Murari Sharma: An inward-looking America is bad for America and the world

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar, to Bangladesh, in recent months. This number is steadily rising towards a million. If President Donald Trump had not withdrawn the United States from the world, the generals in Naypyidaw probably would not have ordered the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Rakhine State.

Some American leaders and celebrities have declared President Trump unfit for his office. Some psychologist and mental health experts have doubted his fitness as well. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz says Trump “has fascist tendencies.” These things are for the American people to decide. 

I respect the American people’s decision. So I am interested only in how Trump’s policy and personality have been affecting the United States and the rest of the world, including Nepal.   

Donald Trump ran on the nationalist, anti-trade, and anti-regional arrangement agenda and won the election. Naturally, nationalists in general and far-right nationalists, in particular, have felt that his election has mainstreamed their own beliefs. Trump is not one of the mainstream internationalist Republicans, who believe in free trade. And he sees regional groupings and their collective strength to bargain antithetical to US interest.

His personality is volatile, impulsive, and unpredictable. His threat to North Korea or his urge to investigate Hillary Clinton’s already investigated emails, his tweets at 3 am, his Access Hollywood tape, his call on Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, his trashing of minority judges because they decided against him in court cases, etc. do not speak for his trust and dependability. 

Already, Trump’s policies and personality have produced some negative impacts for him, the United States, and the rest of the world. For instance, his military general has said he would not follow Trump’s ‘illegal order.’ His attorney-general has said cannot abide by his urge to investigate his opponent. Such cases put Trump’s command and control in doubt.  

The United States has already suffered some significant setbacks on the world stage. For instance, he withdrew the United from the Paris climate change agreement, and China and Europe stepped in.  Washington has lost the opportunity to lead and shape the climate change agenda, and it might miss the climate-friendly technology gravy train.  

Likewise, President Trump withdrew from the Transpacific (trade) Partnership negotiations, but the other countries in the region have decided to move forward with the negotiation without the United States. Washington has effectively ceded the leadership of and influence in the region to China. 

Citing that the agency was anti-Israel, Trump withdrew the United States from UNESCO even though it had rejoined the agency after staying out for several years. The agency will continue criticizing Tel Aviv, now without any moderation from the United States. 

Trump has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if other members do not agree to amend it to America’s advantage. He has issued similar threats to several other countries. These countries will move on without the United States because they can do it now.

The United States is a major economic player, but it is not as indispensable now as it was 30 years ago. For example, according to WTO, the European Union was collectively the largest trading bloc in 2016 with the trade volume (export+import) of 3,821 billion dollars, followed by the United States 3,706 billion, and China 3,685 billion. China and Japan together posted 4,937 billion dollars. 

Similarly, while the US remains the foremost technological and financial powerhouse, other countries have been catching up and reducing US leverage. China is charging ahead in green technology. America is near the bottom in the industry’s share of GDP. London has superseded New York as the largest financial center.

During President Trump’s recent visit to Asia, the relatively reduced stature of the United States was visible. For instance, Japan and South Korea — where Trump’s trust rating is 17 and 24 percent, almost one-third of his predecessor — did not provide many trade concessions to oblige him. It is yet to be seen whether they buy American weapons in the volume Trump wants. 

China treated Trump nicely for not raising human rights issues and keeping at bay the dumping and currency manipulation issues, which he had raised repeatedly during his presidential campaign. It signed a few relatively minor trade deals. Beyond that, there was nothing to write home about. 

In Vietnam, the APEC countries rebuffed Trump’s single-minded emphasis on bilateral trade and decided to move ahead with the TPP without the United States. In the group photo, Trump was made to stand in the second row, slightly to one side.

In the Philippines, Trump endorsed his equally volatile counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, who has been killing anyone suspected of being involved in drugs, blatantly violating human rights and the due process of law. And yet, Duterte made his soft corner for China clear as soon as Trump left Manila.

While there is nothing wrong for a leader to promote his country’s national interest, the problem is with the identification of such interest.  The Trump brand fails to recognize the fundamental logic that Winston Churchill had recognized long ago: With power comes resources and responsibility. If you do not have one, you will not have the other either. Paul Kennedy has asserted that the empires of yore rose and fell with their command over resources.

For instance, the industrial revolution gave Britain resources and power to bring much of the world under its control. When Britain was stretched thin, the resource-rich United States powered ahead. The colossal loss it suffered in World War I and II and in the independence of its colonies relegated Britain to the second, even third-rate power. 

If the Trump brand of Make America Great Again succeeds, the United States is likely to follow the British trajectory. To prevent such a course, the United States needs to continue building alliances to share the cost and maximize benefits for its friends and allies around the world.

That brings me to Myanmar. The Myanmar military systematically persecuted the Rohingyas, the Bengali Muslim minority, and the Nobel Prize-winning foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi did not stop them. She even sought to brush the issue under the carpet, including in her speech at the UN General Assembly in September this year.  

If the Myanmar generals had not witnessed the United States abdicating its global leadership, they would have thought twice before ordering the ethnic cleansing, thanks to the UN provision for humanitarian intervention in cases of extreme human rights violation. To be sure, the provision has been inconsistently implemented. But the mere possibility of it could have restrained the generals.  

As for Nepal, the outcome has been mixed in the past under Republican and Democratic presidents. For example, President Johnson, a Democrat, and President Reagan, a Republican, welcomed King Mahendra and Birendra in America, respectively. Often Republican presidents have been more liberal in providing aid and trade concessions.

But President Trump is different. He wants to cut aid, reduce trade concessions, terminate the Temporary Protection Status for thousands of Nepalis living in the United States, and end the diversity visa program. So, the prospects under Trump are not bright for Nepal. I will be happy if proven wrong.

 

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Murari Sharma: Nepal’s Most Consequential Elections

We have seen nothing like this in Nepal in the past. I am talking about the upcoming national and state assembly elections. These elections might make or break democracy in the country.      

The ‘make’ part is easy to figure out. The elections will officially end the long political transition, convert the country de facto from a unitary state into federal, and mark the endorsement of the Constitution 2015 by the Madheshi parties.  

The Madheshi parties had refused to endorse the new constitution until their demands were met.  They had asked for one state, and not more than two states, covering all 22 districts in the plains, but the major did not agree. So only 8 districts have been included in the Madheshi only State 2 (the states are yet to be named). 

Now the Madheshi parties have decided to participate in the national and state assembly elections, partly due to the fear of losing their workers and voters to other parties and partly due to Indian suasion.

New Delhi had serious reservations about the constitution and imposed an economic blockade on Nepal for failing to fulfill its demands. But the UML’s  electoral success in the local polls and its nationalist stance alarmed India, prompting the Madheshi parties to participate in the federal and state elections. 

In the local election, the UML emerged as the largest party although it became third in State 2, where its nationalist stance lost many voters. This failure prompted the UML to reach out to the Maoists and other left parties towards an electoral alliance, which will make them competitive in State 2 and strengthen the hold of left parties across the country.  

This triggered the non-left parties to work their own alliance to remain competitive. But the beginning has not been as good for the non-left alliance as it has been for the left alliance. At both federal and state levels across the country, the left alliance has managed to agree on the official panel of candidates.  However, the other alliance has failed to agree on a common slate in State 2.

In State 2, therefore, there will be at least a three-way contest among the candidates of the left alliance, Nepali Congress, and the Federal Socialist Forum-Rashtriya Janata Party, a mini-alliance. 

At stake are 275 seats in the federal parliament, 165 to be elected by the first-past-the-post method and the rest from proportional representation. The number of State Assembly members will be twice as many in the same ratio. Which alliance enjoys the better prospects?  

In the 2013 general elections and recent local elections, the left parties were able to win nearly 60 percent seats up for the contest. If that ratio holds, the left-alliance will likely be a clear winner in the upcoming national and state elections. However, the rebel candidates against the alliance candidates on both sides might not let the outcome to so straightforward. 

Whatever the outcome, the emergence of the left and the non-left alliance is a good step in the right direction. If these alliances outlast the elections, it could be the beginning of a two-party state, like in the United States and the United Kingdom, which will contribute to political stability and offer a clear choice for voters.

But if the two alliances fail to become competitive, the ‘break’ part will likely ensue, harming democracy and the country.  Democratic elections make government representative and check it if it fails to deliver or misbehaves. But they also create autocratic leaders on both left and right. 

For example, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were members of socialist parties in Germany and Italy respectively. They started World War II, which took six million lives across the world. Currently, several elected leaders are either autocratic or fret about not having the freedom to be so. They include the Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump,  Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to name just a few. 

In Nepal, the prospect of something like this happening is real. If the left-alliance wins the elections comfortably, it will have two models of government to choose from. The Deng Xiaoping model and the Jyoti Basu model.

The Deng model — let me call it capitalism with a communist face — controls politics and gives entrepreneurs the freedom to invest and make a profit. If it wins a two-thirds majority in the federal and state elections, the left alliance will follow Antonio Gramsci’s advice and change things around from within. But it cannot go as far as converting Nepal into a one-party state like China and implementing the Chinese model.  

So the obvious choice for the victorious left alliance is the Basu model. The model — communism with a democratic face — keeps communists in power in a democratic country without economic development. Under this model, the Marxists converted West Bengal, once one of the most advanced and prosperous Indian states, into one of the most backward ones but kept Jyoti Basu and his disciples in power for nearly four decades. 

The trick was simple: On the eve of every election, redistribute resources from rich to poor through land reform, taxation, and unsustainable labor contracts to win the vote. While redistributing resources like this is the right thing to do to a reasonable extent, the Marxist government took the matter too far and drove the landowners and entrepreneurs from West Bengal. The result was reduced investment, economic opportunities, and jobs, hurting the state in general and the poor in particular, in the long run.

The objective of redistribution should be to promote development and equality in wealth, not stagnation and equality in poverty. For this, the pie must grow to give everyone a larger slice.  We have witnessed the inclination of Nepal’s left parties towards redistributing without enlarging the pie. For instance, several of the welfare provisions, including the old-age pension,  have been introduced, without commensurate measures to expedite growth under the left government.    

What is more, though both the UML and the Maoist have accepted multiparty democracy, for now, their ultimate goal remains proletariat dictatorship. If their alliance wins an overwhelming majority in the elections, will they remain committed to democratic freedoms and human rights as we know them? Will the non-left alliance be strong enough to prevent Nepal from being an illiberal democracy? Will India tolerate it? What will China do?

I have no answers to these questions yet. We will see whether the upcoming elections make or break democracy only after the vote, which will take place in two phases — later this month and early next month. 

Murari Sharma: Confront Rise of Racism in West

Recently, someone I know told me that a white customer asked her to go back home at a store in London, where she works. Such incidences have substantially increased after the 2016 referendum on its membership of the European Union.

No wonder, England and Wales recorded 80,393 hate crimes in 2016/17, a spike by 29 percent over the year before, according to the Home Office. Eighty-five percent of them were broadly race related — 78 percent race and 7 percent religion related.

Racism is not new in the West. For various reasons, it had taken a back seat for some time, but now it has come back with a vengeance. Should we care about racism in the West?

Indeed, we should stand up to racism everywhere, particularly in the West because what happens in the West spread across the world like wildfire. Western countries set the global political standards and control global commerce and institutions. If unchecked, the resurgent racism will lead to bloodshed in Western countries and elsewhere.

There was a time when Westerners treated non-Whites as sub-human. They liquidated the Red Indians, Aborigines, Maoris, Eskimos, etc., appropriated their land and riches, and consigned them to reservations and to the margins of society.

They colonized Asia, Africa, and Latin America, plundered their wealth and resources, and enslaved their citizens and treated them like animals. In many places in India under the British Raj, for instance, the Indians and dogs were not allowed in. The locals could not ride the same bus and train and could not go to the same school in South Africa.

World War I weakened and World War II destroyed European powers, and colonies successfully removed them and secured independence. The United Nations, established to prevent wars and promote human rights of all, nudged racism from the center. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans stood up against racism and colonialism and won independence and equality for their citizens.

Some pursued violent means to do so, like in South Africa and Vietnam. Others shamed the foreign powers to do it, like the Indians under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. Yet, much blood was shed in the process.

But racism remained very much alive in Western countries in a major segment of the population, only constrained by the law in the book and propriety in public. If racism were not alive, the celebrated British leader Winston Churchill would not have caused the great Bengal Famine to feed the White British and let the poor Indians die of hunger, arguing that they had never enough to eat anyway.

Or Enoch Powell would not have made a name for himself by being openly racist. Or Ku-Klus-Klan and other White supremacist groups would have vanished from the earth’s face.

In recent times, racism has risen its ugly head once again in the West, and it is being mainstreamed under the patronization of several rightist and far-rightist Western leaders. Start with the US President, Donald Trump, and the United States.

Though Trump has barely escaped personally implicating himself as a racist, he has done everything racists often do. He had paid fines for discriminating against the blacks in his properties. He has hired ultrarightist as presidential advisers. He has demonized minority people, including a senior judge, and patronized White supremacists groups.

Remember his comments on the Charlottesville mayhem where a White supremacist drove a car into the peaceful protest against the far-right rally or his comment about an American judge of Mexican ancestry?

More broadly, a large number of Americans entertain racism in private; otherwise, Trump would not have been the president.

Now Britain. Brexit, the British decision to leave the European Union, is largely a product of Britain’s closet racism. I have already cited the rise racist hate crimes in the country. While some like the UKIP leader Nigel Farage have been openly racist, a large section of the British leadership and public proved to be racists privately.

Elsewhere in the West, too, racism has raised its dirty head. For instance, in the 2017 presidential elections in France, the National Front President Marie Le Pen secured more votes than the socialist and conservative candidates. She lost to Emmanuel Macron, of En Marche, a new Party, bagging 34 percent votes in the second round.

Norbert Hofer the right-wing, nationalist Freedom Party secured the largest number of votes in the first round of the presidential election last year in Austria last year and lost the ballot in the second round by a small margin.  The same party clinched the third place with 26 percent votes in the parliamentary elections there this year.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party, emerged as the third largest in the German parliament in the 2017 elections. Its leaders, Alexander Gauland and Frauke Petry, are in leagues with Farage and Le Pen.

How will this phase of racism end? In bloodshed, as in the past. For example, if push comes to shove in the minorities in the West will fight back. The disenchanted have been already joining the terrorist groups. Terrorism will increase, and so will the revulsion towards minorities, in a spiral.

Sure, those who resort to extremism own the blame for their choice and action. However, society at large that has failed to integrate them or pushed them inadvertently to extremism cannot remain blame-free either. The net effect would be increased acrimony and bloodshed.

Therefore, racism ought to be contained in the West, before it gets out of hand, to protect humanity from another cycle of violence and bloodshed. Though only Western people can do it, the voice of the rest will be important to give heart to the fair-minded Westerners and widen their support in the West.

Britain’s statistics are frightening. In other Western countries too, hate crimes have increased significantly in recent time. If fair-minded people across the world do not join forces to defeat it in the West,  the resurgent racism there will engulf the rest of the world quickly as well.

 

Murari Sharma: For whom the bell tolls∗

The German politician Otto Von Bismark has said politics is the art of the possible. The latest effort of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center) cooperate for the coming provincial and national elections, leading to their potential merger, has rocked Nepal’s political landscape.

Some people in Nepal complain when political parties quarrel and when they cooperate. Some people have ridiculed it as a futile effort. Some have criticized it as a marriage of convenience without any principle. Some have suggested that either the CPN (UML) leader KP Oli or the CPN (Maoist Center) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s clever stratagem to destroy the other. Some have feared it as the potential game changer.  

Indeed, the collaboration could end in one of those three possibilities. It could be a short-lived marriage of convenience. Or a futile exercise, as the Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa has said. There is ample evidence for it. Marx had called for the unity of the labor worldwide, and this means the unity of communists around the world. Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the founding leader of the CPN, also tried to keep the CPN together.

However, communists worldwide and the communist of Nepal have consistently quarreled and their unity has fractured. Established in 1949, the CPN had about 17 factions, all calling themselves as full-fledged parties. At the same time, the communist parties have also merged with each other and expanded to become the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center).  Anyway, the effort toward unity is a good step.

It could well be that Oli and Dahal are trying to destroy each other and take the mantle of communist leadership. Both have proven their smarts: Oli by rising to the top of his party, becoming a nationalist visionary with some quirk, and winning the local elections for his party.  Dahal has been the leader of the Maoist insurgency and of the largest party of the first Constituent Assembly, as well as the prime minister twice. 

Some, mostly left-oriented pundits and politicians, have sincerely hoped that the new alliance could be a potential game changer. For some, change of government could be a change in the game. But for me, the new alliance will not be a game changer until it leads to two conditions. First, if the two leaders and parties have not been seeking to destroy each other.

The rumor is that they would try to destroy each other, and the budding collaboration is a trap. If that is really the case, then they would try to destroy each other through political propaganda and even violence between the supporters of the two parties. 

Second, if the new alliance robustly nudges the country towards a relatively stable and strong two-party state, something Nepal desperately needs for its progress.

Nepal needs a stable government, along with the peaceful transition of power from one government to another, for political maturity and socio-economic progress. While the first-past-the-post election does not provide a guarantee that one party won the majority in the house, proportional representation often results in unstable government, subject to whims and fancies of smaller coalition partners that have little to lose if the incumbent government fails to deliver. 

There is a genuine fear in the Nepali Congress Party that the attempt to set up a wide leftist tent could put it out of power for several years. Evidently, the fear prompted Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to call the meeting of non-communist parties recently. While only time will tell whether a broad non-communist alliance would actually materialized, it will be good for stability, democracy, and the country. 

In addition, smaller parties have also clamored for unity and consolidation. For instance, several Madheshi parties have merged to form the Rashtriya Janata Party. Now, the ∗and the Federal Socialist Forum have also agreed to form an alliance for the provincial and national elections. Smaller communist parties have also formed a coalition recently. 

This is a good thing. Rather than ridiculing those leaders and parties that have been seeking to come together, we should encourage them, so Nepal evolves into a strong-two-party state. However, it might not be easy for different parties to engage in seamless cooperation, let alone obtain such integration. Even if the senior leaders choose to follow the ambitious path, junior leaders and local political workers might find it difficult to palate.

We know it from the NCP experience. Prime Minister Deuba separated from the mother party and formed a separate one when the NCP President Girija Prasad Koirala did not cooperate with him 2002 to extend the state of emergency to combat the Maoists. Though Deuba reunited with the mother party later, the two factions could not integrate at the district level. So for a long time, there was 60-40 division between the two factions.  

It is premature to suggest whether the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center) would last or result into their eventual integration. They might be the victims of history or they might beat the past and start a better future together. But it will only be good for the country if they integrate, and the NCP also forges a grand coalition of non-communist forces.

I do not know for whom the bell tolls if the UML and Maoist Center effort fails. But I have no doubt that politics is the art of the possible. Nepali politics has sprung many surprises in the past, so nothing should be ruled out just yet.

∗I have taken the title from one of Ernest Hemingway’s novel.

Murari Sharma: US-North Korea War of Words

The future of human beings and the environment that sustains them are in a serious danger thanks to US President Donald Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-Un. Only the American people and Congress can stop an annihilating war between America and North Korea, which will make the rest of the world its collateral victim.

Some people take Trump’s name in the same vein as Adolf Hitler. The Cold War remained cold because some sane and mature people were in charge of the principal rivals of their war machines.

Not this time.

From what little we know, the secretive Kim is not mature, sane and responsible. One does not seek to destroy one’s people and country to satisfy his or her ego.

However, we know much more about Donald Trump from his rhetoric and behavior.

As a presidential candidate, Trump trashed his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as well as his Republican competitors. He called Clinton crooked and corrupt and chanted “Lock her up.” He called his Republican rival Ben Carson “low energy,” Marco Rubio “Little Rubio,” Jeb Bush “weak.”

Many had hoped President Trump would be different from the candidate Trump. But Trump remains unhinged and unreformed. He has trashed his own party leaders like Mitch McConnel, Senate majority leader, and Paul Ryan, Speaker.

Recently, several psychiatrists and mental health professionals have weighed in and said Trump is mentally ill,  suffering from “extreme present hedonism,” a sociopath, and a danger to America’s safety and democracy.

US politicians even from his party, Republican Party, like Jack Reed and Susan Collins, have expressed their concerns about Trump’s mental state.

Only recently, he has called sportspeople, who take the knee when the American national anthem is played, the son of a bitch.

One can gauge the severity of the situation from the acid-tongued Philippine President Duarte. Duarte has said he is better than Trump because he is not a bigot whereas the US president is.

None of his past victims had lashed back. But this time Trump has found a match in Kim.

Trump blasted Kim for testing his missiles and nuclear weapons recently. He called Kim a Rocket Man, a Little Rocket Man, Insane and a few other things perhaps believing that, like his previous victims, his new victim would keep his mouth shut.

But Kim fired back calling Trump “deranged and a “dotard,” or senile, and a “bastard.” He called  Trump’s speech at the United Nations recently a “mentally deranged behavior.”

The war of words between Trump and Kim would have been amusing if both did not have their finger on the nuclear button and both were not unstable people.  So I do not find it amusing. At stake are the safety of humanity and of the environment that sustains humanity.  Trump has already pulled out America from the climate change agreement. He now has threatened North Korea with annihilation.

At stake are the safety of humanity and of the environment that sustains humanity.  Trump has already pulled out America from the climate change agreement. He now has threatened North Korea with annihilation.

Maybe, Trump is bluffing and blustering in this case, and he would not pull the nuclear trigger. But given the verdict of the psychiatrist and mental health professionals, how can you be so sure?

Now all eyes are on Republican Congressional leaders in the United States and China in north Asia to tame Trump and Kim, respectively. John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, tried to bring order in the White House but failed to tame Trump.

Trapped between these teen bullies like leaders, the rest of the world would have to cower under the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

Congressional Republicans in the United States and China, North Korea’s closest friend, can save the world from annihilation promised by Trump. They should lean on the US president and North Korean president, respectively.  Trump and Kim should not be allowed to destroy our children’s and our own future.

Murari Sharma: Dangerous World

Past few weeks have been exceptionally dangerous for the world. Political, economic and environmental factors have raised existential questions for humanity. Honest and prudent leadership is essential to prevent annihilation.

Stephen Hawking, the famous British scientist, says artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. A great war, climate change, pandemics, an asteroid hitting the earth, etc. could end the world as well.

Among them all, global politics might destroy the world more easily. Great wars may start due to fairly inconsequential reasons. For example, the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria started World War I.  The German invasion of Poland began World War II.

Perhaps those situations were not as combustible as the US-North Korea spat is today. Both countries have nuclear weapons and whimsical and unpredictable leaders at the helm. The fuel of resentment is already there. All you need is a trigger to ignite the fuel into a flame capable of engulfing the world.

The development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems by Pyongyang and the quest of nuclear weapon nations, particularly the United States, to outlaw nuclear proliferation without denuclearizing themselves have built up the fuel of resentment.

US President Donald Trump unleashed his fire and fury warning to North Korea, and North Korea warned to hit Guam, where an American base is located. Any of them could prove the trigger.

Although both sides have now tempered their rhetoric somewhat, the fear that Trump and Kim Jung-Un, both deemed as bullies and unstable, could push the button in their rage is very much there.

As I had written a couple of weeks back, if such a foolish thing were to happen, the war could such China, Russia, and American allies in the region into it, elevating it to World War III.

Although the bull run of stock markets continues without prolonged setbacks, the economic fundamental have begun to look vulnerable.

US President Trump’s anti-trade policies may unleash a trade war and make everyone worse off.  Trump has threatened China and Germany with tariffs and trade restrictions to reduce the trade deficit.

He has also threatened to pull out of the trade agreements with South Korea, with Canada and Mexico, and with many other countries and impose a huge tariff of the products from those countries for the same reason.

If he translates his rhetoric into policy, other countries would retaliate. Thus, Trump could trigger a global trade war, which will make everyone, including the United States, worse off and collapse the post-World War II global order.

Brexit is another black patch on the global economic horizon. Though the British people voted last year to leave the European Union and their decision should be respected, many of them voted for the exit because politicians campaigned on lies and false promises.

For instance, the Brexiteers promised £350 million a week for the National Health Service after Britain left the EU. But NHS is now facing more budget cuts, and senior doctors have warned that several hospitals might have to be closed due to the funding shortage.

Besides, European doctors and nurses are already quitting the NHS due to the fear about their future once Britain leaves the EU, leaving a huge gap in staffing, thanks to the British waffle in the post-Brexit immigration policy.

The Brexiteers promised that Britain would have access to the EU single market after Brexit and sign several trade agreements with other countries around the world before Brexit.

Both claims were false, as it turns out now. Based on the initial EU-Britain negotiations, Britain will not have free access to the single market.

There will be a hard border between the EU and Britain, especially between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which could unravel the peace attained under the Good Friday Agreement. Even the EU-Canada trade agreement model could be beyond Britain’s reach.

The EU has refused to start trade negotiations until it is confident that Britain would pay the divorce bill to meet its prior commitments, would protect the rights of EU citizens, would accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in matters related to the EU.

Other countries have politely refused to start trade negotiations until Britain came out of the EU. Evidently, they do not want to infuriate the 27 countries in the EU to please Britain.

Even the US President Donald Trump, who had promised to put Britain in the front of the queue in its trade negotiations, is loud in the silence.

As a result, there is uncertainty not only about Britain’s economic future in the near and medium term but also the future of global trade and finance.

Last but not least, natural and man-made disasters combined might destroy the world.

Not long after President Trump, who is a climate change denier, withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, Hurricane Harvey has devastated much of Texas. Hurricane Irma is about to destroy much of Florida. Hurricane Jose is on its way to the southeastern United States.

Elsewhere, floods devastated South Asia, and a massive earthquake razed part of Mexico to the ground.

People like  Pastor Kevin Swanson, a staunch Trump supporter, believe that the hurricanes would change their course if abortion and same-sex marriage were declared illegal in the United States. Well, they have devastated some of the conservative heartlands as well.

I am sure, while human activities might or might not have contributed to natural disasters, they have certainly contributed to their severity.

For example, the huge consumption of energy has contributed to global warming, to the decline in snow cover, and to the increase in the severity of hurricanes and typhoons. It the global warming and climate change continues at the current rate, it will wipe out humanity in the next few centuries, if not decades.

Similarly, the overexploitation of sea, rivers, and land is contributing to their desertification in their own way.

Several species of sea, river and land animals and plants have already become extinct and more are on their way to extinction. Deserts that cannot support life are growing rapidly. Pollution has been taking its toll on land and sea life as well.

Against this background, it is time for sober thinking, wise leadership, and prudent decisions and actions, which are in short supply now. We need honest and truthful leaders to turn the world around.

Otherwise, anything can happen.

 

 

 

Murari Sharma: Deuba’s India Visit that should not have happened

Your real friends are those who tell you the truth, good or bad. In Nepal’s political culture, you take those as friends who flatter you. But they are fake. I will talk about Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s just concluded 5-day India visit as his real friend, not fake.

His fake friends have lauded Deuba’s India visit as a grand success and, wrongly, of the same level of as Girija Prasad Koirala, whom his Indian counterpart Man Mohan Singh had welcomed and sent off. I understand their motivation and sympathize with them.

But my view, as a real friend of Deuba and as a non-partisan individual, Deuba would have been way better off if he had not made this visit. Why?

Deuba’s achievements from this visit were puny. But his mistakes were monumental.

The eight memoranda of understanding, which were signed to allocate the $100 million housing grant that India had committed after the 2015 earthquakes, were insignificant. The bureaucratic or ministerial level could have allocated those funds through mutual understanding.

For starters, four were related to the construction of buildings in the education, health, culture, and housing sectors. The fifth related to the construction of the Mechi Bridge, sharing the cost with the Asian Development Bank.

Other three understandings covered demand reduction and supply prevention of narcotics and precursor chemicals, uniform standardization of products and services, and cooperation between the Institutes of Chartered Accountants.

In other words, Prime Minister Deuba’s routine India visit produced commonplace positive results. At the same time, it resulted in monumental mistakes for Nepal.

Among several of such mistakes, let me cite the main two: The understanding on the Saptakoshi High Dam and the commitment to amend the Constitution.

First the High Dam. US President Donald Trump would have called the understanding a disaster. If the dam is built, districts from Sindhupalchok to Morang will sustain unspeakable damage in two ways.

First, the dam will raise the level of water in the seven Koshi Rivers and their tributaries, submerge millions of hectares of agricultural and forest land, and displace millions of people along the river basins all the way to Sunsari and Morang.

Second, landslides will be more widespread and common, as the water level in the Koshi Rivers and their tributaries will rise and make the already fragile hills even more vulnerable.

India had sought this project for the last 40 years. But all previous government had refused to compromise on this disastrous project until Deuba signed on it. If the old Koshi and Gandaki agreements were sellouts, as many believe they are, then the understanding on the Saptakoshi High Damthey will dwarf them in comparison.

Regarding the Constitution of Nepal, I found one major shortcoming and one major mistake. The shortcoming: Deuba could not win India’s support for the Constitution of Nepal despite doing everything to amend the statute and selling out his soul on the Saptakoshi High Dam.

The major mistake: Deuba allowed India to reflect its reservation on Nepal’s Constitution in the joint statement.

I heard or read some of my wise friends say that nowadays countries do take interest in each other’s affairs and that the November 2005 agreement, brokered by India, has given New Delhi the privilege to interfere in Nepal’s internal matters.

On the first point, Nepal has never raised the issues of Kashmir or Darjeeling and sought to include them in any joint statement. For that matter, Taiwan or Xinjiang. Why should it be OK for Nepal to accept the mention of a purely internal matter to be reflected in a bilateral statement?

On the second, by sending its troops, Nepal had helped India quell the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the riots after India’s partition. Can, therefore, Nepal claim that it has the privilege to speak on Kashmir or Darjeeling?

Deuba seems to have forgotten that he was visiting India as head of government and leader of the legislature. It was his duty and obligation to defend the government and the legislature. But he spoke and acted on the issue of the Constitution as the leader of his party, the Nepali Congress.

Both the UML leader KP Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal rightly criticized Deuba for raising an internal issue of Nepal in a foreign country and letting the neighbor call the shots so soon after the legislature had rejected the amendment.

I do not even need to talk about Deuba’s failure to sort out the differences between the two countries on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project.

Besides, the time of the visit was inappropriate both internally and externally. Internally, Prime Minister Deuba visited India without even appointing the full line of ministers and without adequate preparations. If the new state and assistant ministers had anything to contribute to enriching Nepal-India relations, they had no time to do it.

Externally, Deuba visited India at a time when the Dokhlam Dispute has been burning between India and China. He could have used the India visit to establish Nepal’s neutrality, but he ended up siding with India. It might have long-term negative consequences to Nepal.

In other words, Nepal would have been better off without Prime Minister Deuba’s recent visit to India. The visit produced insignificant benefits and monumental mistakes.