By Prabasi Nepali
SAARC Summit Cancelled
As a result of the armed confrontation on the de facto Indo-Pakistani border in Kashmir, India first unilaterally withdrew its participation in the 19th SAARC Summit scheduled for November 9-10 in Islamabad. In India’s opinion, in view of increasing cross-border ‘terrorist’ attacks in the region (i.e. India) and growing interference in the internal affairs of member states by one country (i.e. Pakistan), the government of India was unable to take part in the planned Summit. It is to be noted that India made this public announcement unilaterally, without consulting the other member states, or more importantly, Nepal, the current chair of the regional organization.
In a further development, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan followed the Indian example and likewise publicly expressed their inability to participate in the Islamabad high meeting “in the prevailing circumstances”. Here again, Nepal as the chair and the Kathmandu based SAARC-Secretariat were completely sidelined, and the four member-states trampled on diplomatic niceties and basic protocol. Actually, immediately after the unilateral Indian announcement, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have sprung into action and tried to ‘save’ the said summit. The above three member-states did not act on their own volition, but were strongly ‘influenced’ by India.
Nepal as the SAARC chair finally made a fatefully lame effort by ‘strongly urging’ that a conducive environment be created for the 19th SAARC Summit soon by ensuring the participation of all member states in line with the spirit of the SAARC Charter. By then, it was too late, India was calling the shots, and Nepal could not influence events any more. A golden opportunityto highlight Nepal’s diplomatic initiative was lost. This was a major failure of the foreign minister PrakashSharanMahat ( in the age of digital diplomacy he could have been active from UNGA, New York with telling effect) and also of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The very next day, India announced that it had launched a successful attack on Pakistan-based militants. A day later, Sri Lanka also announced that it was unable to take part in the eight-nation summit – also without first informing Nepal as the chair and the SAARC secretariat. Pakistan did the same, postponing the SAARC summit indefinitely and unilaterally. The SAARC movement is practically in shambles, because of the inadequacies of all the member states, barring the Maldives.
On Saturday, Nepal very unconvincingly announced that as the SAARC chair, it will try to ensure that the Summit does take place. But when? It has been so overwhelmed by events that this is a completely futile undertaking. Any meeting of SAARC has now been postponed sine die,and the very existence of SAARC is also in question.
Indo-Pakistan Conflict Inflamed
The war of words between the nuclear-armed neighbours continues unabated. Not only that, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fresh fire across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between the Indian and Pakistan administered parts of Kashmir. The situation was so tense that UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon offered to mediate between the two countries. This will be welcomed by Pakistan, but rejected by India.
Two days after Indian troops carried out a series of strikes across the Pakistani side of their dividing line in disputed Kashmir, there had been cross-border skirmishes further south. Tens of thousands of villagers along the border have already been ordered to vacate their homes.India had announced that it had carried out “surgical strikes” last Thursday on ‘terrorist’ posts on the Pakistani side of the Kashmiri frontier. This provoked fury in Islamabad, and PM Nawaz Sharif denounced what he called “naked aggression”. Strangely, the Pakistani army has denied that such raids took place at all!
In the meantime, amid massive public anger in India over the original raid by militants on the Indian army base in Uri, India has sought to isolate Pakistan, whom it accuses of sponsoring terrorist groups. It succeeded in persuading nearly all its neighbours to boycott the SAARC regional summit in Islamabad (with the exception of Nepal and the Maldives). Nonetheless, the Indian media claims that Nepal has also supported the Indian standpoint, with no rebuttal from Nepal.
US Presidential Election: Trump on the Defensive
After his lackluster performance at the one-on-one debate with Hillary Clinton in New York, Trump has threatened to bring ex-president Bill Clinton’s sex scandals in the spotlight of his campaign. These had tainted the career of Hillary’s husband and led to an impeachment process by Congress, which nearly led to his being removed from office. He hopes thereby to turn female voters away from her. Trump himself is involved in a rant against a pro-Hillary ex-Miss Universe of Venezuelan origin. Referring to Hillary, he said: “She’s nasty, but I can be nastier than she ever can be.”
Female voters almost certainly will swing this election. With just four weeks of campaigning left, Clinton and Trump are scrambling to win over female voters, especially well educated white women who have emerged as perhaps the presidential campaign’s most pivotal swing voting group. One such woman said: “Women are going to save this country this election.” [!] Clinton has an outsized advantage among white women with college degrees – 57 percent to Trump’s 32 percent.
In the meantime, Clinton pulled ahead of Trump by three percentage points in a Fox News national poll besting the maverick billionaire 43 to 40 percent. Following the debate, Clinton’s numbers have also improved in a number of critical swing states following the debate. Florida, with its prodigious number of electoral votes, has swung back to Clinton. In the battleground state of Michigan, Clinton was now leading Trump by seven percentage points. If Clinton again holds her own in the coming presidential debate on October 9, it could prove decisive. This time, the debate format will be like a town hall meeting where the participants can present ideas, voice their opinions and ask questions of the political candidates. For Clinton, it will be a piece of cake as she has poise and experience, but for Trump it could present a stumbling block with his volatile temperament, especially as his tax records show he could have avoided paying taxes for years.
Atrocities in Syria
Syrian regime forces have been advancing in the largest city Aleppo after Russia unleashed dozens of air strikes. World-wide condemnation has been mounting over the targeting and bombing of hospitals in the city’s rebel-held east. The devastating five-year war in Syria has ravaged Aleppo, once the country’s economic hub but now torn apart between government troops and rebel forces.
The American policy in Syria lies in tatters, and there is no chance for a diplomatic solution. The Syrian regime and Russia may be liable for war crimes.
By Prabasi Nepali