Murari Sharma: Nepal is More to Blame for its Woes

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the United States for his country’s conflict. In Britain, Conservative Prime Minister Teresa May has been blaming the Labor Party for her country’s economic pains, though her party has been ruling now for 8 years. Nepali leaders have often blamed India for the country’s backwardness. In all these cases, those who are blaming others have been more to blame themselves. 

Blaming others for one’s weaknesses has been a popular sport across the world–rich and poor, powerful and powerless countries do it all the time. Some of it is justifiable because it was not invited, but most of it is not. For instance, the colonized countries never invited the colonizers to colonize them. The second Gulf War was uninvited, and so was the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001. 

In Nepal, the second Nepal-India War was uninvited. So was the economic embargo of 1969/70. Nepal has not invited Indian effort to bring Nepal under its wing and Chinese effort to prevent Nepal from developing even economic and social contacts either. 

However, in other cases, a section of leaders in troubled countries have requested external interference and therefore, one-sided blame is has been unjustified. For instance, Juan Guaido asked for US interference in Venezuela. The Conservative Party itself has invited the Brexit and rising homelessness. In Libya, Yemen and Syria, one section of their leaders have requested the western intervention. 

In Nepal, King Jaya Prakash Malla had asked for British Indian military support in 1767. Some Nepali leaders had encouraged India for the economic embargo of 2015/16. The 1989/90 Indian economic embargo had been a combined result of Indian anger at Nepal for importing Chinese weapons, the rift between King Birendra and Indian Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi and Nepali democratic leaders’ call for help to restore democracy.

Both the invited and non-invited external interference has hurt the Nepali economy. However, these internal factors have hurt it more: the passive approach to development in the Panchayat era, the Maoist insurgency for a decade, and our own continued misappropriation and mismanagement in the post-1990 period.

For example, Nepal and South Korea had launched planned development at the same time and almost from the same base. By 1990, South Korea had become a developed country (having 29th highest per capita income in 2017 according to the UN) while Nepal continues to languish as a least developed one (169th), just above war-torn countries. 

The decade-long Maoist insurgency has not only caused the death of 17,000 economically active young Nepalis and disability of many more thousands but has also inflicted the economic damage of more than 7 billion rupees and many more billions worth of lost opportunity and time. Misappropriation/corruption and mismanagement have continued to hemorrhage our economy after the end of the insurgency.

Thanks to the misappropriation and corruption, every year, more politicians, bureaucrats and businesspersons have been joining the millionaires’ club without incomes to back their rise. We are 124th in the Transparency Index. Expensive cars and palatial houses in Kathmandu and Swiss bank accounts and the Panama papers have already proven it. At all levels, corruption has been flourishing: legislative and policy level, managerial level and operational level.

At the top of the pyramid, the parliament and the cabinet themselves have been the main conduits of institutionalized corruption. For instance, the funds allocated to every member of parliament at their discretion is one example of institutionalized corruption. The inclusion of hundreds of political projects without proper justification and planning or of thousands of studies to fool voters without the intention to pursue them further is another.

Another equally gargantuan source of institutionalized corruption has been the cabinet. It has been providing health assistance, disaster relief assistance, martyrs compensation, one-off grants to the powerful, rich, and politically connected.

The health assistance has been going to the pockets of top leaders, their families and their supporters, who are well off, rarely to those who really cannot afford. Only a small portion of the disaster relief assistance has been going to the real victims of disasters. The rest has been going to the same group as the health assistance.

Equally misused has been the martyrs’ compensation. The family of every martyr has been getting 1 million rupees. Anyone politically well connected but dead in a traffic accident, gang fight, or fall from a tree, or political protest would qualify as a martyr. No wonder why Nepal has had over 10,000 martyrs, which trivializes the genuine martyrs.

The one-off grant has been seldom one-off. It has been the regular source of milking the state for the politically influential people, who are also well off. 

To add insult to injury, the managerial level and operational level have been further aggravating corruption and misappropriation. Consequently, revenue collection has been consistently sub-optimal, expenditure has been riddled with loopholes and leakages, and justice has been corrupted.

As long as the legislative and policy level institutionalized corruption continues, corruption and misappropriation cannot be stamped out at the managerial and operational levels. So the promise Prime Minister KP Oli has made to wipe out corruption is an empty slogan, just like his predecessors’. The prime minister and his ministers have been quick to drop the name of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority for controlling corruption.

However, the Commission is part of Nepali society. More seriously, it has no jurisdiction over the parliament and the cabinet. Elsewhere, its performance has failed to inspire confidence. At times, people who should have been the subject of its investigations have headed it. Commissioner Raj Narayan Pathak is only a small fish. At other times, politicians who appoint them and who should be under its purview, have waved the flag of impeachment, directly and indirectly, if the Commission came after them. So the Commission goes after small targets, not big ones.

Mismanagement is another key factor for Nepal’s backwardness. Progress requires efficient use of scarce resources. But you seldom come across a project in Nepal that has been completed on time and within the budget. This happens because personal pecuniary interest, nepotism, and political preferences come in the way of awarding contracts, deploying staff and rewarding staff performance. 

Ministers do their best to award contracts to their cronies and relatives who promise them commensurate returns and appoint to key posts those employees that are ready to serve their personal interests and preferences. Delivery on time and within the budget has stayed in the paper. Cost overruns, bad for the taxpayers and the country, are excellent for ministers, contractors, and bureaucrats, who can all squeeze more money from the same projects by delaying them.

Blaming others for one’s weaknesses is human nature. Only a few leaders and people have been exceptions to this general rule. And only they have led their countries and organizations to greater heights and glories. Therefore, Nepal will move forward significantly with empty slogans and blame game. Our leaders and we ought to take responsibility for what we have been doing and stamp out corruption and mismanagement at all levels if we want to join the league of prosperous nations.


Murari Sharma: Contain but not Kill Identity Politics

The rise of identity politics is a threat to human rights, coexistence and even civilization. If we have forgotten the Holocaust, crusade, jihad, apartheid, genocides, etc., we should not. They were essentially the products of identity politics, in which the ‘others’ were treated as subhuman or liquidated. If the rise of identity politics continues at the current rate, humanity itself could be at risk given the weapons of mass destruction.

The British voters deciding to exit the European Union, American voters electing Donald Trump, far-right parties getting unprecedented support in elections in Europe, and anti-immigrant policies getting popular in several other countries are some of the many examples of the rise of identity politics. It has accelerated now due mainly to three factors: competitive politics, globalized economies, and technological progress.

Never before has politics been as competitive and identity-based as it is now. The wave of democracy unleashed by the end of the Cold War has washed all shores more or less, making politics so competitive across the world that every vote counts. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, ideological politics has taken a back seat, leaving politicians with only a narrow band of policy choices.

As a result, politicians have turned to ethnic or otherwise narrow identity for their support. Even in absence of such orientation, we vote for our own, for we love our family, our community and our culture, where we feel comfortable. The situation gets worse when politicians use identity politics to sow divisions in society to win.

Usually, the such divisive politics manifests itself in two forms.

Parochial politicians from the majority culture, as we have witnessed, whip the fear and hatred of ‘others’ for their advantage. They blame ‘others’ for invading ‘our country’, taking ‘our’ jobs, and straining ‘our’ public services and ask the voters to vote for them so they could stop ‘them’ from doing so.

On the other hand, parochial leaders from minority groups incite resentment against the majority by calling them exploiters, colonizers, usurpers, etc. and promise to stop ‘them’ if the voters voted for them.

However, the motivations of these two groups are different. The ones from the majority culture use identity politics to preserve the power and privileges they have been enjoying. In contrast, the ones from the minorities use it to obtain power and privileges at the first stage and preserve them subsequently.

Obvious has this phenomenon been in all countries–rich and poor–and all cultures. For instance, the British politicians backing Brexit used fear as their main tool to win the votes. They accused the ‘others’–the continental Europeans and the EU–as colonizers (though Britain joined the EU voluntarily) and unelected bureaucrats (even though the European Parliament is there) and asked voters to vote leave to take back control of their immigration, law, and money.

Some even suggested Britain should celebrate the day Britain leaves the EU as the day of their independence.

In the USA, the candidate Donald Trump used the fear of ‘others’ to clinch the presidency. He blamed Mexicans and other legal and illegal immigrants for all US woes–crimes, drugs, unemployment, decline in wages in real terms, and economic decline of most red states. He has still been using racially charged language and filling courts with arch-conservative judges to preserve the old American values.

This phenomenon is playing out in several other countries like Hungry, Poland, Czech Republic, India and elsewhere. In these countries, leaders from the majority culture have been using anti-minority or anti-immigrant slogans and policies for their political advantage. Though these developments have come about as a backlash to past policies, it does not make them welcome or wholesome.

In countries like Nepal, you witness the tug of war between majority and minority parochial leaders. The minority leaders have been blaming as colonizers, usurpers, and plunderers for destroying their identity and keeping them and the country poor. The majority leaders have been seeking to minimize the loss of their privileges. 

Likewise, liberalized and globalized economy has been another, though less significant, contributor to identity politics. Liberalization has made rich richer and poor poorer through the concentration of economic power in fewer hands. Globalization has made it possible for the factors of production to move and relocate to where they have better opportunities to profit.

For example, the rich have been taking domicile and investing their wealth in countries where taxes are now and their enforcement is weak. The poor have been traveling to other countries for jobs and economic opportunities. Such movements reduce revenues of the countries from where such outflows have occurred.

It leads to a reduction in their public services and in their capacity to invest in popular programs. Often, the main and direct victims of such reduced spending and investment happen to be the poorest sections of society. So the poor blame liberalization and globalization as their enemies and treat immigrants as ‘others.’ 

Technological progress–communication, cleaner sources of energy, etc.– has also contributed to identity politics. It has facilitated not only globalization but also made it possible to automate production and replaced workers. Similarly, the growing awareness about the fragility of the environment and development of new energy source, both made possible by modern technology has affected jobs in extraction industries.

When the path of progress is blocked, you turn into yourself and your past glory, however bright or dubious it might have been. This has been the case in old mining and manufacturing towns which have suffered the loss of jobs and other opportunists.

While we know why identity politics based on the far-right rhetoric and policy prescription in on the rise, what we do not know is how to contain and reverse it. Some have suggested liberal forces should come up a story of hope to win the disenchanted groups and disadvantaged areas.

However, it may or may not work. For instance, it did not work in the British referendum in 2016 to leave the EU. The remainers told the fact-based story of benefits of staying with the EU and disadvantages of leaving it. But they lost the game.

In the United States, Hillary Clinton’s fact- and policy-packed Better Together went down to Donald Trump’s anti-immigration and fact- and policy-free Make America Great Again in 2016. In 2018, the Republican Party gained seats in the Senate invoking identity politics: Help shape the Supreme Court into a conservative bastion to protect the old American values.

At times, the story of hope has also prevailed. For example, in 2017, the French voters put President Emanuel Macron in the Elysee Palace, endorsing his message of hope. Similarly, in the 2018 US elections, the Democratic Party ran on health care and other policies, won nearly 40 seats from the Republican Party, and wrested the control of the lower house.

Therefore, no silver bullet exists to work in all situations. More often than not, identity politics works. But we should not kill it to preserve democracy and vibrancy in politics. But we should allow it to dehumanize and destroy society, as it did in World War II, the Rwandan genocide, religious crusades and jihads, and the apartheid. Finding a middle ground is essential but tough.

Murari Sharma: Only the Resilient Survive Long

Today is the 29th day the US President Donald Trump has shutdown his government partially and one day before the British Prime Minister has to submit the alternative to her Brexit deal that was voted down overwhelmingly by the members of parliament, including 118 from her own Conservative Party. Both these leaders have shown immense aversion to compromise.

Leon C. Megginson, a Management Professor, says, “According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” 

It applies to politics also. The New York Times has reported, the two foremost democracies in the world are in a state of paralysis under their uncompromising leaders. Often, uncompromising leaders have a fragile ego and inherent sense of insecurity, even cowardice. To hide their inner insecurity and cowardice, they wear chips on their shoulders and project brutal power and authority on the outside. They have no eye or ear for criticism and no resilience to survive in the tumultuous political whirlpool, so such leaders may quickly and abruptly meet with atrophy and fade away.

President Donald Trump has proved that he lacks resilience. He has shut down the government until Congress gives him money to build a wall on the border between America and Mexico.  The shutdown has entered its fifth week and affected services across America, paralyzing several government functions across the country. Nansy Pelosi, the US Speaker, has called Trump’s hubris a ‘manhood thing.’

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Teresa May is in a similar boat. Even though the parliament rejected her deal to pull Britain out of the European Union by an overwhelming majority, She has refused to budge from her numerous red lines. Her defeat has had the dubious distinction of being the greatest since 1920.  

More specifically, both these leaders share at least five things in common. First, although May is a long-time conservative and Trump contextual, both represent and lead the conservative party in their respective countries.

Second, both oppose immigration. When she was home secretary, May introduced the anti-immigrant policy creating a hostile environment for minorities and sent red vans emblazoned with “Illegal Immigrant, Go Home.” Trump has courted the white nationalists, said Mexico sends criminal to the US and called poor countries shit-holes.

Third, both have projected their toughness at the wrong time. If May had shown the toughness she displayed well before the parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal, she could perhaps have negotiated a better deal. But she chose to work in silence. She tried to shut the door of the stable when the horse already half out of the stable.

As long as both houses of Congress were under his party’s control, Trump did not insist hard enough for his border wall. He did it through the shutdown after the Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the November 2018 elections and had one foot already out of the door. The Democrats refused the wall funding and Trump refused to sign any legislation without the wall. Therefore, Trump’s wound is self-inflicted.

May’s case is much different. She lost the majority in the Commons in the unwarranted general elections she called, even though the parliament had a five-year fixed term. Her coalition government is hostage to the Democratic Unionist Party, a regional outfit. And her party is split between the Brexiters and Remainers.  But she has not shown political acumen to salvage the situation. 

Fifth, both leaders do not trust others. President Trump sent Vice President Pence to negotiate with the Democrats and undercut him. He does not trust cabinet ministers either. Prime Minister May negotiated the Brexit deal keeping her Brexit Secretaries of State mostly out of it.

For Trump or May and the countries they lead, this does not bode well. While they will leave the political scene sooner or later, some people worry that by the time they leave their present posts, so much damage would have been done to the institutions and countries they are supposed to uphold and advance that they could not be fully restored for years, if ever.

That brings me back to Darwin’s finding. Indeed, neanderthal, human’s predecessor were extinguished because they were not resilient enough. For the same reason, dinosaurs that once dominated the earth were wiped out. So many other species have suffered the same fate. But crocodiles and cockroaches have been around for longer than any other species because they have adapted to new environs as they developed. 

Of course, we all have certain principles that we will not negotiate away. Similarly, countries have vital interests that are non-negotiable, like sovereignty. In other issues, if negotiations are to succeed, they must be conducted confidentially, not through the media, where give and take is possible without any party losing their faces. Talks through the media is counterproductive because they only promote posturing to undermine the other party.

Although both Trump and May have been seasoned and successful people in their previous stations in life, their negotiating gambits could not have been worse: Both are negotiating through media posturing. As someone with some experience of several sensitive negotiations, I can tell that the sure way to fail to reach a compromise is to negotiate through the media in an effort to publicly humiliate the other side.

But who knows? Maybe, Trump and May’s negotiating strategy will bear fruit. If that happens, I will have to question my own experience with negotiations.

Murari Sharma: South Asian Conundrum

South Asia reminds me of the most complex family of Lord Shiva in South Asian mythology.  Shiva lives in Kailash Mountain, one of the coldest places, and wears the Ganges River on his head and snakes on his body. His throat posits the most potent poison and his mount is a bull. The mount of Parvati, Shiva’s wife, is a lion. Their elder son Kartikeya’s mount is a peacock and younger son Ganesh’s is a mouse.

To keep peace in Shiva’s family is next to impossible. The lion eats the bull. The peacock eats the snakes and the mouse. The river sweeps everyone. The poison could kill everyone. In this situation, the guardians cannot  blink even for a second without inviting disaster. This is the conundrum of South Asia as well.

The South Asian family is only a tad less complicated than Lord Shiva’s but not much less. India, the old hegemone, has been losing its sphere of influence in the region. Pakistan spun out of its orbit as soon as it was carved out from the old India. When India moved closer to the Soviet Union, Pakistan aligned itself with the West and China. The two countries have fought three wars and have been accusing each other of promoting terrorism in each other’s territories. 

Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are also on the rock. Islamabad had allowed the West to use its territories to wage war against Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Subsequently, it has allegedly supported Taliban terrorists who have been causing mayhem for the West-supported government in Kabul.   

For plausible reasons, other small South Asian countries entertain the fear of India. India is the elephant in the South Asian room. Although the Sheikh Hasina Wajed government is cozy to India, the Bangladeshis have not forgotten the Indian military intervention in East Pakistan that led to the swift creation of their country. Besides, South Asian public consciousness is still fresh that Indian military intervention ensured Sikkim’s merger with India, prolonged the civil war in Sri Lanka, and crushed the rebellion against the incumbent government in the Maldives. 

Indian military presence continues in Bhutan, which has accepted Indian security umbrella. But over the last two decades or so, Thimpu has been trying to establish and strengthen its relationships with Beijing to resolve its border disputes, especially after the Doklam standoff between India and China and reach out to the rest of the world without Indian guidance.

After Bhutan expelled its Nepali speaking citizens, relations between Kathmandu and Thimpu have remained far from warm and cordial in essence.

From the 1950s, Nepal has gradually spun off the Indian pivot. It remained neutral in the India-China War, removed the Indian security posts from the Nepal-China border, opposed the three Indian economic blockades imposed to bend the Himalayan country. It has been resisting Indian efforts to bring it under the Indian security and diplomatic umbrella in line with Bhutan. The present Communist Party government in Kathmandu, which enjoys a two-thirds majority in the parliament and which has been pushing the cross-Himalayan road and rail links, has become a major cause of concern for New Delhi.

China has been the main factor in eroding Indian hegemony in South Asia. It has aggressively reached out to South Asian countries with its increased trade and investment and its latest infrastructure initiative–Belt and Road–that seeks to connect itself to all South Asian countries and beyond. More specifically, Beijing helped Islamabad to develop its nuclear weapons to counter India, Colombo to end the civil war Sri Lanka and build its infrastructure, Male to improve its ports and other facilities. It is helping Nepal with trade, investment and infrastructure development, including the cross-Himalayan rail and road networks, which India frowns.

On an important level, Western countries have also contributed to the erosion of the Indian sphere of influence. After Britain receded to the British Isles, Western countries have massively expanded the network of their non-governmental organizations directly and through South Asian proxies. These organizations finance development activities in the region and proselytize the deprived South Asians to Christian faith to counter the authority of the Indian and other South Asian governments.

The slowing Chinese economy in the face of US-China trade war and American President Donald Trump’s US-centric policy might come to India’s rescue, but there is no guarantee. After a long gallop, the Chinese economy has decelerated into a trot which, if continued, will curtail Beijing’s infrastructure initiative and military buildup that has helped it spread its influence in the neighborhood and beyond by leaps and bounds. Similarly, Trump’s policy is likely to discourage the massive financing of Western non-governmental organizations that work in South Asia and seek to curb the power of South Asian governments.   

Due to the difficulties inherent in managing his complex family, Lord Shiva used to spend most of his time away from home. He would spend most of his time away from home either meditating or converting himself into one of the animals to enjoy their innocent company.

But the problem in South Asia is that countries cannot go out of their neighborhood like Lord Shiva. They will have to learn to live in their neighborhood the way it is and their guardians will have to keep the tempers down without blinking for a second. The challenge is more serious for landlocked countries that have to depend on their coastal neighbors to reach out to the rest of the world.

Murari Sharma: A Fateful Fortnight

Last fortnight has had a scarcity of welcome news. Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala, died in US custody when the US border force was transporting her and her father by a bus from a border post to the closest border patrol station 95 miles away. On the way, her father said she was sick and vomiting. When they reached the border patrol station, she was not breathing anymore.

Reportedly, her father said the girl was healthy and fine until the US border agents took him and her into custody. How it happened is still a subject of investigation but it does not reflect positively on the US government. While every country has the sovereign right to protect and defend its borders, US moral authority to question other countries doing the same elsewhere and harming refugees in the process for whatever reason comes into serious and appropriate question.

As we know it, the United States produces human rights report every year and rates other countries on their human rights record. Though America had committed a genocide of Indian Americans in earlier eras, its record on human rights in the modern era has been one of the best, if not the best, which had given the US government the  moral authority to question and lecture other countries on their record. But the death of the little girl in US custody has undermined its moral authority and given a serious blow to its reputation.

But the death of an innocent girl has had an impact not only on US human rights record, but also has implications for the post-World War II international order. Western countries, led by the United States, had created this order predicated on globalized peace under the United Nations, democracy and human rights. That  order is under serious threat as evidenced by the death of the girl but also other policies and activities of the current actors to tackle past and current challenges.     

In the last fortnight, for instance, US President Donald Trump has gotten ever closer to impeachment after his former lawyer Michael Cohen implicated him for a number of crimes, including the payment to women to buy their silence and affect the election, which is a federal crime. If Cohen has been handed jail sentence for that and other crimes, the man who ordered him to do it could not be beyond the reach of the law. 

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Teresa May pulled her Brexit Deal from voting scheduled for last Tuesday lacking sufficient votes in Parliament to approve it. Worse, she went back to the European Union seeking further concessions to sail through the hurdle, Union leaders rebuffed her.  While the very idea of Britain exiting EU is the antithesis of globalization, he inability to work with EU leaders was a further indication that relations between Britain outside the EU and the rump EU are headed for choppy waters.

Likewise, French President Emanuel Macron is facing prolonged and gargantuan protests in Paris even after he made concessions to the protesters. But the protests have not ended. Some people have begun to compare these protests to the 1968 protests. While it is yet too early to tell, the internationalist president is definitely under pressure at a time when rightist forces are raining their head all over Europe. 

To a lesser extent than the countries stated above, the election of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace Angela Markel, the German Chancellor, might also indicate that Germany under her is going to be slightly more rightist than under Merkel, though it is too early to say it definitely will be the case.  Sings elsewhere also are giving cause for concern.

In Asia, key leaders have been facing serious challenges to their administrations. Chinese President Xi Jinping being challenged by the slowing Chinese economy and threat of tariff all its products by the United States. This might pare back China’s push for more globalization, especially if the economy does not turn around.

Similarly, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, rather his party, lost five provincial elections in the recent elections. The economy has slowed down. This might have an impact on Modi’s aspirations to pursue a globalist agenda.  

In South America, Brazil presents a similarly challenging case after the election of the a-la-Donald Trump President Jair Bolsonaro who will take over the rein from 2019. The country has been a leading force in reinforcing the existing order while trying to tilt the balance in developing countries’ favor, it has now become highly unpredictable what the new president will do given his Trump-like agenda.

What is more, as the USA pulls back from the world under Donald Trump, the impetus to push forward or even maintain the globalization process will suffer a major setback. US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and Us efforts at the recent Poland climate talks to give a free rein to fossil fuel do not bode well for the international community. At a time filled with terrible news, Katowice has delivered welcome news.

This week, the climate talks in Katowice to implement the Paris Agreement, have been the successful conclusion of the climate talks in Katowice, Poland which despite serious challenges posed by the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, agreed to keep the rise of temperature below 2 percent by the end of this century, which gives life to the Paris Agreement, though several of the goals were diluted or kicked down the road. 

But this is not enough at a time when we are desperate to hear encouraging news for the world at a time when a number of powerful countries are turning away from common good in the pursuit of the interest groups that support them and fund their political life and ideology even though they stand against science and common sense.

Let us hope the reversal will be short-term and we will be able to move forward again sooner than later. Only hope should keep the spirits of internationalists alive in the days ahead while trying from their respective positions to minimize the damage being done during this reversal. Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death at the US-Mexico border should be a wakeup call that things could take a wrong turn if we all look inward when we need more international cooperation to resolve national and international problems. 


Murari Sharma: Disappointing G20 Declaration

The G-20 summit has ended in Buenos Aires with a 31-point declaration called building consensus for fair and sustainable development. I am disappointed with the document, which has more posturing than an effort to find practical solutions to global and regional problems.   

Except a few, other points in the statement are a rehash of the previous summit outcomes. The most notable exception is the justification provided by the US for its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and for the use of the energy sources for growth that have been deemed seriously harmful to the environment. I do not understand why other countries agreed to the point at all.

The other exception is the intention to reform the World Trade Organization. While every organization should be reviewed periodically so it would remain relevant and useful to changing requirements, this time the US seems motivated to to bend the rule-book in its favor and tear it if it cannot do so, not to strengthen the rule-based global trade. Yet another exception, some of the points in the statement are outright contradictory. For example, sustainable development and use of highly polluting and finite energy sources. 

These exceptions appear in the declaration more as the yawning cracks and gaps between the member states and less as promise to make concerted and serious efforts to find global consensus to tackle global and regional problems. 

Even in normal times, policies agreed at summit of 20 most important economies on earth seldom see the light of day in implementation due to wide differences existing between groups of members states and between individual countries within the groups themselves.

This time, the situation was not normal. According to some reports, even the US delegates did not know what position President Trump would take on critical issues when they flew to the Argentine capital. So there is no basis to believe that polices made on the fly will produce positive results for humanity. 

However, multilateral summits should be judged not only on what comes out in their statements but also what transpires among key members in the bilateral meetings on the side.  This time, the most consequential of bilateral meetings took place  between President Trump and President Xi in which Trump agreed to hold additional fire of extra tariff on Chinese products for 90 days and Xi agreed to further open the Chinese market to American products.

Let us hope the two countries will agree on a deal within that period and save the world from an ugly trade war in which not only these two countries but also the rest of the world will suffer.  

The meetings between Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, between the British prime minister and Japanese Prime Minister Abe, and between French President Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salim were widely reported in the United Kingdom.

May defended her deal with the European Union, which will be voted on in 9 days from now and which is likely to fail. Abe warned May not to crash out of the EU. And Macron chastised Salim over the murder of Jamal Khassoggi, a Saudi national and The Washington Post contributor, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. None of them much consequential.  Trump and May, whose countries are number one and two arms suppliers to the kingdom, were loud in their silence on the issue of murder with the Saudi crown prince.  

That said, the issuance of the G20 declaration in itself is quite positive.  Trump had torpedoed the statement of the G7 summit in Canada early this year. Therefore, not many people, including me, had expected this statement. The Trump administration seems to have agreed to put up a nice face this time to insert its own problematic points.    

However, we need more than a nice face  and a few contradictory paragraphs in the declaration to grapple  with the world’s numerous nagging issues and perilous problems. If other leaders tried to convince Trump to not abandon the US role in global matters, I did not see it in the declaration. Neither did I see the engagement of other world leaders while G20 members were drawing the lines of global fortunes in Buenos Aires.

For instance, the leaders of several Asia-Pacific countries, including Nepali leaders, were busy getting blessings from the high priests of terribly defamed organization in Kathmandu rather paying attention to G20 meeting and its outcome. That is a pity.  

Murari Sharma: Teresa May Deserves Some Appreciation

British politics is in grave turmoil. Prime Ministers Teresa May’s foes and opponents have opposed tooth and nail the draft agreement she has negotiated to pull Britain out of the European Union. While her foes — Brexit hawks — made the mess and wimped out, May is left to clean the rubbish behind them while the opposition — Labor, Scottish Nationalist Party, and others — understandably is at its own game.   

If a political party wants to self-destruct, ask David Cameroon, May’s predecessor, how to do it. To placate the Eurosceptic in Conservative Party, Cameroon called the referendum on British membership of the European Union in 2016, and the British voters voted to leave the EU.

Cameroon’s side lost and he stepped aside, paving the path for May to occupy 10 Downing Street. May has spent most of her time balancing the Eurosceptic and Europhiles within Conservative Party. The current political turmoil is the climax of the conflict between the feuding factions that may split and destroy the party. 

Let me focus here on May’s foes. They peddled the fantasy that Britain outside the EU will have milk and honey without paying any price. But the EU stood for its continued integrity. As soon as the Brexit hawks understood that their fantasy was just that, they abandoned May’s ship.  

First to leave was David Davis, a Brexit hawk and the first Brexit secretary of state. In his negotiations with the EU, Davis realized that the lies and fantasy Brexiters had campaigned on were just that. So he resigned citing the Chequers understanding based on what the EU could agree.

Next was Boris Johnson, the hawks’ leader and the first foreign secretary in the May government. He had said Britain could have a cake and eat it. He chickened out, citing the same understanding, rather than trying to negotiate a better deal from the EU. As mayor of London, he had done a decent job but as foreign secretary, he proved only a wrecker-in-chief. 

Davis’s successor, Dominic Raab, also quit when the going got tough as I see it. In the very first rounds of negotiation, Rabb’s abrasive approach and uncompromising position hit the wall with EU and May took charge of the negotiations to move the process forward, which was a slap on Raab’s face.  

Crafted in these circumstances, May’s agreement is not ideal but it is what was possible given the UK’s weak position in the negotiation. To run for the door, Raab has used it. Other Brexiters have done the same, isolating and attacking May. 

As I have said before, May has made her share of the mistakes on two counts. First, she took charge of negotiations from Raab when he failed to make any headway. She should have made him fully responsible, pinned the failure on him, and then only taken charge of it. Second, she never told the public that Davis, Johnson, and Raab resigned because they could not deliver. She should have said it.

As every student of dance and diplomacy understands, it takes two tango.  Crucially, you get in the negotiation is not what you want but what the other side is willing to give you.  In the EU-Britain negotiation, three things have worked against Britain.  

First was the relative power. The EU economy is seven times larger than the British economy is. Collectively, 27 EU members are a greater military power than the United Kingdom. Besides, the UK was leaving the union, not the EU. Owing to these reasons, the UK’s negotiating position was weaker than that of the EU. 

Second, the EU was not ready to wreck the union. In the run-up to the referendum in 2016, Brexit hawks had promised to pull Britain out of the EU, the European Court of Justice, and the Customs Union and curtail the freedom of movement of people while enjoying the freedoms related to goods, service, and capital at no cost.  But the EU was not prepared to compromise on its four pillars — Freedoms of movement of people, goods, services, and capital.

Third, Brexit hawks forgot the Good Friday Agreement under which the British government had promised to keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland open without any barrier to keep the peace. Because the EU was one of the guarantors of the agreement, it insisted on respecting that provision, which necessitated the backstop arrangements if there was no free trade agreement between the EU and Britain.

And the backstop has become a heartburn for the Brexit hawks. Rather than making a reasonable compromise with the EU on that matter, the hawks in their zeal for untrammeled sovereignty and power for them seem eager to jeopardize the integrity of the United Kingdom itself.

Therefore, there was no way Britain could have cherry-picked what it liked and discard the rest in the negotiation.  

While the Europhiles in Conservative Party, like Justice Greening, have provided lukewarm support to May’s agreement, Eurosceptics have become raving made. Nearly two-dozens of them have sent letters to the 1922 committee challenging May’s leadership. In view of this, what surprises me is why May’s supporters and the so-called independent, objective media have not highlighted this aspect frequently and sufficiently.  

It does not mean May’s agreement is good; it is not, but it is the best she could get from the EU. If Brexit hawks were de facto in charge of the negotiation, the deal could have been much worse than this, I venture to presume, given their acrimonious relationships with their EU counterparts and their unbending attitude. In effect, Britain would have been forced to crash out of the EU at an intolerable economic cost.

More fundamentally, no negotiated deal, a product of compromises, is perfect. Therefore, May deserves appreciation for this imperfect deal. Only tactical were her mistakes.  She did not hold the hawks’ feet to the fire. So there they are backstabbing her to snatch her pedestal away.  

The agreement is likely to fail in parliament. If it does, May’s foes would be mainly to blame.  Changing the leadership will not change the dynamics with the EU.


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