Valley Viewpoint: From Far & Near
By Shashi Malla
NEPAL-INDIA TALKS ON KALAPANI STALLED
There has been no progress between Nepal and India on the disputed area of Kalapani. Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali has admitted sheepishly that ‘the government was [still] doing necessary homework to fix a date for holding dialogue with India on border-related issues’ (The Himalayan Times, December 31).
However, Gyawali was not willing to reveal the details of India’s latest response to Nepal’s representations. It could not have been very encouraging since he conceded that Nepal had communicated to India that if the official dialogue begins at the earliest, dissatisfaction seen in the streets will flow through the official channel [!] He emphasized: If the talks do not take place, issues of criticisms crop up, which is not desirable.”
Time is of the essence, since the Indians are using their time-honoured tactics of dilly-dallying. At the same time, they are attempting to present Nepal with a fait accompli by starting construction work in the Kalapani area.
SOUTH ASIA WATCH
INDIA’S PROTESTS: IT’S NOW OR NEVER!
India’s new citizenship law which offers fast-track citizenship to non-Muslim nationals from three neighboring countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh – is the latest insidious policy instituted by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government that critics accuse of marginalizing Muslims in the Hindu-majority nation. India, that is Bharat was conceptualized by its founders – above all Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as a secular state.
During his nearly six years in power, Modi’s party, the Hindu-nationalist BJP has renamed places with Islamic-origin names [the latest Allahabad inPrayag], rewritten history textbooks to diminish or discredit the role of Muslim rulers and leaders [like the Mughals], and stripped the Muslim-dominated federal state Jammu & Kashmir of its special autonomy.
Modi, whose bigotry is well documented, insists the latest legislation will have no impact on bona fide Muslims, with 200 million making India’s largest minority and the country the world’s third-largest Muslim-inhabited country [after Indonesia and Pakistan]. The extreme far-right BJP’s election pledge to conduct a nationwide survey to identify illegal immigrants has raised genuine fears among Muslims of becoming stateless [as many in the north-eastern state of Assam], with no fast-track naturalization option available to them.
People are naturally worried about the implications of the new law and years of pent-up anxiety among Muslims have finally found an outlet in the protests rippling across the country (AFP/Agence France Presse). For most, it is the ‘now or never’ moment of a lifetime. They were long alarmed by the militant/dogmatist/sectarian direction of India under PM Narendra Modi but felt powerless to stop it – that is, until now.
Like many others taking part in the current wave of protests, the final straw was Modi’s new citizenship law – fundamentally flawed and highly discriminatory – and the images of peaceful students being tear-gassed and mobbed by brutal police when they demonstrated against it. For most, it was not as if they didn’t know that things were not right. But for many, authoritarian politics under Modi was just too depressing to think about. Now they would be derelict in their duty to sit out the protests and say and do nothing. Obviously, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” ! [“Hamlet”].
A Mumbai-based lawyer expressed it succinctly: “People have been afraid for so long of this government’s [sustained and relentless] Hindu nationalist agenda that they now feel like they have nothing left to fear”, adding “Now that their very survival in India is under threat, they have no option but to protest.” Modi’s strategy has been all smoke and mirrors, worthy of a con man.
But not only Muslims have been horrified. People have literally woken up to the prescient danger to India’s existence as a secular nation. The demonstrations have galvanized large sections of Indian society, from secular Hindus and members of other minorities to intellectuals and opposition politicians. Former UN Under-Secretary General and former Cabinet Minister Shashi Tharoor and eminent historian Ramachandra Guha [author of the magisterial “India after Gandhi] have made their voices heard.
Several regional governments in opposition-ruled states such as Kerala and West Bengal have said they will not conduct surveys for the national citizen’s register, responding to the general public mood and undermining the central government’s and prime minister Modi’s authority.
Political Scientist Zoya Hasan of New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) said the protests represented “the biggest challenge to the Modi government in the last six years.”And although the protests began as a fight against the citizenship law, many of the demonstrators are now seeking a rollback of the government’s ill-disguised onslaught to re-organize ‘officially secular India’ as a Hindu nation said Ms. Hasan.
Professor Hasan was of the opinion that the ongoing unrest was unlikely to derail Modi’s nationalist campaign and risk alienating his powerful base which propelled him to a landslide re-election victory this May. She also said: “The government may take a step back as a result of the protests but they are not going to move away from their core agenda.”
Previously, she had critiqued the right-wing draconian government for indulging in divisive politics [as does Nepal’s extreme left-wing Communist government], as well as, not considering the opinions of Kashmiris before abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Particularly, she had launched a massive attack on the BJP for their iron-clad “majoritarianism”. [This is the belief that a majority in parliament allows the ruling party to push through all sorts of unpalatable policies, to the detriment of the country as a whole. This is standing ‘democracy’ on its head, and is, in fact, ‘monocracy’. The same phenomena is happening in Nepal]
REGION EAST ASIA
NORTH KOREA’S THREATENING POSTURE
North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un has convened an important plenary session of top ruling party officials, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has reported. This is ahead of a year-end ultimatum for the United States to shift its stance on the stalled bilateral nuclear talks. At the same time, there is widespread speculation that Pyongyang is preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – as a threatened ‘Christmas/ New Year’s’ gift for Washington.
The state media also reported that Kim presided over the meeting which discussed a new “transparent,anti-imperialist independent stand.” The ruling “Worker’s Party” will also “discuss important matters arising…in the building of the state and national defense.”
Talks on the so-called ‘De-nuclearising of the Korean Peninsula’ have been largely deadlocked since the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump collapsed in Hanoi at the start of this year.
The start of the plenary party meeting comes a week after Kim held talks with top defense officials and discussed boosting military capabilities, and ahead of the unchallenged leader’s New Year speech, a key political event in the isolated country, also known as the “Hermit Kingdom”.
Earlier this month, North Korean media disseminated propaganda-like pictures of Kim riding a white horse on a sacred mountain, imagery that experts said was heavy with symbolism and could indicate a major policy announcement – projecting Kim as ‘the knight in shining armor’ – riding out to rescue his brave nation from the depredation of Trump’s blackmail!
North Korea is under heavy US and United Nations sanctions over its nuclear program, but it has been singularly frustrated by the lack of any relief in spite of its declared moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests. As with Iran, Trump is not budging from his “maximum pressure” campaign, but at the same time, not achieving any leverage in coaxing his antagonists to the negotiating table. Trump has achieved absolutely nothing even after three face-to-face meetings and several bilateral exchanges of ‘beautiful’ letters!
Russia and China, two other Far Eastern powers and North Korea’s main allies, have proposed easing sanctions in a bid to de-escalate tensions. Japan and South Korea – non-nuclear states threatened by North Korea’s nuclear posture – are also very uneasy by the lack of progress.
Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton – a longtime conservative hawk on North Korea – has sharply criticized the president’s handling of the sensitive and intricate issue, and claimed that Pyongyang poses an “imminent” threat.
US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said last Sunday the US is prepared to take action if North Korea follows up on its promise to deliver the so-called ‘Christmas gift’, including a provocative potential long-range missile test (CNN online).
The options for the US include flights of bomber aircraft over the Korean Peninsula to hastily called military drills of ground weapons. These would not particularly impress Kim, nor would they placate US allies Japan and South Korea. The fact is that as elsewhere in the world, Trump’s North Korea policy is a complete mess.
REGION MIDDLE EAST
US STRIKES TARGETS IN IRAQ & SYRIA
US forces conducted air-strikes in Iraq and Syria against five facilities the Pentagon says are tied to the Iranian-backed militia known as “Kitaib Hezbollah”. This was blamed for a series of attacks on US military facilities housing American forces.
However, the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi “expressed his strong objection to this unilateral decision and his concern that it would lead to further escalation and demanded that [the US] stop [the airstrikes] immediately.” He added that “these strikes represent a treacherous stab in the back”…and “consider it a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty” (CNN online).
The US military attacks come at a time when Iraq finds itself in the throes of violent domestic protests. More than 450 people have already been killed and around 20,000 others injured in unrest related to the protests. Government offices and schools are closed across much of the country’s south.
The prime minister has, in fact, resigned and the protest movement calls for new political leaders without ties to the current establishment. Iran has much influence in Iraqi affairs, but its micro-management is no longer acceptable. President Barham Salih said he would resign rather than approve an Iran-backed candidate for prime minister (AP).
An analyst writes: “In its inscrutability, its lack of clear political affiliation, and its uncompromising demands, the [current Iraqi] uprising represents a broad denunciation of the post-Saddam political order” (Renad Mansour in “Foreign Affairs”). For an ignoramus like Trump, the Iraq imbroglio – as much of the wider Middle East – is too much to comprehend, and his administration has, therefore, not been able to evolve a rational and sustainable policy.
2019: GENESIS of CLIMATE CONSCIOUSNESS
In the last few years, wild fires across the world, Arctic ice rapidly melting, sea-levels rising, mass bio-diversity and habitat loss were all very bad news for our common climate. Year after year, the climate news seemed only to get worse, and 2019 was no exception.
Yet this year, the world also reached a watershed moment. The dire prognosis by scientists and climate experts helped make 2019 the year of climate activism and awakening of climate consciousness.
The defining climate moment was perhaps when Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s school strike went global, and environmental protests progressed a notch higher and people began talking not of climate change but of climate crisis and climate emergency (DW/Deutsche Welle, December 27).
Fires raged across the world throughout 2019, wiping out biodiversity and releasing the carbon stored in plants and trees. This was the year in which the Amazon rainforest burnt like never before and flames swept through the Artic Tundra in Siberia – the lungs of the Earth.
The Arctic works like a giant freezer for Planet Earth. Arctic snow and ice reflects the sun’s rays and energy back into space, cooling the entire planet. But as the ice retreats, a vicious cycle is set in motion. With less snow and ice, more heat is absorbed by the oceans which further accelerates ice loss.
Unfortunately, in a spiraling collateral effect, the Arctic itself may be contributing to the climate crisis. The frozen ground of the Arctic or ‘permafrost’ contains lots of carbon which are released when it starts to thaw. This carbon then transforms into greenhouse gas which normally is absorbed by plant life growing in the summer. But this year it has also started escaping into the atmosphere, which exacerbates the problem.
Rising Seas Threaten More Coastal Cities than Anticipated
This is not the whole story. Climate change is not only threatening wild habitats. New research show that rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously calculated. Some 150 million people are currently living on land that could be submerged by mid-century.
A quarter of the current population of Vietnam, for example, live on land, such as Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), that will likely be inundated. In Thailand, that figure stands at more than 10 percent of the population. Cities like Mumbai, Shanghai, Bangkok and Jakarta could also be wiped out. Trump’s beloved new home town West Palm Beach in Florida [he has abandoned New York as his primary place of residence, prompting his critics to more or less say: good riddance to bad rubbish!] is also stark in danger.
All this mounting alarming projections on climate change led to an explosion in public consciousness and this awareness in turn stimulated unprecedented action.
The iconic moment was on August 20 last year with the image of lone teenage activist Greta Thunberg skipping school in Stockholm to demand from the Swedish government to finally act on climate change. A week later she was joined by fellow students, teachers and parents in Sweden. A star and a powerful new movement, “Fridays for Future” was born!
By March 2019, the movement had exploded across the globe [with hardly any impact in Nepal and South Asia], with students in 135 countries demanding that their governments take prompt action and forcing adults to confront the deeply uncomfortable image of a generation of children in fear for their future.
“Fridays for Future” students were soon joined by “Scientists for Future”, “Parents for Future” and “Teachers for Future”. On September 20, the largest climate strike till date saw some 4 million people of all ages take to the streets in more than 150 countries.
Alongside “Fridays for Future”, the other prominent name in climate activism this year was “Extinction Rebellion”, which was started in the UK in 2018. It also went global in 2019 and now has groups in some 70 countries around the world. Nepal has become very prominent by its glaring absence in climate activism. Many question the raison d’etre for its ministry for the environment!
Inspired by other grassroots movements and the non-violence campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, “Extinction Rebellion” has turned to civil disobedience to drive their message home.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]