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2017: Hopeful, but Prepare for the Worst

By Prabasi Nepali
Domestic
The United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) declared last Friday that it would not accept any elections — at the local, district or national level — before the adoption of the constitution amendment bill currently registered in parliament. The umbrella organization of the seven Madhes-based political parties urged the three major parties — the Nepali Congress, the CPN-Maoist Centre and the CPN-UML — to adopt election measures only after endorsing the amendment bill on the basis of ‘consensus’. This amounts to pressure tactics (with India pulling the strings from behind) as the first two parties are already in favor of the procedure and only the UML in opposition. In the popular perception, this has also given the first two parties the ‘taint’ of being India-dependent, and the UML of upholding national values.
The UML and other opposition parties have been continuously obstructing the proceedings of parliament in order to hinder the progress of the amendment bill. This was registered at the parliament secretariat on last November 29, but could not be forwarded to parliament proper because of UML opposition in the house and lack of general support outside. Actually, the government does not possess the necessary two-thirds majority, even with the support of the Madhesi parties, and it seems that they are just attempting to brow-beat the opposition.
Basically, the Madhes-based parties have taken an anti-national stand, because ‘constitution implementation’ should precede ‘constitution amendment’ and local elections would be a signal to all the Nepalese people. It would be the first step in the process for them to take possession of the constitution, and, above all to finally get back on track for responsible and sustainable development.Unfortunately, the Madhes-based parties — although they have little support in the masses — are only trying to stir parochial interests among the so-called Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis (as if only their interests count), forgetting that ethnic conflict(s) would be fatal for the country. They have promised to stage protest programs in the districts of their ‘stronghold’. Is this a new tug-of-war between Indian interests/Madhes-based parties and the national agenda?
Neighbours
Pakistan-based Terrorist Chief Not Blacklisted by U.N.
According to agency reports, China has blocked India’s request to add the chief of the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad to a UN Security Council blacklist of groups linked to al Qaida. Jaish-e-Mohammad as an organization has already been blacklisted by the 15-nation Security Council, but not its leader, MaulanaMasoodAzhar, a radical Islamist and long-time enemy of India. India has steadily accused this terrorist organization and its chief of masterminding several cross-border attacks, including a deadly assault on an Indian air base last January. However, Pakistan security officials have questioned Azhar and his associates after the attack, and said they found no evidence associating him with it.
VikasSwarup, the spokesman in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said that India had requested the UN Security Council that Azhar be included in the ‘terrorist list’ nine months back and had received strong backing from all other members of the Council with the exception of China, a permanent member with veto rights. China had first put a hold on the move last April, and now blocked it. Swarup stated further that India had “expected China would have been more understanding of the danger posed to all by terrorism”, and regretted the inability of the international community to take the necessary step indicated  “the prevalence of double standards in the fight against terrorism.” China has not reacted to the accusation.
If Azhar was blacklisted by the UN Security Council, he would face a global travel embargo and a freezing of his assets. This would reduce his activity considerably.
United States
The Obama administration finally hit back at Russia last week for its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. It expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States declaring them ‘persona non grata’. It imposed sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. The administration also took punitive action against four top officers of one of those services, the military intelligence organization known as the GRU, which is believed to have ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. The Russian involvement was without doubt unprecedented, but president-elect Trump is still in denial.
The expulsion was also in response to the harassment of US diplomats in Russia. In addition, the State Department announced the closure of two ‘recreational facilities’ in New York and Maryland states. These ‘diplomatic’ actions amount to the most forceful ever taken in response to a state-sponsored cyber-attack aimed at the United States. The sanctions were also intended to deter Trump, who has continually denied that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political institutions. He openly said that US intelligence agencies could not be trusted, and that anyone could have done the hacking! Republicans in Congress and others have already demanded a public investigation into Russia’s actions, and as president, Trump will have the unenviable choice whether to follow up. If not, he will be on a collision course with the intelligence agencies, which are very powerful.
President Obama has criticized Trump’s stand in a subtle manner by saying: “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions”, and that he acted after “repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government.” He characterized the moves “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”Coming so late, and not ahead of the crucial presidential election, the response probably has only symbolic value.
Everyone expected that US diplomats would be ordered to leave in a tit-for-tat response, and officials in Moscow had hinted as such, and his foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov had recommended doing just that. In an extraordinary turn of events, President Vladimir V. Putin rejected this advice and announced that he would not retaliate against the US expulsions of Russian diplomats or close any US diplomatic facilities. This was a complete reversal of Soviet or Russian procedure, which followed strict diplomatic protocol calling for reciprocal action. Putin went on to up the ante by inviting all children of American diplomats accredited in Russia (their parents were presumably also welcome) to celebrate the New Year and the Russian Orthodox Christmas with him at the Kremlin!
United States & the United Nations: Storm Clouds Ahead?
US president-elect Trump has a very low opinion of the United Nations. He has even threatened to cut off the U.S.’s financial contribution to the world body. He has proposed as his Deputy Secretary of State, John Bolton (himself a former US ambassador to the UN), who is also strongly opposed to the UN. After the unfavorable Israeli settlements (illegal, in the West Bank) vote in the UN Security Council, the former governor of Alaska and former Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin called on President-elect Donald Trump last week to send a message to the world by leaving the United Nations. Like her champion (whom she supported in the Republican primaries), she has no inkling of international politics and the very positive role of the UN. If the UN is weak and cannot be more active, it is because the five veto powers in the Security Council constrain it.
Antonio Guterres has taken office as the new Secretary General of the United Nations, promising to be a “bridge-builder”, but facing an antagonistic incoming US government. Trump has shown little interest in multilateralism, which Guterres says is the cornerstone of the UN, rather promoting his agenda of “America First” and “Make America Great Again”. US support for the UN thus remains a big question mark. This matters a lot, because besides being a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, the US contributes 22 percent of the UN’s regular budget and 25 percent of its peacekeeping budget. Trump has already warned: “As to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th“, the day he takes office. Bolton, on his part, cautioned Guterres not to aspire to be the world’s top diplomat, or even “a secular pope”!
Palin called for the UN shackles to be “next on the chopping block.” She said that many have already “called for America to really step up and consider what it is that we are funding and supporting via the UN, and how it works so hard really against US interests.” In a completely erroneous perspective, she insisted that it was American money “funding the lion’s share of the globalist circus” (!) She continued in the same vein: “By exiting the UN, where injustice is actually rewarded, we then will be able to uphold America’s reputation as the leader, and as the kind and compassionate and generous nation that we are — as the nation sharing values that when emulated by any other nation, can bring justice and equal rights to any other nation.” Unfortunately, we are all in for a very rude surprise. Because of people like Palin, the worst event of the year 2016 was probably the election of Donald Trump — with dire long-term consequences for the US and the world at large.

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