BY SHASHI MALLA
NEPAL: British Ambassador Questions Election of Maoist Speaker
In a wide-ranging interview with Republica (February 3), the British Ambassador to Nepal, Nicola Pollitt expressed her opinion on a variety of subjects on bilateral and international subjects.
After all, Nepal-UK relations go back centuries and the UK remains one of Nepal’s largest donorsand development partners. Till today, Gurkhas serve in the British Army – a tradition started by Maharaja Jung Bahadur Rana, who came to the aid of the British East India Company during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. British Gurkhas fought in both World Wars. In the modern era, Britain was the first country to recognize Nepal as a sovereign, independent country.
What Ambassador Pollitt said of the election and appointment of former Maoist insurgent Agni Prasad Sapkota as the new speaker of Parliament is, therefore, of great import. She made it clear at the outset that in principle, it is for the Government of Nepal (GooN) to appoint a Speaker according to the process and laws of the country. This was to all intents and purposes to avoid giving the impression that the UK was interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs.
However, at the same time, the British Ambassador made it crystal clear that such a tainted person – who was under investigation for serious breaches of Nepal’s existing laws – would never been appointed Speaker, let alone a Member of Parliament in the UK.
What the Ambassador left unsaid was the fact that such a person accused of murder could be held responsible and arrested abroad under the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ in international law. Such was the fate of a colonel of the Royal Nepal Army held to account in the UK not very long ago.
Modi & BJP Attempt to Transform India – For the Worse
Modi, the War Monger
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre, is under stark pressure after weeks of ongoing protests against a new citizenship law, a slowing economy and the prospect of losing another of the latest in a string of state elections in New Delhi next month.
Modi is now attempting to deflect attention from his myriad domestic woes by attacking arch-rival Pakistan. Without any rhyme or reason, and out of the blue, Modi made the audacious claim that India is now capable of making Pakistan “bite the dust” in less than 10 days in any new war with its sworn enemy (AFP/Agence France Presse).
In a speech to military personnel last week, Modi had elaborated that Pakistan had already lost three wars. Last year in February, the nuclear armed neighbors came close to fighting a fourth with tit-for-tat airstrikes sparked by a terrorist attack on para-military forces in Indian-administered state of Jammu & Kashmir.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars: in 1947 (directly after independence from British rule), 1965 and 1971, as well as in 1999 during the so-called Kargil Conflict.
Modi claimed that Pakistan continues to wage a “proxy war” against India by backing militants in Indian-administered Kashmir where tens of thousands have died. Pakistan, on the other hand has accused India of supporting insurgents in its Balochistan region.
In August 2019, Modi’s government stripped Indian Kashmir of its partial autonomy.
Region West Asia/Middle East
Battle for Supremacy in the Middle East
The struggle between Shia-dominated Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East has impacted nearly every regional issue, fracturing regional and international alliances and sustaining wars across the region, while raising fears of a direct conflict between the two heavily-armed powers (WPR/World Politics Review).
Saudi Arabia has escalated its regional adventurism since Mohammad bin Salman, the powerful, favorite son of King Salman, was appointed Crown Prince in 2017 [superseding other senior and deserving candidates of the Saud royal clan]. He immediately started to crack down on the regime’s opponents, including the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi [columnist of The Washington Post] in the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul.
This had little effect on the Crown Prince’s increasingly close ties to the Trump administration, above all his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is supposed to have business relations with the Saudi kingdom.
Determined to undermine the clerical Iranian regime, Trump pulled out of the multi-lateral nuclear deal with Iran und used U.S. economic might to undermine Iran’s economy. Months of tensions over Iranian provocations resulted, including shooting down an American drone in the Strait of Hormuz and a drone and missile strike against Saudi oil facilities last September. It culminated this January with the U.S. assassination of top Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport, followed in retaliation by an Iranian precision missile barrage targeting two U.S. bases in Iraq.
Though both sides quickly backed away from escalation to open warfare, the Middle East is rife with other ongoing conflicts, in which the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are directly or indirectly involved.
This includes the civil war in Yemen that has fueled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, according to the U.N., another in Syria that may finally be reaching a no-less bloody endgame, and one in Libya that is once again escalating after a short-lived ceasefire.
These conflicts exist on two levels: domestic struggles for control of the countries’ futures, and proxy wars fueled by the regional powers, as well as Russia and, in the case of Libya, also France.
Meanwhile, the long-simmering dispute between Israel and Palestine, which used to dominate international headlines, continues to flare up periodically. A round of fighting in May 2019 was the deadliest since 2014.
The Trump administration’s so-called peace plan finally released last week, is designed more to legitimize the status quo in favor of Israel than to move both sides to a sustainable resolution of two sovereign states. This sham peace plan could ultimately prove destabilizing.
This has also become embroiled in the larger power struggle, with Saudi-allied leaders willing to remain silent on the Palestinian question in return for Israeli support in containing Iran.
United States: After Impeachment, Now the 2020 Elections
With the Iowa Caucuses, the Race to Decide Election Candidates Begins
Four years after the world watched Donald Trump’s momentum build steadily until he became the Republican nominee, the United States is again deciding who will run for the White House. Short of a big shock, the Republican nominee will be Trump again. Technically he has two challengers, but he is so popular among Republicans, his winning path is clear (BBC).
Primaries & Caucuses
The nominees will be chosen through a series of ‘primaries’ and ‘caucuses’ in every US state and territory starting in Iowa on Monday and ending in Puerto Rico in early June.
A ‘primary’ is an election, held across a state to pick a party’s nominee to run for office – in this case the presidency. Voters choose their candidates in a secret ballot. The first primary will be New Hampshire next week.
A ‘caucus’ involves people attending an internal party meeting for a few hours of discussions – before they vote on their preferred candidate, via a head count or show of hands. Those meetings are held in a few select locations.
If any candidate gets under 15 percent of the vote in any caucus, their supporters then get to pick a second choice from among the candidates who did get more than 15 percent, or they can just choose to sit out the second vote.
What is at stake is delegates – 41 Democratic ones in Iowa – distributed according to how well candidates performed in the caucuses. Thus, if candidate A is awarded 10 delegates, those delegates would later vote for candidate A as the Democratic nominee at the summer convention. The aim for any candidate is to garner as many delegates as possible over the primary season.
Does Iowa actually matter?
As the primary season curtain raiser, the Iowa caucus can help shape perceptions among voters. A win here can help give a candidate momentum early in the race and erase any doubts about their viability. The political aura with the Iowa caucus all started with Jimmy Carter’s win here in 1976 which propelled him to the presidency.
While Iowans have a good record at picking the eventual Democratic nominee, their record when it comes to the Republican candidate is more mixed. When it’s an open Republican race [unlike this year’s for example] none of the winners of Iowa has become the Republican nominee since 2000!
However, it must be pointed out that Iowa is not the most diverse of states in America – it has an overwhelming white majority. The rest of the country will probably vote very differently in the coming primaries and caucuses.
Among the Democrats, there are still 11 candidates running for the nomination. Many have spent the past few weeks vigorously campaigning in the small but crucial Midwest state, which is always the first to vote. The primaries move on to New Hampshire next Tuesday and goes on until early June.
The first event that helped decide the candidates for US president took place with Monday’s Iowa caucuses.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]