Murari Sharma: Sino-Indian Battle for Influence

In the late 1990s, when I was visiting Mongolia, an Indian diplomat there invited me over lunch at his place. He had some Indian contractors on the occasion as well. The contractors told me that they worked for an Indian company that was collaborating with a Chinese firm to establish a manufacturing unit near Ulan Bator. The Indian company was supplying software and the Chinese company hardware. Evidently, India has proved its prowess in software and China in hardware.

China and India are both rapidly expanding economies. Though China’s growth rate has declined from double digits to higher single digits, India’s is equally impressive as well. China, with a $10.98 trillion GDP, is the second largest economy of the world, only preceded by the United States, while India stands as the seventh with its $2.09 trillion-strong economy.

Besides working in third countries together like Mongolia, they trade with each other as well. China is India’s largest trading partner. In 2014-15, the volume of trade between these two ancient nations was $72.3 billion. India exported $11.9 billion worth of goods and services to the Middle Kingdom and imported $60.4 billion worth.

According to Globalist, a website, by 2050, the Indian economy is expected to surpass both the US and Chinese economies. Is it possible? Maybe, and maybe not. But what is clear is this: These two Asian giants have been cooperating with each other for shared prosperity, while trying to contain each other’s strategic heft.

Apart from trading, these two nations work together in international forums in a number of areas, including global economic governance, technology transfer, pro-growth policies, and so on.

They want a greater say of developing countries in such global organizations  as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and others. Both want the developed countries to be generous with developing countries in transferring technology to tackle the multiple problems facing the world. In global forums, these two nations often band together, as it has been happening in the Doha round of trade negotiations, environmental dialogues, and patent rights administration.

China and India have pursued pro-growth policies and put pressure on the developed countries not to constrain developing countries with too many environmental and other standards to stifle their growth. That was clear during the Paris negotiation on the environment. At the United Nations, both countries actively pursue such policies in the G-77.

While their cooperation is more subtle, their rivalry and competition is more palpable. These ancient countries compete for markets within the region and across the world. Though China has moved far ahead in this area, India is also following its next door neighbour’s footsteps.

For instance, now it is common to see both Chinese and Indian fabrics and clothes sold in Western and African markets. Indian and Chinese vehicles have become a common sights in such far away places.

Indian-Chinese rivalry is fiercest in the strategic sphere and is mostly confined to Asia. They fought a deadly war in 1963 and New Delhi has consistently blamed China for supporting the Indian Maoists to create havoc in many rural areas. Though now their relations have considerably improved, they are far from close.

Both continue to maintain a high military presence  — equipment and forces — in their shared borders — east and west of Nepal. Weary of each other, they use soft and hard power to influence their immediate neighbors and make them uncomfortable. At times, they have also resorted to military intervention.

Let me start with South Asia. India is losing its traditionally most influential role in the region to China, bit by bit. For intance, ever since its partition from India, Pakistan has largely remained in a state of war and low intensity war with its mother nation — they have fought three wars and continue to have low intensity conflict over Kashmir and disputed borders.

India lost its considerable leverage in Colombo when the former President Rajapaksya, with Chinese assistance, crushed in 2009 the 3-decade long Tamil insurgency, which had the blessings from parts and sections of India. Though Rajapakshya was defeated in the ensuing elections, Sri Lanka has moved considerably out of Indian shadow.

In Bangladesh, the pro-Indian Shekh Hashina Wazed and the nationalist Khaleda Zia, who has sympathy and support of Beijing, have alternated in power as prime ministers for last several years. India does not enjoy the same influence now in Afghanistan as it used to before the western attack on the Pakistan-supported Taleban and Al-Qaida operatives, who had planned and executed terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11.

Nepal has had the history of love-hate relations with India. India views Nepal as its soft belly, security-wise. While Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan-supported terrorists have occasionally used Nepal as their transit country, India fears that any pro-Chinese leaning in its northern neighbor would hurt its security and economic interest.

Even the Maldives and Bhutan, which were traditionally very close to India, have been making efforts to attenuate the Indian influence in their countries. Jigme Thinlay, when he was prime minister of Bhutan, had sought to enhance his country’s  closeness by getting with China over Indian apprehension. New Delhi had subsequently played a role in defeating Thiney in the general election.

In South East Asia, India has lost ground to China in Myanmar. In Africa, China has chipped away the Indian influence through its massive investment in infrastructure development and penetration of Chinese goods and services there.

However, it is not a one way street. While India is steadily losing its influence in South Asia and Africa, it has gained some foothold in East and South East Asia, where China enjoys a dominant place in economic and security spheres. The main triggering factors have been the encouragement from Washington and the established Chinese claim of several islands the China Sea that threatens the integrity of countries standing on the wrong side of the claim.

India is working closely with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. India has participated in the US initiative to support these countries that do not have warm relations already and that have territorial dispute with Beijing.

Elsewhere, China is whittling away Indian political and economic influence. For instance, in the Middle East and Africa, Chinese presence and investment have won many countries over to its side, often at the cost of India, a dominant player in the region.

In the security sphere, Sino-Indian contest was limited to the immediate region until the United States began to involve India in the Pacific strategic corridor. China helped Pakistan to keep India engaged within the region, and not look beyond, and sought to catch up with the United States. India sought to keep up with China.  But to contain China, India is eager to participate within a broad alliance in view of its border disputes in broad stretches of the border east and west of Nepal.

The collaboration between the Chinese and Indian companies in Mongolia was only a tip of the iceberg of the economic cooperation and competition between these two ancient countries.





Murari Sharma: Will Dahal try to wash some blood from his hand this time?

Aswini Koirala, a writer, writes in his Facebook portal that he would not watch Nepali television as long as Pushpa Kamal Dahal remains prime minister. The reason — his cousin sister Puja, whose father was killed by the Maoists, does not want him to. Puja’s father was the chief of the Police Post in Bethan, Ramechhap, when the Maoists attacked and asked the police to surrender. After the surrender, the rebels lined up and executed all police personnel in cold blood. Now  a grown up Puja, who was three at the time of her father’s murder, blames Dahal for the atrocity and cannot bear watching him.

The photo of Muktinath Adhikari killed and hung by a tree by the Maoists, is all over Facebook once again. Ganga Adhikari is still  on a years-long hunger strike, while her husband has died, seeking justice for the murder of their teenage son by the Maoists. The families of the victims of the Madi bus explosion, allegedly ordered by Dahal in his own district, are waiting for justice as well. So is the family of Ujjan Shrestha, who was killed by a Maoist leader close to Dahal.

These are only a few examples of more than 5,000 people the rebels killed directly and more than 10,000 they killed indirectly during their decade-long armed insurgency. Dahal and his then-deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, presided over these killings and the insurgency. Dahal was the military chief and Bhattarai, the chief of the so-called people’s government.

The duo directly or indirectly ordered the murder of the first group and caused the death of the second group of victims by using them as human shields, a grave war crime under the Geneva Conventions, and asking their guerillas to fire from behind the line of innocent civilians.   

I am afraid, crimes never leave the criminals alone. Sooner or later, justice will catch up with them. Remember Pol Pot, Taylor, and Milosevic? There are only three ways of mitigating the impact and intensity of crimes on your conscience and win the forgiveness of society. Atonement, suicide or jail.

While neither the blood on their hand nor the fear of facing justice will go away completely no matter how much they wash, they can make the blood fade and justice less harsh by expiating themselves and earning the forgiveness of their victims and the people in general. For this, they must rebuild what they have destroyed during the civil war, sincerely work for the country’s advancement, reach out to the victims and their families to heal the wounds inflicted by them, including by accepting some punishment under the law.

However, in the past, Maoist leaders have done no such things. Rather, their priority was to shield themselves and their supporters from justice and to enrich themselves economically.  In his first innings as prime minister, Dahal sought to impose Maoist dictatorship, protected his criminal gangs from justice and met with a Titanic crash. Bhattarai disgraced himself by continue protecting the criminals in his ranks and by letting the Constituent Assembly die without producing a constitution, demonstrating his blatant political incompetence, though he held a Ph.D. degree.  

During the insurgency, and more importantly after the start of the peace process in 2005, the Maoist leaders amassed so much ill-gotten money, in the name of the poor and dispossessed and their combatants, that they own dozens of private schools, hospitals, and business establishments in the country. The voters saw and punished the Maoists.  

They reduced the Maoists from the largest party in the 2008 elections to the third largest by far in 2013. In this situation, they have been trying to evade the hand of justice by playing opportunistic political games, including shifting coalitions.

The Maoists have played the principal role in making and breaking political coalitions since 2008. The reasons behind them have mainly been to protect criminals in the party. They joined hands with the UML last year, hoping that they could buy immunity for their crimes. When the UML failed to deliver because national and international law prevented what he wanted, Dahal broke his marriage with KP Oli of the UML  and married Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress. 

His luck may run out soon. Deuba, the bigger partner in the coalition, has used Dahal only as a bridge to power for himself. He can pull the plug on Dahal any time, and so can India. Dahal will have no immediate recourse to the UML’s protection, so soon after he has horribly betrayed UML leader KP Oli and pulled him down from the high chair.

Clearly, the present coalition has no higher purpose than acquiring and sharing power between Deuba and Dahal, 9-monts each, and preserving Indian influence. Based on the euphoria exhibited by the media sources close to the Modi government, the present coalition will safeguard India’s monopoly on political and economic influence in Nepal. It has also been hoped that this government will prevent Oli from winning the impending general and local elections.

However, by pulling down Oli so quickly, Deuba and Dahal have potentially made Oli stronger than before. He has left office as one of the most popular prime minister on account of his standing up to India in the wake of the Indian-sponsored economic blockade, his signing several agreements with China to reduce Nepal’s economic dependence on India, and several election-winning promises, such as the abolition of tuins, single-rope stretched across rivers for crossing, within two years, construction of railway lines and additional roads connecting China, to name a few. 

Due to this, one should not be surprised if the UML emerges as the largest party in the next election. While the Nepali Congress may descend to the second largest, the CPN (Maoist Center) as Dahal’s party is now known) might lose further ground and lose its capacity to broker power anymore. Dahal might find himself in political disgrace — high and dry, without friends and without options — unable to protect his criminal gang.

If that happens, living in ignominy or committing hara-kiri will be the path forward. Those who disgrace themselves commit suicide through hara-kiri in Japan to preserve their dignity and honor. Elsewhere, they use other methods to take their lives in such situations.

I do not think our current or former Maoist leaders who done crimes should take that drastic path if they demonstrate convincing contrition and make sufficient amends for the heinous deeds they have done. This might mitigate the burden on their own conscience as well. If they fail to show such contrition and make such amends, they may end up choosing hara-kiri or jail.

The current opportunistic coalition has given Dahal a small window to redeem himself and his party by doing what is best for the country and by putting on the back-burner his desire to protect his criminal gang and to amass wealth. This is one more great opportunity for the Maoist atonement. Dahal has no time to clear his throat — to get ready for action. He must hit the ground running and win the forgiveness of people if he and his fellows want to avoid jail or hara-kiri.

Will Dahal do everything to obtain forgiveness from his party’s victims in this small window of opportunity? Or will he engage in business as usual and slide himself and his colleagues a notch down towards the eventual jail or hara-kiri. Let us hope he goes for the first option. Puja, the families of Muktinath Adhikari and Madi bus victims and so many other people would be eagerly watching how Dahal’s second innings as prime minister unfolds.