Commonwealth Speakers’ Conference, 20th
The 20th Commonwealth Speakers’ Conference was held in New Delhi from January 5,
2010. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Describing the growth of regional parties as a challenge for governance and
conduct of parliamentary democracy, Mr Manmohan Singh said: “Though the
aspirations of smaller parties may often be anchored in narrow considerations,
they carry great weight for their constituents. In the end, democracy must
respond to everyday concerns of the common man and Parliament should be the
forum to address such concerns.” The remark was in obvious reference to the
growing influence of sub-regional parties in coalition politics and Parliament.
Presiding officers from 42 Commonwealth nations were present (some in
traditional Speaker robes). The Conference discussed, among other things, the
Speaker’s role as a mediator and administrator of Parliament and use of
technology in disseminating information on Parliamentary proceedings.
The forum also saw India voicing the aspirations of developing nations on
international conference on Afghanistan was held on January 27, 2010 in London.
Seventy Foreign Ministers and officials of international organisations attended
the convention at the 185-year-old Lancaster House.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hosting the conference with Afghan
President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, announced in his
opening address the establishment of a $500 million 'trust fund' to buy "peace
and integration" with warriors who are engaged in violence for economic rather
than ideological reasons. A whopping $140 million has been pledged already for
During his pre-conference discussion with the British Foreign Secretary David
Miliband, External Affairs Minister of India, S.M. Krishna, specifically said,
“there should be no distinction between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban.” But
this clearly fell on deaf ears. The participants rejected India's argument that
there were no degrees of Talibanism.
It was also unclear whether remnants of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, once
cultivated by India, would be accommodated in any way. There was also no
reference to the erstwhile Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who put up a
spirited fight in the first round of the recent controversial Presidential
election and exposed fraud before withdrawing from the contest.
Pakistan supports a differentiation between Taliban segments, including being
generally soft towards the Afghan Taliban, which was sponsored by the Pakistani
Army's Inter-Services Intelligence.
As a goodwill gesture, the conference was preceded by a lifting of United
Nations sanctions on five leaders of the obscurantist Taliban regime, which was
ousted by armed forces led by the United States after the 9/11 attack on New
York by the Afghanistan-based Al Qaida. Among the beneficiaries is a former
foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil.
In keeping with United States President Barack Obama's plan to start withdrawing
American troops in a little over 18 months, Brown also declared that to fill the
breach the strength of the Afghan army would be increased to 134,000 by October
2010 and to 171,600 by October 2011. Corresponding enlargements would also occur
in respect of the Afghan police. The template for Afghanistan is similar to the
one utilised in Iraq.
The Taliban central leadership rejected the London declaration on Afghanistan
while several top Pakistani leaders said they support dialogue with the Taliban
to end the conflict.
The statement by the Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
issued in Pashto said: “The US and its allies should have freed all prisoners
from jails in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, removed the
names of all Taliban members from the UN ‘blacklist’ and refrained from sending
more troops if they really meant to take the proper steps for ending the Afghan
The statement argued that the ‘Mujahideen’ were not fighting for money or to
grab power. Describing as baseless that most Taliban fighters were not
ideologically committed, it claimed that nobody compelled the ‘Mujahideen’ to
take up arms and fight the invaders.
Accusing President Obama and Prime Minister Brown of trying to deceive their
people by organising conferences on Afghanistan like the one in London to win
public support for a failed war, the statement reminded that such conferences
did not work in the past and would not succeed this time as well.
Arguing that the only solution of the conflict was the withdrawal of foreign
forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban statement also tried to reassure the West
and rest of the world about their future plans in case they returned to power.
Rajapaksa re-elected President
On January 27, 2010, Mahinda Rajapska emerged victorious in the bitterly-fought
first post-LTTE era Presidential elections. He won fighting against former army
chief Sarath Fonseka, securing nearly 60 per cent of the total votes polled.
On 59-year-old Fonseka's charges of poll rigging, the sources said it was
"absolutely untrue" and pointed out that even former Prime Minister and
opposition UNP chief Ranil Wicremasinghe had given a clean chit on the issue.
Biodiversity protocol divides rich and developing world
An international protocol on biodiversity has become the new bone of contention
between the developed and developing countries. The rich countries are opposing
an international legal framework for use of biological resources.
The agreement will deal with the issue of bio-piracy, which is a cause of
concern for countries like India. Negotiations are on to finalize the protocol
that is expected to be adopted at Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.
India and other developing countries are pushing for a protocol on access and
benefit sharing (ABS). Bio-piracy is an important issue for India, which is keen
on the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992, is the first comprehensive global agreement addressing all
aspects of biodiversity. The convention reaffirms sovereign rights of nations
over their biological resources. It has three main goals — the conservation of
biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable
sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.
While an international legal framework appears to be a distant possibility,
India has been taking steps at the national and bilateral level to protect its
biodiversity. Besides the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and the national
Biodiversity Authority, India has also put in place a traditional knowledge
database — the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). Managed by the CSIR,
TKDL is a computerised database of documented information available in Indian
texts, relating to Indian systems of medicine. Over 10 years, more than 2 lakh
formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Yoga have been documented under the
Natural disasters not linked to global warming
The United Nations climate science panel, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), faces a new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to a
rise in natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. It based the claims on
an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny
and ignored warnings from scientific advisers. The report's author later
withdrew the claim because the evidence was too weak.
The link was central to demands at Copenhagen climate summit by African nations
for compensation of $100 billion from the rich nations blamed for creating the
most emissions. According to The Sunday Times the IPCC knew in 2008 that the
link could not be proved but did not alert world leaders.
The latest criticism came less than a week after IPCC was forced to retract
claims that the Himalayan glaciers would be largely melted by 2035. It turned
out the claim had been lifted from a news report published in 1999 by New
Two scientific reviewers who checked drafts of the IPCC report urged greater
caution in proposing a link between climate change and disaster impacts, but
The paper at the centre of the latest questions was written in 2006 by Robert
Muir-Wood, head of research at Risk Management Solutions, a London consultancy,
who became a contributing author on the IPCC report on climate change impacts.
In the research, Muir-Wood looked at a wide range of hazards, including tropical
cyclones, floods and hurricanes. He found from 1950 to 2005 there was no
increase in the impact of disasters once growth was accounted for. For 1970 to
2005 he found a 2% annual increase that "corresponded with a period of rising
global temperatures," but said almost all of it was due to strong hurricane
seasons in 2004 and 2005. Despite such caveats, the IPCC report used the study
in its section on disasters and hazards, but cited only the 1970-2005 results.
Google, China face-off over Internet
On January 13, 2010, Google threatened to shut down its operations in China
after uncovering “highly sophisticated” hacking attempts into e-mail accounts of
Chinese human rights activists.
“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered, combined with the
attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web, have led us
to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in
China,” David Drummond, senior V-P of corporate development and chief legal
officer, said in a blog post.
“We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on
Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese
government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine
within the law, if at all,” he said.
Evidence indicated that the attackers were trying to get access to mail accounts
of Chinese human rights activists, according to Drummond. At least 20 other
large companies, including finance, Internet, media and technology were
similarly attacked, according to Google.
Taliban attack on match in tribal Pakistan
A northwest Pakistani village that tried to resist Taliban infiltration mourned
on January 2, 2010 the victims of an apparent revenge suicide bombing that
killed 96 residents during a volleyball game. The attack on the outskirts of
Lakki Marwat city was one of the deadliest in recent Pakistani history and sent
a bloody New Year’s message to Pakistanis who dare take on the armed Islamic
Lakki Marwat district is near South Waziristan, a tribal region where the army
has been battling the Pakistani Taliban since October 2009.
Across Pakistan’s north-west, where the police force is thin, underpaid and
under-equipped, various tribes have taken security into their own hands over the
past two years by setting up citizen militias to fend off the Taliban. The
government has encouraged such “lashkars”, and in some areas they have proven to
be a key to reducing militant activity. Still, tribal leaders who face off with
the militants do so at high personal risk. Several suicide attacks have targeted
meetings of anti-Taliban elders, and militants also often go after individuals.
One reason militancy has spread in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt is
because insurgents have slain dozens of tribal elders and filled a power vacuum.
In a candid assessment of the fragile relationship of USA with Pakistan, a US
State department policy paper has admitted that there is a degree of mistrust
between Washington and Islamabad, but democratic rule in Pakistan has created a
window of opportunity. The report makes a point of noting that while the US
military presence in the region is not open-ended, its non-military commitment
would be a long-term one.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the Obama administration's strategy
to stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan, noting that the challenge in both
countries is immense.
US officials have expressed concern over Pakistan's selective war on extremists
within its borders, noting the Pakistani army's offensive ignores deadly
terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network, responsible for attacks against US
troops in Afghanistan.
The State department report outlines US objectives in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"While our combat mission in Afghanistan is not open-ended, we will remain
politically, diplomatically and economically engaged in Afghanistan and Pakistan
for the long-term to protect our enduring interests in the region," it says. On
Pakistan, it lays out the intention of USA to lead the international community
in helping Pakistan overcome the political, economic and security challenges
that threaten its stability, and in turn undermine regional stability. "And we
seek to build a long-term partnership with Pakistan based on common interests,
including a recognition that we cannot tolerate, a safe haven for terrorists
whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," it added.
"Achieving progress will require continued sacrifice not only by our military
personnel, but also by more than the 1,500 US government civilians serving in
Afghanistan and Pakistan," Clinton said, pointing out that for the first time
since this conflict began, the US has a true whole-of-government approach. She
said the Obama administration's policy, rather than being an exercise in
nation-building, was aimed to achieve realistic progress in critical areas, and
that Afghan and Pakistani governments had endorsed this strategy.
On January 1, 2010, China and 10 South-east Asian nations ushered in the world’s
third-largest free-trade area. While many industries are eager for tariffs to
fall on things as diverse as textiles, rubber, vegetable oils and steel, a few
are nervously waiting to see whether the agreement will mean boom or bust for
Trade between China and the 10 countries that make up the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, also known as ASEAN, has soared to $192.5 billion in
2008, from $59.6 billion in 2003. The new free-trade zone, which will remove
tariffs on 90% of traded goods, is expected to increase that commerce still
The zone ranks behind only the European Economic Area and the North American
Free Trade Area (NAFTA) in volume. It encompasses 1.9 billion people. The
free-trade area is expected to help ASEAN countries increase exports,
particularly those with commodities that resource-hungry China desperately
The China-ASEAN free trade area has faced less vocal opposition than the
European and North American zones, perhaps because tariffs were already low and
because it was unlikely to alter commerce patterns radically. However, some
manufacturers in Southeast Asia are concerned that cheap Chinese goods may flood
their markets, once import taxes are removed, making it more difficult for them
to retain or increase local market shares.