MORNING NEWS BRIEF: 10 APRIL
PICTURE OF THE DAY
A screen with an image and a message about Britain’s Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, at Piccadilly Circus after he died at the age of 99.
Russia makes a power play in South Asia
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited India and Pakistan this week, underscoring Moscow’s growing clout in South Asia. Russia’s recent influence in the region includes its mediation of border talks between India and China and its increasing role in an Afghan peace process with major Pakistani involvement. Lavrov’s first stop was New Delhi. Russia and India forged a strong friendship during the Cold War, but it has lost momentum in the last decade as each side has strengthened ties with the other’s rival: India with the United States and Russia with China. Strikingly, Lavrov didn’t meet with Modi this week. Indian media reports suggest the Indian government was unhappy that Lavrov’s trip to India was combined with one to Pakistan. Another theory goes that Washington urged New Delhi not to have Modi meet Lavrov.
Buddhist monks and security issues set to derail Lanka polls
While there is pressure on Sri Lanka from India and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold the long-delayed Provincial Council (PC) elections, there are a number political factors preventing the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government from holding the polls in the foreseeable future. Government ministers have said that the polls could be held at the end of 2021. But that seems more and more unlikely with every passing day. Firstly, the delimitation of constituencies for holding elections under the First Past the Post System remains a highly contested issue. The Delimitation Commission’s report had been defeated in parliament in 2018 and it is unlikely that another report will have safe passage. The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is itself divided on its recommendations. Of course, Parliament can resolve to use the existing district-wise Proportional Representation System and hold the polls. But for this, there ought to be a will to hold the elections. The fact is, there is no will.
Myanmar junta refuses UN envoy visit as post-coup bloodshed continues
Myanmar’s junta refused on Friday to let a UN envoy visit the country, despite mounting international efforts for a diplomatic solution to the post-coup crisis. The UN’s special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, is on a tour of Asian countries aimed at charting a path out of the turmoil engulfing the country. The decision was announced amid heightened international concern surrounding events in Myanmar, rocked by daily protests since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on February 1. Burgener starts her trip in Thailand and will also visit China, though exact details and timings for her trip have not been confirmed. UN officials say Burgener wants to travel to Myanmar for face-to-face meetings with the generals, but a junta spokesman ruled it out.
India irked by US 'freedom of navigation operation' near its border
India on Friday objected to a US Navy ship conducting a “freedom of navigation” operation in its exclusive economic zone without its prior consent. "We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the government of USA through diplomatic channels,’’ Associated Press quoted Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi as saying. The US 7th Fleet said on Wednesday that the USS John Paul Jones “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands inside India’s exclusive economic zone without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”
Bhutan, China agree to maintain border peace and stability
China and its Himalayan neighbor Bhutan agreed to continue to maintain peace and stability in the border areas before the final settlement of the China-Bhutan boundary issues, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday. Chinese experts said that the meeting shows Bhutan's willingness to manage border affairs independently, rebutting India's claims of "China threat," and reducing the risk on its eastern China-India border. The agreement was reached during the 10th China-Bhutan expert group meeting on boundary issues in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, from Tuesday to Friday. Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Hong Liang led the Chinese group.
After Ayodhya, another mosque-temple dispute brews in India’s UP
A court in India’s Uttar Pradesh state has passed an order related to a dispute over a centuries-old mosque and a temple situated next to each other – a case reminiscent of a similar and bloody dispute in another temple town, controversially resolved in 2019. The court in Varanasi town on Thursday directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to find out whether the centuries-old Gyanvapi Mosque “standing at present at the ‘disputed site’ is a superimposition, alteration or addition, or there is a structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any other religious structure”, effectively meaning the adjacent Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The court’s decision followed petitions filed by right-wing Hindu groups which claimed that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb demolished a portion of the temple to build the mosque in the 17th century.
Netanyahu's Unexpected Legacy
Israel experienced a tectonic shift in its politics last month. For the first time in its history, an Arab party is considered as a legitimate partner in forming a governing coalition. And the shift came from the most unlikely direction—Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu wants his legacy to focus on peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, or having the entire population vaccinated against COVID-19. He will already be remembered as the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, and its most corrupt. But in the end, Netanyahu’s legacy is also an unlikely one. He is the leader who legitimized the Arab vote in Israel.