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Rambling Notes from Near & Far

By Prabasi Nepali
Domestic
Maoist Energy Minister Sacks NEA MD
Maoist Energy Minister Comrade Janardan Sharma had time and again threatened to sack the Managing Director of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) Mukesh Raj Kafle on grounds of ‘incompetence’. Minister Comrade Sharma had first summoned Kafle and asked for his resignation. When he refused on the grounds that he had been appointed by free competition, Comrade Sharma took the unusual step of directing ministry officials to prepare a proposal to terminate the NEA chief’s job and sending it to the cabinet. In addition, the ministry formed two separate panels to appraise the MD’s performance. It has been alleged that Kafle failed to reach the 50 percent grade necessary to retain his job. He had requested that an independent panel review his performance, but this was denied. The cabinet has now terminated Kafle’s contract. The whole process looks rather fishy. But perhaps from now on, even the ministers’ – also the prime minister’s – performances can also be reviewed periodically!
The whole process was a farce right from the beginning, because a source within the ministry itself has revealed that Comrade Janardan Sharma had been trying to push out Kafle citing incompetence, so that he could appoint his own man to the post. “Minister Sharma wants to fill key positions in the ministry and the NEA with his yes-men.” (quoted in The Kathmandu Post/Money, September 8, 2016). What more can you expect of a Maoist minister?
Nepali Ginger of International Standard
According to reports in The Kathmandu Post, the ginger grown in Nepal is high in oil and ‘oleoresin’, and it can be sold to large industrial buyers in India and abroad, if output is increased and quality is ensured. Currently, Nepal is the third largest ginger producer globally, after China and India. In 2012-13, Nepal’s total ginger production reached 235,000 tonnes, out of which 60 percent was exported, mainly to India. Our southern neighbor imports close to 94 percent of Nepal’s fresh ginger and 6 percent of processed ginger.
About two weeks back, Indian customs prevented Nepali ginger from entering its territory after the Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority said Nepali agro products were allegedly laced with a pesticide called ‘Aldicarb’. At the same time, Indian authorities also said the ban was imposed to counter growing infiltration of Chinese ginger in Nepal, which were then finding their way to India. The latter reason should be given larger credence, since the Indian customs suddenly lifted the ban last week, although it was not clear whether the move was temporary. Moreover, it should not have been very difficult to distinguish Nepali from Chinese ginger.
International
Syrian Conflict
It was announced last Friday that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reached an agreement on a new Syrian ceasefire, which, if it holds, could see the first joint military effort by the two leading powers against the radical jihadists, the Islamic State (ISIS). The truce was to come into force on Monday, the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. The much anticipated, if tentative, breakthrough came at the end of marathon talks between the two foreign ministers in Geneva, Switzerland. This is a fresh attempt by the two veteran diplomats to end the five-year civil war that has killed 290,000, displaced half the country’s population inside and outside the country and brought untold suffering to the civilian population.
Kerry summed up the joint efforts: “Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and political transition in Syria.” The key phrase is “negotiated peace and political transition” as the contentious question of the role of President Bashar al-Assad remains unsolved. The United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, want his removal: whereas Russia and Iran (another regional player) still back him. Turkey has lately become ambivalent on this issue.
If Russia is able to persuade Assad to respect the ceasefire for a week, Moscow and Washington will set up a joint coordinating unit and begin joint airstrikes by their respective air forces against agreed “terrorist” targets. The two sides have already agreed on the zones in which these strikes will be carried out. The cornerstone of this complex and ambitious plan is the withdrawal of Syrian government forces around rebel-held Aleppo, allowing desperately needed humanitarian access to besieged communities. Russia must also persuade the Syrian air force to stop strikes on anti-government positions, which have killed large numbers of civilians.
The United States, on its part, has to convince the opposition groups it supports to separate themselves from the former Al Nusra Front (earlier Al-Qaeda affiliate), now called Fateh al-Sham Front, which has allied itself with a range of rebel groups at different points in the fluid conflict. Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said: “The armed opposition in Syria now faces what is perhaps its biggest and most momentous decision since they chose to take up arms against the Assad regime in 2011.” Kerry summarized the complexity of the Syrian conflict: “ the number of stakeholders with different agendas, the wounds that have been inflicted by years of fighting, the ideological and sectarian divides, the urban and suburban war zones, the brutality of extremists, and the unhelpful actions of some outside powers.”
Unfortunately, scarcely an hour after the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect, the Assad regime dropped barrel bombs on one rebel-held neighbourhood.
North Korea’s Nuclear Test
North Korea’s nuclear test last Friday, which sparked international shockwaves, was estimated at 10 kilotons, almost twice as much as the one Pyongyang conducted only eight months ago. It also boasted that the test was of a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on an intercontinental missile. South Korea’s foreign minister Yun Byung-Se believed that the North’s nuclear capability was becoming more advanced, at a higher level and at a faster pace. He called for “more and stronger sanctions”, although five sets of UN sanctions have failed to halt the North’s drive for what it insists are ‘defensive’ weapons. South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have all condemned the nuclear test. However, the next UN Security Council resolution under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which provides for sanctions, will not change the equation at all, in large part because Chinese trade with the North proceeds unhindered.
While the North has vowed not to submit to US “nuclear blackmail”, public opinion in the South has been scathing. People feel that the South has been left unguarded before a ‘nuclear maniac’. Protesters have demanded “strong retaliation”, including pre-emptive attacks on the North’s nuclear complex. The US stations 28,500 troops in the South. These could be armed with tactical nuclear weapons, as they were until the early 1990s.
US Presidential Elections
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton last week made comments about her rival’s supporters which unnecessarily opened her to attacks from Republicans and other detractors. These were variation of a sentiment she had expressed in other more private settings recently, but this time came at a fund-raising public event in Manhattan.
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” she said to much applause and laughter. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islam phobic – you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” In Trump’s rallies, his supporters have without doubt also been grossly nasty and insulting to Clinton.
As a saving grace, Clinton did go on to sympathetically weave another rhetorical basket of Trump voters: “People who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures. And they’re just desperate for change.”
On the face of it, Clinton’s comments, which she later regretted, may sound deplorable, but according to experts, have irked Trump supporters (who in any case would not vote for her), but rather would galvanize her own backers.
Clinton cancelled a California campaign fundraising trip after she fell ill at a 9/11 memorial ceremony on Sunday in New York, and her doctor revealed she was diagnosed with pneumonia. The incident is likely to increase pressure on both candidates to now release detailed medical records, which both have so far declined to date.

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