BY M.R. JOSSE
KATHMANDU: While much national attention was focused on BIMSTEC-IV photo-ops, stale, boiler-plate rhetoric about ‘connectivity’ and ‘regional cooperation’, amid horrendous traffic snarls, the outside world appeared to be caught in a rash of missile rattling and unusual pilgrimages.
As if to remind us there is a wide, bad and powerful world outside the narrow confines of our land, there was, for instance, a report from the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna informing us that it had not seen any indication that nuclear activities in North Korea have stopped despite its much publicised pledges to denuclearlise.
Though U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters that he would “most likely” meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again, he canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest proposed trip to Pyongyang – suggesting that Beijing was stalling efforts to disarm North Korea.
In another separate but connected development, Trump warned that he could “instantly” re-launch the military exercises in the region around the Korean peninsula – drills which were put off in the context of his historic June 12 meeting with Kim in Singapore. If so, he warned, they would be “far bigger than ever before.”
Predictably, Washington’s fusillade against Beijing infuriated China which promptly called Trump “irresponsible”, hitting back at the American president’s “capricious” accusations while recommending that “all parties concerned” should demonstrate the requisite measure of sincerity and flexibility rather than engaging in a blame game – all this against the uneasy backdrop of an escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
To no great surprise, an annual Japanese white paper on defence averred that North Korea still posed a “serious and imminent” threat to her, while simultaneously charging that China’s military activities were sparking “strong security concerns” in the region as well as within the broader international community.
Meanwhile, international media reported that Taiwan was beginning to respond to what it termed as Beijing’s arms buildup across the Taiwan Strait by developing a welter of missiles and interceptors of its own that could reduce China’s military advantage over the island state.
In another theatre, Iran has announced that it has given ballistic missiles to Shiite proxies in Iraq, and is developing the capacity to build more there to curb assaults on its interest in the wider Middle East region, to provide the means to target its regional enemies.
No doubt that this bit of Iranian jingoism has caught the attention of all concerned since any indication that beleagured Tehran is on the cusp of a more aggressive policy would only aggravate current tensions between the United States and Iran, already reeling from Trump’s decision to put out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Besides, it would seriously embarrass France, the United Kingdom and Germany, three European signatories to the aforementioned nuclear deal that have been exerting not inconsiderable efforts to salvage it despite the latest tranche of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Nearer home, or in Myanmar, there is a lot happening too – and this has nothing to do with the recent BIMSTEC-IV extravaganza. The action and relevant verbiage in that context centre around a blistering U.N. report which marked for the very first time that the world organization has explicitly called for Myanmar officials to face genocide charges over a brutal crackdown on Rohingha Muslims over the past year.
Though the Myanmar government promptly and angrily rejected the genocide report, its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, speaking publicly in Singapore, declared that terrorism in Myanmar’s Rakhine state remained a threat and could have “grave consequences” for the entire region, even while describing international opprobrium against Myanmar’s handling of the Rohinga issue as an “iceberg of misinformation.”
The Nobel peace prize laureate, once hailed as Myanmar’s beloved face for democracy, is increasingly becoming a target for international condemnation for her apparent unwillingness, or inability, to speak out against the military squeeze of the Rohinghas, an estimated 700, 000 of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
In fact, UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pilloried her in an interview to the BBC, thus: “She should or could have stayed quiet, or even better, she could have resigned. There is no need for her to be the spokesperson of the Burmese military. She did not have to say this was an iceberg of misinformation. These were fabrications.” He maintains that she should have leveraged her status inside Myanmar to defang the military operation against the Rohingas, or resigned.
Not much noticed was a small news item that informed that Prachanda’s India visit, slated for last Friday, was postponed, due to his ‘busy schedule and the ongoing BIMSTEC summit’.
As with his earlier trip to Pyongyang – also scrubbed – there is a great deal of opacity: could it be that, for whatever reason, the NCP co-chair’s India junket went down the tube because Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was here for BIMSTEC, made it known that he would not have time to grant him ‘darshan’ in New Delhi?
While we may never know the real reason(s) behind the cancellation, what we do know is that while Modi was st..ill on Nepal’s terra firma his main political rival – to wit, Congress (I) head and Opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi suddenly appeared as out of thin air announcing that he was on his way on pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet!
What is striking is that, for all intents and purposes, Gandhi, like his mother, is a Roman Catholic. Noted, too, is that Rahul has been visiting notable Hindu shrines in India, from Somnath temple in Dwarika to Badrinath and Haridwar – in what seems to be a brazen attempt to steal BJP’s Hindutwa thunder, ahead of next year’s general elections.
Strange even weird, I’d say. But, perhaps not stranger than the increasingly visible spectacle of Nepali Communists publicly celebrating Hindu religious festivals in a now ‘secular’ Nepal.
Missile rattling and unusual journeys, pilgrimages
BY M.R. JOSSE