BY SHASHI MALLA
• Indian Aggression in Nepal’s Far West
A report in the Nepalese daily Republica (May 18, 2019) has highlighted the naked Indian aggression taking place on a daily basis in Lipulekh/Kalapani in Nepal’s far western region bordering the Indian state of Uttarkhand. This is also where Nepal, India and China’s autonomous province of Tibet converge. Nepal has not accepted the border demarcation as claimed by both India and China.
Locals have been very vociferous about the weak presence of Nepalese security forces. In fact, the police/armed police stationed there are helpless to act against the depredations from across the border. Border markers are disappearing at an alarming rate, and Indian security forces are encroaching on sovereign Nepalese territory. This is nothing more and nothing less than creeping territorial aggression by India!
The sad part is that the Communist government of Oli/Prachanda is doing nothing to contain this forceful capture by Indian security forces. Besides land capture, Indian security personnel cross the international border with impunity and needlessly and heedlessly harass Nepali citizens. It is also astounding that the main opposition Nepali Congress is failing in its duty to control the government, and is too busy with pressing intra-factional affairs. Matters of national import can, therefore, wait!
Karbir Karki, chief of the District Coordination Committee of Darchula is very clear and bitter: “There is a lack of political will. Our leaders or the government [are] not duly serious over the matter…For the people living here…it’s painful.”
The government must be goaded to act meaningfully to counter the Indian threat. It must take robust action, if need be by sending crack Nepalese troops to the north-western border to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity. After all, this is the raison d’etre of the Nepal Army. We should not be afraid of locally limited skirmishes!
• India’s Parliamentary Elections
In the final phase of India’s gargantuan parliamentary elections, which ended on May 19 (all the results will be announced this Thursday, May 23), these were greatly marred by extremist Hindu elements of PM Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi himself made a Himalayan blunder by not being able [or willing] to control these radical and fanatical elements which have run amok.
First, Modi and his BJP brazenly fielded the saffron-clad, so-called Hindu ascetic Ms.Sadhvi Pragya Thakur as its candidate in central India’s Bhopal city. This in spite of the fact that the 49-year-old was convicted on terrorism charges and was out on bail since 2017. The BJP insists there is no such thing as a ‘Hindu terrorist’ [conveniently forgetting the Tamil rebels against the Sri Lankan state, who also invented ‘suicidal bombing’], and portrays charges against her as an affront to all Hindus.
Second, Ms. Thakur stirred fresh controversy last week when she called the right-wing Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, who assassinated India’s revered independence hero and “Father of the Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi [no relation of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty] in 1948 a “patriot”. This has stirred up a hornet’s nest.
In an act of damage control, the BJP was compelled to distance itself from the comment and Thakur herself later apologized [or was forced to do so], but harm had already been done to India’s secular image.
Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of which his BJP is an integral part) is projected to win 287 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament. It is followed by 128 seats for the Congress-led opposition alliance (Voter exit poll). To form a majority government 272 seats are necessary.
However, exit polls have a mixed record in a country with an electorate of 900 people. Another poll Neta Newsx forecast Modi’s group falling 30 seats short. Modi remains personally popular, but his party’s overall majority is at risk from a backlash against his government. The BJP could lose dozens of the 282 seats it won in its 2014 landslide.
But Modi has already initiated coalition talks with possible partners and Hindu extremists are also flexing their muscles.
• European Union Elections
This Thursday, the world’s second-largest exercise in electoral democracy [the first being India’s] will begin across the European Union (EU). The United Kingdom is also participating since its departure from the EU [Brexit] has been delayed. All 751 seats of the European Parliament in Strasbourg will be up for election, representing more than 512 million people from the ‘still-for-now’ 28-member states.
National contingents range in size from 96 seats for Germany (the largest state) to the minimum six each for tiny Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta.
The main function of the EU parliament is to pass laws, working with ministers from the member states, who are collectively known as the Council. The Council approves a law if there is a qualified majority – at least 55 percent of members (16 out of 28 states) and representing at least 65 percent of the EU population.
According to “Oxford Analytica”, the rising nationalism and populism, as well as the dichotomy between the eastern and western parts of the block, could lead to an adjustment in the balance of power in Brussels (seat of the European Council and the European Commission] and Strasbourg [seat of the European Parliament]. Far-right parties are expected to strengthen their position. However, “the shift will not be decisive, leaving the next parliament highly fragmented, if distinctly more euro-federalphobe.”
• US & Iran in Shadow War
US President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US is not on a path to war with Iran amid mounting fears that his two most hawkish and senior-most cabinet members – Secretary of State (SoS) Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton –could be provoking such a conflict with the Islamic Republic Iran.
Unfortunately, for America – and the world – because of Trump’s temperament and lack of knowledge of national security, he tends to blow hot and cold. In his latest tweet on Sunday, he again threatened Iran: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again.”
Iran has been at the receiving end and has described US moves as “psychological warfare” and a “political game”. Trump has little domestic support and none at the international level for his confrontational strategy vis-à-vis Iran – with the exception of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel. Pompeo failed to sway European allies during his awkward surprise visit to Brussels on May 13.
Iran poses a particular challenge for Trump. A military confrontation with Iran could damage his closely cultivated image of keeping America out of foreign entanglements. In fact, he would be reversing his campaign pledge.
Tensions rose dramatically on May 5, when Bolton announced that the US Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier Group was rushing from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
Since then, four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia [Iran’s arch-enemy in the region] were targeted in an apparent act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea. A Saudi pipeline was also attacked by Houthi rebels from Yemen – nominally backed by Iran in the civil war against the Saudi and UAE-backed government.
The US spiraled up suspense by ordering non-essential staff out of its Baghdad embassy and also dispatched additional military assets to the region.
The Democratic members of the US Congress are not impressed with the ‘war-mongering’ of the apparently divided Trump administration, nor with the poor width and depth of information and briefings. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the failure to inform lawmakers was “part of a pattern” for the Trump administration ‘that is not right” because the power to declare war resides with Congress. She added: “I hope that the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way” against Iran.
In case of war with the US, there are acute dangers lurking in the entire region, since Iran could rally allied proxies outside of its own territory to threaten the US and its allies.
Tehran’s allies in the region are:
Hezbollah (“Party of God”) was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. Today it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran’s influence right to Israel’s northern border.
In Lebanon, the group’s power exceeds that of the Lebanese military, and along with its allies has more power than ever in the parliament and government.
Former US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffry Feltman described the armed group as revolutionary Iran’s “most successful export” and Tehran’s “multi-purpose tool”.
The Houthis of Yemen are Shiite rebels. They swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the domestic conflict on the side of the government in 2015. The civil war has since killed tens of thousands of people and generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Iraqi Shia Militias were trained, financed and equipped by Iran and battled US forces in the years after the 2003 US invasion in the “War against Terror”. They were re-mobilized to battle the Islamic State group a decade later.
These Shiite militias were incorporated into the country’s armed forces in 2016 and together number more than 140,000 fighters. They fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, but still their top brass are politically aligned with Iran.
US forces and these Shiite militias fought side-by-side against the Islamic State militants after Iraq’s parliament invited the US back into the country in 2014. However, now that this war against terrorists is largely concluded, militia leaders have called on the US to leave again. They have even threatened to expel them by force if necessary.
Hamas & Gaza Militants have long been supported by Iran, particularly the smaller Islamic Jihad group. Hamas, which rules the Gaza strip wedged in between Israel and Egypt fell out with Iran after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, losing millions of dollars in monthly assistance.
Hamas today is in severe financial and political crisis. Its employees and public servants have not been paid full salaries in years, and is at daggers drawn with the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank. It is, however, still a threatening presence on Israel’s southern border, attacking time and again with missiles [obtained probably from Iran], and raining death and destruction.
Iran has rejected Trump’s ‘genocidal’ and ominous taunts. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shot back that Trump goaded by a ‘B-Team’ “hopes to achieve what Alexander [the Great], Genghis [Khan] & other aggressors failed to do. Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors [have] all gone.”
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]