A dispute between India and Pakistan, Nepal gets a new constitution and the latest from Indonesia.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan remain at loggerheads over the division of Kashmir, the mountainous, Muslim-majority territory that Pakistan claims in its entirety. But hundreds of miles to the south of Kashmir lies a small stretch of salty marsh that for years has also been battered by a tit-for-tat tussle between the two countries. Local fishermen on both sides of the border are the unwitting victims of this lesser-known territorial dispute over Sir creek.
The small stretch of water opens up into the Arabian sea and divides Pakistan’s Sindh province from the Indian state of Gujarat. Local people on both sides of the divide eek out a basic living fishing the waters in narrow wooden boats, usually powered by an engine salvaged from an ancient motorbike.
Pollution and depleted fishing stocks are increasingly forcing the fishermen to stray deeper into disputed waters, where the sheer strength of the wind can blow small boats onto the wrong side of the unmarked boundary. Transgressors are frequently scooped up by the maritime authorities of the rival country and sent to prison. In the first three months of this year, 44 Pakistani fishermen were picked up by the Indian authorities for trespassing. According to the obsessive reciprocity that governs relations between the two nations, the jailed men only get to go home when the two governments can orchestrate an exchange. There are currently 125 Pakistani fishermen being held in Indian prisons and 230 Indian fishermen serving Pakistani custody, according to the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
What was once a comparatively unimportant strip of water has been talked up as a potential source of shale gas, though exploration has yet to begin. Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist party bjp and the man likely to become India’s next prime minister, has repeatedly called for those potential energy reserves to be fully exploited, a move that would likely raise tensions with Pakistan.
For those on both sides of the border who make their living fishing Sir creek, the dispute is baffling. Mohammad Ali Shah, chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, freely describes the Indian fishermen as brothers and has called for small fishing boats from both sides of the border to be allowed to work the waters freely. “The dispute between the two governments is a political argument but the fisherman are the victims,” he says.
Eight years after its civil war ended, Nepal is inching towards a long-promised new constitution. Despite wrangling between the Nepali Congress (NC) party and its Unified Marxist Leninist coalition partners, NC prime minister Sushil Koirala (pictured) has pledged to deliver the constitution by next February.
Koirala has made changes he hopes will fast-track the drafting process. The Constitutional Assembly, which serves as both parliament and drafting body, has reduced the total number of committees and removed the procedural rule that previously required an absolute majority before any drafts could reach the Assembly.
“Given the unpredictable nature of Nepali politics, next February is still possible – 70 to 80 per cent of the technical work is already complete,” says Dr George Varughese, Nepal representative of the Asia Foundation.
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