 13-A, but enlarging it, instead. Yet, by keeping its intent open on what it now means by ’meaningful devolution’, the party seems to be playing safe, particularly on the election front. Indications of a series of polls lying ahead of the nation in the next couple of years could mean that the UNP may be forced into clarifying its position, but the chances are that the party would get as much confused as it may end up confusing the rest. Such are the issues involved.

The TNA has since acknowledged the role played by the Muslim-exclusive SLMC, and also the ’Socialist Front’ of Left-Sinhala parties (other than the ’Sinhala-nationalist’ Left parties like the JVP and the breakaway National Freedom Front of Minister Wimal Weeravansa) in thwarting the Government’s bid to have the ’Simple Majority’ draft passed into the Constitution. If enacted, the law could mean the withdrawal of the purported ’veto’ power of all nine Provincial Councils, which in turn now impedes Parliament’s powers to legislate on subjects in the ’Concurrent List’.

The TNA, however, has chosen not to acknowledge the consistent position taken by the EPDP, which like the SLMC and the Socialist Front parties, is a partner in the ruling SLFP-UPFA Government. That owes to the politics of the North, where it is pitted against the EPDP. However, in the East, the TNA was pitted against the SLFP in the PC polls last year.

Like the EPDP, the SLMC is a part of the Government. It had spurned the TNA’s post-poll offer of a coalition government in the East only last year. The scaled-up public offer(s) included the Eastern Chief Minister’s job for the SLMC though the party had scored only seven seats in the Provincial Council, against TNA’s 11. In the East, the EPDP may contest with the Government, the SLMC may go it alone -but again, against the TNA, which is expected field candidates for all 36 electable seats.

The EPDP -and also the SLMC -apart from the Socialist Front have been more consistent backers of 13-A than the TNA, or its earlier avtars. So has been the residual TULF, which is at present a reluctant second-grade member of the TNA, but with no parliamentary representation now, or possibly in the foreseeable future. The Upcountry Tamil parties, starting with the CWC, but including those now in the Opposition, have always held a similar view on 13-A. There are also individual members of the SLFP leader of the ruling UPFA combine and other affiliates who hold a similar view.

In politics, there cannot be ’good’ adversaries and ’bad’ friends. It is about the possibilities. The issue is not about 13-A per se. It is not about the TNA demands alone. It is about balancing the political aspirations of individual communities, as represented by the collective will of their respective polity, and presenting it in a way that offers a political solution to what essentially is a political problem, but was allowed to fester into a military problem that required and obtained a military solution. What is required is not just lone and desperate voices. Instead, a collective solution acceptable to the collective conscience of the nation’s populace, as represented by the collective yet divided polity, is the answer.

It is time for the TNA to take hard-nosed decisions, without drifting into semantics and/or reiterating known positions. The UNP, despite its proclaimed sympathy for the Tamil political cause, did open discussions with the JHU’s proposal on rescinding 13-A. There are talks within the UNP -and also the SLFP -on permitting ’conscience vote’ on devolution issues, which alone is close to the TNA’s heart. The SLMC is opposed to the ’Simple Majority’ law, as the Muslim community will feel the pinch in the East just as the TNA and the Tamils would in the North. The TNA acclaimed it. Yet, for the same reasons, the SLMC backs the accompanying Bill on withdrawing President’s powers on merger.

A lone swallow does not a summer make. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) alone could provide the answers, as much as the TNA may have questions about it -rather than questions for it. It may not have in the partners in the present government allies who could try and thwart the current efforts at diluting the 13-A powers. They may be more dependable than its existing political allies across the Opposition spectrum, whose agendas as varied as their manifestos on the ethnic issue are vague, if not diluted.

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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Afghanistan: Iran and Taliban, an alliance of convenience

Aryaman Bhatnagar

The past two weeks have seen the Taliban conclude two three-day visits to Iran. The meetings were intended to overcome the differences and misunderstandings that the two sides share about each other, and possibly establish red lines that the two parties could respect. A Taliban official, ahead of the first meeting, had said, "The Taliban will explain their policies and will allay the fears of Iran as it always had concerns about Taliban being Sunnis".

At the conclusion of the first meeting, reports indicated that the Taliban requested Iran to put an end to its support of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the principal opposition force to the Taliban. In turn, they are said to have given Iran guarantees that it would adopt a more accommodating attitude towards all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, including the Shia Hazaras, Iran’s traditional support base in Afghanistan.

These meetings are said to have taken place at the invitation of the Iranian government. The Afghan government, which was completely bypassed in the process, is naturally worried at the prospects of countries reaching out individually to the Taliban as they believe that it undermines the idea of an Afghan-led peace process.

This is not the first time that engagement between the two sides has been reported. The US and NATO forces have been accusing Iran of providing support to the Taliban for long. This support is said to include the provision of weapons such as missile launchers, rockets, mortars, explosives and AK-47s. Moreover, in 2012 it was reported that Iran was also providing operating space to the Taliban in Tehran and Mashhad, and allowed the group to open an office in Zahedan.

There is no ideological affinity or similarity between the Taliban and Iran that compels them to reach out to each other. The Sunni Islamic Taliban with links to the Wahhabi and Deobandi schools of Islam stood in stark contrast to Shia Iran, a sect that is rejected by the Taliban as being apostates. In fact, when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in the 1990’s, they were perceived by Teheran as posing a security threat to it.

Such a perception was strengthened by the Taliban’s decision to divert the water of Helmand river away from Iran causing a severe socio-economic crisis in Iran, and the killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, which led Iran to mobilise its forces on the Iran-Afghanistan border. The source of the Taliban’s external patronage also led Iran to conclude that the Taliban was part of a Pakistani, Saudi and American -- who had briefly courted the Taliban government for the construction of the gas pipeline across Afghanistan -plot to isolate Iran in the region. Taliban, in turn, accused Iran, along with India and Russia, of providing support to the Northern Alliance, its principal opposition in Afghanistan.

Despite such differences in the past, the situation in Afghanistan post-2001 has dictated a convergence of Iran and the Taliban’s interests and compelled them to look beyond each other’s ideological and sectarian leanings and enter into an alliance of convenience. This alliance is naturally directed against the presence of foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan. For the Taliban military support from Iran is seen as being critical not only in its struggle against the ISAF forces, but also to give it an edge and tilt the balance in its favour when it takes on the Afghan National Security Forces post-2014.

From Iran’s perspective, the military presence of the US in the region poses a genuine threat to the survival of its regime. Moreover, it has accused the US of using its bases in Afghanistan to spy on its nuclear programme and extend support to extremist and secessionist groups on Iranian soil. Assistance to the Taliban then is meant to frustrate the American military mission and keep it preoccupied in Afghanistan to distract it from undertaking any possible aggressive action against Iran. Tehran also believes that such a policy can help Iran gain asymmetrical capability in Afghanistan, which it can then use to retaliate against the US in case its nuclear facilities are ever attacked by the western forces.

However, as significant a factor as the US is in bringing these two sides together, both Iran and the Taliban are motivated by factors, other than thwarting the American threat, to engage with each other.

Iran has made substantial investments in Afghanistan, particularly in the western provinces, which it sees as its traditional sphere of influence. Iran hopes to fulfil its aspirational objectives of being seen as a significant regional player through such investments. It seeks to expand its influence within Afghanistan and propagate its cause by developing the religious, educational and media institutions in the country. Such substantial investment in Afghanistan also allows Iran to break out of the isolation that it has been subjected to on account of the international sanctions. Iran would naturally be keen to protect these investments, for which it would have to engage all political factions in Afghanistan, especially the Taliban given the major role it is likely to play in the future.

Moreover, Iran is also wary of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s influence increasing in Afghanistan, and especially among the more hardline and radical elements within the Taliban movement. Engagement and cultivation of relations with the Taliban may help Tehran to undercut the Saudi and Pakistani influence.

The Taliban for its part would possibly also have a long-term rationale behind engaging with Iran. According to many Taliban officials, following a policy of isolation is a mistake that they are not keen to repeat. In the 1990s, only three countries had recognised the Taliban government and it was mostly dependent on Pakistan as an outlet to the international community.

However, the relations between the two, even in the 1990s, were tenuous at best. The Taliban resented and resisted Rawalpindi’s attempts to pull its string, and its resentment of the Pakistan military has increased post-2001 due to its involvement in the US-led war on terror. The Taliban continues to be reliant on Pakistan for a safe haven and military support, but it is possible that in the future it would like to have other options as well in order to reduce its dependence on Rawalpindi.

The recent meetings between the two tend to suggest such long-term thinking on their part. Both have attempted to establish red lines for the other in the hope that their long-term objectives would be protected.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Afghanistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karzai blames terror-war for radicalism

Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the US-Islamic Forum held in Doha blamed the US-led War on Terror for strengthening and expanding the forces of radicalism across the Muslim world, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Mali and Nigeria.

He raised the question whether this was "an unexpected outcome or is the West doing so intentionally?". He also raised the Israel-Palestine issue and stressed the importance for the US-led West to tackle the problem in an impartial manner and grant the Palestinians the same right to live as had been conferred to Israel.

He urged the Islamic world, the United States and the West to work together for promoting tolerance and the spirit of peaceful coexistence. He also called for sharing resources and knowhow to ensure welfare and prosperity for all.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, June 10, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Increase in civilian casualties

According to figures released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the civilian casualties in Afghanistan have increased by 24 per cent this year. The figures also reveal that 74 per cent of those casualties were caused by the Taliban.

According to the UNAMA report, 3099 civilians were killed and wounded in the first six months of the current year, of which 21 percent included children. 74 percent of the civilians were killed and wounded due to attacks by the Taliban.

The report also mentioned that nine percent of the casualties were caused by pro-government forces. UNAMA said that the civilian causalities during air attacks carried out by the security forces have fallen by 30 percent.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, June 11, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Abundant gas reserves in Afghanistan

The Afghan Ministry of Mines announced this week that Afghanistan has more than half a trillion cubic metre of liquid gas reserves. The actual amount of the reserves could be much more, but the actual figure would be revealed only after a proper assessment is carried out.

In addition to the Yatem Taq and Khuwaja Gogerdak gas fields in Jowezjan province, other gas fields in the Helmand, Kundoz and Herat provinces can meet Afghanistan’s natural gas requirements in the long term.

Compressed Natural Gas officials said that efforts are being made to set up more natural gas process stations for better utilisation of the natural gas reserves.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, June 13, 2013

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BNP wants consensus on CG issue

MK Anwar, standing committee member of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), this week urged the Speaker of Parliament to take steps to reach a consensus over the non-party caretaker government (CG) issue for holding the next general poll in a free and fair manner.

"Compromise between the Awami League and the BNP over the CG issue is a must. We want to sit across the table to settle the issue before placing a proposal in the House in this regard," he said. Anwar made this comment during a discussion, marking the 32nd death anniversary of the former President Ziaur Rahman on June 11.

He accused the government of creating a political crisis in the country by annulling the non-party Caretaker Government (CG) provision from the Constitution. The government itself can improve the situation simply by reinstating the CG provision to the charter, he added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said this week that BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia does not want to hold talks, rather she wants to create chaos in the country. "We asked Khaleda Zia to sit for talks, but she gave an ultimatum. We wanted to discuss their adjournment proposal on election-time government, but they withdrew it. So, it is clear that they do not want discussion, they want chaos," the Prime Minister, who is also the Awami League president, said. She made this comments while addressing grassroots leaders of her party Awami League.

She further said that her government will hold the next general election in a free, fair and credible manner in line with the Constitution and the BNP should participate in the election. Over 5,600 elections were held in the last four and a half years of the present government and all were free, fair and neutral and no one could raise any allegations about the polls.

The country is facing a political deadlock as the two major political parties Awami League and BNP are at loggerhead over the issue of election. Opposition is pressing for reinstating the caretaker government, while ruling party is adamant on holding election under a parliamentary system of government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, June 12&13, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blasts mark Jamaat’s nationwide strike

Much of Bangladesh was paralysed on June 10 by the latest strike called by Jamaat-e-Islami, with two powerful explosions rocking Shahbag Square, the epicentre of a massive campaign demanding toughest punishment for leaders of the fundamentalist party for war crimes during the 1971 war.

Two homemade bombs exploded at Shahbag Square just after a procession, staged by Ganajagaran Mancha, protesting the strike passed the scene. However, no one was injured. Protesters clashed with police in several towns and set several vehicles on fire to enforce the strike. Shops and schools were closed here and major roads were largely deserted.

The latest Jamaat shutdown comes a day after a special tribunal which deals with war crime cases, sentenced two Jamaat leaders to three months in jail for their derogatory and contemptuous remarks about the trial of several stalwarts of the party which was opposed to Bangladesh’s struggle for independence.

Jamaat lawmaker Hamidur Rahman Azad and the party’s acting deputy Rafiqul Islam Khan were sentenced in absentia by the International Crimes Tribunal, which is trying many leaders of Jamaat Is and others for war crimes on 1971.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily star, June 10, 2013 & The Hindu, June 10, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Security cooperation benefited India

India has financially benefited from the success in combating insurgency in its north-eastern States with security cooperation from Bangladesh, Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran acknowledged. He also made it clear that New Delhi would deal with any government that comes to power in Dhaka after the parliamentary polls. He made this comment in an interaction with journalists with week in Dhaka.

Replying to an query about India’s gain from Bangladesh’s security cooperation he said, "If there is no insurgency in the north-east, then naturally that reduces the expenditure on law and order. I think that is the very statement to make." "Yes, if you are arguing the case that India has saved money because of successes in combating insurgency in the north-east, I think my answer has to be, ’yes, we have’," he added. "Having said that, it is also true that we cannot live isolated from each other," Saran said, pointing out that what happened in India in terms of stability and law and order situation affected Bangladesh and vice versa. Saran opined that neither the security of Bangladesh nor the security of India stops at the border. It is a fallacy. He further said that we are not living on the moon or Mars. Here we are living together.

Saran also reiterated Delhi’s commitment to signing the Teesta water sharing agreement and ratifying the Land Boundary Agreement, 1974, and its additional protocol signed in September, 2011. However, he did not provide any timeframe for the signing of the Teesta pact and the LBA ratification.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, June 13, 2013

Bhutan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Power plant collaborations in limbo

New hydro power projects of around 10,000 Megawatt (Mw) capacity being set up jointly by India and Bhutan in the latter’s territory, are facing an uncertain future.

Work on the projects has slowed down owing to a dispute between the two sides over their model of development. The strain, if continued, may put at risk thousands of crores of Indian investment and bilateral relations with its neighbour.

A recent proposal by the Indian government to shift from the existing Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) model to a joint venture (JV) model has not gone down well with the Bhutanese side.

With that nation’s government having refused to adopt the new model owing to funding constraints, India is now carrying out a review of the cost estimates of several Bhutan projects including those commissioned as well as under construction and planning stages.

India has so far set up three projects - Tala (1,020 Mw), Chukha (336 Mw) and Kurichu (60 Mw) in Bhutan under the IGA mode, where the entire funding is provided as grant, or soft loans, by the Indian government to Bhutan which implements projects with technical assistance from the Central Electricity Authority under the power ministry.

In return, India imports 90 per cent of the power generated. The 10,000 Mw new capacity which is being planned to be set up include some of the large-sized projects.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, June 8, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">To Tamil Nadu to learn about a cattle breed

The Kangayam region town in Tamil Nadu, home of renowned Kangayam cattle breed, had 14 surprise visitors from Bhutan a few days ago.

Sent by the Bhutanese government, they were livestock scientists and veterinarians from National Biodiversity Centre and from Department of Livestock and Agriculture, both under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests of Royal Government of Bhutan.

The purpose of the visit was to understand the breeding techniques of the elegant native Kangayam cattle and to study more about its dung and urine, which possess immense properties as organic fertiliser, considering that Bhutan is one of the profound propagators of organic farming practices in the world.

For that the entourage visited Senaapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation (SKCRF) in Kangayam, the organisation involved in in-situ conservation and breeding of genetically pure Kangayam cattle for the last six decades and interacted with the experts in the Foundation as well as the local farmers.

The foreign delegation also visited Korangadu, a typical grazing area for the Kangayam cattle, containing 29 types of typical shrubs and trees referred by United Nations as "globally important agricultural heritage system".

K.S.M. Karthikeyan, managing trustee of the SKCRF, told The Hindu that the visit of the Bhutanese delegation turned to be fruitful for the local Kangayam cattle farmers and breeders too as they came to know more about the Nublang/Thrabum variety (Nublang is the male and Thrabum is female), a genetically unique cattle breed found in Bhutan.

Before leaving, Gonam Tsubsho and Santa Dir Tamang, who led the Bhutanese team, said that a set of farmers would be sent from Bhutan to Kangayam soon so as to get trained on the application of Kangayam cattle’s dung and urine in agriculture in appropriate cycles and mixtures.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Refugee’ delegates in Geneva

For the fourth year in a row, Bhutanese-Australian Parsuram Sharma Luitel, reached Geneva on as a delegate of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) for attending the UNHCR consultations, expected to garner over 450 delegates from more than 250 NGOs from around the world.

The next Bhutanese delegate is Bishnu Maya Dhungana, a women representative from Beldangi-II Refugee Camp. Dhungana is the first Bhutanese from the refugee camps to come in UNHCR NGO consultations and raise awareness about the situation of refugees in Bhutan.

The Bhutanese delegates would have opportunities of meeting UNHCR Asia Bureau with Director Daisy Dell, UNHCR Resettlement Service Head Renata Dubini, Director of UNHCR’s Division of International Protection Volker Turk, and UNHCR Middle East and North Africa Bureau Director Yacoub El Hillo, according to Luitel. "As in the previous years, we have so many things to be discussed with UNHCR officials at decision-making positions," said Luitel.

While, Dhungana said that the pathetic living conditions of those still residing in refugee camps, challenge facing youths, women and children, and issues related to resettlement were her priorities during the consultations.

According to Luitel, the meeting would enable them to provide direct feedback on the concerns of refugee communities, particularly those related to the safety of often neglected groups of refugees still in difficult circumstances in Nepal and different western countries.

While in Geneva, Luitel will also be a part of discussion to be hosted in the sidelines by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Canadian Council for Refugees for discussing cooperation on advocacy between refugees NGOs in the five Anglophone countries (the UK, the US, New Zealand, Canada and Australia) whose governments work most closely together on immigration policy.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Bhutan News Service, June 10, 2013

India

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">JD (U) quits BJP-NDA

Viewing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s projection as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate as inevitable, the Janata Dal (United) has withdrawn from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This dealt a big blow to the anti-Congress grouping but removed possibly the last major hurdle to the Sangh parivar’s plan to project the Gujarat strong man as its PM candidate.

Meanwhile, a day after reversing his decision to resign, senior BJP leader L k Advani picked up the phone to ask Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar not to act in haste while deciding on the JD (U)’s electoral alliance with the BJP.

The move came amid talk of Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee exploring an alternative front to the UPA as well as the NDA and have made overtures to the JD (U), which is unhappy over the BJP’s decision to hand over its campaign baton to Mr Modi.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, The Hindu, June 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">RSS brokers Advani-Rajnath truce

In yet another dramatic turn of events, the crisis in the BJP precipitated by veteran leader L K Advani quitting all party posts was resolved Tuesday evening as swiftly as it had erupted, with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat brokering a truce between Advani and the BJP president Rajnath Singh. While Advani withdrew his resignation, Singh promised to "properly address" issues flagged by Advani about the functioning of the BJP.

Earlier on Monday evening, BJP’s parliamentary board had unanimously rejected the resignation of Advani, but had given no indication of any concession to mollify the veteran leader. The resignation of Mr Advani, 85, from all party positions earlier in the day had shocked the principal Opposition party and cast a pall over the elevation of Narendra Modi as the head of the party’s campaign committee for the 2014 general elections.

"Ever since the Jan Sangh, Advaniji has been our leader and guide. BJP’s parliamentary board has rejected Advani’s resignation. We request him to withdraw his resignation," party president Rajnath Singh said after the meeting. There was no mention of any rescinding of Mr Modi’s appointment, seen as trigger for Mr Advani’s move.

Earlier, the absence of Mr Advani, ostensibly on health grounds, at the party’s office bearers’ meeting on the eve of a two-day National Executive that was held in Goa on June 9-10 had exposed the deep schism in the upper echelons of the party on the pros and cons of making Mr Modi the party’s face for the 2014 general election.

The party president was at pains to explain that it was he who advised Mr Advani not to travel at the expense of his health. However, there were few takers for this explanation, as for several weeks now Mr Advani, who has not given up his prime ministerial ambitions, has been working assiduously to downplay the development USP of Mr Modi and thus his claim to fame.

If Mr Advani had any hope of things coming around in Goa, it saw q quick burial on Sunday. His loyalists fell in line one by one, making it clear which way the wind was blowing.

While Mr Arun Jaitley, who was made Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha with Mr Advani’s blessing, is widely believed to have switched sides sometimes back, Mr Advani’s second big-ticket political investment in Mrs Sushma Swaraj has not paid off. Party leaders admitted that Mrs Swaraj made no attempt to resist the BJP president’s plans.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, June 8, 2013, The Indian Express, June 10-12, 2013, The Economic Times, June 11, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Modi, no credible option: Patnaik

Odhisa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said on Monday that he did not see the BJP’s new election campaign panel chief Narendra Modi providing " a credible alternative" to the UPA government, signalling that he will not support any Modi-led effort.

"I don’t think Narendra Modi presents a credible alternative to the problems the country is facing. Much of the development in Gujarat is hyped up. The state has always been prosperous and credit for that should not go to one person," Mr Patnaik said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, June 11, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cong opens talks with JMM

While the BJP is grappling with an internal crisis triggered by L K Advani’s face-off with Narendra Modi, the Congress has begun scouting for allies for the forthcoming general elections.

It has opened talks with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) for a seat-sharing pact, which if sealed would also see the two parties staking claim to form the government in the state which is under President’s rule now. The President’s rule is set to expire on July 18.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pak troops violate ceasefire

After killing a soldier in heavy firing on India forward posts in Madni sector on June 7, Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire agreement again, opening small arms fire on Indian posts in Nangi Tekri area of Krishna Ghati (KG) sector along the LoC in Poonch district.

First attack came two days after Nawaz Sharif took over as Pakistan Prime Minister. He had only yesterday vowed to "progressively pursue" normalcy in ties with India while actively seeking solutions to outstanding issues, including Kashmir.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, June 12, 2013.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two MIG-21s violate Pak airspace

The border between India and Pakistan seems to be turning red-hot. Even as the spate in ceasefire violations continue, Pakistan on Tuesday morning scrambled jets after it claimed two Indian MiG-21 fighters had violated its airspace, and lodged a complaint with the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

India, however, said there was "no actual or physical violation" of Pakistani airspace in the incident which took place in the Abohar sector of Punjab at about 10.40 am. "The IAF aircraft, which were on a routine flying training sortie, seem to have flown close to the border and it appears to be a technical violation. The same has also been conveyed to the Pakistan authorities," said an official.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Panel to visit Lahore for gas supply talks

Five days after Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as prime minister, a delegation led by the joint secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum is going to Lahore on Sunday to explore the feasibility of India supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to power-starved Pakistan. The delegation consists of senior business development officials of Gas Authority of India Limited.

Top government sources said the Indian delegation was given agree signal after GAIL submitted a report on the possibility of supplying LNG to Pakistan via the Amritsar-Lahore route to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon this month.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, June 9, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Robotic soldiers to replace humans

With futuristic warfare in mind, India is working to develop robotic soldiers as part of efforts to boost unmanned fighting capabilities, joining a select group of countries in this endeavour.

Under the project being undertaken by DRDO, robots would be developed with very high level of intelligence to enable them to differentiate between a threat and a friend. These can then be deployed in difficult warfare zones, like the Line of Control (LoC), a step that would help avert the loss of human lives.

"We are going to work for robotic soldiers. We are going to look for very high level of intelligence in it than what we are talking today... It is a new programme and a number of labs are already working in a big way on robotics," DRDO chief Avinash Chander said in an interview.

The newly-appointed DRDO chief listed the project for development of robotic soldiers as one of his "priority thrust areas" saying that "unmanned warfare in land and air is the future of warfare. Initially the robotic soldier may be assisting the man."

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.indianexpress.com, June 9, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CBI books Naveen Jindal, ex-Minister in coal scam

In a fresh FIR on the coal scam, the CBI has booked Congress MP and Director of Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) Naveen Jindal along with former Minister of State for Coal Dasari Narayana Rao, for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to obtain Jharkhand coal block based on false representations.

Unknown public servants and members of the screening committee that recommended the allocation are also under the scanner.

< class="text11verdana">Source:The Hindu, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">More reforms, says Finance Minister

The government will soon announce several reform measures to boost growth and revive investor sentiment. Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday said the government would shortly review FDI caps in several sectors and decide on gas and coal prices.

"I am looking forward to more reforms.. In June, you can expect a number of decisions to be taken and implemented that will accelerate reforms and spur investments in critical sectors," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, June 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rupee continues downhill

The rupee hit a new low against the US dollar on heavy selling by foreign institutional investors, leading to fears that the Reserve Bank of India would go slow on cutting rates.

A sustained fall in the value of rupee would make the going even harder for Asia’s third largest economy, which is growing at its slowest pace since 2003, as it would worsen the current account deficit and endanger the fall in inflation as imports become costlier.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, June 11, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Job cuts loom as car sales slide

Car sales in India fell for a record seventh consecutive month in May with a decline of 12.26 percent, prompting industry body SIAM to caution that the prolonged slump in the market could result in job losses in the automobile sector.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Asian Age, June 12, 2013

Maldives

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt defies Majlis, shifts immigration to MoD

The government has once again shifted three departments to the Defence Ministry hours after the parliament turned down a similar proposal submitted for approval. In a statement, the President’s Office said Tuesday that the Defence Ministry would continue to oversee the Immigration Department, which was under the Home Ministry, National Disaster Management Centre, previously run by the Housing Ministry, and the Aviation Security Command.

At Tuesday’s Parliament sitting, opposition members objected to the government-submitted proposal to expand the Defence Ministry’s mandate. During the debate, Machangoalhi-South MP Mohamed Rasheed suggested to turn down the proposal. Twenty-seven out of the 54 members present at the sitting voted in favour of MP Rasheed’s proposal whilst 23 objected to it.

The President would again have to submit the changes to the Defence Ministry’s mandate for Parliament approval.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt withdraws bill on petrol levy

The government Wednesday withdrew a proposal to charge Goods and Services Tax (GST) from diesel and petrol, and increase tourism GST to 15 percent from eight. Villufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed withdrew the bill he submitted on behalf of the government following criticism from majority of the members, including pro-government MPs.

Riyaz, who also criticised the bill, said the government would submit an amended draft that includes the suggestions of the MPs.

Most of the MPs spoke against the rates maintained by State Trading Organisation, the country’s main oil dealer, saying that the state-owned company’s rates are too high compared to the international market.

The members also stressed that increasing the tourism GST would create new challenges to the tourism industry.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nasheed for restoring GMR deal

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has called on the government to reinstate the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The Nasheed in the statement released by his office on Monday said the agreement would have been highly beneficial to the country’s economy and would have boosted investor confidence in the Maldives.

"The agreement was entered into after a transparent international bidding process and under the consultation from the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The agreement also gave confidence to foreign investors who had been interested in investing in the Maldives," read the statement.

Nasheed said the concession agreement had been the single largest foreign investment in the country’s history, and noted that it had been terminated for political reasons.

The statement also alleged the current government gave little consideration to the repercussions of terminating such an agreement, which included worsening bilateral ties, hindering development, and lowering investor confidence in the country.

The statement also acknowledged recent remarks by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom -whom Nasheed defeated in the 2008 presidential elections. However, it said that the Nasheed Government had the legal authority to sign the GMR agreement, implying that it did not have to consult all political parties, as sought by Gayoom.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, June 12, 2013

Myanmar

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New coalition possible

The chief of Myanmar’s pro-military party, Shwe Mann said he is not ruling out a coalition government with the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi after crucial elections in 2015 if it’s in the national interest.

In the past two weeks, both lower house speaker Shwe Mann and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi have said they want to run for president. The election will be crucial in setting Myanmar’s political direction as it shifts from decades of authoritarian rule.

Shwe Mann is on a visit to Washington with a multi-party delegation of Myanmar lawmakers, one of them from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Mann was third-ranking member of the repressive junta that imprisoned Suu Kyi for years.

Mann also said that his party is collaborating with Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament last year. Asked if a coalition was possible after the election, he said it was too soon to say whether or not that would happen, but indicated it was possible.

"I believe time will decide on this matter. But the important thing here is to have confidence between Aung San Suu Kyi and us," he said through an interpreter.

His delegation has gotten a grand reception in the Washington, meeting with top State Department officials, former top diplomat Hillary Rodham Clinton and lawmakers, including House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley, and Republican Senators, Mitch McConnell and John McCain. The trip, to learn how the U.S. Congress works, was organized by the National Democratic Institute and the Institute for Representative Government. Six Myanmar lawmakers are participating in it.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Associated Press, June 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prison term for provoking violence

A Muslim man whose attack on a Buddhist woman set off sectarian rioting in Myanmar’s northeast has been sentenced to 26 years in prison, a local politician said.

The court sentenced 48-year-old Ne Win on Tuesday after he was convicted of attempted murder, causing serious injury and possession and use of illegal drugs, said National League for Democracy member Sai Myint Maung, who attended the trial.

The rioting in Lashio in Shan State marked the extension of deadly anti-Muslim violence from areas in western and central Myanmar.

The unrest in Lashio began May 28 after Ne Win splashed gasoline on a woman and set her on fire. She was hospitalised with serious burns. Buddhist mobs took revenge by burning several Muslim shops, one of the city’s main mosques, an Islamic orphanage and a movie theater. One person, a Muslim, died.

The sectarian violence began in western Rakhine state last year, when hundreds died in clashes between Buddhist and Muslims that drove about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. The violence had seemed confined to that region, but in late March, similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila in central Myanmar, killing at least 43 people. Several other towns in central Myanmar experienced less deadly violence, mostly involving the torching of Muslim businesses and mosques.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Associated Press, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">$150-m Indian aid for SEZ

India has offered $150 million of credit for project exports to set up a SEZ in Myanmar and has expressed hope that the neighbouring country would permit Indian banks to set up branches there.

The issues came up for discussion during the three-day visit of commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma to Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon.

For the SEZ project, Myanmar government will provide suitable land for the purpose. "India has offered $150 million of credit for project exports for establishing a SEZ at Sittwe in Myanmar," an official statement said.

"Sharma called for greater cooperation in banking sector and appreciated the Myanmar government’s approval to allow Indian banks like United Bank of India to set up a representative office in the neighbouring country. He expressed hope that the two public sector banks viz., Bank of India and State Bank of India, who have also expressed interest, would also be permitted to operate in Myanmar," it said adding the commerce minister stressed the need for permission to open full-fledged banking services.

Even setting up a joint venture state-owned bank with India and Myanmar sharing equity would strengthen ties in banking and commerce between the countries, it said. Besides, the minister discussed ways to increase cooperation in energy sector.

"Sharma expressed satisfaction on the progress of cooperation in this field as the renovation of the Thanlyin Refinery and the ongoing upgradation of the Thanbayakan Petrochemical Complex proceeded smoothly," it said. In 2012, the total trade between the countries stood at $1.87 billion.

India has also extended assistance for road development projects which include upgradation of the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road (about 160 kilometers), Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project which envisages development of road and inland waterways from Sittwe port in Myanmar to Mizoram.

India has to help in the revival of 300 apparel factories in Myanmar by Sharma offering $5 million line of credit.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Press Trust of India, June 9, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President to visit Britain, France

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein will visit Britain and France next in July this year, an official said on Friday, as the international community continues to embrace his nation’s democratic reforms. Thein Sein will travel to up to four countries on his second trip to Europe in months, a government official said requesting anonymity.

"Our President Thein Sein will visit about three or four countries in mid July.... he will visit the UK and Paris in France for sure," a Myanmar government said.

Myanmar’s leader visited several European countries in March, although not Britain or France to drum up support for reforms that he has overseen since taking the presidency in 2011. Reforms in the Southeast Asian country included freeing some political prisoners and holding by-elections which saw opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi take a seat in parliament.

The European Union on Wednesday readmitted Myanmar to its trade preference scheme, saying it wanted to support reform in the once pariah state through economic development.

Myanmar’s membership of the scheme was withdrawn in 1997 due to concerns over the use of forced labour under the then-military junta, but it was reinstated in response to an International Labour Organisation report that labour practices in Myanmar had improved.

The EU had already ditched most sanctions against the country, although an arms embargo remains.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: AFP, June 14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Airlines cut fares for returnees

Clashes between overseas Myanmar Buddhist and Rohingya communities resulted in up to six deaths last week and hundreds of arrests, according to sources in Malaysia. Myanmar’s national airline will halve ticket prices for workers who want to return from Malaysia where they face growing violence, it said on Tuesday.

Myanmar Airlines International’s marketing manager Aye Mra Thar said the discount will run from June 12 to July 12, and be available only to citizens working in Malaysia.

Clashes between overseas Myanmar Buddhist and Rohingya communities resulted in up to six deaths last week and hundreds of arrests, according to sources in Malaysia.

The sectarian fighting has spread from Rakhine state in western Myanmar, where violence between Buddhist and Rohingya-Muslim communities claimed up to 200 lives last year and displaced some 125,000 people.

There are an estimated 5,00,000 Myanmar labourers in Malaysia, of whom some 30,000 are Rohingya. Myanmar charities are also gearing up to help the workers in Malaysia.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Hindu, June 11, 2013

Nepal

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CA election on November 19

After three months of debate, the Interim Election Council has announced November 19 as the date for polls for electing a new Constituent Assembly (CA).

A cabinet meeting on Thursday made the poll announcement. The Interim government, which has been formed solely for the purpose of holding fresh polls, was facing a lot of criticism for delay in announcing poll date even three months after its formation. The cabinet has also forwarded the ordinance on amending the Election of Members of the Constituent Assembly (CA) Act, 2013, to President Ram Baran Yadav for approval. The president is likely to approve the ordinance on Friday.

At a time when political parties were sharply divided over the eligibility threshold of one per cent for seat allocations under proportional electoral system, the Interim Election Council has forwarded the election-related ordinance after removing the proposed threshold provision. There is no eligibility threshold in the ordinance.

Though the Election Commission (EC) had earlier proposed that a political party must secure 1.5 per cent of the total valid vote cast in the election in order to claim seat allocations under proportional representation, the constitutional body reduced the figure to one per cent following objections by fringe parties.

The government also excluded the proposed provision that a candidate should disclose his/her property details and state whether or not he/she is a defendant in any court case filed by the government.

However, the ordinance has barred candidates who have already been handed down final verdicts of guilty by the courts for involvements in criminal cases. The EC had proposed that persons convicted of criminal offense or accused of moral turpitude should be barred from filing candidacy and be allowed to contest elections only six years after completing the sentences handed down by the courts or other judicial authorities.

According to the proposal, a person who is convicted of murder, theft, robbery, misappropriation of foreign currency, kidnap, rape, corruption, human trafficking, money laundering, banking irregularity, passport misuse, drug smuggling, jailbreak or abetting in jail break, smuggling of protected fauna, flora or objects of archeological importance, illegal trade, and spying, among other illegal activities, or has shown moral turpitude, cannot be a member of any political party if he or she has not completed the sentence handed down by a court or any other judicial authority.

Following failure to forge consensus on these issues, the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) on Monday had entrusted the Interim Election Council with responsibility for settling contentious issues related to elections and announcing the election date.

United CPN (Maoist) and United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), among other political parties, were against the new proposal while Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML had been sticking to their position on the eligibility threshold.

The Interim Election Council has also formed a five-member Constituency Delineation Commission (CDC) under former justice Tahir Ali Ansari. Geographer Netra Dhital, sociologist Dambar Chemjong and administrator Madhu Nidhi Tiwari have been appointed as members of the commission while Secretary at the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Minister Raju Man Singh Malla is member secretary of the CDC.

As per Article 154 A of the Interim Constitution, the government may constitute a Constituency Delimitation Commission to determine election constituencies for the purpose of election of members of the Constituent Assembly.

In addition, while the existing election law classifies several caste groups other than Janajati, Dalit and Adivasi as ’others’, the new ordinance forwarded to the president defines ’others’ as Brahmin, Kshetriya, Dasnami, etc.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, The Kathmandu Post, The Himalayan Times, June 10-14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Deuba’s India visit

Former Prime Minister and senior leader of Nepali Congress (NC), Sher Bahadur Deuba, paid a six-day visit to India this week starting June 9.

During his visit, Mr Deuba met with Indian leaders including Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi. In the meeting Gandhi expressed concern over the possibility of an early poll in Nepal. Similarly, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said that India wants to see multi-party democracy being further strengthened in Nepal. And for this, he said, there should be early Constituent Assembly polls.

Deuba also held close consultations with other cabinet ministers in New Delhi, leaders of opposition party, Janata Dal (United) office bearers, among others. He also visited Uttarakhand and held meeting with Chief Minister Bijay Bahuguna, who pledged to construct a suspension bridge from Purnagiri to Parshuram area in Dadeldhura district of Nepal. The CM also proposed direct air connectivity between Dehradun and Kathmandu.

Deuba addressed a gathering of the larger research community in New Delhi at the Observer Research Foundation and spoke about the upcoming polls. He participated in a programme at another think-tank in Delhi, the Vivekanand Foundation, and also held interactions with the journalists at the Press Club.

Deuba, who was accompanied by his spouse, Dr Arzu Rana Deuba, and another senior NC leader, Bimalendra Nidhi, during the visit, left for Kathmandu on June 14.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, June 9-14, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">39 child-labourers rescued

A loose alliance of government and private organisations working to check child labour rescued 39 boys from nine different sari embroidery factories in Thankot, a few km west of Kalanki in Kathmandu.

Most of the boys, who were rescued from embroidery factories in Bhaktapur last year had started working in Thankot-based factories.

The Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), Labour Office and Nepal Police, and NGOs Child Development Society (CDS), Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) and CONCERN, collectively raided nine different factories, where underage children had been working under "harsh conditions." Of the 39 children, 30 are below 14 years of age, while the rest are between the ages of 16 and 18.

According to the CCWB, 16 rescued children hail from Sarlahi district, 18 are permanent residents of Mahottari and the rest hail from India’s Sitamani.

According to CCWB officials, the primary purpose of the rescue operation is to re-integrate the children with their families.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: ekantipur.com, June 14, 2013

Pakistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Musharaff arrested in Bugti murder case

Former Pakistan President and Army Chief, Pervez Musharaff was formally arrested on June 13 by a police team from Balochistan in the Akbar Bugti murder case. Subsequently, an anti-terrorist court ordered a two-week judicial remand of the former military ruler. Musharraf is to remain at his farmhouse for the duration of the remand.

Earlier in the week an Anti-Terrorist Court had issued non-bailable arrest warrants against Musharaff.

Bugti was killed in a cave in Chalgri area of Bhamboor hills of Dera Bugti district on August 26, 2006 during a military crackdown ordered by Musharraf who was president and army chief at the time.

Musharaff was, however, granted bail in the judges’ detention case. The case against Musharaff had been registered in August 2009 on the complaint of a local advocate for confining over 60 judges of the superior courts after imposing an emergency on November 3, 2007.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Daily Times, June 14, 2013; Dawn, June 11-12, 2013; The News, June 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Budget gives 10 pc for defence

Pakistan’s new government raised the defence budget by 10 per cent in the new budget revealed this week. The new budget is going to be applicable from the new fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

Despite a crippling budget deficit of 8.8 per cent, the defence expenditure has been increased to $6.3 billion.

The Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, during the presentation of the budget, told the National Assembly that the government would clear $5 billion in circular debt from the energy sector within the next 60 days. However, he gave no details on how the government would find the money to pay the bills. The government has also set a new target growth of 4.4 per cent for the coming fiscal year.

Moreover, the government announced that no tax has been imposed on essential goods like food items. However, at the same time, indirect taxes like the sales tax have been raised, which would ultimately lead to a rise in prices.

The budget was, however, criticised by the opposition parties. For instance, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) termed the budget as being a traditional one with no concrete measures to tackle the economic problems or issue of terrorism confronting the country. In particular, the increase of the sales tax was denounced by the opposition parties for increasing the burden on the common man. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf leader Shireen Mazari claimed that the budget was a "businessman’s budget and will increase burden on the ordinary man". Similarly, the government’s decision to not increase the salary of the government officials and workers was heavily criticised. In fact, the failure of the government to raise the salaries has led to government clerks announcing a strike.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Dawn, June 12, 2013; Geo News, June 12, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Steps to resolve energy crisis

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited Chinese companies to invest in the energy sector of Pakistan to help resolve the serious power shortage that Pakistan is currently facing.

Nawaz Sharif invited the China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) to install solar power plants in Pakistan. He assured NORINCO that his government would extend all possible help to expedite the process.

Nawaz Sharif also discussed the possibility of installation of solar energy plants in Balochistan where population is thin, scattered and at distances. This would help save laying of transmission lines which have a prohibitive cost. NORINCO were also asked to look into mining and setting up of coal power plants at sites in Thar, Balochistan and Punjab where coal is available.

Moreover, the budget, revealed this week, gave the go-ahead for the purchase of two nuclear plants from China.

Pakistan has also expressed its willingness to purchase electricity from India. Pakistan has sought as much as 500 MW of electricity from India by laying a transmission line from Punjab into Lahore. New Delhi is willing to help and is exploring the points which can be used to hook-up to the grid in Pakistan through a high-voltage direct current line. The transmission line may not take very long to build and power could start flowing in matter of months. However, details and modalities of the purchase and the techno-commercial as well as sovereign arrangements that would be needed are still to be worked out.

However, no money seems to have been allocated for the Iran-Pakistan pipeline in the federal budget.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Business Standard, June 14, 2013; Daily Times, June 14, 2013, McClatchy Newspapers, June 12, 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President’s powers to go

The Cabinet has unanimously decided to have the Constitution amended to withdraw President’s power to merge two or more Provinces. However, yielding to pressure from within the ruling coalition, the Government has decided to refer the other proposal for ’Majority Support’ law for Parliament to legislate on subjects under the Concurrent List of the Constitution to the proposed Parliament Select Committee (PSC)

Earlier, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Parliamentarian M. T. Hassen Ali, said that his party leader Rauff Hakeem had informed President Mahinda Rajapaksa by letter yesterday that in no way would the SLMC support the repealing of the 13th Amendment at the present juncture.

Hassen Ali said that in a 13-page letter addressed to the President, SLMC Leader and Minister of Justice Hakeem had clearly explained the reasons for his party’s decision.

The letter was forwarded in response to the President’s request to leaders of all UPFA constituent parties to make known their position on the Cabinet Paper submitted by the government last Thursday to repeal certain sections of the 13th Amendment within a week.

The Government’s other allies like the EPDP, the Socialist Front, the CWC and a few others also took a similar line, leading to the Cabinet’s split decision.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, June 13, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">JHU discusses 13-A scrapping with UNP

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) yesterday met the United National Party (UNP) at the latter’s headquarters, Sirikotha, to get its support for scrapping provincial councils, which were established under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987, with India’s intervention.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe told The Island his party had had discussions with UNL leader Ranil Wickremesinghe flanked by UNP Chairman Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake and UNP MPs Ravi Karunanayake and Wijedasa Rajapakshe. JHU MP Athuraliye Rathana Thera presented a private member’s motion, in Parliament two weeks ago, seeking to scrap the provincial council system.

Warnasinghe said that his party had explained to the UNP delegation the JHU’s private member motion and discussed its five major points. "We explained to the UNP delegation, the danger of providing police and land powers to a provincial council under any government," he said, adding that the UNP had agreed to study the JHU proposal. Their meeting lasted for two hours. Warnasinghe said that they asked for the support of UNP members or to allow their members to vote freely when the proposal was taken up in parliament.

The JHU spokesman said that his party had got a copy of the UNP’s proposed draft Constitution and both parties had agreed to exchange their views on the two proposals at a future meeting. According to Warnasinghe so far, the JHU had discussed its proposal with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UNP and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC). The JHU was planning to discuss it with other parties shortly, he said.

JHU leader Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera, General Secretary and Minister of Technology and Research Patali Champika Ranawaka, Western Provincial Minister Udaya Gammanpila, Attorney-at-Law M. C. Jayarathna and JHU Media Secretary Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe attended the discussion.

UNP MP Wijedasa Rajapakshe said that they would inform the JHU of the UNP’s views on their proposal, at a future meeting, after studying their proposal.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Island, June 12, 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Pakistan & Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

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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