South Asia flash point of next global conflict and Nepal new Kuruchhetra

Dr. Shambhu Ram Simkhada

Senior foreign Policy expert, Nepal

Amity with all, enmity with none: A new model of inter-state relations in the new age demands a new global foreign and security policy paradigm of amity with all enmity with none within an international rules based system. That sadly is the real problem of the current global paradigm flux.

Foreign and security policy based on amity with all enmity with none is all the more essential for Nepal as there is no room for enmity in its relations with India and China and a policy of permanent friendship with its two powerful neighbors is in Nepal’s best national interest. Such a policy has always been vital in the past and the nature of politics at the current time and location makes it particularly important.

Today, global power balance is shifting and internal politics is divided, making Nepal vulnerable to undue external meddling.’ Dealing with simultaneously cooperating and competing regional-global super powers embroiled in their own internal upheavals in a rapidly changing global political and economic order and strategic equation demands ability to observe ongoing events and interpret available information with knowledge, understanding and experience. Historical intricacies and new complexities seen through the eyes of naive convictions, outdated dogmas or vested interests distort comprehension. Policies based on them can have adverse consequences. To avoid adverse consequences understanding the nature of the changes at the international level and appreciation for our own internal developments are essential.

Understanding the nature of contemporary international developments: The Cold-War profoundly affected world politics and economics for almost half a century after the end of the two world wars. When the Cold-War ended many hoped of a new era of global peace and prosperity with the attention devoted to and resources consumed by MAD being diverted to feed the hungry, heal the sick, educate the illiterate and unite rather than divide mankind. But the peace and development dividend never really materialized.’ Berlin wall fell but many walls remained and new ones are being built. The Cold-War was replaced by wars of different nature but no less devastating and a new cold war may be starting.

Scholars warned of the dichotomy in the global political and economic management and its adverse consequences long ago. This discord is now manifest in what can be characterized as rapid globalization of economics increasing localization of politics. The world is getting more integrated technologically- economically to the point that some see it as the “death of distance”. And yet the global village is also getting fragmented politically along cultural, ethnic, religious and regional lines.’ Globalization has created opportunity for some misery for others.’ The events of 9/11 profoundly changed the nature of threat to global security with a group of individuals in one remote corner of the world were able to carry out the most devastating attack on the symbol of global political, financial and security super-power. Terrorism and trans-national crime have completely changed the nature of threat and hence the exercise of national power in the protection and promotion of what we are discussing, national interest, in the face of growing demands of human security and new doctrines of responsibility to protect or pre-emptive regime change, conventional approach to national sovereignty and national interests are going to be simply inadequate especially for the relatively small and the weak.

The Ideas Deficit: The ideas deficit is most manifest today in the “disconnect” between the dynamics of time and technology but the rigidity of human emotions, beliefs and institutions. The pressure of winners take all mindsets at the top but popular demands for a just and equitable sharing of power and resources within and among societies is complicating politics, economics, society, foreign and security policies. Conventional wisdom no longer explains nor can be used to resolve current problems. The left-right stereo types are blurring and the role of the nation-state in reconciling the dilemmas of politics between power, its primary instrument and justice, its goal and economics between demand and supply, production and consumption or growth and equity is changing. The new world needs a new political, economic, social and security and foreign policy architecture but creative ideas to respond to the challenges of change are in short supply.

The ideas-deficit is particularly serious in parts of the developing world under pressure of restructuring while politics as an idea to promote the happiness of the people is fractured and the nation-state, the principal institution exercising political power to implement that idea is in the early stages of structuring. Competing political, economic and strategic interests compounded by the sum total of the energy, environment, finance and food crises multiplied by the acute governance deficit exacerbate political divisions and radicalism, social disparity-intolerance-extremism, religious fundamentalism and vice-versa. Due to lack of clarity on individual-society contracts or minimum values consensus within and gratuitous demands from outside, many developing societies are failing in their journey of change and modernization, Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia yesterday, Somalia, Iraq. Syria, the Arab world and our SAARC neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan today are examples.

South Asia in turmoil: The 21st century is dubbed the Asian century. China, India and Japan are global economic powerhouses. But parts of Asia are under stress as events from the Korean Peninsula, Thailand and the South China Sea to the Arab world now demonstrate. In political, economic and social terms South Asia represents the largest number of the world’s hungry and angry. Strategically, China, India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability give the potential to change contemporary global power configurations but it also makes the Central Himalayas the most nuclear-locked region of the world. Afghanistan, the latest addition to SAARC and Pakistan, one of its founding members are the focal points of the global war on terror. Sri-Lanka is just emerging from a devastating ethnic war; Bangladesh and parts of India are under strain. With internal turmoil. intra regional discord and extra regional demands South Asia is emerging as one of the most troubled regions in the world. In this milieu some observers ominously warn, South Asia is the flash point of the next global conflict and Nepal the new Kuruchhetra battleground. How will South Asia deal with the situation after the departure of ISAF from Afghanistan, the growing turmoil in Pakistan and the rise of groups like the Islamic state and Al-Qaida?

Nepal at the brink: Nepal has always been an interesting laboratory of state formation and nation building. Understanding of the profound changes going on in the world and our own neighborhood and appreciation of how our journey of statehood started, on what ground we stand today and what is our vision for the future, collectively as a society, country, nation-state is the most critical part of any discourse on defending our national interest? Pandit Nehru once said “in the absence of vision a society begins to lose energy and a nation starts to die”. Do we not feel as if our society is wasting so much energy, so much potential? And if we do not begin to realize, what will be our future?

In such a highly treacherous milieu, the successful People’s Movement of April 2006 brought Nepal back from the brink. Tired of autocracy and violence, people saw hope in the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) road-map to restore peace and democracy. The promise this will be the last struggle in which Nepalese have to die fighting for democracy convinced many inside and outside. With sea of people protesting, the King yielded. With the 12 Point Understanding and participation in the peaceful movement the Maoists were supposed to have given up violence and taken the people’s power path. To be governed democratically under a Constitution written by their own elected representatives is a long held aspiration of the people of Nepal. With the successful Constituent Assembly (CA) election, building a new sovereign, independent, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Nepal for all Nepalese could have started in earnest. But what happened to the first CA and what is happening now are all in front of us.

Having demonstrated extraordinary courage first, leaders most responsible for the politics of consensus (fusion) themselves came under the spell of confusion: the leader and the party leading the People’s Movement, after coming to power succumbed to the swings from opposition to any deal with the Maoists to giving-in to all their bargains. As a result instead of reaping the peace dividend “He” and his party became the most conspicuous casualties; on their part, the Communist Party of Nepal Maoists (CPNM) mastered the politics of rebellion utilizing the contradictions of Nepali society as well as exploiting the weaknesses of their competitors and goodwill of sympathizers. But gaining political power is one thing, using it to build a democratic, peaceful and prosperous society is a whole new ball game. After the CA election, vanity of victory mutated to a self-defeating arrogance of power. What is happening in Nepal now reflect not only a serious discord among real necessities, national priorities, regional and global complexities but also the failure of leadership to manage the process of change which they themselves called for. So, Nepal today stands as a classic case of change mismanagement. Had the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist Army Combatants not succeeded, we would probably be at war again. If this transition is not complete soon, the collective march of folly can push Nepal back to the brink.

Conclusions: Nepal today stands at a critical threshold of history and geography with tremendous opportunities of building a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Nepal for all Nepalese utilizing the goodwill and cooperation of our immediate neighbors and friends and well wishers everywhere. In this endeavor history shows that all prosperous democracies are built on the foundation of individual freedom (happiness of the people as the end of the state) leveraged with social safety and economic prosperity bound by the rule of law but everything subordinated to the ultimate demands of national interests and national security. In the context of the deliberation on defending Nepal’s National Interest, the fundamental dilemma lies in what I would call the sequencing of interests - interests of the individual, society/community/region or institutions and ultimately national interests. A just society, country, a viable nation-state and a prosperous democracy cannot be built with a reverse sequencing of interests—individual and family interest first, then the interests of the group, community or region with the interest of the nation-state coming last. Correcting the reverse sequencing of interests has emerged as the biggest challenge to Nepal’s society, intellectuals, officials and diplomats and most important of all statesmanship, described as political leadership of wisdom and courage. In this sense the biggest threat to Nepal’s national interest may be coming from within rather than from outside.

Concluded. Paper presented by the author at a Seminar organized by Institute of Foreign Affairs, Kathmandu, September 9, 2014. Thanks IFA and the author. 

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