View from the neighbourhood

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the subcontinent.

Published: July 2, 2018 12:58:24 am
Nepal PM Oli China visit Among the most significant of the multiple agreements struck between Nepal and China was the MoU on cooperation for railway connectivity. (File Photo)

Clear the tracks

At the end of Nepal Prime Minister K P Oli’s six-day visit to China, in which a series of MoUs were signed between the two countries, the editorial in The Himalayan Times on June 25 pointed to a dark lining in what was otherwise a cloud of silver. Among the most significant of the multiple agreements struck between the two countries was the MoU on cooperation for railway connectivity. Both sides have described it “as the most significant initiative in the history of bilateral cooperation”.

However, “Regarding the financial modality of the railway, the government ministers and negotiators are divided into two schools of thought: The railway should be built fully under a Chinese grant or Nepal also should make some investment on its own. But PM Oli wants it to be built fully under the Chinese grant if Oli’s statement that ‘whoever has got the money would invest on it’ is to be believed. Did he personally discuss this issue with his Chinese counterpart or President Xi?” The Himalayan Times calls upon PM Oli to clarify the issue. The growing number of deaths of migrant Nepali workers in Qatar and Malaysia has been a matter of some concern in Nepal.

In an opinion piece in The Himalayan Times, K P Nayar argues that given how salient the remittances from the Gulf and East Asia have become to Nepal, it could take a leaf out of Kerala’s book in managing the new economic reality: “In the context of growing concern over mounting deaths of Nepali workers in Malaysia and Qatar, the way forward may be to look at Kerala’s model: the Indian state has high-level mechanisms to address the welfare of its migrant workers. Prominent Keralites living in the Gulf are a part of such mechanisms… they are like a second window on blue collar labourers in addition to the government’s own consular apparatus.”

Freedom In Pakistan

Lamenting the lack of a robust human rights infrastructure in Pakistan, and the manner in which officialdom “obstructs their work and, finally, ignores their reports”, I A Rehman calls attention to three reports of the National Commission of Human Rights in Dawn. The persecution of the Hazaras, in Balochistan in PoK, one of the report asserts, is due to a “a combination of complex factors including geopolitics, security, ethnic rivalries, sectarian extremism and spillover of militant extremism from across the border and other parts of the country”.

It also alleges “Indian involvement” in the region. But Rehman calls this report “sketchy” while lauding its recommendations. The Pakistan Penal Code’s (PPC) “blasphemy-related provisions” too are a source of human rights violations, and according to the NCHR report, are “incompatible with international law” including guarantees of freedom of expression, thought and equal protection under the law. However, even the rights commission feels that a “substantial amendment or repeal” of the contentious provisions is not immediately feasible.

On June 27, Dawn’s editorial speaks of the persecution the newspaper faces. “As the country prepares to hold its third consecutive election,” it says, “the paper has been under attack in a wide-ranging and seemingly coordinated manner that includes its distribution being stopped in several areas.” Like in India, Pakistan too has a provision for “reasonable restrictions” on free speech. It says that “One of the casualties of civil-military discord and strife in this country has been a free media that has embraced constitutional civilian supremacy” and traces the current strife back to “the publication of an article Oct 6, 2016, ‘Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military’” which “opened a new chapter of threats and intimidation against Dawn.”

Mixed polls

The election to Gazipur municipal corporation, a reasonably large district headquarters close to Dhaka, has been bereft of violence. In itself, according to an opinion article by Shakhawat Liton, a journalist with The Daily Star, this is a welcome development. However, as a series of other local elections and the general election later this year approaches, the calm is also a sign of the government’s control over the electoral process. In the run-up to the election, according to Liton, “the arrests of eight election coordinators of the BNP candidate, only a week before polling, emerged as a big threat to his electioneering.” Complaints to the country’s election commission had little effect, and, since there was “no violence”, law enforcement agencies did not “take any action”. The use of state machinery by the government as a tool for intimidation does not “rekindle hope for a free and fair election.”

Perception battle

While the civil war in Sri Lanka may have ended with the crushing of LTTE forces, alleged human rights violations have cast a shadow over Sri Lanka’s image abroad. A report in The Island points to the attempts by the Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF), which is holding an exhibition in Geneva at the UNHRC next month to “counter pro-LTTE diaspora elements propagating lies”. According to the GSLF the exhibition will “highlight restoration of peace in Sri Lanka following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009”. The article also points to the resentment among the Sinhala diaspora over the lack of efforts by the Sri Lankan government to “counter lies” about “genocide” being spread about Sri Lanka abroad.

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