External Affairs

South Asia Briefing: Bangladesh Hangs Motiur Rahman Nizami; Nepal to Hold Local Elections

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

Moulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's biggest Islamic Political Party and an alliance of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party, waves to his supporters during a rally protesting against Western newspapers that published cartoons on Prophet Mohammad in Dhaka February 11, 2006. Credit: Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman/Files

Moulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, seen here in a 2006 file image, was hanged on May 11 for crimes related to the 1971 war. Credit: Reuters

Bangladesh

All the English dailies in Bangladesh carried front page banner headlines about the hanging of Motiur Rahman Nizami, ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, for 1971 war crimes, at seven minutes past midnight in Dhaka’s central jail on May 11. “Barbarous Nizami hanged”, wrote Dhaka Tribune, while Daily Sun had a sub-lead – “Justice prevails after 45 years”. The Daily Star had a front page report with an archive photograph of one of the massacres blamed of Nizami – targeted killing of intellectuals. Dhaka Tribune described Nizami, who was agriculture minister in Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government, as “one of the top designers who did everything possible to stop the journey towards Bangladesh’s independence”. The Jaamat has already called for a day-long hartal on May 12 in response to Nizami’s hanging.

The Independent carried a front page report on an interaction between Bangladeshi and Pakistani editors in Karachi, where the latter argued that many among Pakistan’s common people do not tow Islamabad’s line on the war crimes trial and 1971 war.

Besides Nizami’s death and commentaries on the 1971 war, The Panama papers also featured in Bangladesh’s newspapers; several new names have cropped up in the latest database release, which includes political and corporate leaders.

Nepal

The government’s announcement that local bodies’ elections will be held in November-December has been criticised by the near opposition, including the ruling alliance, reports The Himalayan Times. While Nepal has not held local polls for 18 years, the government’s announcement has led to fierce criticism, as there was no subsequent move towards demarcation of the provincial boundaries. The Kathmandu Post lists the technical complexities in holding local body elections according to the timetable. Republica notes that the Madheshi political parties have already come out strongly against the local elections, insisting that it cannot be held till the province disputes are settled.

The other big political news in Nepal was the emerging split in the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist), with chairman Mohan Baidya reluctant to return to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN-M) fold, The Kathmandu Post and Republica write. Baidya has been postponing the central committee meeting for over a month, with “ideological differences” still stand in the way of unifying all Maoist parties.

Meanwhile, The Kathmandu Post reports the government is considering a review petition in the Supreme Court on the transitional justice act, in order to implement the nine-point pact between Unified Marxist–Leninist and UCPN-M, which saved the K.P. Oli government. One of the provisions was to legimitise the land transactions by the parallel maoist machinery during the civil war, which has led to much angst, Republica notes.

Only Republica has a front page report about Nepal Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba criticising the government’s plan for domestic investment in the Kathmandu-Terai fast track road, as negotiations were at the final stage with an Indian consortium led by IL&FS. It also noted that a close relative of Deuba is a representative of IL&FS.

Incidentally, Republica carried an op-ed castigating the Oli government for “bungling on India” by cancelling the visit of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and recalling its ambassador to India before his term ended.

A day after the entire trove of Panama Papers database was made public, The Kathmandu Post reports that authorities will investigate the seven Nepali names who had offshore accounts in British Virgin Islands.

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Times praises local security forces for rescuing Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, but also expressed concern at the continuing defection of Afghan local policemen to the Taliban. The editorial called for the merger of the Afghan Local Police with the Afghan National Police and an investigation into the backgrounds of police commanders by the spy agency, National Directorate of Security.

From the provinces, Pajhwok reports on protests in southern Paktia against any proposed change in the route for the multinational power project to import power from Central Asia. On the other side, women in Bamiyan held a rally that the existing route should be changed from the Salang pass. The protests are taking place as President Ashraf Ghani is in Tajikistan for the inauguration of the CASA-1000 power project.

Pakistan

Dawn writes on the basis of information from a “well placed government source” that Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resolve the Panama papers issue as it was “causing instability and insecurity”. As per The Express Tribune, “sources privy to the closed-door meeting” confirmed that such a message was conveyed during the meeting to discuss law and order chaired by Nawaz on May 10. It was the first meeting between the two Sharifs since the Panama papers database mentioned the names of Nawaz’s three children. However, The Nation reports that there was “no reference to the ongoing political turmoil due to Panama leaks” in the meeting. It mentioned that the prime minister’s spokesperson “took serious notice of speculative news being aired by some private television channels about the concern of the COAS over the political unrest due to the Panama leaks”.

Meanwhile, Dawn had a front page lead story that the opposition seemed to have “softened” its stance and have opened formal channels for talks with the government over the terms of reference for the judicial commission to investigate the Panama papers leaks. The Express Tribune, however said the government “gives in to unyielding opposition”.

Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani speaks during a campaign meeting on May 9, 2013, before his abduction by unidentified gunmen. Credit: Reuters/Stringer

Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani speaks during a campaign meeting on May 9, 2013, before his abduction by unidentified gunmen. Credit: Reuters/Stringer

The recovery of former Gilani’s son from Afghanistan after his kidnapping three years ago was also featured on the front pagesThe Nation quotes an anonymous defence ministry official as saying that the rescue was “pure luck“.

Among the English papers, only The News had a front page article over the hanging of Nizami in Bangladesh.

During a meeting with the Pakistan-India Business Council, Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said that exports to India could reach $1 billion within a year. However, Khan said that trade concessions could not extended “unilaterally”, with India required to give access with a “preferential duty regime”.

Sri Lanka

Just as in Pakistan, the Panama papers featured prominently in Sri Lanka’s newspapers. The Daily Mirror reported that 65 Sri Lankans featured in the latest database dump, with Daily FT mentioning that Nissanka Senadhipathi, “known to be a close associate of former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa”, was among those named. Senadipathi claimed that even if “a dollar” was found, “he would gladly donate the monies to the person who ever finds it”.

The Island reports about the privilege given to 225 parliamentarians to import luxury vehicles by paying nominal customs tax. It reveals that a ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance member of parliament paid just 1750 Sri Lankan rupees as customs declaration fee for a new Range Rover sports vehicle.

Ceylon Today has an investigative report on the move by the army to acquire land in the Mullaitivu district in the northern province, against which local farmers are on a “fast unto death” protest.

In a submission before the Supreme Court, petitioners opposed the China-backed Colombo port city project, claiming that the environmental impact will be dramatic with the iconic Galle Face beach already disappearing.

Maldives

The World Bank has noted that the Maldivian economy slowed down to just 1.9% growth in 2015. This was “markedly different to the 4.8% touted by the government”, reports The Maldives Independent.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen said on May 10 that he will ask the Supreme Court to speed up the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in the UK on medical leave. The verdict could show the way ahead out of the political crisis, Yameen suggested.

Bhutan

The Bhutanese cabinet is yet to consider the draft mineral development policy, even though it was submitted a year ago, state broadcaster BBS reports.