BY P. KHAREL
Almost a fortnight after Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi paid a visit to Nepal basically to offer congratulations to his Nepalese counterpart K.P. Oli, the event continues figuring in conversations in the capital city’s political and diplomatic circuits. The last exclusively bilateral visit by a Pakistani premier was in 1994.
The visit could not be compared with that of the Indian External Affirs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s in February. Abbassi’s programme had an upgraded status befitting a prime ministerin marked contrast to the Swaraj trip. The Pakistani leader became not only the first foreign head of government to visit Nepal’s first elected premier after the local, provincial and general elections held under a new constitution.
MEASURE: Swaraj’s trip was taken as a modest show of mercy from a big neighbour that is accused by many of bullying and trying to thrust on its small, peace-pursuing neighbour a host of conditions which would compromise the characteristics of an independent, sovereign nation. Abbassi’s gesture could be Islamabad’s indication of taking a more pro-active diplomatic presence in the region in the days ahead.
The range of topics that figured when Abbassi met with the host country’s 38th premier included SAARC Summit Conference, as Nepal is the current chair of the world’s most-populous regional grouping whereas Swaraj’s visit did not have any formal agendas. According to the Foreign Ministry, “During the meeting [between Nepalese and Pakistani sides] matters related to enchancing bilateral cooperation in the fields of investment, trade, tourism, agriculture and human resources development were discussed.”
In short, Islamabad is giving a significant signal to Kathmandu and the rest of South Asia that it is keen in conducting a more pro-active diplomacy with a higher degree of visibility in the South Asian neighbourhood. This comes at a time when Islamabad’s ties with China, the world’s No. 2 economy, is geared to be strengthened against the background of the United States suspending its traditionally routine military aid to Islamabad while Beijing is enthusaistically extending and expanding massive financial and infrastructral investments in that nuclear-weapons country.
Oli’s gesturein deputing Finance Minister Dr.Yubaraj Khatiwadato receive Abbassi at Tribhuvan International Airport might not have been lost on the Pakistani leader. Khatiwada, after all, is one of the most trusted members in his cabinet, seen as a loyal lieutenant with brains too.It is not for nothing that the UML chief picked a fellow supporter from his home district of Jhapa for a job coveted by several ambitious leaders within the (CPN) UML-Maoist Centre conbine. Moreover, communicating clearly and confidently is an asset for creating a congenial atmosphere.
With the United States suspending military aid to Pakistan for “not doing” enough against the Taliban militants in Afghanistan, and the next world No. 1 economy China forging economic ties with Pakistan on a dazzling fast track while Russia shows eager interest in accelerating cooperation, Pakistan can be seen as an emerging player in not only the Gulf region and Central Asia but also South Asia.
The scenario might not be seen in advance, as usual, in Kathmandu, but the powers that be have begun anticipating it and reinventings strategies to face with the inevitable in the shift of economic muscles. For public consumption, the US makes vain efforts at equating India with China as an economic powerhouse. At a time when Indonesia is likely to shed its cast as a developing country and join the ranks of emerging economy within a foreseeable future, India too could make an economic headway at a more vigorous pace.
India, however, is many decades behind China as a military might and world economic engine. The business and political news space that the international mdia accord China vis-à-vis India tells its own story. One wonders how the American analysts, engaged in putting China and India in the same category in terms of economic status, would present the US when China overtakes it as the No. 1 economy.
Why so many words on Chinese economy? Well, Islamabad seems to be in for yet faster pace of cooperation with Beijing while the presently larger economy India is lost between Washington’s politicalagendas and Beijing’s measured but highly successful economic indicators. New Delhi’s heart goes for Washington while its head holds for China.
Prior to the Pakistani premier’s visit, rather than foreign ministry being allowed to take its due role, it was UML’s Secretary Pradip Poudyal who briefed the press about the impending event to contragulate Oli and discuss the long-delayed SAARC Summit conference whose 19th edition Pakistan is to host.
THE TEPLITZ POSE: In another instance, an otherwise routine and boring photo credited to “PM’s Private Secretariat” was distributed to the press, showing US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz calling on Oli on March 2. Madam Ambassador is seen in a pose placing her legs one over the other, which is something not done in Nepal’s court of law, parliament and even when meeting ministers and senior officials in Nepal. What do we call this: Diplomatic permissiveness against the advice “When in Nepal, do as the Nepalis do”.
One hopes it is not thedawn showing the rest of the Oli’s day(s) in office.