Fortnightly Review & Analysis - Neighbourhood Studies (Vol 2 Issue X)

October 16-31, 2017

Pakistan

Nawaz’s Political and Legal Troubles continue to Escalate

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political and legal troubles continue to escalate with little hope of any relief or reprieve. The Accountability Court hearing the corruption references against him has not only indicted him but has also issued bailable arrest warrants after he failed to present himself in court on the appointed day. The court has also declared both Nawaz Sharif’s sons as proclaimed offenders and has issued orders for seizing their property.

Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has ordered the freezing of properties and assets of finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is also facing a reference in the Accountability Court for possessing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. Bailable arrest warrants were issued against Dar for failing to appear before the court. Dar, who went on an official tour to Tajikistan to attend a multi-lateral meeting, has proceeded to London from Dushanbe. The rumour mill in Islamabad suggests that Dar isn't likely to return to Pakistan to face the trial.

At the political level, although Nawaz Sharif managed to get back the presidency of the ruling party, the law which facilitated this has been challenged in the courts. Analysts believe that the clause which allows an individual who is otherwise disqualified from heading any political party is likely to be struck down by the judiciary. The opposition parties even managed to pass a bill in the Senate repealing the clause that allowed a disqualified person to hold a party office. This bill is however unlikely to become law because it will not pass the muster in the National Assembly, which is dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN). Even so, there are voices within the ruling PMLN that want Nawaz Sharif to step aside and make way for his brother Shahbaz Sharif as head of the party. Senior ministers like Riaz Pirzada have openly come out in favour of Shahbaz Sharif. There is growing uneasiness among party legislators who depend on Nawaz Sharif for getting them the votes but abhor the idea of getting into a headlong confrontation with the army or the judiciary. These legislators feel the party is adrift and directionless and are rooting for Shahbaz Sharif to take the party’s reins in his hands and lead them into the next elections.

There are also reports of a growing rift within the Sharif family, especially the GenNext of the Sharif brothers suggest that there is a leadership tussle underway. Broadly, the party appears split between those who want to take on the ‘establishment’ and judiciary and cannot imagine politics without Nawaz Sharif on the one hand, and on the other those who want to avoid any kind of confrontation which can lead to an extra-constitutional intervention or destroy their chances of getting re-elected. For his part, Nawaz Sharif remains defiant and has declared that any ‘minus-Nawaz’ formula will be unacceptable to him. This stance was endorsed by both Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Shahbaz Sharif who along with other senior party leaders and ministers met Nawaz Sharif in London to work out their political strategy. While there are reports that Shahbaz has been trying to garner support around himself, he defiance and ambition seems to get deflated every time he meets Nawaz Sharif.

Apparently, Shahbaz Sharif is also coming under pressure from the military to get a handle over not just the government but also the party. According to a report, Shahbaz Sharif was summoned by the Army chief and told clearly that the current drift in politics and administration couldn’t continue for very long especially since its impact was being felt on the economy which is in the process of tanking. The army has in recent weeks been commenting on the state of the economy and this has forced the civilian government to actually give a briefing to the army chief on the rising public debt and the external and internal imbalances that are dragging the economy down very fast.

The strains in the civil-military relations are palpable but despite the growing chasm, it is highly unlikely that there will be any direct intervention by the army anytime soon. At the same time, the army is steadily encroaching into the civilian domain and has started to crackdown on any dissent. In recent weeks social media activists belonging to the ruling party have been picked up and intimidated. A journalist who has been filing stories in favour of Nawaz Sharif and against his political opponents, was badly beaten by ‘unknown persons’ in Islamabad. Other journalists in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan have been ‘kidnapped’ and roughed up and then released. There is an all-out effort by the military to control the narrative and discourse and not allow any voice that challenges in authority or questions its influence.
The ‘deep state’ has meanwhile become active in Karachi to re-engineer the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and degrade it in favour of its creation, Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP) which is led by the former Mayor of Karachi Mustafa Kamal. Some high profile defections, including of the deputy Mayor Arshad Vohra, who was apparently arm twisted with a money laundering case, have corroborated the allegations by the MQM-Pakistan chief Dr Farooq Sattar that MQM cadres were being forced to switch loyalties to PSP.

US-Pak Relations Remain Fraught

The recovery of the American-Canadian hostages by the Pakistani security forces improved the atmospherics between the US and Pakistan. Unlike the past when Pakistanis would make such an offering to deflect the US pressure, this time the Americans appear to have become wise to Pakistani tactics. This became clear when reports in the US media disclosed that the hostages were in Pakistan all along and the US Special Forces were all set to mount a rescue operation if the Pakistanis didn’t act on the information given to them. After the rescue, the US Vice-President Mike Pence called up the Pakistani Prime Minister. While the Pakistanis claimed that both sides agreed to “maintain high-level engagements to strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest” and “further build this relationship”, the US side had a somewhat different take. A press release from the White House maintained that Pence had emphasised the need for a “continued and sustained cooperation against terrorists” and debunked Pakistani propaganda by insisting that the hostages were being held in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. This was a clear indication that there remains a huge gap between what the US is demanding from Pakistan and how far the Pakistanis are ready to go to fulfil US demands.

Pence’s phone call was followed by a very short visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Islamabad. The Pakistanis played cool during the visit and the lukewarm reception given to Tillerson was a signal that the Pakistanis were not in a mood to please the Americans. In a way, the tone of the meeting had been set before Tillerson reached Islamabad. In a talk at a US think-tank, Tillerson had spoken about the US was committed to its relationship with India for the next 100 years. The US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley sought India’s help to keep an eye on Pakistan (thereby fuelling Pakistani paranoia that the US wanted India to become the policeman of the region). And then during his visit to Kabul before he landed in Islamabad, Tillerson said that the US had made “specific requests” to Pakistan and was not going to change its policy on Pakistan's request. Later, while briefing the Senate of Pakistan, the Pakistani foreign minister revealed that Tillerson has given a list of 75 terrorists to Pakistan but added that the list did not include any Pakistani citizens. Subsequently, a report in the Pakistani press disclosed that the Americans had shared a list of 20 terrorist organisations with Pakistan, including some which were active against India.

During his visit to Islamabad, Tillerson “reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country”. His message to the Pakistanis was to “facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan”, contribute to “establishing a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating (the militant) Islamic State in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the US”. But if Pakistani press reports are anything to go by, the Pakistanis haven’t really budged from their position and are insisting that India be given no role in Afghanistan and that the US should not seek a military solution in that country because it was doomed to fail. If the post-visit reportage is anything to go by, the US-Pakistan relationship remains fraught and is pretty much tethering on the brink. While the Pakistani foreign minister has openly taken digs at the US policy and US military’s failures – he said that the American generals have failed to win the war and that the Trump administration would be committing a huge mistake by following the lead of failed generals – Tillerson and other officials have made it clear that the Pakistanis would have to accept the new US policy. According to Tillerson, the Pakistanis have been told what they are expected to do and the US would implement its new strategy with or without Pakistan. A top US official has said that Pakistan is expected to act within weeks and months on the options laid out before it by Tillerson.

Meanwhile, the US has somewhat sweetened the bitter pill for Pakistan by taking an ambiguous stand on some of the issues of great concern to Pakistan. On the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the US State Department spokesperson has said that “it has the potential to contribute to stability and prosperity in Pakistan and the region” and adding that “United States welcomes all development programs that benefit the Pakistani people”. The uneasiness, even outrage, in Pakistan caused by remarks of US Defence Secretary Gen James Mattis on CPEC was to an extent addressed when the spokesperson said that the US had a “shared interest with China in a stable and prosperous Pakistan. China can play an important role in expanding and improving Pakistan’s infrastructure and promoting power generation projects.” The spokesperson also refuted a suggestion that the US would side with India in the event of an armed conflict in the region. On the issue of Kashmir, the standard line was taken: US will support all bilateral efforts for resolution of the Kashmir issue. Finally, the spokesperson dispelled talk of automatic sanctions kicking in against Pakistan because of Pakistan's refusal to accept the existence of terrorist safe havens, but added that she couldn’t forecast what might happen in the future.

Afghanistan

Body Count Mounts amid Rising Terror Attacks & Anti-Taliban Operations

There was a major spike in casualties as the government forces and the US troops launched attacks against terrorist targets while the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) terrorists carried out terror attacks in different parts of Afghanistan. There were also reports of clashes between Taliban and IS terrorists in the north and east of Afghanistan. In once such clash in Jowzjan province half a dozen Taliban and an equal number of IS terrorists were killed. Similar clashes were reported from the eastern province of Nangarhar where both the terrorist groups clashed despite the call for a ceasefire by the Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah.

But even as both these groups have clashed with each other, they mounted some devastating terror attacks in which they killed scores of civilians in different parts of the country. In a series of bombings the Taliban targeted a police camp in Paktia, the district governor’s compound in Ghazni, stormed the center of Shibko district in Farah. Around 75 people were killed and over 200 injured in these attacks, 52 of them including 20 civilians in the bombing-cum-storming of the police camp in Gardez. Another 15 police officers and half a dozen civilians were killed in a suicide attack in Ghazni. A few days after these attacks two suicide attacks targeted a Shia mosque in Kabul and a Sunni mosque in Ghor. 63 people were killed in the two attacks. The bombing of the Shia mosque was clearly a sectarian attack and is suspected to have been carried out by the IS. The Ghor Sunni mosque attack was however aimed at a former local Taliban commander. Yet another devastating attack was carried out against an Afghan National Army base in Maiwand district of Kandahar in which over 40 soldiers were killed when the Taliban virtually overran the camp. The modus operandi in most of these attacks was quite similar: a vehicle borne Improvised Explosive Device (IED) would launch the attack and this would be followed by the storming of the target by gunmen. In another attack, this time on a police checkpoint in Ghazni, nine police officers were killed.

The spate of attacks have increased the pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and questions are being raised by politicians and people about how he proposes to control the deteriorating security situation. Among the most worrisome aspects of the security situation is the massive casualties being caused by IEDs. According to the Pentagon, in three months (April-June) over 3000 people were killed in over a 1000 IED attacks. The IEDs are clearly the weapon of choice for the terrorists and as yet the security forces haven’t been able to find an effective counter against them.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Americans are expanding the scope of their covert operations in Afghanistan not just by Special Forces but also by the CIA with the mandate to hunt down the Taliban. Earlier the CIA focus was only on Al Qaeda. The CIA is now expected to aggressively deploy the drones against Taliban targets. An example of this was the drone strikes on successive days along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which over 30 terrorists were killed, including some Pakistani Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders.

The Diplomatic Great Game gathers Pace

Amid rising US pressure, a meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US was held in Muscat, Oman. The Taliban did not attend as they claimed that they were not invited. The meeting seems to be more an attempt to try and get the process back on the rails and ended as expected, without any breakthrough. The QCG meeting followed reports in the Pakistani press that Pakistan was leaning on the Taliban to join the peace process. The credibility of these reports is, however, suspect and they seemed directed more towards easing the US pressure than kick-starting serious peace talks.

While the QCG meeting was underway, the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) visited Kabul and held talks with the top officials there. This was seen in Pakistan as India inserting itself in the diplomatic Great Game and exercising its influence. The NSA’s visit was followed by a day long visit of the Afghan President to New Delhi. The timing of the visit of the Afghan President raised even more eyebrows because it coincided with the presence of the US Secretary of State in New Delhi. The Pakistanis saw this as evidence of the US-Afghanistan-India axis which seeks to squeeze Pakistan. The US Secretary of State also visited Kabul during his South Asia tour where he declared that the US will continue to fight the Taliban until they understand they can never win a military victory, adding that there was room for moderate Taliban in the Afghanistan government provided they renounce violence and terrorism.

While the US doubles down on its support for the Afghan government, there are reports that the Russians are doing the same on the side of the Taliban. A report in The Times reveals that the Russians are financing the Taliban in a big way, albeit in a round-about way by setting up a network in which fuel supplies are sent to Afghanistan and the money generated is kicked back to the Taliban. According to the report, the Russian game plan is partly to build the Taliban as a counter to the Islamic State, and partly as a pay-back to the US for the ‘jihad’ in the 1980s against Soviet occupation. But Russian fuel supplies is not the only source of funds for the Taliban. The Heroin trade is a big money spinner and according to an estimate around 20 percent of the Afghan GDP or around $ 3 billion now comes from the opium economy. Around 60 percent of the Taliban finances come from the Heroin trade.

Meanwhile, in what is being seen as a major development, the first Indian consignment of wheat to Afghanistan was sent through the Iranian port of Chabahar. The operationalisation of this trade route which by-passes Pakistan could become a game-changer in the future by reducing the Afghan dependence on Pakistan for access to foreign markets.

Nepal

Political Alliance and Re-alliances in Nepal

The Communist Alliance

In a major political development, on October 4, 2017, the two major communist parties, namely, K.P. Sharma Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-MC) along with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti Nepal (NSN), announced the formation of a broad-based electoral alliance ahead of the upcoming Provincial and Federal polls to be held on November 26 and December 7, 2017 respectively. They also called upon other political forces to join the electoral alliance.

The Alliance was hailed as a milestone in the Nepali politics and beginning of a progressive alliance which would eventually unite all the other leftist and democratic forces. The three parties agreed to form an eight member panel to work for the subsequent merger of the three parties after the polls. The committee will have four members from CPN-UML, three from CPN-MC and one from NSN.

For the elections, the division of seats between CPN-UML and CPN-MC shall be at 60:40 proportion. A Joint Manifesto for the elections would be issued in the near future. The Alliance aims to secure 2/3rd majority in the Provincial and Federal polls and form a government that would promote nationalism, uphold sovereignty and maintain balanced relations with both the neighbours and the international community.

However, the Left alliance, on October 12, 2017, suffered a set-back with Baburam Bhattarai’s NSN issuing a warning to withdraw from the Left-Alliance if it was not given 15 seats and some preferred constituencies. But, with CPN-MC leaders remaining adamant, chances of Bhattarai eventually walking out of the Alliance remained a matter of intense speculation. He could consider forming an alliance with some of the the Madhes-based parties or even approach the Nepali Congress (NC) to seek electoral adjustments.

NC Responds with Democratic Alliance

In response, Prime Minister Deuba’s NC quickly announced his decision to form a Democratic Alliance along with six Madhes-based parties. He also indicated the possibility of inducting Kamal Thapa-led Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) into the Cabinet with the ultimate aim of roping it into the Democratic Alliance. The NC-led Democratic Alliance would thus include the NC, Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N), RPP led by Kamal Thapa, Rashtriya Prajatantra Party Nationalist RPP(N) led by Pashupathi Shamsher Rana, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) of Mahanta Thakur and Federal Socialist Forum (FSFN) led by Upendra Yadav. Bijay Kumar Gachhadar’s Nepal Loktantrik Forum (NLF) has also joined hands with the Nepali Congress. He signed the Unification documents with Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on October 16, 2017. Gachhadar’s decision to unite with the Nepali Congress was for the ‘greater cause of democracy, aimed against any kind of totalitarianism in the country’. According to sources, Gachhadar is likely to get an important position in the NC.

Deuba asks Maoist Ministers to quit; Inducts Eight new Ministers

In view of these developments the NC, heading the coalition government, has asked the CPN-MC ministers in the government to quit so that the Prime Minister ‘does not have to sack them’ after their party has defected to the opposition Left Alliance. PM Deuba has already moved the President to induct eight new ministers - three with Cabinet rank and four Ministers of State, all from the pro-Hindu, pro-monarchy RPP who’s chief, Kamal Thapa, will be appointed as Deputy Prime Minister. The new entrants to the cabinet will remain ministers without portfolio till the Maoist ministers are forced out of the government. The induction, which took place barely five hours before the Parliament’s tenure ended, led opposition leader K.P. Oli to accuse Prime Minister of violating the electoral code of conduct. Deuba, however, insisted that inducting ministers after the election process has begun does not violate the code of conduct. Chief Election Commission Ayodhi Prasad Yadav confirmed this in his advice to the President.

NC Puts its Own House in Order

In yet another development, the NC, on October 11, 2017, formed a 17 member Parliamentary Party Committee following agreements between Deuba and senior party leader Ram Chandra Paudel. The Committee has six members from the Paudel camp, one from Krishna Prasad Sitaula camp while the rest are from Deuba panel. Paudel, former General Secretary Prakash Man Singh, Ram Saran Mahat and Mahesh Acharya are members in the Committee with party treasurer Sita Devi Yadav as an ex-officio member. The other members include former General Secretary Bimalendra Nidhi, Gopal Man Shakya, Gyanendra Karki, Bal Krishna Khand, Prakash Sharan Mahat, Khum Bahadur Khadka, Purna Bahadur Khadka, Arjun Narsingh and Chitra Lekha Yadav. President Deuba and General Secretary Shashanka Koira will be ex-officio President and General Secretary of the Committee. With this, NC hopes to present a stronger and united image of the party before the electorate.

Parties Submit Lists of Proportional Representation Candidates

Political parties have submitted to the Election commission their respective lists of candidates under the Proportional Representation (PR) category for the Federal and Provincial elections. It is under stood that most of the ‘big names’ of party leaders figure in virtually all the lists. However, NC President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel, General Secretary Shashank Koirala and leaders like Bimalendra Nidhi and Purna Bahadur Khadka are likely to contest the elections under the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) category, sources said. It is learnt that NC has submitted the names of 110 candidates for the Federal parliament and 220 for Provincial legislatures. Their Federal list included 57 female candidates for proportional representation.

The UML is learnt to have fielded senior leaders Amrit Kumar Bohara and Astha Laxmi Shakya among its list of PR candidates. The Party had earlier announced that its Standing Committee members will contest FPTP elections. Lawmakers elected under the PR category in the second Constituent Assembly, which was later transformed into the Legislature-Parliament, would not be repeated in the PR list.

CPN-MC has submitted names of 57 women and 53 male candidates for the PR category for elections to Federal Parliament. The Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSF-N) has picked Rajendra Shrestha, Renu Yadav, Ratneshwor Lal Kayastha and Parshuram Basnet, among others, as their PR candidates for the Federal elections, according to a party source. Two right-wing parties — RPP and the RPP-N, have also submitted their lists. The RPP led by Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa has picked party Vice-chairman Buddhiman Tamang, Tanka Dhakal, Niranjan Thapa and Ram Kumar Subba among the PR candidates. Chairman Thapa is preparing to contest the direct election from Makawanpur district. The Pashupati Shamsher Rana-led RPP-N listed Vice-chairman Nawa Raj Subedi and Bala Ram Gharti Magar among the PR candidates. Though Rana is expected to be an FPTP candidate if the party forms an alliance with the NC, he will also be on the PR list if the arrangement does not materialise, sources said. The NSN Party, led by former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, has also finalized its list for the PR category to the Federal parliament. Their list includes Parshuram Khapung, Durga Sob, Karishma Manandhar and Kamala Gurung.

Constitutional Position on Proportional Representation

In the Federal Parliament, 110 lawmakers will be elected under the PR system. Parties are required to incorporate names of at least 50 percent women candidates in their sealed lists while ensuring proportional representation of various communities. According to the Act on the Elections of the House of Representatives, the parties have to accommodate 13.8 percent candidates from the Dalit community, 28.7 percent from indigenous nationalities, and 31.2 percent from among the Khas/Aryas, 15.3 percent from the Madhesis, 6.6 percent from among the Tharus and 4.4 percent from the Muslim community. Parties securing less than three percent of the total votes cast in the PR elections will not have their votes counted for representation in the Federal parliament. Those getting less than 1.5 percent PR votes will not be represented in the provincial assemblies.

Controversy over Ballot Paper - Supreme Court issues a Ruling

Complying with the Supreme Court directive, Election Commission (EC) is finally preparing to print-two separate ballot papers for the FPTP of federal parliamentary and the provincial assembly elections. The CEC Ayodhyi Prasad Yadav stressed that the elections will be held as per schedule. Earlier EC was all set to print the ballot paper for federal parliamentary and provincial assembly elections on one sheet. EC changed its potion after contempt of court notice filed by RJP-N leader Sarvendra Shukla, stating that EC was printing the ballot paper for both the elections on one page thereby violating Supreme Court’s order of October 18, 2017. This also put paid to the campaign launched by the communist alliance that the government might use the SC directive to postpone the elections citing time constraint in printing separate ballot papers.

CPN-MC Clarifies its Stand on Continuance in Government

CPN-MC leader Dahal has clarified that leaving the government was not on the Party’s agenda. Pulling out of the government at this juncture would not augur well with the electorate and would send out negative signals. Earlier the party had decided to quit but changed its decision fearing that Prime Minister Deuba might postpone the election. Speaking to the press (Chitwan-October 30), Dahal said that their alliance with CPN-UML was formed with the ultimate objective of party unification which will not be affected by the outcome of elections. CPN-MC has taken the desired initiative to reduce the number of political parties in the country.

Situation Not as Grim as imagined for Nepali Congress

If intelligence reports are to be believed, the position of the NC is not that vulnerable in the upcoming elections as being made out in the media. The Congress is likely to finish in the number 2 spot. Meanwhile, Binod Chaudhary, a Nepali businessman of influence and a CPN-UML MP has joined the NC.

Friction in Nepali Congress-RPP Alliance.

As was expected, both the alliances have started facing problems of seat adjustment between the partners. NC’s Krishna Prasad Sitaula is apparently disenchanted to leave Jhapa Constituency-3 for RPP candidate and its General Secretary Rajendra Lingden. Earlier the NC had agreed to support Lingden in Jhapa-3 and had included Situala’s name in the closed list of PR candidates. This was unacceptable to Sitaula. He is now preparing to contest under FPTP from Jhapa-3 for House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, as per media reports RPP has decided to partner with the Left Alliance, at least in the four districts of eastern Nepal - Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam and Jhapa. It is reported that Lingden will get support of the left parties in Jhapa-3 and the RPP will cooperate with the left alliance’s candidates in the other constituencies of these districts. A joint press conference was held in Birtamod on the 1st of November where the left announced support to Lingden. It has also been reported that chances of an electoral alliance between the NC and the RJP-N and the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSF-N) have become bleak. However there could be a likelihood of the three parties supporting the top leadership on both the sides. The NC is supporting the NSN coordinator Dr. Baburam Bhattarai in Gorkha while also allying with the RPP-N whose leader Pashupati Shamsher Rana will get NC’s backing in Sindupalchok-2.

Life Sentence on Maoist Leader Bal Krishna Dhungel

Maoist leader Bal Krishna Dhungel was arrested on October 31, eight years after he was convicted by the Supreme Court. He was subsequently sent to Dilibazaar Prison where he would be serving 12 years, 5 month and 22 days as part of a life sentence. Dhungel was first convicted by Okhaldhunga District Court on May 10, 2004 in the murder case of Ujjain Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga on June 24, 1998. Rajbiraj Appellate Court however gave him a clean chit in 2006. The Supreme Court on January 3, 2010 overturned the Appellate Court order thereby upholding the earlier verdict of Okhaldhunga District Court and ordered his arrest. Dhungel due to his connections with the Maoist Cadre never got arrested. He also won the 1st Constituency Assembly elections from Okhaldhunga-2. The Apex Court on April 13, 2017 ordered his arrest which went unheard. Dhungel earlier issued a statement where he warned of physical attack on the judge who handed down a life sentence to him.

The Maoist Party has been critical of his conviction saying all war era cases should be dealt with transitional justice mechanisms. To the contrary, all human right activist groups have long been vocal about the state’s failure having failed to arrest murder convict Dhungel. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, former PM Maoist ideologue on one occasion even challenged the state to arrest him if the Supreme Court’s order for the law to be fully implemented. His government in November, 2011 had recommended a Presidential pardon only to be quashed by the Supreme Court on January 7, 2016. On his way to prison, Dhungel said that his arrest will impact the peace process.

Dhungel’s arrest marks a watershed in the country’s attempt to settle war-era cases of human right violation by ensuring justice to conflict victims. His arrest however has come at a very interesting time. He was picked up at a time when NC is at odds with its coalition partner MC which has allied with CPN-UML. Until two weeks ago, MC’s Janardan Sharma was heading the Home Affairs, the line ministry of Nepal Police which faced criticism for its failure to arrest Dhungel. Prime Minister Deuba on October 17 stripped all Maoist Ministers including Sharma of their portfolios and took charge of the Home Affairs.

CPN-MC has alleged that Dhungel’s arrest is nothing short of a bigger conspiracy to provoke the MC to foil the scheduled polls. Their Chief spokesperson Pampha Bhusal has demanded an immediate release of Dhungel.

Bhutan

Bhutan’s Royals visit India

On the invitation of the Prime Minister of India, their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan arrived in New Delhi on a 4-day visit (October 31-November 3, 2017). During the Royal visit, His Majesty will hold meetings with the President and Prime Minister of India. India and Bhutan have enjoyed unique ties of friendship which are characterised by mutual understanding goodwill and trust. The visit would further provide an impetus to both the nations to review bilateral cooperation. It may be mentioned that India and Bhutan will be celebrating the golden jubilee of establishment of ties next year.

Bangladesh

Chief Justice S K Sinha Faces 11 Charges Including “Graft and Money Laundering”

In a statement issued by the Supreme Court on October 14, 2017, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice S.K. Sinha is stated to be facing 11 charges including those related to corruption, moral lapses, financial irregularities, graft and money laundering. Following the allegations, five judges of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court refused to sit with Chief Justice Sinha in a bench for delivering justice. Earlier, in a meeting with the judges, President Abdul Hamid had, on September 30, handed over the documents containing allegations against the Chief Justice. Chief Justice S.K. Sinha left Bangladesh for Australia over the purported allegations which caused him severe embarrassment.

Reports of rift between him and the government’s displeasure surfaced when the Apex Court delivered a verdict declaring the 16th Constitutional Amendment, void, scrapping parliament’s authority over impeaching the Supreme Court judges. The amendment to the Constitution had empowered Parliament to remove the Supreme Court Judges for incapacity and misconduct which was later scrapped by the High Court.

In line with Article 97 of the Constitution, the President entrusted the senior most judge of the Appellate Division, Justice Md. Abdul Wahhab Miah, with the responsibility of discharging the duties of Chief Justice in the absence of Justice Sinha.

Bangladesh Minister visits Myanmar on Rohingya Repatriation.

The Rohingya crisis witnessed some forward movement at a meeting on October 9, 2017, between Bangladesh Minister for Foreign Affairs Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Myanmar Minister of State Counselor’s office U Kyaw Tint Swe (representative of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi) with the two sides agreeing to establish a joint working group for repatriation of the refugees.

As a follow up, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal visited Myanmar later in the month for further discussions. Asuduzzaman Khan said that the Myanmar authorities would not resolve the Rohingya issue despite the country’s pledge to do so unless the international community exerts pressure on it. His apprehensions conform to suspicions expressed by the global media and the various rights groups about Myanmar’s sincerity to address the issue of Rohingyas. The Myanmar authorities have out rightly rejected the recommendation put forth by the Kofi Annan Committee. Back from his three days visit to Myanmar (October 23-25, 2017) the Home Minister regretted that Nay Pyi Daw backtracked on a 10 point decision it worked out with Dhaka during a Myanmar Minister’s visit to Dhaka earlier this month. Presently Bangladesh is burdened with nearly one million Rohingya refugees including 600,000 new arrivals since August 25.

The minister during his visit held talks with lieutenant General Kyaw Swe and also made a courtesy call on the State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi. To the Home Minister’s utter amazement, the Myanmar Home Minister addressed the Rohingyas as ‘Bangalees’. Home Minister Azaduzzman explained that since the people of the Rakhine State have had a long history of shuttling between the two countries, they have picked up the language. He further said that over 350 million people speaks Bangla but not all of them are Bangalees. The Home Minister categorically told the Myanmar authorities of the immense political and economic burden the refugees were causing to the resources of Bangladesh.

The Rohingya Crisis - Bangladesh Building up Pressure on Myanmar through International Forums

Bangladesh is making repeated requests to the international community to extend whole-hearted support to all the new initiatives expected to be taken at various forum of the UN against Myanmar in the next one month. Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary, Mohd. Shahidul Haq made the request to all the diplomats of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) countries stationed in Dhaka. The United Nations Human Right Commission (UNHRC) sessions usually takes place in March, June and September, but if desired, special sessions can also be called for. In that case, at least 16 out of 45 member council need to support the desired initiative. The Bangladeshi diplomats stationed in New York have said that at Bangladesh’s insistence the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) is going to submit a proposal against Myanmar at the United Nations Third Committee.

China has re-emphasized need for bilateral talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar. China’s special envoy for Asian Affairs Guoxiang expressed this opinion recently. Last time he visited Bangladesh was approximately six months ago. The Envoy further underscored on peaceful negotiations between Bangladesh and Myanmar since both were friends to China.