Nepali Times
Southasia Beat
An eye on the region


Holed up in each of our countries, we Southasians are too roiled by our nearest national political events. We are not really interested in what happened next door, yesterday or during the past week. Mostly, we perk up only if western tv or wire services raise enough of a ruckus that it penetrates our parochial cocoons. So, what has happened in the last week?

Being Nepal-based, this writer is keenly interested in three developments: the suddenly escalated Maoist attacks on government and security apparatus around the country, the developing farce around what Chairman Gyanendra calls 'elections' and the fact that so many politicians, civil society leaders and activists are currently in jail. There are sporadic protests and they are now countrywide, not limited to just a few cities.

Maldives political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed (Anni)

But life in the rest of Southasia also continues and it deserves regular monitoring. It may be impossible to keep track of everything that goes on in a region that houses a fifth of humanity but one should surely keep watch.

Two political explosions rocked two Indian state capitals last week, in the north and south. With the Supreme Court having found him guilty on 24 January of misleading the centre, Buta Singh dissolved the Bihar State Assembly and stepped down as governor on Republic Day, just hours after unfurling the Indian flag on the maidan.

Post-shake-up, in the words of one editorial, Nitish Kumar is now 'comfortably ensconced'. The following day, seeking a vote of confidence, the Karnataka Assembly also adjourned. Chief Minister Dharam Singh resigned shortly thereafter, opening the way for the formation of a new government between the Janata Dal (Secular) and the BJP. The back-to-back embarrassment for the Congress also included an exhumation of the Bofors payoff scandal: with Rajiv Gandhi long gone, it is his widow and successor Sonia who is now taking the rap.

The strife in Balochistan has been heating up in recent months and frantic calls to quell the developing situation have reached Islamabad. But the rest of the Subcontinent is pretty clueless about what is going on at its westernmost edges. Anyone flying over Balochistan on their way westward cannot help but note how tortured the landscape is. But so is the humanscape, it seems. The Quetta provincial government recently unveiled a security plan for the upcoming month of Muharram, including surveillance cameras and law-enforcement personnel lining the routes of Ashura processions. A US congressman also recently registered his vehement displeasure with the situation, accusing Islamabad of making money on the backs of Balochistan's suffering citizenry.

And even while President Pervez Musharraf made his case with characteristic ?lan at snowbound Davos, reports from back home (through the medium of Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi) confirmed-and predicted-that Musharraf will remain both army chief and president after the general elections, currently scheduled for 2007.

Bangladesh's pre-election drama is already heating up ahead of the general polls, currently scheduled for sometime in early 2007. The Awami League-led, 14-party opposition alliance has organised a six-route 'long march to Dhaka', starting 2 February and ending in the capital on 5 February to join the 'grand rally' that day. The 20th session of parliament began on 23 January with the AL continuing to boycott the proceedings, an action that began after the August 2004 grenade attack on an AL rally. According to the constitution however, MPs will lose their membership after a 90-day absence.

Other non-participatory Southasian oppositions include the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in Male, which stated that it would not be taking part in Commonwealth-mediated all-party talks, currently scheduled for 5 February. The MDP is protesting the continued detention of political prisoners, including MDP Chair Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), whose confinement was extended on 30 January by the Supreme Court. The following day, an MDP public demonstration protesting the same issues was called off early, after alleged threats of violence from the government. Nonetheless, the act netted the MDP a stunning MVR 50,000 fine.

'It is better to go to Oslo than to go to war' was the title of an article by Colombo commentator Jehan Perera, a reference to the reluctance of the Tamil Tigers and the Colombo government to agree on the proper venue for talks to attempt to rescue the shaky, four-year-long ceasefire. Fortunately, with the facilitation of Norwegian minister Erik Solheim, they agreed on Geneva. Now, LTTE-initiated violence has fallen dramatically. Meanwhile, more relief came when the renegade LTTE commander named Karuna subsequently declared his own unilateral ceasefire. He explained that he was taking into account the 'good intentions' and pragmatic efforts of President Mahinda Rajapakse and that he welcomed the Geneva meet and was committed to sustainable peace for Tamil-speaking people who have been victims of the Tigers.

Rounding out this incomplete Southasia roundup, there was no news from Bhutan this week because the violence on that front is the official silence on the Lhotshampa refugees. That silence continues to resound.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)