By Prabasi Nepali
Nepal’s Constitution par excellence
The first anniversary of the promulgation of the constitution was marked by a special celebration in the UN headquarters in New York last Saturday. Addressing the distinguished gathering of foreign ministers and diplomats from around the globe, foreign minister PrakashSharanMahat claimed that the document was most inclusive and among the best constitutions across the world! This sweeping statement must have been received with a pinch of salt. After all, the need for immediate amendments (at the urging of India no less) to satisfy the Madhesi parties demands has become very urgent. However, this will not happen any time soon, at least not before the Dasain and Tihar festivals.
The centre-left – Maoist government is also proceeding at snail’s pace as regards the more important agenda of holding elections at the local, district and national levels. This is vital if the country is to avoid a constitutional deadlock. The current superannuated jumbo legislature-parliament has become an albatross around the country’s neck and must be superseded by a ‘normal’ parliament.
India was weighing all possible options after a bloody raid on the Uri army base in Kashmir (near the Line of Control/LoC, the de facto border between the Pakistani and Indian administered parts of Kashmir) has fueled tensions with nuclear-armed Pakistan, as some hot-head politicians called for military action after the worst attack of its kind in over a decade.
India is contemplating the option of waging ‘water wars’ – withholding or diverting the waters of the rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Sindhu (Indus) in Kashmir. This would pose a danger to Pakistan.
India has said Pakistan-based militants (of Jaish-e-Mohammed) were behind the attack in which 17 soldiers were killed (one more later succumbed to injuries), raising the prospect of a military escalation in the already tense disputed Himalayan region. The Indian minister of the interior has accused Pakistan of “continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups”. PM Narendra Modi has promised ‘those responsible’ would not go unpunished. The neighbors have fought three wars since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
The attack followed weeks of protests against Indian rule in Kashmir (sometimes draconian army actions) sparked by the killing of popular young rebel leader BurhanWani in a gun fight with security forces. At least 87 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in clashes between protesters and the military, the worst unrest to hit the state since 2010. Islamabad has accused New Delhi of trying to deflect attention from that unrest with what it called “vitriolic and unsubstantiated statements”. According to observers, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif is firmly under the army’s control, and it is the army chief General Raheel Sharif (no relation of the PM) who is calling the shots in the crucial areas of foreign and defense policies – India, Afghanistan, the US, nuclear policies, armed militants.
In the meantime, China has assured Pakistan of its support in the event of any “foreign aggression” and also supported the country’s stance on the Kashmir dispute. Beijing conveyed this message during a meeting of its consul-general in the provincial capital Lahore with Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif (brother of the PM). This definitely curtails India’s military options. Pakistan is currently also holding military drills with Russia, its former rival of the Cold War era. This is an attempt by Pakistan to broaden its foreign policy options after its relations with the US is steadily deteriorating. Russia, on the other hand, is trying to broaden its footprint in South Asia and polishing its image as a ‘great power’.
US & Pakistan
In an unusual development, two US legislators from the House of Representatives have moved a bill to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. This was before Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif was to address the UN General Assembly and was considered humiliating. Several Congressmen and senators had also flagged the Uri attack by militants (in Indian administered Kashmir) for attention. Congressman Ted Poe of Texas, who moved the bill, said pointedly that “not only is Pakistan an untrustworthy ally, it has also aided and abetted enemies of the United States for years. From harboring Osama bin Laden (the leader of Al Qaeda) to its close relationship with the Haqqani network, there is more than enough evidence to determine whose side Pakistan is on the War on Terror. It is definitely not America’s.”
The bill enjoins the US government to make a formal call on the matter within four months of its passage. The US President will have to issue a report within 90 days detailing whether or not Pakistan has provided support for international terrorism. Thirty days after that, the Secretary of State will have to issue a follow-up report containing either a determination that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism or a detailed justification as to why Pakistan does not meet the legal criteria for such designation. However, this is mainly an academic exercise. The bill is unlikely to pass Congress anytime soon. In addition, the administration is in its last stages, as a new president will be elected on November 8 and will take office in coming January. Nonetheless, the terrorist tag has now clung harder to Pakistan as the latest serious bombings in New York and New Jersey was carried out by a naturalized American of Afghan origin after having been ‘radicalized’ in Pakistan.
Under President Obama, relations with Pakistan have definitely cooled. He cancelled a scheduled bilateral meeting with Sharif on the sidelines of this year’s UN General Assembly after the Uri militant attack. In August this year, the Pentagon blocked defence aid to Pakistan to the tune of US $ 300 million. In fact, economic aid has been reduced 53 percent from $ 1,2 billion in 2011 to $ 561 million in 2015; security aid has slipped 73 percent from $ 1.3 billion in 2011 to 343 million in 2015.
Syrian Civil War
The truce brokered by the US and Russia came to an abrupt end after Russian aircraft bombed an UN convoy of trucks carrying badly needed food, water and medical supplies to the besieged city of Aleppo. Before that, it was only a sham-truce since the regime of President Bashar al-Assad (strongly supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah of Lebanon) had assiduously and rigorously denied any help from reaching the city for a one-week period.
Now, with the truce lying in tatters, heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo have killed many civilians overwhelming doctors and rescue workers. The toll was expected to rise because people remained trapped under rubble. Damascus has already announced the operation to recapture and ‘liberate’ the whole city. Previously, US Secretary of State John Kerry had called for grounding all aircraft in the civil war – an impossible undertaking, in the face of the opposing side’s long-term plans.
Not only Kerry, but the Obama administration as a whole, has failed the Syrian people. The US has been out-maneuvered by the alliance of Russia, Iran and the Assad regime. The latter, no doubt, is a serial perpetrator of war crimes, and its ally Russia has also made itself guilty of the same.
US Presidential Election
On the eve of their first head-to-head presidential debate on September 26, polls indicated that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a virtual dead heat, both tied at 41 percent support among registered voters.
The respected International New York Times has now endorsed Clinton to the hilt. It narrated that Clinton “has a record of service and a raft of pragmatic ideas, and the other Donald Trump discloses nothing concrete about himself or his plans while promising the moon and offering the stars in layaway.” The newspaper believed Trump “to be the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history.” It based its endorsements “in respect for her intellect, experience, toughness and courage over a career of almost continuous public service, often as the first or only woman in the arena.” Moreover, she has displayed “a command of policy and diplomatic nuance and an ability to listen to constituents and colleagues that are all too exceptional in Washington.” The bottom line: “A lifetime’s commitment to solving problems in the real world qualifies Hillary Clinton for this job, and the country should put her to work.” Period.
The presidential debate this Monday clearly showed Clinton’s masterly command of her policies. Trump lost control and Clinton took over. According to a poll of registered voters, Clinton had an edge of 62 points over Trump’s 27. She should have now stopped Trump’s momentum.
On War, Threats of War & War of Words
By Prabasi Nepali