Wednesday, November 30, 2005

News That Wasn’t Fit To Print

When an Indian newspaper ends up breaking the news that U.S. President George W. Bush, during his recent visit to Beijing, urged his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, not to arm the Royal Nepalese Army, it’s not difficult to figure out the kind of stakes Nepal holds in international power politics.

The Indian newspaper didn’t give the full story. Here’s what Maila Baje pieced together from all those tea leaves in the Chinese capital:

Bush: Okay, Hu, let’s turn to Nepal. I’ve been getting a lot of heat from the Indians on your cozying up to the king. Not that I don’t have bruised feelings. We gave the king the benefit of the doubt the first time he sacked Deuba. But the second time? He orders Deuba arrested on phony corruption charges when the real scumbags are walking free. This is a calculated snub to the United States. And you’re helping the king.

Hu: George, that’s not fair – and you know it. You were arming and training Nepalese soldiers until January. We wanted to be your true partners in the war on terror, so we didn’t complain when all those American colonels took turns visiting Nepal. We knew that you had at least three dozen special op guys at any given time.
And the royal takeover? You armed the military so heavily that it’s supreme commander felt emboldened to take power.
We’ve stepped in only after you, the Brits and Indians imposed an arms embargo.
You wanna talk about hurt feelings? How do you think we feel when we see you pampering Taiwan?

Bush: Hu, you don’t get it. Deuba is the only Nepali I can remember having met. He’ll probably get a paragraph or two in my memoirs once Laura and I move back to the ranch.
Probably it’s because his name sounds a lot like Dubya. But, no, I really have great regard for the guy.
After 9/11, he was the first South Asian leader to publicly offer us use of airspace for the Afghan war. Now, a lot of people made fun of that offer, considering the size of Nepal’s skies and the lack of direct access to the Afghan theater. But it was the gesture that impressed us.

Hu: Now that you brought up gestures, we were impressed by the Nepali king’s effort to have China included in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Earlier this year, he ordered the Tibetan exiles to close their offices in Nepal. As someone who once served in Tibet, and knows all the mischief you guys have been up to, that means a lot.

Bush: Coming back to Deuba, despite all the differences we had, Colin Powell and I agreed that Deuba represented the best hope for reconciliation in Nepal. Colin pointed out to me that Deuba was the first – and only – Nepali prime minister trained in the West, although I don’t know what he exactly studied at the London School of Economics.
Moreover, he is a true friend of America -- if you know what I mean.

Hu: If you look over the decades, you’ll understand why we feel the king is China’s only friend in Nepal. Chairman Mao once suggested to a Nepali visitor that he considered the king a communist with a crown.
The elected democratic leaders are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Indian political establishment.
We once invited Girija Prasad Koirala to Beijing as part of an effort to reach out to all parties. The man flew straight to New Delhi to brief his Indian mentors.
And this Madhav Kumar Nepal chap. He recently criticized us for supporting the king and that too while on a visit to India.
Of course, we know he was just saying what the official Indian government spokesman could not in public. But did he have to make his real loyalties so blatantly obvious?

Bush: But Deuba…

Hu: Cut it out George, I get the message. Look I’ll do what I can to try and get Deuba released and all charges dropped. Since all this seems to be about Deuba for you, here’s the deal. Once the king makes Deuba’s release and exoneration official, you must immediately restore full ties with the royal government. Make Scott McClellan issue a formal statement welcoming this gesture of reconciliation.
Deuba and the king will join hands to defeat the Maoists. Now don’t be fooled by the Maoists’ alliance with the mainstream parties – you don’t know what hard-core Maoists are capable of. I do – because I used to be one.

Bush: That’s fine with us. What do you want out of all this?

Hu: I know you can’t officially abandon Taiwan because of your domestic compulsions. So I won’t ask you to do that. Just stop accusing us of manipulating the yuan. And, yes, we get to keep selling those guns to Nepal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's Always The Small Guy's Fault

It can't get any better than this.

Stunned by the severity of KG's February 1 strike, which marginalized their proteges in Nepal, Indian leaders at first couldn't decide whether to call their response an arms embargo.

For eight months Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under the stern gaze of the leftist loonies backing his coalition, used words like 'non-lethal' and 'pipeline' to describe its military ties with Nepal.

All this while, rational Indians were reminding their government that, as a sovereign country, Nepal could always turn to China and Pakistan for military supplies. But, no, such counsel merited derision. The dominant view was that KG's effort to play the China card would fall flat. KG was no Ma Bi Bi Shah and Hu Jintao was no Mao Zedong.

India's loony left, having brought the mainstream parties and Maoists closer together against the palace, were infatuated with what they saw as the greatest encounter since Lenin read Marx. The taunts got thicker. Why would the Chinese want to spoil their budding ties with India over a godforsaken stretch of land between them?

Eight months later, the Royal Nepalese Army, tired of waiting for what it knew all along was never going to come, turned to Nepal's other neighbor for help. Our C-in-C returns from a visit up north with warm assurances of support.

Weeks later, KG deftly brought China into the political geography of South Asia in response to India effort to float Afghanistan to sink Pakistan.

In New Delhi, the double whammy assumes a third dimension as India's home and defense ministries wear that "we-told-you-so" scowl.

So the government faction driving India's Nepal policy -- backed by J.N.U. types dishing out all that garbage about Nepalis being ungrateful scoundrels that deserved to be taught harsh lessons every once in a while -- turns to economic coercion.

Carefully calibrated leaks suggest the upcoming trade and transit talks will be dominated by Indian lectures on the risks Nepal has invited by flouting India's security concerns.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Does he sleep well?

He has staked everything to his cause.In victory, unmitigated glory as the head of state of a rejuvenated Nepal. In defeat, the denunciation of history.If correcting the messiness of multiparty democracy demanded a relentless flow of Nepali blood, then that price had to be paid. In the
larger scheme of things, death and destruction could provide the stepping stones to eternal greatness.Adversaries publicly assail his motives. Deep down, they secretly admire him. Going against the global current demands
extraordinary steel.In recent times, though, some of his own supporters have become his most severe critics. The burden of leading has definitely taken
a heavy toll on him.Comrade Prachanda has taken a huge personal risk for the country. Does he fear for his life and legacy?Skeptics in the mainstream and the right end of the spectrum are scarcely the problem. Selling the Delhi Compromise to his foot
soldiers, who still believe storming Narayanhity is the best way of exorcising evil, might not be that difficult either. What will he say to the Revolutionary International Movement (or whatever name that generic amalgamation of communists, anti-
globalization radicals, Islamofascists and others wedded to destruction of the Great Satan goes by these days)?After Fujimori snuffed out that great era of hope in Peru, Nepal's Maoists almost singlehandedly blazed the shiniest path to paradise. Until this spring, Comrade Prachanda was expounding how Nepal's People's War was actually “a totally new 21st century war [also
against] the evil of the imperialist world, the hypocrisy of so-called democracy that a superpower like the U.S. represents.” (see
TIMEAsia, April 25, 2005). Such rhetoric revved up revolutionaries from the islands of the Philippines to the intifadah frontlines of Palestine.What might they think, say -- and worse still -- do? Comrade, have you been able to sleep well these past few nights?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Yam or dynamite?

Judging from the innate editorial wisdom of the Indian Express, Nepalis may have to brace for another round of big brotherly arm-twisting.

The editorial committee seemed so annoyed by KG's brazen display of the China Card in Dhaka and the Chinese arms he received in return that it is counseling another trade and transit embargo a la 1989-90. Of course, not in as many words.

But consider this portion of its November 28 editorial:
"While China has made big advances in Nepal in recent years, the kingdom’s economic geography is inextricably intertwined with that of India. Virtually Nepal’s entire trade transits through India. So do its hydrocarbon supplies. Delhi is not short of options in getting King Gyanendra to meet the Indian demand for an early end to his unconstitutional personal rule over Nepal. What Delhi needs is a credible strategy of coercive diplomacy, aimed at reviving the political process in Nepal; and the gumption to carry it through."

What struck Mahila Baje in the said piece was the vitriol heaped on China. If the psychosis of the 1962 defeat has really receded from the Indian psyche to such an extent, then I think we're all in real trouble. Didn't Maoist military strategist Ram Bahadur Thapa "Badal" tell us a few years ago that Nepal has long evolved from a yam between two boulders into tonnes of dynamite between two mountains?