Thursday, February 02, 2006

At Whose Command?

Media reports on the 24-hour visit of Admiral William J. Fallon, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, continue to be bewilderingly divergent. At one extreme are the official media, which suggested that Adm. Fallon had been won over by King Gyanendra's televised address to the nation.
The private-sector media see the visit by a top U.S. military official as the sternest gesture the Americans could have devised to warn the supreme commander in chief of the Royal Nepalese Army of the gravity of Nepal's conflict.
Maila Baje is less sanguine. His mind wandered back to 1979, when another generation of idealist students had risen up against a monarchy that had seemed invincible.
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran had been confronting the combined wrath of liberal democratic and Islamist opponents.
A year earlier, U.S. President Jimmy Carter had toasted the Shah's Iran as an island of stability in the region's turbulent waters.
Officially, Washington had not withdrawn its support for the Shah, whose rule the CIA had restored in 1953 after a brief interruption.
The Shah had no shortage of allies in Washington. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinksi and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger urged Carter to support the Shah to the hilt.
A little-known governor who had gone on to win the president on a platform of, among other things, bringing human rights to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, Carter was less enthusiastic about that course of action.
His ambivalence was deepened by younger diplomats at the State Department who wanted the Shah out regardless of the alternative.
In the seeming disarray, Carter discovered a more appealing choice: reaching out to moderate elements of the government/military and the opposition.
Working behind the scenes, Carter's Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, detected an eagerness on the part of the mullahs to carry the pro-American mantle in what was becoming an increasingly turbulent region.
William Sullivan, the U.S. Ambassador in Teheran, soon discovered that the White House had been running a parallel mission there under Gen. Robert Huyser.
The result of the two-faced diplomacy? A two-part revolution. The first phase consisted of Ayatollah Khomeini's willingness to cooperate with the broader anti-Shah front.
The Islamic fundamentalists' attack on the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and seizure of American diplomats and employees provided the mullahs an opportunity to strengthen themselves for the second phase of the revolution: total capture of the state.
Moderates were either killed or exiled.
Sounds scary? Consider the last time the head of the U.S. Pacific Command was in town while Nepal was boiling. Six years ago, Adm. Dennis Blair came and went amid considerably less fanfare.
In a subsequent appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Blair voiced frustration over the Nepalese government's failure to fashion the right combination of negotiations, economic development, and military/ police operations to turn the tide of the Maoist insurgency.
This was the period when King Birendra and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala were at loggerheads over the issue of mobilizing the military against the Maoists.
In public speeches, Koirala variously suggested that the army had already been deployed, would be deployed, could not be deployed and should never be deployed.
King Birendra, in an act of growing assertiveness, summon Koirala, key ministers and bureaucrats to the palace to discuss an integrated security and development plan.
This was also the period when Ralph Frank, the American ambassador in Kathmandu, publicly chided political parties for debasing democracy and, in private meetings, warned King Birendra of the terrible consequences of inaction.
Put the Maoists in place of the mullahs and see if the picture becomes clearer.