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.

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Murari Sharma: Could US-North Korea Escalation lead to World War III?

Two child bullies, one leading the most powerful nation on earth and the other the most isolated country, are pushing their countries towards a war that could mark the beginning of World War III.   

You guessed it. I am talking about the US President Donald Trump and the North Korean President Kim Jong-Un.

Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in the New York Times that Trump, who is 70, acts more irresponsibly than a four-year child. Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post that Trump behaves like a toddler.

Kim, whose date of birth is a state secret, is 32-33 year old. Whimsical, Kim is a lot like Trump, according to some people like Marwan Bishara, the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

To be sure, it could be a good thing if the grownups occasionally behave childishly if they do not have their fingers on the nuclear button. But Trump and Kim do, and this puts the world on edge.

According to the Arms Control Association, the United States sits on 6,800 powerful nuclear weapons. North Korea has 10 of them. Some other estimates suggest that Pyongyang could have as many as 30 nuclear weapons.

The war of words between Washington and Pyongyang is nothing new, for a reason.

Though they had signed an armistice in 1953, at the end of the Korean War, there is no peace treaty between them yet. The United States has maintained nearly 30,000 forces in South Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

In 1994, the two countries signed an Agreed Framework under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze the nuclear program and allow IAEA inspections in return for help to replace the existing nuclear plants with light water power plants and for normalization of political and economic relations.

Both sides did not live up to the agreement, blaming each other. North Korea tested nuclear weapons, and the international community imposed sanctions against it in 2006, shortly after the tests. Last month, it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can hit targets in the United States.  

In response, at the behest of the United States and under the aegis of the United Nations, the international community imposed additional sanctions. This prompted Pyongyang to fire its first verbal salvo at Washington, and President Trump took the bait.

Trump said he would unleash ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea did not stop producing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. On 10 August, he doubled down again suggesting that his fire and fury statement was not strong enough.

This is something new. No other responsible Western leader had ever issued such a dire threat to North Korea.  

Pyongyang responded by calling Trump ‘bereft of reason’ and his remark as a ‘load of nonsense’ and outlining a plan to attack Guam, where the United States has a large military base. The to and fro has sent the chill down the spine of the world, particularly Asia.

First, Asia. If America attacks, North Korea will attack South Korea, and both Koreas will be ruined. The South Korean capital, Seoul,  which has 11 million people and which is hardly 35 miles from the border, will bear the brunt of the destruction. 

Besides, North Koreans have threatened to attack Guam. The imprecise North Korean missiles could hit any country on the way to Guam. If push comes to shove, Pyongyang could fire a few missiles to Japan, a close American ally. 

If it breaks out, the war will suck in other countries as well. For instance, China. North Korea relies on trade and aid on China. The Chinese official media has said Beijing would protect North Korea if the attack were started by the US. If war starts, millions of North Korean refugees will flood China, and it will force Beijing to take a robust action.

If China gets involved, Russia is likely to keep the agreement between the Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi. Japan and NATO countries will have to support the US under treaty obligations. So World War III could unfold.

If a war breaks out between the US and North Korea, the American people will not be safe either. The North Korean missiles can hit Hawaii, Alaska, and even Chicago, which means most of the United States, barring the east coast.

Besides the direct impact of missiles, there will be economic impacts. The war will destroy the South Korean and North Korean economies. Japan and China will suffer the secondary impact. The impact will ripple to the Pacific rim as a whole and the rest of the world.

The impact is not a figment of the imagination. World stock markets have already recorded a fall because of the escalating rhetoric between the United States and North Korea. 

Is World War III about to start? I do not know that. But what I know is this: Arrogance and resentment are often at the root of war. 

The powerful countries often militarily intervene in the powerless due to arrogance. For example, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait under Saddam Hussein, the US invasion of Iraq (second time) and of Grenada, the British-French invasion of Libya, China’s attack on Vietnam, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and Hungry, etc. fall in this category.

The countries defeated and humiliated in war often engage in wars of resentment. The best example is World War II. To prepare his people for war, Adolf Hitler fanned the German resentment caused by the loss in World War I and the harsh conditions imposed on it by the victors.

When you combine arrogance and resentment, you create an explosive cocktail, which is the United States under Donald Trump. 

Withdrawing from the climate change agreement and asking Mexico to pay for the wall to be built by the US are screaming examples of Trump’s arrogance.

Projecting America as the aggrieved party in trade agreements and NATO funding are the examples of resentment being fuelled by Trump. 

Of course, sometimes normal leaders, too, make incendiary remarks or issue dire threats. But they weigh the cost and benefits and listen to their advisers before they push the button.  

For instance, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, both former US Presidents, have done it. Regan undiplomatically called the then-Soviet Union an evil empire. The US President Barack Obama drew a red line in the Syrian civil war for intervention. But they did not act impulsively. 

But Trump is not a normal leader the way Reagan and Obama were. Only Trump tweets self-destructive messages in the middle of the night, disregarding his advisers’ advice. Only Trump has told lies all his life. Only Trump takes pride in grabbing ‘women by their pussies.’  

Trump can do anything if his ego is challenged. Kim has only to gain by drawing Trump into this spat. So American leaders who can influence Trump should lean on him, and China should lean on Kim to save the world.