BY SHASHI MALLA
Way Free for Millennium Challenge Corporation
Some sections of the governing Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) and several online media platforms have been portraying the MCC as an attempt to deploy US military personnel into Nepal through the back door. These sections have been solely motivated by their extreme leftist ideology and have been putting their party before the national interests of the country.
The US Embassy has also made it amply clear that incorporating a military component in the MCC is strictly prohibited by the existing American laws. Nepal does not need to ‘join’ or ‘sign up’ for anything in order to participate in the MCC program which aims at the country’s development. The extremist wing of the CPN is adamantly insisting that implementing the MCC project in Nepal is tantamount to joining the US-led military alliance.
In fact, the MCC project is focused purely on economic development in helping build transmission lines and physical infrastructure, including roads. The US Dollar 500 million is a grant, with no strings attached, no interest rate, and no hidden clauses. Nepal only commits to spend the money transparently, and only for the projects that have been agreed upon. The MCC was, after all, founded as a new model for international development based on transparency and true partnership. Unfortunately, the Nepalese Commies are looking a gift horse in the mouth. Perhaps, they see no profit in it for themselves personally and for their beloved party!
Their stand can be compared to that of Donald Trump who put his self interest before that of the US in withholding nearly US Dollar 500 million in security aid for Ukraine. Likewise his Republican Party is also putting the party interests before that of the nation by blindly supporting Trump at every twist and turn of US domestic policies and foreign policy.
A section of the NCP also suspects that the MCC is only the secretive military arm of the much touted Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) which has been promoted as an attempt to check China’s rise and contain it. India is supposed to be the kingpin in this geo-political strategy in South Asia. If this were really the case, Nepal should, of course, have no part of it. The IPS is also seen as inimical to China’s famous “Belt & Road Initiative” (BRI), to which Nepal has heartily subscribed. However, contrary to what our narrow-minded Communist comrades think, the MCC and BRI are fully compatible!
[For more details see: Republica, January 20]
Trekking in Winter: Inauspicious Beginning to VNY 2020?
According to various news reports, 8 foreign trekking tourists and their accompanying Nepali guides and porters have gone missing in the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trekking route and in the Manang/Mustang region. Until Saturday, around 100 further tourists were rescued and airlifted to safety along the ABC route. Let us hope that those still missing are rescued in time.
Trekking in winter is, of course, in the off season. Normally, the trekking season is kicked-off with the onset of spring. Promoting the off season may have been a novel way to kick-start the “Visit Nepal Year 2020” campaign and earn extra bucks at the same time. However, the health and security of the tourists and their accompanying crew should have been of prime concern. The state of the used trekking routes and the weather conditions should have been taken into consideration. For instance, depending on weather conditions, crossing the Thorang La (Pass) can be a treacherous undertaking in any season.
It seems that the Tourism Ministry because of inexperience and ineptitude failed us once again. Recently, the Tourism Minister went to Australia to promote VNY 2020 while wildfires were still raging. He did not show any sense of empathy in a critical moment, and was sent back packing by Nepali expatriates!
According to latest news reports, two Nepali teenagers have also gone missing while trekking in the Gosainkund, Rusuwa area (Himalayan Times, January 20).
While the trekking tragedy is unfolding, the government has still not been able to appoint the new CEO of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the country’s tourism promotion body. Instead of really searching for a competent and experienced technocrat from the tourism sector, the government is set to appoint a party hack, ‘afnomanche’ [= our man]. This also does not augur well for VNY 2020.
“Patriarchy Stronger than Monarchy” – Former Deputy Speaker
After the ruling CPN under the urging of top honcho Pushpa Kamal Dahal, decided to propose standing committee member Agni Sapkota for the post of parliament Speaker, the officiating Deputy Speaker, Dr. Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe decided to resign.
Tumbahangephe said that in Nepal, ‘patriarchy was stronger than monarchy’; it was too deeply-rooted and institutionalized. Her lone struggle in trying to protect parliament from a political party’s diktat ultimately failed. Moreover, inclusion and representation of all segments of society in the upper tiers of the state has still to be realized. The chokehold of upper class/caste Brahmins/Bahuns still holds sway, and Sapkota is another of those bahuns.
Sapkota is currently facing a murder charge for the killing of Arjun Lama in Kavre during the 10-year Maoist insurgency (The Kathmandu Post, January 20).
Sapkota’s candidacy has already drawn sharp criticism from conflict victims and human rights defenders, given the murder charge. Some analysts also suspect that Sapkota may claim immunity on being appointed speaker.
According to political activists, it is morally reprehensible, politically inappropriate, ill-advised and corrupt, and constitutionally illegal on the part of the ruling party to propose Sapkota as Speaker given the murder charge pending at the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court. The bench is scheduled to hear the case on February 5.
The two CPN-Co-Chairmen Oli and Dahal and their henchmen have really become arrogant with power. The country is being ruled according to their personal and CPN whims and interests. Corruption has been taken to great heights! Nepal’s so-called ‘Lok-Tantra’ is being slowly but certainly being transformed into a ‘Dual Dictatorship’ of the latter-day ‘Two Communist Maharajas’.
As in many parts of the world, our rampant corruption must be resisted at all costs and at every level of Communist misconduct. Civil society must take the lead. The main opposition Nepali Congress must bring its house in order and for a start oppose Sapkota’s appointment tooth and nail – beginning with boycotting the proceedings of parliament!
REGION WEST ASIA/MIDDLE EAST
IRAN: Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 80, on Friday addressed the nation from the Mosalla mosque in the capital Tehran. The last time he did so was back in 2012 on the 33rd anniversary of the country’s Islamic Revolution. Leading Friday prayers in the capital is a symbolically significant act usually reserved for times when Iran’s highest authority wishes to deliver an important message (BBC).
In the face of intense domestic turmoil and external threat, the Ayatollah deemed it fit to rally support as he led Friday prayers. Historically, on important occasions such as this tense situation, Iranian leaders have left the task to loyal clerics with strong oratorical skills.
Khamenei defended the country’s Revolutionary Guard [which is independent of the country’s regular armed forces] after it admitted shooting down an Ukrainian passenger plane by mistake [and gross neglect]. He defended the elite unit responsible for the terrible disaster for “maintaining the security” of Iran. Widespread internal protests and criticism from abroad have put growing pressure on Iran over its handling of the incident.
The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was flying from Tehran to Kyiv on 8 January when it was targeted by two missiles and crashed shortly after take-off. All 176 passengers on board, including nationals from Iran, Canada, Sweden and the UK, were killed.
Hours before it was shot down, Iranian missiles had targeted two American airbases in Iraq. Washington initially said no US troops had been injured, but it later reported that 11 servicemen had been treated for concussion after they showed symptoms days after the missile strikes.
Besides defending the Revolutionary Guard, the Ayatollah also:
– strongly criticized the “evil” administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who he called a “clown”
– accused Washington of “lying” when it expressed support for the Iranian people, and said the US would “stab them with their poison dagger”
– described Iran’s elite Quds Force/Revolutionary Guard – which the U.S. had previously designated a terrorist organization – as a “humanitarian organization with human values”
– designated the funeral of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and the Iranian military response a “turning point in history”.
Role of Iran’s Opposition
There have been anti-government protests – again – in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and other cities after the authorities admitted they had “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian plane. Protesters also shouted slogans against the Supreme Leader.
Recently, there were protests at the end of 2017 and in early 2018 over worsening economic conditions. High levels of unemployment in some parts of the country had hit the relatively young population particularly hard. The government of President Hassan Rouhani, who is considered a moderate, was sharply criticized for its poor handling of the economy. There were even calls for the restoration of the monarchy, overthrown in 1979.
Violent protests erupted again in November 2019 after the government announced it was raising petrol prices by 50 percent as it struggled to cope with economic sanctions reinstated by the US when it unilaterally abandoned the multi-polar nuclear deal in 2018. The unrest prompted a bloody crackdown by the security forces. A Reuters news agency report put the death toll at 1,500.
A major feature of these more recent protests is that they have often been leaderless and fueled by grassroots anger over inflation, unemployment and widening economic and social inequality.
Former Crown Prince Predicts Regime Collapse
Reza Pahlavi, the heir of Iran’s deposed monarchy [who lives in exile near Washington, D.C.], said that major protests which erupted in November and again this month, reminded him of the uprising that ousted his father, the Shah-in-Shah in early 1979 (FAZ/Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 16).
The 59-year-old heir to the Peacock Throne, in an address to the Hudson Institute said: “It’s just a matter of time for it to reach its final climax. I think we’re in that mode,” adding that Iranians could “smell the opportunity for the first time in 40 years this time.” There was an easing of fear among protesters and the growing distancing of self-described reformists from the authoritarian and clerical Islamic regime.
While exiled activists have routinely predicted the fall of the regime, Reza Pahlavi may have initiated a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Trump’s Removal Trial in Election Year
As foreseen in the U.S. Constitution, the upper house or Senate formally opened the impeachment trial for the removal of U.S. President Donald J. Trump from office with quiet but somber ceremony last Thursday. The senators stood at their desks to swear an oath of “impartial justice” as quasi-jurors, and Democratic prosecutors [known as “managers”] from the House of Representatives formally recited the charges. The Supreme Court Chief Justice looked on [for the time being] as the presiding officer (AP/Associated Press, January 18).
The impeachment trial is only the third such undertaking in American history, the previous one being that of Democrat Bill Clinton. It is unfolding at the start of the election year – not only for president, but also partly and mid-term for the two houses of Congress, and governors of some states. Thanks to divisive Trump, it is a time of deep political division in the nation. It is as if ‘tribalism’ has taken over domestic politics.
It is also a trial that will test not only Trump’s tumultuous presidency – both in the domestic and foreign arenas – but also the nation’s three branches of government and power, and its political system of reliable and proven ‘checks and balances’. The executive, legislature and judiciary are ‘co-equals’ in the American political system of government.
Trump faces two charges after the House [Democratic majority] voted to impeach him last month. One that he abused his presidential power to pressuring [or blackmailing] Ukraine’s president to investigate potential Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, using military aid to the tune of US Dollar 500 million to the country and a White House visit [which would have been of enormous prestige and benefit for a country struggling against mighty neighbouring Russia] as leverage. Trump was also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing investigations at every twist and turn.
In spite of overwhelming evidence, Trump insists he has done nothing wrong [after the doctrine: ‘the king can do no wrong’], and has dismissed the trial anew: “It’s totally partisan. It’s a hoax.”
Since the Republicans control the Senate 53 to 47 Democrats, eventual acquittal is expected. But the black mark of ‘impeachment’ against Trump will remain for ever after, just as it has against Clinton.
The Senate impeachment trial began in earnest this Tuesday when Republicans and Democrats debated a resolution settling the rules for the trial before starting opening arguments. It will run six days a week Monday through Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) and ending usually between 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. ET.
Even as the trial is underway, new revelations are mounting about Trump’s toxic actions toward Ukraine. But like the proverbial wise men/monkeys, the Senate Republicans ‘see, hear and speak no evil’ against Trump, the congenital liar.
Trump will be acquitted by the Republicans, but not by majority public opinion. It is difficult to see how a disgraced Trump and his submissive Republican Party will emerge triumphant in November 2020.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]
[The People’s Review will have a daily update on the Trump impeachment trial, beginning Wednesday, January 22. Please log on at: www.peoplesreview.com.np]