Daily Briefs

Photo : AFP

The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #58, 07 August 2023, Monday

Japan urges Sri Lanka to prioritize debt restructuring deal with China

In Maldives, the SC bars Yameen from contesting the presidential election

The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #58, 07 August 2023, Monday
Immaculine Joy Paul C, Melvin George, Dhriti Mukherjee and Lakshmi Parimala. H

Nepal to participate in India’s real-time energy 
On 7 August, The Kathmandu Post reported that India has expanded energy market access for its neighbors, like Nepal, enabling participation in the real-time market alongside the day-ahead market. This will allow Nepal to buy or sell power in India's energy exchange in real time, avoiding electricity wastage. The Central Electricity Authority of India amended the approval process to include Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Access will be limited to entities and assets owned or controlled by the neighboring countries involved in power cooperation agreements. This move enhances flexibility and efficiency in power trading, benefiting both buyers and sellers. (Prithvi Man Shrestha, “Nepal linked to India’s real-time energy trade,” The Kathmandu Post, 7 August 2023)

The ‘draconian’ Digital Security Act to be toned down
On 7 August, Al Jazeera reported that Bangladesh will tone down its ‘draconian’ Digital Security Act (DSA), replacing it with a new legislation, the Cyber Security Act of 2023. Law Minister Anisul Huq, on 7 August, stated that the sections with scope to be ‘misused’ will be removed. The Digital Security Act, enacted in 2018, was termed as a ‘black Act’ for its misuse to suppress dissent and freedom of speech, further rising demands to repeal the law. The Act was called as “one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists” by the US State Department. The new law aims to reduce the severity of penalties for journalists in defamation cases. Jail terms will be eliminated, and fines will be capped at $23,000 instead of $92,000. However, non-payment of fines could lead to imprisonment for three to six months. (Faisal Mahmud, “Bangladesh to tone down ‘draconian’ digital security law,” Al Jazeera, 7 August 2023)

The US sanctions comes to effect on the Junta owned banks
On 21 June, US started enforcing the sanction on the junta controlled Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank. The sanctions aim to curtail the transactions through offshore accounts by using foreign currency.  The sanctions will affect the funding and procurement of arms and jet fuel from international markets including sanctioned Russian entities by the junta government. According to the statement from the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets, the licences issued by the office for the banks expired on 05 August. These two banks handle all the transactions of the junta government, state owned enterprizes and payment of salaries for sailors. Economist U Sein Htay, a former member of the economic committee of the National League for Democracy government said: “Their associated business owners and cronies [two military-owned conglomerates, Myanma Economic Holdings and Myanmar Economic Corporation] also have to go through these two banks. So the transactions will impact them.” (Hein Htoo Zan, “US Closes Sanctions Window For Myanmar Junta Banks,” The Irrawaddy, 07 August 2023)

Former Democrat leaders says to focus on re-building the party rather than joining PT coalition
On 6 August, the former House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said they opposed the proposals of democrat members to join the coalition of Pheu Thai. Mr. Leekpai, who was also the former House speaker, said: “When individual members act on their own, it's their private matter. If it's a party matter, the board must adopt a resolution and no one should do anything that goes against it.” Former Democrat leader, Banyat Bantadtan, said that rebuilding the party should be given focus by the members rather than joining the government. He said: “Once we have a new leader and a new executive board, I'll ask them to consider this idea.” (Penchant Charoensuthipan, “Ex-Dem leaders slam coalition push,” Bangkok Post, 07  August 2023)

Iran and Sri Lanka to strengthen monetary cooperation
On 6 August, during a meeting between the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and Sri Lanka foreign minister Ali Sabry in Tehran, the former emphasized the need for the development of monetary and banking relations between Iran and Sri Lanka to boost their bilateral economic ties. He also highlighted the significance of the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) which is a payment arrangement for multilateral settlement of intra-regional transactions, in improving trade relations and suggested using it to settle payments. He also called for the setup of a specialized banking and monetary working group between the two central banks to expedite banking cooperation and facilitate economic exchanges. In response, Sabry appreciated Iran’s support in the IMF and expressed readiness to increase trade levels, endorsing the establishment of a bilateral banking committee for enhancing cooperation. (“CBI chief stresses stepped-up banking ties with Sri Lanka,” Daily Mirror, 7 August 2023)

Japan urges Sri Lanka to prioritize debt restructuring deal with China before reviving LRT
On 6 August, The Island reported that Japan requested Sri Lanka to secure a debt restructuring deal with China before discussing the revival of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project which was previously cancelled by former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, stressed the importance of a credible debt restructuring plan involving all creditor countries by the end of August. Sri Lanka must have the plan ready before the second review of the IMF bailout in March to receive the second tranche of USD 330 million. Japan had fully funded the LRT project through a highly concessional 40-year loan, but Rajapaksa cancelled it, leading to strained relations between Colombo and Tokyo. This has made Japan cautious about reactivating projects due to Sri Lanka's policy inconsistency and concerns about opaque Chinese funding and mega vanity projects that contributed to an economic crisis. (“Japan cautious on reviving stalled projects, seeks faster debt deal with China,” The Island, 6 August 2023)

SC bars Yameen from contesting the presidential election
On 6 Aug, the Supreme Court ruled that former President Abdulla Yameen is not eligible for contesting the September presidential election, citing his conviction for corruption and money laundering charges. Following the ruling, Yameen urged his party members to boycott the election which was however rejected by the opposing PPM-PNC coalition's Senate. (“PPM-PNC Senate rejects Yameen's election boycott request,” Avas.mv, 7 Aug 2023) 

86th Flotilla proved that the hight seas belong to everyone, says Khamenei
On 6 August, The Tehran Times reported that Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, praised Iran's Navy for its global circumnavigation, highlighting the significance of international waters for all nations. The 86th Flotilla of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Navy completed a circumnavigation around the earth, travelling 63,000 kms in eight months. Khamenei stated that achievements arise from endeavor and hardship, strengthening the nation's "we can" mindset. He further quoted a Quran verse, "Prepare against them whatever you can of [military] power," emphasizing the necessity to be prepared beforehand. The Navy's presence in distant oceans contributes to Iran's security. He further stated that the Flotilla has proved that the high seas belong to everyone. (“86th Flotilla proved that high seas belong to all,” Tehran Times, 6 August 2023)

Stanikzai raises concerns over attempts to ruin relations with neighbours
On 6 August, TOLO News reported on the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai’s remarks on attempts of regional countries in ruining Afghanistan’s relations with its neighbours. Although he refrained from naming the specific countries involved, he emphasised that some intelligence circles aim to defame the Afghan people, particularly those detained in foreign prisons. Further, Stanikzai assured that the interim government is committed to fostering positive relations with the international community and said: “We have committed to the whole world that the Afghan soil will not be used to threaten the security of others.” (“Regional Intel Groups Trying to Harm Afghan Ties With Neighbors: Stanekzai,” TOLO News, 6 August 2023)

Afghanistan: A 6th most climate change vulnerability despite the minimal contribution
On 6 August, TOLO News reported that though Afghanistan contributed only 0.8% of the climate change, it ranks sixth most vulnerable country due to climate change. Zainul Abideen Abid, the deputy head of the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), expressed concerns over Afghanistan and stated that the use of “weapons and chemical materials” during the recent war had an impact on the climate and plant life. Further, Abid mentioned that they have inspected over 14,000 facilities and equipped them with air filters. Moreover, restrictions have been imposed on deforestation and hunting which helps them to monitor and preserve the forest cover in Afghanistan. (“Afghanistan 6th Vulnerable Country to Climate Change: NEPA,” TOLO News, 6 August 2023)

Tragic train derailment leaves 19 deaths and 50 injured in Southern Pakistan
On 6 August, Afghanistan Times reported that a passenger train derailed close to Sahara railway station in southern Pakistan. The train, which was en route from Karachi, resulted in the death of at least 19 passengers and caused injuries to 50 others. Prompt rescue operations were initiated and dedicated teams worked tirelessly to get the passengers out. The outdated railway system in Pakistan has frequently been a contributing factor to such accidents. Meanwhile, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon stated: “Our foremost concern remains the rescue operation, which commands our full attention.” (“19 killed as passenger train derails in southern Pakistan,” Afghanistan Times, 6 August 2023) 

Pakistan withdraws contentious media regulation bill amid stakeholder concerns
On 7 August, Pakistan’s Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, declared that in light of objections by stakeholders, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill 2023 *(PEMRA) would be withdrawn. The bill was passed on 3 August with the intention of monitoring TV channels and broadening the scope of ‘disinformation and misinformation.’ However, it faced concerns by stakeholders, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and journalists, who felt that it “may allow powerful groups or individuals to stonewall journalists seeking both sides of a story.” The government’s response to the claims was positive, with Aurangzeb stating that they “never compromised on constitutional and democratic principles,” and would withdraw the bill seeing as there was no consensus. (Nadir Guramani, “Govt announces withdrawal of Pemra amendment bill,” Dawn, 7 August 2023)

Inadequate resources blamed for Hazara Express train accident
On 7 August, following the Hazara Express train accident, the Railways and Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique stated that the insufficient number of resources were the “real cause” of the tragedy. The incident had occurred on 6 August, as the train derailed and killed at least 30 people. Although he has not ruled out the possibility of sabotage, he made it clear during an event in Lahore that “the real [issue] responsible [for it] is that we do not have resources. We are unable to maintain things.” With only two days left for the current government, an investigation is already underway. (Ubaidullah Shaikh, “Railways minister sees lack of resources as ‘real cause’ of Hazara Express tragedy,” Dawn, 7 August 2023)

Other Daily Briefs