• Wednesday 21st August 2019

Hanoi and after, Imran aces Modi and Guaido’s gamble

  • Published on: March 6, 2019



  • NEW YORK , NY : After the abrupt collapse of the Hanoi summit between American President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un there has been the usual dump of self-congratulatory ‘I told you so’ commentary in political, academic and journalistic circles.

    Much more noteworthy, however, is that a consensus has coalesced around the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ theme – one hard to fault. Additionally, I thought the pre-summit observations of South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, a Trump ally, were pretty on-the-ball.

    NO DEAL/BAD DEAL

    Among those were (a) his claim that it was Trump’s strong tactics that pushed North Korea to the negotiating table in the first place and that (b) the Hanoi palavers represented “our last, best chance to end the nuclear conflict with North Korea on peaceful terms.”

    Among those that most anxiously pondered the consequences of the abortive summit were South Korea and Japan: there was some disarray in Seoul and, in Tokyo, a sense of relief.

    The U.S. and South Korea have announced that their military drills are to resume. Yet, on close scrutiny, it seems those military exercises have been pared back suggesting that the United States and South Korea wish to maintain the relaxed tensions that have prevailed around the peninsula since the beginning of 2018.

    In other words, they seem to be keeping the door open for further dialogue, especially if the current North Korean missile and nuclear-test moratorium holds. While the world will certainly be keeping a close watch on further developments in North Korea, it is almost certain that before another U.S.-North Korea summit, Kim will engage in extensive consultations with the South Korean and Chinese leadership.

    Though only time will tell if there will be more Trump Kim jawboning before the 2020 American presidential elections, I found the reasoning, as media explained, behind the selection of Hanoi as the venue for the second summit enormously enlightening.

    Washington agreed to Hanoi as venue because (a) Vietnam, like North Korea, was/is an authoritarian state that even went to war with the United States and (b) today’s Vietnam is a showcase of how it has progressed on the development/ economic front, by, among other factors, jettisoning its military ambitions and cultivating friendly relations with former adversary, America.

    One does not have access to the rationale behind Kim’s decision to travel to Vietnam not by jet but via a 60-hour plus train journey through a north-south corridor through China. Yet, I think it could have reference to Kim’s desire to glimpse for himself the spectacular development, including in the boondocks, that China has achieved in recent decades.

    Although Trump’s domestic woes were embarrassingly advertised via global television during his most heady moments in Hanoi, he has come home to confront a veritable wall of assorted political-legal problems that has, once again, begin to stir a debate on whether he might be impeached before the 2020 elections.

    IMRAN ACES MODI

    This column’s readership, I am sanguine, is familiar with the highlights of the recent flare up between India and Pakistan after an aerial dogfight between Indian and Pakistan fighter aircraft over/near the skies over the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir.

    Given space constraints, here I wish to focus only on a few telling aspects of the episode that I maintain merit pointed attention, including in Nepal. On the basis of a fairly wide survey of media reports on the subject, it is clear that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, a Johnny-come-lately political maverick, has aced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the wily, vastly experienced political leader with a silver tongue.

    Khan’s prompt offer to return the Indian pilot of the Soviet-era Mig-21 who was shot down over Pakistan and his reiteration for a dialogue with India stood out against Modi’s chauvinist bombast.

    The net result, as far as international optics are concerned, is that Imran came across as the cool and collected statesman, while Modi’s image was that of a jingoist. It was, it may be noted, India that triggered the air battle between Indian and Pakistani warplanes in nearly five decades; Pakistan’s action in sending her warplanes into Indian airspace, the following day, was perceived as defensive.

    India could not down a single Pakistani aircraft, no matter what the Indian media or her officials had to say. It was Pakistan that not only downed an Indian warplane but Pakistan which came out as more humane by her prompt return of the downed pilot.

    Moreover, everyone knows that it is Modi – not Imran – who is facing the challenge of general elections. It is Modi who needs to grandstand proclaiming that India is in his safe hands.

    Clearly, if such thinking drove the Indian government’s calculation, it has horribly back-fired.

    There are, of course, many other related ramifications, including how the Indian military, and Air Force in particular, compares to Pakistan’s, a country whose military is half its size and receives only a quarter of the funding that goes into the Indian military machine.

    That aside, there is also the tantalizing question of whether the United States can in fact depend on India as a partner in countering a rising and assertive China when New Delhi’s military capability does not even match that of a much smaller Pakistan.

    GUAIDO’S GAMBLE

    Last week, this column described Venezuela as teetering on the abyss’s edge. At the time of writing, the interim president and opposition leader Juan Guaido is poised to return to Venezuela which he departed recently to embark on a tour of Latin American countries sympathetic to his cause.

    He has also called for demonstrations against the Nicolas Mudaro regime to coincide with his return – an act which could precipitate a direct confrontation with Maduro who will face the choice of whether to arrest Guaido or let the challenge to his authority to continue unimpeded.

    We shall see what comes to pass.

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