By Prabasi Nepali
The summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was supposed to have been held in Islamabad this coming November. However, following the supposed attack by Islamic militants on an Indian outpost in Kashmir on India’s side of the de facto border (LoC/Line of Control) in Uri, and India’s supposed retaliation with ‘surgical strikes’ on ‘terrorist camps’ in Pakistan-administeredKashmir (India has still not released tapes of this much vaunted military action), this summit was postponed indefinitely.
There was concerted action by India to put the summit on ice. As a director in Sri Lanka’s presidential secretariat put it “The Indian way of sabotaging the fragile regional cooperation in order to express hostility towards a neighbor (i.e. Pakistan) due to a bilateral issue (i.e.the long drawn out dispute over Jammu & Kashmir since the independence of both countries from imperial British subjugation) is causing concern to the friends of South Asian regional cooperation.” (Ceylon Today/The Rising Nepal, October 23, 2016).
India, in fact, succeeded in outmaneuvering Nepal, the current SAARC chair , and relegating the summit to a non-event. This was not the first time that India took such an ‘initiative’. In the 1990s, India took similar actions to sabotage the SAARC summits in Dhaka and Colombo. The SAARC Charter specifically states the need for consensus of all member states. India’s modus operandi then was to urge a dependable neighbour – Bhutan – to announce its inability to attend the summit, thus leading to the cancellation of the event. This time around, India did not use a proxy, but while announcing its withdrawal, ‘convinced’ Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh to also withdraw, resulting in Nepal being ‘forced’ to cancel the Islamabad summit. Actually, this amounted to an India-led boycott of SAARC.
However, in 1992, the then President of Sri Lanka RanasinghePremadasa did not take the Indian machinations lying down! He persuaded the leaders of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives to uphold their scheduled official visits to Colombo and succeeded in holding a mini-South Asian Summit to express open displeasure at India hijacking regional cooperation. This time Nepal’s so-called leaders were completely out-smarted and lacking in dynamism and vision (and above all collective memory). The future of the regional organization has become indeed bleak.
India’s attempt to isolate Pakistan from South Asian cooperation is really pathetic. It decided to hold the BRICS outreach together with BIMSTEC in Goa. From the geo-political point of view, India is trying to dominate South Asia, and the other smaller countries must offer effective resistance. This will be objectively difficult for Afghanistan and Bhutan. Sri Lanka is already looking for alternatives and taking initiatives towards ASEAN. Nepal will have to take a great step forward towards China.
US Presidential Elections
The Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the third and last presidential debate against Republican nominee Donald Trump in Las Vegas last Wednesday with flying colors. All polls were unanimous on this count. In spite of claims of dishonesty and lapses in matters of personal style, she is also doing well in the field. The Economics Nobel-Laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman suggested that “Clinton is winning because she possesses some fundamental political strengths” – strengths that escape the scrutiny of most political pundits. Many are fantasizing that had an establishment candidate beaten Trump, the narrative this autumn would have been different. However, Krugman debunks this theory, because “Trump won the nomination because he gave his party’s base what it wanted, channeling the racial antagonism that has been the driving force for Republican electoral success for decades.”
With regard to the presidential debates this autumn, Krugman was no less perspicacious. To tens of millions of viewers, Clinton was hugely impressive : “self-possessed, almost preternaturally calm under pressure, deeply prepared, clearly in command of policy issues.” She was everything that Trump was not. It was as if she was working according to a strategic plan, because “each debate victory looked much bigger after a couple of days.” The important point is that the strengths she demonstrated in the debates are also those that will be of tremendous advantage in the Oval Office — the most powerful job in the world.
It could even be argued that the obvious competence and poise in stressful situations (which Trump completely lacks) confers on Hillary Clinton the aura of a political star – a quality that may not fit the conventional notions of charisma. Essentially, she brought to the election campaign the conviction that no believes in the solutions she’s pushing.” She may sound a bit bloodless on macroeconomic questions, but she does have a command of the subject and talks good sense. Her detractors see her as “coldly ambitious and calculating”, but when she is talking about women’s rights, or racial injustice, or support for families, her commitment, even passion, are compellingly palpable – she’s “genuine, in a way nobody in the other party can be.” Thus, it is pure fiction that Clinton is only where she is “through a random stroke of good luck”. Without doubt she’s “a formidable figure, and has been all along.” The American electorate now has just about a week to contemplate the two hugely disparate antagonists (the two other third-party candidates can be discounted in this equation) and deliver their verdict on November 8.
Trump made an unforgivable blunder by insisting that he would not necessarily concede the election if he loses, a break with 240 years of peaceful transition of power. He has also been constantly asserting that the presidential elections have been rigged against him (including rampant media complicity) and casting accusations of widespread voter fraud.This undoubtedly “risks turning bedrock democratic assumptions – rule of law, the peaceful transfer of power, the sanctity of elections – into points of political dispute.” (INYT)
Hillary Clinton is currently leading among likely voters by 50 percent to Trump’s 38 percent, according to a national ABC News poll. In his own words, Trump is holding the nation in “suspense” with regard to his reaction on election day!
Syrian Imbroglio& Iraqi Resurgence
The battle for control of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo has intensified with air strikes, ground offensives and shelling, the morning after a resurgence in fighting ended a Russian ceasefire. There has been fierce fighting between insurgents and Syrian government and allied forces along a strategic frontline in southwest Aleppo. Humanitarian aid has not been able to reach rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Russia and its puppet regime of Bashar al-Assad make themselves liable to war crimes with their continued bombing of Aleppo and its civilian population.
The story is quite different in neighboring Iraq. Iraqi forces have been battling through booby-traps, sniper fire and suicide car bombs to tighten the noose around Mosul, while also hunting Islamic State group jihadists (IS/ISIL/Daesh) behind attacks across the country. Kurdish forces were pushing ahead northeast of Mosul in a huge assault to take the IS-held town. A U.S.-led coalition is backing the unprecedented offensive with air and ground support.
In a diversionary tactic, IS-jihadists hit back last Friday with a surprise assault on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk. The dozens of attackers failed to seize control of key government buildings and had no significant impact on the Mosul offensive. The territorial expulsion of IS from Iraq (and perhaps Syria) seems to be in sight. This is also a late security affairs/foreign policy success for US President Barack Obama.
Thai Monarchy in Crisis
With the death of King BhumibolAdulyadej, Thailand faces uncertain times. For the Thais, he was the model of a great and beloved king. He had focused his attention on the welfare of his people, and was modest, earnest and selfless. He had contributed greatly to making Thailand a more stable and progressive constitutional monarchy.
Unfortunately, his heir apparent Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has a poor reputation, and many people, including within the palace, and the military and civilian establishment, anticipate the succession with extreme apprehension. The prince has the standing of a jet-setting playboy, spending the bulk of his time abroad, mostly in his two villas in the posh and exclusive lakeside of Starnberg in Upper Bavaria near Munich.
Compounding the country’s woes is that Thailand’s once booming economy is in stagnation, the Muslim insurgency in the south is still rampant and governance leaves much to be desired. If the Thais opt for stability and progress, their best bet may perhaps be to allow the profligate prince to renounce the throne and continue with ‘la dolce vita’. The way would then be open for his more capable and revered sister, the Princess Royal MahachakriSirindorn, who would have been the late king’s first choicehad the rule of male primogeniture not applied.
World in Turmoil
By Prabasi Nepali