BY SHASHI MALLA
• Nepal: Grave Domestic & External Threats!
The great Communist leader Sri Sri Sri Comrade-in-Chief K.P. Sharma Oli has returned to Baluwatar [the official residence of the no-good Nepalese prime ministers] from his first class medical treatment [while thousands of Nepalese in countless districts do without medicine and doctors] in Singapore [where the dictator-for-life Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe had also sojourned for medical treatment]. Perhaps the great Nepalese Helmsman will now discover some mercy for the medical plight of his countrywomen and –men!
The Nepali people have been very patient with the Communist leaders who see threats and enemies [of the party, i.e. the people] in every nook and corner. A bit of Communist self-critique would be in order. The problem is not external or even domestic, but very personal. i.e. in themselves. As the greatest bard of all time wrote:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
There is an acute lack of vision and dedicated leadership. If our would-be ‘leaders’ act as lackeys and minions in one instance, and ‘monarchs of all they survey’ the next, what hope can there be for the suffering masses? The former king is unlikely to garner much political support by merely visiting holy spots one after another. The mere blessings of Hindu gods and goddesses will not suffice to seize power! And to expect Indian help to restore the Hindu Monarchy [from the very power that helped extinguish it with their Maoist henchmen and their hireling Girija Prasad Koirala] is to believe in the impossible. And let’s not forget we already have a monarchy [actually double-monarchy] hiding in plain sight, taking advantage of a sheepish population.
• Kashmir: Bone of Contention
There is now a twist in the unending tale in one of the most beautiful valleys on Earth. India seems to have turned the table on the bone of contention of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir.
India now claims that the onus of restoring normalcy in the disputed state lies with Pakistan, which is always stirring trouble. Last Saturday, Ajit Kumar Doval, national security adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi [considered one of the architects of the hard-line policy to withdraw Kashmir’s special constitutional status and integrate it fully into India] claimed that India had imposed a clampdown in Indian Kashmir in early August to prevent large scale violent protests. In the meantime, some curbs had been eased, but mobile phone and internet services are still curtailed because they could be used to spark unrest.
Furthermore, “We would like to see all restrictions go, but it depends on how Pakistan behaves, it’s stimulant and response situation,” Duval insisted. “If Pakistan starts behaving, terrorists don’t intimidate and infiltrate” and Pakistan stops sending signals through its towers to operatives, then we can lift restrictions,” Doval added.
India has long accused Pakistan of training, arming and infiltrating militants into Muslim majority Kashmir where it is fighting a nearly 30-year insurgency. Pakistan denies direct support, but says it gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people [i.e. the Muslims concentrated in the Vale of Kashmir] in their struggle for self-,
Doval also claimed that recently there were repeated attempts by Pakistan and militant groups in Kashmir to deter a return to normalcy by intimidating businesses and shopkeepers. India has vowed a strong response if a major radical attack is traced back to any Pakistan-based militant group.
Last week on the annual Defense Day remembrance of Pakistan’s fighters in the 1965 war with India, Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan had warned that his country would make the fullest possible response to India’s actions in disputed Kashmir and the global community would be responsible for any “catastrophic” aftermath. He added: “Pakistan does not want war, but at the same time, Pakistan cannot remain oblivious to the challenges posed to its security and integrity.”
The poisoned state of Indo-Pakistani relations was also reflected in the statement of Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who accused India of being responsible for “state terrorism” in Indian administered Kashmir (IAK). He also said the Pakistani military is ready for “every sacrifice” and will “never abandon” the people of Kashmir.
Analysts have pointed out that India has thrown down the gauntlet and warned Pakistan not to challenge the status quo, especially by sending/supporting militants/terrorists and perpetuating a proxy war. Even minor skirmishes could escalate into an all-out conventional war. If this spiraled into nuclear exchanges, it would indeed not only be catastrophic, but cataclysmic, not only for the two countries, but for the whole South Asian/Central Asian region.
Help from the international community to solve the issue cannot be expected, as there are too many other more pressing global problems – not the least climate change, breakdown of the international order and world trade. And then the UN Security Council which has the primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security, is stymied to take any effective action on burning questions of world politics, economics and the ecology. Thus, India and Pakistan have no other choice than to ultimately demonstrate maturity and undertake bilateral talks. All other countries of the region have to goad them on, and not take sides.
• U.K.: Constitutional Crisis
Ms. Amber Rudd, the UK Work & Pensions Secretary [or Minister elsewhere] is the latest to resign from maverick Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. As the principled reason, she cited her disagreement with the Johnson camp over a possible no-deal exit from the European Union (EU).
The resignation concludes a decisively stormy week for Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party [also known as the Tory Party, and the longest existing political party in the world] that saw MPs reject both his bid for a general election, as well as the key vote to stop legislation that would prevent Britain from leaving the EU without a divorce deal. The latter saw the mass rebellion of 21 MPs [including a grandson of Winston Churchill, Sir Nicholas Soames, as well as former chancellor of the exchequer Philipp Hammond, and the longest-serving Tory in Parliament, Ken Clarke] who were then summarily expelled from their party.
In a uniquely personal blow, Johnson’s younger brother Jo also left the government and the Conservative party last week, saying he had been “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.” Rudd had written: “I cannot stand by as good, loyal moderate Conservatives are expelled’ (DW).
This Monday, MPs again rejected Johnson’s calls for a snap election. In all, 293 MPs voted for he PM’s motion for an early poll, far short of the two-thirds needed. 46 voted against and 303 abstained. Earlier, MPs confirmed they would not back the push for a 15 October general election, insisting a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must first be implemented (BBC).
Currently, UK law states that the country will exit the EU on 31 October, regardless of whether a withdrawal deal has been agreed with Brussels or not.
However, there is a new legislation [granted royal assent on Monday] in place, which charges the PM to seek a delay of Brexit to 31 January 2020 unless a deal – or a no-deal exit – is approved by Parliament by 19 October. But Johnson and his henchmen may still have some tricks of the trade!
As of Monday midnight, the five-week suspension of Parliament has also begun.
The antics of Boris Johnson are upsetting, unsettling, astonishing, disgusting [take your choice] the world. Germany’s upscale “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” wrote the shock and horror is without end. It seems, there is nothing to stop the narcissistic nutcase [and a kindred spirit of the exceptional Trump].
• Hong Kong Remains in Uproar
Pro-democracy protests have continued in Hong Kong, despite the territory’s chief executive Carrie Lam’s decision to scrap a controversial extradition bill. This bill, which has now sparked 14 weeks of violent protests, would have allowed individuals from Hong Kong accused of having committed crimes in mainland China to be extradited and tried there.
On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators marched to the US consulate, urging President Trump to “liberate” their city. Activists in Hong Kong are now demanding more democratic freedoms in their semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The protests have become the biggest challenge to Beijing’s indirect rule in Hong Kong since the territory’s return from British colonial administration. Consequently, China’s acclaimed ‘one country, two systems’ doctrine is now under severe siege. China’s state-controlled media have portrayed the pro-democracy protests as an effort by foreign-backed agitators to “split” the territory from the mainland.
It seems that the central government is in some disarray, and even faith in the paramount leader Xi Jinping has been shaken. Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, said Xi’s government had adopted a strategy to procrastinate in the absence of any better ideas for resolving the crisis: “It is not willing to intervene directly or to propose a solution” (New York Times, September 9, 2019).
• Afghanistan: A Fractured Peace
Trump Abandons Bilateral Talks with Taliban
In a dramatic development, US President Donald Trump on Saturday called off “peace negotiations” with the militant Taliban, talks which had appeared to be on the brink of a landmark deal to bring an end to 18 years of war. He also revealed that he had been on the verge of secretly meeting both top Taliban leaders and the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani separately at Camp David, but that the meeting was now scuttled following an attack in Kabul that left one US service member and 11 others dead.
The whole process surrounding this secretive meeting that ultimately never took place has rattled the US foreign policy and national security fraternity, and also the Democratic presidential contenders. What was Trump thinking in arranging a meeting with the sworn enemies of America on hallowed ground [Camp David], and that on the eve of fatal and epochal 9/11? The Taliban were after all the enablers of Al Qaeda. And what actually triggered the cancellation? Senator Amy Klobuchar characterized the bizarre episode as characteristic of Trump’s erratic, destructive behavior (CNN-State of the Union).
Trump tweeted nonplussed: “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position,” i.e. “in order to build false leverage” (AFP). In truth, Kabul has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the US and the insurgents had reached an agreement “in principle” that would have seen the US pull out about 5,000 of its troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year in return for various Taliban security promises [which would have been ephemeral at best, and not worth the paper they were written on, at worst!].
What the new situation boils down to is that, according to analysts, first the hardliners in the Trump administration led by the national security adviser John Bolton have taken the upper hand, at least vis-à-vis Afghanistan. [In Jake Tapper’s “CNN State of the Union” SoS Mike Pompeo refused to acknowledge that he had been part of Trump’s decision-making process with regard to the Camp David meeting]. Second, the Taliban definitely overplayed their hand and became too cocky. They may now face stiff resistance from the re-birth of the “Northern Alliance” [see below]. Third, next-door neighbor Pakistan faces a reversal of its Afghan policy and its famous maneuver of “strategic depth”. Apparently, the military brass and military intelligence were unable or unwilling to curb the Taliban’s extremist tendencies. Pakistan now risks being sandwiched between arch-rival India and [India-friendly] Afghanistan.
Son of Resistance Hero Lambasts US-Taliban Deal
Ahmad Massoud, who was 12 years old when his legendary father was assassinated by Al Qaeda just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, was among several Afghan leaders critical of the ‘secret’ accord reached with the Taliban last week.
This so-called peace deal between the United States and the Taliban could face wide resistance in the country if it opens the door to the insurgents’ hard-line regime, said the only son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the slain hero of the anti-Soviet resistance.
While he is relatively new to Afghan politics, the lasting aura of his father’s name adds great weight to his words in a country where the habits of dynastic politics [as in many other countries of South Asia] remain deeply ingrained.
“It’s very secretive. It has happened behind closed doors,” Massoud told Reuters, “We want to see clarity, we want to see people from all over the country involved in it.” Speaking after some 10,000 supporters rallied at his father’s mausoleum in the Panjshir Valley last Thursday, Massoud’s comments reflect the deep suspicion many Afghans have of a deal reached without their involvement.
Opposition to the deal has been deepened by the Taliban’s recent escalation of indiscriminate attacks, also on civilian targets, and heightening fears that it may be impossible to reach a stable settlement once U.S. forces leave. The fluid nature of the situation could also very well lead to the re-alignment of the former Mujahideen “Northern Alliance” [mostly composed of Tajiks and Hazaras from the north and west] to oppose the Taliban [which draws most support from the southern and eastern Pashtuns].
Afghan Government Indicates Contradiction
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had postponed a planned visit to the US, where he was expected to discuss Kabul’s concerns over a potential US-Taliban agreement with President Trump. This indicates that the Afghan government and Trump’s administration were not on the same page over a future political setup in Afghanistan (DW).
The US has already ended its combat mission in 2014, although 20,000 US and NATO military personnel remain in the country, mainly to train and support Afghan troops. An agreement between the US and the Taliban is likely to increase President Ghani’s problems at home. Analysts say that a US-Taliban deal would diminish the chances of holding the presidential election in September. And without his re-election, Ghani would be in a weaker position to negotiate his terms with the Taliban.
• Odds & Ends: Trumpiana
US President Donald Trump on self: “I’m intelligent. Some people would say I’m very, very, very intelligent.”
Trump on Puerto Rico: “This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”
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