Sunday, December 07, 2008

Opportune Emphasis On The Obvious

We didn’t really need former king Gyanendra to state the obvious at least on this one. He lost his crown because he helped China get a seat in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as an observer. South Asia’s geopolitical locus had been shifting northward for quite some time. The Nepalese monarch only helped to make that official.
The real news of the week lay in the fact that the ex-monarch chose to ventilate his feelings at a time when our nascent republic was playing host to a succession of civil and military delegations from the north. (One is forced to wonder why the newspaper editor who met with Mr. Shah largely held back that portion of the interview, allowing another weekly to attribute it to him in greater detail. Pool coverage, one would imagine.)
The cautionary tale is obvious. If the Chinese could fail to rescue the monarch from a crisis strictly originating from its larger geopolitical forays, what makes the Maoists think they can fare better? The ex-rebels should tread carefully here. But they need not be intimidated by the gloss a section of the Indian media has put on the character and quantum of Chinese pledges of development and military assistance. (Actually, it is one reporter who always manages to peddle her story line across a wider spectrum.)
In other words, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was due here to formally announce that his government had withdrawn the terror tag from the Maoists. But he suspended his visit for unspecified reasons. China’s military interest must have scuttled his itinerary. Turning enemies into friends is far less important than irking a hugely anxious neighbor.
It is useless to argue over whether China’s new assertiveness in Nepal is a response to India or to the United States. The Free Tibet demonstrations kind of fused the two strands. The Nepali Congress can feign outrage over Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s vow to help Nepal safeguard its independence and sovereignty without his having identified where that threat emanated from or alluded to whether Nepal ever sought such assurances. The party had used similar tactics in parliament in late 1959 over allegations of Chinese infiltration. Posing as nationalists, the Nepali Congress was actually abetting the Indians, a stratagem that eventually boomeranged on the multiparty system.
For quite some time, the Chinese have been describing the open border between Nepal and India as a threat to their security. If Beijing has come around to rating the precariousness in the Terai as a close second behind the Tibet issue, it must be because of the hurdle it places on its quiet but calibrated long march into the South Asian heartland.
The creation of a no-go area, under Indian auspices, along that sliver from Mechi to Mahakali through either outright annexation, independence or perpetual instability can be the only logical interpretation up north. Whether the strip can be any less porous in any of those eventualities is a different matter.
How far the Chinese really trust the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Baburam Bhattarai facade of the Maoists is open to question. They were too closely tucked in Indian territory, with the connivance of officials as well as allies. But, then, the duo has a proven ability to be everything to everybody. Beijing knows that Dahal-Bhattarai combine would not mind prospering on the halo of a tightening northern alliance regardless of the actual firmness of the hug.
Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, who once threatened our neighbors that Nepal had enough volatility to turn from a yam to a dynamite, retains much of his rhetorical bluster. But, then, even he could not throw in his lot with the “nationalist” faction at the recent party conclave.
So this is where Mr Shah’s emphasis on the obvious cannot be overstated. Be it the Indians, Americans or Europeans, they are here primarily for themselves. Should the diplomatically and politically resurgent Russians decide to stretch their necks above the crowd, don’t expect them to be any more altruistic.