BY SHASHI MALLA
• Vested Interests attack Nepal Army for Commercial Undertakings
In what appears to be a concerted effort by vested interests to stop the Nepal Army from utilizing its welfare funds in commercial enterprises, critical opinion pieces have appeared in two of the Kathmandu Valley’s English broadsheets last Saturday.
“The Himalayan Times” [THT] wrote under its banner headline on page 1: “Nepal Army is once again trying to seek government permission to engage in profit-making commercial activities, drawing criticism from former army officials and civil society members who say the institution created to protect and defend Nepal should not veer away from its primary responsibility.”
“The Kathmandu Post [TKP] since some time in a new modern make-up, also wrote in a similar vein on page 1: “Despite mounting criticism that the Nepal Army is increasingly getting involved in commercial activities not befitting the armed forces, the national defence force is amending the “Nepal Army Act” to allow it to invest in commercial ventures as a promoter, furthering its entry into business.”
Another English daily in the Valley “Republica”, also carried the army news, but only on page 3 under the headline: “Army Welfare Fund now plans to invest in pharmaceuticals, hydropower”, but in a more neutral, positive tone: “The army defended [its initiative in the business sector] that the revenue generated from such a venture [would be] spent for the wellbeing of both serving and retired military personnel.”
On the face of it, it does seem that vested interests are attempting to stop/pre-empt the army’s foray into the business sector. It is after all trying to utilize its sizable welfare funds which are largely lying idle. It is a kind of ‘dog in the manger’ attitude by implacable opponents.
Then there is the sham solicitous argument that the Nepal Army would be neglecting its prime duty of defending the nation. In a globalized world, our Army has also to march with the times, and its core duty is not only narrow defence, but ‘national security’, which is a much more broad-based concept. If it is willing and able to serve in other areas of national concern, so be it.
• India Revokes Kashmir’s Special Status
The semi-autonomous Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has since the independence of India and Pakistan, consisted of four politico-geographical regions:
– Ladakh towards the east and north-east bordering China’s Tibet autonomous region; Buddhist majority
– Jammu in the south, bordering the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, as well as Pakistan proper; Hindu majority
– Kashmir Valley with the capital Srinagar towards the west bordering “Azad Kashmir”/‘Pakistan administered Kashmir’ (PAK); Muslim majority
– Baltistan areas towards the north bordering Gilgit/Baltistan (PAK) and Xinjiang
Gilgit/Baltistan and a part of Kashmir are under Pakistan control.
The Aksai Chin plateau in eastern Ladakh is claimed by India, but is under Chinese control. Here a strategic mountain road connects Tibet to Xinjiang.
A small slice of territory of the former princely state in Gilgit/Baltistan – the Shaksgam Valley — bordering Xinjiang/China has already been ceded by Pakistan to China.
Three of the world’s highest mountains are situated in Gilgit/Baltistan [ K 2, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum] and Pakistan’s Karakorum Highway traverses this region, crossing the Karakorum mountain range at the Khunjerab Pass (4700 m.) – a vital part of Sino-Pakistani economic cooperation.
The Siachen glacier between Baltistan/PAK, Xinjiang and northern Ladakh is disputed between India and Pakistan. Here the militaries of the two countries face-off under very harsh, artic conditions in the highest combat zone on earth.
The Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Kashmir [Indian administered Kashmir/IAK & PAK] are separated by the “Line of Control” (LOC), which is the de facto border between the two countries; the “Line of Actual Control” separates Ladakh proper from Aksai Chin. In this hotchpotch of geographical regions, political affiliations, religion and culture, it appears that PM Narendra Modi has made a surgical incision to breathe new life in a very troubled region. It remains to be seen whether he follows up with non-discriminatory actions, and whether the latest legal/administrative measures will lead to actual, sustained development in all the sub-regions.
On August 5, 2019, the Government of India introduced the “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill” in the Rajya Sabha or upper house and moved a resolution to create two new Union territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh – the first with a legislature (like the capital union territory of Delhi) and Ladakh (without one, like Chandigarh).
This means the death-knell of the Indian state of “Jammu & Kashmir”. However, it had already long-ceased to exist as such. India’s Narendra Modi has now presented the region and the world with a fait accompli. It was like the former state of “Yugoslavia” after the death of Marshall Tito – the push and pulls of the various constituent states were just too much to remain a cohesive whole.
In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, the vested and national interests of the countries involved – India, Pakistan and China — are too entrenched for them to budge from their established positions, and a lot of water has already passed under the Indus bridge. From the point of view of realpolitik, perpetual peace can only be achieved by the recognition of the status quo by all parties concerned, i.e. the acceptance of the current de facto borders [Line of Control/Line of Actual Control] as the international borders.
Calling for “maximum restraint” by all sides, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres indicated the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved bilaterally in keeping with the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and by peaceful means in accordance with the UN Charter. Pakistan had sought UN and UN Security Council intervention, but it appears to have not achieved its objectives. In the meantime, it has also unilaterally ruled out any military option.
Last Thursday, Modi hailed his government’s action as a “historic decision” that would bring peace to the region. He also claimed that till date, Kashmir’s special status [i.e. in IAK] had “not given anything other than terrorism, separatism, nepotism and big corruption.” But with IAK now fully part of the Indian Union, the region would enjoy more jobs, less corruption and red-tape, he said, adding that key infrastructure projects would be expedited.
Modi’s future course of action will decide whether India remains secular and progressive, democratic and pluralistic.
China’s take can be described as ‘greatly concerned, but studiously non-committal’. During an emergency visit by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last Friday in Beijing, his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi underlined: “China will continue to firmly support Pakistan in safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and continue to preside over justice for Pakistan on the international stage.”
But he also said China was “seriously concerned” about the recent escalation of the situation [internally in Kashmir, or bilaterally between India and Pakistan !?], and called for dialogue between Pakistan and India to maintain peace in South Asia.” Wang also underscored that both India and Pakistan were “friendly neighbours” of China and discouraged unilateral action by either party.
Wang also met his Indian colleague, S. Jaishankar over three days Sunday to Tuesday. This is one smart fellow and a fluent Mandarin speaker at that. Sino-Indian relations have long been characterized by deep-seated mutual mistrust, aggravated by the legacy of the 1962 border war, India’s tolerance of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and China’s close relations to India’s regional rival and Australia.
New Delhi has been very circumspect about Beijing’s steady rise as a great power, strengthening its economic, military and diplomatic muscle in all parts of the world and making inroads even into South Asia, which it regards as its strategic backyard.
China, on its part, has been apprehensive about India’s possible role in the US “Indo-Pacific Strategy” and also its perceived proximity to the US, Japan and Australia in building the kernel of a viable ‘Quadruple Alliance’, which can only be perceived by Beijing as ‘containment’ policy.
• Other South Asian Developments
• Afghanistan Presidential Election Doubtful with US & Taliban inching toward Deal
Afghanistan faces a presidential election in September but this is in doubt as the United States and the militant, oppositional Islamic Taliban are close to a deal that could end the nearly 18-year-long war, but could bring great uncertainty to everything else in the country.
The Taliban is hell bent on disrupting the election, and the atmosphere is surreal with the Taliban and other anti-government Islamist terrorist organizations carrying out both targeted and indiscriminate bombings and killings. Only two weeks back, the Taliban attacked the party office of incumbent President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh, known for his fierce anti-Taliban stance. He remained unharmed, but 20 others were killed.
So far, the Taliban has rejected talks with Ghani’s government, dismissing it as a U.S. puppet. Moreover, it is any one’s guess whether the many thousands of Taliban insurgents across Afghanistan will respect any agreement reached.
• Sri Lankans Yearn for Strongman President
Most Sri Lankans are angered by the non-functional and feuding government’s inability to prevent this year’s Easter Sunday IS-inspired terrorist attacks that killed more than 250 people. In the forthcoming presidential elections, they now yearn for a strongman back in power who can guarantee their safety and bring back economic growth, including in tourism.
Many are rooting for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who despite fighting allegations of war crimes, has now been announced as the presidential candidate of the opposition nationalist “Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna” (SLPP) party.
The Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya, were credited with bringing peace to Sri Lanka in 2009 by annihilating the “Tamil Tigers” in a brutal end to the 26-year-old civil war between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the mostly Hindu minority Tamil groups. At the time, Mahinda was the nation’s president and Gotabaya the defence minister. Basil Rajapaksa, the youngest brother of the Rajapaksa siblings and founder of the SLPP, said: “The people have requested a leader who can ensure their security.”
Sri Lanka’s constitution is modelled on the French system of government where executive powers are divided between the president (head of state) and the prime minister, who heads parliament. The system requires “cohabitation” and close cooperation between them.
The government isheaded by President Maithripala Sirisena, the leader of the centre-left “Sri Lanka Freedom Party” (SLFP) while Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe is from the centre-right “United National Party” (UNP), which currently has a majority in parliament.
Instead of governance, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have been feuding with each other since October 2018, and after the tragic and horrendous terrorist attacks have blamed one another for ignoring credible intelligence warnings from India and failing to stop the attacks. Both have been discredited.
Calls for a nationalist leader like Gotabaya, who has strong support from within Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese Buddhist community, echo similar choices made by expectant voters in other Asian nations including India and Bangladesh. A senior Sri Lankan Roman Catholic priest even pointed to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs as an example of robust action required, despite evidence that it involved extra-judicial killings by police. Nepal as a third world country is also in need of a tough leader – without the excesses, of course – doing whatever is needed to rid the country of evils, but none is on the horizon!
The writer can be reachewd at: [email protected]