Daily Briefs

Photo : The Irrawaddy

The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #49, 27 July 2023, Thursday

"237 women and girls were killed by the junta regime this year alone": says AAPP

Sri Lanka ratifies Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 

The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #49, 27 July 2023, Thursday
Immaculine Joy Paul C, Melvin George, Dhriti Mukherjee and Lakshmi Parimala H

The members of Lower House ask for an in-depth investigation over gold scam
On 26 July, the opposition and ruling lawmakers in the House of Representatives criticized the home minister and the finance minister, asking for an in-depth investigation over the recent seizure of over 100kg of gold smuggled through the Kathmandu airport. The House meeting was postponed to 31 July following obstructions from the main opposition CPN-UML. On 18 July, the Department of Revenue Investigation seized gold weighing nearly 100 kg, smuggled through the Tribhuvan International Airport. The gold was passed undetected through the Tribhuvan International Airport and was seized from a taxi at Sinamangal. The opposition claimed that such large-scale smuggling could not happen without key government officials' knowledge. The ruling party lawmakers also demanded the ministers' resignation to facilitate a fair investigation. (Nishan Khatiwada, Lower house heats up over gold scam,The Kathmandu Post, 27 July 2023)

ADB downgrades Bhutan’s economic growth by 0.3 per cent
On 26 July, Kuensel reported that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had revised down Bhutan's economic growth forecast by 0.3 percentage points, predicting 4.3 per cent for the current year. This is attributed to decreased hydropower production and a contraction in the construction sector, which together contribute 28 per cent to the GDP. Bhutan's agriculture sector is expected to slow down, and wholesale and retail trade may contract due to import restrictions. On the other hand, the country's fiscal deficit and dwindling foreign exchange reserves are areas of concern. The ADB anticipates growth to be strengthened by 2024 with the normalization of hydropower production and the commissioning of new plants. (Thukten Zangpo, ADB downgrades Bhutan’s 2023 growth forecast to 4.3 percent,” Kuensel, 26 July 2023)

US expresses its support for conducting free and fair elections
On 26 July, during a media briefing in Washington, the US Department of State's Principal Deputy Spokesperson, Vedant Patel, expressed the US’ support for Bangladesh in conducting a free, fair, and peaceful election. He emphasized its importance in the US-Bangladesh bilateral relationship. Previously on 24 May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new policy under the Immigration and Nationality Act, under which the US could restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual believed to be responsible for undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Dhaka expressed its dissatisfaction over the “undiplomatic behavior” of the 13 foreign envoys, who issued a joint statement calling for an investigation into the assault of an independent candidate, Ashraful Alom, during a by-election. (“US supports Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair polls: State Dept,” The Daily Star, 27 July 2023)

UK retailer stops sourcing gems of Myanmar to defund the violence 
On 27 July, The Irrawaddy reported that the rights group ‘Burma Campaign UK’ said that the UK Retailer John Lewis and Partners would be stopping the sourcing of gems from Myanmar. Burma Campaign UK requested the nearly 40 retailers (including John Lewis) to ensure that the trade relation that they have with Myanmar would not fund the junta government to kill people. John Lewis replied by saying that were sourcing very little from Myanmar, and were seeking alternatives. A statement from John Lewis and Partners said: “We remain extremely concerned to learn of developments around the conflicts that have taken place, and that continue to take place in recent years in Burma/Myanmar.” (“Another UK Retailer to Boycott ‘Blood Gemstones’ From Myanmar,” The Irrawaddy, 27 July 2023)

“237 women and girls were killed by the junta regime this year alone”: says AAPP
On 27 July, the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reported that the military junta had killed 237 women and girls, and approximately 400 were detained this year alone. Sagaing has the highest toll with 130 females till 27 July, followed by the Bago region and Chin State with 28 and 20 respectively. Apart from air strikes and shelling, many women who could not flee when their villages were targeted by the junta were killed. According to AAPP, women’s participation in the resistance movement had increased with the rise in junta forces targeting women. They were raped and used as human shields. Sagaing, Magwe, Bago, Chin, Kayah, and Karen states are witnessing dreadful fights between the junta forces and the resistance forces. (“Myanmar Regime Killed 237 Females This Year: AAPP,” The Irrawaddy, 27 July 2023)

“MoU between the Move Forward coalitions has to be amended”: says PSM
On 27 July, Bangkok Post reported that the Plung Sungkom Mai (PSM), one among the eight parties in the Move Forward coalition, said that the Pheu Thai should amend the MoU between the coalition. The PSM leader Chaowarit Kachornpongkirati said, “Since the MFP has already handed over the right to lead the formation of the new government to Pheu Thai, the old MoU is no longer valid.” He stated that he would propose this in the next meeting of the coalition parties. Pheu Thai General Secretary Prasert Chantarauangthong said that the MoU framed by the Move Forward Party (MFP) may have to be amended in the lines of the party, after a discussion with the other members. The low chance of Pita becoming the next prime minister requires amendment of the first point in the MoU, which is related to supporting his premiership. (Aekarach Sattaburuth, “Coalition pact may need review: PSM,” Bangkok Post, 27 July 2023)

Constitutional Court will consider Pita’s petition on 3 August 
On 3 August, the Constitutional Court will consider whether to accept the petition revision of the resolution that rejected Pita Limjaroenrat’s second re-nomination as the prime minister. The Ombudsman ordered the parliament to postpone the prime ministerial vote based on several complaints from the public and MPs after the rejection of the renomination, saying the rejection contravened the charter. Earlier this week, the Ombudsman sought judicial review on the matter. Mr Wan Muhamad Noor Matha postponed the 27 July prime ministerial voting. (“Pita petition decision on Aug 3," Bangkok Post, 27 July 2023)

Sri Lanka ratifies Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 
On 25 July, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mohan Peiris, submitted the instrument of ratification for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at the United Nations’ treaty section. The submission took place after clearing the domestic ratification process. Sri Lanka’s ratification of the CTBT as the 178th member to do so will reaffirm its stance on global non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament efforts. It further grants the country access to technical benefits in various fields, including disaster monitoring and climate change studies. (“Lanka deposits instruments of ratification of Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” The Island, 27 July 2023)

MRM Opts out of coalition with the main ruling MDP
On 27 July, Avas reported that the Maldivian Reform Movement (MRM) decided against being a part of the coalition with the main ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the first round of the presidential election. Previously in February, President Ibrahim Solih called for a continued alliance with the MRM in the upcoming election. Both parties had exchanged communication on their respective policy proposals. However, since the MRM had disagreements over certain policies of the MDP, it decided to opt out of the coalition for the first round of the election. Despite this decision, the MRM thanked MDP for its invitation to the coalition. (“MRM decides against forming coalition with main ruling MDP,” Avas.mv, 27 July 2023)

Spain grants nationality to Sara Khadem, an Iranian chess player
On 27 July, Al Jazeera reported that Iranian chess player Sara Khadem, had been granted Spanish nationality. She fled to Spain after competing in an international tournament without wearing a mandatory hijab, in solidarity with protests in Iran. Previously in 2022, she had participated in a World Cup in Kazakhstan without her headscarf, as a symbol of support for Iranian protests following the death of Mahsa Amini. Therefore due to concerns over a possible arrest in case of her return, she and her family obtained residency in Spain through a "golden visa" scheme. The Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sanchez also expressed his support for Khadem. (“Spain grants nationality to self-exiled Iran chess player Sara Khadem,” Al Jazeera, 27 July 2023)

US Diplomats to engage in talks with Taliban in Doha on critical Afghan issues
On 26 July, Al Jazeera reported that the US diplomats would engage in discussions with the Taliban representatives in Doha in the following week. The US special representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, along with the US Special Envoy for Afghan women, girls, and human rights, Rina Amiri, will hold meetings with a delegation of Taliban representatives and other Afghan ministry officials. The US State Department stated that critical interests in Afghanistan will be discussed by focusing on “humanitarian support for Afghans, economic stabilization, fair and dignified treatment of all Afghans, including women and girls, and security issues.” However, the US clarified that the engagement “is not intended to mean any kind of indication of recognition, or any kind of indication of normalization or legitimacy of the Taliban.” (“US officials to meet Taliban representatives in Doha,” Al Jazeera, 26 July 2023)

Islamic Emirate denies interference with relief organizations' operations
On 26 July, TOLO News reported that Islamic Emirate denied the allegations of interference with the operations of relief organizations. According to the Deputy Minister of Economy, Abdul Latif Nazari, the ministry is closely monitoring the distribution of foreign aid to ensure transparency and equity. Further, he clarified that these were made for political reasons. He stated: “We provide facilities for them, we remove the bureaucracy and we cooperate with them. But interference is never in our policy.” The remarks came in the backdrop of the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) statement on the Taliban’s interference in the process of distribution of humanitarian aid. (“Islamic Emirate Says It Does Not Interfere With Aid Operations,” TOLO News, 27 July 2023) 

Shaheed Wror: Islamic education is obligatory for both men and women
On 26 July, TOLO News reported that the General Director of the Invitation and Guidance Directorate, Mohammad Hashim Shaheed Wror, made a statement on the importance of Islamic education over modern education. Wror said: “The education that we say is obligatory at every stage for both men and women are religious education, not other education.” However, the deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mohammad Tahir Ahmadi, iterated on the importance of modern education which would save people from “poverty, misery and other problems.” (“Modern Education is Not Obligatory: Shaheed Wror,” TOLO News, 26 July 2023)

US urges Taliban to act before seeking international recognition
On 26 July, TOLO News reported that the Deputy Spokesman for the US Department of State Vedant Patel, made a statement on the Taliban’s intention to get international recognition. According to Patel, the Taliban should “start directly with the actions and the policies they choose to undertake in Afghanistan.” Further, he expressed the US commitment to taking necessary actions against human rights abuses and the marginalization of women in Afghanistan. However, Islamic Emirate spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid asserted that women’s rights are part of an internal matter and rejected any interference from other nations. (“If Seeking Recognition Abroad, Kabul Must Take Action in Afghanistan: Patel,” TOLO News, 26 July 2023)

Pakistan’s bold steps toward digital governance
On 26 July, Pakistan’s federal cabinet approved the “E-safety Bill 2023” and “Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023”, which focused on matters concerning digital governance and regional tensions. The E-Safety Bill 2023 aims to safeguard citizens from online harassment and cyberbullying. It also introduces regulations for web-based channels and news websites. The Personal Data Protection Bill 2023, on the other hand, aims to protect citizens' online privacy and data by outlawing unauthorised information sharing. The government's efforts to negotiate the difficulties presented by the digital era and maintain a stable regional environment are what tie these actions together. (“Bill on personal data privacy gets cabinet nod,” Dawn, 27 July 2023) (“Govt Moves To Strengthen Grip On YouTube Channels, Online Media,” The Friday Times, 27 July 2023)

Pakistan considers Indian Defence Minister's remarks on LoK  provocative’
On 26 July, Pakistan rebuked the “provocative remarks” which were made by the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on the matter of crossing the Line of Control (LoC). Singh commented, “India is a peace-loving nation which believes in its centuries-old values and is committed towards international laws, but to safeguard our interests, we will not hesitate in crossing the LoC.” Pakistan in response advised India to proceed with caution, stating a rhetoric of this kind had the potential to threaten the peace and stability in South Asia. The Foreign Office emphasised that Pakistan is completely capable of defending itself against any invasion, and urged India to cease making careless claims about Gilgit-Baltistan and POK. (Abdullah Momand, “Pakistan condemns Indian defence minister’s ‘provocative’ remarks on crossing LoC”, Dawn, 26 July 2023)

Pakistan and Russia on Black Sea Grain initiative
On 26 July, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, engaged in significant discussions concerning the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Russia’s decision to withdraw from the deal essentially halts the agreement, Pakistan emphasizes the necessity for consensus among all parties to restore the initiative. Minister Bhutto-Zardari highlighted the urgency of finding viable solutions that would benefit developing countries already facing economic strain. Additionally, he hoped that constructive dialogue would revive the BSGI, reaffirming Pakistan's support for international efforts in addressing the concerns of all stakeholders. In addition to the BSGI, the foreign ministers also discussed bilateral matters and the growing cooperation between Pakistan and Russia in various domains. (Iftikhar A. Khan, “Pakistan urges consensus among all sides to restore grain deal,” Dawn, 27 July 2023)

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