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Withstanding US Pressure, India Gives Relations with Iran its Due

In a significant meet ahead of the NAM summit, India, Iran and Afghanistan held a trilateral during which the regional security and economic situation was discussed, including ways to commercially exploit the Chahbahar port, a major venture in the sanction- hit country.

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In a significant meet ahead of the NAM summit, India, Iran and Afghanistan held a trilateral during which the regional security and economic situation was discussed, including ways to commercially exploit the Chahbahar port, a major venture in the sanction- hit country.

While Iranian and Afghan delegations were led by their deputy foreign ministers, the Indian team was led by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai during the deliberations, which focused on the key issues of enhancing economic and trade cooperation in the region.

"The objective of the meeting was to explore ways to expand trade and transit cooperation, including investment, among the three countries starting with the Chahbahar Port," a joint press statement on the trilateral said on Sunday.

"It was agreed that a Joint Working Group (JWG) comprising representatives of the three countries would meet within next three months at Chahbahar to take the discussions forward," it said.

Located in South East Iran, Chahbahar port offers tremendous opportunities for trade and commerce for India in Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan, which blocks the country's land routes.

Iran, which is facing harsh sanctions from the West over its nuclear programme, is inviting investments for developing the industrial zone.

The trilateral also took stock of the security situation in the region ahead of the 16th summit of 120 non-aligned nations on Thursday and Friday.

It was agreed that the exact date of the meeting of Joint Working Group on Chahbahar would be decided through diplomatic channels.

An expert's group to study the IPA report and other modalities to develop the port.



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INTERNATIONAL

Nawaz Sharif Cannot Lead His Party: Pakistan SC

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has barred Nawaz Sharif from his position as president of the country’s ruling party, ordering the reversal of all decisions he has taken in the role, in a move that plunges the country’s politics into fresh uncertainty.

A report in The Guardian has said that the former prime minister, who was sacked by the Supreme Court last year, had managed to retain power by driving through a law that allowed disqualified politicians to lead political parties.

Twice-deposed in coups during the 1990s, the 68-year-old has long claimed his most recent eviction as prime minister is the result of a shadowy, anti-democratic conspiracy concocted between the judiciary and behind the scenes the army.

“This is only going to add to the wave of support for the PML-N (Sharif’s party),” Daniyal Aziz, a cabinet minister, told the Guardian. “The public think the party is being victimised.”

It was not unexpected that the supreme court would debar Sharif as party head. The same five judges originally ordered his dismissal as prime minister on the grounds that, in failing to declare a foreign bank account, he fell short of the vague constitutional requirement that politicians be “honest” and “righteous”.

But the verdict goes further. In a five-page judgement, the chief justice, Saqib Nisar, ruled that all “orders passed, directions given and documents issued” by him as party chairman since then “have never been passed, issued or given.”

Most immediately, this nullifies all of the tickets given out by Sharif to PML-N candidates for senate elections, on which his career partly hinges. If the party win enough seats to cobble together a majority in the 102-seat senate, Sharif would be able to remove the clause in the constitution which prevents his return as prime minister.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is expected to delay the vote planned for 3 March. This will give time for a new PML-N head to reappoint the party’s candidates.

The most likely replacement for Sharif as PML-N chief is his wife, Kusloom, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer in London, analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told the Guardian. “Through his wife,” Rizvi said, “ Sharif would still be able to control the party.”

Even if a shortly expected verdict in Sharif’s trial on corruption charges linked to the Panama Papers delivers a guilty verdict, the party appears unlikely to slip from his grasp. A surprise byelection victory earlier this month in a stronghold of the major opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has quietened rumours of a split.

And the victimhood narrative binds the party together, said the columnist Mosharraf Zaidi. “Nobody would want to seem to be abandoning him at this moment.”

Critics accuse the Sharif family of maligning Pakistan’s institutions in an attempt to save his political career. He “should accept the decision rather than planning new conspiracies”, said a spokesman for PTI.

As Sharif fights on “confrontation in the system will increase, and uncertainty will increase,” said Rizvi, “which could mean problems for democracy as a whole.”

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India Makes Clear its Displeasure Over Extension of Emergency in Maldives

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A “deeply dismayed” India on February 21 reacted strongly over the extension of emergency in the Maldives saying the manner in which the 30-day extension was approved by the Majlis in contravention of the Maldivian Constitution is a “matter of concern”.

Accepting President Abdulla Yameen’s recommendation, the Maldivian Parliament (Majlis) on Tuesday extended the state of emergency by another 30 days; hours after India had asserted that it was important that the island nation quickly returns to the path of democracy and the rule of law, expecting that there will be no extension.

“We are deeply dismayed that the government of Maldives has extended the State of Emergency for a further 30 days.  The manner in which the extension of the State of Emergency was approved by the Majlis in contravention of the Constitution of Maldives is also a matter of concern,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

It further said that the consequent delay in the resumption of the political process and the continuing suspension of the functioning of democratic institutions including the judiciary is likely to further delay restoration of normalcy in the Maldives.

The MEA said that it was important to ensure that all democratic institutions are allowed to function in a fair and transparent manner in accordance with the Constitution.

President Yameen declared the emergency on February 5 after the Supreme Court ordered the release of a group of Opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. Among them was exiled ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The court said his 2015 trial had been unconstitutional.

Tuesday, the MEA statement also said that the Maldivian government should implement its Supreme Court order of February 1, regarding the release of exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed and eight others, in “letter and spirit”. There has been an international condemnation of the Maldivian government’s moves, including the imposition of the emergency.

The US also expressed disappointment over the development in the Maldives and asked President Yameen to uphold the rule of law in the troubled Indian Ocean island nation.

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Maldives Crisis: A Brief Primer

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The declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and arrest of two senior judges prompted an exiled former president to ask India on Tuesday to send an envoy backed by the military to free political prisoners on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

Here’s background information on the crisis engulfing the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 400,000 people, whose faraway islands are best known as a luxury holiday destination.

The Main Protagonists

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency February 5. He defied a shock ruling from the Supreme Court that quashed convictions ranging from terrorism to corruption and ordered the release of nine leading opposition figures, on the ground that the cases against them were politically tainted.

Yameen came to power in 2013 after winning an election the opposition said was rigged. Critics accuse his government of imprisoning opponents, curbing free speech and pressuring the judiciary.

His rival Mohamed Nasheed became the Maldives’ first democratically elected president in 2009, but he was forced to resign amid a mutiny by police in 2012. After losing the election to Yameen the following year, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015 on charges that he said had been concocted by Yameen’s government.

Allowed to leave jail to seek medical treatment abroad, Nasheed was granted asylum by Britain in 2016. He has said he wants to contest a presidential election due later this year and was in Colombo when the Supreme Court decision precipitated the crisis. After Yameen declared a 15-day emergency on Tuesday, Nasheed called on India, the main regional power, to intervene.

Nasheed, a graduate of Britain’s Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen’s administration.

During his imprisonment, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney championed his cause and helped expose alleged human rights violations by Yameen’s administration.

During his presidency, Nasheed had drawn world attention to the Maldives by conducting an underwater cabinet meeting, with the ministers wearing scuba diving suits, to highlight the dangers posed by global warming to low-lying island nations like his own.

The Role of the Supreme Court

While quashing the convictions against Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders, and ordering the release of those in detention, the court said that they should be retried.

Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
It also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year. The removal was unconstitutional, the court said.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen’s party to lose its majority in the 85-member assembly.

Should the opposition reach a majority, it would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no-confidence motions against government officials.

The President’s Disregard for the Supreme Court Ruling

Declaring the emergency, Yameen’s office issued a statement saying the court order had disrupted functions of the executive and infringed national security and public interest. It also said the constitution could eventually be undermined if the court order was implemented.

The president’s office said some rights have been restricted under the emergency and some laws suspended, though no curfew has been ordered. It gave assurances for the safety of Maldivians and foreigners.

Having imposed the state of emergency, Yameen ordered the arrest of the country’s chief justice and another top judge, and security forces seized control of the Supreme Court.

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen said he had acted to prevent a coup and implied the judges had sided with his enemies as they were under investigation for corruption.

The president had earlier fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court order to release Yameen’s opponents.

The army appears to be supporting Yameen. On Sunday, state television showed several police and soldiers saying they were ready to sacrifice their lives “in the defence of the lawful government.”

Yameen’s supporters have shut down an independent television station.

Ex-President Nasheed’s Appeal to India 

In a Twitter post, Nasheed asked India to send an envoy, backed by its military, to release the judges and political detainees. He also urged the United States to block financial transactions of Yameen’s government.

New Delhi sent troops to the Maldives in 1988 to foil a coup, purportedly involving foreign mercenaries.

The International Reaction

The United States and India have urged Yameen to heed the court decision, but he has disregarded international calls to solve the crisis through dialogue.

China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, said the crisis should be settled internally.

The Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth, the association of former British colonies and dominions, in 2016 after being threatened with suspension for failing to show progress on democracy.

Courtesy: Voice of America

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