Is Nepal heading to an Afghan-like situation? USA has recently proposed for establishing a military base camp in Nepal with substantial military and economic assistance to the landlocked impoverished Himalayan country with the objective to free Tibet from China. Tibet is one of the cornerstones of China's national security policy. For this, Beijing has substantially upped the position of Kathmandu in its foreign policy. China is unlikely to allow the presence of US Army in its next door neighbour and Indo-US ploy of raising free-Tibet movement from the soil of Nepal without challenge, leading to the prospect of confrontation and create an Afghan-like theatre. Such a prospect should indeed also cause a serious concern for Bangladesh as Nepal is in the vicinity of Bangladesh. Peoples Review of Kathmandu revealed on June 9 that the US government has submitted a draft of military pact with Nepal along with demand for allowing the military base and the bait of defence and economic assistance. The defence ministry has sent the draft to Nepal Army for further study. The US move came following the 16- day visit of Nepal Army Chief Gen Chhatra Man Singh Gurung to USA couple of months ago. The US administration had attached high priority to the visit of General Gurung and was accorded warm receptions whoever he met. Nepal is reeling under protracted political crisis giving rise to economic meltdown. Decade long Maoist insurgency had brought to an end of the centuries old Monarchy. Because of serious rifts, political parties in constituent assembly (parliament) have failed to write the constitution for the new republic even in three years. The extended tenure of parliament ends on 28 September next, without possibly ending its tasks. The present day Nepal presents an ideal soft ground for external forces to play and exert influence on the two and a half months old shaky Jalanath Khanal led communist government. His government is supposed to end with the end of the tenure of parliament in September. It would be difficult for politically weak and economically vulnerable Nepal to withstand the external pressure. This being the situation in Nepal, USA has started mounting pressure on Kathmandu for respecting the ' gentleman's agreement' reached about 20 years ago. It is said Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of Nepal Congress had endorsed an agreement with the US for initiating the free-Tibet movement in Nepal. US Deputy Under- Secretary for Population, Refuges and Migration Kelly Clement during her recent visit to Nepal met with Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara and urged for respecting the agreement. The foreign ministry says it has no record of the agreement. Nepal has 1 ,414 km rocky and mountainous common border with Tibet. The free Tibet movement had taken momentum after the introduction of multiparty democracy in Nepal after 1990. Dalai Lama's Tibet government in exile at Dharmashala in India had opened its embassy in Nepal and some of the Nepalese ministers attended receptions hosted by the Dalai Lama's ambassador to Nepal. Before 1990 , the Tibetans crossing the border could go to India or abroad, but they were not allowed to come back to Nepal. This was a silent policy of Nepal. But after the political change in 1990 , the diplomatic balance maintained by the successive governments respecting the security concerns of China ended and gradually Nepali soil became fertile land for carrying out free- Tibet activities. The Dalai Lama activists also developed a plan for setting up the Baudha area as a mini Lhasa making the area a centre point for the free-Tibet activists from all over the world. When Koirala returned to power in 2008 , the free-Tibet activities reached its peak and for more than six months, violent demonstrations were seen in Kathmandu almost every day. Just before the Beijing Olympics, China witnessed an uprising in Tibet. While suppressing the rebels the Chinese police recovered a huge quantity of arms from different monasteries in and around Tibet. Those arms were possibly smuggled via Nepal to Tibet. On strong protest, Nepal restricted Tibetans street demonstrations. Many were arrested and deported. The government confirmed that those Tibetans demonstrating in Kathmandu had arrived from Dharamshala in India. China increased patrolling the border against Tibetans flee homes and take refuge in other countries. The number of Tibetan refugees is estimated by the western sources at 1.30 lakh. Intelligence sources said that Nepal is still a hub of the Tibetans who actually live in exile in foreign countries, mostly in India. They frequently visit Kathmandu and engage in free Tibet activities in border areas of Pokhara, Mustang and other hilly parts of the country as well. India and some European countries are sponsoring different human rights organizations and local NGOs to support the free- Tibet movement. Likewise, they were trying to develop a parliamentarian panel to raise the issue for free-Tibet. To materialize this plan, some groups have been found organizing trips for Nepali MPs (members of constituent assembly) to Dharamshala and fixing exclusive meetings with the Dalai Lama. And the US is now demanding for implementation of the "gentleman's agreement" through which the Tibetan refugees can freely move around Nepal and also carry out their political activities against China from Nepali soil. Taken over by China in 1950 Tibet is now an autonomous region within the Peoples Republic of China. Although most of the lands are non-arable Tibet has strategic and economic interest to Beijing. The region serves as a buffer zone between mainland China on the one side and India, Nepal and Bangladesh on the other. The Himalayan mountain range provides an added level of security as well as a significant mining industry. Beijing has invested in billions in Tibet over the past 10 years for modernization and development. A 710- mile rail line was built over the Himalayan roof that climbs about 18 ,000 feet above the sea level connecting Lasha, the capital of Tibet. It planned railway linking Lasha with Kathmandu. Tibet remains the cornerstone of China's national security policy. It cannot allow next door Nepali soil is used for free- Tibet movement. China has taken steps to build Nepal as an important strategic partner. To this end, a number of high level delegations of military and security officials visited Nepal since political changes in 2006. Chinese PLA chief Gen Chen Bingde visited Kathmandu in March last. Appointment of high profile diplomat Yang Houlan as ambassador to Nepal is viewed as quite significant. Western educated Yang, a regional security expert was ambassador in Afghanistan. He comes to Kathmandu next week with assignment of obviating the US and western free-Tibet move and turn Nepal a trusted and worthy strategic partner of China.
Friday, June 17, 2011
India remains a dangerous country for the working journalists and so is its North-eastern Assam province. If India with over a billion population records 27 journalists killed in two decades, Assam (with three crore populace) shares major incidents of journalist killings in the country in all these years. The trouble torn State lost over 20 editor-journalist-correspondents in the last two decades, where no conviction has yet been made. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the New York-based international media rights body has recently disclosed that 864 working journalists around the world have been killed in different incidents since 1992. It also reveals that India is one of the 13 risky countries where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable (or unwilling) to prosecute the killers. Other nations, where journalists are targeted regularly for deaths and governments fail to solve the crimes include Iraq, Somalia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Mexico, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Brazil. Among the journalist victims, 547 of them were killed with complete impunity. The CPJ also reveals that India is one of the first 20 countries where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable (or unwilling) to prosecute the killers. India officially records 15 unsolved cases of journalists killing with impunity. Other nations, where journalists are targeted regularly for deaths and governments fail to solve the crimes include Iraq (unsolved cases:93) , Philippines (64) , Algeria (57) , Colombia (35) , Russia (29) , Pakistan (20) , Mexico (20) , Somalia (18) , Rwanda (15) , Tajikistan (14) , Turkey (14) , Brazil (13) , Sri Lanka ( 10) , Sierra Leone (9) , Afghanistan ( 9) , Bangladesh (8) , Angola (7) , Cambodia (7) Peru (6) etc. The CPJ's Impunity Index 2011 , compiled as part of the organization's global campaign against impunity, indicates that local journalists remain the victims in the vast majority of unsolved cases throughout the world. The CPJ research shows that the deadly, unpunished violence against journalists often leads to vast self-censorship in the rest of the press corps. More over, the situation finally compels many journalists to avoid sensitive topics, leave the profession, or flee their homeland to escape violent retribution, informed CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. Working in insurgency stricken Assam, which publishes nearly 25 morning daily newspapers and supports 6 local satellite news channels is increasingly becoming dangerous for working journalists.
If nations could be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, then Bangladesh would surely be a candidate. It remains trapped in the traumatic memories of its founding, struggling to move on. The country was born from the ruins of East Pakistan in 1971 after a war of independence in which India-backed nationalists - unhappy at being ruled from what was then West Pakistan - fought Islamists loyal to Islamabad. Three million people were slaughtered in eight months before the Pakistanis conceded. Those were the days before international criminal tribunals, and the world left Bangladesh largely alone to heal and rebuild. It is now undergoing a kind of collective therapy, as the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, launches the first set of war crimes trials in the Muslim world, to address the atrocities committed by Islamists during Bangladesh's struggle for independence. The decision has been hailed by international jurists, for good reason. Bangladesh is my birthplace and I visited last week to find a fresh challenge to the nature of Bangladeshi identity, brought on in part by debate over the notion of Pakistan as an Islamic state. Both countries are examples of the tensions between cultural heritage, secularism and Islam, an internal conflict most potent in Muslim nations outside the Arab world. Extremist versions of Islam are really Arabised forms of the religion that refuse to bend or mould to local cultures and norms. Historically, Islam has been most successful in places such as Spain and Turkey when the religion fused well with local cultures. Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni, told me she hoped the country could become a beacon of secular humanism in a region racked by religious extremism, ethnic conflict and Maoist insurgency. It could then be a model not just for south Asia, but for the Muslim world. Unlike Pakistan, language and not religion is the organising principle of Bangladesh, but Islamists have hijacked much of its history. In 1979 , the same year as the Iranian revolution, they took control of the state, amended the constitution, and created an Islamic republic. The government of the centre-left Awami League Party has spared almost no expense to expunge the traces of hardline Islam since its election in 2008. It has spent millions to rename public buildings that once honoured hardline Islamists, and rewritten laws to protect women from having to wear Islamic head coverings. The government has granted itself the means to dismantle Islamist militant networks. Through the Supreme Court, Hasina nullified the 1979 amendment, making the world's third-largest Muslim nation a secular republic again. A more secular, humanist Bangladesh emboldened by its culture has potential to empower the intelligentsia in Pakistan against religious extremists as well as being an inspiration for other parts of the Muslim world. The Bangladeshi economy has consistently achieved 6 per cent annual growth in the past five years and was rated among Goldman Sachs' ''Next 11 '' in 2009 , as a country that might drive economic growth once India and China have stabilised. It has also achieved one of the key millennium development goals - gender parity in primary and secondary schooling - and is on track to achieve most of the other goals by 2015 , such as reducing infant mortality. Australia and the West have a responsibility to encourage what is a bold direction taken by Bangladeshi leaders. Australian activities there have increased significantly, in line with aid contributions. Australian taxpayers will give almost $100 million to Bangladesh in the coming year, much of it aimed at abetting the effects of climate change. With almost 20 million of its 150 million people living only a metre above sea level, Bangladesh is on the global warming front line. But the clash between culture and religion is more immediate and its results may determine if the country can better withstand the ultimate effects of nature. It is too early to become overly optimistic. The day after I left, an alliance of religious extremists and other opposition parties called a general strike to protest against the secularisation of the country and what it perceived as an authoritarian stance by those in power. It suggests there is a chance this artificial block of territory on the Indian subcontinent could morph again. Such a transformation could destabilise India, add weight to Islamic extremism in Pakistan and give the world another geopolitical and humanitarian headache of monumental proportions. Australia can play a key role in ensuring that it does not.
In the days following the raid that discovered and killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan's top spymaster recalled that he had long made his feelings plain to his American allies. Where the two countries' interests meet, Lieut. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha told a select group of journalists, there would be co- operation. But where the U.S.'s interests were deemed to be acting against Pakistan's own, it would be a very different matter. "We'll not help you," the head of Pakistan's Directorate for Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) quoted himself as telling his American counterparts. "We'll resist you. " Now, Pasha seems to be making good on that promise. Stung by the embarrassment of bin Laden's discovery in a garrison town just two hours away from the Pakistani capital, and the humiliation of the U.S. carrying out a unilateral raid, the ISI has evidently gone after the Pakistanis who helped them pull it off. Five Pakistani informants, including an Army major, who furnished the CIA with crucial leads about bin Laden's compound have been taken into custody by the ISI, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. On Thursday, a senior Pakistani official told TIME that the only Pakistani remaining in custody is Major Amir Aziz, the Pakistan army medic whose house in Abbottabad was used to monitor Osama bin Laden's compound nearby. The rest of the suspected informants have been released.The Pakistani military had initially denied that the major — reported to have tracked the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden's compound — had been taken into custody. But a Pakistan army officer said that some 30- to-40 civilians in total were being interrogated, some of whom were already released earlier in the week. The nameplate on the house in Abbottabad said that the property belonged to a Major Amir Aziz has been taken down. The move against the informants appears to be an attempt to stand up to what the ISI sees as American unilateralism and, in particular, an unauthorized expansion of the CIA's footprint in Pakistan. The ISI, says a senior Pakistani official, is "trying to lay down the rule that the CIA does not operate independently in Pakistan." Beyond the humiliation of bin Laden being discovered a mere kilometer away from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point Academy, the Pakistani security establishment has been angered by widely-voiced but unproven suspicions of complicity. But what appears to have angered the powerful generals most is the lack of trust displayed by the unilateral raid — and the strategic vulnerability that it exposed. At the time of the raid, senior Western diplomats in Islamabad predicted that the Pakistani security establishment would react in two ways. To efface the shame of the bin Laden raid, it would try and demonstrate its commitment to fighting al- Qaeda and other Islamist militants on its soil. Yet, aggrieved for the same reasons, the generals were seen just as likely to react aggressively in less helpful ways. The roundup of the informants and others suggests that more emphasis is being laid on being seen to stand up to the U.S.Since the Raymond Davis affair, when a CIA contractor unknown to the ISI killed two Pakistani men in the city of Lahore in January, Pasha and his boss Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani have been keen to minimize the CIA and U.S. military's presence in Pakistan. Last week, they expelled a group of U.S. military trainers who had been invited to the country to help enhance the counterinsurgency capabilities of Pakistani troops fighting militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Pasha has long been angered by what he sees as an uncontrollably expanding and independent CIA footprint in Pakistan. At the same May briefing with journalists, the embattled spy chief complained indignantly that his spies were on the verge of being "outnumbered" by foreign agents. It's a scenario that spookily echoes the theme of David Ignatius' latest spy thriller, Bloodmoney . In the novel, the fictionalized ISI chief learns of a new capability being run by the CIA beyond his knowledge. "It was an insult," Ignatius writes. "The ISI chief had considered whether he should do something to hurt the Americans back." Reality is now rivaling fiction as relations between the two spy agencies plunge to fresh depths. The informants' arrests came on the heels of the CIA's allegation that the ISI may have tipped-off militants based at bomb factories in Waziristan. As first reported on TIME.com , CIA chief Leon Panetta (and the likely successor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates) traveled to Pakistan last Friday to confront Pasha with satellite images showing the militants flee the two sites within 24 hours of the CIA passing on their location to the Pakistanis. When Pakistani troops later arrived at the facilities used for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices, the pro- Afghan Taliban militants were long gone. The Times reported that it was at the same meeting with Pasha that Panetta raised the arrests of the informants.
Such alleged failures at intelligence sharing and action against militants who attack U. S. forces in Afghanistan are what led President Barack Obama to clear the intensification of CIA operations in Pakistan. Shedding the reliance on the ISI, Obama charged the CIA to proceed independently. One manifestation of that change of policy was an intensification of drone strikes, which almost daily continue to target suspected militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Despite the Pakistan Army and government's loud denunciations of the covert program, they have not tried to put a halt to them. By striking a defiant nationalist pose, Pasha may be hoping to stanch the wave of pressure that has been piling on his institution, and his own position, over the past month. The ISI chief had offered to resign on three occasions. The Pakistani military as a whole has been made the focus of unprecedented criticism from civil society campaigners, journalists and opposition politicians. There is also tremendous pressure from below, with the military's lower ranks registering anger at the U.S. in the wake of the bin Laden raid. And yet, for others, there was always an element of inevitability about the ISI's relations with the CIA. "They have been deteriorating for a long time," says retired Lieut. Gen. Asad Durrani, a former ISI chief. "With every such event, they take a nosedive. It's not surprising. We did not have the same objectives, and we didn't have the same strategies."
A citizens' platform has called upon the government to scrap the deal with US firm ConocoPhillips and engage state-run agencies in the exploration of gas and oil in the Bay of Bengal, instead. At a protest rally, before laying siege to the energy ministry on Tuesday morning, member secretary of the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Prof Anu Muhammad said Bangladesh should not lose its ownership of the deep-sea blocks. He demanded measures for strengthening Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company (Bapex) and Petrobangla with necessary investment, machinery and manpower. Anu Muhammad said ConocoPhillips will get 80 per cent of the gas extracted with the permission to export it and Bangladesh will get the remaining 20 per cent, according to the production sharing contract. 'We will lose the ownership of the gas extracted if the deal is signed. We call on the government not to sign the unequal deal,' Anu said. The committee's convener Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah at the rally said that the government is set to sign the deal on June 16 with ConocoPhillips for the extraction of gas in offshore block 10 and 11. The national committee will hold countrywide black flag processions on the day the deal would be signed and hold a black flag rally in front of the Press Club, Shaheedullah said. He also called on the people to hoist black flags in houses on the day across the country and the national committee would announce agitation programmes, including general strike and a march towards Dhaka in October, if the government does not drop its plan to lease out the offshore gas blocks. Before setting out Tuesday's march, the national committee held a rally in front of the National Press Club where the committee's member secretary said that the deal with ConocoPhillips was against national interest. The energy ministry has now turned into the 'Kasimbazar Palace' (where Mir Jafar hatched plots against Nawab Sirajuddaula) where conspiracies are being hatched against national interest in the power sector, he said. Committee leaders Syed Abul Maksud, Akmal Hossain, Enamul Haque, Tipu Biswas, Nurur Rahman Selim, Saiful Huq, Ruhin Hossain Prince, Bazlur Rashid Firoz, Ragib Ahsan Munna, Mushrefa Mishu, Zonayed Saki, Subal Sarker and others took part in the programme. The rally was also joined by the supporters from the ruling Awami League's ally Bangladesh Workers Party, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal and Revolutionary Workers Party of Bangladesh. The procession of some 500 activists was intercepted at the Secretariat Link Road near the National Press Club around 12 : 15 pm. Protestors then argued and scuffled with police. They also staged a half-an- hour sit-in on the spot. Writer and anthropologist Ms. Rahnuma Ahmed and several protesters were injured during the clashes between the police and the protestors. The Huston, Texas- based firm would be awarded hydrocarbon blocks 10 and 11 , part of which is disputed due to claims from India and Myanmar. Incidentally, ConocoPhillips won these blocks in 2008 , but could not sign the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) with the state-run Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation, or Petrobangla as part of these blocks was also claimed by India and Myanmar. The agreement prohibits the American company from exploring the areas of the blocks claimed by Myanmar or India. ConocoPhillips will invest about $111 million and has offered a bank guarantee of the same amount for the two blocks. Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon, terming the deal an irony, urged the government in parliament last Monday not to sign the deal, and to discuss the issue in parliament first. "While the government is planning to import LNG, the multinational will have the authority to export 80 percent of gas, and the country will be left with the only 20 percent," he said. He expressed concern saying that the government had failed to realise the compensation for the accidents in Magurchharha and Tengratila gas fields, in 1997 and 2005. "Gas worth Tk 360 billion or 500 billion cubic feet was destroyed in the accidents." The US firm Occidental was responsible for the Magurchharha and Canadian Niko for the other. The deal stipulates that the US firm will have to build a pipeline from the blocks to shallow sea gas field Sangu, from where Petrobangla will draw gas. The contractor will be allowed to have gas for the cost of pipeline as cost- recovery. The national committee says bringing the remaining 20 percent gas to the shore from the deep sea would not be economically viable. The country is divided into 52 blocks, 28 of which are in the Bay. The proven gas reserves are 7.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and probable reserves are further 5.5 tcf The police blockaded the rally near the secretariat, and baton charged the protesters as they approached the barricade. Writer and anthropologist Rahnuma Ahmed (centre) was one of several protesters who were injured during the clashes Writer and anthropologist Rahnuma Ahmed was injured during the clash. 14 th June 2011.
The government of Bhutan is reported to have shown interest to use Lalmonirhat airstrip now lying abandoned for long and the land being used by local farmers to grow crops. But the indication that once Dhaka receives a formal request from Bhutan it would seek New Delhi's approval for the deal has come not only as a surprise to many in Dhaka but has also come as a profound shock. Bhutanese minister for communication and information Lyonpo Nandalal Rai visited Bangladesh on May 19 with a 14- member business delegation and saw Lalmonirhat and Saidpur airports. He later said his country is interested to use Lalmonirhat airstrip to facilitate connecting commercial flights having several business outreach in mind. "We will approach neighbouring India if necessary after a formal proposal from the Bhutanese government for use of the airstrip as transit route," Civil Aviation minister GM Qader reportedly told a local daily last week. He said the government is thinking about a proposal from the civil aviation authority to operate commercial flights from Lalmonirhat. Analysts here say Bhutan may or may not be given the permission to use Lalmonirhat airstrip but any reference to Indian involvement in the process is an unheard of proposition. Bhutan is interested to use it as a transit stop over for its international flights, which is situated over 1166 acres of land and having a 6000 feet runway. The British government had built it in 1939 during the Second World War and since it has largely been lying unused. However it is now under the control of Bangladesh army. Bhutan is using Dhaka airport as well for regional flights, the sources said. Initially Lalmonirhat may be used to operate domestic flights, private airlines will be offered landing permission free of charge in order to encourage their flights to and from there, Qader said. The Bhutanese minister said Lalmonirhat may be used as a transit for its international flights since it is very close to his landlocked country. He said international flights operated from Bhutanese capital Thimpu often become risky due to foggy weather and rainy condition.