By Prabasi Nepali
Domestic Turmoil & Strategic Challenges in India’s North-East
This is a critical time in India’s North-East, in the triangle where the borders of India’s Sikkim, Bhutan and China’s Autonomous Region of Tibet meet. Just south, in West Bengal’s Darjeeling Hills (comprising Darjeeling itself, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Mirik and parts of the plains of Siligurhi) the “Gorkhaland Autonomous Movement” has been resurrected after the West Bengal state government made Bengali a compulsory subject in schools, although native Nepali language speakers are dominant. This is tantamount to internal ‘cultural imperialism’. Before, the police had been fully mobilized against demonstrators of the “Gorkha Janmukti Morcha” (GJM) and the Gorkha National Liberation Front” (GNLF) using tear gas and even live bullets, resulting in many deaths. Now, the Indian Army has been deployed in various areas of the region. Nonetheless, the movement for a separate state carved out of West Bengal continues relentlessly. Chief Minister Mamata Banerji has appealed for peace and said her government was ready for talks with the hill parties, but peace had to be restored first.
After the West Bengal government’s policy of ‘divide and rule’ (a pathetic attempt to split up the various sub-divisions and ethnic groups of the Gorkhali/Nepali population) failed miserably in the face of resolute Golkhali unity, the state and central governments have now resorted to brute force. Now, every day supporters and sympathizers of the “Gorkha Janamukti Morcha” (GJM) are being shot indiscriminately and in cold blood. If the GJM is to advance its demands – the ruling BJP and the central government have failed it completely – it must change its tactics and strategy. In the short run, it must enhance its public relations and propaganda machinery – both in the domestic arena, in the Hills and in Sikkim in particular, as well as in India in general. The print and electronic media, radio, as well as social media must be fully mobilized. It must, at the same time, plan for the long haul, i.e. its movement must be projected in the future. It must also “internationalize” its legitimate demands, that are after all over a century old – going back to the time of the British imperial Raj. It must gain sympathy in the neighbouring countries of China, Nepal and Bangladesh. Forget Bhutan, because it is under the Indian thumb and has practiced “ethnic cleansing” vis-à-vis its Nepali citizens.
In the meantime, India and China have each deployed substantial number of troops to positions on the Sikkim/India—Tibet/China – Bhutan tri-junction, the corner in the Chumbi Valley in Tibet (the wedge between Sikkim and Bhutan) where the three Himalayan regions of Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan meet. Not very far off, in Gangtok (the capital of Sikkim), India’s 17th Mountain Division, and in Kalimpong/Darjeeling, the 27th Mountain Division are permanently stationed. The standoff is around the border at Dhoka La [La=Pass], the location of the tri-junction claimed by Bhutan. The Chinese claim the border junction is at Gamochen, some 15 km to the south, in Bhutanese territory.
In June, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started constructing a highway across the disputed Doklam plateau (allegedly in Bhutan) towards Gamochen to the south. The highway is reputed of being able to taking the weight of heavy military vehicles, including main battle tanks designed for operations in mountainous areas – comparable to the Salang highway in northern Afghanistan built by the Soviet Union in the 1960s. India sees in this a threat to the strategic, narrow Siliguri Corridor about 50 km south in West Bengal – the famous “Chicken’s Neck”, abutting Darjeeling and connecting India’s north-eastern states to the rest of the sub-continent.
China is clearly putting pressure on Bhutan to enter into bilateral diplomatic relations and solve the minor border dispute. However, India does not allow Bhutan to do so. India does not even allow Nepal and Bhutan to maintain permanent embassies in their respective capitals; their embassies in New Delhi must stand in in all diplomatic matters. Unfortunately, India cannot help Bhutan in any way in the Sino-Bhutanese border disagreement.
Qatar Conflict Continues
Qatar has hit back at a threat by four “siege countries” (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) to impose further sanctions on the tiny, but immensely rich emirate over its refusal to bow to their ultimatum for ending the Persian Gulf confrontation. A senior foreign ministry source defiantly rejected the demands of the “Gang of Four” as defamatory and in flagrant contradiction with the established foundations of international relations. It also described these countries’ claims about Qatar’s alleged “interference in the internal affairs of these countries and financing terrorism as baseless allegations.”
However, Saudi Arabia (the ringleader) and its three “allies” continued with their unfounded allegations last week. It claimed that Qatar’s rejection of the list of “13 Demands” they set to lift sanctions on Doha “reflects its intention to continue its policy, aimed at destabilizing security in the region.” The official SPA news agency also threatened menacingly:
“All political, economic and legal measures will be taken in the manner and at the time deemed
appropriate to preserve the four countries’ rights, security and stability.” The statement conveniently forgot the rights of Qatar, and their own flagrant violation of the tenets of the “Gulf Cooperation Council” and the principles of International Law and the United Nations. The crisis would be over if the United States would adopt a more principled role, but President Trump chooses to sit on the fence, or even to tacitly take the side of Saudi Arabia!
Strategic Standoff in the Korean Peninsula
Last Tuesday, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time, an apparent game-changer in its confrontation with Washington over its nuclear and missile programmes. It had already tested intermediate range ballistic missiles successfully, which are capable of reaching US bases in Japan. Now, for the first time, the new ICBM can reach Alaska in the continental US.
In a show of massive force, US bombers carried out a rare live fire drill in South Korea on Saturday, flying close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) after Pyongyang’s latest missile test. The exercise by two B-1B Lancers, flown from Anderson Air Base in Guam, was part of a 10-hour mission with South Korean and Japanese fighter jets in response to a “ series of increasingly escalatory actions by North Korea including the intercontinental ballistic missile, US Pacific Air Forces said. However, the exercise was clearly for lack of any other convincing alternative. In any case, North Korean leader Kim Il-un will not be unduly impressed.
The long-range heavy aircraft each dropped a 900-kilogram laser- guided bunker-busting smart bomb. The B-IBs released these ‘inert” weapons at the Pilsung Range in Yeongwol County, some 80 kilometres south of the inter-Korean border. The drill simulated the two US bombers destroying enemy ballistic missile batteries and South Korean jets mounting precision strikes against underground enemy command posts. En route back to Guam, the B-1Bs flew and integrated with Japanese fighter jets over the East China Sea. The deputy commander of US forces in Korea said the mission demonstrated the allies remain “prepared to use the full range of capabilities to defend and to preserve the security of the Korean peninsula and region.”
G20 Talking Shop
The leaders of 19 nations at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany have renewed their pledge to implement the Paris agreement on climate change, but failed to bridge the climate chasm with the United States. The G 20 is a group of 19 leading industrialized nations of the world and the European Union (EU) that meet regularly to discuss broad matters of trade, commerce and finance. It consists of the US and Canada from North America; Argentina,
Brazil and Mexico from Central & South America; South Africa; Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Russia, Turkey and the EU from Europe; Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia from Asia/Pacific.
President Donald Trump failed to impress the other world leaders. In fact, according to the “New York Times”, contrary to former practice European leaders have ceased trying to paper their differences with Trump and the United States. Now for the first time since the Second World War, they have abandoned the traditional respect for US leadership. They are no longer hampered by America’s crucial role in European defence and international trade. In the past, there have been criticism of aspects of US policy, but these have been muted. Now differences are openly and vociferously challenged. These rifts have also been reflected in the domestic politics of European countries.
The start was made by German chancellor Angela Merkel even before the G 20 summit. She has said bluntly that Europe must “take our fate into our own hands” and stop “glossing over” clear differences. The new French president Emmanuel Macron, whose election has given renewed assertiveness to the EU, said candidly: “Our world has never been so divided. Centrifugal forces have never been so powerful. Our common goods have never been so threatened.” Macron supported global trade powerfully, and sharply criticized those like Trump who do not support multilateral institutions but push “narrow-minded nationalism.” At the meeting, the tensions were most apparent on climate policy and trade. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement was roundly condemned. Merkel emphatically said she deplored the move, and all the leaders aside from Trump agreed to call the pact “Irreversible”. It was: Trump against the world!
India’s Darjeeling in Turmoil; Sino-Indian Stand-Off in the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan Triangle
By Prabasi Nepali