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Nepal Constitution In Stalemate

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Kathmandu: A sombre Nepal parliament on Tuesday bailed the government out of a potential constitutional crisis by agreeing to give it six more months to produce a new constitution after the fourth failure in a row to come up with the statute regarded as the cornerstone of the peace agreement that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency.

”It has been agreed to extend the time for drafting the new constitution by six months more,” Information and Communications Minister Jay Prakash Gupta announced after parliament sat to vote on the proposal by the Maoist-led government to seek an extension and endorsed it with 505 of the 508 MPs supporting the motion.

Now the lawmakers and major parties, publicly reviled for their failure to draft the new statute repeatedly, will have to show the new document by May-end. Should they fail a fifth time, the house will be dissolved and the government will have to hold fresh elections or seek referendum, as per a stern Supreme Court order last week.

The only silver lining shown by the Baburam Bhattarai government was its ability to handle the crisis sooner than later. In the past, lawmakers scrabbled till the last minute, causing the vote to extend the constitution deadline take place often after midnight and then lead to the collapse of the incumbent government.

However, though Bhattarai escapes an immediate ouster, more complications could arise in future with his party on Tuesday signing an agreement, with both allies and the major opposition parties, for the formation of a “national unity” government.

Since 2008, when the Maoists won the election but still fell short of mustering simple majority, Nepal has seen a long quest for a consensus government with three premiers claiming such an alliance but being forced to step down.

The new six-point agreement signed on Tuesday between the Maoists, their ally the ethnic parties from the Terai plains, and the opposition Nepali Congress and communists, has also decided to complete major steps in the peace process by Dec 15. It will draw up a time-table for drafting the new constitution by Dec 6.

The major tasks to be completed include the discharge of the Maoists’ guerrilla army. The People’s Liberation Army with its nearly 20,000 fighters have three options: induction in the national army, voluntary retirement with a cash compensation or rehabilitation. So far, nearly 60 percent of the over 16,000 combatants interviewed have said they want to join the army.

With the Maoists agreeing that a maximum of 6,500 fighters would find berth in the army, the government would have to plan new measures to address the fate of those who have opted for army life but fail to make the grade.

The government will also have to come up with a map to restructure Nepal into autonomous states that will be acceptable to all the ethnic and indigenous communities. Last but not the least, it will have to make the Maoist cadre return the public properties they grabbed during the “People’s War” and have been loath to return even now, five years after the civil war ended.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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