BY SHASHI MALLA
INDIA’S CARTOGRAPHICAL AGGRESSION CONTINUES UNABATED
More than a month after a new Indian political map that places the Kalapani region in Far West Nepal within India’s territorial borders had caused an uproar in Nepal and the diaspora, the Nepalese government is still dilly-dallying in taking up the issue with New Delhi at Track-I or Tack II level (The Kathmandu Post, December 5/Online).
Track-I diplomacy consists of a series of candid, off-the-record exchanges between officials, former officials and policy specialists aimed at resolving problems that states are unwilling or unable to address in official dialogue.
Track II diplomacy is a dialogue between non-officials designated to fill the gap in the official exchange of views.
Back on November 8, Nepal’s ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya had met with Indian Foreign Secretary VijayaGokhale and communicated Nepal’s request for talks. The ambassador is still waiting for a reply!
Last week, Nepal dispatched a diplomatic note to India offering to hold foreign secretary-level talks in Kathmandu. Such a mechanism had already been mandated years back in 2014 with the very task of resolving all outstanding bilateral boundary disputes, including Susta [near Lumbini] and Kalapani. India is yet to respond.
However, at an interaction on Nepal’s international boundaries and their effective management, organized by the Institute of Foreign Affairs [affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs/MoFA)last week, two former foreign secretaries, Gyan Chandra Acharya and Madhuraman Acharya were adamant in their opinion that boundary disputes like Kalapani cannot be resolved through diplomatic channels.
Both veteran foreign service mandarins said that if the diplomatic channel [which India is insisting on] could settle the issue, it would have been resolved long ago. Both seasoned diplomats suggested that the prime minister himself should take up the issue, followed up by the foreign minister and the foreign secretary. What both experienced diplomats left unsaid was, of course, India has shown bad faith and just expects that the ‘problem’ will go away with time – as with other Nepal-India bilateral ‘irritants’.
The chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Pushpa Kamal Dahal has now attempted to diffuse the situation, or muddy the waters [depending on your ideological leanings]by arguing that “internationalizing” the issue of the Kalapani border before trying to find a solution through political and diplomatic negotiations could complicate matters.
But at the same time, Dahal also conceded that Nepal had already clarified its position on Kalapani: “Limpiyadhura is the origin of the Mahakali River; the Mahakali is the border river [as stipulated in the Anglo-Nepalese Sugauli Treaty, 1816]. There is no confusion about it.” If everything iscrystal clear, why is the government having cold feet moving forward? PM K.P. Sharma Oli being sick and bed-ridden is no excuse.
WEST ASIA IN TURMOIL
AFGHANISTAN: Resumption of US-Taliban Talks
The United States has resumed negotiations with the militant Taliban in the Emirate of Qatar, where the government is functioning as mediators. This is a renewed bid by the US to end the long war [‘the never-ending war’] in Afghanistan and comes some months after US President Donald Trump abruptly halted diplomatic engagement with the insurgents.
The US special envoy for Afghanistan, ZalmaiKhalilzad [a native Afghan and naturalized US citizen] had first made a two-day visit to Kabul to start “an accelerated effort” to get Afghans on both sides of the long-festering internal conflict to the negotiating table to plot a road map for a post-war Afghanistan. During his visit, Khalilzad held talks with top Afghan officials and politicians, including ex-President Hamid Karzai.
The US then rejoined talks in Doha. The focus of discussion will be reduction of violence that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations, a ceasefire and ultimately a peaceful settlement to the ongoing conflict in the country.
This September, the US and the Taliban were on the verge of concluding a deal that could have seen the US starting withdrawing thousands of troops in return for security guarantees. It was hoped that this would also pave the way for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and ultimately, a peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.
However, in the same month, a particularly deadly spate of violence broke out in Kabul, in which 12 people were killed, including a US soldier. Trump abruptly broke off the diplomatic engagement with the Taliban, and cancelled an invitation to the insurgents to join secret talks at the presidential retreat at Camp David.
During a surprise visit to a U.S. military base in Afghanistan last week on Thanksgiving Day, Trump said the Taliban “want to make a deal.” He has, of course, repeatedly promised to stop U.S. involvement in “endless wars.”
The war-ravaged country has been facing growing insecurity and intensifying political divisions. Repeated attacks by Islamic militants – the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS – in the last years, have killed and wounded thousands of innocent civilians and demonstrated the precarious state of security in the conflict-afflicted country sandwiched between Iran and Pakistan. The continuing intensity of the violence has thrust war-weary Afghans into a near-state of despair and spotlighted the inherent shortcomings of the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.
The presidential elections held in October are not likely to solve any of Afghanistan’s problems – ingrained corruption, ineffectual leadership, widespread ethnic strife and the supremacy of the Pashtuns, et.al. These elections have been tainted by alleged fraud and Taliban attacks on polling stations, and are unlikely to bestow any semblance of legitimacy in a country beset by rank violence.
The Taliban – a militant group fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law [the Sharia] – control or hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan and mount near-daily attacks across the entire country. They have so far refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which they do not recognize and consider ‘American puppets’. However, the German defence minister, AnnegretKramp-Karrenbauer has insisted that the Afghan government must be involved in the peace talks.
Pakistan has been under pressure for some time from both Kabul and Washington to stop offering safe havens to militants blamed for cross-border attacks. However, Pakistan rejects these allegations, insisting that its influence over the insurgents has been exaggerated.
All things considered, peace with the Taliban is perhaps a delusory idea, and negotiations with the Taliban will merely embolden the Islamist militants. Trump has made it clear that he just wants to bolt and leave the Afghans to their ‘own’ fate – as he did so cowardly with the Kurds in Syria!
UK PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party went head-to-head for the last time last Friday before this Thursday’s general election. The two leading candidates to be prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) faced off in the final televised debate before voters head to the polls. They clashed over Brexit [Britain exiting the European Union/EU], the National Health Service (NHS) and national security.
Corbyn, in his opening gambit, said: “Millions of people are struggling. They need an ambitious government on their side. A vote for Labour is a vote for real change.”
Johnson responded: “We can spread opportunity, and improve our services. But that will only happen with a Conservative government. If Labour gets in, there will be chaos and two referendums,” a reference to Brexit, the UK’s looming departure from the EU.
Winds of change could be coming – the forces unleashed by Brexit could tear apart the United Kingdom into its constituent parts – a veritable ‘Goetterdaemmerung’ [TIME, December 5/Online].
UNITED STATES: TRUMP’S IMPEACHMENT
The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to remove a sitting president from office even before their term ends. This can only be done if enough lawmakers vote to confirm the accused has committed “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Currently the framing of charges against Trump is taking on greater urgency and importance, both as a practical matter and a political one, as Democrats in the House of Representatives move seriously into the next stage of writing the articles of impeachment [bringing formal charges].
Democrats are attempting to explain why Americans should care that Trump pressurized Ukraine to investigatepotential rival Joe Biden [currently at the top of the charts among Democratic hopefuls] while withholding nearly US Dollar $ 400 million in military aid that Congress had approved for the struggling Eastern European ally fighting a brutal border war with neighbouring Russia [which had previously annexed Ukraine’s Crimea].
With articles of impeachment coming in a matter of days and votes in the House expected by Christmas, Trump’s team is hardening its argument that the president did nothing wrong. They claim that voters will overwhelmingly support him at the Democrats’ expense next year in November in the presidential and Congressional elections. As of now, however, a majority of Americans are slightly in favour of impeachment and removal from office.
The impeachment drama will then move to the Senate, where the Republicans enjoy a majority. The Senate trial, with the Chief Justice presiding, is widely expected to acquit Trump.
CLIMATE CRISIS: STOP PROCRASTINATING!
In an opinion piece in TIME Magazine, Inger Anderson, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, painted a dire picture of the state of Planet Earth, arguing that greenhouse gas emissions need to fall over 7 % percent each year and that we must collectively stop procrastinating (December 4, Online). We must all do our utmost – Trump notwithstanding – to save our planet – there is no ‘Planet B’!
Andersen writes that the world collectively is doing nowhere near enough to limit climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising, when they in fact should be falling. All countries – especially those that have profited from the so-called industrial revolution — are called upon to urgently increase robust environmental action. Otherwise we will face a future of rising seas [by which entire islands and coastal areas will be submerged], extreme weather catastrophic events [drought, flooding and sudden wild bushfires like in California and New South Wales/Australia] and increased human misery [forced migration in famine-induced regions like the Sahel zone in Africa].
The United Nations (UN), concerned scientists and climate activists have been continuously warning us about these dire developments, but these have fallen on deaf years. US President Donald Trump even took the unprecedented step of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, labelling the scientific evidence of climate change as a “hoax”. This alone makes him a clear and immanent threat to world security!
In spite of Trump and his cronies and the misguided leaders of the Republican party, the global landscape is nevertheless conducive to taking necessary robust environmental action. There is an increased understanding of the multiple benefits of climate action, including clean air and water, green jobs and a boost to efforts to achieve many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
At the same time, public pressure is also growing in the form of powerful protest movements world-wide, as the one spearheaded by the youthful Swede Greta Thunberg. Climate change is now an important issue during elections.
(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])