Notes from the Sub-continent (Dec 1-15)
Mayuri Mukherjee

In this fortnight’s compilation of some of the big ideas being debated in the media across the Indian sub-continent, we start with Bangladesh’s coverage of Myanmar’s Rohingya trial and note how the country which has shouldered a large part of the Rohingya refugee burden is looking to the International Court of Justice for a resolution but is ultimately also trying to be realistic in its expectations. This is followed by coverage of the recently elected Sri Lankan president’s maiden visit to India--wherein, there seems to be a consensus, that the bilateral is now focused more on economic and strategic matters even though old issues such as the devolution of powers to Tamils formally remains on the agenda. In Pakistan, we look at the hand-wringing over Usman Khan, the British-born Pakistan-origin terrorist who carried out a brutal knife attack in London. And finally, we close on a positive note, with Nepal which recently held the South Asian Games, wherein its athletes performed exceedingly well, in spite of having to train with limited resources and facilities.

Bangladesh: A step towards justice but with tempered expectations

In Bangladesh, the media followed closely Myanmar’s trial at the International Court of Justice at The Hague where State Counsellor and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi defended her country against charges of genocide that were brought by the Gambia. The Daily Star noted in its editorial that since, “The world has not sufficiently held Myanmar to account for its genocidal acts” against its Rohingya population, “We are putting a lot of hope in the proceedings...”. The editorial also tore into Suu Kyi’s main argument at the ICJ that Myanmar was fully committed to bringing errant soldiers to justice, noting that only seven soldiers have been prosecuted so far.

The Dhaka Tribune had three edits on the matter. In one, it noted how a small African nation like the Gambia had taken the lead against Myanmar while the big powers turned a blind eye; much like how a tiny Bangladesh had been shouldering the Rohingya burden while wealthier nations have shut their doors on the Rohingyas. In a second edit, the paper praised the United States for imposing sanctions against Myanmar army’s top military leaders, and urged others also hit Myanmar where it hurts the most: its economy; while in the third, it too criticised Suu Kyi, adding that the “once-venerated global icon” had “lost her moral high-ground”.

Prothom Alo offered a reality check of sorts: in its editorial, the paper pointed out that “the implementation of the ICJ’s verdict ultimately depends on the decision of the United Nations Security Council” and some members of the UNSC are “openly backing Myanmar”. It also noted that some of these countries are “important development partners of Bangladesh” and therefore Bangladesh should be cautious in its approach.

Sri Lanka: Opening a new chapter in bilateral ties with India?

The recently elected, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first overseas trip to New Delhi, preceded by Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar’s Colombo trip, received much attention in Sri Lankan press. The Financial Times highlighted the economic aspect--noting that the Sri Lanka needs new investments as its growth is slowing, and while there are many “synergies” with India, engagement between the two countries has to go beyond state visits. Specifically, it noted that the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement had run aground while other efforts to expand the existing Free Trade Agreement had also failed. The editorial concluded that, “With most countries suffering due to the trade war between the US and China, it makes sense for Sri Lanka to consider stronger relations with India.”

Another issue that was analysed by the Sri Lankan media was that of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, introduced in 1987 under the Indo-Lanka Accord. Writing in The Daily Mirror, MSM Ayub noted that while the issue was brought up in official remarks by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Rajapaksa was quick to put them in context. In interviews to Indian media, the president made clear that all the talk about “devolution” of power to the Tamils had brought no results, and that “development is the answer”. Against this backdrop, Ayub adjudged that the Tamils have now “lost two of their bargaining tools – the LTTE and the Indian pressure” and that they must “adjust their political strategies accordingly”.

On similar lines, Kelum Bandara, also writing for the same paper, noted that, “India’s focus is more on economic and strategic interests” especially since both countries have suffered from “radical Islamic terrorism”. He noted that New Delhi has become consistently “less assertive” on the issue of power devolution. He also noted that it’s much easier for the Modi government to keep walking on this path because it is “not beholden to the Tamil legislators” as the ruling party has absolute majority in Parliament.

Pakistan: ‘Usman Khan is not our man’

After it turned out that the terrorist who carried out a deadly knife attack in London was of Pakistani origin, there seems to be have been much hand-wringing in Pakistani media about how to distance the attacker from his country of origin. The Dawn placed the entire blame at Britain’s doorstep, arguing that this was a clear case “home-grown extremism in the West”, and pointing fingers at Pakistan will not make the problem go away. The editorial also pointed out that while the UK-born Khan had spent several years in Pakistan as a teen with his mother (and was ultimately buried there), there was no evidence linking him to militant groups in Pakistan. And that in fact Khan had been convicted of terrorism in Britain and yet the authorities in that country had failed to keep him on a short lease.

The Express Tribune also makes a similar point in its editorial, asking: “How was a convict, who had spent jail time and whose proclivities for terrorism had been well established, left to roam free without surveillance? A terrorist is a terrorist. His origin is of no account.” The Dawn editorial goes a step further in this context. The editorial points out--and rightly so--that the British government has failed to shut down local extremist outfits which enjoy the support of Muslim Britons and likes of Anjem Choudary, “a convicted British terrorist and reportedly one of Usman Khan’s mentors”, remains a free man.

Nepal: Building a national and regional identity through sports

In Nepal, the focus this past fortnight was almost entirely on the South Asian Games that commenced on December 1. Nepali athletes performed well beyond expectations, and several newspapers noted that the athletes alone deserve full credit for their performance since the state had offered little support in terms of infrastructure or training etc. The Kathmandu Post editorial stated in no uncertain terms, “The athletes have brought glory to the country out of their own passion and perseverance, they owe little to the state”. It was also critical of the poor standards of sporting infrastructure in the country, noting that, up until the last minute, “Nepal was scrambling to finish construction of some of the major infrastructure, including the main venue for the opening and closing ceremonies”. In fact, the Games were initially scheduled for March 2018 but had to postponed due to bureaucratic and financial delays. It concluded that while recent success of Nepali players indicated their potential, more money is needed to “build the infrastructure and expertise that can recognise, nurture and maintain the excellence that is required to perform at the highest level”. On a similar note, My Republica also noted in its editorial that the state needs to “upgrade it sports infrastructure on a regular basis”, “create enabling environment for the sportspeople”, and “free our sports governing bodies from corruption and politicization”.

Notably, many also emphasized how sports can help forge a new “national identity” (Kathmandu Post). Rising Nepal wrote that sports can build a “youth force through discipline, sportsmanship and a sense of service” and could also help retain the country’s young labour force that otherwise migrate to foreign shores in pursuit of a better life. Columnist Pramod Mishra surmised in the Kathmandu Post that Nepal’s performance par excellence in the recent games was in fact due to the fact that it was “culturally still a free society” and “this is overwhelmingly the influence of Nepal’s indigenous peoples”.

Mishra was also quick to compare Nepal’s tally with India’s (which at the time of writing was evidently low) and suggest that such was the case because Indians were “demoralised” as their “global reputation has been hit hard since the rise of Hindutva”. Of course, this argument no longer holds water because India’s ultimately emerged with the highest number of medals. My Republica also dealt specifically with India in its editorial -- but within the larger geopolitical context of SAARC. The editorial noted that the Games helped build “solidarity at a time when the larger purpose of SAARC process has taken a backseat due, mainly, to differences between Pakistan and India”. And also that, “as the country that won the largest number of golds, India probably has more reckoning to do about revitalizing the SAARC process”.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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