BY SHASHI MALLA
India’s Cartographical Aggression/Controversy Continues
Just as the uproar over India’s new political map [showing parts of Nepalese territory in the Far West as within Indian jurisdiction] seems to be dying down [what India usually expects of all Indo-Nepalese bilateral controversies] a storm has erupted within the main opposition Nepali Congress party (NC).
Last November 23, while addressing a mass meeting in Kaski district (near- west Nepal), NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba made the astounding statement that India must have issued the new map after consultation with Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli.
Three days later, while speaking with reporters at Biratnagar airport, Deuba not only reiterated the statement, but went so far as to say that India is treating Nepal as it would Pakistan [that is horribly!]. “Considering Kalapani and Susta are disputed lands, how come India issued a map placing those areas inside its territory? Is the role of KP Olihere not clear? India considers Nepal similar to Pakistan,” Deuba had insisted (The Kathmandu Post, November 29, 2019). Before making such a meaningful statement, Deuba must have been closely advised by a national security expert from within the party itself.
Nonetheless, leaders from within the NC itself must have gotten cold feet and have condemned such “aggressive and ultra-nationalistic” statements that would not help resolve the boundary dispute with India and could be damaging for the party itself. Unfortunately, such leaders forget that such territorial disputes have been going on for ages and India has not shown an iota of understanding in resolving the issue. In fact, it just ignores the whole question as unfit to be discussed at all!
The India-friendly NC-member Amresh Kumar Singh went so far as to maintain: “My perception is that New Delhi is not happy with Deuba’s statement. It was immature and the party could lose its moral ground ahead of the polls” (which took place last Saturday).
SINO-NEPALESE TRANS-HIMALAYAN RAILWAY
A report in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP, December 1, 2019) has highlighted the subtle and not so ingenious opposition to the Sino-Nepalese rail link which has captured the imaginations of people on both sides of the border ever since King Birendra and Mao Zedong first advanced the idea way back in 1973!
During his official visit to Nepal in October this year, President Xi Jinping had famously declared: “We will develop a multidimensional trans-Himalayan connectivity network and help Nepal to realize its dream to transform itself from a landlocked country to land-linked country.” The project could go beyond the wildest dreams of its most ambitious protagonists.
However, the adversaries point to various stumbling blocks:
First, the prohibitive cost of financing the project. The railway is estimated to cost around US Dollar $ 3 billion, which a poor developing country can ill afford. It may plunge Nepal into the sort of debt trap as envisaged by the harshest critics of China’s “Belt & Road” vision.
Second, the vulnerability of the railway to landslides and earthquakes.
Third, the degradation of the environment, i.e. the negative impact on the biodiversity and cultural diversity.
Fourth, the geo-political opposition by southern neighbor India, which considers Nepal as belonging to its sphere of influence.
But all things considered, these negative points can be rejected as spurious and self-seeking. There are, in fact, enormous benefits from the ‘Trans-Himalayan Railway’. Chinese engineers and technicians have already successfully constructed railway networks at very high altitudes and difficult terrain in Tibet and Qinghai.
First, the rail link will provide a steady, reliable connectivity with Tibet and other parts of China. Bilateral trade will increase and business will prosper.
Second, Nepal’s dependency on India for trade and commerce will be drastically reduced, and our country will no longer be held ransom to economic blockades.
Third, there will be a flowering of bilateral and international tourism – for Chinese tourists to Nepal, and Nepalese and international tourists to Tibet and beyond.
Fourth, if the main line is extended west to Pokhara, and south-east to Lumbini, the advantages will be multiplied in multifarious ways. Nepal could then be a bridge between the two great civilizations of Asia!
SOUTH ASIA WATCH
PAKISTAN: Supreme Court & Army Chief
Pakistan’s Supreme Court gave the country’s chief-of-army staff (CoAS), General QamarJavedBajwa a reprieve last Thursday. It allowed him to hold on to his topmost post – and in parallel immense political power — for at least six more months after a days-long legal battle posed unprecedented questions about the nuclear-armed nation’s most powerful institution of the army (AFP/Agence France Press).
General Bajwa has already served the mandated three years in his role as army chief, arguably the most powerful authority in the country. In August, Prime Minister Imran Khan ‘asked’ him to extend his tenure and serve another three.
The extension is not unusual. The Pakistani military has long played a tremendous role in national life, ruling the country directly for nearly half its 72-year history after independence from the British Raj. At the same time, army chiefs have hugely extended their mandated terms.
This time, however, a lively debate has exploded over the army chief’s tenure at the national level, accompanied by mushrooming calls from the public on social media for the general to stand down. Since assuming office, Bajwa and the military have been criticized for suppressing civil society, while also being accused of manipulating Imran Khan’s victory in the 2018 general elections. Some analysts even accuse him of being an army puppet.
Pakistan’s leading English daily Dawn wrote a discerning editorial: “This is a landmark case: unprecedented questions are being raised, threatening to upend the accepted status quo, and holding a mirror to society’s psyche.”
It is widely perceived that the episode has been detrimental to Khan’s government, which is seen as close-knit with Bajwa and the military. The government itself is under constant attack – and has been made the scapegoat — as it struggles to steady a flailing economy after decades of corruption and mismanagement under the two leading political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
The Supreme Court has emerged as a robust institution, willing and able to challenge the all-powerful military. It has raised questions about the legality of the [controversial] decision to extend the army chief’s tenure – which also causes havoc to the chances of promotion of other senior officers in the entire chain of command. The Court’s unexpected move was an unforeseen bombshell in the South Asian nation used to various upheavals and particularly the military gaining mastery over the politicians.
Last Thursday, only hours ahead of the midnight deadline for Bajwa’s term to expire, the court ruled that it was granting him a conditional extension of six months, in order to enable parliament to clarify the constitutional provisions/guidelines under which an army chief’s tenure could be prolonged.
Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said considering that the army chief “ is responsible for the command, discipline, training, administration, organization and preparedness for war of the army…we, while exercising restraint, find it appropriate to leave the matter to the parliament.” PM Khan now needs the cooperation of all parties in parliament to reach an acceptable consensus vis-à-vis the formidable power of the military.
WEST ASIA/MIDDLE EAST
IRAN: Worst Unrest in 40 Years
Iran, the West Asian county, straddling the crossroads of Asia and the home of great civilizations, has been held hostage by the authoritarian Shia clerical regime. It also wants to play an outsize role in the region and is competing with Turkey and Saudi Arabia for paramountcy.
Iran’s economy is in shambles, in part due to severe corruption and gross mismanagement at home, but also because of the debilitating effects of U.S. imposed sanctions. Discontent was thus simmering below the surface.
When the government announced an abrupt increase of at least 50 percent in petrol prices, it was too much for the impoverished populace, struggling to make ends meet. Within days, outraged demonstrators in cities large and small were calling for bringing down the Islamic Republic’s draconian government and the overthrow of its secular and ecclesiastical leaders. Iran erupted into its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago (The New York Times, December 2, 2019).
About 450 people, and possibly more, were killed in days of intense violence, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 detained, according to international rights organizations, opposition groups and local journalists. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been brutal and cold-blooded.
The massacres have prompted a provocative warning from Mir Hussein Moussavi, an opposition leader and former presidential candidate, who has been under house arrest since 2011. He directly blamed the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the killings and compared them to the infamous 1978 carnage by dreaded government forces of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. A year later, the Shah-in-Shah was deposed by the Islamic revolutionaries who now rule the country.
CLIMATE CRISIS: PLANET EARTH REACHING ‘POINT OF NO RETURN’
Political leaders and climate diplomats are meeting in Madrid for two weeks of talks and negotiations amid a growing sense of crisis on the state of the planet. This Conference of the Parties, or COP 25 was originally to be held in Chile, but was cancelled by the government due to weeks of severe civil disturbances . Spain then stepped in to host the crucial event (BBC).
According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon.” Speaking ahead of the meeting, he said the climate crisis was immanent and political leaders had to respond: “In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters [China, India, United States] to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.
Guterres added: “We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions.”
Almost every country in the world has now signed and ratified the Paris climate accord and under the terms of the pact they will all have to put new climate pledges on the table before the end of 2020 [in Glasgow with COP 26 in November]. However, misguided US President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord and thinks he can pursue an “America First”&”America Alone” policy.
Some 50 world leaders are expected to attend the meeting in the Spanish capital, but Trump the Don will definitely not be among them. Instead his bete noire, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi will attend the conference with a congressional delegation.
(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])