External Affairs

South Asia Briefing: Haqqani Helps Taliban; Imran Deadline for Nawaz; Female Chief Justice in Nepal

A round-up of the most important stories from the South Asian region

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

AFGHANISTAN: Kerry makes it clear the US is calling the shots

A day after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the September 2014 National Unity Government agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah will have a duration for five years, Afghan senate chairman Fazal Hadi Muslimyar said that he was “ashamed that a foreign minister from a foreign country comes to Afghanistan and decides regarding our fate.” There was a similarly negative response from other upper house members. In his reaction, former interior minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai called for a constitutional loya jirga to bring in political reforms.

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The Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune had a special report on how the head of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, was behind the key development of dissident Mullah Zakir returning to the fold and pledging allegiance to Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Mansour.  With Mullah Zakir’s induction in the Rahbari Shura (aka Quetta Shura)  or leadership council, Sirajuddin’s position has been consolidated, a Taliban leader told the Pakistani paper.

BANGLADESH: A controversial business project 

The Bangladesh government has doubled down to stop the protests against a Chinese-built coal-fired thermal power plant in Bansakhali, Chittangong. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke out in support of the plant. Dismissing the protests by local residents opposed to their land being acquired and to the possibility of environmental damage, she said, “Some people in this country have some bizarre imaginations…”

An op-ed in The Daily Star describes the “development killing” in Bansakhali as “a manifestation of state-business nexus… an unholy alliance between state officials and corporate groups”.

The other main news on the front pages of English newspapers in Bangladesh was the rejection of the appeal by disaster management minister seeking review of a Supreme Court order that annulled his acquittal in a corruption case.

The business daily Financial Express had a lead about Bangladesh trimming its budget by 10% as tax revenue targets have fallen short.

BHUTAN: Thai extradition demand

Kuensel, Bhutan’s national paper, has carried a report about the Thai police seeking the extradition of five Bhutanese nationals in the case of murder of a Bhutanese taxi driver in Bangkok. They are supposed to part of a network smuggling drugs from India to Thailand.

MALDIVES: All out to avert Commonwealth action

Even as Maldives president Abdulla Yameen is in India to lobby for support to avoid Commonwealth action, the opposition party has told the Commonwealth deputy secretary general that talks initiated by the government were an “exercise in futility”.

Meanwhile, the Indian Ocean archipelago’s environment minister Toriq Ibrahim said that inhabitants of outlying islands would “receive same quality of water as in Male’” after the water supply network was finally set up.

NEPAL: A female chief justice; former army chief takes on UN

Nepal may get its first female chief justice, after the Constitutional Council recommended Sushila Karki’s name in a meeting on Sunday evening, Republica and Kathmandu Post report. However, she may only be the ad-hoc chief justice until the parliamentary hearing process is completed. There has been a continuous dispute over the formation and working methods of hearing panels between the political parties.

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In his memoirs released on Sunday, former Nepal army chief Chhatra Man Gurung claimed that Karin Landgren, the respected former head of the now disbanded UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) did not work impartially on the integration of Maoist combatants into the army and reported against him to the UN Security Council. At the same function, former Nepal president Ram Baran Yadav defended his decision to confront the former Maoist prime minister, Prachanda, in his standoff with Gurung’s predecessor as army chief, Rukmangat Katwal. Yadav also lamented the fact that “there is a huge gap between the hills region and the Madhes in Nepal and that the Madhes is suffering within this nation”

The Kathmandu Post editorial commends the Nepal Congress for demanding establishment of a new mechanism to resolve the federalism dispute. Madhes leader Mahanta Thakur said that Madhesi and some janjati groups have agreed to start a joint agitation.

PAKISTAN: Imran ultimatum to Nawaz on Panama Papers

Imran Khan’s “address to the nation” dominated the papers, with the focus being on his demand for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation after the revelations in the Panama papers. He gave a deadline till April 24 for the government to resign or set up a commission under the chief justice to investigate the allegations. If his demands were not met, he promised to lay siege to the Raiwind residence of the Sharif family.

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A strong quake of 7.1 magnitude, whose epicentre was in Afghanistan, was felt in most parts of Pakistan, with reports of around five dead and 55 injured.

The papers also found space on their front page on the “unprovoked firing” at the Line of Control by Indian troops.

The investigation into the Axact fake degree mill scam may be gathering steam, with The News talking of a “smoking gun”.

SRI LANKA: Ranil in China

Sri Lankan papers continue to cover the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Beijing on their front pages. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said that China was asked to do a swap for part of the $8 billion debt for equity in infrastructure projects and stakes in Lankan firms. He cited the Hambantota airport and port as example of such joint ventures. The PM also told reporters that 1000 acres have been leased to Chinese businessmen in a 99-year lease pact to establish a new industrial zone in Hambantota.

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The Sri Lankan rehabilitation, resettlement and Hindu Affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan confirmed that Arcelor Mittal have been given the contract to build 65,000 house for internally displaced persons in the north and east, Daily News reported. He also criticised the owner-driven model of the Indian housing scheme for allowing people use low quality building material and getting them into debt.

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Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the ports and shipping minister, Arjuna Ranatunga said that if agitating union workers could prove corruption and nepotism charges against him, he would run naked at the Galle Face green.