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Monday, 24 June 2013

10 foreign victims identified after Nanga Parbat attack

10 foreign victims identified after Nanga Parbat attack

Taliban claimed responsibility on behalf of Junood ul-Hifsa, a new faction set up to avenge US drone strikes. PHOTO: AFP

By China P. L.A From Gilgit to Gwadar port through a natural response in opposition to militarization. U.S. drone falsely propagated by adding it to disorientation.चीन द्वारा  पी. एल.ए. के माध्यम से गिलगित से लेकर ग्वादर बंदरगाह तक सैन्यीकरण करने के विरोध में एक स्वाभाविक प्रतिक्रिया है। इसे अमेरिकी ड्रोन से जोड़कर झूठा प्रचारित कर भटकाव करना है।

 The bodies of 10 foreign tourists and a Pakistani guide shot dead by gunmen in an unprecedented attack at a remote base camp in the Himalayas have been identified, officials said Monday.
One was an American with dual Chinese citizenship, three came from the Ukraine, two from Slovakia, two others from China, one from Lithuania and one from Nepal, they said.
It was the first attack on mountaineers drawn to the natural beauty and intrepid climbing of northern Pakistan, which until Saturday’s shooting was considered relatively immune from violence elsewhere in the country.
Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan claimed responsibility on behalf of Junoodul Hifsa, a new faction it said had been set up to kill foreigners to avenge US drone strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.
The gunmen stormed into a base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat, the second tallest mountain in Pakistan, and shot dead the climbers at point-blank range, reports said. One Chinese survived the attack.
The killings will deliver a major blow to foreign trekking expeditions, which provide the last vestige of international tourism in a country on the frontline of al Qaeda and Taliban violence.
The bodies of the dead tourists were on Sunday flown to Islamabad from where they will be repatriated.
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Foreign tourists' murder: Tour operators urge authorities to seal the area

Foreign tourists' murder: Tour operators urge authorities to seal the area

Tour operators' association says it takes 18 hours to get out of the area, extends help to catch them. PHOTO: FILE
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Association of Tour Operators (PATO) has condemned the brutal killing of nine foreign tourists near Nanga Parbat in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and urged the military and government authorities to immediately seal the area and search the gunmen.
“It takes 18 hours on foot to reach the road,” PATO President Amjad Ayub said, adding that 18 hours have not passed since the incident and if the area is properly cordoned off and searched, the gunmen can be caught.
Ayub said unless the attackers had helicopters, which he said was highly unlikely, they would still be in the area.
He said there is no way for the gunmen to escape the area except the Shadra Valley, Mazeno Pass and the Bunar Valley.
Tour operator Ghulam Nabi, who belongs to the Fairy Meadows, said the tour operators can help the government identify the potential escape routes but the authorities must mobilise security forces immediately to perform aerial search of the area.
The tour operators suggested that the attack on the foreign tourists took place on the “Diamer face of Nanga Parbat,” correcting earlier reports which claimed the incident had occurred in the Fairy Meadows.
Nanga Parbat, an 8.126 metre-high peak, has three main faces for trekking: Diamer, Rupal (south face) and Raikot (north face) – which is near Fairy Meadows.
The tour operators also challenged a G-B police officer’s statement that the tourists were killed inside a hotel. The operators claimed there were no hotels in the Diamer face area and they suggested the tourists were staying in camps.
Ayub said the attack was a continuation of killings at Babusar and in Chilas in 2012, which he said always coincided with the tourist season.
“Our tourism industry is already battered, this incident will further destroy it,” Ayub said. “Verbal condemnation and setting up an inquiry commission will not solve the crisis. It can only be resolved through prompt action”
The tour operators said adventure tourism will be hit the hardest by the incident but overall hundreds of people associated with the tourism industry in G-B could be affected. Instead of spending weeks on security clearance of foreign tourists, the government should provide them protection when they visit Pakistan, the tour operators said.
Nabi added that more than the economy, the image of Pakistan is at stake.
“People will hear this news around the world and they will start hating Pakistan even though the potential for tourism in this country is huge,” he said.
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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Nepal-India cross-border petroleum pipeline in the works

Nepal-India cross-border petroleum pipeline in the works

Nepal Oil Corporation ( NOC ) has said it has initiated the process of land acquisition for the proposed Nepal-India cross-border petroleum pipeline.
The corporation has proposed a 200 x 300 metre land plot on the southern side of the existing Amalekhgunj depot, according to the NOC .

“The proposal has been sent to the National Planning Commission (NPC),” said NOC Acting Managing Director Suresh Kumar Agrawal.

A technical committee formed to make appropriate recommendations to the NPC — the main body looking after the much-delayed 41-km Amalekhgunj-Raxaul pipeline — has suggested using right alignment, or about 25 metre of the right side of the Birgunj-Amalekhgunj road.

The committee led by Agrawal had submitted its report to the NPC in March. However, the project failed to make headway after the NPC vice-chairman and members tendered their resignation.

“With a new vice-chair in place at NPC, we have decided to meet soon for the project development,” Agrawal said.

The report, however, was criticised by the then NPC Vice-chairman Dipendra Bahadur Kshetry, stating it did not include any specific

details that would help the government move ahead with the project development.

“We had recommended that the project be built under the Build Operate Transfer (BOT) modality by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC),” said Agrawal. “This way, the developer will transfer the project to the NOC after its pay-back period ends.”

According to the BOT modality, a company constructs and implements operation and maintenance of a project for a certain period before handing it over to a public entity.

Another option the committee had recommended is adopting a joint-venture modality between the NOC and IOC, which was also proposed in the past years, said Agrawal.

“As Nepal has no expertise on petroleum pipeline, the first option will be better. Besides, the IOC will also train NOC technicians.”

The government also plans to use Raxual-Birgunj-Amlekhgunj track, which was earlier allocated to a railway corridor, for the pipeline project.

The corridor has so far remained unused or encroached by human settlement. Nepal Railway owns more than 400 bighas of land in the corridor.

The project was first proposed by the IOC in 1995. On January 3, 2013, the Cabinet had agreed in principle to develop the project. Subsequently, the NPC formed a committee to look into a number of legal and technical complexities.

The project has been estimated to cost Rs 1.6 billion, excluding the costs for land acquisition.
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Afghanistan to kick off Taliban peace talks in Qatar: Karzai

Afghanistan to kick off Taliban peace talks in Qatar: Karzai

Afghanistan will send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday, as the US-led Nato coalition launched the final phase of the 12-year war with the last round of security transfers to Afghan forces.
Karzai's announcement was the first possible step forward in the peace process, which has struggled to achieve results despite many attempts, and is likely to be applauded by his Western backers.

“Afghanistan's High Peace Council will travel to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the Taliban,” Karzai said in Kabul, referring to the council he formed in late 2010.

“We hope that our brothers the Taliban also understand that the process will move to our country soon,” Karzai said of the group that ruled the country with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001.

There was no immediate comment from the Afghan Taliban.

Karzai said three principles had been created to guide the talks — that having begun in Qatar, they must then immediately be moved to Afghanistan, that they bring about an end to violence and that they must not become a tool for a “third country's” exploitation of Afghanistan.

Karzai called on the Taliban last month to fight Afghanistan's enemies in what was widely seen as a swipe against Pakistan days after the neighbours' security forces clashed on their joint border.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistan, which is said to have helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself.

Many Afghan leaders say Pakistan is still helping the militants in Afghanistan, seeing them as a tool to counter the influence of its old rival, India.

An Afghan diplomatic source in Qatar said the Afghan Taliban planned to open an office there as early as Tuesday.

“There is a plan for the office to be open today,” said the source. “This will help start the peace talks again.”

A team of envoys from the Taliban flew to Qatar in early 2012 to open talks with the US government. But the Taliban suspended the talks in March 2012, saying Washington was giving mixed signals on the nascent Afghan reconciliation process.

An explosion in Kabul on Tuesday that targeted a senior member of the peace council illustrated concerns over how effectively the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces will fight the growing insurgency after most foreign combat troops depart by the end of next year.

Mohammad Mohaqiq, a prominent Hazara politician, escaped unscathed from the attack but three people were killed and 21 wounded, a government official said.

“Milestone 2013”

Just a week separated the attack from two large-scale attacks in Kabul claimed by the Taliban, with militants attacking the airport on 10 June, and a suicide bomber killing at least 17 people outside the supreme court the next day.

Karzai was speaking following a ceremony in which the international coalition marked the beginning of its final phase of handover of security to Afghan forces.

Tuesday's attack was 10 kilometres away from and 90 minutes before the handover ceremony attended by about 2,000 people including Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dozens of Western ambassadors and senior Afghan and international officials.

Dubbed “milestone 2013” by Nato, it will culminate in the departure of all Nato troops serving in Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) force at the end of next year.

Rasmussen paid tribute to the families of Afghan troops who died defending the country.

“They have fought to ensure that international terrorism no longer finds a safe haven in Afghanistan and many have shed their blood for this cause.”

Afghan security forces have been rapidly built up by the international coalition, from about 40,000 in 2009 to 352,000 in February this year, comprised of 195,000 Afghan army soldiers and 157,000 police.

The transfer of security responsibility began in July 2011, with a handover by Isaf of the country's most peaceful province, Bamiyan.

There have been three further rounds since, taking to 87 per cent by last December the proportion of the Afghan population protected by the Afghan state.

Tuesday's tranche comprises restive eastern and southeastern provinces bordering Pakistan. These include Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Logar and Nuristan.

Fatalities among the Afghan security forces show how soon they have been expected to take the burden of the Afghan war.

In one year, the Afghan state has lost more troops than Nato has across the entire war.
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Taliban to open Doha office on Tuesday: Al Jazeera

Taliban to open Doha office on Tuesday: Al Jazeera

A Taliban office, touted as a tool to help facilitate talks between the militants and the Afghan government, will open on Tuesday in Doha, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported.
Al Jazeera cited anonymous sources for its Monday report and gave no further details but a Taliban spokesperson in Kabul told AFP he was “unaware” of any such development.
In April Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the opening of a Taliban office in Doha could “facilitate the peace process”.
He made the remarks in an interview with al Jazeera following talks in Doha with the ruler of the energy-rich Gulf state of Qatar.
The Afghan president previously opposed a Taliban office in Qatar over fears that his government would be frozen out of any future peace deal involving the extremists and the United States.
The militants refuse to have direct contact with Karzai, calling him a puppet of the United States which supported his rise to power after the military operation to oust the Taliban from Kabul in 2001.
But with US-led Nato combat troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Karzai recently backed the proposed office in Doha.
Any peace talks still face numerous hurdles before they begin, including confusion over who would represent the Taliban and Karzai’s insistence that his appointees should be at the centre of negotiations.
Talks have been underway since 2011 to open a Taliban office in Qatar.
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Secret Societies Mushroom in Southern China

Secret Societies Mushroom in Southern China

A paramilitary guard stands guard on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, March 5, 2013.
Authorities in southern China are increasingly worried about a growing number of secret, mutual assistance societies that have sprung up in recent years to address growing social inequalities, official media reports say.

Southern and eastern China is the traditional home of secret societies, known in Western popular culture as "triads."

But many groups now regarded as criminal or shady were initially set up as mutual help groups in times of oppression, or as informal banking and commercial networks that overseas Chinese from the same hometown could draw upon in time of need.

In the southern province of Guangdong today history appears to be repeating itself, with organizations with names like the "Youth Group," "The Brothers," and "The Sisters" growing increasingly powerful in recent years, theSouthern Rural News reported on Sunday.

Such groups get together to honor births, weddings and funerals, or when one of their members falls on hard times, the paper quoted a member of a secret society based near Guangdong's Wuchuan city as saying.

"The brothers with money help out the others, and everyone helps everyone else out," the society member, "A Keung," was quoted as saying.

The paper said such societies often boast high-ranking and powerful members, including ruling Chinese Communist Party officials, entrepreneurs and school principals.

The growing popularity of these groups has made them a target for the authorities, sparking periodic crackdowns.

In Wuchuan city, the government has banned a total of 56 "youth groups," and signed agreements with local governments to continue to disband such groups without the need for further orders from higher up, the paper said.

'No basis for ban'

Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Fangping said the government was making a mistake, however.

"These are non-political groups, and they have the right to free association," Li said. "Such groups wouldn't be restricted in any country with constitutional government."

He said the grounds for disbanding such societies hadn't been explained, nor had the process for disbanding them been clearly delineated.

"We haven't seen any kind of information about this; nor is there any kind of basis for [banning them] in law," Li said.

"Societies of brothers are civil, mutual help societies, and show the vitality of social activism at a local level," scholar Jia Xijin wrote in an opinion piece in the Beijing News on Monday.

"The government should deal carefully with them; not tar them all with the brush of the triad societies," Jia said.

Government protection

Meanwhile, Shenzhen-based writer and democracy activist Zhu Jianguo said that such groups exist because of a distortion in social relationships already caused by China's Communist Party.

"These organizations have already emerged, but this didn't take place against a backdrop of a normal [society]," Zhu said.

"These civil groups are emerging at a time when the Party is corrupt to the core, and does nothing to alleviate the suffering of ordinary people; rather it detains those who complain, the urban management officials trample the heads of street-hawkers," he said.

"These groups mean far more [to their members] than a normal civil society group; they are about protecting oneself against the government."

The phenomenon isn't just confined to Guangdong, nor to rural areas, reports said.

In recent years, police have harassed and detained members of flash mob meetings set up by pro-democracy activists in a number of Chinese cities.

'A burning fuse'

Some analysts say it is the Party's own history with secret societies, which relied heavily on their support in the early days of the revolution, that gives China's leadership nightmares.

"There are a lot of societies around which aren't very big, [because] they're secret and underground," Zhu said.

"They don't really know how many of them there are, which really frightens them."

According to Twitter user @dengerhuanghuang: "From the point of view of the Chinese Communist Party, which relied heavily on underground organizations when it was starting up, any sort of grouping of citizens in any locality is a burning fuse which must be immediately extinguished."

For this reason, such societies are unlikely to get a chance to register as legal entities and seek government recognition, Zhu said.

He said political reforms were the only way to defuse growing social tensions that created such societies in the first place.

"Every authoritarian dynasty tries to abolish civil societies, but the processing of disbanding them just gives rise to greater and more extreme social tensions," Zhu said.
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Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Advani-Modi relationship

The Advani-Modi relationship 

June 16, 2002: Union Home Minister L.K. Advani expresses “satisfaction” over the performance of the Narendra Modi administration in rehabilitating Gujarat riot victims
September 20, 2002: Deputy Prime Minister Advani rejects Modi’s “Hum paanch, hamaare pachees”, a slur against minorities, saying the comment was unbecoming of a Chief Minister

October 8, 2002: Advani says, “It is not sufficient to win elections... it must prove its worth to the people by ensuring good governance”, at the “sankalp sammelan” of the Gujarat unit of the BJP. “Go for self-introspection and accept your mistakes,” he adds for good measure.

April 1, 2004: Deputy Prime Minister Advani says he will expect everyone to maintain dignity during electioneering, an indirect reference to Modi who claimed during electioneering that 20 shopkeepers were asked if they would employ Ms. Gandhi as a clerk but all replied in the negative, according to a "survey conducted in Nadiad." 
March 13, 2005: Advani, clearly sends out a signal to his party dissidents in Gujarat that he is not in a mood to listen to their grievances against the Gujarat Chief Minister. Virtually ruling out a change of leadership, Mr. Advani tells one of the TV channels that Gujarat was “one of the best administered States” and that some MLAs in the BJP were unhappy only with Modi's “working style”.

Apr 16, 2006: “It is a sad day for our democracy as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was forced to go on a hunger strike to quench the thirst of his people and in defence of raising the height of the Narmada dam already permitted by the apex court,” says Advani commenting on Modi's hunger strike on Narmada dam. File photo:
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Experiments With Democracy in Bhutan

Experiments With Democracy in Bhutan

A statue of Lord Buddha at Kuensel Phodrang in Thimphu, Bhutan on May 20, 2012.Singye Wangchuk/ReutersA statue of Lord Buddha at Kuensel Phodrang in Thimphu, Bhutan on May 20, 2012.
Bhutan does things differently in South Asia, and nothing illustrates this so as much as the way it has conducted its transition to democracy.
In December 2007, I was driving from Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, to Paro, a small city 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the capital. Along the way, just before a bridge spanning the river, I noticed a small bulletin board and saw my first election posters in Bhutan. The board was around two meter square, and a few neat A4-size election posters and notices by Bhutan’s Election Commission were pasted on it.
Coming from India, Bhutan’s closest ally and neighbor, this was bizarre. We are used to colorful campaigns, election posters casually pasted everywhere, defying any size regulations, and often accompanied by graffiti smeared over walls and buntings all over the place. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal campaign in the same way, but in Bhutan, democracy has come in a measured, prescribed manner, with strict rules, one of them being not to litter the countryside with posters or graffiti.
Bhutanese villagers waiting to vote outside a polling station in Paro on May 31.Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBhutanese villagers waiting to vote outside a polling station in Paro on May 31.
The designed nature of Bhutan’s democracy is the direct outcome of the decision by Bhutan’s fourth king, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s decision to voluntarily hand over power to his people, and this is what makes it so very special. The test of how well established this new democracy has become is the second general election currently taking place in Bhutan, its first round completed on 31 May 2013, and the final round on 13 July 2013.
In April 2007, to help the Bhutanese understand the concept of voting for political parties, a mock election took place. Four “parties” were supposed to contest the elections, the Druk Blue Party, the Druk Green Party, the Druk Red Party and the Druk Yellow Party. Each color represented a certain value: blue for fairness and transparency, green for environmental concerns, red for development and industrialization, and yellow for traditional values. The Druk Yellow Party won 46 out of the 47 seats in the mock elections. It might have been a mere coincidence that yellow is the closest color to the saffron scarf worn by the kings and the Je Khenpo, the chief abbot of Bhutan.
In Bhutan’s first general election, held in 2008, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, loosely translated as the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, achieved a similar dominance, winning 45 out of 47 seats. The rival People’s Democratic Party had one-third of the votes, but the winner-take-all system rewarded them with only two seats.
Tshering Tobgay, who went on to become the opposition leader in Parliament, was one of the first people to enter into politics, retiring from the prestigious post of Director at Ministry of Labor and Human Resources to serve his king and country by following the king’s wishes to set up a democratic fray by joining Bhutan’s first political party, the PDP, when it was formed in August 2007.
“Serving the nation has been a very important part of our culture,” he told me. “In Bhutan we call it serving Tsa Wa Sum,” which is often translated as “king, country, people.”
In the case of Mr. Tobgay, he defined his obligation as a family tradition. His father had been one of the raw recruits that the third king of Bhutan had recruited in the 1950s to build Bhutan’s first official standing army, and his mother had been one of the workers on the first modern road linking Bhutan to India. They met when the young soldier walked down the road to get supplies. Their meeting and marriage came about because of their service to their nation and their king.
Stories like this give us a sense of the popularity of the monarchy in Bhutan, and illustrate how truly different its transition to democracy has been.
We are used to democratic rights being snatched from the hands of desiccated dictators or vile monarchs, but there are remarkably few instances of an autocrat voluntarily devolving power. The fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, was enormously popular, and at the time of hisabdication in 2006, he was only 51 years old, making him younger than most politicians in their prime. There was no challenge to his rule, and that is precisely when he put in place the process that would eventually replace him, and a monarchical system, with a constitutional democracy.
Bhutan’s experiments with democracy have been a qualified success. The standards of living have risen during the rule of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, headed by Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, the first elected prime minister. Road connectivity, Internet connectivity and basic health indicators have gone up. Yet political machinations, allegations of corruption and wrongdoing by political leaders have also accompanied the advent of democracy. The home minister and the speaker of the Parliament were convicted on 8 March 2013, the day after the first Parliament finished its term, on the charges of corruption. The High Court has upheld the verdict, and they are currently appealing their conviction in the Supreme Court.
A Bhutanese voter getting his finger inked before casting his vote at a polling station in Paro on May 31.Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesA Bhutanese voter getting his finger inked before casting his vote at a polling station in Paro on May 31.
The real test of democracy is always the second election, and Bhutan is currently in the middle of this grand process. In Bhutan, there are two rounds of elections, and the first ended May 31, with four political parties contesting. The two parties with the biggest vote share – the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, which received about 40 percent of the vote, and the People’s Democratic Party, which received just over 30 percent – will face off on July 13.
There would have been five parties contesting, but according to Bhutan’s Election Act, every political party has to be a national party, fielding a candidate from all 47 constituencies, and every candidate has to have a university degree. The Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party was disqualified by the Election Commission after the party had failed to find candidates with a university degree in the district of Gasa, which has a population of just over 3,000 people.
In a generous move that exemplifies the spirit of serving Tsa Wa Sum that has marked Bhutan’s transition to democracy, the four parties each sent a communiqué to the Election Commission asking it to reconsider the disqualification. Sonam Tobgay, the leader of the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party, said, “Four parties appealing for the fifth party, who couldn’t qualify, is something unprecedented universally and internationally, something special and noble.” Nevertheless the Election Commission refused to reconsider its decision.
For a small country the size of Bhutan, with a population of 700,000, internal cohesion is a prime security concern, and if a border region, no matter how small or remote, is neglected in any way, it is a threat to the country. In fact, the Bhutanese value unity so much that they had to invent a word for “opposition leader” because all the words implying dissent had a negative connotation.
Transitions to democracy are often violent and exact a terrible price from a populace. Bhutan’s rare example of managing this transition peacefully, and in a stable manner, makes it incredibly special and adds a profound meaning to its nascent democratic exercises.
Omair Ahmad is an author, most recently of “The Kingdom at the Center of the World: Journeys into Bhutan.” His novel “Jimmy the Terrorist” was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize and won the 2010 Vodafone Crossword Book Award.
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Bangladesh clears foodgrains transit for India's Tripura

Bangladesh clears foodgrains transit for India's Tripura

In a move that will strengthen bilateral ties between Bangladesh and India, the Bangladesh Government has granted permission to Tripura to transport foodgrains through its territory.
Owing to the difficult hilly terrain and lack of proper facilities, the Northeast often faces problems in food supplies.

Especially during the monsoon period, floods and landslides cause huge problems in transporting essential items through roads.

Recently, following a series of diplomatic discussions, the Bangladesh government has agreed to allow the transportation of 10,000 tonnes of food grains for Tripura via its territory.

The transit will take place from Haldia port in West Bengal to Ashuganj port in Bangladesh from where food grains will be transported by trucks to Tripura border.

" It is a symbol of good relation. Tripura is a land locked state that needs the third channel of waterway from Kolkata via Haldia upto Ashuganj and then only 160 kms from FCI godown in Agartala," said Bhanulal Saha, Food and Civil Supplies Minister, Tripura.

The ferrying of food grains, mainly wheat and rice, is likely to start within a month after some security related clearances are in place.

Plans are also on to transport food grains to other northeastern states including Mizoram, Manipur and southern Assam.

The food grains will be transported by the Food Corporation of India in collaboration with the Inland Water Transport Authority.

"During rainy season, road and railway both are disrupted due to landslides and other reasons. Due to this we are unable to maintain PDS. To avoid this, the FCI has taken a decision to transport food grains through Bangladesh," added T K SARKAR, Depot Manager, FCI.

The people of the region will benefit from a better supply of food and essential goods, and the move will also cut down on transportation costs, as distances will be reduced.
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Hunger halved in Bangladesh and the Maldives ahead of 2015

Hunger halved in Bangladesh and the Maldives ahead of 2015

Bangladesh and the Maldives are set to get UN recognition as one of the first countries that achieved the most fundamental millennium development goal (MDG) — halving the incidence of hunger — well ahead of the target year 2015.
To celebrate this feat, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva has invited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to receive a “Diploma Award”.
The proportion of population below poverty line dropped from over 58 percent in 1990 (the MDG base year) to 31.50 percent in 2010. And on June 12, FAO declared that Bangladesh succeeded in halving hunger, in other words, the proportion of population below poverty line has further dropped to around 29 percent.
Food Minister Mohammad Abdur Razzaque told The Daily Star yesterday that on behalf of the prime minister he is going to Italy to receive the award at the UN body’s headquarters in Rome on June 16.
“In the invitation, FAO said it would bestow us with the honour as recognition to Bangladesh’s outstanding achievement in fighting hunger,” the food minister said quoting from the FAO DG’s invitation letter.
In a press release issued from Rome on June 12, FAO declared that 38 countries have met internationally-established targets in the fight against hunger, achieving successes ahead of the deadline set for 2015.
“These countries are leading the way to a better future. They are proof that with strong political will, coordination and cooperation, it is possible to achieve rapid and lasting reductions in hunger,” said the FAO director general.
Bangladesh is among the 20 countries which have satisfied Millennium Development Goal No. 1 (known as MDG-1), to halve the proportion of hungry people.
Their progress was measured between 1990-92 and 2010-2012, against benchmarks established by the international community at the UN General Assembly in 2000.
From South Asia, the Maldives is the only other country that will share the laurel alongside Bangladesh for achieving MDG- ahead of schedule.
Eighteen other countries were congratulated for reaching both MDG-1 and the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) goal, having reduced by half the absolute number of undernourished people between 1990-92 and 2010-2012.
The countries achieving MDG-1 alone are Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Malawi, the Maldives, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Togo and Uruguay.
The countries achieving both MDG-1 and the WFS are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Djibouti, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Peru, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, and Viet Nam.
The success in MDG-1 apart, Bangladesh also made significant strides in achieving the other UN-set MDG targets and is on track to achieve most of those, according to the government’s and UN agencies’ reckonings.
Bangladesh is among the 16 countries which had earlier received UN recognition for being on track to achieve MDG- 4 by significantly reducing prevalence of child mortality.
In attaining MDG-2 (that is achieving universal primary education), Bangladesh already achieved 95 percent in terms of primary school enrolment back in 2011.
As far as MDG-3 (promoting gender equality and empowering women) is concerned, Bangladesh also achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education, and remains on track with respect to percentage of women employed in agriculture sector.
On MDG-5 (improving maternal health), a UN agency report in 2011 highlighted that by scaling down maternal mortality rate at 194 per lakh, Bangladesh showed a major turnaround, and was steadily moving ahead to achieve the goal by 2015.
Dr Quazi Shahbuddin, professorial fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, has attributed the country’s early achievement of MDG-1 to its sustained growth over the last one decade.
Contacted, Shahbuddin, also a former director general of the premier think-tank, said that the sustained six percent GDP growth, expansion of social safety net and pro-poor development policies helped achieve the feat.
He noted that had there been more political stability and improved governance, the country could even achieve more growth with the same level of investments.
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US favours Indo-Pacific corridor linking India, BD, Southeast Asia

US favours Indo-Pacific corridor linking India, BD, Southeast Asia

The United States has called for creation of an Indo-Pacific corridor linking India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia for greater trade and cooperation in the region and for a long-term multilateral and bilateral partnership.
The corridor is to spur economic development, regional growth and prosperity through closer economic cooperation, increased trade and investment, and better energy, transit and communications links, a senior US official told a meeting of the Asia Society Global Forum in Washington DC Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the US State Department.

"No discussion of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region would be complete without a reference to the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor," the statement quoted US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Robert D. Hormats as saying at the meeting.

He, however, said efforts to improve bilateral relations made by the governments of India and Bangladesh through landmark high-level visits in 2010 and 2011 set the examples of how the region is moving ahead, the statement made available to the FE further added.

Despite trade among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries remaining far below its potential, the regional economic cooperation has enhanced the economic prosperity of Bangladesh, Myanmar and India through enhanced economic engagement with other Southeast Asian neighbours, said the under secretary.

"As everyone in this (meeting) room knows, we live today in a world where economic vitality in many sectors of the U.S. economy depends increasingly on the ability of U.S. firms to tap opportunities in the growing Asia-Pacific region," said Dr Hormats.

The markets in this region provide the US with unprecedented opportunities for investment and trade, as well as a growing demand for cutting-edge US technology, he continued.

The US continues to support strengthening institutions of the Asia-Pacific region and continues to engage in trade and investment multilaterally through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), he added.

"The TPP is the highest trade priority of the US, as it offers a high-quality platform for deepening regional economic integration - not only by lowering tariffs, but also by addressing the 21st-century trade and investment issues," said the under secretary.

In addition, the US has made strides in its bilateral relationships in the region - particularly in its relationships with China, South Korea, and Myanmar - and sees great potential and new opportunities in connecting India to Southeast Asia.

"The U.S. government looks forward to forging closer multilateral and bilateral partnerships with the Asia-Pacific region not just this year, or the next, but in the long term as well," said Mr Hormats.

Strong US trade and investment ties with the dynamic Asia-Pacific region will continue to be critical for our economic recovery and our long-term economic strength, he added.

"And only by committing ourselves in the long term to the Asia-Pacific region we will be able to promote successfully the economic prosperity of the United States and the world as a whole.

"The development of trade and transit links between South, Southeast, and East Asia have been hampered for decades by poor regional infrastructure connectivity and the isolation of Myanmar," he continued.

However, he maintained recent political and economic reforms in Myanmar, especially after the visit of former Secretary of State Rodham Clinton in late 2011 and the subsequent visit of President Thein Sein to the US in May generated new opportunities to promote U.S. business interests and regional economic development.

"Following the targeted easing in 2012 of economic sanctions, in consultation with Congress, we are supporting U.S. businesses as they apply their high standards in bringing responsible investment to Myanmar," said Mr Hormats.

The US also seeks to support reform by leveraging the talents and resources of its private sector to enhance economic development and extend the benefits of economic reform to all of the people of the country, he said.
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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Book Review: India Grows at Night

Book Review: India Grows at Night

In his latest book, Gurcharan Das argues that India is a land of private success in the midst of public failure.
had reviewed Gurcharan Das’ The Difficulty of Being Good, which I thought was brilliantly written; but his new book India Grows at Night is badly written and argued even worse. 

The principal argument of the book is India is a land of private success and public failure, which one cannot disagree with at large, though there are substantial exceptions in both cases which Das conveniently glosses over.
He states that the country’s IT sector grew because it was “without interference from the government”. This is as false a statement as there can be; a convenient economising of the truth that suits the flawed hypothesis of the book.

Many of India’s IT icons, including NR Narayana Murthy, have acknowledged that the sector could not have grown but for the government’s far-sighted vision in establishing the Software Technology Parks (STP) scheme, and granting concessional land linked to employment creation and self-certification on various kinds of compliance. Hence, Das’ thesis is completely wrong here and in several other places in the book, though a few examples like Vodafone are bang on.

The central visceral question, which he doesn’t ask, is this: How much of regulation is ‘good’, and when does it become ‘intrusive’, leading to rent-seeking?

There’s enormous evidence across the country of inept, insufficient and corrupt regulation, including the controlling of hazardous industries such as fireworks, food and drugs (India produces a large share of the world’s fake drugs with about 35 percent of those in circulation being fake, according to one estimate), chit funds and unsafe diagnostic labs to name a few.

India has one of the lowest numbers of public servants per one lakh of population, making coverage almost impossible for all services.

Thus, if there’s a fire in Sivakasi (as there once was), there’s a hue and cry on how the government is lax; and if an honest inspector enforces the law (as draconian as it may be), there will be another hue and cry about the return of the Licence Raj by the very same intellectuals and armchair theorists.

In a nutshell, while one cannot disagree with the broad general thesis of India being a case of private success in the midst of public failure, there are significant exceptions to both that the book glosses over. The central argument is simplistic and flawed, more a hurriedly put together collection of newspaper articles rather than a rigorously argued work that one would expect from someone of Das’ intellect.

Disclaimer: The author is an IAS officer. Views are personal.
Twitter: @srivatsakrishna 

India Grows at Night: A Liberal Case for a Strong State
Author: Gurcharan Das
Publisher: Allen Lane (Penguin)

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Tibetan Nun Sets Herself Ablaze in New Self-Immolation Protest

Tibetan Nun Sets Herself Ablaze in New Self-Immolation Protest

Assembly of monks at Nyatso monastery, June 10, 2013.
 Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.
A Tibetan nun set herself ablaze on Tuesday during a large religious gathering in China’s Sichuan province in protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas, sources said.

The woman, who has not been identified, self-immolated near Nyatso monastery in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county, which is also close to a police facility, a Tibetan living in Nepal told RFA’s Tibetan Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The area has now been clamped down on by a huge security force,” the source said, citing contacts in the region.

The woman’s condition is not known, though “it is confirmed that she was moved to a hospital,” he said.

The burning brings to 120 the number of self-immolations by Tibetans challenging Chinese rule since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009.

The nun set herself ablaze at about 5:00 p.m. local time “to protest China’s harsh policy” in Tibetan-populated areas, Yama Tsering, a monk living in southern India, told RFA’s Mandarin Service on Tuesday.

“The nun was immediately taken to the Kangding county hospital,” Tsering said, citing local sources.

“After the protest, authorities cut off all phone and Internet connections to the area, and there is no way now to get more detailed information about the nun’s name or age, or what slogans she may have shouted before she set herself on fire,” he said.

Chinese authorities are now restricting the movements of Tibetans living in the area, he added.

Calls seeking comment from Tawu county police and Nyatso monastery rang unanswered Tuesday.

Large religious gathering

The nun’s self-immolation took place a day after the beginning of Jang Gunchoe, an annual gathering of monks at the Nyatso monastery, another source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“It began on June 10, with over 3,000 monks from 50 monasteries in the Kham area participating in Buddhist debates and other activities for ten days,” Tashi, an India-based Tibetan monk, said.

Kham  is one of the three historical regions of Tibet and is divided today between western Sichuan and the eastern part of what is now the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tuesday’s self-immolation protest comes less than a month after the burning death of Tenzin Sherab, 31, who set himself ablaze in Chumarleb (Qumalai) county in Qinghai’s Yulshul (Yushu) prefecture on May 27.

A few days before his protest, Sherab had complained to friends about China’s “discriminatory” policies and “destruction” of Tibetan religion and culture, saying he could no longer tolerate Beijing’s “repressive measures in Tibet,” Jampa Yonten, a monk living in southern India, had said.

Chinese authorities have tightened controls in Tibet and in the Tibetan prefectures of Chinese provinces to check the self-immolations, cutting communication links with outside areas and jailing Tibetans they believe to be linked to the burnings.

More than a dozen have been jailed so far, with some handed jail terms of up to 15 years.
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China's House Church Crackdown Gathers Pace

China's House Church Crackdown Gathers Pace

A public security official watches a house church gathering in Beijing in an undated photo.
 Photo courtesy of a house church activist
Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have launched a crackdown on two unofficial Protestant "house churches" in recent days, according to a prominent church leader.

House churches in Shandong's Linshu and Yutai counties have been ordered to close and accused of "illegal assembly," pastor Zhang Mingxuan, who heads the nationwide Protestant Chinese House Church Alliance, said on Tuesday.

"They were holding a meeting in one of the members' homes," Zhang said, describing an April raid by police on a prayer service in Linshu county. "There were more than 20 people present."

"The police and the religious affairs bureau officials said that this was an illegal assembly and banned them," he said. "They also fined them 20,000 yuan (U.S. $3,260)."

"They were issued a notice of banning."

The raids come after Shandong authorities launched a probe into local unofficial Protestant "house churches"  in March.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party's ideological agency in Jiaozhou city called on township Party committees and neighborhood committees to investigate fully all unofficial venues of worship in their territory, according to a Party document posted on the website of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid.

The document required local authorities to complete their investigation and report the results by March 25, including details of group leaders and key members, numbers of worshipers, and activities engaged in, as well as any contacts with overseas organizations.

Police raided the Linshu gathering on April 25, calling the pastor Wu Dawei in for questioning and forcing him to produce the group's records, including records of attendance and donations, ChinaAid said.

Wu told RFA on Tuesday that the police had now labeled the church an "illegal organization."

"They have sent me two notifications of sanction, and told me to sign, but I refused," Wu said. "They summoned me to the religious affairs bureau, and I have already been there several times, and they have taken all our accounts."

"We only had around 6,000 yuan (U.S. $980) in donated funds at the time, but they said they were illegally raised funds," he said.

Wu said he was surprised at the harshness of the punishment. "This is the first time, so you'd think they'd issue a warning or a notice of rectification or something," he said.

"I think this is illegal," he said, adding that the church had less than 80 members, a level previously designated by religious affairs officials as the threshold for compulsory membership in the state-run Protestant group, the Three-Self Patriotic Association.

Yutai raid

Meanwhile, a similar group in Yutai county had met with similar treatment on May 28 after it offered a Bible study group for local youth, local sources said.

"They were running a youth group to teach them about the Bible," the pastor of the Yutai church group, who gave only his surname Zhou, said. "This was for the children of our local [fellow worshipers], and most of them have already attended our meetings."

Zhou said three of the group's organizers were fined 3,500 yuan (U.S. $570) by police and warned against making an official complaint or talking to the overseas media.

"They locked them up for two days and took away their camera," he said, adding that the group had been forced to pay the fine before police would release the three.

He said some of the Yutai group's membership had gone to join Three-Self services, following a campaign of official pressure to register unofficial Christian believers nationwide.

Last month, an annual religious freedom report by the U.S. State Department said that religious freedom continued to decline in China last year.

China’s government emphasized state control over religion and restricted the activities of religious adherents, especially where state or Chinese Communist Party interests were threatened, including the Party’s concept of social stability, the report said.

Protestants and Catholics practicing outside of state-controlled churches came in for particular scrutiny, said the report, as did members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and smaller groups called “evil cults” by China’s government.

Officially an atheist country, China has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly in recent decades amid sweeping economic and social change.

Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized, and worship in non-recognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
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Fifteen Myanmar Ethnic Groups to Form Unified Party

Fifteen Myanmar Ethnic Groups to Form Unified Party

Citizens register to vote in by-elections at a polling station in Taunggyi, Nov. 7, 2010.
More than a dozen ethnic groups within a loose alliance agreed Tuesday to establish a unified political party in a bid to secure greater representation for Myanmar’s minorities in the national parliament ahead of 2015 elections, according to officials.

The agreement by 15 of the groups to form the Federated Union Party (FUP) was made on the opening day of a two-day conference held in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state capital of Taunggyi, Oo Hla Saw, general secretary of the Rakhine Nationality Development Party (RNDP) told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“The ethnic parties have run for election within their ethnic regions, but there are many ethnic people who are living in different parts of the country,” Oo Hla Saw said.

“A party with the intent of collecting those votes could make their many different voices heard and provide for greater ethnic representation in parliament.”

The 15 do not include some of the major ethnic groups such as the Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Kayin and Bamar ethnic communities.

Oo Hla Saw said that the FUP hopes to “get on the same political level as the [military-backed] Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and [Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition] National League for Democracy (NLD),” together which hold the majority of seats in parliament.

The FUP will consist of the 15 political groups from the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF)—an ethnic alliance initially formed from the RNDP, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), Chin National Party, All Mon Regions Democracy Party and Phalon-Sawal Democratic Party after Myanmar’s 2010 by-election.

Since its formation, the NBF has grown to include the Asho Chin National Party, Wa Democratic Party, Kayan National Party and Inn National Development Party (INDP) in its core group of parties, with six additional parties as observers.

Oo Hla Saw said that according to the rules of Myanmar’s Election Commission, citizens are prohibited from belonging to more than one political organization at a time.

He said the FUP would be chaired by a separate group of ethnic leaders and that a number of NBF members would resign from their alliance to join the new party.

Ethnic constituencies

In March, Chairman of the RNDP Aye Maung said that the NBF was considering establishing the FUP “to enter the fray if two big parties run in ethnic constituencies,” according to the Myanmar Times.

The report referred to an NBF manifesto released earlier that month which said the USDP and NLD “should avoid running in ethnic-minority constituencies if they really want to secure national unity.”

It quoted Sai Pho Aung, SNDP member of parliament for Shan state’s Muse township, as saying that Aung San Suu Kyi had “once discussed with some of us whether ethnic minority candidates should contest only in ethnic-minority constituencies.”

“But in the last by-election, they contested those seats as well,” he said.

Reformist President Thein Sein has signed cease-fire agreements with most of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups since he came to power in 2011, and signed a temporary peace agreement at the end of May with the Kachin in a bid to end the country’s last major ethnic conflict.

The Kachin and other ethnic groups have called for greater autonomy and increased representation in the president’s nominally civilian government, which has set Myanmar on a path to democracy after decades of military misrule.

During the two-day meeting in Taunggyi, NBF members plan to discuss amending the junta-backed constitution which guarantees the military a 25 percent quota in parliament, civil peace, and a proposal to change the country’s electoral system to one of proportional representation.

They will also consider the agendas of each different ethnic party and set the groundwork for a conference including all of the groups ahead of the 2015 election.
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