International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAP) deligation meets Koirala


L&G, June 24: A delegation of International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAP) led by its Founding Chairman Jose De Venecia Jr. on Wednesday met with Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala at the latter's residence in Balawatar and discussed the ongoing peace process.


During the meeting the delegates showed interest about how the parties were moving ahead to bring the peace process to a logical end and how they were coping with the recent developments.


In response, Koirala appraised the delegation of his initiative to form a high-level mechanism of all the political parties to implement the past agreements and suggest the government. "We [political parties] have agreed to stretch the mechanism up to the VDC level," Koirala was quoted as saying by his foreign relations advisor Suresh Chalise.


During the meeting the delegates also suggested Koirala different models of presidential and prime ministerial systems. While delegates from Pakistan suggested Koirala not to opt for a presidential system stating that it would pave way for despotism, Venecia Jr., who is four-time Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Philippines Parliament reportedly suggested the NC president to devise a unique model suited to local set up.


The delegation also invited NC to the fourth General Assembly of ICAP. Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and some other political parties are members of the ICAP to be held in Kazakhstan on September 25.

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For Obama, Obstacles to Mideast Peace Are Many

By Richard Boudreux
Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Infuriated by pressure from Washington, Israel's prime minister summoned the American ambassador.

"You have no moral right to preach to us," he lectured the envoy. "What kind of talk is this, `punishing Israel'? Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?"

The scolding by the late Menachem Begin 28 years ago echoes today as a cautionary tale as President Barack Obama pushes a reluctant Israeli government to halt the growth of Jewish settlements and embrace the goal of a Palestinian state. In the 1981 showdown, Begin held his ground after the Reagan administration suspended a strategic cooperation pact to protest Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. The territory, captured from Syria in 1967, remains in Israel's hands.

Now, as Obama launches an audacious new effort to make peace in the Middle East, his influence will be limited in similar ways by the regional leaders he must work with.

"We have a `yes we can' president who believes he can make it happen, but he faces a `no you can't' reality in a region that has changed for the worst over the past eight years," said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Middle East negotiator.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, back in office a decade after his first term, has pledged to resist Palestinian independence. The Palestinian movement is in disarray, with the U.S.-backed leadership in the West Bank at odds with militant Hamas rulers in the Gaza Strip over the issue of a permanent peace with the Jewish state.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, traditional leaders of the Arab world, are ruled by wavering octogenarians who are hesitant to step in as peacemakers.

Meanwhile, Iran's Islamist allies, Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, have boosted their arsenals with logistical help from Syria and have taken on Israel's army. Both pose a lingering threat to Israel's borders, giving Iran, which appears bent on developing nuclear weapons, the power to sabotage any Israeli-Palestinian accord. Iran's ties with Syria and patronage of Hezbollah also help keep Syria and Lebanon formally hostile to Israel.

Against this inauspicious backdrop, the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict offers few examples of fruitful American diplomacy.

Shlomo Avineri, a former Israeli diplomat who teaches political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, notes that the U.S. has sometimes managed to rein in Israeli military advances when regional stability was at risk, as it did in Egypt at the end of the 1973 war, and has helped secure agreements when Israel and its adversaries were close.

But "absent local political will, and when confronted with a peacemaking project that may take years to complete," he added, "the United States is virtually powerless."

That hasn't discouraged Obama. His special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell, told Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week that the administration is "fully committed to working toward comprehensive peace throughout the Middle East." Mitchell then traveled on to Lebanon and Syria.

The administration has demanded a halt to Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank as a first step to unravel the conflict. By signaling an end to his predecessor's strong tilt toward Israel, Obama is trying to position the United States as an impartial broker in the region.

In so doing, he is dramatically testing the limits of America's clout with Israel.

Israeli leaders such as Begin, Yizhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon have defied their superpower ally. Netanyahu has something of a mandate to follow suit: His right-leaning coalition took office 10 weeks ago on a wave of voter apprehension that withdrawing Israeli troops and settlers would turn the West Bank into a base for militant rocket attacks, as the 2005 pullout from Gaza did.

Obama has made it clear he expects Netanyahu to fall in line.

"I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu will recognize the strategic need to deal with this issue," the president told reporters last week, drawing a parallel with former president Richard M. Nixon's opening to China in the 1970s. Netanyahu "may have an opportunity that a ... more left leader might not have," Obama said. "It's conceivable (he) can play that same role."

Torn between the demands of a popular U.S. president and those of domestic allies who could turn against him, Netanyahu has scheduled an address Sunday to spell out his policy on the conflict. He is widely expected to stake out a middle ground, signaling acceptance of previous Israeli agreements to work for a "two-state solution" but insisting on limits to Palestinian sovereignty and avoiding mention of settlements. Even that vague formula, reported in Israeli media speculation about the speech, has provoked cries of protest inside his staunchly conservative Likud Party.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' position is also tenuous. The would-be leader of an independent Palestine appears to have no strategy to reassert control over Gaza, which Hamas took by force two years ago, and is so hamstrung by infighting in his own Fatah movement that he's scarcely able to govern the West Bank. His weakness helps explain Netanyahu's reluctance to negotiate with him on the core issues of a peace accord: borders, conflicting claims to Jerusalem, and the status of refugees.

Such constraints are wearingly familiar to American mediators whose efforts to carve out a permanent accord have persisted over the decades out of a belief that "left to themselves, the Israelis and the Palestinians can make only war, not peace," as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, once put it.

American pressure sometimes works, but not always as intended. Goaded to limit settlement growth and negotiate with the Palestinians, Sharon rebuffed the Bush administration but withdrew soldiers and settlers unilaterally from Gaza. The move enabled him to win quiet U.S. acquiescence to keep enlarging West Bank settlements.

President Bill Clinton met the limits of his influence when an all-out push late in his presidency fell short of a deal on Palestinian statehood. It invariably takes decisive Arab and Israeli leadership to achieve a breakthrough. Anwar Sadat's bold decision to break from the Soviet orbit, for example, led to Egypt's 1979 peace accord with Israel.

Carter sealed that Israeli-Egyptian agreement, showing American diplomacy works best when adversaries are willing to take risks to end conflicts.

In the absence of such political will, "it's really hard to imagine how you get Abbas and Netanyahu into a negotiation that leads to a conflict-ending agreement," said Miller, who served Republican and Democratic administrations as a negotiator. "Why inflate expectations in such a grandiose manner when the odds of a breakthrough are so low?"

"They'd be in the same situation as always, with Israel strong enough to resist a two-state solution and the Palestinians too weak to force one," said Mouin Rabbani, an independent Palestinian analyst based in Jordan. "I don't see Obama imposing a solution on Israel."

More optimistic analysts believe the administration is in a better position than its predecessors to muster Arab support for a compromise. Obama's conciliatory address to the Muslim world will help, they say, as will Egyptian and Saudi wariness of Iran's ambitions to dominate the region.

Mitchell is trying to encourage Syria and other Arab states to start normalizing relations with Israel and is expected to play a far more active role in mediating any Israeli-Palestinian talks than U.S. officials did under President George W. Bush.

"When you realize how quickly Obama has repositioned the United States, you have to say he has a fighting chance of making peace in the Middle East," said Robert A. Pastor, professor of international relations at American University in Washington and an election observer in Lebanon. "Everybody in the region is waiting for Obama's next move, and it's coming. ... The United States is going to be right there, listening to all sides, drafting papers, helping to bridge differences."

Fighting the Afghan Information War

By David Zucchino
Los Angeles Times

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- The accusation was damning: U.S. soldiers were said to have tossed a grenade into a crowd of Afghans in the eastern province of Kunar on Tuesday, killing two civilians and wounding five to 50 others.

In the past, American public affairs officers have been slow in responding. U.S. military officials here complain that Taliban leaders are often better and faster at spreading their versions of deadly events.

This time, however, public affairs officers mounted a swift and detailed information operation. Within 24 hours, a public affairs team at Bagram released a video showing an explosion as U.S. soldiers worked to free an American military vehicle stuck on a median in the town of Asadabad. It also provided technical details it said proved the grenade was a Russian-made version commonly used by insurgents.

It is not clear from the murky video, taken at a distance, who threw the grenade. But no American soldier is seen throwing anything.

The unusually rapid release of the video was clearly intended to show that American soldiers working on a marooned vehicle were hardly likely to detonate a grenade next to their own vehicles and comrades, three of whom were slightly wounded.

The video was posted on Facebook and YouTube, part of a burgeoning U.S. effort to use social networking sites to build support for coalition forces locked in a struggle to win over the Afghan population in the face of an entrenched Islamic insurgency. The U.S. military regularly issues statements denying accusations of misconduct, but release of combat videos has been rare.

The overnight posting of the video underscores the long-held belief within the U.S. military that it needs to be faster and more sophisticated in responding to false allegations.

Army Lt. Col. Clarence Counts, a public affairs officer at Bagram, said officials sped up the normally cumbersome release process for sensitive video feeds to quickly knock down the grenade accusations. Counts said he could not recall a similar instance in recent months.

Counts, who was involved in the information effort over the grenade accusations, said officers decided "to be a little quicker off our feet" once they realized the video was available.

"We'd love to be able to do this every time," he said. "That's our goal."

Counts said U.S. officials understood that they needed to improve their information efforts, but often were constrained by security regulations that keep sensitive information under wraps. Taliban militants release detailed statements almost instantly because they often make up the information, Counts said.

An improved flow of information is seen as a crucial priority for Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the incoming commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, as he overhauls the Afghan war strategy.

Further underscoring the importance, the military has appointed a Navy rear admiral, Greg Smith, to oversee public affairs operations in Afghanistan. McChrystal is said to want more rapid public disclosure of information than in the past.

Recently, U.S. commanders here have expressed frustration over the propaganda bonanza provided to insurgents by the deaths of civilians in numerous U.S. airstrikes over the years.

"We're the superior fighting force, but they (the Taliban) find our weaknesses and go for them," said Air Force Lt. Col. Keith Bryza, who helps plan air support for ground units but is not involved in information efforts. "The Taliban is very good" at information operations.

In incidents of civilian deaths, American officers have accused Taliban fighters of firing from civilian areas and using civilians as human shields. They have also said that local Afghans exaggerated casualty tolls. But the U.S. rarely releases video from unmanned aircraft or satellites to bolster its case. In the grenade incident, an Afghan Education Ministry statement released Tuesday accused U.S. soldiers of throwing a "hand bomb" that "martyred" at least one civilian. Several residents also told reporters that they had seen an American soldier toss or launch a grenade.

The U.S. military initially responded as it usually does in such incidents, with a bland statement Tuesday denying any role in the explosion.

But on Wednesday, public affairs officers followed up with the video, along with detailed illustrations of a Russian grenade. An accompanying statement pointed out that insurgents had used Russian grenades to attack coalition forces.

"This video directly disputes the claims by Umranullah, a local shopkeeper, and Asadullah Roya, an education official who reported the U.S. service members had thrown the grenade," the statement said.

The military said the grenade was thrown from a nearby building.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has complained bitterly about civilian deaths caused by American airstrikes, did not entirely absolve U.S. soldiers of complicity in the grenade incident. Instead, he chided coalition forces.

"Stressing the need to protect the lives and property of civilians, President Karzai once again reminded the international forces to make every effort to avoid incidents that lead to civilian casualties," Karzai's office said in a statement.

Karzai, facing elections in August and eager to win over voters, ordered an investigation.

The U.S. military said the video was taken by a stationary balloon equipped with a camera. Such balloons are anchored at or near many coalition forward operating bases.

In the past, the military has been reluctant to release videos of combat operations, saying such action could expose combat tactics or surveillance and intelligence-gathering methods.

Unmanned aircraft watch over U.S. convoys and combat units for hours at a time. Cameras on the drones take close-up video, day and night, that captures firefights, airstrikes and attacks on convoys and U.S. ground units. But for security reasons, such video is rarely released, even in disputed incidents involving disturbing allegations against coalition forces.

Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes in Washington contributed to this report.

Deeply Polarized Iran Heads to the Polls

By Thomas Erdbrink
The Washington Post

TEHRAN, Iran — A long column of provincial, working-class Iranians, clad in black and walking on flip-flops, streamed into a highway underpass, heading for a reelection rally for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Standing on a high ledge safely out of the way, a group of cosmopolitan youths looked down at the crowd of mostly out-of-towners. "Go back to the zoo!" shouted a teenager with gelled-up hair and a green T-shirt, a sign of support for Ahmadinejad's main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

"Sissies!" the marchers yelled back.

As Iranians go to the polls Friday to choose a president, the country is more deeply polarized than at any time since the Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah 30 years ago. After a bitter campaign that included personal attacks on some of Iran's leading families, both sides are preparing to contest the results, and many Iranians wonder whether the social and economic rifts exposed by the election will deepen.

"Some people think that only they are Iran," said Saeed Majidi, who had driven for hours on his 125cc motorcycle to hear Ahmadinejad speak at Tehran's Grand Mosque. "But those with jobs and money only represent 30 percent of the population."

"We are Iran," Majidi concluded, pointing at the crowd pouring into the tunnel, a sea of women with sunburned faces and bearded men with black horn-rimmed glasses. "Other presidents never cared for us. Ahmadinejad does."

Though he holds many of the levers of power, Ahmadinejad is proud of his status as an outsider. He says the country's political class has drifted away from its religious and revolutionary roots. Since his surprise election in 2005, he has constantly attacked Iran's post-revolutionary elites, contending that they long ago gave up fighting for the "barefooted" masses and began doing business deals from their villas on the slopes of affluent North Tehran.

Ahmadinejad has turned the Iranian economy upside down, making sure that advantages flow to the lower class. His government has increased state wages and pensions and has made health insurance free for 22 million people. He derides economists who blame him for high inflation and unemployment, saying that they are tied to the higher classes and that his goal is to "spread justice."

But his support does not come solely from the downtrodden. He is also backed by a small group of hard-line Islamic clerics and leaders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps who share his resentment toward the West, his calls for Iran to occupy its rightful place as a world power and his championing of Iran's nuclear program.

His leading challenger is Mousavi, an urbane, soft-spoken architect who was prime minister from 1981 to 1989. Though out of power for two decades, Mousavi is in many ways the Iranian establishment's candidate. He represents an older generation of Islamic clergy and politicians who fought side by side with the leader of the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but whose power and positions have gradually been stripped away by Ahmadinejad and his associates.

Mousavi's political foot soldiers, in turn, are disgruntled middle-class youths, intellectuals, artists and academics who have been alienated by the current government's radical rhetoric and pervasive restrictions on personal freedom, such as police controls on the way people dress, the banning of books and the disciplining of dissident students.

Yet Ahmadinejad's main foil in the campaign has not been Mousavi. Rather, he has tried to turn the election into a referendum on the man whom he defeated in 2005 and who is not, formally, in the race this time: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president and head of one of the country's most prominent families. In an apparently calculated move during a June 3 nationally televised debate with Mousavi, Ahmadinejad attacked Rafsanjani and his wealthy children, calling them "corrupt" and alleging that Mousavi was their puppet.

Rafsanjani responded with an open letter asking Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene against Ahmadinejad's personal attacks. But Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi, seemed to confirm at least part of Ahmadinejad's claim, telling foreign reporters that the family had helped organize Mousavi's campaign and was planning to bring down Ahmadinejad.

The result is a confrontation not just between Iran's haves and have-nots, but between the old revolutionaries who seized power from the shah and a new cadre of radicals seeking to dislodge them.

"Our mistake has been that we have not dealt with the power seekers," said Mehdi Kalhor, Ahmadinejad's media adviser, using a label that Ahmadinejad's supporters often attach to those around Rafsanjani.

"They are like a bacteria in every empire. The Islamic revolution was a fight against these 1,000 ruling families," Kalhor added. "We now need to carry out the objectives of the revolution."

Each camp has warned that the other may be planning to seize power by nondemocratic means. Mousavi and another presidential challenger, Mehdi Karroubi, have jointly created a committee against vote-rigging and announced plans to post observers at all of Iran's approximately 45,000 polling places.

"We will have our results before the Ministry of Interior does," predicted Morteza Alviri, Karroubi's representative on the committee.

Aides to Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, say Mousavi's backers plan to claim victory before the votes are fully counted and to mount a "color revolution" like the Rose Revolution that swept away the post-Soviet government of Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

"According to their plan, these people will make a heavy media atmosphere, claiming premature victory with rallies to mobilize their supporters," Gen. Yadollah Javani, head of the political office of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, predicted in an interview with the guards' magazine, Sobh-e Sadegh.


Special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie contributed to this report.

Nepal’s thumbs down to probe rights abuses in Sri Lanka civil war by UN team


(Extract from THE KATHMANDU POST, JUNE 10 lead story)

Nepal has sided with Sri Lanka and other countries to defeat a May 27 UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution tabled by the European governments at the 11th Special Session of HRC calling for an independent investigation of violations of human rights by both the military and the LTTE in Sri Lanka. On the same HRC, Nepal also voted for the Sri Lanka-authored resolution, which declared that the outcome of the Sri Lankan war -- which reportedly killed over 20,000 -- was an "internal matter" and denied an UN investigation.

Though the resolution has condemned LTTE for attacks on civilians, it has spoken not a single word in reference to allegations about human rights abuses by the Lankan government.


This has raised Nepalese human rights defenders' eyebrows. They have held that since Nepal does not have its own independent say at the UN because of the Indian lobby, the government was forced to support the Sri Lanka resolution.


However, according sources, Nepal's support to Sri Lanka resolution was part of a bilateral deal. The UML-led government agreed to support Sri Lanka at the HRC only after a high-level diplomatic negotiation between the two countries, said a senior govt. official. "The EU group was irked by Sri Lankan government's repeated rejection of mediation offered by countries like Norway and the excessive use of force to wipe out LTTE in its last battle. So they had planned to try Mahinda Rajapaksa at the International Criminal Court and its natural that Nepal sided with Lanka."


Sri Lankan Embassy in Kahmandu confirmed that Sri Lanka had promised to support Nepal in similar circumstances.


In his statement to HRC, Nepal's permanent representative to UN Dr. Dinesh Bhattarai had remarked, "It is time to be constructively cooperative and pragmatically sensitive to help politically consolidate and institutionalize the gains made from the victory over terrorism o Sri Lanka"


It is worth noting that Nepal supported Sri Lanka resolution after the political change. However UML sources deny any hidden intention behind the government decision to support Lanka. Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal after his resignation as prime minister has been publicly announcing that the new collation is conspiring to make Maoists another LTTE.


National Human Rights Council, however, declined to make any comment stating that the issues is beyond is jurisprudence. OHCHR-Nepal also denied any response at a time the entire 47-member HRC has received widespread criticism for failing to stand for protection of human rights in Sri Lanka despite repeated pleas from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanatham Pillay.


National and international human rights watchdogs, including US-based Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Advocacy Forum Nepal Chapter have flayed the UN move to pass Sri Lanka resolution as "deeply flawed".


Sri Lanka's resolution received 29 affirmative votes, including that of Nepal, at the 47-member Council with only 12 voting against and 6 countries abstaining. The 47-member UNHRC is comprised of seven Western democracies, 26 Asian and African countries -- majority of which are known for their blatant restriction of political and civil liberties -- and 14 Latin American and Eastern European countries.


The powerful countries including India, China, Cuba, Russia, and Islamic states had supported Sri Lanka in defeating the European bid to have an internal investigation into alleged war crimes by both sides in the civil war.

Nepal government under fire for backing Sri Lanka on rejecting UN probe into rights abuses in final battle against LTTE



Nepal's human rights defenders have taken serious exception over the government's backing of Sri Lanka to defeat the European bid at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to have an internal investigation into alleged war crimes by the state military and LTTE in the civil war. Time magazine reported 20,000 civilians died in the final battle against LTTE in Sri Lanka. Terming Nepal's support to Sri Lanka as unfortunate and objectionable, the defenders said they would raise strong voice against the democratic government's failure to stand by human rights.


Accountability Watch Committee, a national network of organizations working in the field of Human Rights termed Nepal's support to Sri Lanka condemnable. "Nepal went against the HRC resolution to have an independent monitoring of rights violation in Sri Lanka at a time when even the media and the UN were denied an entry to the area where Lankan government fought final battle against LTTE," said former Commissioner of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Chairman of Accountability Watch Committee in his statement to the Post. "It is condemnable that Nepal went against the resolution."


INSEC, a leading rights defender organization said that Nepal committed a serious blunder by siding against human rights. "What should we understand when Sri Lanka did not allow an independent probe into the reported genocide?" questioned INSEC Chairman Subodh Pyakurel. "There must be something serious and embarrassing that the Lankan government wants to hide, and what is all the more disappointing is Nepal backing up Sri Lanka." He said that Nepal could have abstained as many of the HRC members did.


National Human Rights Concern Center (NHRCC) also dubbed the government move as "objectionable and unfortunate". "This is a serious violation of UN Human Rights Declaration 1948 … Nepal has taken the decision haphazardly surrendering to the interest of powerful nations," said NHRCC Chairman Mukti Pradhan. He also said that NHRC and other international rights defenders working in Nepal should inquire the government on what basis it supported Sri Lanka or at least make their stand clear.


In his statement, spokesman of Cahurast, a national organization of defenders, Bashudev Sigdel said that the government decision was unfortunate and his organization decided to take up the issue as a main agenda in its fight for universal protection of human rights.


Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON) maintained that Nepal as a country which went through similar violent war could have played an important role at the HRC to make Lankan government protect human rights. "Nepal has failed to play an independent role at the HRC," said former NHRC Commissioner and HURON Chiar Sudip Pathak.

Koirala stands as a Greek Tragedy hero, hamartia brings him close to tragic end

GPK roots for Sujata, others say no way

THE KATHMANDU POST, June 3 - Pushpa Kamal Dahal resigned as prime minister on May 4, but birth pangs for the UML-led coalition government continues, with factional politics delaying government formation since nearly two weeks.

While intra-party feuds in the MJF hogged the limelight late last month, it is now the Nepali Congress (NC) at the centre-stage. NC President Girija Prasad Koirala's decision to field his daughter and central committee member Sujata Koirala as leader of the party in the new government seems to have angered many lawmakers in his party.

On Tuesday, while the inter-party tug-of-war over portfolio division was still on, the party president declared that Sujata would lead the party as fo-reign minister in the new government.

NC Acting President Sushil Koirala called a meeting of the party's senior leaders on Wednesday afternoon and decided to ask the party chief to review his decision. "We have decided to ask the party president to review his decision and send a team led by a senior leader," Sushil told reporters. Sushil, however, didn't specify who would be the senior leader/s but said Sujata could get a portfolio.

Sushil reiterated he would resign as the party's acting president if the party chief did not "correct his decision," said a senior NC leader who was at the meeting. "Girijababu's decision has sparked widespread disgruntlement not only in our party but among our coalition partners as well. They are all in despair."

The desperation comes from the fact that the equation within and among various coalition partners rests on a fine balance; and the bickering in any of the party can have serious impact on government formation. 

For many in Nepali Congress, the "unilateral" decision to choose Sujata as party leader in the new government smacks of the party's deeply entrenched undemocratic practice. No matter what the party rank and file think, according to this theory, it's ultimately Girija Prasad who alone decides the party's fate.

"The decision is a serious setback to the process of democratization in our party," said Gagan Thapa, a youth leader. "All the party rank and file see him as our guardian, but he has turned out to be only one person's guardian - Sujata's. It is very unfortunate."

Koirala's decision comes at a time when most NC Central Working Committee (CWC) members were war-ning the party chief not to take any decision without consultations with CWC and the party's Parliamentary Party.

Senior NC leaders, including Gopal Man Shrestha and Chakra Bastola had warned in Friday's CWC meeting that the party should not select anyone who had lost the Constituent Assembly elections. Sujata had lost elections from two constituencies. 

"With dirty bickering for power and undemocratic ways, the new coalition partners have not only disappoin-ted the Nepali people but also disillusioned their own cadre," says Kapil Shrestha.

Koirala picking his daughter to lead NC in the government, said Shrestha, reads like the beginning of a Greek tragedy. "Did 87-year-old Koirala devote his entire life to politics just to ensure that his daughter gets a ministerial portfolio? It's sad, very sad."

Posted on: 2009-06-03 20:20:01 (Server Time)

Congress victory in India and its political, economic impact on the Asia and the Pacific


What does it mean by a Congress victory in India?
A politico-economic perspective


With the Indian National Congress (INC) winning an overwhelming victory (securing 206 seats in the 543-seat assembly) in the recently held Lok Sabha election, economists have started figuring out how the international and regional economy and trade regime would look like under the Congress-led United Party Alliance (UPA) government, which faces mainly twofold challenges: to keep pace with its growth rate, probably a double digit one, and to satiate the expectations of impoverished rural Indian lots, who in average live on less than 2$ a day.

A cursory look at the earlier stance of the party and its election manifesto reveals that as a mixed economy Congress dominated Indian government in the next five years would focus its investment on social/physical infrastructure development (esp in backward regions) and on foreign trade coupled with increased cooperation with the United States. Indian Congress leaders during their electioneering had promised to push for heavy rural sector investment.

India, as indicated by its election manifesto, will continue providing subsidies to the agricultural sector and also lobby for the free trade regime as envisioned by the WTO and SAFTA. However, INC perception is that just as countries like India seek to integrate themselves closer with the global financial and trading system, “there has been a re-birth of protectionism in the West”. It should be noted that there is a negative perception in India about the World Trade Organization (WTO), a perception that was further strengthened as its agenda was sought to be expanded by the United States and the European Union beginning in 1995-96.

INC leaders, including its party head Sonia Gandhi, has been criticizing that the developed countries are lagging behind when it comes to meeting their commitments on global trade regime. In that context, India seeks to centre its economic diplomacy in areas like agriculture, textiles and services.

India’s lobby for free trade is likely to be bogged down by developed country’s objection on the child labour issues prevalent in India. Reports of child labour abuse are not new things in India’s agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

As the US -- under the Bush administration in the past decade and now under Obama administration -- has come closer to India through the NUCLEAR DEAL, New Delhi under INC-led government can be expected to further broaden bilateral trade areas and economic cooperation. A flush out of the Indian Leftist parties such as Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the Lok Sabha elections also caters more accurately to the US desire. Along with its collaboration with the US, India will exert pressure to the US and other developed countries to use WTO as a means to help India, in the name of a developing country.

In South Asia, India would try to pump both its products and influence, as it has been visible when it comes to its clout in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and others.
Some of the things are discernible today: INC’s government would also focus on development of fisheries sector. Assistance will be given to the fishing community for deep sea fishing and processing and export, the Congress manifesto reads.

Similarly, it is most likely that the INC/UPA-led government would start some ambitious power sector projects. A significant chunk of that power is expected to come from Nepal, where a dozen of Indian hydropower projects are under way on Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) agreement. The three of the major Himalayan rivers in South Asia flow through Nepal. India’s heavyweights in hydropower such as Jindal Steel and Power Limited, GMR and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam have won bids of major hydropower projects in Nepal. And given the heightened Indian concern over the political developments in Nepal, it is almost sure that Congress has a lot more to gain from the small northern neighbour.

INC’s victory while glob[e]al melt[s]down
The challenges posed by the global meltdown are daunting for INC and the UPA, which also indicates what shapes their economic programs would take. While fighting the global financial crisis, India so far has been successful in reining in inflation and managing external finances.
Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, who is said to continue to be the Finance Minister, is apprehensive of the challenge. “We shall have to prioritize for the economy to be brought back on the rails,” said Mukherjee in a brief talk with journalists after his party’s victory in the elections.

Major worry at hand for INC is job losses due to the current economic crisis and return of Indian labor from foreign countries. Thousands of Indians including skilled labours, who had been employed in various foreign countries, especially in the developed countries, who have lost their jobs, are returning to India. Not only has this affected the contributions of the non-resident Indians to the Indian economy, but has created the problems of rehabilitating them.

To tackle this India will introduce some major economic boosters and stimulus packages. As it has declared prior to elections, INC will, among others, focus on creating job opportunities within the country through greater flow of loans and infrastructural investment. Indian’s vibrant banks both in cities and rural areas would be promoted for this job. INC has already declared to make special arrangements of food, job, and housing and transport facilities to the poor and excluded.
In addition, the INC has been stressing that a boost in domestic consumption is the need of the hour, which is expected to be manifested in rise in pay-scale and investment in rural infrastructure and social security. However, INC will take private sector together in this campaign. Congress dominated UPA has already shown green signal to the entry of American insurance companies.

Implication of INC victory on economy and other regional issues
It is most likely that INC’s policy of developing closer economic and military ties with Japan, US and ASEAN nations will be a new energizer for India in the next five years. This development, however, could become a possible source of China-India fraction. For some of developments in this regard would also go against the interest of China.

It can also be predicted that growing India-ASEAN navel cooperation will put a dent on China’s maritime interests, thereby bringing to fore the territorial disputes with littoral nations. INC has been looking with interest the possibility of capitalizing on the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCS). In the heart of INC policy lies a plan to build a port at Dawei in Myanmar as a major component of its future security strategy for the region. It is also planning a gas pipeline to India from Myanmar via Bangladesh, or direct from Myanmar to northeastern India. One implication of this is the competition between India and China on matter of energy -- at a time the two economic giants strive to achieve double digit growth rate.

There are however possibilities of bilateral and multilateral cooperation on major economic issues such as the impending energy crisis could lead to the birth of mega projects on energy sector. Both China and India are sure to face the energy crisis while fueling their competing growth rates. A mega project so named Pan-Asian Gas Grid linking India, Iran and China’s Yunnan Province could possibly get its shape under INC rule provided the Sino-Indian relations went on grooming as it has been under Manmonan Singh.

However, besides all this, what is also undeniable and unavoidable is the US role. Assisting India to become a “Major World Power” in the 21st century and at the same time assisting Pakistan in attaining security and stability is now official US government policy. Regarding US comfort in dealing with the Rightist Indian party like Congress, it can also be projected that under the Congress-led government the US would be further engaged in drawing India into areas of Chinese influence. A ten-year India-US Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Manhoman-Bush Joint Statement of July 18, 2005 stand as the testimony to that effect. It should be worth noting that more than 50 percent of oil that China imports from outside (esp. Middle East) comes via the route of Indian Ocean.

Congress has also a penchant -- which has been articulate in the Congress-led United Party Alliance (UPA)’s Common Minimum Program (CMP) -- for deepening ties with Russia and Europe and close economies and political ties with South Asian Neighbors. The CMP -- which will continue -- entails the main thrust of India’s foreign policy “to secure India’s strong position in a rapidly changing world order”. To achieve that, the Congress-led Indian government would “protect core national interest and concerns, preserve autonomy of decision-making process, establish a stable, secure and prosperous global order and carry out economic diplomacy”.
Upon his reappointment as Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Sing himself said that India’s foreign policy was driven by “economic interests, with the US and China emerging as the country’s leading partners.” Statistical trend in the past couple of years showing bilateral trade reveals that China is soon going to be India’s largest trade partner. In 2004 India’s total trade with China crossed US$ 13.6 billion with export to China shooting up to US$ 5926.67 million.

Implication on counter-terrorism
India’s experience in counter-terrorism would be one of the key areas of interest to China in the UPA government because Congress has articulated a “regional cooperation of counter-terrorism”. The Congress led government could benefit China particularly in fighting Uighur separatism in Xinjiang. Other benefits are likely to come from the promotion of tourism, including across the border with India, and expansion of international support to China’s “One China policy”. Notable at this is that the same Congress-led government in 2005 had released a China-India Joint Statement in New Delhi expressing India’s high regard to “One China Policy” and as it has already been said the INC-led government will make no changes in that. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka have openly supported the One China Policy.

Besides, INC victory also indicates that the region will be more peaceful than ever before. First, the election results have promised a stable Rightist government in India, which will have more time to focus on counter-terrorism issues. Second, the INC victory has been also in favor of US interests in the region. The victory of Congress-led UPA has also promised the US a meaningful support in diverting Pakistan’s focus from antagonism and war with India to a real and result oriented war with the homegrown Taliban. This ultimately means a milestone in regional security issues.

INC victory and its “Middle Path” Economy
INC is quite balanced in its approach as it tries to make headway both in its international trade and relations (including security issues), and in intra-national homely issues such as the challenge of tackling poverty and promoting development. The NCP’s election manifesto puts the concept of development in clear lines: “by development, we mean overall development of the life of the common man including the weaker sections of the society in as much as it provides a better life for them, better housing facilities, better food, better clothing, facilities for giving better education for their children, and better health facilities.”

INC believes that all these depend on “more earnings or remuneration and so the economic development should provide for more employment opportunities and more employment generation schemes and projects.”

Unlike the CPI (M), Congress would choose the “Middle Path”, which goes in sharp contrast with the Indian Left parties. A better grip of CPI (M) in the elections would have pressurized for no further tariff cuts in agriculture and industrial goods and to restore measures to protect small and marginal peasants, including quantitative restrictions. Left victory would have kept sectors like health, education, water resources, banking and financial services out of GATS; pressed for review of the TRIPS agreement and review of existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and made public India’s negotiating positions in the FTA negotiations with EU and EFTA.
In contrast, balance or the Middle Path -- which has been the hall-mark of the policies of the Congress -- will put India focused on maintaining equilibrium between promoting employment in the organized sector and protecting livelihoods in the unorganized sector.

As the world experiences a severe recession, INC will “strive for a balance between the public sector and the private sector, with an important role assigned to cooperatives and self-help groups”. “It is a balance between building a modern economy and imparting a new thrust to traditional industries; and it is a balance between addressing the needs of urban India and improving the quality of life and standard of living in our villages and towns,” reads the INC manifesto.
(The writer, an APLP East-West Center fellow for 2008/09 can be reached at kamal.sigdel [at]

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