Category Archives: Nepal

India and China: Behind the Conflict

India & China: Behind the Conflict

Dispatches From The Edge

Aug. 2, 2020



Chinese and Indian forces have pulled back from their confrontation in the Himalayas, but the tensions that set off the deadly encounter this past June—the first on the China/India border since 1975—are not going away. Indeed, a combination of local disputes, regional antagonisms and colonial history have brewed up a poisonous elixir that could pose a serious danger to peace in South Asia.


In part, the problem is Britain’s colonial legacy. The “border” in dispute is an arbitrary line drawn across terrain that doesn’t lend itself to clear boundaries. The architect, Henry McMahon, drew it to maximize British control of a region that was in play during the 19th Century “Great Game” between England and Russia for control of Central Asia. Local concerns were irrelevant.


The treaty was signed between Tibet and Britain in 1914. While India accepts the 550-mile McMahon Line as the border between Indian and China, the Chinese have never recognized the boundary.


Sir Mortimer Durand, Britain’s lead colonial officer in India, drew a similar “border” in 1893 between Pakistan (then India’s “Northern Territories”) and Afghanistan that Kabul has never accepted, and which is still the source of friction between the two countries. Colonialism may be gone, but its effects still linger.


While the target for the McMahon Line was Russia, it has always been a sore spot for China, not only because Beijing’s protests were ignored, but also because the Chinese saw it as a potential security risk for its western provinces.


If England, which had already humiliated China in the two Opium Wars, as well as by seizing Shanghai and Hong Kong, could lop off Tibet—which China sees as part of its empire—so might another country: Like India.


Indeed, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and absorbed Kashmir and Jammu in 2019, the Chinese saw the grab as a threat to the security of Tibet and its restive western province of Xinjiang. The area in which the recent fighting took place, the Galwan Valley, is close to a road linking Tibet with Xinjiang.


The nearby Aksai Chin, which China seized from India in the 1962 border war, not only controls the Tibet-Xinjiang highway, but also the area through which China is building an oil pipeline. The Chinese see the pipeline—which will go from the Pakistani port of Gwadar to Kashgar in Xinjiang—as a way to bypass key choke points in the Indian Ocean controlled by the US Navy.


The $62 billion project is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a piece of the huge Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure and increase trade between South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and China.


China moves some 80 percent of its oil by sea and is increasingly nervous about a budding naval alliance between the US and Beijing’s regional rivals, India and Japan. In the yearly Malabar exercises the three powers war game closing the Malacca Straits through which virtually all of China’s oil passes. The Pakistan-China pipeline oil will be more expensive than tanker supplied oil—one estimate is five times more—but it will be secure from the US.


In 2019, however, India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, pledged to take back Aksai Chin from China, thus exposing the pipeline to potential Indian interdiction.


From China’s point of view the bleak landscape of rock, ice and very little oxygen is central to its strategy of securing access to energy supplies.


The region is also part of what is called the world’s “third pole,” the vast snowfields and glaciers that supply the water for 11 countries in the region, including India and China. Both countries make up a third of the world’s population but have access to only 10 percent of the globe’s water supplies. By 2030, half of India’s population—700 million people—will lack adequate drinking water.


The “pole” is the source of 10 major rivers, most of them fed by the more than 14,000 thousand glaciers that dot the Himalayas and Hindu Kush. By 2100, two-thirds of those glaciers will be gone, the victims of climate change. China largely controls the “pole.”


It may be stony and cold, but it is lifeblood to 11 countries in the region.


The recent standoff has a history. In 2017, Indian and Chinese troops faced-off in Doklam—Dongland to China—the area where Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim come together. There were fist fights and lots of pushing and shoving, but casualties consisted of black eyes and bloody noses. But the 73-day confrontation apparently shocked the Chinese. “For China, the Doklam stand-off raised fundamental questions regarding the nature of India’s threat,” says Yun Sun, a senor fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington.


Doklam happened just as relations with the Trump administration were headed south, although tensions between Washington and Beijing date back to the 1998-99 Taiwan crisis. Then US President Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the area, one of which traversed the Taiwan Straits between the island and the mainland. The incident humiliated China, which re-tooled its military and built up its navy in the aftermath.


In 2003, US President George W. Bush wooed India to join Japan, South Korea and Australia in a regional alliance aimed at “containing” China. The initiative was only partly successful, but it alarmed China. Beijing saw the Obama administration’s “Asia pivot” and the current tensions with the Trump administration as part of the same strategy.


If ones adds to this US anti-missile systems in South Korea, the deployment of 1500 Marines to Australia, and the buildup of American bases in Guam and Wake, it is easy to see why the Chinese would conclude that Washington had it out for them.


China has responded aggressively, seizing and fortifying disputed islands and reefs, and claiming virtually all of the South China Sea as home waters. It has rammed and sunk Vietnamese fishing vessels, bullied Malaysian oilrigs, and routinely violated Taiwan’s air space.


China has also strengthened relations with neighbors that India formally dominated, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Maldives, initiatives which India resents. In short, there are some delicate diplomatic issues in the region, ones whose solutions are ill served by military posturing or arms races.


Was the dustup in the Galwan Valley an extension of China’s growing assertiveness in Asia? Partly, but the Modi government has also been extremely provocative, particularly in its illegal seizure of Kashmir and Jammu. In the Galwan incident, the Indians were building an airfield and a bridge near the Chinese border that would have allowed Indian armor and modern aircraft to potentially threaten Chinese forces.


There is a current in the Indian military that would like to erase the drubbing India took in its 1962 border war. The thinking is that the current Indian military is far stronger and better armed than it was 58 years ago, and it has more experience than China’s Peoples Liberation Army. The last time the Chinese army went to war was its ill-fated invasion of Vietnam in 1979.


But that is dangerous thinking. India’s “experience” consists mainly of terrorizing Kashmiri civilians and an occasional fire fight with lightly armed insurgents. In 1962, India’s and China’s economies were similar in size. Today, China’s economy is five times larger and its military budget four times greater.


China is clearly concerned that it might face a two-front war: India to its south, the US and its allies to the west. That is not a comfortable position, and one that presents dangers to the entire region. Pushing a nuclear-armed country into a corner is never a good idea.


The Chinese need to accept some of the blame for the current tensions. Beijing has bullied smaller countries in the region and refused to accept the World Court’s ruling on its illegal occupation of a Philippine reef. Its heavy-handed approach to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and its oppressive treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, is winning it no friends, regionally and internationally.


There is no evidence that the US, India and China want a war, one whose effect on the international economy would make Covid-19 look like a mild head cold. But since all three powers are nuclear armed, there is always the possibility—even if remote—of things getting out of hand.


In reality, all three countries desperately need one another if the world is to confront the existential danger of climate change, nuclear war, and events like pandemics. It is a time for diplomacy and cooperation, not confrontation.















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Weaponizing Water in South Asia

Weaponizing Water in South Asia

Dispatches From The Edge

July 10, 2019



During the faceoff earlier this year between India and Pakistan over a terrorist attack that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, New Delhi made an existential threat to Islamabad. The weapon was not India’s considerable nuclear arsenal, but one still capable of inflicting ruinous destruction: water.


“Our government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan,” India’s Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkin said Feb. 21. “We will divert water from eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. India controls three major rivers that flow into Pakistan.



If India had followed through, it would have abrogated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between the two counties, a move that could be considered an act of war.


In the end nothing much came of it. India bombed some forests, and Pakistan bombed some fields. But the threat underlined a growing crisis in the South Asian sub-continent, where water stressed mega cities and intensive agriculture are quite literally drying up. By 2030, according to a recent report, half the population of India—700 million people—will lack adequate drinking water. Currently, 25 percent of India’s population is suffering from drought,


“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water,” warns Ismail Serageldin, a former executive for the World Bank.


While relations between India and Pakistan have long been tense—they have fought three wars since 1947, one of which came distressingly close to going nuclear—in terms of water sharing, they are somewhat of a model.


After almost a decade of negotiations, both countries signed the IWT in 1960 to share the output of six major rivers. The World Bank played a key role by providing $1 billion for the Indus Basin Development Fund.


But the on-going tensions over Kashmir have transformed water into a national security issue for both countries. This, in turn, has limited the exchange of water and weather data, making long-term planning extremely difficult.


The growing water crisis is heightened by climate change. Both countries have experienced record-breaking heat waves, and the mountains that supply the vast majority of water for Pakistan and India, are losing their glaciers. The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report estimates that by 2100 some two-thirds of the area’s more than 14,000 glaciers will be gone.


India’s response to declining water supplies—like that of many other countries in the region, is to build dams. But dams not only restrict down stream water supplies, they block the natural flow of silt. That silt renews valuable agricultural land and also replenishes the great deltas, like the Ganges-Brahmaputra, the Indus and the Mekong. The deltas not only support fishing industries, they also act as natural barriers to storms.


The Sunderbans—a vast, 4,000 square mile mangrove forest on the coasts of India and Bangladesh—is under siege. As climate change raises sea levels, up stream dams reduce the flow of fresh water that keeps the salty sea at bay. The salt encroachment eventually kills the mangrove trees and destroys farmland. Add to this increased logging to keep pace with population growth, and Bangladesh alone will lose some 800 square miles of Sunderban over the next few years.


As the mangroves are cut down or die off, they expose cities like Kolkata and Dhaka to the unvarnished power of typhoons, storms which climate change is making more powerful and frequent.


The central actor in the South Asia water crisis is China, which sits on the sources of 10 major rivers that flow through 11 countries, and which supply 1.6 billion people with water. In essence, China controls the “Third Pole,” that huge reservoir of fresh water locked up in the snow and ice of the Himalayas.


And Beijing is building lots of dams to collect water and generate power.

Over 600 large dams either exist or are planned in the Himalayas. In the past decade, China has built three dams on the huge Brahmaputra that has its origin in China but drains into India and Bangladesh.


While India and China together represent a third of the world’s population, both countries have access to only 10 percent of the globe’s water resources and no agreements on how to share that water. While tensions between Indian and Pakistan mean the Indus Water Treaty doesn’t function as well as it could, nevertheless, the agreement does set some commonly accepted ground rules, including binding arbitration. No such treaty exists between New Delhi and Beijing.


While relations between China and India are far better than those between India and Pakistan, under the Modi government New Delhi has grown closer to Washington and has partly bought into a US containment strategy aimed at China. Indian naval ships carry out joint war games with China’s two major regional rivals, Japan and the US, and there are still disputes between China and India over their mutual border. A sharpening atmosphere of nationalism in both countries is not conducive to cooperation over anything, let alone something as critical as water.


And yet never has their been such a necessity for cooperation. Both countries need the “Third Pole’s” water for agriculture, hydropower and to feed the growth of mega cities like Dhaka, Mumbai and Beijing.


Stressed water supplies translate into a lack of clean water, which fuels a health crisis, especially in the huge sprawling cities that increasingly draw rural people driven out by climate change. Polluted water kills more people than wars, including 1.5 million children under the age of five. Reduced water supplies also go hand in hand with water borne diseases, like cholera. There is even a study that demonstrates thirsty mosquitoes bite more, thus increasing the number of vector borne diseases like Zita, Malaria, and Dengue.


South Asia is hardly alone in facing a crisis over fresh water. Virtually every continent on the globe is looking at shortages. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 water sources will only cover 60 percent of the world’s daily requirement.


The water crisis is no longer a problem that can be solved through bilateral agreements like the IWT, but one that requires regional, indeed, global solutions. If the recent push by the Trump administration to lower mileage standards for automobiles is successful, it will add hundreds of thousands of extra tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which, in turn, will accelerate climate change.


In short, what comes out of US auto tailpipes will ultimately be felt by the huge Angsi Glacier in Tibet, the well spring of the Brahmaputra, a river that flows through China, India and Bangladesh, emptying eventually into the Bay of Bengal.


There is no such thing as a local or regional solution to the water crisis, since the problem is global. The only really global organization that exists is the United Nations, which will need to take the initiative to create a worldwide water agreement.


Such an agreement is partly in place. The UN International Watercourses Convention came into effect in August 2014 following Vietnam’s endorsement of the treaty. However, China voted against it, and India and Pakistan abstained. Only parties that signed it are bound by its conventions.


But the Convention is a good place to start. “It offers legitimate and effective practices for data sharing, negotiation and dispute resolution that could be followed in a bilateral or multilateral water sharing arrangement,” according to Srinivas Chokkakula, a water issues researcher at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research.


By 2025, according to the UN, some 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be under “water stress” conditions. There is enough fresh water for seven billion people, according to the UN, but it is unevenly distributed, polluted, wasted or poorly managed.


If countries don’t come together around the Conventions—which need to be greatly strengthened—and it becomes a free for all with a few countries holding most the cards, sooner or later the “water crisis” will turn into an old-fashion war.





















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Nepal & the Bush Administration: Into Thin Air

Foreign Policy In Focus

Feb. 3, 2004

Tucked into the upper stories of the Himalayas, Nepal hardy seems ground zero for the Bush Administration’s next crusade against “terrorism,” but an aggressive American ambassador, a strategic locale, and a flood of U.S. weaponry threatens to turn the tiny country of 25 million into a counter insurgency bloodbath.

More than 8,000 Nepalese have died since a civil war broke out in 1996, and the death rate has sharply increased with the arrival of almost 8,400 American M-16 submachine guns, accompanied by U.S. advisors, high tech night fighting equipment, and British helicopters.

For most Americans, Nepal, birthplace of the Buddha, and home to Everest, the world’s high mountain, is a charming tourist haven. For the native Nepalese, 42 percent of whom, according to the World Bank, live below the poverty line, Nepal is a land enchained in caste, riven with ethnic rivalries, and dominated by a feudal landlord class.

The central protagonists in the current war are King Gyanendra, who abolished an elected parliament last year, a rural insurrection, led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPNM), and a group of five political parties who found themselves out in the cold when the monarchy took over.

The Bush Administration has concluded that the civil war threatens to make Nepal into a “failed state,” and a haven for international terrorists, and has placed the NCPM on the State Department’s “Watch List,” along with organizations like al Qaida, Abu Sayaf, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Michael E. Malinowski compares CPNM leader, Baburam Bhattarai to Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. Malinowski, whose track record includes service in Afghanistan and Pakistan, advocates an all-out military offensive aimed at the insurgency, recently telling the New York Times that the CPNM, “literally have to be bent back to the table.”

But it was the Nepalese government’s attempt to crush rural unrest that sparked the civil war in the first place, and virtually no one thinks there is a military solution to the insurrection. “The government forces, under the present policies, could win a couple of battles here and there,” writes analyst Romeet Kaul Watt in The Kashmir Tribune, “but will never win the war.”

The present war finds it roots in both the ongoing poverty in a nation that is 85 percent rural, and the failure of government to institute land reform measures following the restoration of representative government in 1990.

King Mahendra, father of the present King, dismissed an elective government in 1960. He ruled until his death in 1972, when his son, King Birendra, took over, eventually restoring democracy. But when conditions did not improve in rural areas, peasants began agitating against onerous rents. The government responded by sending the military into the countryside—Operation Romeo and Operation Kilo Sera II—which did little more than radicalize poor farmers, and recruit members for the CPNM.

The war, like most civil wars, has been brutal. While most of the civilian deaths are attributed to government forces, Amnesty International accused both sides of “unlawful criminal deaths.” The CPNM has assassinated government supporters and police, and occasionally bombed Kathmandu. The government has “disappeared” opponents, razed villages, and executed CPNM members and their supporters.

Over the past two years the Royal Nepal Army has beefed itself up to 72,000, but it isn’t large enough to win a war against the CPNM’s 4,000 core members, and its 15,000 or so militia supporters. In any case, most the Army is concentrated near the capital, Kathmandu.

However, with the recent influx of U.S. M-16s, Belgium FAL submachine guns, and British helicopters, the army has grown more aggressive, and death rates have climbed. The latest round of fighting was set off last August by a government massacre of 19 villagers. In the first month following the collapse of a seven-month cease-fire, civilian deaths tripled. According to the Nepal human rights group, Informal Sector Service Centre, of the 1100 deaths since the end of the cease fire, over 800 have been inflicted by government forces.

A major culprit in the escalating death rate is the appearance of modern assault rifles, the real “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

Since 1990, more than five million people have died in wars around the globe, upwards of 90 percent of them from AK-47s, M-16s, FALs, German G3s, and Israeli Uzis. According the Red Cross, more than 60 percent of the civilian casualties are caused by submachine guns, and the United Nations Development Program estimates that small arms kill 300,000 people a year.

Modern assault rifles are far more deadly than the previous generations of weapons because they combine rapid-fire power with high velocity ammunition. The combination of “Rounds Per Minute” (RPM)—the AK-47 delivers 600 RPMs, the M-16 up to 950 RPMs—and the enormous speed of the bullets, is a deadly one. Fatalities from wounds have skyrocketed, particularly in places where medical care is primitive.

At $13.3 billion a year, the U.S. is the number one arms dealer in the world, far ahead of the Russians ($5 billion) and the French ($1 billion). The bulk of that–$8.6 billion—goes to developing countries like Nepal.

Besides killing and wounding civilians, these small, but savage wars inflict enormous indirect damage. Studies on Cambodian and Bosnian refugees by Richard F. Mollica, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, found that more than two-thirds suffered from clinical depression, and almost 40 percent from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.

But efforts to curb the small arms trade have met stiff resistance. A recent proposal by Canada to ban the sale of small arms to “non-state actors” was derailed by the Americans, who have used such forces as an extension of foreign policy in places like Afghanistan and Central America.

Our ally in this war hardly fits the democracy profile the Bush Administration talks so much about. One of the first acts of the King Gyanendra was to dismiss the elected government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Dueba for alleged “incompetence.”

Kathmandu has been the focus of demonstrations demanding democracy and the reinstatement of parliament ever since, including one that drew 8,000 in late December. The Nepalese daily, Rajdhani, reported Jan. 25 that the five political parties had thrown their support behind a growing student movement, which is demanding a republic. According to Rajdhani, “The parties decided to support protests of women, labourers, farmers, intellectuals and different professional organizations as well.”

Krishna Sitaula, central committee member of the Nepal Congress Party, warned that the attempt by the King to impose an autocracy would backfire, and hinted that the insurrection in the countryside and the protests in the cities might have common ground. “Right now, the country is moving towards a republic,” he said, adding,“Maoists will give up violence and join us in the movement.” Whether the CPNM would actually do that is by no means clear.

The U.S. has once again aligned itself with absolutism in its war on “terror,” a war that is not only costing Nepalese lives, but has wrecked the economy and tanked the lucrative tourist trade. For the second year in a row, the Nepalese economy shrank.

It is also heating up an area of the world with explosive potential. Nepal borders both India and China( Tibet). Both generally support the royalist forces, but are none too happy about the growing U.S. involvement.

According to the Asia Times, last summer Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwai Sibal warned against “outside assistance” to Nepal, and the Indian press is grumbling about the U.S. ignoring a 1950 Friendship agreement—one that greatly favored India—between New Delhi and Kathmandu. Publicly India and China have soft-pedaled their opposition to U.S. intervention, but if the war expands, it could spill over into both countries. Tibet is restless under Peking’s rule, and northern India has a number of long-standing separatist movements.

The CPNM has accused the U.S. of undermining efforts to affect a peaceful settlement. On the CPNM’s website, party leader Bhattarai accused the U.S. of being “one of the chief wreckers of the peace talks.”

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) is exploring ways to add another $14 million in “insurgency relevant” aid to the $17 million in current U.S. military aid. AID was one of the main funnels for the U.S. government’s support for the South Vietnamese regime

While it seems a stretch to compare Vietnam to Nepal, replace “terrorism” with “Communism,” and the parallels are disturbingly similar. In his book “In Retrospect,” former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted that the U.S. was “wrong, terribly wrong,” about Vietnam. He recently told Doug Saunders of the Globe & Mail (Canada) pretty much the same thing about the U.S. in Iraq:”It’s just wrong what we’re doing. It’s morally wrong, it’s politically wrong, it’s economically wrong.”

One can only hope that 30 years from now we don’t read similar words about U.S. intervention in Nepal.

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Nepal-Nursing the Pinion

Foreign Policy In Focus

Feb. 7, 2005

While the U.S., India and Great Britain have sharply condemned the Feb.1 coup by King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal, the policies of those three governments vis-à-vis the ongoing civil war in the Himalayan nation must share considerable blame for the present crisis.

Declaring a state of emergency, the King placed leaders of Nepal’s political parties, as well as Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, under house arrest. Gyanendra also suspended constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and a free press, and authorized preventative detention.

The proported rationale for the takeover was the inability of the Deuba government to end the nine-year insurgency by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM) and the failure to organize parliamentary elections. Nepal has not had a parliament since the king dissolved it in 2002.

But the real reason appears to be achimera, a fantasy that the government can win a military victory over the CPNM. It is an illusion fueled in large part by an avalanche of modern weaponry, plus military training, that has poured into the country from India, the U.S., and Britain.

More than 12,000 U.S. M-16s, 5,000 Belgium FLN sub-machine guns, and some 20,000 rifles from India have filled the arms coffers of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) since 2001. Britain has added helicopters armed with machine guns and rockets. The size of the RNA has grown from 50,000 to 73,000 and is due to reach 80,000 next year. If one counts the police, Royalist forces now number 138,000.

While the insurgent forces are small—4,000 core soldiers and about 15,000 supporters—virtually no independent observers believe the central government can defeat them, because the roots of the war are in the social and economic poverty of the nation.

Nepal is the 12th poorest country in the world, where, according to the World Bank, 42 percent of the population live below the poverty line. The Asian Development Bank estimates that the annual national income is just $241 per capita.

The civil war, which has claimed some 11,000 lives, has been an ugly one, the brutality of which has sharply escalated with the recent influx of arms and counterinsurgency training. Over 800 people died this past December alone.

According to Amnesty International, there has also been a “dramatic escalation” in the number of “disappearances,” some 378 in just the last year, more than in the previous five years combined.

Amnesty has called on government security forces to halt the practice and to stop blocking investigations into the disappearances by the courts and Nepal’s Human Rights Commission. Amnesty also charges widespread use of torture and extrajudical executions by the RNA and the police.

While the majority of deaths have come at the hands of government forces, both sides engage in murder and intimidation, and the CPNM has been accused of forced recruiting in the countryside.

The Feb. 1 coup was roundly denounced by the king’s foreign allies.

“These developments constitute a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and cannot but be a cause of grave concern for India,” said a statement by India’s foreign ministry shortly after the takeover. India also pulled out of a meeting of the South Asian Assn. for Regional Co-Operation in Dhaka to protest the coup, effectively torpedoing the summit.

U.S. State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said the Bush Administration was “deeply troubled by the apparent step back from democracy,” and called for an “immediate move toward restoring of multiparty democratic institutions.”

The British government expressed similar sentiments.

But while the King’s allies appeared genuinely distressed at this latest development, it should hardly come as a surprise. Back in early December, The Economist was predicting a coup. Citing the arming and training of the RNA by India and the U.S., the editors wrote:

“This (the foreign military aid) helps contain the Maoist threat. But it also bolsters those in the king’s camp who think that a military victory is possible and might be easier if the trappings of democracy were jettisoned. The information minister, seen as the king’s man in the cabinet, has dropped hints of a more ‘authoritarian’ government. Many human-rights activists and politicians in Kathmandu expect the king and the army to assume more direct power and, blaming the war, suspend many civil liberties.”

The Dec. 2 article was almost a blueprint for what happened Feb. 1.

On Feb. 4, Reuters reported that the RNA Chief of Staff said the coup was aimed at forcing the Maoist insurgents back to the negotiating table. As the arrest of trade union and political leaders continued in Kathmandu, the army chief said, “Now we can solely go after the Maoists in a single-minded manner without having to worry about what’s going to happen on the streets, people’s agitation.”

The comment on how to negotiate with the Maoists echoed a statement made last year by former U.S. Ambassador Michael Malinowski that the CPNM “literally have to be bent back to the table.”

The Bush Administration sees the Nepal insurgency as another domino in its international war on terrorism, arguing that the country could become a “failed state” and hence a haven for terrorists. The CPNM has been placed on the State Department’s “Watch List,” along with Al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, and Hezbollah.

While the White House claims this is about “terrorism,” there are suspicions in the region that American involvement is also part of an overall U.S. plan to ring China with military bases and regimes friendly, or at least beholden, to Washington.

India is deeply involved in Nepal, in part because Nepal borders long-time adversary China, in part because of its own internal “war on terrorism.”

India has stepped up counter insurgency operations against what it calls “Naxalites” (India’s term for Maoist or communist insurgents) in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

In a speech last year, former Indian Home Minister Lai Krishna Advani said, “Maoists of Nepal are trying to create trouble in India and the central government will initiate immediate steps to launch a stringent action to end existing relations between the Maoists of Nepal and the Indian Naxalites.”

While it is true that Nepal Maoists occasionally use India as a haven, there is no evidence of any serious cooperation or coordination between any of these groups. The Indian insurgencies are driven more by local conditions than by any pan-Indian collusion with Nepal Maoists. And in any case, the groups don’t share a common ideology, political program, or even goals.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Advani was a founder, went down to defeat in the last Indian election, but there is no indication that New Delhi has altered its policies vis-à-vis Nepal or its own internal insurgent movements.

India recently arrested Mohan Vaidya in Darjeeling, West Bengal, the number three person in the CPNM, and turned him over to the Kathmandu authorities.

The CPNM retaliated by attacking some Indian-owned oil tankers near the Uttar Pradesh border, and trying to whip up a nationalist campaign that India intends invading Nepal. The Maoists have even been building fortified trenches on the border to repel such an invasion, although it is a very unlikely scenario.

The Feb. 1 coup puts the King firmly back in power, which will undoubtedly ramp up the war in the countryside. However, besides adding to the list of dead, wounded and disappeared, such escalation is unlikely to alter the present stalemate. Breaking that deadlock will be almost impossible unless two things happen:

*An immediate embargo on arms and training for the RNA by the U.S., India and Britain. While Washington and New Delhi warn that such an embargo could mean victory for the CPNM, no serious independent analyst thinks that the Maoists can overthrow the government by force of arms;

* Mediation by either independent parties, or the United Nations.

Some Scandinavian nations have already proposed UN intervention, as has the Asian Human Rights Commission. In a recent statement, the Hong Kong-based rights group said, “If no serious intervention is made at this stage by the United Nations and the international community to stop the escalation of violence, a bloodbath could easily take place while the movement of the people and news is restricted.”

It is a step which the Maoists favor, but which the U.S. and the Indians oppose. The former do so because of the Bush Administration’s reflexive hostility to the world body; the Indians because they fear external mediation might be used to address their own insurgent movements and the on-going crisis in Kashmir.

These countries have intervened in Nepal’s civil war for reasons having to do with their own internal affairs, foreign policy strategies, and political ideologies, not because any of them are overly concerned with the welfare of the Nepalese. In the name of a jihad on “terrorism,” or paranoia about their own internal insurgents, they have nursed the pinion of military aid. Can they really be surprised when that pinion finally impels the steel of a military coup?

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