View From The Neighbourhood: A new accord

Gotabaya with brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the new cabinet in Colombo. (Agency)

As the newly-elected Sri Lankan president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was on a visit to India, the Sri Lankan press, like its Indian counterpart, assessed the bilateral relationship. The November 29 editorial in The Daily Mirror seems to place great stock in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajapaksa’s personalities, and their effect on bilateral ties. This framework of analysis, increasingly common in India as well, seems to set great store by a leader’s charisma, ideology and worldview, rather than political-economy and historical and geostrategic factors.

The editorial, for example, says that “Gotabaya Rajapaksa would no doubt touch on issues that are of concern to both nations” and “Prime Minister Modi is a man of conviction and courage”. There also appears to be a subtext in the editorial which seems to imply that the Modi government may be more “understanding” of the Rajapaksa brand of politics — presumably, its attitude towards minorities and a federal devolution of power: “He (Modi) has the backing of his people. He does what he believes is best for India, whether or not the world understands or appreciates. He would not hesitate to advocate such thinking for friends in his neighbourhood. This should not be lost on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

The thrust of the editorial is against the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord, which called for disarmament during the civil war and greater rights for Tamils, including in a federal structure: “Prime Minister Modi is not Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not President Maithripala Sirisena. There’s reason to hope that a ‘Modi-Gota’ agreement would make ‘Indo-Lanka’ something that will not feel, smell and taste bad.”

Law for the chief

Pakistan’s Supreme Court, according to the November 29 editorial in Dawn “has helped the government come out of the corner it has painted itself into”. The governments move, via a notification, to increase the term of army chief General Qamar Bajwa was challenged in the country’s apex court and threatened an impasse between the three organs of the state — the government, army and judiciary. The court, however, rescued the government by allowing an extension of six months for Bajwa. In that time, it has enjoined the legislature to come up with a suitable legislation “to determine the length of the army chief’s tenure — and the question of its extension” and rid the current legal framework of any ambiguity in this matter.

By all accounts, it appears that the government’s notion was bad in law, and framed poorly. Yet, according to the editorial, Prime Minister Imran Khan is shirking responsibility: “It is therefore disappointing to note the prime minister’s tweets blaming foreign enemies and domestic ‘mafia’ whereas the real culprit is the government’s own legal team that was unable to write a notification that could withstand judicial scrutiny.”

The editorial also argues that “given the central role played by army chiefs in Pakistan”, it is important that the law regarding the office is framed carefully, after due deliberation and with the Opposition participating. Interestingly, the editorial ends by talking of the role of institutions, which some may construe as a moral plea to General Bajwa: “This paper believes in the strength of institutions. Although the court may have felt it necessary to prevent a sudden vacuum in the army leadership, General Bajwa has been given a face-saving opportunity to decide on a course of action that will serve the interests of his institution and the system as a whole — and not that of a single individual.”

Cricket analogy

Mazher Mir, an advisor to the ASEAN council and columnist, makes an interesting — if slightly over-stretched — analogy between cricket and the state of an economy. The recent loss in the pink-ball Test form the core of his argument in The Dhaka Tribune: “The majority of Bangladeshi people do not hesitate to express their gratitude in India’s contributions to their motherland’s independence. Still, India’s disregard for the environmental impacts and creating a water crisis in Bangladesh due to building water dams have created bitter feelings against India among Bangladeshi people. This sentiment is now leaking into sports matches.”

Mir then goes on to argue that “cricket has become an indicator of how well Bangladesh has been shining for the last two decades. There are indeed many positive economic markers, but a large part of the population is dealing with chronic poverty.” India, he argues, has become a cricketing powerhouse because of private sector involvement. He argues that Bangladesh’s economy — and its cricket — needs training, education in technology to compete on the global stage. This must be taken forward, according to the article, by the private sector.

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi