By Prabasi Nepali
Constitution Amendment in Limbo
Maoist premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka ‘Prachanda’ is insisting, together with his strange bedfellow, the Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba, that “the constitution amendment bill has been introduced to address some shortcomings in the constitution.” They were of the opinion that “various elements” were working to stop the constitution from being implemented. The fact of the matter was that they were trying very hard to put the cart before the horse, by trying to push through the amendment before the three-tier elections. In addition they were clearly trying to shove through India’s and the Madhes-based parties’ agenda. They do not have the support of the general public, nor does Deuba have the unmitigated approval of his party as a whole. Their behavior is indeed an enigma.
Protests have been simmering in the proposed state no.5 against the move to separate the hill districts from those of the Tarai, and the largest ruling party, the Nepali Congress has not been able to elucidate its current official position on the crucial issue. This is primarily because it is a house divided. Although it has no majority in parliament, the government registered a constitution amendment bill in an attempt to divide the said state to address the demands of the Madhesi parties (which is not to say that they represent the true aspirations of the people of Tarai-Madhes). The only tangible result has been that there is an impasse in parliament, with the main opposition party the CPN-United Marxists-Leninists (UML, which is now more or less a socialist party) blocking proceedings and widespread local demonstrations.
Many NC leaders and cadres from both the Deuba and Paudel factions are against the bifurcation of state no. 5, and attempts to call meetings of the Central Working Committee (CWC) and the Parliamentary Party have been in vain because the leadership is at loggerheads. Leaders and cadres from the proposed state have also not met to sort out the logjam. Senior NC leader Ram Chandra Paudel himself has been critical of the government which instead of implementing the constitution had registered the amendment proposal regarding the change of state boundaries — a dangerous move. The amendment seeks to separate the districts of Rolpa, Pyuthan, Gulmi, Aghakanchi, Palpa and the eastern part of Rukum from proposed state no.5 and merge them with proposed state no. 4. Other prominent leaders like defence minister Bal Krishna Khand, NC general secretary Shashank Koirala and Chandra Bhandari, MP have bemoaned the lack of a clear policy in the party and not respecting the people’s sentiments. However, there is method in the madness of those supporting the amendment — to completely bow to the demands of their Indian masters!
International : Middle East
US Role in Defusing Israel-Palestine Conflict
In a departure from established policy, the United States desisted from applying the veto in the United Nations Security Council in a crucial resolution pertaining to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The US go-ahead signal that allowed the Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could strength moves toward new terms to end the long drawn-out Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, it also constitutes dangers for the United Nations with the incoming Republican Trump administration and may harden Israel’s attitude toward concessions.
The Obama administration’s decision to abstain on the 14-0 vote and allow the UN’s most powerful body to approve a long-sought resolution calling Israeli settlements “ a flagrant violation under international law” was a severe reprimand for the US’s timehonoured ally and a conspicuous break with past US vetoes in favour of Israel. US Ambassador Samantha Power pointedly remarked: “it is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground — and is consistent with US policy across Republican and Democratic administrations throughout the history of the State of Israel — that the United States did not veto it.” Furthermore, she also quoted a 1982 statement by then Republican President Ronald Reagan that the United States “will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements” and that “settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel.” Israel’s settlement activity was thus effectively disengaged from Israel’s national security concerns.
The US abstention was a stark departure from the usual Washington role, which traditionally vetoes all resolutions related to the decades-old conflict on grounds that differences must be resolved through negotiations. It was, in fact, the first Security Council resolution on the conflict approved during President Obama’s eight years in office and highlighted his strained relations with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. A US veto would have approved the status quo, avoided international censure for Israel and approved the de facto settlement policy. The new direction in US policy was the result of months of intensely secret deliberations in Washington, a spate of fresh Israeli settlement announcements that sparked antagonism in US officials, and recent attempts by Israel’s government to have parliament legalize thousands of homes built on privately owned Palestinian land.
US President-elect Trump reacted after the vote by promising change at the world body after he takes office next month: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” he tweeted. He has not yet realized that President Obama has created a fait accompli regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and has failed to influence the current administration’s policy. He fell flat on his face by trying to act ‘presidential’ even before assuming office! It will be virtually impossible for Trump to overturn the resolution in the present constellation of the Security Council. This would require a new resolution with support from at least nine members in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by one of the other permanent members — Russia, China, Britain and France, all of whom supported the current resolution. US Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, have also threatened consequences. However, there is little that the new administration can do, short of curtailing or terminating US financial contributions to the UN — with unforeseen consequences for the US itself, and the world at large.
United States on the Brink of Unsettling Nuclear Balance
Most unfortunately, even before taking office, President-elect Donald Trump has called for an expansion of US nuclear capabilities, in a tweet that alarmed nonproliferation experts who maintain that an upsurge in US nuclear arsenal could provoke and intensify global tensions.It is thought-provoking that Trump’s tweet came the day after meeting with a dozen Pentagon (Defence Department) military officials involved with defence acquisition programmes. The timing was also intriguing because previously Russian President Vladimir Putin had postulated that Russia needed to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces”. Both leaders have stressed the need to mend ties between the two countries, and both want to make their countries “great again”. But the sword of Damocles lies over both propositions. A nascent arms race will rival that of the Cold War, and the stupendous costs and horrendous possibility/probability, will increase the likelihood, if not of ‘mutually assured destruction’, in any case of ‘mutually assured penury’. This is truly ‘thinking the unthinkable’.
The United States is only one of five nuclear weapons states allowed to keep a nuclear arsenal under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The others are Russia, Britain, France and China. However, although forbidden, some states have managed to acquire/develop nuclearweapons, like India, Pakistan and North Korea. Others are suspected of already possessing them like South Africa and Israel. Iran is on the threshold of developing a nuclear arsenal. All these countries pose a grave threat not only to regional, but international peace and security.
According to Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that works to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons, ‘if Trump and Putin both want to expand nuclear weapons, that would effectively end arms control efforts underway since the Nixon administration’. Furthermore, “neither side needs to be spending hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons we don’t need.” Another expert, Miles Pomper, Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Center for Nonproliferation studies was adamant that Trump’s “farcical” tweet failed to communicate a “rational deterrence policy” and risks fueling arms race dynamics with Russia and China. In addition: “Expanding our nuclear arsenal will do nothing to prevent nuclear proliferation or prevent nuclear terrorism. We have more than enough nuclear weapons as it is.”China’s official narrative was muted and rational and took the moral highground. The foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the countries which have the largest nuclear weapons stockpiles have a special and top priority to create conditions for the complete abolition of nuclear armaments and should take the lead in making large, substantive cuts to such weapons.