Sunday, October 24, 2010

Contemplating The Counteroffensive

It took the Government of India 10 days to summon our Ambassador Rukma Shamsher Rana and lodge a strong protest over the Maoist attack on Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood in Solukhumbu. New Delhi, moreover, allowed Kathmandu to remind itself how the remonstration was the first since 1989, when Nepal bought arms from China, precipitating a crippling trade and transit embargo that produced a deformed democracy.
The contrast Sood’s plight offered with the reception accorded Chinese ambassador Qiu Guhong in Mustang around the same time doubtless aggravated the Indians from the start. But they must have waited to ascertain how the Maoists would behave in the aftermath. The ex-rebels not only seemed unapologetic but almost relished the prospect of repeat performances. Nepalis in general are left pondering the size and scope of India’s likely response to the Maoists’ brazenness.
Opinion seems divided on our end. There are suggestions from some quarters that India has, in the past few years, become more magnanimous toward Nepal. Not out of altruism, though, but out of cool confidence. In the global balance of power, New Delhi believes it is in the best position to maximize its autonomy. From one side of the mouth, the Americans can claim how China has become an equally vital stakeholder in Nepal. From the other, they must acclaim New Delhi as a partner to stabilize South Asia.
Moreover, Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s brandishing of the ‘China card’ does not amount to a clear and present danger to India because New Delhi knows the extent of Beijing’s distrust of the Maoists. The other school of thought holds that Dahal may be tilting northward on the express advice of the south to help avoid encroachment of the Indian version of the Monroe Doctrine by the Americans. If you can’t stop the dragon from breathing hard down your neck, the second best thing is to try to lower the temperature. As long as the Indians recognize that the Chinese cannot be a viable economic substitute for Nepal, they feel secure enough. So when Nepal Workers and Peasants Party president Narayan Man Bijukchhe claims that the Indians, being Dahal’s political progenitors, remain unruffled by the northern alliance, he has a point.
But would the Americans countenance a diminution of their influence? So here comes the other twist, pushed by the Rastriya Jana Morcha’s Chitra Bahadur KC. Continued political rivalry could result not only in the reversal of the republican order but the return of the Panchayat system. Before laughing off KC’s remark as a has-been’s quest to maintain relevance, consider this: for all its alleged internal ills, the Panchayat system did absorb the competing external pressures to provide geopolitical equilibrium.
It is no accident that the deadline we are most worried about is the expiry of the current mandate of UNMIN, not the term of the constituent assembly. From Chinese soil, Dahal contended that the end of UN mission would not affect the peace process.
With India set to take up its seat on the Security Council at the beginning of next year, the counteroffensive from the south is likely to carry the payload of all the other directions.