Daily Briefs

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The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #47, 25 July 2023, Tuesday

China pledges Rs145 million aid to Nepal

Abdulla Yameen to contest the upcoming presidential election in the Maldives

The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #47, 25 July 2023, Tuesday
Immaculine Joy Paul C, Melvin George, Dhriti Mukherjee and Lakshmi Parimala H

China pledges Rs145 million aid for agriculture-related projects
On 25 July, The Kathmandu Post reported that the Chinese delegation, led by Yuan Jiajun, pledged Rs145 million for agricultural-related projects across all seven provinces of Nepal. On 23 July, Yuan Jiajun, who is a member of the party's politburo, visited Kathmandu as part of his three-day visit. The politburo is a key decision-making body of the party. The projects will be funded through the China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre, which was announced by FM Wang Yi in 2021, and aims to pool resources to support and help South Asian countries. It was referred to as the ‘Himalayan Quad.’ On the other hand, BRI was not discussed or mentioned during his talks. (Anil Giri, China pledges Rs145 million aid for Nepal’s seven provinces,” The Kathmandu Post, 25 July 2023)

PM Dahal refutes claims accusing him of using child combatants during the insurgency
On 25 July, The Kathmandu Post reported that while replying to the writ petition at the Supreme Court, PM Dahal stated that no document in the peace process used the term ‘child combatants,’ refuting the allegations of using child combatants during the insurgency. On the other hand, Baburam Bhattarai is yet to receive the court’s letter, which was sent to his ancestral residence. The petition was filed by ex-Maoist soldiers on the grounds of war crimes, asking the court to take action by establishing a national tribunal in coordination with the UNSC. In 2007, during the verification process for the army integration by the UNMIN, thousands of fighters were disqualified for being minors. While the combatants who voluntarily retired were provided with Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 800,000, the disqualified were given merely a few thousand rupees by the UN. Therefore, this petition is seen as a reaction to their exclusion in the transitional justice process. (Tika R Pradhan, Prime Minister Dahal denies using children during Maoist insurgency,” The Kathmandu Post, 25 July 2023)

Thimphu eliminates the highly contagious Rubella
On 21 July, the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region announced that Bhutan and Timor-Leste have eliminated Rubella, following two decades of efforts to combat the disease. Rubella is a highly contagious disease with severe consequences for pregnant women which can be prevented through vaccination. Bhutan also aims to eliminate other diseases like HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child. Additionally, WHO focuses on HPV vaccination, malaria elimination, and triple elimination of certain diseases. (Jigmi Wangdi,Bhutan eliminates Rubella,Kuensel, 25 July 2023)

Conspiring to attack Myanmar's UN official: US court sentences Myanmar national of five years in prison
On 24 July, the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York convicted Myanmar national Phyo Hein Htut, for plotting to harm Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, U Kyaw Moe Tun. According to the office, in 2021 the New York residents Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw were arrested for conspiring to hire assailants to force the ambassador to resign, and kill him if he refused. Phyo Hein received money for hiring the assailants from an arms dealer in Thailand who did business with the military junta. Hein was a member of the volunteer security team of Myanmar’s Permanent Mission to the UN, and he surrendered by himself to the Mission without carrying out the plot. U Kyaw Moe Tun is a vocal critic of the junta’s rule and supporter of the pro-democracy movement. (US Court Convicts Myanmar Man of Plotting to Injure or Kill Country’s Ambassador to UN,” The Irrawaddy, 25 July 2023)

New 20,000 Kyat note creases inflation panic in Myanmar
On 23 July, the Central Bank of Myanmar announced that it would issue new 20,000 kyat banknotes on 31 July. The new note is issued in commemoration of the construction of the giant marble Buddha statue, and the first anniversary of the junta’s “white elephant” calf. The announcement shocked the currency exchangers, businesses, and markets. Prices have started to increase for basic commodities, food, and other goods since the announcement. On 23 July, the price of gold rose from 3.2 million kyats per tical (16.3 grams) to 3.6 million kyats, before falling slightly to 3.5 million kyats on 24 July. This forced many jewelries to remain closed, fearing riots could break out if people became frustrated. (Hein Htoo Zan, Junta’s New Banknote Sparks Inflation Panic in Myanmar, Again,The Irrawaddy, 25 July 2023)

Parliament President postpones the joint siting for the PM voting indefinitely
On 25 July, the joint sitting of the house and senators, originally scheduled for 27 July to select the new prime minister, was postponed by Parliament President Wan Muhamad Noor Matha. The decision was made in light of the pending Constitutional Court ruling, which rejected the renomination of Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat. According to legal officials of the House of Representatives and his advisers, holding the voting before the court ruling could potentially lead to issues. Additionally, the postponement was due to concerns that the prolonged sitting might prevent many elected MPs and senators from attending His Majesty's birthday celebrations on 28 July in their respective provinces. (Aekarach Sattaburuth, Parliament vote for PM postponed indefinitely,Bangkok Post, 25 July 2023)

Discard the MoU with the coalition and form the new government quickly, says Pheu Thai supporters 
On 25 July, the Pheu Thai supporters in the name ‘Media Alliance for Democracy’, called on the party to form a new government quickly by discarding the commitment given to the Move Forward coalition. On 25 July, the supporters came to the Pheu Thai headquarters to offer their moral support. In a statement issued by the alliance, it was asserted that the economy was suffering due to the prevailing administrative vacuum, impeding the resolution of national issues. The supporters issued a five-point recommendation to the party, and requested to nominate any one of the three prime ministerial candidates without delay. (Pheu Thai urged to hurry up and form new government,Bangkok Post, 26 July 2023)

Pheu Thai cancels the meeting with Move Forward coalition parties 
On 25 July, Bangkok Post reported that the meeting planned by the Pheu Thai party with parties in the Move Forward coalition to discuss the new government formation was cancelled. The Pheu Thai apologized to the parties invited for discussion. The explanation given for cancellation was that there was no progress in seeking support from the senators outside the coalition. MFP Secretary-General Chaithawat Tulathon said the Pheu Thai Party needed more time to prepare a proposal to be presented to the coalition. (Eight-party meeting cancelled,” Bangkok Post, 25 July 2023)

SLPP MP accuses Canadian HC of separatist support
On 24 July, SLPP MP and retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, accused Canadian High Commissioner Eric Walsh of supporting separatist sentiments and further promoting divisions amongst the communities during his visit to the Northern Province in Sri Lanka. He also accused the HC of interfering in the dispute over the Kurundi temple in Mullaitivu, a former LTTE stronghold. Further, he criticized the Sri Lankan government for not addressing the issue with the Canadian government, and expressed concern about Canadian interference in the country’s internal affairs. He pointed out that the recent grant of presidential pardon of two LTTE cadres was the government's aim to appease the pro-LTTE activists overseas. (Canadian interference alleged in Kurundi temple dispute as Ottawa reiterates genocide charge,” The Island, 25 July 2023)

Yameen signs candidacy papers for the presidential election
On 25 July, Avas reported that the PPM-PNC Presidential candidate and former President Abdulla Yameen, signed the candidacy form to run in the upcoming presidential election in September. The Election Commission recently opened the submission of candidacy papers for interested candidates. The PPM-PNC coalition, in line with the announcement, prepared the documents, which were duly signed by Yameen with the assistance of Maldives Correctional Services. The former President is currently serving an 11-year prison term for money laundering charges. (Jailed ex-pres signs candidacy papers to contest election,” Avas, 25 July 2023)

Bolivia’s new defense agreement with Iran attracts criticism from Argentina and the opposition
On 24 July, Argentina and the opposition in Bolivia sought more details about the new defense agreement signed between Bolivia and Iran on 20 July. Gustavo Aliaga, a Bolivian opposition lawmaker, questioned the government’s move against its pacifist stance as declared in the constitution. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), this agreement could be to sell drones to Bolivia to help it control its borders and combat drug smuggling. On the other hand, Argentina referred to the agreement as a risk to the ‘security of Argentina and the region.’ (Daniel Politi & Carlos Valdez, Argentina demands that Bolivia explain its new defense agreement with Iran,” AP News, 25 July 2023)

Fadaeian Velyat-11, Iran’s annual air force drill, begins
On 23 July, Iran began an annual air force drill named Fadaeian Velyat-11, or Devotees of the Supreme Leader-11. 11 Iranian air force bases are said to be participating in the drill, with more than 90 fighter planes, bombers, and drones. This comes at a time when the US is increasing its presence in the region by sending more fighter planes to deter Iran from seizing commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon stated that the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner and several F-35 fighter jets would be heading to the region. This move comes as a reaction to Iran’s attempts in early July to seize two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, which were deterred by the USS McFaul, a guided-missile destroyer. According to the US Navy, Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in the past two years. (Iran kicks off air force drill as US sends more fighter planes to the region,” AP News, 24 July 2023)

Taliban Defence Minister refutes the Taliban’s involvement in Al-Zawahiri’s killing
On 21 July, Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid asserted the refusal of their involvement in Al-Zawahiri’s death, and claimed that they were not aware of his presence in Afghanistan. Ayman al-Zawahiri was an Egyptian jihadist leader, who was alleged to be killed during drone attacks in Kabul’s Sherpur area. On the contrary, Taliban governor Mohammad Qassim Khalid, said to TOLO News that there was no concrete evidence to prove the former incident. The differing remarks came in the backdrop of US President Joe Biden’s statement regarding an agreement between Washington and the Taliban to strip away al-Qaida terrorists from Kabul. However, the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry reflected on Biden’s remarks and called them an “acknowledgement of reality,” iterating that there are no armed groups in Kabul. (Taliban still deny Al-Zawahiri’s death in Kabul, Afghanistan Times, 24 July 2023)

Taliban Defense Ministry claims legitimacy amid hesitations and allegations
On 24 July, Afghanistan Times reported on Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid’s allegations against the US. Mujahid, in which he stated that the Taliban have met all the essential criteria to be recognized as a legitimate government. He expressed the Taliban’s willingness to engage with the international community and stated that this recognition would pave the way for the acceptance of a broader coalition of 58 Muslim countries. However, certain countries still hesitate to acknowledge them due to the pressure exerted by the US. Further, he denied Biden’s remarks on a partnership between the Taliban and the US to remove the Al-Qaeda groups from Kabul. He iterated that the Taliban maintains its independence without relying on any country’s support. (Taliban deem US as obstacle to their international recognition,” Afghanistan Times, 24 July 2023)

Insufficient funding forces WFP to reduce aid to 8 million hungry Afghans, says Khaama Press
On 25 July, Khaama Press reported that UN World Food Programme (WFP) had to reduce its aid to eight million food-insecure people in Afghanistan due to insufficient funding. The report stated: “From July onwards, only five million people will receive emergency food assistance when 15 million people in Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) 3 and 4 do not know where their next meal will come from.” The provinces including Nuristan, Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, and the Eastern region, will not have access to necessary health and nutrition care services. Additionally, the report included the effects of financial gaps on households, imposition of bans on education, inaccessibility to clean drinking water, and prevailing poor sanitation in the region. Furthermore, WFP issued a warning that if funding shortfalls were not addressed, then the budget for food assistance would be depleted by the end of October. (Afghanistan: UN's World Food Programme cuts aids to 8 million people due to funding shortfall,” ANI, 25 July 2023)

Islamic Emirates requests UNSC to lift the travel ban on government officials
On 24 July, TOLO News reported that Islamic Emirate’s Qatar-Based Political Office requested UNSC for the revocation of the travel ban on current government officials for better interaction. The head of the Islam Emirate’s Qatar-based Political Office, Suhail Shaheen, stated: “Solving some issues in a peaceful way is a need, and in this regard, the ban on the travel of high members of the Islamic Emirate is an obstacle that must be removed as soon as possible.” However, some experts remarked that the ban would not be lifted until the current government fulfilled the demands of the global community. Political analyst Wahid Faqiri said: “They should find a common language with the international community, in which case it will be possible for the Islamic Emirate to be recognized, the banks to be freed, and the existing rules and restrictions to be removed.” (Fatima Adib, Islamic Emirate’s Qatar-Based Political Office Calls to Lift Travel Ban,” TOLO News, 24 July 2023)

FM Bhutto and Blinken emphasize on strengthening bilateral relations
On 25 July, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, engaged in a pivotal telephone exchange with US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken, accentuating multifaceted Pakistan-US relations, including economic revival and regional stability. Blinken assured unwavering US support for Pakistan's economic recovery, lauding the recent IMF-Pakistan agreement as a catalyst for transformative reforms. In addition, both leaders emphasized constructive collaboration to address shared regional concerns. As FM Bhutto Zardari stated, "Our united pursuit of prosperity knows no bounds." (“FM Bilawal, Blinken discuss economic recovery, regional concerns,” The Express Tribune, 25 July 2023)

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