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

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Maldives

August 16-31, 2017

Pakistan

Dread and Defiance over Trump’s Af-Pak Policy

The much anticipated Af-Pak policy of the Trump administration was received in Pakistan with a mix of dread over what it could entail in the coming months, disingenuous denials over the charges of being complicit with terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, and defiance of what the US was demanding from Pakistan. There was also a desperate effort to deflect the focus from Pakistan’s own duplicitous game in Afghanistan by trying to conflate it with Indian presence in Afghanistan, and of course the issue of Kashmir.

It wasn’t as though the Pakistanis were taken completely by surprise by the tough approach taken by the US. For a couple of weeks before the announcement of the new policy, the Pakistanis made a bit of a show to prove their bona fides in the war on terror – ‘embedded’ (with ISI) journalists reported that the noose was being tightened around the Taliban, top generals condemned attacks on US troops, overtures were made to Afghanistan to restart a dialogue – all in the hope that it would moderate the Trump policy. But clearly, these measures didn’t impress the Americans. On the eve of the policy announcement, the US Secretary of State spoke to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and it is believed that the latter was apprised of the gist of the new US policy.

Even so, once the policy was announced, Pakistan reacted with predictable outrage, which was in part evoked by accusations of providing safe havens to terrorist groups, and in part by the references to India, asking it to play a greater role in not just in Afghanistan but also in the Indo-Pacific region. This was quite a double-whammy for Pakistan. Worse, Pakistan’s long-standing strategy of nuclear sabre-rattling against India was turned on its head when Mr. Trump spoke about threat of nuclear weapons use because of Pakistan giving ‘safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror’. Following President Trump’s policy speech, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that US would exercise all options to persuade Pakistan to stop allowing the Afghan Taliban to use its soil. The broad US approach, according to Tillerson, would be to condition support and relationship with Pakistan on their delivering results. He made it clear that Pakistan would have to deal with India to initiate a regional approach and the US couldn’t change this dynamic. Following Tillerson, the spokesperson of the US National Security Council, Michael Anton, said Pakistan has been put on notice and that the US had leverages that it would use against Pakistan. Tillerson too spoke about leverages and hinted at withdrawing Pakistan's Major Non-NATO Ally status and put stiff riders on economic aid and military assistance to Pakistan.

The only voices of support for Pakistan came, predictably enough, from China and to an extent Russia. Both these countries have given some hope to Pakistan that if the US push comes to shove, they can fall back upon China, Russia, and to an extent countries like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to hold their own against the US. No surprise then, there was a lot of bluster from the Pakistani side, especially politicians (many of whom have family members who have acquired US citizenship and have children studying/settled there). The Pakistani senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani, even threatened to make Pakistan the graveyard of US troops. At the official level though, the reaction was a little more restrained. While the Pakistani government let it be known that it wasn’t inclined to be pushed around by the US – the deferment of the visit of foreign minister Khawaja Asif to Washington, as also of the two senior US officials to Islamabad, was a strong signal that Pakistan would stand its ground against the US – there was at the same time an effort to recount Pakistan’s immense ‘sacrifices’ and ‘services’ in the war on terror in order to let the Americans know that their ‘scapegoating’ of Pakistan was contrary to facts on the ground. Top Pakistani officials, including the army chief, told their American interlocutors that they did care much for the US aid but wanted an acknowledgement of their contribution in fighting terrorism. A statement issued by the National Security Committee of Pakistan made counterterrorism cooperation contingent, among other things, on Pakistan's concerns regarding Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan bases in Afghanistan being addressed. The same statement made gratuitous references to India and the situation in Kashmir, clearly indicating that Pakistan was trying to conflate issues and linking up Kashmir with Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, as per the standard operating procedure, the Pakistani ‘deep state’ trotted out the usual suspects – religious parties and terror groups operating under the umbrella of Difa-e-Pakistan council – to hold demonstrations against the US all across the country. This is a pet ploy to both scare and soften the Americans, though whether it will work yet again remains to be seen. Alongside, the parliament was activated and both the Senate and the National Assembly passed resolutions laying down Pakistan's red-lines. It was also decided that the foreign minister will visit Beijing and Moscow, followed by Ankara, to drum up support for Pakistan, before he condescends to visit Washington. But after making this show of resistance and defiance, towards the end of the month, more conciliatory noises were made from Islamabad, giving an indication that now that they had laid out their stand, there was room for talks and negotiations. Clearly, the Pakistanis feel that the strong reaction they have put up would have chastened the Americans sufficiently and created space for engagement in which they wouldn’t be pushed against a wall. But there is also the realization among the more serious and sober sections of the Pakistani establishment that the economic implications of getting on the wrong side of a rampant US administration would be very costly for an already tottering economy. With some of the aid riders having already been placed – the Foreign Military Financing of US$ 255 million has been made contingent on Pakistani action against terror groups – there is a sense that the graded system of punitive actions is starting to be implemented and that if this extends to trade and financial sanctions, there is a serious danger of the Pakistani economy going belly-up.

Census Data proves to be Politically Contentious, Economically Concerning

The provisional data of Pakistan’s sixth census, which was held earlier this year after a gap of 19 years, has caused a fair bit of concern over the population bomb that is ticking in Pakistan. At the political level, as expected, the data has proved to be extremely contentious. Not just political parties but also many academics and analysts have raised serious questions over the credibility, reliability and veracity of the numbers in the census.

According to the provisional data, Pakistan’s population has grown to 207 million (excluding Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) which is about 57% over the last enumeration done in 1998. The annual population growth rate is 2.41% which is much higher than the 1.89% that had been assumed for many years. The implication of this number is that all sorts of estimates of per capita income, poverty etc. were way off the mark. Worse, given that Pakistan has virtually no program for controlling population, there is every likelihood that by 2030 the population will cross the 300 million mark, putting an unbearable strain on resources in a country which has an extremely anaemic economy and terrible governance.

Politically, the census has always been contentious because distribution of resources and representation in assemblies is determined on the basis of population. This has meant that every ethnic group likes to inflate its numbers and underestimate the numbers of other communities. The latest census appears to have borne out the serious concerns of the Baloch that they have been reduced into a minority in their own province. Much of the rise in population in Balochistan is accounted for by the non-Baloch, especially the Pashtuns. This means that the power balance will shift against the Baloch in the province, which in turn could exacerbate the alienation and disaffection felt by the Baloch. In Karachi too, a similar problem exists. The MQM-Pakistan has questioned the population figures of Karachi (14 million) and claimed that the mega city’s population has been underestimated by at least 10 million. The population of Lahore, on the other hand, has more than doubled from around 5 million to around 11 million. The implication of these numbers is that it reduces the relative political weight of Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh – MQM strongholds – considerably and raises the weight of Lahore – the bastion of the ruling PMLN. Overall, while Punjab still holds more than 50% of the population, its proportion has come down. According to some estimates, if a fresh delimitation is held then Punjab will lose a few seats in the National Assembly while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will gain a few. Within Punjab, the population growth in and around Lahore will further cement the hold of central Punjab over rest of the province.

Nawaz Defies NAB, Challenges SC Judgment

With the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) moving towards filing the Supreme Court mandated reference in an accountability court against Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family, the former Prime Minister has twice refused to appear before the NAB team and join the investigation against them. Initially the reason for the refusal was that they had not received the NAB notices. But later it was made clear that the Sharif family will await the outcome of its review petition on the Supreme Court judgment in the Panama Papers case. While Nawaz Sharif has filed two review petitions, his children too have filed a review petition of their own. Another review petition has been filed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who has also been indicted in the Supreme Court ruling. The NAB meanwhile has been taking all necessary steps to file the references before the six week deadline given by the Supreme Court. The apex court has been aiding the NAB by not only giving it access to the Volume X of the Joint Investigation Team report but also allowing NAB to interview the JIT members before filing the references. NAB has also collected the tax returns of the former PM and his family members and got hold of their bank records from the State Bank of Pakistan. Meanwhile, there are reports that Nawaz Sharif could face more trouble because of the $630 million penalty imposed by the New York Department of Financial Services on Habib Bank for violating norms and regulations relating to money laundering. Among the charges is one related to exposure to a ‘politically exposed person’ – Nawaz Sharif – who has received large sums of money into his account in Pakistan from a private Saudi bank which routed money to Nawaz Sharif through the Habib Bank in New York.

Despite mounting legal troubles, Nawaz Sharif remains defiant and has been taking on the Supreme Court quite publicly. Addressing a convention of lawyers in Lahore, Nawaz Sharif launched a scathing criticism of the Supreme Court judgment, questioning not just the legality of the judgment but also the apparent bias of the judges. He charged the judiciary of never having the courage to take on military dictators and only targeting elected civilians. Even as he seems set on not backing down against the judiciary, he is keeping a tight control over the party and government. He is being consulted by not only the Prime Minister but also other ministers on every major decision, including things like dealing with the US. As far as the party is concerned, there was considerable surprise when Nawaz Sharif appointed a political lightweight from Balochistan, Sardar Yaqoob Nasar, as the acting president of the ruling party. Initially, this was seen as yet another snub for Shahbaz Sharif. There were also murmurs of dissent from some senior party leaders. But later it was clarified that this was only a temporary measure and that in September, the general council of the party would elect Shahbaz Sharif as President. There are also reports that Shahbaz along with some other senior members of the party are counselling restraint to Nawaz Sharif and advising against getting into a confrontation with the army and judiciary. On the other hand, many of Nawaz Sharif’s cronies are egging him on to not back down from a head on collision with both the army and judiciary. For now, while Nawaz Sharif is making tough noises, he is stopping well short of doing anything that could be construed by the judiciary as contempt or by the army as a threat. But how long Nawaz Sharif will walk this tight rope before taking the plunge, especially in light of the fact that the noose is tightening around his neck is anyone’s guess.

Afghanistan

Trump’s policy gets mixed reception; other diplomatic initiatives reactivated

The Af-Pak policy announced by US President Donald Trump received a mixed response in Afghanistan. While most government figures, including President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, welcomed the US commitment to Afghanistan, others like the former President Hamid Karzai were very critical of the policy, calling it an expansion of war instead of an ushering in of peace. He, along with others, was of the view that there was no real plan to use diplomacy and negotiations to stop the war inside Afghanistan. Other critics like the Hizb-e-Islami had issues with the plans to induct more US troops.

Even as the US puts the building blocks of its new policy in place, Pakistan, along with China, is trying to reactivate other forums and once again engage Afghanistan at the political and security level. Probably anticipating a hardening of US policy, the Pakistanis had already started reaching out to the Afghans. The Pakistan foreign secretary visited Kabul and discussed ways and means to enhance mutual trust between the two countries. This was followed by a statement by the National Security Committee of Pakistan expressing the resolve to work with the Afghans to remove all irritants in the relationship. Next came a meeting in Islamabad between the Pakistani foreign secretary and the Afghan deputy foreign minister with both sides reiterating their desire to coordinate counterterrorism operations.

Meanwhile, the Quadrilateral Counter-terrorism Coordination Mechanism – a grouping of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan – held a meeting in Dushanbe where the Pakistan army chief called for intelligence sharing and coordinated effective border management to defeat terrorism. In his meeting with the Afghan chief of staff, Gen Qamar Bajwa proposed a ‘Pak-Afghan Army Working Group to jointly work and formulate security recommendations for government-level discussions aimed at addressing mutual concerns’. The Chinese too have become active once again to provide some diplomatic support to the Pakistanis who are apprehensive of the new policy of the Trump administration. The Chinese special envoy to Afghanistan visited Islamabad to closely coordinate the policy on Afghanistan with Pakistan. It was also decided to strengthen ‘ongoing efforts for facilitating peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan as well as promoting meaningful engagement between the three neighbourly countries’. Both countries opposed the new US policy and rooted for a political solution to the Afghan crisis.

Security Situation

The decision of the Trump administration to double down on the war effort in Afghanistan comes at a time when the Taliban and other Islamist terror groups have been extending their sway over large portions of Afghanistan. According to latest estimates, nearly 40% (by some estimates, over 50%) of Afghanistan is either under Taliban control or is contested between the government and the Taliban. Worse, the spate of terror bombings, not just in Kabul but also other parts of Afghanistan, have had a demoralising effect on both the public as well as the security forces.

In Kabul, Islamic State terrorists stormed a Shia mosque and massacred around 20 people and injured dozens of others. The attack came just a day after the US commander Gen John Nicholson declared that the Al Qaeda and ISIS would be wiped out in Afghanistan. In another attack, carried out a few days after the Kabul mosque attack, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted an Afghan security force convoy in Helmand and killed more than a dozen people. A day later, Kabul was once again in the cross-hairs of the terrorists when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of a Kabul Bank branch located close to the US embassy. Five people were killed in the attack.

Nepal

Prime Minister Deuba visits India

The Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba paid a 5-day state visit to India from August 23-27, 2017. The accompanying high power delegation included Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Commerce and a large number of senior officials.

This was PM Deuba’s first visit abroad after assuming the office of Prime Minister of Nepal in June 2017. It is noteworthy that even before the official engagements commenced with formal welcome and visit to the Rajghat to pay tributes to Mahatma Gandhi, the two Prime Ministers decided to have an informal interaction on the day of Deuba’s arrival. Their formal meeting happened the next day as scheduled. The talks covered the entire gamut of bilateral discussion and ways to further deepen the special relationship which the two countries share.

The two sides signed 8 Memorandum of Undertakings (MoU’s) which are as follows:

1. MoU on Modalities for Utilization of India’s Housing Grant Component to support Reconstruction of 50.000 Houses.
2. M0U on Implementation of the Grant Component of India’s Post- Earthquake Reconstruction Package in the Education Sector in Nepal.
3. MoU on Implementation of the Grant Component of India’s Post- Earthquake Reconstruction Package in Cultural Heritage Sector in Nepal.
4. MoU on Implementation of the Grant Component of India’s Post- Earthquake Reconstruction Package in the Health Sector in Nepal.
5. Cooperation Agreement between Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology.
6. MoU on Drug Demand Reduction and Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemical and Related Matters.
7. MoU for construction of Mechi Bridge.
8. M0U between Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nepal.

The two Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated the Kataiya (India)-Kusaha (Nepal) and Raxaul (lndia)-Parwanipur (Nepal) cross-border transmission lines, which would facilitate additional 100 MWs of power supply from India to Nepal.

The two leaders highlighted the importance of realizing the full
potential of bilateral trade and investment. They welcomed the renewal of the India-Nepal Treaty of Trade and the Agreement of Cooperation between
Government of India and Government of Nepal to control unauthorized
trade for further period of seven years. They emphasized the advantages of cooperation at regional and sub-regional level, including BIMSTEC and SAARC. As the current Chair, the Prime Minister of Nepal thanked Prime Minister of India for the BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat hosted by India in Goa in October 2016 along with the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit. The two Prime Ministers welcomed the renewed momentum for cooperation within the BIMSTEC framework, which is observing its 20th anniversary this year.

Prime Ministers Modi and Deuba noted with satisfaction that the bus services between Kathmandu-Delhi Kathmandu-Varanasi, Mahendranagar-New Delhi and Pokhara-New Delhi are operational. It was agreed that the Joint Working Group on Cross-Border Transport Facilitation will meet early to address operational issues for existing and additional routes.

The two Prime Ministers also underlined the importance of rail links in India-Nepal connectivity as these links will usher in growth and development by way of enhanced trade and tourism Links. They agreed on

early completion of the Field Location Survey of remaining three cross-border
rail links (a) New Jalpaiguri to Kakarbhitta, (b) Nautanwa to Bhairahawa, and
(c) Nepalgunj Road to Nepalgunj.

Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s promise not to allow his country to be used for any activity against India was unanimously welcomed. Nepal also assured New Delhi that it would not allow any activity against India.

The visiting Prime Minister of Nepal interacted with Indian business community at a function jointly hosted by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCl). Apart from his official engagements in New Delhi, Prime Minister & his wife also visited Hyderabad, Tirupati and Bodhgaya.

Two Prime Ministers agreed that the visit will provide further impetus to strengthening the age-old bonds of friendship between the people of India and Nepal and help advance the mutually beneficial multi-dimensional ties to the next level. Prime Minister Deuba extended an invite to Shri Modi to pay a visit to Nepal which was accepted and it was agreed that the visit would take place at mutually convenient dates.

Provincial and National Level Elections to be Held Separately

The government on 30th of August decided to hold the provincial and federal polls in two phases on November 26 and December 7 respectively. The fresh decision comes days after the government had called for both the elections to be held together on November 26. The decision comes in line with the proposal of Election Commission which was in favor of holding the polls in two phases. As per the constitutional deadline, Nepal is required to hold elections of Provincial Assemblies and House of Representatives by January 21, 2018.

Now as per the current schedule polls in 32 mountain and hills districts will be held on November 26 in the first phase and the remaining districts will be held on December 7. The Bill on Election of House of Representative and the Bill on Election of Provincial Assembly are stuck at Parliamentary State Affairs Committee with more than 300 proposals filed by cross party law makers seeking amendments to different provisions. The Constituency Delimitation Commission has submitted its report to Prime Minister after carving out 165 electoral constituencies for federal elections and 330 constituencies for provincial polls.

In the first round of voting on November 26, 33 districts in Provinces 1, 3 and 4 to 7 will be covered while the remaining 45 districts in Provinces 1 to 7 will go to polls on December 7, 2017.

Bhutan

Bhutan Welcomes end of Doklam Standoff

Bhutan, on August 29, welcomed the end of a standoff between China and India in Doklam. In a statement posted on the website of its foreign ministry, Bhutan said it welcomed the disengagement of troops by both the sides. The statement added, “We hope this contributes to the maintenance of peace and tranquility and status quo along the border of Bhutan, China and India in keeping with the existing agreements between the respective countries. This has been the first official statement on the Doklam row since June 29 when Bhutan called China’s construction of road in Doklam plateau a violation of agreements in 1988 and 1998.

Bangladesh

More Rohingyas Cross into Bangladesh from Myanmar

Nearly 30,000 Rohingyas have reportedly crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar, straining the already scarce resources of aid agencies and the local communities which till now had already been actively assisting the thousands of refugees from the previous outburst of anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar. Press releases mention of humanitarian workers operating in the area complaining of acute shortage of aid material and over-crowding in the existing makeshift settlements. With another 20,000 people currently trapped in the no-man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar, the relief workers expect more refugees to cross border than in 2016. In a separate incident, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) have recovered 16 bodies of Rohingyas from different points of the NAF River and Shahparir Dwip in Teknaf Upazila of Cox’s Bazaar district. Four of the deceased might have been shot to death.

The United States has warned Mayanmar against attacks on civilians and the persecution taking place in Myanmar which is resulting in the mass exodus of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh which is already home to an estimated 400,000 Rohingyas. Most of them live in squalid and an increasingly over-crowded camps in the coastal area of Cox’s Bazaar and Dhaka.

BD Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently asked the United States to put pressure on Myanmar to stem the continuing exodus of Rohingya. Bangladesh has been under intense international pressure to allow the fleeing Rohingyas to cross into the Bangladesh’s territory, but it has pushed them back in what the Right groups say is a contravention of its international obligations.

Sri Lanka

External Affairs Minister of India Addresses Indian Ocean Conference

This year's Indian Ocean Conference, after the first edition in Singapore in September last year, was jointly organised in Colombo by the India Foundation, the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore, and the National Institute of Fundamental Studies (NIFS) with the theme, "Peace, Progress and Prosperity". Over 35 countries are participating in the event.

Speaking at the inaugural session, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called for a peaceful, stable and secure Indian Ocean with its waters free of any traditional and non-traditional threats. She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's concept of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is a "clear, high-level articulation of India's vision for the Indian Ocean". But she stressed that for the Indian Ocean economic revival to be sustainable, the waters must not only be better connected but they should remain free from non-traditional and traditional threats that could impede the seamless movement of goods, people and ideas. While enunciating the importance of the Indian Ocean for India, EAM asserted that it is but natural that India's role as the key pivot in the Indian Ocean region is a given, not only geographically but by virtue of a shared historical and cultural heritage that binds all people across these waters.

She also referred to the emergence of the blue economy and said that it was "a promising new pillar of prosperity in the region, with immense economic and employment potential" and underscored that India is already engaging its neighbours in blue economy initiatives, particularly in the areas of marine bio-technology, exploration and sustainable exploitation of ocean mineral resources, sustainable fishing practices, and harnessing of ocean energy. Stating that connectivity was one of the major themes of India's ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, Sushma Swaraj said, "We continue to work on a range of projects to improve maritime logistics in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Our other initiatives include the Kaladan transport project leading to Sittwe port in Myanmar; the Trilateral Highway to Thailand; and, the Chabahar port project in Iran."

Soon after her arrival in Colombo on August 31, Sushma Swaraj held meeting with Sri Lankan Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera. She was also scheduled to call on Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and hold a meeting with new Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana. She is accompanied by Indian Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar.

Brazil Lawsuit against Ex-Army General Jagath Jayasuriya for War Crimes

Human rights groups led by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in South America have filed war crimes lawsuits against former General Jagath Jayasuriya who is now Sri Lankan Ambassador to Brazil. The lawsuits alleged that Gen Jayasuriya oversaw military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people in the final phase of the war in 2009. Gen Jayasuriya has diplomatic immunity in Brazil and five other countries where he is ambassador - Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Suriname. But the groups pursuing the suits hope they will compel regional governments to open investigations against Gen Jayasuriya, withdraw his immunity and expel him. Carlos Castresana Fernandez, the lawyer who is coordinating the effort has said that "This is a genocide that has been forgotten, but this will force democratic countries to do something. This is just the beginning of the fight.”

No Confidence Motion against Health Minister by Joint Opposition

39 MPs of Mahinda Rajapaksa led Joint Opposition (JO) group has brought a no-faith motion against Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, accusing him of conflict of interest in that he was deliberately delaying the settlement of South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) issue because his Daughter-in-Law is a student at the said private medical college. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said although it would vote in favour of No Confidence Motion, yet such motions were not an effective way to get rid of corruption. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake said United National Party (UNP) would defeat the no-confidence motion as the JO is making a joke out of no-faith motions, citing it as an attempt to obstruct the achievements of the Unity Government.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe Removed from the Post of Minister

President Maithripala Sirisena approved the request made by the UNP to remove Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe from his ministerial assignment. President has the authority to remove a Cabinet Minister. Rajapakshe drew criticism from UNP over the allegation that he was deliberately delaying the institution of legal action against those accused of corruption and frauds during the previous regime. However, the Minister denied it saying he could not interfere with the independent functions of judiciary.

Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Atukorale was sworn in as the new Justice Minister. Meanwhile, Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera was sworn in as the Minister of Buddha Sasana.

New FM Says that International Probe is Unnecessary

Newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana, soon after assuming duties on August 18, said that Sri Lanka has convinced the global community that it was not necessary to hold an international probe on war crimes alleged to have been committed by the armed forces personnel during the final phase of the war. He said the government however, would consider the participation of foreign judges or lawyers as observers in a domestic inquiry. The minister who is also a former Attorney General and a Defence Minister said, Sri Lanka's Constitution and its judicial system did not permit foreign judges for prosecution or inquiry and this has been accepted by the global community.

New Naval Commander faces Defamation Charges by Former Naval Chiefs

Newly appointed Navy Commander Travis Sinniah is facing defamation charges lodged by former Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda who has sent a Letter of Demand to Navy Commander Travis Sinniah demanding Rs. 500 million over a statement allegedly made to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in June this year. The statement specially alleged that ‘former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda was aware of the existence of a torture chamber/detention center at the Gunsite at the Trincomalee Navy Base; and those who were detained at Gunsite number 1 and 2 had been murdered and the former Navy Commander and his staff were aware of this (sic).” Rear Admiral (Rtd) Udaya Keerthi Bandara also sent a Letter of Demand to Navy Commander Sinniah demanding Rs.500 million over a statement made to the CID over the same allegations.

ISIS to Recruit from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

According to a Press Trust India (PTI) report, ISIS chief recruiter in India, the tech savvy ‘al-Hindi’, has been operating on Facebook and other personal messenger services to contact, brainwash and recruit young men from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Al-Hindi was the fugitive chief recruiter for the IS in the Indian subcontinent and was known as Mohammed Shafi Armar. He had many aliases like "Chhote Maula" and "Anjan Bhai". He was named "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" by the US in June, becoming the first Indian leader of the outfit against whom America has imposed sanctions. An Interpol Red Corner notice was also pending against him. He is a native of Bhatkal in Karnataka.

While announcing sanctions, it had said that he cultivated a group of IS sympathisers who are involved in terrorist activities across India, such as plotting attacks, procuring weapons and identifying locations for terrorist training camps. He had escaped to Pakistan along with his elder brother after crackdown on Indian Mujahideen cadres. There have been many reports of him having been killed in a drone attack or crackdown by the allied forces. However, every time intelligence agencies began giving credence to such reports, his name or voice cropped up in intercepts.

Maldives

Mohamed Nasheed Visits India

Former President Mohamed Nasheed visited India to take part in a seminar on South-South cooperation by the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) - an autonomous think-tank of the Ministry of External Affairs of India. In an interview to a private news channel, Nasheed opined that he believed the invite to him to join the seminar was a “signal” from the Indian government towards its dissatisfaction with President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, saying, “there is no other way you could read it. You have to be blind not to be able to read [the signal].” He also hinted that the Indian government played a role in his escape from imprisonment in Maldives.

This was immediately refuted by the Maldivian government. Deputy Speaker of People’s Majlis said that India considered the safety and security of Maldives a priority, and that it had never interfered in civil affairs of the country. He accused Nasheed of attempting to pull Maldives into the conflict between India and China and said that Nasheed has become a huge nuisance to entire region.