BY M. R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: Just as yours faithfully was attempting to wrap his head around myriad aspects of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s now-concluded three-day visit to India, he came across a startling report on the Swadeshnepal.com website about his meeting at the Nepalese Embassy reception, on the day of his arrival there, with Karma T. Gyalsten, reportedly a ‘Free Tibet’ advocate and representative of the Dalai Lama.
The news story, accessed on the Internet, apart from its detailed reportage, carried two evocative photographs showing a beaming Oli and a pleased-as-Punch Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali being greeted by Gyalsten, who, one is informed, not only shuttles frequently between Nepal and India but enjoys an intimate relationship with Oli.
Be that as it may, Gyalsten not merely offered a welcoming ‘khada’ to Oli and Gyawali but also to Maoist bigwig Dina Nath Sharma accompanying the prime minister. Apart from the tell-it-all snapshots, Swadeshnepal.com informs its readership that Gyalsten posted 36 photographs of the occasion on Facebook – an assertion which, if correct, makes it impossible for anyone to deny that such an encounter ever took place.
Before proceeding any further into this intriguing saga, apparently enacted within the capacious compound of the Nepalese Embassy, it must be pointed out that it could not have unfolded sans prior official sanction from Kathmandu.
Indeed, much as one may suspect that Indian officialdom may somehow have been behind this Machiavellian plot to undermine Oli’s standing in Beijing, there is no way that Singha Durbar and/or Baluwatar can be absolved of responsibility in so brazenly and recklessly subverting a key staple of Nepal’s traditional China policy: that Tibet is an integral component of the People’s Republic of China.
What makes matters even more perplexing is that this blatant anti-China gambit should have taken place in an India that has, for sometime now, been perceived as bending backwards in placating a puissant Beijing, including that by lowering the Dalai Lama/Tibet dimension of its China policy, as discussed in a previous column.
[However, I should add the so-called “softening” of India’s China policy is somewhat belied by a report in The South Asian Times, of New York, informing of the forthcoming India-US-Japan Dialogue in New Delhi and of the recent visit to Tokyo of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to co-chair the ninth India-Japan Strategic Dialogue with her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono.]
Compounding the conundrum is that, as news reports go, Oli is purportedly paying an official visit to China soon – if, that is, it is not now scrapped!
In the circumstances elaborated above, I find it extremely riveting that, among other public assertions vis-à-vis Oli’s Delhi yatra, it takes place against Indian Foreign Secretary Gokhale’s pointed disclosure that China did not figure in any form in official bilateral talks during the visit.
To me, the suggested logical sub-text to Gokhale’s rather uncommon admission – against the backcloth of the controversy referred to above – is this: “if Nepal’s relations with China now plunge, don’t blame India!”
If that were to happen, ironically enough during “pro-China” Oli’s second prime ministerial innings, naturally India would be the beneficiary, at least in the near term.
To revert to the “free-Tibet” angle, one would be remiss in not recalling – as the Swadeshnepal.com story rightly does – that a similar controversy dogged NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba when, as prime minister, he participated in an India Foundation conference in Goa in October 2016 and met “Prime Minister, Lobsang Sangay” of the so-called “Tibetan government-in- exile.”
Then, too, a huge controversy ballooned; Deuba denied the tête-à-tête but photographs on social media proved otherwise. At that time, as Swdeshnepal.com recalls, one of the most strident public critics of Deuba’s action was none other than former foreign minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, of the UML!
In any case, until the political and diplomatic fallout of the radioactive Oli/Galysten encounter is ascertained – in Nepal, China and India – any further discussion of Oli’s much-heralded “historic” visit to India will be premature, if not possibly irrelevant.
Meanwhile, in the United States there is no dearth of significant developments unfolding in the political, economic and diplomatic realms – an attribute not merely to America’s status as the sole or prime Hyper Power but also to President Trump’s unfailing propensity to generate news.
At the time of writing, Trump says that he will be making a decision on
Syria in a day or two, while blaming a reported chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of Syrians and sickened hundreds in Douma, the rebel-held suburb of Damascus, on Russia and Iran – which back the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is noteworthy that almost a year ago, after a sarin gas attack in Syria killed more than 80 civilians, he ordered a US military strike on a Syrian airfield, just 63 hours later. While both Russia and Iran staunchly deny the charge, the plot, so to speak, has thickened by the April 9 attack on a Syrian airbase by Israeli jets, although, initially, Damascus blamed the United States for the same.
Earlier in the week, the big story revolved around Trump’s announcement that he would order the military to guard parts of the border with Mexico until he can build a wall and eliminate immigration law loopholes, proposing an escalation of his efforts to crack down on migrants entering the country illegally.
On the ‘trade war’ front, between the US and China, meanwhile, three things, in particular, are striking: one, that American officials appear to back off from the brink; two, that the dispute at this stage is seemingly more of threats than of actual action; and three, that the rhetoric has impacted negatively on the once surging stock market.
More promising are reports that the preparations for a US-North Korea summit towards the end of May are on track, though details are – understandably – scarce on the ground.