Sunday, May 10, 2009

Slugging It Out

The Indians and Chinese seem determined to slug it out in Nepal. Of course, Beijing’s pugilism has not been that palpable on the Maoist-Nepal Army bad blood. Recent political developments are an internal affair of Nepal, a Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated in Beijing the other day, maintaining a traditional public façade of non-interventionism.
Yet China’s sense of detachment resonates with its underlying admonition to India to lay its hands off. The first indication of Beijing’s regional rancor came when it clubbed the crisis in Nepal with that in Sri Lanka. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson supported Colombo’s military offensive against the Tamil Tigers and the Maoists’ campaign against Army chief Gen. Rookmangud Katuwal in keeping with Beijing’s traditional friendship with both South Asian nations.
In the aftermath of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s defiance and resignation, New Delhi is swirling with reports on how the Chinese sought to take advantage of the world’s largest democracy’s preoccupation with the elections. In its estimation, the Chinese actually egged on Dahal to fire Gen. Katuwal in a carefully calibrated campaign to eventually install Maoist commander Nanda Kishore Pun as the chief of an integrated national army. (Translation: How dare Beijing try to intervene on matters military without having named the Nepali army chief an honorary general of the People’s Liberation Army!)
Not that the Chinese were terribly enthralled by Dahal’s fealty. Beijing, we are told, are enraged at the way in which Dahal kept putting off his visit. The grudge, moreover, runs deeper. The Chinese had rolled out the red carpet to Dahal during the closing ceremonies of the Olympics last summer. Yet our premier returned to Kathmandu claiming that his visit up north was not exactly his first foreign trip in the way his upcoming southern sojourn was going to be.
To cover its bases, the Chinese purportedly had a draft of the joint communiqué ready well before Dahal had begun packing his bags for the flight up north. Many suspect our premier leaked the draft of the friendship treaty Beijing had proposal to deflect some of the pressure from the south on the extradition treaty. As an insurance policy, Beijing summoned UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal for discussions on ways of widening its options. But events in Kathmandu careened out of control, forcing Khanal to cut short his mission. Then-Chinese ambassador Zheng Xiangling was caught napping in Kathmandu during the Tibet protests. His successor, Qiu Guohong, may not have been that wide awake either.
Dahal, for now, is angered by the release of the videotape strictly meant for internal viewing. He’s not disputing the content, i.e., how the former rebels were merely using the peace process to consummate the full capture of the state. What really seems to be bothering Dahal is the lack of appreciation of what he has put into keeping his restive fighters in line. The prince of prevarication he is, Dahal has used his resignation as a strategic ploy. It is a missile, in his words, against regressive elements and their foreign agents. President Ram Baran Yadav is already talking about herding cows should the Supreme Court rule against him.
The anti-Indianism Dahal and his cronies have been spewing has hurt the Indians. The wider international community is worried about the future of the peace process they had hyped. Ian Martin, who never looked back at the mess he left behind in East Timor, has returned on a “private” visit. Having invested so much in our peace process, the United Nations seems intent on some accountability here.
US President Barack Obama has given no indication that he mulls slipping Nepal into the Af-Pak satchel of Richard Holbrooke. But by maintaining the Maoists on the US terror list, Obama has given enough indication that he believes some enemies of America are more unequal than others. Washington, it turns out, considers our Maoists worse than the Ortegas and the Chavezes of the world.
Nepalis, for their part, find themselves on familiar turf. Constitutional organs are pitted against each other. Civil society is split wide open depending on each constituent’s personal preferences – or, more appropriately, animosities. The communists are up in arms in the legislature and the on streets. A broader democratic alliance is being promoted by the Nepali Congress and former panchas. A party commanding less than a tenth of the legislature’s strength considers itself the leading contender for the premiership.
It looks like Madhav Kumar Nepal will finally break out of his perennial premier-in-waiting status. New Delhi has already embraced him as an ethnic Indian in way it never has any Nepali politician. What are we waiting for? The Chinese hugging Matrika Prasad Yadav as a descendant of a member of Tang Dynasty envoy Wang Xuan-ce’s entourage to the Licchavi court?