November 5, 2014
November 5, 2014
October 30, 2014
Filed by Kosh Raj Koirala for Khabar South Asia
Amid reports of criminal activity and growing religious fundamentalism in border areas, Nepal's Armed Police Force (APF) and India's Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) are enhancing intelligence-sharing activities to guard against security threats along their 1,880km border.
"It is our policy not to allow any activities that are detrimental to the interests of our neighbours in our border areas. We have made security arrangements accordingly," Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told Khabar South Asia.
The moves follow Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh's visit to Kathmandu last month, during which he "expressed his concern on the growth of religious fundamentalism in the border areas", India's Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
Bam Dev Gautam, Singh's counterpart, pledged full co-operation, according to Nepalese Home Ministry officials.
Monitoring madrassa visitors
As part of measures to prevent religious extremists from infiltrating madrassas in border districts, Nepalese police now require all Muslim schools to notify them about visitors, particularly foreigners.
"As a precautionary measure, we have also made it mandatory for all madrassas to provide details about each new visitor," said Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Nawaraj Silwal, chief of police for eastern Nepal.
The nations' border is open thanks to a 1950 bilateral friendship treaty allowing Indian and Nepalese nationals to cross without visas.
However, in recent years, the APF and SBB have responded to security threats from human traffickers and counterfeit money smugglers taking advantage of the porous border. SSB has more than 466 border outposts (BOPs) compared with 87 outposts established by the APF.
"Our BOPs are monitoring criminal activities along the border," APF Additional Inspector General Singh Bahadur Shrestha told Khabar. "We have been conducting searches and investigations of suspected persons travelling across the border."
With high-level SAARC meetings scheduled for late November in Kathmandu, tight border security is of paramount importance, according to Shrestha.
"We have to further increase our movements," he said. "This is not a situation to be complacent about security."
October 27, 2014
Claims Journal report filed by BINAJ GURUBACHARYA
Last wekk, Nepal said it will introduce new rules, improve weather forecasts and better monitor the movement of trekkers after the Himalayan country’s worst hiking disaster left dozens dead last week.
Tourism Department official Tulasi Gautam said trekkers venturing to mountain trails will be required to take trained local guides, and will have to rent a GPS tracking unit to help authorities trace them in case of an emergency.
Gautam said the government plans to announce the new rules nationwide before the next trekking season in the spring.
“The main reason for the high number of casualties is that those trekkers without proper guides were prompted to continue with their trek in attempts to beat the storm. So we plan to strictly enforce new rules of no trekking without porters or proper guides,” Gautam said.
At least 43 people were killed last week when a blizzard and avalanches swept the mountains of the Annapurna region in northern Nepal. Of those, 21 were foreign trekkers and mountaineers from countries including India, Israel, Canada, Poland, Japan, China and Slovakia. Twenty-two were Nepalese guides, porters and villagers.
Many of the trekkers around the Annapurna route are independent hikers who do not hire guides. The route is also dotted with lodges and tea stalls that sell food, snacks and lodging.
Authorities also plan to improve the weather forecasting system and make it easier to deliver information to remote trekking routes.
The government also said all trekkers must now register at check posts while entering and exiting the trekking areas. Previously, foreign trekkers were required to buy permits or at least register before entering trekking areas, but Nepalese nationals were not. And no one was required to check out when they left.
Home Ministry Secretary Surya Prasad Silwal said rescuers were able to fly 518 stranded trekkers, including 310 foreigners, to safety before the search operation ended Monday.
“It was the biggest rescue operation in Nepal that included hundreds of soldiers, policemen and local officials. Swift response saved many lives,” Silwal said. He added that every available helicopter was used in the effort.
October 19, 2014
Nepal blizzard trek toll up to 39, more than 370 rescued
Reuters, October 18: The death toll in a blizzard that engulfed trekkers on a popular hiking route in Nepal rose by nine on Saturday to 39.
Sixty more people were rescued from the Annapurna trail, a three-week route popular with foreign adventure tourists that circles the world's tenth-tallest mountain, bringing the total saved to 371. Dozens more were still missing.
"We have spotted nine new bodies today," said Govinda Pathak, police head in the district of Mustang. "We could not retrieve them because of bad weather conditions and snowfall. I can confirm that the toll is 39 now."
Twelve helicopters were pressed on Saturday into action to drop searchers in otherwise inaccessible spots, and soldiers fanned out in different directions along the 240-km (150-mile) route.
It was the most intensive effort yet to find survivors of one of the country's worst mountain disasters, which struck at a time of year when the weather is usually calm and clear.
Foreign victims included hikers from Canada, India, Israel and Poland who were caught on Wednesday by the tail end of a cyclone that battered India's eastern coast last weekend before heading northward.
Thorong La, the highest pass along the Annapurna trek, is at an altitude of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet), but the route does not require mountaineering experience. Eyewitnesses said many victims perished trying to descend the pass in freezing, whiteout conditions.
In the capital, Kathmandu, survivors recounted their brush with death during the blizzard.
Four Nepali guides were swept away by an avalanche, said Horst Ulrich, a 72-year-old German, who was on his fourth trip to Nepal with a group of friends.
"We were in a dangerous spot and shocked at the conditions we were seeing unfold in front of our eyes," he added. "We just got lucky."
Munchang Lama, 35, a guide for two Israeli women, found himself marooned while he was pitching a tent for them.
"Suddenly it started raining and I took shelter between two rocks," said Lama, who was rescued on Friday, suffering from frostbite and minor injuries.
"Next morning I was not able to walk because my leg was stuck in snow," he added. "I realized I would only be able to get out when the snow melted."
Lama said he was able to keep up his strength by munching on nuts, chocolates and a banana he found in the women's bags.
"This kept me alive for 48 hours," said Lama, adding that he did not know what became of his clients.
The government has admitted failing to issue any warning that the weather would take a sudden turn for the worse, and has promised to set up an early-warning system.
This week's incident was the second major mountain disaster in Nepal this year after an avalanche killed 16 guides on Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, in April.
The home ministry told officials in the five affected districts to trace missing people who could have taken shelter from the storm in hamlets, temples or other isolated spots.
"The problem is that any Nepali is free to start operating as a porter and they do not require a licence," said Keshav Pandey of Nepal's Trekking Agencies Association. "According to our estimate more than 85 Nepalis are still stuck."
Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains. Income from tourism, including permit fees from trekkers, who made up more than 12 percent of its 800,000 tourists in 2013, accounts for 4 percent of its economy.
(Filed by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raissa Kasolowsky)
October 17, 2014
Reuters report filed by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel.
Mountain rescue teams in Nepal searched for scores of missing trekkers on Thursday after unseasonal blizzards and avalanches killed at least 27 people along the high altitude Annapurna mountain route popular with backpackers.
Army and civilian rescue workers say between 73 and 85 trekkers registered on the trail were unaccounted for. Not all of those people were necessarily trapped by the weather and some may have left the area, rescue workers said.But the death toll, which included 11 foreigners and three yak herders, was expected to rise with so many unaccounted for after snowstorms brought by the tail end of a cyclone that struck eastern India last weekend.
It was the second major mountain disaster to strike in Nepal this year, after an ice-avalanche killed 16 sherpa guides on Mount Everest in April."This is one of the worst mountaineering accidents that I can remember," said Gopal Babu Shrestha, the treasurer of the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal, who has been helping with the rescue.
"It is inevitable that the death toll will rise from here."
Shrestha took part in helicopter rescue operations on Wednesday and said he had seen what looked like bright jackets and backpacks scattered near the Thorang-La pass, at an altitude of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet).
The pass is the highest point of the trail that loops around the Annapurna peak, the world's 10th highest mountain.
A Facebook page set up on Wednesday to help friends and relatives trace loved ones trekking in Nepal quickly filled with concerned posts from the United States, Canada, Australia and South Korea.
Rescue efforts focused on the Thorang-La area, where a blizzard on Wednesday killed six Nepali citizens, three Polish nationals and three Israeli hikers. Separately, in the neighboring district of Manang, four Canadian hikers and an Indian national were killed in an avalanche.
About 15 people have been rescued, and some are recovering in hospital in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.
The 240 km (150 mile) Annapurna circuit offers spectacular views of jagged peaks and Buddhist villages.
Taking almost three weeks to complete, it is perhaps the most popular walking routes in the Himalayas and is dubbed the "apple pie" circuit because of the teahouses lining the route that offer cold beer and home baking.
"It is our most popular trek," said Hari Thapoliya, a member of the Trekking Team Group in Kathmandu, which offers guides to tourists. "It is not particularly challenging. If you keep fit by running or doing other exercise you can do it." The hikers' deaths come during the peak trekking season in Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest.For two days this week, Nepal was lashed by heavy rain brought by the cyclone that also battered neighboring India, killing at least 24 people. In Nepal, the weather triggered blizzards at high altitudes.A ground team of about 50 soldiers and police joined army helicopters looking for survivors or bodies."The weather is good," said Baburam Bhandari, district governor of Mustang district, the area worst hit by the disaster. "One army helicopter has already left for the site and more helicopters will be pressed into service later." Nepal's climbing business is still recovering from the shock of an ice avalanche that struck the lower reaches of Mount Everest in April, killing 16 guides in the worst disaster in the history of the world's highest peak.
More than a tenth of the nearly 800,000 tourists who visited Nepal in 2013 went hiking or climbing, providing a key revenue stream for the aid-dependent nation, which relies on income from tourism for 4 percent of its gross domestic product.
October 16, 2014
"Arrest of CK Raut Violates Free Speech Rights"
Dr.CK Raut, a former US-based Nepali computer scientist, returned from the US to Nepal in 2011, and since then has become the central coordinator of the Alliance for Independent Madhesh, a group which is seeking establishment of an independent and sovereign Madhesh, the plains region in southern Nepal. Raut earned his PhD from Cambridge University, is a social activist, director of the documentary ‘Black Buddhas' (2011) and the author of 'A History of Madhesh', among other books. To view Raut’s entire documentary, see my link at the end of this report. The report was filed by Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch:
Many Nepalis have recently struggled to break out of feudal structures and ensure democratic rights. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a good democracy. But the government is going after an activist expressing concerns about marginalized communities from the Terai.
The Nepal authorities should immediately withdraw sedition charges and unconditionally release rights campaigner Chandra Kant Raut, who was arrested for his expression of peaceful political opinions. Nepal should amend its practices to comply with international and domestic standards to protect freedom of expression.
Raut was arrested on September 14, 2014, for allegedly advocating that the southern plains of Nepal, known as the Terai, be allowed to secede from the rest of the country as part of a long-standing debate on state restructuring. On October 8 he was charged with sedition, presumably under the Crime against State and Punishment Act 1989, which forbids any “attempts to cause any disorder with an intention to jeopardise sovereignty, integrity or national unity of Nepal.” It carries a penalty of life imprisonment. Police also said that Raut has written articles and books advocating secession by Madhesis, the Terai community. There is no evidence that Raut advocated the use of violence, or that his actions led to violence.
“Many Nepalis have recently struggled to break out of feudal structures and ensure democratic rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a good democracy. But the government is going after an activist expressing concerns about marginalized communities from the Terai.”
Nepali politicians have long been drawn largely from the upper-caste hill tribes. Following the ceasefire agreement of 2006 after a 10-year civil war, the country embarked on a constitution-writing process which promised inclusion for traditionally marginalized communities, including from the Terai. Central to the promise of inclusion was the pledge to re-draw the state to create provinces or regions without giving dominance to the upper-caste hill tribes. However, the constitution remains in limbo as political parties have failed to come to a consensus.
The debate has been filled with anxiety that the Terai, which runs east to west along Nepal’s porous border with India and is a critical transit for trade in the land-locked country, will seek greater autonomy. Raut, formerly a US resident, returned to Nepal in 2011, and leads a group that seeks to establish an independent Madhesh in the area.
“Raut’s call for an independent Terai has to be understood in the historical and political context in which the discussion on state restructuring is occurring,” said Adams. “His arrest threatens the chances of a robust debate on federalism, and undermines the promise of inclusion. Raut’s arrest shows that minority voices can and will be easily sidelined.”
Nepal is a state party signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to free expression. Any limits placed on free expression must be set out clearly in domestic law, be nondiscriminatory in impact and must be strictly necessary for national security or public order. The authorities have not produced any evidence that Raut’s peaceful call for an independent Terai was a threat to national security or public order that could justify his arrest.
“Instead of releasing Raut for lack of a genuine threat, the authorities decided to justify their arrest by slapping sedition laws against him, nearly a month later,” said Adams. “Such laws are typically used by repressive regimes to control critical speech, and it appears that Nepal has decided to go down this unseemly route.”
To view Raut’s documentary in full, click on the two links below:
October 8, 2014
By Pramod Jaiswal for IPCS, published October 7, 2014
China is steadily extending its reach into South Asia with its growing economic and strategic influence in the region. It has huge trade surpluses with all South Asian countries and it reciprocates these surpluses with massive investment in infrastructural development, socio-economic needs and energy production in those countries. It also provides them with low-cost financial capital. The largest beneficiaries of such economic assistance are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Due to China’s rising interest and influence in South Asia, India appears perplexed. Hence, it has changed its foreign policy gesturing. With the election of Narendra Modi as the Indian prime minister, New Delhi has given highest priority to its South Asian neighours. Inviting the heads of the South Asian countries during his swearing-in ceremony and making his first foreign visit to Bhutan and later to Nepal are the clear indications in those directions.
China’s Inroads in Nepal
Given the claims that Nepal may be used by the US for its larger strategy of encircling China, Beijing is concerned about Kathmandu being manipulated by other external powers. Security experts on China state that Beijing increased its interest in Kathmandu due to the perceived threat to Tibet via Nepalese territory – particularly due to the prolonged state of instability and transition in Nepal.
Ever since the March 2008 uprising, when the Tibetans strongly started the global anti-China protests on the eve of the Beijing Olympic Games, there has been a major shift in China’s policy towards Nepal.
The Nepalese King, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese army, used to be China’s trustworthy partner and served Beijing’s security interests. However, after Nepal became a republic in 2008, China found it expedient to cultivate the Maoists to do the same. They wanted to curb underground activities of the approximately 20,000 Tibetan refugees settled in Nepal. Ideological affinities made Maoists in Nepal cast sympathetic eyes on China. China accepted the friendly hand extended by the Maoists when they were in dire need of support from a strong power. The former Prime Minister of Nepal, Prachanda’s, acceptance of China’s invitation to attend the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics not only made him the first prime minister to break the tradition of making India the destination for the first foreign visit following assuming office, but also proved his inclination towards China.
Maoists view India and the US as ‘imperialist powers’ and have stated that they were fighting against their interference in Nepalese politics.
India expressed serious concern over Prachanda’s action. The Indian media went overboard stating that India has lost Nepal from its sphere of influence and that it would affect India’s security in the long run. Interestingly, China supported the Maoist Party only after they emerged as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly election of April 2008, while, it was the only country to supply arms to King Gyanendra to suppress the Maoist insurgents at a time when India, the US and the UK had refused to provide help of such nature.
Linking Via Railways
China is planning to extend the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to Nepal by 2020. The rail link is expected to be extended to the borders of India and Bhutan as well. Through Qinghai-Tibet Railway, China connected its existing railway system to Tibet’s capital Lhasa in 2006 – which passes through challenging peaks on the Tibetan highlands, touching altitudes as high as 5,000 meters as part of government efforts to boost economic development in the neglected region. In August 2008, six additional rail lines were proposed to connect to Qinghai-Tibet railway – such as the Lhasa-Nyingchi and Lhasa-Shigatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Golmud (Qinghai province)-Chengdu (Sichuan province), Dunhuang (Gansu province)-Korla (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), and the Xining (Qinghai Province)-Zhangye (Gansu). The project is expected to be completed before 2020 while the Lhasa–Shigatse segment was completed in August 2014.
The Lhasa-Shigatse segment extends over 253 kilometers, carrying trains at 120 kmph through valleys and over three bridges that run across the Brahmaputra River. The opening of this segment has reduced the travel time from Lhasa to the remote border towns of Tibet by half. This particular railway line is to be extended to Rasuwagadhi in Nepal via the Shigatse-Kerung stretch. Rasuwagadhi is about 500 kilometers from Shigatse. It is also reported that the link will have two separate extension points, one with the Nepal border and the other with the borders of India and Bhutan.
Shigatse is an important monastery town, home to the Tashilhunpo monastery that has been the seat of the Panchen Lamas, and is an important centre of pilgrimage for many Tibetans.
In response to the Chinese attempt to extend the railway link from Tibet to the Nepalese border, Kathmandu has drafted a plan to extend its railway links to Nepal. [NOTE: The above is in dispute. M.D.] Simultaneously, India has announced assistance worth Rs. 10.88 billion for the expansion of railway services in five places along the India-Nepal border.
Though Chinese claims that the rail network expansion will be crucial in economic, cultural, and tourism promotion in South Asia, it has alarmed New Delhi because of its strategic implications. While Nepal is shares a common dream of extending the railway line to Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, through Kathmandu, there is sign of nervousness among the Indian government due to the possible threat. Such fear might gradually fade after Modi’s invitation to the Chinese to fulfill his ambitious bullet train plan.
Pramod Jaiswal is a SAARC Doctorate Fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, JNU
IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public.
October 6, 2014
For the first time, a comprehensive analysis of Nepali labor migration and foreign employment has been assembled and published by the Asia Foundation in cooperation with the Government of Nepal, the International Labour Foundation, the International Organization for Migration and financial support from the EU. The 60-page report breaks down current trends, structural gaps, the pitfalls of recruitment agencies, and dangers faced once laborers reach overseas destinations, among other important considerations.
Headquartered in San Francisco, The Asia Foundation works through a network of offices in 18 Asian countries and in Washington, DC. Working with public and private partners, the Foundation receives funding from a diverse group of bilateral and multilateral development agencies, foundations, corporations, and individuals.
For the complete report, link here:
Below is a sampling of the many helpful graphs within the report:
My colleague Jayadeva Ranade, (member of India’s National Security Advisory Board and former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India), just published this assessment in the September issue of Diplomatist. It is the magazine’s cover story. Photographs added by Mikel Dunham.
Making Sense of 'Modi Operandi'
Prime Minister Modi has outlined India's policy towards its neighbours early in his term. The key to building good relations with neighbours will not only be India's willingness to adopt a large-hearted approach but, most importantly, the ability to conceive, conclude and complete contracted projects within an accelerated time schedule. A good relationship with neighbours will enable Modi to engage more confidently in future with more powerful and sophisticated nations like China, believes Jayadeva Ranade
Dispelling any doubts that the new Modi government had not formulated its foreign policy, Prime Minister Modi gave clear indications within three months of his swearing-in that the central pillar of his foreign policy will be to accord priority to India's neighbourhood and pay particular attention to ensuring friendly neighbours. In the process, he simultaneously defined the contours of his government's policy for India's neighbourhood and outlined India's geographic area of immediate strategic interest.
Breaking New Ground
The new initiatives were set in motion even before the swearing-in ceremony on May 26 when, for the first time ever, leaders of neighbouring countries, and those in whom India has an abiding interest, were invited to New Delhi for the event. This initiative immediately sent out a number of messages, including that the new prime minister will take active interest in foreign policy issues and would readily engage and communicate directly with these and other world leaders. The initiative strongly signalled that India, as the biggest country with among the largest and fastest growing economies in the region, is eager to tap the existing economic potential, by assisting in the development of its neighbours. It offers all these countries an opportunity to forge a closer, cooperative partnership with India, join in India's growth and benefit from the enhanced economic opportunities flowing from India's growth and rise. The resounding popular mandate, not seen in the past 30 years that his party, the BJP, received, strengthens the initiatives that Modi could take, and many relationships will be examined afresh, possibly breaking new ground.
The presence of Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif and Sri Lanka's Rajapakse at the swearing-in ceremony unambiguously clarified that India's foreign policy. would be decided by the Centre and will not be held hostage to local political considerations or by state governments. The meetings with the Sri Lankan and Nepalese leaders are said to have been quite frank. The ruling BJP's majority in parliament gives New Delhi a high degree off flexibility in crafting foreign policy.
Parameters for Future Indo-Pak Engagement
India's most troubled relationship among its neighbours is with Pakistan. Relations have remained strained for decades because of the volatile border, unceasing terrorist attacks sponsored by Pakistan and the dispute over Kashmir. In fact, the vexed issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism was catapulted to the forefront with the terrorist attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat in southern Afghanistan on the eve of Modi's swearing-in ceremony. The terror strike was launched by Hafez Sayed's 'Lashkar-e- Taiba' (LeT), the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit trained and financed by the Pakistan Army, in the early hours of May 22, just four days prior to Modi's swearing-in ceremony on May 26. The intention was to 'test' the fledgling Modi government. The LeT's well-provisioned terrorist group planned to disrupt the swearing-in ceremony by a protracted hostage situation, but was providentially frustrated by the Indo- Tibetan Border Police and failed. Prime Minister-designate Modi, who, by noon the same day, had spoken to India's Ambassador in Afghanistan, Afghan President Karzai and concerned officials in Delhi, was fully briefed, but went ahead with a scheduled meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif is known to have close ties with the extremist jihadi tanzeems. He and his brother officially allocate funds from the Punjab provincial budget for Hafez Sayed's Jamaat-ud-Dawaa (JuD). Nawaz Sharif's acceptance of Modi's invitation was also delayed till news of the failure of the terrorist attack on Herat was confirmed on the afternoon of May 22. While Nawaz Sharif's daughter tweeted the following day that her father would attend the ceremony in Delhi, the Pakistan Foreign Office officially confirmed Nawaz Sharif's attendance on May 24. The incident served, yet again, to highlight Pakistan's agenda and point to Nawaz Sharif's duplicity as he would have had prior knowledge of the terrorist action.
Any doubts about Pakistan's involvement were dispelled by Afghan President Karzai in a publicised interview to Headlines Today, a day prior to Modi's 50-minutes meeting with Nawaz Sharif. Blaming the LeT for the terrorist attack, Karzai said this had been independently 'confirmed by a Western Intelligence Agency'. By going public with the information on Indian national television, the Afghan President gave Modi additional basis for a 'frank talk' with Nawaz Sharif. Reports indicate that India's security concerns and 'red lines' were conveyed to Pakistan's prime minister.
The decision in mid-August to suspend Foreign Secretary-level contacts following the Delhi-based Pakistan High Commissioner's meeting with so-called 'leaders' of the Hurriyat follows from Modi's discussions with Nawaz Sharif. Continuance of this policy, which is being put to test by the heightened firing by Pakistani troops along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (JB), will set the parameters for future India-Pakistan engagement.
Consolidating Commerce and Cultural Connections
Equally important was Modi's decision to visit Bhutan and Nepal which rectified the absence of high-level diplomatic exchanges between India and these countries, and continued the engagement started at the swearing-in ceremony. Relations with both countries impact directly on India's security. The existing close ties between India and these countries and persistent efforts by China to make inroads into Bhutan and expand influence in Nepal right up to Nepal's borders with India, were undoubtedly major considerations. By making Bhutan the first foreign country that he visited, Modi emphasised the importance of this relationship to India. He received a warm welcome and met Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema. The emphasis was on enhancing and consolidating people- to-people ties and business interests, with trade as an additional area of focus.
Recent hiccups in Nepal's relations with India need attention. China's ingress into Nepal is a cause for additional concern, especially the inroads it has made into Nepal's political, military and business elite. While India continues to be the largest provider of FDl to Nepal and gives Nepalese people 'national status', or the unrestricted right to employment, residence and purchase of property in India, Chinese government NGOs (GONGOs) have stepped up activities inside Nepal. China has used them to access and expand its influence in border areas in northern Nepal and, more significantly, among interest groups around Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. The Chinese GONGOs have unveiled plans for development of Lumbini as a hub for 'Buddhist tourism'. These include a modern airport and monastery-cum- seminary where monks from the region - mainly practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism and inhabiting India's vulnerable Himalayan border belt - will receive free accommodation, food and 'religious education'. Obviously, the airport will be built and managed by the China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the monks 'educated' at the monastery's seminary will return to their abodes in the Himalayan states.
Modi's two-day visit to Nepal in August 2014, the first by an Indian prime minister in 17 years, was aimed at emphasising traditional socio-cultural ties between the two countries. He sought to assuage Kathmandu's concerns by expansively stating that India was open to all suggestions by Kathmandu, including on the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. Cooperation, connectivity, culture and the constitution were the leitmotifs of the visit, when he interacted with the full spectrum of Nepal's political leadership, including CPN-Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom-de-guerre 'Prachanda', and Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal, KP Oli. He especially appreciated that the Maoists had given up arms and opted instead for the ballot box. He sought to subtly impress on the Nepalese leaders and people that certain benefits could only be provided by India.
In addition to extending a $1 billion line of credit, he emphasised the development of road transport and Internet infrastructure with India and hydel power projects. The first two directly highlight the employment opportunities that will become available once they are developed. Construction and exploitation of Nepal's hydel power reserves will not only give Nepal adequate power supply, but will provide the country an unceasing steady source of revenue. All three benefits can only result from closer cooperative lndo-Nepal ties. Prime Minister Modi also subtly hinted at concerns about the developments in Lumbini by mentioning that he hoped to visit that city on his next visit six months later.
Modi has outlined India's policy towards its neighbours early in his term. Carrying forward the momentum will be visits to Bangladesh and Myanmar, which could materialise soon. Clearly, the stress will be on building economic ties and cooperative relations, while seeking to dispel any apprehensions of interference by India. At the same time, Modi's government will be expected to ensure India's security interests by eo-opting the support of its neighbours. The key to building good relations with neighbours will not only be India's willingness to adopt a large-hearted approach but, most importantly, the ability to conceive, conclude and complete contracted projects within an accelerated time schedule. A good relationship with immediate neighbours will enable Modi to engage more confidently in future with more powerful and sophisticated nations like China.
Jayadeva Ranade is also President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi.
September 23, 2014
First posted on National Geographic’s website on September 22, 2014, by guest writer Joseph Allchin.
Bouncing Back: Nepal’s Tigers Survive Civil Turmoil
Dhaka, Bangladesh–For years the Himalayan nation of Nepal lacked a functional government. Years of war and subsequent reorientation of the state, left vulnerable the nation’s rich fauna and in particular its tigers to the rampant poaching that has decimated wildlife populations across Asia. While Nepal’s politicians bickered, fears rose for its iconic tiger, one of its most majestic animals. But now Nepal’s big cat may be on the rebound.
“When tiger range countries (TRCs) met in St. Petersburg in 2010, we realized we needed to do something. The population [in Nepal] was a total of 121, [we] realized it had gone down dramatically,” said Sabita Malla, from WWF Nepal, on the sidelines of a recent global tiger conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“During the civil war we knew that the rhino population was being decimated, but we didn’t know about the tigers,” explained Dr Marshwar Dhakal, from Nepal’s department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
Tiger numbers and poaching of the big cats are harder to detect, Dhakal said, because poachers take the entire carcass to sell body parts for various traditional medical uses.
“Security forces were not prioritizing wildlife protection during the war,” he added. “Now peace has been restored the army is now deploying in protected areas to prevent poaching at its source.”
Latest estimates put the number of wild tigers in Nepal at 198, up from 121 in 2010–a rare success story in the fight to preserve the Critically Endangered big cat.
It’s not just redeployment of anti-poaching units that are making the difference: “Fifty percent of revenues [from tourism] are given back to local communities, which is much more than most other countries,” Dhakal said. This and “other financial incentives have built trust and partnership with communities.” The additional incentives incude relatively high compensation rates for attacks on humans or livestock by tigers.
“If we talk about areas of high tiger population density, they make a lot of money from tourism,” Malla said. Tourism was worth U.S. $370 million to the impoverished South Asian nation in 2012, and even as the civil war dented the sector’s revenues it has remained a vital source of income.
In the country’s Bardia National Park, “there used to be a lot of hunting for subsistence, so prey numbers had gone down, so those communities were brought under buffer zone management system,” Malla said. “They now get support for energy and other benefits and have handed over their guns.” She also notes that “connectivity corridors” were set up to connect the park to habitats in neighbouring India. “We estimated in 2013 that numbers in Bardia had increased from 18 to 50.”
It hasn’t all been plane sailing however. Increased numbers of tigers has inevitably meant increased conflict with the increasing numbers of humans. Nepal’s human population growth has slowed, but is still growing at around 1.2% a year.
Peace has also enabled infrastructure and industrial growth. “We are facing a lot of development infrastructure, which is the main reason for fragmenting habitats of tigers,” Dhakala said. “Other [government] departments seem to get priority in building infrastructure and they always prefer virgin land,” he lamented.
Tiger range countries have met every four years since 2010 for a “stock taking” exercise, which is funded by the Global Tiger Initiative. This has helped to share ideas about what works in the conservation of the cats. For instance, Nepal and neighboring India have seen success in intelligence-sharing regarding poaching in the respective countries. “Before 2010 countries had national, but not international programs and infrastructure; [a global forum] has helped to look into common issues and find solutions for them,” said Andrew Zakharenka of the Global Tiger Initiative Secretariat.
A global estimate put numbers at a mere 3,200 in 2010, down from over 100,000 a century ago. With little accurate data about numbers however, there is hope that a global census will be taken by 2016 to establish an accurate census.
National Geographic supports scientific research of lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, and other big cats with a view to finding viable ways to protect them in their natural habitat. LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP BY CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW:
September 11, 2014
Jayadeva Ranade’s analysis written for Hindustan Times on Tuesday:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, within a fortnight of his summit with Japan’s Shinzo Abe and before his meeting later this month with United States President Barack Obama, highlights the strategic flexibility that India exercises.
When Modi meets 61-year-old Xi next week, he will meet a self-confident, intelligent individual with wide administrative experience who is comfortable with the exercise of power. He will also meet a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadre who suffered during the Cultural Revolution and was sent to the country-side for ‘political re-education’, but nevertheless joined the CCP and rose through its ranks exhibiting unwavering faith in the party and belief in its ideology and ‘China’s destiny’.
Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was a veteran communist cadre and close comrade of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Xi Jinping enjoys the support of many fellow ‘princelings’ and influential ‘elders’ in the party and army who were his father’s comrades. He buttressed links with the military when he was secretary to his father’s friend, defence minister Geng Biao, during 1979-82. This support helped Xi rapidly consolidate additional power within a year of his appointment in December 2012 to China’s three top posts of chief of the CCP, army and the state. He quickly installed loyalists in key positions in the CCP, security establishment and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and heads seven of the CCP’s highest bodies. The authoritative party journal Qiu Shi this June described Xi as “one of China’s greatest communist leaders.” Xi is today the most powerful leader in China since Mao.
Of particular importance to China’s neighbors is the ‘China Dream’. This is a muscular aspiration articulated by Xi at the 18th Party Congress comprising three elements: Making the Chinese people wealthy; making China strong; and the ‘rejuvenation’ of China. ‘Rejuvenation’ includes restoration of China’s ‘lost’ historical territories and former status in the world. China’s actions in the South China Sea and maritime territorial dispute with Japan are pursuant to this.
Pertinent in this context are the intrusions last April in the Depsang Plains in Ladakh and one of shorter duration in the Burtse area of Ladakh in mid-August this year. Senior Chinese officials disclosed last April that the intrusion was approved by the Politburo, which had also assessed that India would not cancel the scheduled visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The intrusion in August followed an inspection of PLA posts opposite Chushul, Pangong Lake and Shenwenxian, which exercises operational jurisdiction over the Depsang Plains, by a high-powered PLA delegation led by Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the CMC and another by the deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
China also claims Arunachal Pradesh and has expanded claims over Jammu and Kashmir. It has successfully pressured international financial organisations to accept its version of so-called ‘disputed’ areas.
Xi will be accompanied among others by Politburo member Wang Huning, seen by Xi’s side at all meetings; China’s special representative for talks with India and state councillor Yang Jiechi; foreign minister Wang Yi; and commerce minister Gao Hucheng. Also 135 Chinese CEOs are registered to arrive with Xi.
Economic issues will figure prominently, especially the imbalance in trade and Chinese investment in India’s infrastructure and economy. India offers China the world’s largest market for investing its sizeable cash surplus and getting a return on investments. It is anticipated that Japan’s recently announced commitment to invest $35 billion over five years will see higher serious Chinese commitment. India needs to quickly and clearly identify infrastructure and other projects open to Chinese investment and companies for time-bound completion, while carefully isolating those in sensitive sectors.
Xi may propose some confidence-building measures additional to the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), but there will be no concessions on issues of sovereignty and territory. India should, however, respond positively to China’s offer of an additional route via Nathu-la for pilgrims visiting Mansarovar.
The inclusion of Pakistan in Xi’s original travel itinerary was to re-emphasise that Sino-Pak relations remain steadfast. Its postponement, a decision China would not take lightly as it likes to demonstrate that it stands by its friends, reveals serious concern about the political and security situation there which places China’s massive strategic investments, in Gilgit-Baltistan, Baluchistan and nuclear plants at Karachi and elsewhere, at risk. While reports earlier indicated that Xi will try to assuage India’s concerns about Sino-Pak ties, he is now likely to elicit India’s assessment about developments in Pakistan. As China’s leadership deliberates whether to insist that India reiterates that Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China, a statement India has withheld making for four years, the Tibet issue will be on the agenda.
Xi’s objectives, for his first visit to India as president, are to get acquainted with India’s new leadership, ‘manage’ India-China relations and prevent India from partnering with the US and Japan to ‘contain’ China. Deepening economic engagement with India will be of mutual benefit in addition to offering Beijing the prospect of creating an influential pro-China lobby among India’s businessmen. China has made amply clear though, that burgeoning economic ties will not translate into good bilateral relations.
Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is also president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
September 3, 2014
Nepal Army has continued its efforts to carry rescue operations and deliver relief materials to the victims of monsoon-related disasters across the country.
According to the home ministry, as of last Saturday, the flood and landslide death toll has risen to 249. In addition, 252 people are reported missing and 153 are wounded.
According to Nepal Army officials, 17,021 army personnel have been deployed as a part of natural disaster management. 539 victims trapped in natural disasters (including floods and landslides) have been rescued by army choppers. Of them, 66 injured were transported to health facilities. Likewise, NA has helped the government in delivery and transportation of nearly 64,047 kg relief materials to various parts of the disaster-hit areas across the country. Similarly, army forces deployed at the local level to facilitate public, have provided primary health care to 1,577 injured persons.
Flood waters and landslides have affected 41 districts -- the major destruction has been recorded in Sindhupalchowk District, where 50 people have died and the number of missing is pegged at 124, according to nepalnews.com.
The National Emergency Work Performance Centre reports that 16,169 families have been displaced
Various organizations have donated more than RS 250 million to the Prime Minister's Central Natural Disaster Relief Fund. Various NGOs including Nepal Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam, Care Nepal, etc have focused their relief distribution works on most-affected people: pregnant women and children.
August 1, 2014
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Thousands of Tibetan exiles recited prayers and offered white and orange scarves Thursday during the cremation ceremony for a revered Tibetan monk, whose funeral in Nepal nearly fell victim to regional politics.
Nepal had initially given permission to let the remains of Shamar Rinpoche enter the country, but immediately withdrew amid concerns that Tibetan exiles would protest China's rule over their homeland during the rites. Nepal strictly prohibits any activities considered to be anti-China.
During the Buddhist ceremony at the Shar Minub monastery near Katmandu, Tibetan exiles refrained from political protests. Police kept a close watch but did not interfere.
Rinpoche — who has followers in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Europe — built the monastery and preached there for several years. His followers said he wished to be cremated there.
He died last month in Germany at the age of 62.
In the weeks after Rinpoche's death, Nepal refused to allow his body into the country, saying he was a citizen of the nearby Himalayan nation of Bhutan, not Nepal. The threat of anti-China demonstrations during the funeral was likely a significant factor in the refusal, according to analysts and exile leaders.
On Tuesday, the Nepal government reversed itself, citing the monk's contribution to Buddhism in the country.
Tibetan exiles hold frequent anti-China demonstrations in Nepal but authorities quickly break up the rallies, saying they cannot allow protests against a friendly nation.
Thousands of Tibetan exiles live in Nepal, and many travel through Nepal on the way to Dharmasala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives and the self-declared exile government is based.
China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent until China occupied it in 1950.
As reported by BINAJ GURUBACHARYA to the Associated Press on July 31, 2014.
July 31, 2014
As published by Press Trust of India, July 29, 2014
Nepal's tiger population has increased by 64 per cent in the last five years and the country plans to double their numbers by 2022, government said today.
Addressing a gathering here on the occasion of World Tiger Day, Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Mahesh Acharya said that tiger population in Nepal has increased by 64 per cent from 2009 to 2013.
"The current population of tiger in the country is estimated to be 198, up from 121 in 2009," Acharya said.
The minister also expressed confidence that Nepal would easily achieve its target of doubling its tiger population to 250 by 2022.
Pointing out that the loss of habitat, human-animal conflict, organised poaching and illegal wildlife trade were the major threats in tiger conservation efforts of the government, the minister suggested that Nepal needs to work in collaboration with tiger reserves in India for better results.
Director General, Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation Megh Bahadur Pandey said that Nepal was among the leading countries in the world in tiger conservation efforts owing to its strong security arrangement, regular tiger monitoring mechanism and participatory conservation efforts.
Chitawan National Park is the largest tiger sanctuary in Nepal, which is home to 120 tigers, followed by Bardia National Park with 50 tigers, 17 in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, seven in Parsa Wildlife Reserve and four in Banke National Park.
World Tiger Day is celebrated on July 29 every year to raise awareness about tiger conservation efforts throughout the world.
July 15, 2014
In recognition of its exemplary efforts to combat wildlife crime, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has presented Nepal with a certificate of praise.
In 2011, no rhinoceroses, tigers, or elephants were illegally killed in Nepal, and in 2012 the country lost just one rhinoceros to poaching. On the first UN World Wildlife Day, 3 March 2014, Nepal for the second time celebrated 365 days with zero poaching.
Among the 180 countries that are party to CITES, Nepal was the only country to be honored with this specific award, said Dr Maheshwar Dhakal, ecologist at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Protection.
CITES Secretary-General John R Scanlon presented the award during the recent CITES conference held in Geneva, Switzerland.
July 14, 2014
The government has retracted from its earlier decision to bring the body of Shama Rinpoche, the 14th Shamarpa, a prominent spiritual figure of Tibetan Buddhism, into Nepal from India to perform his final rites.
Acting on an application filed at the Foreign Ministry in Kathmandu, the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi had earlier issued ‘no objection letter’ to let the body into Nepal. The embassy issued the letter without any consultation, thinking that the Rinpoche was a religious leader who ran a monastery in Nepal.
A Home Ministry source said the ‘no objection letter’ had been withdrawn under pressure from the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. The embassy requested the Home Ministry not to issue a permit upon learning that a representative of the Dalai Lama from Dharmashala was scheduled to accompany the body to Kathmandu and that the Tibetan community was preparing for a rally in the Bouddha area, according to the source.
Acting Nepali Ambassador to India Krishna Prasad Dhakal said the last rites of a foreign national who died outside the country cannot be performed in Nepal. He, however, remained tight-lipped when asked why the embassy earlier issued ‘no objection letter’ to allow the Rinpoche’s body into Nepal.
The Rinpoche was the 14th Shamarpa who was born in Derge, Tibet, in 1952. He ran Shar Minub Monastery in Nagarjuna, Kathmandu. The Shamarpa possessed a Bhutanese passport.
The 61-year-old spiritual leader who passed away in Germany last month following a heart attack was brought to India on June 22. His body is now at the Shri Diwakar Institute in Kalimpong in West Bengal.
“Due to some unanticipated circumstances, we have to postpone the departure of Shamar Rinpoche’s ‘kudung’ (remains) from Kalimpong on July 13,” the official website of Shamarpa stated on Saturday.
June 27, 2014
This article was originally published by IRIN.
Many women in Nepal return to work immediately after giving birth, thereby increasing the risk of a prolapse developing.
Nuche Maya Maharjan suffered a discomforting medical condition for 35 years before she built up the courage to seek medical assistance. For years she had no idea what the condition was and whether it could be treated.
“I had just given birth to my first child and was working in the fields near my village. Suddenly I felt as if my insides were dropping out of me,” the 66-year-old recalled.
Baffled by what had happened, she told no-one - not even her husband – hoping the problem would go away.
But over the years, her prolapsed uterus (see box) got worse, to the point that it protruded from her vagina completely, making it difficult for her to walk or even sit upright. She required surgery, a fact prompting this uneducated Nepalese mother-of-five to finally seek help.
Maharjan is one of many rural women who regularly come to the Kirtipur public hospital on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, seeking treatment for prolapses - the leading cause of ill-health among women of reproductive and post-menopausal age in Nepal today, doctors say.
“This is more of a rural problem than an urban one,” Dr Ganesh Dangal, an attending gynecologist at the NGO-funded health facility in Kirtipur, told IRIN. “In rural areas, there are no hospitals to treat this condition, forcing many of these women to travel to the cities for help.”
What is a uterine prolapse?
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a uterine prolapse is a maternal illness the uterus protrudes into the vagina from its normal anatomical position.
The uterus is normally supported by pelvic connective tissue and the pubococcygeus muscle, and held in position by special ligaments. Weakening of these tissues allows the uterus to descend into the vaginal canal.
Tissue trauma sustained during childbirth - especially with large babies, difficult labour and delivery and multiple births over short intervals of time - is typically the cause of muscle weakness.
In Nepal, the chance of a prolapse occurring are accentuated by fact that many rural women return to heavy manual work immediately after giving birth without adequate rest.
In the early stages of a prolapse, pelvic exercises can significantly improve a minor condition. In the next stages, before the uterus has fully dropped into the vaginal canal, ring pessaries can be used to support the uterus in place. After this, surgery is the only alternative - an option costing more than US $200 in Nepal and not affordable to most Nepalese women.
According to health experts, prolapse symptoms include back pain, painful abdominal cramps, burning urination, difficulty standing, walking, sitting or lifting, as well as foul smelling discharge, among others.
Yet despite the obvious physical discomfort suffered by these women, many prolapse sufferers do not seek help due to the social stigma the condition carries - a fact only exacerbating this otherwise preventable condition.
“Most rural women don’t even look at this as a disease and don’t seek help,” Dangal confirmed. “Instead they seek comfort in the company of other women in their villages suffering from the same thing - which, regrettably, there are many.”
Given the social stigma associated with a prolapse, coupled with the woman’s inability to satisfy her partner sexually, some husbands remarry and sufferers and their children often find themselves socially excluded, ridiculed or abandoned.
Specialists estimate that more than 600,000 women in the Himalayan kingdom of 27 million inhabitants suffer from uterine prolapse, making it one of the leading causes of morbidity among lower caste and rural women.
For more acute cases, surgery is the only treatment. At a cost of US $200, most Nepalese women cannot afford this. The World Bank estimates that about 30 percent of Nepalis live below the poverty line.
A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study undertaken in eight districts of the country in 2006 - including hill, mountain and southern Terrai regions - concluded that about 10 percent of all women of reproductive age suffer from the condition.
More than a health problem
But despite the numbers, many women suffer in silence.
“This is a multifaceted problem. It’s not just a health problem,” Dr Peden Pradhan, UNFPA assistant representative for Nepal, said. “When you are poor and not educated, you generally get married earlier in rural areas, which makes the prevalence of the problem more widespread there.”
The incidence of prolapse could be decreased by having more deliveries attended by trained paramedics, she said. More than 80 percent of Nepalese women give birth at home and inappropriate maneuvering by unskilled birth attendants during delivery increases the risk of prolapse.
Pradhan added that women in Nepal’s male-dominated society lack real empowerment over when they have children. In addition, they lack awareness of what a prolapse is and what to do about it.
Addressing the problem
UNFPA and the government of Nepal are working together to develop a three-fold national strategy to tackle prolapse.
Improving access to appropriate health care for low-income women, low caste women and women living in conflict areas.
Improving the volume and quality of reproductive health care services, including mobile reproductive health camps.
Promoting awareness of the issue at community level.
“I didn’t know I could talk to people about this. I was embarrassed and ashamed,” said Maili Maharijan, another prolapse sufferer in Kirtipur who waited eight years to come forward.
Unaware that treatment was available, the 70-year-old would routinely push her uterus back in place herself, only to have it drop out again when she coughed or sneezed.
“It was very embarrassing and caused me a great deal of discomfort,” she said.
Such stories underscore the despair, rejection, isolation and stigmatisation felt by many prolapse sufferers in Nepal today.
June 7, 2014
Posted yesterday by Sri Lanka Guardian
Prashant Jha's book, released today, 'Battles of The New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal' tells the story of the country's transition from war to peace, monarchy to republic, a Hindu kingdom to a secular state. The following extract details how India Research and Analysis Wing plays a critical role in Kathmandu politics:
2003-05: I asked a former RAW [Research and Analysis Wing, India's overseas intelligence organization] official, who was well acquainted with Nepal’s affairs and even served as the organization’s head at one point, about India’s initial engagement with the Maoists. Sitting on the top floor of one of Delhi’s premium hotels, he said, ‘My organization’s engagement with the Maoists began in 2003. It was also the time when they were in talks with the king’s nominated government back in Nepal.’ But didn’t declaring the rebel group as terrorists and supporting Nepal’s security forces, yet keeping channels of communication open with the Maoists and allowing the top leaders to stay in India, reflect conflicting objectives at best and devious intent at worst? The Palace, generals of the army, and a dominant section of the NC [Nepali Congress party] saw Indian ‘doublespeak’ as the primary reason for the Maoists’ success, and blamed Delhi for covertly supporting the rebels. The former intelligence official responded, ‘This is not true at all. We had links, we had communication. But that is the nature of intelligence organizations. We keep in touch with the enemy and we establish channels so that if at any point, our policy-makers shift tracks, there is a pathway to implement it.’
He may have been right, about agencies developing ties and relationships with actors across the ideological and political spectrum. But there was surely more to it if the engagement was happening with a group that was supposedly hostile to India’s interests. Analysts have long pondered the connection between India and the Maoists.
It was also a time when everyone was talking to everyone else in Nepal. The RAW official I spoke to emphasized this point and argued that India could not be behind the curve. ‘We knew the Palace and Maoists had been in touch in the early years of the war and still retained contact through intermediaries. We knew that both factions in the NC — Sher Bahadur Deuba and Koirala — kept channels open with the Maoists. We knew that various Left leaders had met Maoists in India. We had consistently asked all parties and the Palace to work together against the Maoists, but they just did not understand the gravity of the situation. It was clear to us that, eventually, a political solution would need to be found. In statecraft, you build up leverage when you can.’
Those who were then serving in the Indian establishment take great pains to emphasize that being in touch could not be construed as support. And as proof, they point to how several Maoist leaders were arrested in India during that period. C. P. Gajurel ‘Gaurav’ was picked up in Chennai when he was travelling on a fake passport to England. The party’s ideologue, and Prachanda’s political guru, Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, was arrested in Siliguri. The Maoist leader from the Madhes, Matrika Yadav, was arrested and handed over to Nepal. (Yadav’s arrest seems to have been a result of a difference in outlook between the IB [India's Intelligence Bureau] and RAW. The RNA [Royal Nepalese Army] had passed on information about Yadav to an IB official who was visiting Nepal with an Indian minister’s entourage; and a RAW functionary once mentioned to me how IB had ‘messed up’ by arresting a key source.) Upendra Yadav, who was known to be close to the Maoists, though his exact relationship with the party remained ambiguous, was picked up, but then mysteriously let off. Suresh Ale Magar, the ethnic theorist for the Maoist party, was arrested and so were Ram Karki, who had served as an important link of the party with India’s radical movements, and Bamdev Chhetri. Cases were filed against many Maoist cadres. It became a lot more difficult for the top leadership to travel in India as compared to the late 1990s.
The arrests caused a ripple within the Maoist organization. Despite the sporadic communication his party representatives had with Delhi, Prachanda was now convinced that the principal contradiction of the people was with the ‘expansionists’, meaning India. Worried about their safety, both he and Bhattarai returned to Rolpa in 2004 and began living in their base areas. Prachanda even announced that they would eventually have to fight a war with India, and called for trenches to be dug for that purpose. Bhattarai was uncomfortable with the rhetoric, for he continued to view the Palace and the monarchy as the key problem, the enemy which needed to be vanquished, not India. The tension had historical roots, with different schools of the Nepali Left prioritizing either ‘nationalism’ or ‘democracy’.
* * *
2009-10: Like many other Nepalis, I was angered by India’s policy, actions and behaviour in that period. Having covered the political process day in and out, I had seen the depths to which the Indian establishment had plunged to isolate the Maoists, with little regard for the notions of sovereignty, democratic norms and processes, or political ethics. India’s actions appeared to confirm long-held apprehensions in Nepal that Delhi was not comfortable with any domestic force with a sizeable mass base, and one which refused to take dictation from the babus of South Block. Delhi’s desire to be in control of events and actors in Kathmandu has often preceded any other objective. In 1960, the Nehru-B. P. Koirala relationship had become uneasy when Koirala had struck out and asserted his strong and independent personality. In the 1990s, minor incidents disrupted India’s ties with the NC which eventually benefited the Palace. And now, India had a problem with the two forces who had been most successful in the 2008 elections—the Maoists nationally, and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) in the plains. It seemed India really wanted pliant agents, and was just not mature enough to deal with autonomous political agents in a neighbouring country.
I asked a thoughtful RAW official why they could not let go and allow domestic processes in Nepal to play out, irrespective of outcomes, without meddling. ‘If you have an open border, there has to be a special security relationship. We could have lived with a Maoist dictatorship if it was 5,000 miles away but, across an open border, we cannot risk it.’
What India was attempting with the Maoists was not a simplistic strategy of isolation, though. It was emulating a highly sophisticated tradition of statecraft it had practiced, with mixed results, in Kashmir with the Hurriyat Conference and, in the Northeast, with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). Engage, coerce, divide, frustrate, exhaust, corrupt, lure, repeat the cycle, and give nothing. It had never stopped talking to the Maoists even when the war of words was at its worst. It had isolated them to show them the high costs of not listening to advice. It had encouraged Baburam Bhattarai as a counter to Prachanda in order to sharpen the divisions within the party.
It had created a situation where the leadership could deliver nothing to the cadre, frustrating them and increasing the gulf between the top and the bottom. It offered inducements and showed the benefits of cooperating and playing along with the existing political-economic networks. And it kept up the strategies until the incentives for the other side changed, and caused a transformation in its behaviour which suited the establishment.
[...] this time, India was intervening not in favour of universal values but to influence outcomes in a fragmented but democratic political landscape. There was no reason for Delhi to play favourites among Nepali politicians, for no one—including the Maoists—had harmed India’s security interests. They could have let domestic political processes take their own course instead of preventing a natural equilibrium from emerging. For a neighbour to actively intervene in order to try and kill another country’s elected institution, and target one political force, went beyond any acceptable norm of inter-state relations.
But the Nepali Maoists, despite this baggage, had come around to the new political reality. They had participated in the elections and won legitimately. Despite sporadic incidents, they had allowed a free and extremely critical press to flourish. They had given up their base areas and opened it up to political competition so that other political parties could operate there. They had dissolved their parallel courts and had agreed to have their former army put into cantonments. Prachanda had resigned when faced with an uncomfortable political situation, and was making a bid to return to power by gaining a majority on the floor of the house.
2011: There was also a change of personnel in the Indian establishment. And as we had seen in 2005-06, individuals played a major role in shaping policy. Sanjeev Tripathi had taken over RAW in January 2011, and he was understood to be in favour of reengaging with the Maoists. Alok Joshi had taken over as special secretary who looked after key neighbouring countries. Joshi had served as the station chief in Nepal between 2008 and 2010. A product of JNU, and an Indian Police Service officer from the Haryana cadre, he had sharp political sense and knew the lay of the land in Nepal.
RAW did not believe in giving the Maoists a blank cheque and recognized the importance of challenging them in order to get them to deliver on commitments. But it could also see that the experiment of keeping the Maoists out of power had perhaps outlived its utility, and the Indian position needed revision. It argued to the national security advisor, Shiv Shanker Menon, that the Maoists should be given ‘one final chance’.
Rakesh Sood had left Kathmandu for Paris, and the new ambassador, Jayant Prasad, had not yet arrived in Kathmandu. A soft-spoken, brilliant diplomat, with uncanny political sense and a commitment to basic democratic ethos, Prasad had an old Nepal connection. His father, Bimal Prasad, a former professor in JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University], had been India’s envoy to Kathmandu in the early 1990s and had a reputation of being close to the NC. But Jayant Prasad had visited Nepal only once during his father’s tenure and carried little baggage. A ‘free-thinker’ in his student days in JNU, where he distinguished himself academically, Prasad could empathize with broad socialist and Left political thinking, but carried no dogma. While Prasad did not take charge till August-end, Sood’s departure had already helped to partially detoxify the India-Maoist relationship.
Prachanda had met senior Indian intelligence officials during his trips to various Southeast Asian cities through the summer of 2011. In early August, they met in Kuala Lumpur where Prachanda once again committed to completing the peace process as soon as the Maoists led the government. He briefed them on internal tensions within the party, and said that after Khanal resigned, the Maoists would put forward Baburam Bhattarai as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Indian officials are learnt to have told him that they would not object if the Maoists observed all democratic processes and mustered a majority on the floor of the house. This was a significant meeting in rebuilding the relationship between the two sides. While the mistrust was deep, both sides were slowly inching back to the more nuanced approach they had with each other between 2005 and 2008. To borrow Prachanda’s metaphor, the warmth may not have returned, but there was a thaw. A rapprochement was on the horizon.
Would it finally enable the successful accommodation of the Maoists into the formal power structure? Would it help integrate the Maoist combatants into the NA [Nepalese Army] — an issue which was at the heart of the tensions over the UN’s role in Nepal, over General Katawal’s dismissal, over the Maoists’ re-entry into government, and the yardstick for whether the rebels had indeed transformed into a democratic force? Would it finally push forward the Constitution-writing project, which had been in limbo as power games overwhelmed Kathmandu politics? Would the renewed engagement between India and the Maoists bring back the focus on the core political goal of restructuring the Nepali state and Nepali nationalism?
* * *
The NC was now in panic mode. Ambassador Sood had completed his tenure in Kathmandu and had left a few months earlier. This had weakened the voice of the MEA within the establishment, which was more averse to giving the Maoists a chance. RAW, on the other hand, had veered towards allowing the Maoists another chance. They had not encouraged the Madhesi parties—but the ‘agency’, as Kathmandu politicians called RAW, had not discouraged them either. Left to domestic factors, the NC realized that there was little that would stop the Madhesi parties from choosing the more attractive option.
The NC now used all its political capital to get India involved on their side. The former party leader, and now President, Ram Baran Yadav, shared a personal equation with finance minister and old political warhorse Pranab Mukherjee—the only senior political leader in Delhi who really paid attention to Nepal. They spoke to each other in Bangla—Yadav had attended school in Calcutta. President Yadav warned Mukherjee that the Maoists’ return to power would be dangerous, and they must help stop the Madhesis from voting for Bhattarai.
An Indian embassy official, upset with the [Nepali] President’s attempt to undercut the local mission and reach out directly to the political leadership, told me about this conversation and said that it had rattled Delhi. Surya Bahadur Thapa, the former prime minister who had excellent ties with Delhi’s political and bureaucratic elite, called up his interlocutors with a similar warning. Thapa’s grandson Siddhartha had become a close friend and, over coffee at Babar Mahal, Siddhartha expressed deep unease at the evolving Indian stance, as they saw it. Shekhar Koirala, G. P. Koirala’s nephew who had played an active role in the run-up to the signing of the 12-point Understanding, shared cordial ties with National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon. They had known each other since Menon’s time as a joint secretary handling Nepal in the mid-1990s. Koirala called up his old friend, urging India to get the Madhesis to support Poudel. He warned India that having the Maoists in power at this time would ensure that they remained in office if the CA ended without a Constitution having been finalized and that would have adverse consequences for Delhi. I met Koirala in the CA [Constituent Assembly] compound a few days later, and he confirmed to me that he had reservations about India’s position and felt that Delhi was making a mistake.
Delhi seems to have become worried by the multiple messages from friendly interlocutors. The political section of the Indian embassy now got into the act. They warned the Madhesi parties that the Maoists would deceive them, that their commitment to federalism was opportunistic, and that the parties of the plains must reconsider their options. The pressure could either have been born out of a desire to show to the NC that India was doing its bit, or born out of a genuine policy line to block the Maoists once again. Delhi ordered RAW, which was more open to the Maoists, to step back from the process.
June 3, 2014
Today, Jayadeva Ranade, (member, National Security Advisory Board, President, CCAS & Distinguished Fellow, IPCS), published this analysis for the Delhi-based think-tank Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies:
“The meetings with the Sri Lankan and Nepalese leaders are said to have been quite frank.”
Elected with a massive popular mandate not seen in the past thirty years, Narendra Modi took a bold foreign policy initiative even before he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 May 2014. The initiative did not emanate from the foreign policy mandarins in South Block, but was mooted by advisers of the Prime Minister-designate. In addition to quickly defining the contours of the Modi administration’s policy for India’s neighbourhood, it simultaneously outlined India’s geographic area of immediate strategic interest.
The invitation to the Heads of Government of member nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for the swearing-in ceremony of the Indian Prime Minister was an unprecedented out-of-the-box initiative. Myanmar was left out presumably because it is not a member of SAARC, but that relationship needs to be actively nurtured. The initiative immediately sent out a number of messages, the import of which would not have been lost on analysts.
It would have, in the first instance, put officials of India’s Foreign Office on notice that the new Prime Minister will take active interest in foreign policy issues and is ready to engage and communicate directly with other world leaders and the people. They will need to examine many relationships afresh and possibly break new ground. Citing precedence or favouring continuance of old policies in bilateral relationships may no longer suffice. An unmistakable and strong message is that India’s new leaders will accord priority to India’s neighbourhood and pay it particular attention. In the present context this has strategic implications.
By inviting SAARC member-countries, India’s new Prime Minister has indicated that he is keen on promoting regional economic ties and giving bilateral relationships a substantive economic content. The invitation quite strongly suggests that India, as the biggest country with the largest and fastest growing economy in SAARC, is willing to tap the existing economic potential and assist in the development of its neighbours. It offers all these countries an opportunity to join in India’s growth and benefit from its rise.
The impromptu gathering of South Asian leaders effectively delivered a few additional messages. The attendance at the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif and Sri Lanka’s Rajapakse unambiguously clarified that India’s foreign policy would be decided by the Centre and not be held hostage to local political considerations or of state governments. The ruling BJP’s majority in parliament underscores this, while giving New Delhi a high degree of flexibility in crafting foreign policy.
The gathering afforded Modi and his new External Affairs Minister an opportunity, albeit brief, to personally interact with the SAARC leaders and size them up. Indications are that they took the opportunity to sketch out the general contours of their foreign policy and clearly spell out India’s national and security interests. The meetings with the Sri Lankan and Nepalese leaders are said to have been quite frank.
India’s troubled relationship with Pakistan and the vexed issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism were catapulted to the forefront with the terrorist attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat in southern Afghanistan. Launched by Hafez Sayed’s Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT), the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit trained and financed by the Pakistani Army, the terror strike was launched at 3.40 AM on 22 May, four days prior to Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on 26 May. Providentially the attempt by the LeT’s 4-man terrorist group, which had come well-provisioned for a protracted hostage situation, was frustrated by personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and failed. By noon the same day Modi, still as Prime Minister-designate, had spoken to India’s Ambassador in Afghanistan, Afghan President Karzai, the concerned persons in Delhi and issued a press statement.
The episode served to yet again highlight Nawaz Sharif’s duplicity and that he had knowledge of the terrorist action. Nawaz Sharif is known to have close ties with the extremist jihadi tanzeems and he and his brother officially allocate funds from the Panjab provincial budget for Hafez Sayed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawaa. Circumstantial evidence also shows both Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Foreign Office’s complicity.
Both Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Foreign Office delayed confirming the former’s acceptance of Modi’s invitation till news of the failure of the terrorist attack on Herat had been confirmed. The failure of the attack was confirmed by the afternoon of 22 May and the following day Nawaz Sharif’s daughter tweeted that he would attend the ceremonies in Delhi. Some reports claimed that Nawaz Sharif’s son had met the Pakistan Army Chief earlier that day. The Pakistan Foreign Office officially confirmed Nawaz Sharif’s attendance on 24 May. Whatever doubts anyone may have harboured were addressed by Afghan President Karzai in an interview to the Indian national TV channel, Headlines Today, the day prior to Modi’s 50-minute meeting with Nawaz Sharif. Karzai squarely blamed the LeT for the terrorist attack and said this had been independently “confirmed by a Western Intelligence Agency.” By going public with the information on Indian national television, the Afghan President gave Modi an additional basis for a frank talk with Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif. Reports indicate that India’s security concerns were conveyed to Nawaz Sharif.
In the coming months Modi will engage with more powerful and sophisticated nations, like China. Beijing has separately made amply clear that burgeoning economic ties do not necessarily mean good bilateral relations, which depend entirely on recognition of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. India will have to carefully balance economic interests with national security interests with China.
June 2, 2014
Yesterday’s article written by Ramyata Limbu for Al Jazeera
Official efforts to protect the thousands of women who travel abroad in search of work may be backfiring.
Kathmandu, Nepal – They trickle into the nondescript hotel room in Dhading Besi on a Saturday afternoon, articulate young college students, demure housewives in saris, unlettered farmers with weathered faces, and nursing mothers with toddlers in tow.
These women are prospective migrant workers who expect to find jobs as housemaids in secluded villas in the Gulf to escape extreme poverty, unemployment and debts.
But human rights groups believe government efforts to protect them – about 13 percent of the 1,700 Nepalese who migrate every day are women – may increase the risk they face of exploitation, physical and sexual abuse, forced labour and trafficking.
"Domestic workers account for an estimated 80 percent of the total number of women migrant workers," says Dr Ganesh Gurung, a migration specialist and former chair of the national network for safe migration.
"The majority are undocumented. It's unfortunate that government bans enforced to protect Nepali women migrant workers from exploitation and abuse have had the opposite impact."
Their journey often begins in the room in Dhading Besi, three hours' drive from the capital, Kathmandu, that has been transformed into a makeshift classroom.
They listen intently as Manju Gurung, a former migrant worker, lists the dos and don'ts of the economic migrant.
"Always go through formal government channels, know what's in your contract, pre-departure training and orientation are mandatory," she stresses.
Once a rural hamlet, Dhading Besi has been visibly transformed by the money earned by Nepalese migrants, and new buildings and shops flank the town centre.
Gurung, a founder member of the Pourakhi Nepal organisation established to empower women migrants, acknowledges the economic benefits of working abroad but is also aware of the stigma that attached to these women and the emotional toll migration takes on their families.
She told Al Jazeera, "We don't support or discourage female migrant labour. But we believe women are entitled to work and to make an informed choice."
Karma Lama (name changed) hails from a highland village in Nepal where three years ago, barely out of her teens, she dropped out of school to help her family scrape a meagre living on the rugged terraces.
She collected firewood and fodder, took animals to graze and carried out household chores while dreaming of working overseas in order to save enough to marry and settle down.
Encouraged by money orders sent home by her older siblings, both domestic workers in the Gulf, Karma sold wild berries to travellers to raise cash for a passport and new clothes.
She pestered her parents, impoverished farmers, to raise 50,000 Nepali rupees ($500) to pay an agent, a close relative, to procure a tourist visa to Dubai.
Despite her family’s misgivings about her age - Nepal's government prohibits women below the age of 30 from working as domestics - Karma was determined to leave.
A week before her departure she travelled to Kathmandu, a day's bus ride away, where basic lessons in housekeeping comprised learning to cook on a gas stove and cleaning a toilet.
Yet ill-prepared for household work in a foreign land and unfamiliar with the language, within weeks she had lost two successive jobs in Lebanon - before the local agent forced her to work providing sexual services to men.
Just a month after leaving Nepal and badly traumatised, Karma is back home, recovering in a shelter for female migrant workers in Kathmandu where she receives counselling and medication.
"Approximately 25 percent of women who come to us have undergone some kind of sexual abuse or trauma," says shelter supervisor Satra Kumari Gurung.
"They struggle to cope with what's happened. They're extremely withdrawn. Recovery is one day at a time."
Abuse and exploitation
In 2012, Nepal's government banned women under 30 from working as domestics in Gulf states amid concerns about abuse and exploitation, and in April this year stopped issuing work permits following the repatriation of three dozen women from Lebanon - which officials say is an interim measure as they look into solutions to ensure the safety of female migrant workers.
But rights body Amnesty International believes these policies have increased the risks women face by encouraging them to migrate through informal channels that expose them to greater exploitation.
"You can't stop them," says Dr Gurung. "The day of the decision women migrant workers flew for foreign destinations from the international airport. Who's keeping count of those travelling through other channels?"
One of those exploited women was Tula Subba, 32, who recalls how she was an easy target for unscrupulous brokers that scour Nepal's villages for unsuspecting women to lure into forced labour.
Displaced by the Maoist rebellion that afflicted the country from 1996–2006, Subba's family abandoned their fields and village shop in the east of the Himalayan nation for the southern plains bordering India, where work prospects were few and income limited.
Before long she had joined a group of girls who travelled overland to India accompanied by an agent then flew to Kuwait.
She spent a year with a family before returning home on the pretext of ill health - with no money and only her ticket paid for. Constant haranguing and violent outbursts by her employer took a heavy toll on her mental and physical health.
"I could no longer cope. I had to get out," she told Al Jazeera.
Faced with a similar situation, Sita Chettri (name changed), 32, slipped out of the house in Kuwait where she had been working for nine months and made her way to the Nepalese Embassy as she had been instructed in Kathmandu.
Within two months at a shelter supported by the Nepalese government - occupied by up to 300 women awaiting repatriation at a time - she had regained weight and recovered her spirits.
She abandoned any thought of finding another employer when she saw dead bodies of workers being brought to the embassy and heard the extent of abuse some women had endured.
"I don't want to die. I have young children," she told Al Jazeera.
But Chettri has mixed feelings about returning home."I’ve no money, no gifts, nothing for my young son. People are bound to talk."
May 23, 2014
According to a report released today by Phys.Org, climate change has caused Nepal's Himalayan glaciers to shrink by nearly a quarter in just over 30 years, raising the risk of natural disasters in the ecologically fragile region, a scientist said Friday.
A new study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) shows that the area covered by glaciers has decreased by 24 per cent between 1977 and 2010.
Samjwal Ratna Bajracharya, lead author of the report, told AFP, "the shrinking of glaciers in Nepal is definitely connected to climate change, glacial melt is a huge indicator of rising temperatures."
The Norway-funded research project led by ICIMOD took three years to complete, as scientists mapped satellite imagery from several decades to see the extent of ice loss in the region.
The fastest decline occurred between 1980 and 1990, Bajracharya said, adding that prior to the late 1970s, satellite imagery reflected little change in Nepal's glacial area.
He said the glacial melting is creating huge, expanding lakes that threaten to burst and devastate mountain communities living downstream.
The accelerated glacial loss raises concerns over future access to water resources, particularly in regions where groundwater is limited and monsoon rains are erratic.
"If the trend continues, the immediate impact will be felt by those living in high-altitude regions, who are dependent on freshwater reserves from glaciers," Bajracharya said.
The findings, published earlier this month, also sound alarm bells for Nepal's push to develop hydropower projects.
"Nepal cannot use its water resources to develop the country without assessing the state of our glaciers and river basins," he said.
A government report in India recently blamed hydropower projects for devastating floods last year that killed thousands in India and Nepal.
The government panel said the build up of sediment in rivers, due to the dumping of soil that was dug up during construction of hydropower projects, exacerbated flooding when record-high rainfall hit the region last June.
May 18, 2014
TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE LUMBINI, THE BIRTHPLACE OF LORD BUDDHA is a 19-minute documentary that premiered in Lumbini this week on the occasion of Lord Buddha’s Buddha Jayanti (birthday).
It’s beautifully shot, focusing on the site’s historical significance as well as emphasizing the importance of proceeding carefully with future tourism development in and around the Greater Lumbini area. Of particular interest is the filmmakers’ concern for the well being of the impoverished local population.
May 14, 2014
This article was first published in HINDUSTANI TIMES on May 11, 2014 and passed on to me by it’s author, Jayadeva Ranade. Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is also president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
As the dust of the hotly contested general elections begins to settle and memories of acid rhetoric begin to recede, India’s new leadership will have to grapple with a host of major problems.
Undoubtedly the domestic economy, security of its citizens and effective delivery of social security and health services must be priority. These challenges will be accentuated by the young voters, who constitute almost 21% of the electorate and have high aspirations, a low threshold of tolerance and demand visibly different policies from what they have witnessed over the years.
This makes it imperative for any new government to ensure that impactful and visible delivery begins within the first six months. Failure to do so will subject it to trenchant, persistent and possibly debilitating criticism.
A few immediate foreign and strategic policy challenges will, however, have to be tackled equally promptly if India is not to be marginalised even in its own strategic neighbourhood.
Most immediate are the developments unfolding in Afghanistan and the threat from Pakistan. As US troops prepare for withdrawal from Afghanistan and hitherto effective CIA-trained specialist forces begin to go home, the Taliban will regain lost ground in the Afghan countryside.
Attacks against the Afghan and international security forces have already intensified. This will simultaneously relieve pressure on Pakistan’s borders. India will have to find ways to retain meaningful influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s establishment has in the past few weeks signalled its readiness to allow terrorist actions against India by increasing the incidence of firing along the LoC, [Line of Control, see below] attempting to push in terrorists, and permitting free movement by leaders of jihadi terrorist groups like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. India’s new leadership will need to keep carefully calibrated ripostes ready for prompt implementation against imminent terrorist attacks.
[The term Line of Control (LOC) known as Asia's Berlin wall refers to the military control line between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir—a line which, to this day, does not constitute a legally recognized international boundary but is the de facto border. ]
More significant, but longer-term, is the challenge posed by China’s recently unveiled policy of ‘Peripheral Diplomacy’ (zhoubian), which brings India’s strategically sensitive borders and neighbourhood within the ambit of Beijing’s assertive foreign policy.
This policy for the first time ever categorises neighbouring countries as ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ and warns those obstructing China’s quest for pre-eminence in the region to be prepared for punitive measures over a sustained period.
It seeks to co-opt neighbours into supporting its regional ambitions through either outright financial largesse or economic dependency, supplemented by a network of bilateral and regional security alliances. The latter raises the spectre of India being ringed by China-led, or China-dominated, security alliances.
‘Friends’ supporting China’s efforts are already being promised large sums of economic assistance. This is intended to facilitate implementation of the ‘new Silk Road economic belt’ — which Chinese President Xi Jinping has taken personal charge of — and the Beijing-initiated Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor, or erstwhile ‘Kunming Initiative’.
Both economic manoeuvres emanate out of China’s southern Yunnan province and thrust across Myanmar, Bangladesh, India’s north-eastern states with their fragile economies, Bhutan, Nepal and go onward.
Beijing’s new policy promises huge economic benefits for countries and regions along the routes that support it. These proposals, fuelled by China’s vast economic reserves reinforced by military might, will appreciably boost China’s political and economic influence in these regions. India will have to quickly fashion robust policies to safeguard its influence, territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Insidious is the definitive role assigned to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP can be expected to appreciably step up activities in China’s neighbourhood and in India. The objective would be to ‘win over’ and consolidate relations with political parties other than ‘fraternal’ ones, enhance interaction with ‘sympathetic’ entities and seek out a role in the religious and cultural spheres.
The new government will additionally have to tackle the complexities of the emerging global environment where the US and the West are trying to rearrange the extant international trade and economic regime together with bilateral equations to ensure global pre-eminence.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) considerably raise labour and tariff standards and will dilute the competitiveness of developing economies and disadvantage countries like China and India.
India’s exports will immediately be adversely affected and, combined with its poor manufacturing capacity, its large market and agriculture sector could become more vulnerable. As the target date of end 2014 approaches, India will need to quickly decide whether to opt for the TPP/TTIP. Beijing, despite continuing to view the proposed regimes with suspicion, is revising its position and thinking of applying to join.
Simultaneously, in addition to accelerating domestic economic reforms and military modernisation, China has initiated measures to rival the economic influence of the US and international organisations in Asia and floated the concept of a China-led regional development bank.
It has announced plans to earmark around $3 billion towards its fund, which, in course of time, will rival the Asian Development Bank.
India’s new leadership will have to formulate a set of policies to safeguard national interests and address these challenges.
It will need to unambiguously advise neighbours, like Nepal and Pakistan, of its ‘Red lines’ and willingness to enforce them against infringements.
Bold initiatives that bridge India’s economic and strategic requirements should be contemplated such as allowing direct investment on liberalised terms in sectors like housing, hi-tech manufacturing, dual-use civilian and defence industry, etc, by countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Investment by China in select sectors should also be considered.
May 8, 2014
Until the very recent past, Tibetan biographies have been strictly hagiographic in tone and content. The readership was confined to accomplished practitioners of tantric Buddhism and the books were penned in a pre-20th century timeframe, in which empirical science played no role. Buddhist manifestations of magic neither contradicted nor compromised Tibetan readers’ experience of the “real” world. Tibetans simply lived in an atmosphere of the marvelous. If someone was said to have super-human origins or skills, no one jumped through hoops to embrace the notion. A biographer’s emphasis was on the subject’s inner journey, not the dates and place-names of his or her outer life, which was regarded as mundane, if not irrelevant.
It is no easy task, then, for a Western writer with a Western readership to bridge that cultural gap, to bring to life the story of a highly realized Buddhist master – to explore the tantric’s spiritual achievement while also folding into the narrative Terton Sogyal’s political significance.
Matteo Pistono has done precisely this.
His biography not only accurately identifies Terton Sogyal as one of the diplomatic lightning rods of his time – replete with Sogyal’s profoundly crucial relationship with the 13th Dalai Lama and his accurately assessed threat of a Chinese takeover– but the infighting of Lhasan aristocrats as well, which, tragically, sped up the eventual demise of Tibetan independence.
As Pistono explains in his “Author’s Note”: I had to position him [Terton Sogyal] against the turbulent sociopolitical backdrop, place him in a linear historical sequence, and show his apparent challenges and frustration.
This book was fifteen years in the making. Pistono’s boots-on-the-ground peregrinations through eastern and central Tibet, his accumulated interviews with (and teachings from) the great lamas of the day, his tireless academic research – all come together and make Terton Sogyal’s story both immediate and contemporary.
Peripheral snapshots of fellow mystics and the fruitions of their hermetic existences, interspersed with popular cults, customs, traditions, Fearless in Tibet is nevertheless also something of an adventure story. We ride along with Terton Sogyal, circumventing brigands waiting in ambush in altitudinous passes – over the vast expanse of Tibet and into the hushed corridors of Lhasa’s Potala Palace, which he came to know so well during his spectacular topographical and spiritual road trips.
In a way, the biography of Terton Sogyal is the biography of many men, who, according to the Tibetan tradition, were incarnations of Dorje Dudjom. Dorje Dudjom was one of the original 25 disciples of Padmasambhava, (the guru from Oddiyana), who established Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century. Padmasambhava created a system for future “treasure revealers”, or tertons; who would uncover long-hidden spiritual teachings through texts written in dakini script, statues, ritual implements, medicines or sacred relics. The key to this system was that the treasures would be discovered only when the time would be most beneficial to the people of Tibet.
Terton Sogyal’s emergence as a terton couldn’t have occurred at a more politically precarious time in Tibet’s history. China’s Qing Dynasty, British controlled India and Tsarist Russia were all vying for control over the Buddhist nation. Perhaps even more dangerous was the internecine power struggle going on between civil leaders within the boundaries of Tibet. Little wonder that the 13th Dalai Lama – twenty years Terton Sogyal’s junior – came to love and rely on his spiritual achievements:
[Terton Sogyal] was being called to Lhasa to perform tantric rituals capable of turning back the British army that was deploying on Tibet’s southern border. Mantras recited by Terton Sogyal were believed to provide protection from the threat of foreign invasion. The State Oracle had told the young Dalai Lama that Terton Sogyal must serve the nations. This was Terton Sogyal’s effective appointment as chaplain to the Dalai Lama.
One can also value Fearless in Tibet as a partial biography of Sogyal Rinpoche, the current incarnation of Dorje Dudjom and Terton Sogyal. Sogyal Rinpoche has established one of the largest networks of Tibetan Buddhist dharma centers in the West: Rigpa Fellowship. And his book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is one of the most widely read dharma books to date, having already been translated into 34 languages.
On whatever level one chooses to read Fearless in Tibet, Western Buddhist practitioners owe Matteo Pistono their gratitude for this major contribution to Tibetan literature.
The official publishing date for Fearless in Tibet is May 27, 2014.
To pre-order your copy now,
April 30, 2014
For decades, renowned photojournalist Thomas L. Kelly has tirelessly explored various Asian cultures and the human rights issues arising therein.
Yesterday, Thomas was kind enough to send me photographs he took on April 21, documenting the last rites of the 16 Sherpa guides who lost their lives in the Everest avalanche of April 18, 2014. The bodies of the deceased were flown to Kathmandu and paraded to their cremations. Below are a few of those photographs:
Mingma Sherpa is Managing Director of Seven Summit Treks Pvt. Ltd. He is fighting the government on behalf of the 16 Sherpas who passed away in the Everest disaster: 1 million Nepali Rupees for each family; 30% of the royalty the government receives from foreign climbers to be placed in a fund; and the organization of a fund for the children of the deceased fathers until they reach class 10.
To view more of Kelly's work,
April 27, 2014
On Thursday, fresh ice avalanches struck the same perilous Everest route where 16 Sherpas were killed last week, making it almost certain this climbing season is over.
Contrary to claims touted by Nepal’s Tourism Ministry – published by THE HINDU and, unfortunately, repeated in this blog on Friday – the Sherpas have not agreed to resume work but, rather, have left the mountain.
According to Californian mountain guide Adrian Ballinger (as reported by Reuters), “even before the latest avalanches, there had been an exodus of teams from base camp due to the aggressive behaviour of a group of younger Sherpas there.
He said these Sherpas were determined to ensure that no one scaled Everest from the south side during this year's climbing season, which ends around May 25.
Yesterday, THE GUARDIAN reported that, “even as the pujas for the souls of the Sherpas were being held, a new mood took hold: anger. Its first and most obvious target was the government, which had announced a compensation package of 40,000 Nepalese rupees (£245). This was a derisory sum to the Sherpas, whose funeral rites could cost 10 times that figure, and a demonstration last Monday followed the religious ceremonies.”
Nevertheless, “amid growing calls for an immediate end to climbing on Everest as a mark of respect to the dead, Madhusudan Burlakoti, a senior official at the tourism ministry, quashed the idea that the season should end: ‘The expeditions will continue up the mountain. There is no reason to think it's unsafe now because of this natural disaster. These things happen in cycles and we will address them as they come.’”
THE GUARDIAN further reported that:
Such breezy reassurances did nothing to quell the growing anger among Sherpas that it is they who take the risk on Nepal's mountains and the government that takes a disproportionate share of the profits.
“Those who do not come from the region remained in camp, talking about what should happen next. Younger workers from other regions of Nepal that in the last decade came under the influence of Maoist political tactics of coercion and threat found the atmosphere of grief and anger the perfect moment to pursue a more aggressive agenda.
Two strands emerged at base camp, a 13-point plan demanding reform of Sherpa working conditions and a greater share of revenue for local people, and a more strident, less developed agenda that demanded an immediate end to climbing. A religious ceremony on Tuesday ended in a well-orchestrated demonstration.
More darkly, the team of Sherpas known as the Icefall Doctors who fix the ropes up this part of the mountain were told not to go back to work. Filmmakers were ordered to put their cameras away. One foreign expedition had communications cables cut during the night. Climbers and Sherpas alike speak of an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Last year, following an assault on three European climbers by an angry mob of Sherpas at camp two, the government promised better security on the mountain, including a "facilitation office" with a police and military presence. It also promised that expedition liaison officers, who rarely bother to visit base camp, would be more visible. None of this happened. When the bodies of the Sherpas were airlifted to base camp, there were no officials on hand to record the names of the dead.
In a bid to shore up government authority, Nepal's tourism minister, Bhim Acharya, flew to base camp on Thursday, an oxygen mask on hand, to bolster morale, agree to most Sherpa demands for improved working conditions, and promise foreign climbers their permits would be valid for five years should their expeditions quit the mountain.
It was already too late. The exodus was under way, and as each of the bigger, better-resourced teams quit, the rest followed. Dave Hamilton, leader of British commercial expedition organisers Jagged Globe, told me: "The season is over. Almost all teams, including us, have cancelled for a variety of reasons. But it really comes down to the vast majority of Sherpas do not want to work. The minority who do have been threatened and intimidated into joining the action."
One thing is certain: The profile of Everest climbers has changed dramatically since Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed the peak in 1953. Hardcore alpinists have been replaced by rich vanity mountaineers, who pay a fortune to have their picture taken on the summit, while Sherpas do all the heavy lifting and risk their lives in the process.
April 25, 2014
Nepal’s agitating Sherpa mountain guides on Friday agreed to resume work on Mount Everest following negotiations with the government on their demands in the wake of the deadly avalanche that killed 16 of their colleagues in the worst disaster on the world’s highest peak.
The mountain guides had halted work in the Himalayas for a week to mourn the death of their comrades last Friday.
The Sherpas had threatened to halt work indefinitely to press for fulfillment of their demands relating to increasing insurance coverage, facilities, providing compensation and ensuring their safety in the Himalayas.
After a visit by top government officials led by Tourism Minister Bhim Prasad Acharya to the Everest base camp, the Sherpas have agreed to resume work, officials said.
While discussing with the Sherpas, the minister had urged all the mountaineering teams to continue their climbing expeditions, the Tourism Ministry said in a press release.
“The minister had also urged all concerned agencies to fix ladder and rope. In response to the request made by the minister the supporting climbers have agreed to support expedition activities,” the ministry said.
If some climbing teams want to quit their expeditions for this season and want to extend their permits, the ministry would make necessary arrangement to extend the time of their permit for next five years for the expedition teams of spring 2014,” the ministry added.
The ministry however requested all the teams to continue their expeditions as all necessary arrangements have already been made for the same.
The government earlier agreed to provide compensation to the kin of the deceased climbers, increase their insurance money by 50 per cent to $15,000, bear necessary expenses of the injured climbers and install a memorial of those killed in the accidents on Everest.
April 6, 2014
Bina Ramani's disarmingly sincere autobiography gives voice to an India that has gone through gargantuan societal changes since the 1960s. Few women from the subcontinent have had such jaw-dropping access to the rich, creative and politically powerful – not only in India, but in the UK and the US as well. From the scions of global finance, politics and the world of art – from Indira Gandhi, Yono Oko, and Jackie Onassis, to Zubin Mehta, Shammi Kapoor and Richard Gere – Bina’s career as India’s great matron of the Indian fashion world, coupled with her behind-the-scene work on behalf of AIDS and women’s issues has brought her face to face with some of the most famous and influential people in the last half-century.
Bina’s story is one of extreme privilege, victimization and survival.
In 1999, Jessica Lal, a beautiful New Delhi model was volunteering as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded socialite party, (thrown by Bina at her Tamarind Court – a refurbished harem palace overlooking the Qutub Minar in Delhi) when Manu Sharma, son of a famous politician, pulled out a .22 pistol and murdered Jessica in cold blood.
Manu and his thug henchmen managed to escaped the party, but were later arrested, brought to trial and found not guilty in spite of eye witnesses attesting to Manu’s guilt. It was an audacious case of corruption, of political power prevailing over justice. Instead, Bina Ramani became the scapegoat for public outrage. Both Manu’s father’s political connections and an onslaught of Indian yellow journalism at its most outrageous – which is saying a lot when it comes to Indian yellow journalism -- conspired to point the finger at Bina, to a woman who “had it all,” as if, somehow, her association with the international elite automatically made her the underlying reason for a young drunk’s wanton violence on a defenseless woman. It was political deflection at its best.
After seven years of unjust and unremitting persecution to Bina and her family – including confiscation of passports, raids on her home (with leaks to the press about the contents of her lingerie drawer, among other salacious “news” bits), and a brief incarceration -- Bina was finally vindicated. In December of 2006, the trial court judgment was overturned, and Manu Sharma was found guilty of having murdered Lal. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The murder of Jessica Lal, of course, has been told a thousand times with varying degrees of veracity. Two years ago, Bollywood made a B-movie with a laughably mischaracterized Bina Ramani, who was portrayed as a simpering coward. If there is one thing Ramani is not, it’s a coward. In the event, now, finally, the reader can hear the real story from the person who was best qualified to report the events of that fateful night.
But this book is so much more than that. Bina Ramani’s autobiography is a front-row-seat view of how a female grew up in the deeply conservative nascence of independent India, yet managed to navigate her way to her own fiercely independent sense of self-worth. It’s a no-apology account steeped in courage.
Bird in a Banyan Tree: My Story, by Bina Ramani
CLICK HERE to order your copy at Amazon
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Rupa Publishers (November 1, 2013)
March 21, 2014
Originally published in The New Indian Express, March 20, 2014, by colleague Jayadeva Ranade.
After a hiatus of many months, there are indications to suggest that Beijing could be contemplating some initiative on the Tibet issue. These could comprise overtures to the Dalai Lama’s establishment in Dharamsala in conjunction with the ongoing efforts to acquire and consolidate influence among Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal and the Indo-Himalayan border belt, and efforts to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) grip on the troubled Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas in adjoining provinces.
Reports indicate channels have been activated between Beijing and the Tibetan establishment in Dharamsala. At least three were active in the past few months. One was direct, one was via Taiwan and the third, which was finally aborted, was through a South East Asian capital.
The CCP leadership under Xi Jinping also continues to accord priority to the Tibet issue. Interesting was the 7,500-word article written by Xi Jinping’s mother Qi Xin on the occasion of the birth centennial of Xi Jinping’s father and former Chinese Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun. Publicised by Zhongguo Qingnian Bao (China Youth Daily) and the official People’s Daily on November 6, 2013, just prior to the Third Party Plenum, Qi Xin’s article was laced with subtle references suggesting Buddhism’s influence on Xi Jinping’s family. The Third Party Plenum, incidentally, saw the further accretion of authority by Xi Jinping, who will head the newly created apex security organisation—the National Security Committee (NSC). There is speculation in Beijing that the NSC could usurp the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)’s jurisdiction over the Tibet issue.
Internal intellectual debate on the issue is also discernible. Wang Lixiong, the Han Chinese husband of well-known Beijing-based Tibetan blogger Woeser, commented on an article by Liu Junning published in the Chinese edition of the Wall Street Journal on March 4, 2014. In his article entitled Rethinking the Policy of Regional Nationality Autonomy in Light of the Kunming Incident, Liu Junning, a researcher at the Institute of Chinese Culture, a subsidiary of China’s ministry of culture, blamed China’s worsening nationality problem on the disparate treatment of the minorities. He said regional nationality autonomy and demarcations between nationalities had resulted in their estrangement. Earlier, Ma Rong, a Chinese scholar of the department of sociology, Peking University, had urged the elimination of regional nationality autonomy and distinctions between nationalities. Describing these as “root causes” for the “escalation in nationality enmity and conflict”, Wang Lixiong argued that special safeguards for minority nationalities cannot be disregarded. Citing differences in their characters, he said “the character of the Han is to pursue profits first, while Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols are more inclined to pursue religious beliefs and happiness. This doesn’t allow them to mix well in the big market economy pot with over a billion Han; it’s like forcing monks to fight with soldiers”. Recommending immigration controls, safeguarding the environment, continuing cultural traditions and safeguarding religious beliefs, Wang Lixiong asserted that without the protection of regional nationality autonomy “any one of China’s nationalities would be hard pressed to avoid being wiped away without a trace by the Han who outnumber them by a hundred thousand to one”.
He cautioned if regional nationality autonomy is abolished then the “Middle Way Approach” advocated by the Dalai Lama for decades will be meaningless, and a future democratic China will have nothing with which “to dispel the nationality hatreds that have been engendered by autocratic oppression”. Stating that Uyghurs believe the “Dalai Lama has caused Tibetans to waste 30 years without achieving any results”, he said the recent arrest of Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti confirmed to them that the “Middle Way Approach” is just wishful thinking.
There has also been a loosening of restrictions, apparently with Beijing’s tacit approval, on Tibetan Buddhist sects organising functions in Nepal. The Sakya tradition and all its various sub-sects was, after many decades, permitted to organise Monlam celebrations in Lumbini. This is the only Tibetan Buddhist sect to so far have been granted such permission. The gesture would be aimed at accentuating the divisions among the different Tibetan Buddhist religious sects. It implicitly undermines the authority of the Dalai Lama by drawing attention to Kathmandu’s unwillingness to allow him to visit Buddha’s birthplace till he effects a reconciliation with the CCP leadership in Beijing.
China’s abiding interest in Nepal and, particularly the Buddha’s birthplace of Lumbini on the India-Nepal border, is evident in the China Buddhist Association’s decision to redevelop Lumbini. This follows the failure of the Chinese government-sponsored Asia-Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation (APECF) to obtain approval for its US$3 billion project for Lumbini’s re-development. The project envisages monasteries, hotels and an airport.
For detailed information about the APECF proposal, link to my series of Lumbini articles and interviews here: LUMBINI
An important development reinforcing Beijing’s authority in the selection of high ranking lamas and “reincarnates” is Beijing’s recognition of the reincarnation of Penor Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa tradition and approval for his enthronement. The information was first disclosed in a statement issued on December 5, 2013, by the Namdrol Ling Monastery in Bylakkupe. It revealed that the reincarnation of Penor Rinpoche, former head of the Nyingma sect which is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, was found in Tibet five years after his passing. The reincarnation was found by a senior lama in Tibet at a sacred location near Lhasa, based on a “prophecy letter” sent by 100-year-old Jadrel Rinpoche. The new reincarnation will be formally enthroned in Tibet’s Palyul Monastery as its 12th throne-holder on July 31. Beijing’s move leaves the Dalai Lama, who has no formal authority to approve the heads of other Tibetan Buddhist traditions, with little choice but to acknowledge the new Beijing-recognised reincarnate Penor Rimpoche. China will undoubtedly cite this as a precedent for any future case relating to the Dalai Lama.
February 27, 2014
“Promulgating a new constitution within a year” is the newest government’s avowed priority, as it has been for the previous five short-lived governments, which have come and gone since 2008, the year of Nepal’s first post-war elections.
The Maoists dominated the first post-war assembly, but has faltered ever since. In the latest November 2013 elections, their party came in third.
• Information and Communications
• Urban Development
• Federal Affairs and Local Development
• Housing, Physical Planning and Transport
• Peace and Reconstruction
• Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
• Foreign Affairs
• General Administration
• Health and Population
• Culture and Tourism
• Forest and Soil Conservation
• Youth and Sports
• Land Reforms
Other ministries such as cooperatives and poverty alleviation, labour, industry, commerce and supplies, science and technology and women, children and social welfare will be offered to the fringe parties.
February 19, 2014
Originally published in The New Indian Express, February 18, 2014, by colleague Jayadeva Ranade.
After Beijing adopted a new policy for the conduct of relations towards its neighbours, or what Chinese analysts call “peripheral diplomacy” last October, Nepal’s importance has grown. Beijing has also broadened the scope of its political interactions and it has now seemingly opted to take on the role of mediator in Nepal’s domestic politics. Since the 1980s Beijing had avoided involvement, or interference, in a country’s internal affairs except, till recently, in the cases of Sudan and Myanmar. Beijing’s new “activism” in Nepal’s domestic politics threatens to adversely tip the delicate balance that Nepal’s political leaders have thus far maintained with India.
The unsettled domestic political situation in Nepal offers Beijing fresh opportunities to deepen and consolidate influence in that country. Considerations of security continue to be among the primary drivers, with Beijing extremely wary that Tibetans settled in Nepal could indulge in what it perceives as “anti-China” activities. Beijing remains apprehensive that Nepal, which has a 1,400km border with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), could be used as a springboard by “hostile powers”—short-hand for the US—for fomenting unrest inside Tibet.
A succession of high-level visits from various departments of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and government that Kathmandu witnessed over the past year point to China’s steadily growing interest. On an average, at least two Chinese delegations visited Kathmandu each month. The number has increased since October with four important Chinese delegations visiting Nepal in December alone. In 2011, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had, ignoring Nepal’s defence ministry’s advice to the contrary, established direct links with the Nepalese Army during the visit of PLA chief general Chen Bingde.
Two of the recent visits were more important. One was by a 10-member delegation led by Qiu Guoheng, former Chinese ambassador to Nepal and presently director general of external security in China’s ministry of foreign affairs (MFA), to Kathmandu in early December to ostensibly “understand” the new political developments.
The director general of external security in China’s MFA is especially responsible for monitoring activities relating to Tibetans and Uyghurs. Qiu Guoheng’s delegation included officials from the departments of public security, United Front, Tibetan affairs and the MFA. In a separate interview China’s current ambassador to Nepal, Wu Chuntai—formerly deputy director general of the MFA’s external security division—highlighted Beijing’s concern about the activities of Nepal-based Tibetans. He thanked Nepal for foiling any sort of penetration into Tibet via Nepal.
Quite unusually for a delegation led by an official, Qiu Guoheng met leaders of various political parties. Congratulating CPN-UML leader Jhala Nath Khanal for his party’s good performance in the recent elections, he conveyed that following the conference in Beijing last October on China’s “peripheral diplomacy”, Beijing had decided to revise upward the quantum of foreign assistance it gives to developing countries in its neighbourhood. Nepal and Pakistan, he assured, will particularly benefit. He added China would give added emphasis to economic development of the western region that would benefit Nepal.
This reference would be to the south-westerly branch of the old “Silk Road”, now proposed as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor. It begins in China’s Yunnan province and moves through Myanmar and Bangladesh to India’s northeast and across towards Turkey. China had also agreed to consider Nepal’s request for extending the 1,200km Qinghai-Lhasa-Shigatse railway to Kathmandu. Discussions are underway. Once completed, the railway will alter the geostrategic balance in the region.
The other important delegation was one led by vice-minister Ai Ping of the CCP Central Committee (CC)’s international liaison department. His three-day visit in mid-December is significant because he is reputed to be a close friend of UCPN Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda. Prachanda has close links with China and was responsible during his term as prime minister for giving Nepal’s foreign policy its pronounced pro-Beijing tilt. The setback to the UCPN, and Prachanda personally, at the recent elections in Nepal must be a cause for worry to Beijing. Reports state that Ai Ping spent considerable time with senior leaders of the UCPN and CPN-Maoist and urged both parties to work together for drafting the constitution. He told CPN-Maoist founder chairman Mohan Bahidya that relations with China would remain good provided the CPN-Maoist cooperates with the UCPN. He advised Nepali leaders, including Sushil Koirala, that if Nepal has fewer federal provinces it would find it more economical and easier to manage. China is concerned that federalism based on ethnic lines will weaken its influence. It apprehends that this could also create instability in Nepal and spark tension in TAR.
China has advanced its interests on other fronts too and, by the last fiscal 575 Chinese companies had received approval from the department of industry for foreign direct investment (FDI). FDI from India remains highest totalling `37.6 billion compared to `10.6 billion from China. Huawei and ZTE already have a monopoly in the telecom infrastructure sector. China’s focus is on Nepal’s hydropower, tourism and agriculture. Tourism-related sectors are other areas of China’s interest. Negotiations are also underway for direct flights between China and Nepal by a fourth Chinese airline and China has agreed to give Nepal a concessional loan for the purchase of six aircraft. While the increasing number of Chinese tourists to Nepal would be a major economic incentive, it would also give Beijing additional leverage over Nepal.
At the same time Nepal’s tour operators are unhappy that the government continues to deny them permission for trekking and mountaineering activities in areas like Upper Mustang and Upper Dolpo, because of objections from Beijing. Chinese travel agencies, however, bring tourists to places like Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.
Meanwhile, Nepal continues to be important to Beijing’s efforts to undermine the Dalai Lama’s authority among Tibetan Buddhists. A visiting senior Chinese official told a Nepalese journalist “we visit Nepal because you have Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha”. Recent reports signal the China Buddhist Association, of which the Beijing-selected 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu is a vice-president, will take over a project for the development of Lumbini. Originally mooted by a Chinese NGO as a US $3 billion project, it is now less ambitious, but its plans also envisage an airport and allocating land to various Tibetan Buddhist high lamas and sects.
Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and formeradditional secretary in the cabinet secretariat, Indian government.
February 17, 2014
The following article was originally published by the Nepali Times under title “Trespassing into Nature” (January 24-30 edition), co-written by Bhrikuti Rai and Sunir Pandey.
When Finance Minister Shankar Koirala presented the annual budget last July, he highlighted “projects of national pride” that he said would be the “lifeline for the economy”.
Besides hydropower and irrigation projects, he unveiled the East-West Electric Railway and the Tarai Hulaki Highway. No one would argue against more efficient mass transit along the Tarai, but the proposed route of the two projects cut through Chitwan National Park, threatening tourism and decades of conservation that has rescued the tiger and rhino from the brink of extinction.
On paper, the idea of upgrading the East-West Highway completed 30 years ago makes sense, since more than half the country’s population now lives in the Tarai and the plains provide easier connectivity than the mountains.
All proposed alignments of the new railway, however, would slice through the sanctuary. Chitwan Valley lies in the Inner Tarai and unlike other parts of southern Nepal, does not have plains bordering India to its south. The national park and its buffer zones therefore lay astride the proposed railroad alignments.
“What will remain of the national park when we have trains passing across the protected areas in 10 years?” rues Chief Warden Kamal Jung Kunwar of Chitwan National Park.
A feasibility study prepared in 2010 for the East-West Railway first took the tracks along the foot of the Someswor Hills near the famous Tiger Tops Resort in Meghauli. But that region is an important corridor for wildlife migration and the national park objected to it, proposing that the railway alignment follow the current Hetauda-Bharatpur road which skirts the park.
“There is no rationale for building a road or railway through one of the world’s most outstanding and successfully operating national parks,” says Hemanta Mishra, Nepal’s foremost tiger and rhino conservationist and architect of the Chitwan National Park in 1973. “A railway line and a road through the park without a comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment would undo 40 years of investment by the government, private sector, and the local community.”
A leaked detailed project report (DPR) prepared by the Department of Railways and obtained by Nepali Times shows various routes have been proposed, all of which cut through the sanctuary (see online). One of the routes involves digging two tunnels 14km and 11km long, but has been abandoned because of cost. The report most favours an alignment that will take the railway south along the Madi to Jagatpur track, across the Narayani in Amarapuri, then south-west across the Chure Hills to Tribeni (see map below).
Chief Warden Kunwar doesn’t understand why the railway has to go through the park at all when it could easily follow the existing East-West Highway. He says the impact of the road and railway would be what has been seen on the Tikauli jungle corridor where traffic has seriously disturbed wildlife. “If we cut the national park into pieces with road and rail, it will discourage animals from breeding and reduce the number of tigers and rhinos,” he says.
Eco-tourism activists are also worried about the potential impact of a reduction of wildlife and drop in visitor numbers to Chitwan. More than 150,000 people visited the national park in 2013, bringing in revenue of over Rs 177 million in entry fees alone.
Director General of the Department of Railways Rajeswor Man Singh, however, says it is too early to say with certainty if the railway will go through the park. “We still haven’t prepared a final report and we will recommend the contractor to take all precautions to make sure the national park is not disturbed.”
Additional leaked portions of the east-west railway DPR:
The department doesn’t seem to want to follow the exiting East-West Highway because it will add about 30km to the length and prefers a shortcut through the park. If that happens, the question will be which route would be the least harmful to the reserve. In the future, Bharatpur will be a strategic hub for not just east-west transportation, but also the shortest rail connection between Uttar Pradesh in India and Kerung in Tibet. Already five km of railtrack has been commissioned westward from Simara and the department is requisitioning land along the proposed route and five border links to Indian railways.
Some conservationists think a railway cutting through Chitwan is inevitable and are proposing underpasses for wildlife and fencing to reduce disturbances. Says former Chief Warden Jhamak Karki: “There are examples from around the world of roads and trains cutting through protected areas and there are ways to ease friction between conservation and development.”
The balancing act
Jhamak Karki, former chief warden of Chitwan National Park, was labelled ‘anti-development’ when he protested the construction of the bridge connecting Ghailaghari and Kasara in 2001. Two years later, the Rapti River flooded the bordering Jagatpur VDC killing nine and destroying 10km of canal, 180 metres embankment transmission line, and 10km of National Park fencing.
“If it wasn’t for the short-sightedness of the planners, people wouldn’t have lost their lives. The bridge should have been built five kilometres downstream,” explains Karki. “The state cannot afford to neglect the well-being of local communities and the environment when building infrastructure.”
Ramiya Chaudhary (pic, above) of Ghailaghari is among the hundreds who lost their land and property in the 2003 disaster. “The river destroyed everything and I lived at make shift tents after the flood,” she says. “It took me more than year to build a new house.”
The current chief warden of the park, Kamal Jung Kunwar, now worries that bridges being built for roads and railways might overlook social costs in the name of reducing construction costs and there might be a repeat of the Ghailaghari tragedy.
Passing the buck
It is not just the prospect of trains roaring through the Chitwan National Park that is giving conservationists nightmares, it is the construction of feeder roads that will soon crisscross the sanctuary in eight locations (see map).The Ministry of Infrastructure Development awarded a contract for a bridge across the Narayani inside the reserve for the road, but after the park objected, the bridge was shifted further upstream.
“Upgrading the feeder roads around Chitwan and Narayani River will cut through the national park and the government is trying to circumvent the Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environment Assessment despite our constant reminders,” says Chief Warden Kamal Jung Kunwar.
The Hulaki Road network is an Indian-assisted project launched in 2006 and entails upgrading old postal and feeder roads, totalling over 1,450km across the Tarai. The Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES) is involved in the Rs 11 billion project that is designed to improve connectivity in the Tarai.
Project chief Bijendra Bade Shrestha insists that the proposed route of the feeder roads in Chitwan National Park can be changed based on an Environment Impact Assessment. Shrestha says his office has asked the park to conduct the study, while Kunwar says he has received no such request.
February 5, 2014
As of the beginning of this month, with the additional presence of 887 personnel deployed to South Sudan, Nepal has become the seventh largest troop-contributing nation for UN peacekeeping missions – 100,142 to date and still counting.
The Nepal Army’s reputation for outstanding service in UN Peace Support Operations goes back 56 years, beginning in 1958, when Nepali military observers were deployed to Lebanon. Since then, Nepal Army personnel have served in 40 UN missions, during which 59 Nepali peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
Currently, over 3,700 Nepal Army peacekeepers are serving in 13 different UN missions, in 12 countries: Sudan, South Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, DR Congo, Liberia, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Israel, Morocco, Syria and Mali. The Nepal Army also has four officers in the UN HQ and liaison officers at Tampa Bay, Florida.
Recent deployment of Nepalis to South Sudan
The recent increase in Nepali peacekeepers deployed to South Sudan follows an eruption of internal violence in mid-December 2013. Basically, two tribal factions – President Kiir and the Dinka tribe versus the former vice-president Riek Machar and the Nuer tribe – who, previously united in the multi-decade war against the North, are now fighting each other.
But it’s far more complicated than that. For an in-depth analysis, see Mahmood Mamdani’s essay for Al Jazeera:
As for Darfur, peacekeepers in UNAMID (African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur), find themselves in a deteriorating situation. According to Dane Smith, former U.S. special adviser for Darfur, “It’s kind of open season on UNAMID.”
UNAMID has a mandate to use force to "protect its personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its own personnel and humanitarian workers." But it is squeezed in by both rebel fighters and the government, which has armed Arab militias, according to the U.N. resolutions setting out UNAMID's mission. Around 50 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed to date. And, (again, according to Dane Smith), Sudanese authorities make no effort to arrest culprits.
In the meantime, Nepal Army’s continuing contribution to foreign arenas of armed strife is widely recognized, admired and appreciated by the international community – something of which every citizen in Nepal can be proud.
As Brigadier General Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, spokesman of Nepal Army, recently pointed out: “NA peacekeepers have good reputation and recognition in upholding international peace and security and have been performing well as Force Commanders in various peacekeeping missions.”
The general’s understatement is as modest as it is classy.
January 27, 2014
The appalling mistreatment of Nepali migrant workers in Doha, Qatar -- despite reform promises from it’s government and FIFA’s “concern” -- continues, apparently unabated.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) recently predicted that up to 4000 migrant workers could die before the 2022 World Cup, if meaningful reforms are not established. According to their documents the total number of verified deaths among workers from Nepal – just one of several countries that supply hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to the gas-rich state – is now at least 382 in two years alone. At least 36 of those deaths were registered in the weeks following the global outcry over migrant worker abuse in Qatar, revealed by the Guardian in September 2013.
The revelations forced FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter – continually dogged by allegations of corruption – to promise that football would not turn a blind eye to the issue following a stormy executive committee meeting. To date, his promise had produced no results.
Because of political instability, high unemployment rate and other issues, over 450,000 Nepalis annually migrate to foreign countries. Nearly 1500 people leave the country for foreign employment every day.
Nepalis make up about a sixth of Qatar's 2 million-strong population of migrant workers. Verified figures for the 2013 death rates among those from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere have yet to emerge.
For video CLICK HERE Warning: graphic material.
The Nepali organization working with the families of dead workers to repatriate their bodies and campaign for adequate compensation from the companies that employed them under the kafala sponsorship system said on Friday that Fifa should do more.
The Pravasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee (PNCC), which has cross-checked the figures from official sources in Doha against death certificates and passports, is still receiving new cases on a regular basis. The Guardian has seen evidence of at least a further eight cases, which would take the 2013 total to 193.
The PNCC called on Fifa's sponsors to reconsider their relationship with world football's governing body, which awarded the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010.
"Fifa and the government of Qatar promised the world that they would take action to ensure the safety of workers building the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. This horrendous roll call of the dead gives the lie to those reassurances," said the PNCC. "These were young or otherwise able-bodied men, with their futures in front of them, families at home and everything to live for. Many have been literally worked to death. Some have met with even more sinister ends. All have been betrayed by Fifa."
The Guardian investigation last year revealed that at least 44 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar between 4 June and 8 August, more than half of them of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents. But the full list of deaths recorded during the year, collated by the Nepalese NGO from official sources and documents in Doha and seen by the Guardian, shows that the actual figure is much higher.
In June, July and August alone 65 deaths were recorded by the PNCC during summer months when temperatures can regularly top 40C. The causes included traffic accidents, blunt injuries and fractures ascribed to falls and suicide. But more than 65 of the deaths in 2013 are ascribed to "sudden cardiac arrests" and more than half to some kind of heart failure. Campaigners believe the cause of death is often officially listed as a cardiac arrest because it covers a "multitude of sins".
Asked last year by the Guardian why so many young Nepalese men died of heart attacks, the Qatari labour ministry said: "This question would be better suited for the relevant health authorities or the government of Nepal."
As long ago as 2011, Fifa said it would work with the International Trade Union Confederation to address labour issues with the Qatari authorities. "We have a responsibility that goes beyond the development of football and the organisation of our competition," Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke said in November 2011.
But the ITUC has remained a strident critic of the lack of progress made by Qatari authorities on the issue, while groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have continued to highlight the appalling conditions suffered by some of the workers in a £137bn construction boom.
In November, Amnesty warned in a damning report that workers were enduring 12-hour days in sweltering conditions and living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation. The ITUC has warned that up to 4,000 workers may die before a ball is kicked in 2022 without meaningful reform of the kafala system and stringent control of the myriad construction companies and sub-contractors involved.
After the global outcry that followed the Guardian's coverage, Blatter travelled to meet the Emir of Qatar and declared it was "on the right track" in dealing with the issue. But following a meeting with the ITUC in Zurich a month later, Fifa said that "fair working conditions with a lasting effect must be introduced quickly".
The PNCC, which has painstakingly cross-checked death certificates and other documentation with official records in Doha, said Fifa and the Qatari government needed to move faster: "Fifa president Sepp Blatter said in October there was 'plenty of time' to address this issue. For the labourers dying every week in Qatar to build the infrastructure to host Mr Blatter's World Cup, there is no time left."
Attention is also turning to the role of Fifa's sponsors, with the PNCC joining calls for them to review their relationship with it. Visa and Adidas recently signed new deals until 2022. "Qatar's failure to disclose or explain these deaths, and Fifa's failure to monitor them, are alarming in the extreme. We call upon the World Cup's corporate sponsors – Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa, Hyundai and Budweiser – urgently to review their arrangements with Fifa," a spokesman said.
Last month the London mayor, Boris Johnson, travelled to Doha to drum up trade for British business. Foreign Office minister Hugh Robertson held talks with the Qataris aimed at boosting trade and said the UK would "offer support" in delivering the 2022 World Cup.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office insisted the issue of migrant workers was also raised. "Mr Robertson discussed the issue of migrant workers with the Qatari authorities during his recent visit," he said."
But the PNCC said that the flow of coffins returning to Kathmandu airport, which continued throughout December, even on Christmas Day, told its own story. "Thanks to the work of the Guardian and other media, this abuse is finally being exposed," said the PNCC spokesman.
"We call upon civilised governments as a matter of the greatest urgency to demand that Qatar takes meaningful action to protect foreign workers on its soil – including reform of the kafala system of labour, which encourages employers to treat their workers as property rather than human beings."
The full list of deaths recorded between January and September 2012, also seen by the Guardian, shows that at least 127 Nepalese nationals died during that period and there are believed to have been at least another 70 fatalities during the final three months of that year.
January 23, 2014
On January 21, New Indian Express published “Aim of China’s Military Reforms”, by Jayadeva Ranade. It analyses China’s impending military changes – very significant restructuring, actually – and the likely impact on its Asian neighbors.
Modernisation of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has entered the final stage of its current phase. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Third Plenum, which was held in November 2013 and represents a major advance in China’s reforms, provided a substantive push to the PLA’s modernisation when it approved proposals for major organisational restructuring. The reforms coincide with China’s continuing assertiveness that has unsettled its neighbours.
Appointments to the Central Military Commission (CMC) effected earlier by the CCP’s 18th Congress in Beijing in November 2012 accelerated the drive to strengthen and modernise the 2.3 million-strong PLA. Within days of his appointment as the CMC chairman, Xi Jinping not only endorsed the military modernisation policies of his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, but also began bluntly advocating more rapid modernisation and technological upgrade of the PLA.
The organisational reforms approved by the CCP’s Third Plenum indicate that changes are imminent in the PLA’s command structure comprising the four principal departments and seven military regions. The PLA Navy (PLAN), PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and China’s strategic missile strike force, namely the Second Artillery, have clearly been allotted an enhanced operational role and will receive priority in allocation of budgets and manpower. Personnel of the Second Artillery, PLAAF and PLAN already receive higher salaries than their counterparts in the PLA’s ground forces. Within days of the Third Plenum, CMC vice-chairman and till recently the PLAAF commander, Xu Qiliang, wrote an article in the party mouthpiece People’s Daily confirming the reforms will be implemented. He mentioned that the number of non-combatants would be drastically reduced and that the reforms would enable the PLA to win wars.
Quite separately, reports filtering out of Beijing and disclosed initially in the solitary official English-language China Daily, suggest that plans have been finalised to merge the military regions. These envisage reorganising the seven military regions into five “combat zones” (zhan chu) within the next five years. Over the past few years China’s military literature has hinted at such impending change with occasional references to “Theatre Commands”. The reorganisation is intended to concentrate firepower and troops trained for a specific type of warfare within a single theatre or zone for ease of rapid deployment. Land and sea warfare forces are to be grouped separately. This reorganisation gives the PLA a definite “outward orientation” neatly meshing with its doctrine of “active defence”.
According to these reports, the three mainly coastal military regions of Jinan, Nanjing and Guangzhou are to be converted into three “combat zones”. Adopting a mainly maritime role, their primary objective will be to reinforce China’s efforts to establish dominance over the East China Sea and South China Sea and face up to the US-Japan alliance. By 2020, all three zones will be reinforced by three aircraft carrier combat groups. Reports suggest existing aircraft carrier Liaoning will be deployed in the East China Sea, while the other two aircraft carriers will be in the South China Sea. Interestingly on January 1, Xinhua showed pictures of Liaoning returning to its home base in Qingdao after month-long exercises in the South China Sea, but avoided mention of the run-in with the US-guided missile warship USS Cowpens.
In April 2013, Xinhua reported Rear Admiral Song Xue, deputy chief of staff of the PLA Navy, saying a second aircraft carrier was under construction. He told foreign military attaches that it would be larger and carry more fighter aircraft. On January 18, 2014, party secretary of Liaoning province Wang Min disclosed China’s second domestically-produced aircraft carrier is being built at Dalian and would be ready in six years.
The four inland military regions of Shenyang, Beijing, Chengdu and Lanzhou are to similarly be merged into two large combat zones. Chengdu and Lanzhou both exercise operational jurisdiction over the India-China border. Each of the two new zones will have units of the PLA Navy, Air Force and Second Artillery integral to them. They will function under a new unified combat command. These reports also disclose that the PLA’s 300,000 non-combatant personnel will be eliminated by 2022. Though China’s ministry of defence denied the reports, it is pertinent that mention was first made in China Daily and that its contents are generally in consonance with Xu Qiliang’s assertion in People’s Daily and the reforms approved at the CCP CC’s Third Plenum.
Rapid advances have also been made in the indigenous development of advanced defence technology and hardware in the past three years. Emphasis was underscored with the appointment of General Zhang Youxia, a known proponent of indigenous development of modern advanced defence technology, as director of the PLA’s General Armaments Department (GAD) in October 2012. The latest development was the announcement on January 9 that China had conducted the first flight test of a new hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed the WU-14 by the Pentagon, thus becoming one of five nations to possess this capability. The hypersonic vehicle, capable of travelling at speeds between Mach 8 and 12, represents a major advance in China’s secretive strategic nuclear and conventional military and missile programmes. China had in May 2012 opened a new JF12 shockwave hypersonic wind tunnel—the largest of its kind—that replicates flying conditions between Mach 5 and 9.
Also this month, pictures of the new two-seater J-16 stealth fighter built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation were posted online. Slated to first be inducted by PLAN and later the PLAAF, the J-16 is loaded with eight tons of air-to-air and anti-ship missiles and has a combat radius of several hundred miles, enabling it to help Chinese warships battle for control of regional waters claimed by China. Some reports claim two dozen J-16 are ready for induction.
These military reforms will give the PLA an outward focus, implying that “recovery” of territories claimed by Beijing will be a central feature of China’s strategic agenda. They will reinforce diplomacy aimed at realising “China’s Dream”. Xi Jinping, meanwhile, continues to further tighten his and the CCP’s grip on the PLA. An important example is the Third Plenum approving the PLA being brought within the ambit of the party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission.
Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary in the cabinet secretariat, Indian government.
December 3, 2013
As reported by Gani Ansari for REPUBLICA, Dec. 3, 2013
KATHMANDU, Dec 3: The Election Commission (EC) has allocated Constituent Assembly seats to the political parties, under the proportional representation (PR) electoral system.
The constitutional body on Monday finalized the allocation of all 335 seats, five days after the PR vote count concluded.
The commission is scheduled to make public on Tuesday the allocations of PR seats to the political parties, after holding discussions with them.
According to one election commissioner, altogether 30 political parties, which have secured over 21,000 PR votes each, are going to make it to the new CA.
As per the allocations of PR seats, 20 parties have each secured more than two seats while 10 parties have secured one seat each.
Altogether 122 political parties had contested under the PR electoral system in the CA election held on November 19.
Earlier, the EC had stated that 31 political parties, which have secured over 18,000 PR votes, would make it to the new CA.
Asked why fewer parties will be in the new CA, the commissioner told Republica, “It is because of the increase in the total number of valid PR votes after verification.”
According to the final allocation sheet prepared by the EC, Nepali Congress (NC), which has emerged as the largest party under the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) electoral system with 105 seats, has secured 91 PR seats.
CPN-UML, which is in second position under FPTP with 91 seats, has secured 84 seats under the PR electoral system.
UCPN (Maoist) has secured 54 PR seats. The party won 26 seats under the FPTP system.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which has not bagged any seat under FPTP, is in fourth position with 24 PR seats.
Madhesi People´s Rights Forum-Democratic (MPRF-D) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party have secured 10 PR seats each.
Upendra Yadav led MPRF-Nepal has bagged 8 PR seats while the Mahantha Thakur-led Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP) has secured 7 seats under the PR electoral system.
Three political parties--Federal Socialist Party, CPN (Marxist-Leninist) and Sadbhawana Party-- have bagged 5 seats each under the PR system.
The EC´s seat allocation sheet shows that four political parties--Rastriya Janamorcha, CPN (Samayukta), Nepal Workers Peasants Party and National Madhes Socialist Party--have secured 3 seats each.
Likewise, 10 political parties--Sanghiya Lokatantrik Rastriya Manch (Tharuhat), Samajbadi Janata Party, Nepali Janata Dal, MPRF-Republican, Nepaa Rastriya Party, Sanghiya Sadbhawana Party, Khambuwan Rastriya Morcha Nepal, Akhanda Nepal Party, Janajagaran Party Nepal and Madhes Samata Party Nepal--have bagged one PR seat each.
Out of the total of 9,463,862 valid PR votes, 92 political parties which have not bagged any seat secured 551,404 votes.
EC officials said that the commission will provide political parties seven days for submitting lists of their respective PR candidates for seat allocations and another three days to make any corrections in their respective lists.
As per the provision on inclusiveness under the PR electoral system, political parties that are allocated up to 30 percent of the total of 335 PR seats should send 50 percent male members and 50 percent females.
Similarly, political parties that are allocated over 30 percent of PR seats should send 50 percent women members, 31.2 percent Madhesi members (women and men 15.6 percent each), 13 percent Dalits (women, men 6.5 percent each), 37.8 percent indigenous (women, men 18.9 percent each), 4 percent from backward regions (women, men 2 percent each) and 30.2 percent Khas and Aryan (women and men 15.1 percent each).
UCPN (Maoist), Madhesi parties to boycott EC meet
Taking strong exception to the EC´s decision not to review the poll results, the disgruntled parties have decided to boycott the all-party meeting called by the constitutional body for Tuesday.
A meeting of the disgruntled parties, including UCPN (Maoist), TMDP, TMDP-Nepal, Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party (TMSP), Sadbhawana Party (SP) and Federal Socialist Party, on Monday decided not to attend the EC´s meeting.
“We have decided to boycott the EC´s meeting as they ignored our demand to form an independent commission to probe poll irregularities,” Co-chairman of SP Laxman Lal Karna, who was present at the meeting chaired by UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, told Republica.
Karna maintained that the disgruntled parties believe the voting was massively rigged ´in an effort to ensure the victory of status-quoist parties´.
“We demand the formation of a commission to probe the entire voting process and address the allegations we have made,” he added.
December 2, 2013
For the first time, scientists have uncovered archaeological evidence of when the Buddha's life occurred. Excavations completed in Nepal, have positively dated a Buddhist shrine in Lumbini that dates back to the sixth century B.C.
Lumbini was the birthplace of the historical Buddha.
The research, published in Antiquity Journal, describes the remains of a timber structure about the same size and shape as a temple built at the same site in the third century B.C.
From Antiquity Journal, December 2013 issue: Key locations identified with the lives of important religious founders have often been extensively remodelled in later periods, entraining the destruction of many of the earlier remains. Recent UNESCO-sponsored work at the major Buddhist centre of Lumbini in Nepal has sought to overcome these limitations, providing direct archaeological evidence of the nature of an early Buddhist shrine and a secure chronology. The excavations revealed a sequence of early structures preceding the major rebuilding by Asoka during the third century BC. The sequence of durable brick architecture supplanting non-durable timber was foreseen by British prehistorian Stuart Piggott when he was stationed in India over 70 years ago. Lumbini provides a rare and valuable insight into the structure and character of the earliest Buddhist shrines.
"This is one of those rare occasions when belief, tradition, archaeology and science actually come together," Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University in UK and co-director of the archeological team working in Lumbini, said at a press briefing Monday.
It is a very significant contribution in verifying that the Buddha's actual life overlapped with the popularly recognized time frame of 563-483 B.C.
"We know the entirety of the shrine sequence started in the sixth century B.C., and this sheds light on a very long debate," Coningham added.
Kosh Prasad Acharya (former Director General of Nepal’s Department of Archaeology, and currently Executive Director of the Pashupati Area Development Trust) said that in order to establish the actual date of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, his team had tested fragments of charcoal and grains of sand from the site, using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.
Geo-archaeological research has confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temples central void. They had also sent fragments of the charcoal and the sand grains to a laboratory in the UK for cross checks and final confirmation.
Evidence of a shrine revering a tree is extremely significant, from a Buddhist point of view: According to Buddhist tradition, Queen Maya Devi, mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree at the Lumbini gardens, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and her parents.
“With the help of these findings, many other historical facts can come out,” said Acharya. “And I do want to clear the misconception of a few who think Buddha was born in India, as such discoveries at Lumbini will make it easier for them to accept the reality.”
Click here for my interview with KSOH PRASAD ACHARYA
Until now, the earliest Buddhist temples have been attributed to Emperor Ashoka, who in the 3rd century BC spread Buddhism across the region, as evidenced by his Pillar and brick built temple in Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage property since 1997.
“For the first time in South Asia, excavations have revealed a pre-Ashokan temple of brick, which itself was built over an earlier one of timber”, explained Professor Coningham at a press conference held in Kathmandu last week.
A team of Nepali and international experts worked together within the framework of a UNESCO project funded by the Government of Japan through the Japanese Funds in Trust for the Preservation of the World Cultural Heritage to UNESCO. The first phase of the project was completed this month.
Coningham also said that even older remains of a village dating back to as early as 1300 BC were found a few hundred meters south of Lord Buddha’s birthplace, pushing the date of the settlement of the region back by a thousand years.
“We have now very robust proof that Lumbini’s history extends far before the visit of Emperor Ashoka. The government of Nepal will step-up its efforts to preserve the outstanding universal value of the site”, says Sushil Ghimire, Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
“I am pleased that the project that the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu has implemented in close cooperation with the Lumbini Development Trust and the Department of Archaeology has resulted in such important discoveries”, says Axel Plathe, Head of the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and UNESCO Representative to Nepal.
Click here for my interview with AXEL PLATHE
The Lumbini site in Nepal is one of four principal locations that are believed to be connected with the Buddha's life. Bodh Gaya is where he is became enlightened, Sarnath is where he first preached and Kusinagara is where he died.
November 27, 2013
Results of Nepal’s elections for the second Constituent Assembly were declared on November 25. The Nepali Congress (NC) emerged as the single largest party, winning 105 of the 240 seats under the first-past-the-post category. By comparison, the NC won only 37 seats in the 2008 elections.
Second place goes to the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), better known as the UML, with 92 seats, a party that won a mere 30 seats in the previous election.
The Maoists received a drubbing. Their party, which prevailed in the 2008 elections with 120 seats, limped in this time with a humiliating 26 seats.
And no one was a bigger loser than Prachanda, leader of the Maoists, who couldn’t even win a seat in the Kathmandu constituency – although he did win a seat, by a narrow margin, from the southeastern distict of Siraha. Meanwhile, three family members – his brother, his daughter and his sister-in-law – were handed defeats as well.
The day after the elections, Prachanda called a press conference and pronounced that rigging had taken place all over the country, that is was an international conspiracy and that he demanded that the vote-counting process be halted immediately, otherwise his party would boycott the second Constituent Assembly.
The international community was unimpressed by Prachanda’s conspiracy theory. India, the United States and the European Union congratulated Nepal for conducting elections in a free and transparent manner – significantly helped by beefed-up security forces – and urged Prachanda to concede defeat and accept the poll results.
Even China made a significant diplomatic gesture, which indicated its approval of what it perceived as transparently held elections: Yesterday, the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Wu Chuntai, called on Nepali Congress Vice-President, Ram Chandra Poudal, and conveyed his best wishes for future improvements in peace, stability and development works.
Prachanda faced dissidence within his own party as well. A high-level Maoist meeting was convened on Saturday, during which the party's two deputies - Baburam Bhattarai and Narayankaji Shrestha - did not buy Prachanda's idea to boycott the Constituent Assembly. The party's agenda was still relevant, Bhattarai said in a statement. "I still believe that the agenda put forth by the UCPN-Maoist regarding the progressive transformation of the state and economic prosperity still holds true," he added. Bhattarai said his party "would opt for a legal battle in the cases involving poll irregularities in some constituencies" and launch a struggle through the assembly to implement its agenda.
The other big losers in the elections were the Madhesi parties. MJF (Loktantrik), a regional party from the southern plains, managed to get just four seats and its splinter party MJF (Nepal) won two. Before the split, these two parties had won 52 seats in the Tarai-Madhes region bordering southern neighbor India.
Elections to the Constituent Assembly were held under two categories -- first-past-the-post and proportional representation. A total of 240 seats were allocated in the first category and 365 seats in the proportional representation category. Counting for the second category -- proportional representation – is still underway.
The remaining 26 seats in the 601-member Constituent Assembly will be nominated by the newly created Cabinet at a later date.
November 23, 2013
Grant Will Help Create Tiger Corridors, Prevent Poaching and Help Communities
On the third anniversary of the historic Global Tiger Summit the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has awarded a 3 million grant to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for a bold initiative to help Nepal double its wild tiger numbers by 2022 - the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.
The grant will bolster WWF's work with the government of Nepal and local communities in Nepal's Terai Arc landscape to strengthen anti-poaching patrols, protect core areas for tiger breeding, restore critical corridors for their dispersal and expansion, and continuously monitor tiger populations. Previous support from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is already showing major results, growing the number of tigers in the Terai's Bardia National Park from an estimated 18 to 50 tigers.
The grant represents the first funds awarded from the successful Christie's 11th Hour Charity Auction in May, created by DiCaprio, which raised a record 38.8 million for conservation in a single night. DiCaprio has long been a passionate advocate for the environment and joined forces with WWF beginning in 2010 to launch Save Tigers Now, a global campaign to raise political, financial and public support to save tigers in the wild.
"Time is running out for the world's remaining 3,200 tigers, largely the result of habitat destruction and escalating illegal poaching," said Leonardo DiCaprio, a WWF Board member. "WWF, the government of Nepal and local communities are on the front lines of this battle and I am hopeful this grant will help them exceed the goal of doubling the number of these noble creatures in the wild."
"Leonardo DiCaprio defies expectations in leveraging his voice and influence to restore tigers and their habitat in one of the most hopeful places on Earth," said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "His foundation is all about delivering real results for conservation on the ground and empowering local communities; nowhere is that more evident than in Nepal. The numbers speak for themselves and we are grateful for our partnership."
Nepal is on target to become one of the first tiger range countries to achieve the 2010 Global Tiger Summit's goal of doubling wild tigers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022. The Terai Arc Landscape of Nepal, where the grant will be used, is 9,000 square miles and includes protected areas that are critical tiger, rhino and elephant habitat. The densely populated region is also home to nearly seven million people who depend on its natural resources for their livelihoods.
Tigers, elephants and rhinos in the Terai are losing habitat and falling victim to the illegal wildlife trade. The grant will allow park rangers to use sophisticated monitoring tools in conjunction with community policing and intelligence-gathering to tackle poaching. Basic park infrastructure, such as guard posts, will also be expanded and corridors between parks will be strengthened to give key species the freedom to roam and help grow new tiger populations across the Terai.
"Protecting a top predator like the tiger helps keep forests and grasslands intact, and ensures that other species like rhinos and elephants can thrive." said Justin Winters, the Executive Director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. "The most impressive part of this project - and the key to its success so far - is the true collaboration between WWF, the Nepal government and the local communities. Finding solutions that protect tigers and benefit local people is the only way to ensure long term success."
WWF and its partners will also use the grant to help local communities benefit from conservation by creating income-generating activities through tourism, handicrafts and organic vegetable production. The grant will also support insurance funds to help families cope with the loss of livestock to predators.
ABOUT WORLD WILDLIFE FUND
WWF is one of the world's leading conservation organizations, working in 100 countries for over half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit www.worldwildlife.org
ABOUT LEONARDO DICAPRIO FOUNDATION
Dedicated to protecting Earth's last wild places and fostering a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world. Since 1998, the Foundation has been working on pressing environmental and humanitarian issues through grant making, campaigning and media projects. Areas of focus include; wildlife and habitat preservation, healthy oceans, water access, climate change and disaster relief. The Foundation's strategic approach to philanthropy for a better planet relies upon active collaboration with effective organizations as well as with other funders who share our goals and can magnify our impact. In tandem with LDF's philanthropic efforts, the foundation uses digital media and Leonardo's website & social media channels to inform and rally the public on environmental issues. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is a component fund of the California Community Foundation. For more information visit www.leonardodicaprio.org
November 20, 2013
Yesterday, voters lined up hours early to elect the 601-member assembly that will act as a parliament and establish a government until a charter is ready. This was in spite of 33-party alliance led by a breakaway Maoist faction, which called for a boycott of the election. At least 30 people were wounded in small bomb blasts in the run-up to the vote.
The total number of voters who registered for this election declined to 12.1 million from 17.6 million in 2008, perhaps due to a mounting disappointment of politicians – regardless of party – and their lackluster performance during the last five years.
A previous attempt at writing a constitution after the 2008 election, which was dominated by Maoists, failed. Political parties were unable to agree on the form of government and the number of states to be carved out of the ethnically diverse country. Nepal had five governments in as many years as politicians formed and broke alliances.
Nevertheless, early calculations are that between 60 and 70 percent of the legal voters made it to the poll booths, regardless of renegade Maoist threats. This could be due, in part to the deployment of large numbers of police and army personnel. The Nepal Army had not taken part in security arrangements during the previous election.
India also contributed in security. It donated 764 vehicles to the Nepal government to ensure a free and fair election. It also sealed the India-Nepal border to thwart threats and violence unleashed by the CPN-Maoist alliance to disrupt the polls.
Preparations were also improved. This was the first time that elections were held with voters’ identity cars. Election materials reached all of the 18,400 polling booths well in advance. The government mobilized 200,000 security personnel, including the 60,000 soldiers.
Still, there is a widespread feeling among the voters that political instability will continue to plague Nepal in the near future.
Voting results may take a long as a week to be fully accounted for, particularly in the isolated mountain regions.
July 18, 2013
Nepali soldiers are currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo, MONUSCO. Last Sunday, they saw all too clearly how unstable and dangerous the situation can be.
Following reports of human rights abuses by ADF against civilians in Kamango district near Beni, a UN patrol comprising of Nepali and Jordanian troops was sent to assess the security situation in the area and address concerns related to the protection of civilians.
[The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is a rebel group opposed to the Ugandan government, based in western Uganda with rear bases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This month the ADF renewed its fighting in the Congolese district of Beni. According to the UN Radio Okapi, the ADF fought a pitched battle with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARD), briefly taking the towns of Mamundioma and Totolito. On July 11 the ADF attacked the town of Kamango, triggering the flight of over 60,000 refugees across the border into the Uganda.]
The Nepali-Jordanian patrol was sent out in response to the July 11 attack on citizens and was ambushed on route to Kamango, where it came under heavy fire from ADF elements. While MONUSCO troops successfully repelled the assault, two UN vehicles were damaged and three Nepalis were injured.
After receiving air support from two attack helicopters dispatched from Goma to Beni, the peacekeepers successfully carried out a counter ambush in which 10 ADF rebels were killed.
According to a statement issued by Nepal Army headquarters, the injured Nepalis were admitted to a hospital but are now out of danger.
A photograph of the air support was posted on MONUSCO’s facebook page, followed by the Nepali comments:
In response to Sunday’s clash, acting Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC, Moustapha Soumaré said, “MONUSCO will fulfill its mandate given by the UN Security Council to protect civilians”. On Monday, another patrol went to Kamango in order to pursue the objectives of the original patrol.
The fighting in the area has intensified since then.
Yesterday, July 17, after the DC Congo government reported 120 troops dead, at least
51 rebels were killed in response.
Some 800,000 people in DR Congo have fled fighting since rebels launched the rebellion last year.
July 17, 2013
Below is Jayadeva Ranada’s latest article, first published in Hindustan Times earlier this month. Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
The Dragon's Steely Grip
After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing has renewed its focus on Tibet, forced by the fact that discontent among Tibetans in the country is growing.
While some sections of the exiled Tibetan community speculate that Chinese President Xi Jinping would adopt a 'softer' policy towards them and the Dalai Lama, there are no indications that would happen in the near future.
On the contrary, the party's renewed emphasis on loyalty and political reliability has had an impact on the representation of Tibetans in the party. In 2011, Chen Quanguo, party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), confirmed that resource-rich Tibet would remain under central control.
He disclosed that surveillance has been strengthened across Tibet, financial inducements are being offered to monks and nuns and campaigns are underway in monasteries to help them adapt to a socialist society.
Security has been tightened and political power has been strengthened at all administrative levels by recruiting new party members from each village every year.
Despite these measures, the number of self-immolations in TAR and the Tibetan areas continue to mount, suggesting that Tibetans inside China are desperate. This has confused the Chinese leadership.
An analysis of the self-immolations by Wang Lixiong is revealing.[Wang Lixiong is a Chinese writer and scholar, best known for his writings on Tibet and provocative analysis of China's western region of Xinjiang. Wang is regarded as one of the most outspoken dissidents, democracy activists, and reformers in China. He is married to Woeser, the Tibetan poet and essayist.] It highlights that "courage and resilience" and "prayers for the Dalai Lama" are major motivating factors. It underscores that the core of the protest movement has shifted to Tibet and that Tibetans inside China have taken it up as their struggle.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) understands that there is a potential for increased unrest inside China and apprehend that the sentiments expressed by the protesting Tibetans could spread to the rest of the six million Tibetans.
It could as easily influence the majority Han population, notwithstanding the divide between them and the Tibetans, because of other existing dissatisfactions. An example is the essay by Tang Danhong, a Han Chinese poet and film-maker who now lives in Israel, which went viral on Chinese cyberspace in January. Her essay sought to express the desperation felt by the Tibetans in TAR.
To defuse the tension, Beijing has launched initiatives to win over Tibetan Buddhists settled in the Himalayan region with material inducements, undermine the Dalai Lama's influence and create schisms within the Tibetan community.
Two recent events indicate that China is probably reviewing its policy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. On June 3, the Hong Kong Tibetan and Han-Chinese Friendship Organisation invited the Dalai Lama to visit the city.
A suspected pro-Beijing front, it is headed by Philip Li Koi-hop, bankrupt former head of the Hong Kong North West Express Shipping Company and now reportedly a marine inspector.
The other is the interview of Jin Wei of the CCP Central Party School in Hong Kong's Asia Weekly on June 6. Under the direct control of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Central Party School is the institution for training upwardly mobile party cadres and those who teach there are routinely tested for 'political reliability'.
Jin Wei, who has a background in minority nationalities issues, reveals important aspects of the Chinese leadership's thinking on the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama. She recommended re-starting of talks between the CCP and the Dalai Lama's representatives — suspended since 2010 — and blamed the anti-religious bias of several TAR party secretaries for the discontent.
She suggested a separation of religion from politics but by describing the CCP's differences with "the Dalai Lama Clique" as "antagonistic and irreconcilable", she endorsed the continuation of Beijing's tough policy on Tibet.
She justified the resumption of talks, saying that the Dalai Lama is considered a 'living god' by six million Tibetans and China cannot 'treat him as an enemy'. Asserting that it is imperative to ensure the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in China, she cautioned that a failure to achieve this would have a "great impact on the stability and security of the Tibetan region".
She recommended tackling easy issues first while setting aside the 'Middle Way' and others. The Dalai Lama's visit to Hong Kong or Macau and even to Tibet could be considered at a later stage.
Commenting on the feelings of Tibetans towards the Dalai Lama, she disclosed that people had told her: "In this life I depend on the Communist Party, in the next life I depend on the Dalai Lama!"
She interpreted the worship of the Dalai Lama as something without any political significance and "Tibetan independence" as an empty phrase. Perhaps for the first time providing an insight into the CCP leadership's thinking on self-immolations, she admitted they had mutated into an ethnic conflict between the Chinese and the Tibetans.
Jin Wei's interview suggests that the CCP could project flexibility in policies primarily to ensure the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama inside China. At the same time, Xi Jinping defined the parameters for negotiations, including on Tibet, by declaring in January that "no foreign country should ever nurse hopes that we will bargain over our core national interests" and "nor should they nurse hopes that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harm to our country's sovereignty, security and development interests".
July 15, 2012
Nepal has stepped up security in Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, with security personnel frisking every tourist entering the central shrine, nearly a week after a terror attack occurred at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, the site where Buddha attained enlightenment.
An emergency meeting of the Lumbini Development Trust held on Thursday decided to step up the security for immediate and long-term purposes in Lumbini, which is enlisted in the World Heritage Site of the UNESCO.
Lumbini, where only a few policemen were deployed earlier, is now guarded by a team of additional 30 policemen under the command of a Police Inspector, according to officials.
Armed Police Force personnel have been mobilized in the shrine to avert any untoward incident, the police said.
Special security arrangements have been made in the area while in some border areas and checkpoints more security personnel have been mobilized in plain clothes.
Besides Lumbini, nearby places with Buddhist links have been put under high security watch, according to officials at the Lumbini Development Trust, the nodal organization to manage the affairs of Lumbini.
Each and every tourist is checked thoroughly before being allowed to enter the shrine in view of the recent security issues.
Even the internal security of the main temple of the area has been stepped up, according to the Trust officials.
UNESCO archeological discoveries of major historic importance
The heightened security follows on the heels of new excavations within the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal. UNESCO reports that they have revealed evidence of a series of shrines extending the history of the site to a much earlier date than previously known.
Until now, the earliest Buddhist temples have been attributed to Emperor Ashoka, who in the 3rd century BC spread Buddhism across the region, as evidenced by his Pillar and brick built temple in Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage property since 1997.
“For the first time in South Asia, excavations have revealed a pre-Ashokan temple of brick, which itself was built over an earlier one of timber”, says Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University in UK, who co-directed a team of Nepali and international experts together with Kosh Prasad Acharya, at a press conference in Kathmandu today.
The team worked with the framework of a UNESCO project funded by the Government of Japan through the Japanese Funds in Trust for the Preservation of the World Cultural Heritage to UNESCO. The first phase of the project was completed this month in Lumbini in Southern Nepal.
Coningham also said that even older remains of a village dating back to as early as 1300 BC were found a few hundred metres south of Lord Buddha’s birthplace, pushing the date of the settlement of the region back by a thousand years.
“These two discoveries are great steps which help us to better understand the origins of Lord Buddha’s life and the spiritual importance of Lumbini”, says Acharya Karma Sango Sherpa, the vice-chair the Lumbini Development Trust that looks after the preservation and management of the site.
“We have now very robust proof that Lumbini’s history extends far before the visit of Emperor Ashoka. The government of Nepal will step-up its efforts to preserve the outstanding universal value of the site”, says Sushil Ghimire, Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
“I am pleased that the project that the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu has implemented in close cooperation with the Lumbini Development Trust and the Department of Archaeology has resulted in such important discoveries”, says Axel Plathe, Head of the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and UNESCO Representative to Nepal.
“Japan is honoured to have been able to contribute to the success of this flagship project”, says H. E. Kunio Takahashi, the Ambassador of Japan to Nepal.
The project has produced a number of other significant results. It has enhanced the conservation of the three most emblematic monuments of Lord Buddha’s birthplace, namely the Marker Stone, the Nativity Sculpture and the Ashoka Pillar. It has established an operational plan for the implementation of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan for the Sacred Garden and confirmed the continuous relevance of the Plan. It has established a comprehensive management framework for the property. And it has increased the capacity of national experts and institutions to manage the site.
The project has demonstrated that the preservation and management of the World Heritage property of Lumbini cannot be isolated from the management of the rich cultural landscape of the greater Lumbini area. Therefore a second phase of the project extending the scope of just completed project, is expected to begin shortly.
For more information, link to the official UNESCO LUMBINI WEBSITE:
July 13, 2013
Under the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Nepal is set to send 230 soldiers to the strategically sensitive Golan Heights-Syria-Israel border area where the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been in place since 1974.
The first batch are130 Nepali peacekeepers currently in Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). They will be immediately deployed. (850 Nepali peacekeepers are already with UNIFIL.)
And additional 100 Nepali peacekeepers will be dispatched from Nepal at the beginning of September.
This move comes on the heels of a warning, issued by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, that tensions have risen alarmingly between Syria and Israel and that it is important to enhance the self-defense capacity of the UN Mission in the disputed Golan Heights area.
Excerpt from June 13, 2013 UN press release, based on Mr. Ban’s latest report to the Security Council:
Citing spill over from the ongoing crisis in Syria, where Government and armed opposition groups are locked in a spiralling conflict which has in turn sparked tensions in the Golan between Syria and Israel, the Secretary-General recommends that the Council extend the UN force’s mandate for six more months, until December 31st.
Noting that the Governments of both Syria and Israel backed the mandate extension, Mr. Ban goes on to recommend that the Council consider, “as a matter of priority,” adjustments to UNDOF, including enhancing its self-defence capabilities and boosting its force strength by about 300 to some 1,250 troops.
These proposals come as UNDOF, which monitors the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war, has faced a spate security risks and operational challenges.
Just last week, Security Council members expressed concern at the resurgence of fighting in the Golan Heights and at the prospect of countries withdrawing their troops from UNDOF. This followed the recent injury of two peacekeepers amid intense fighting in the area of separation.
Also, since early March UNDOF peacekeepers have twice been captured in the Golan Heights area and held for brief periods by armed groups. Each incident ended with the troops being released unharmed.
In addition, Austria – which contributes about one-third of UNDOF's troops – announced on 6 June its decision to withdraw its soldiers, reportedly citing a lack of freedom of movement and an unacceptable level of danger to its personnel.
Speaking to the press at UN Headquarters today, the Secretary-General’s Spokesman, Martin Nesirky, announced that, regarding Austria’s troop withdrawal, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has requested the Austrian authorities to ensure that the Mission’s operational requirements and the possible negative impact on implementing the mandate.
“Specifically, [DPKO] formally requested Austria to complete the withdrawal of its personnel no earlier than the end of July to ensure a smooth transition with incoming troop-contributing countries and a continued UN presence in critical UNDOF positions such a Mount Hermon,” the Spokesman said.
In view of the difficult conditions on the ground, Mr. Nesirky said, Austria was also requested to leave all its equipment within UNDOF. “This equipment is essential to support remaining and incoming peacekeepers in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate, he continued, adding that DPKO is “urgently approaching possible troop contributing countries to replace Austria.”
“The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that it trusts that Austria, given its long-standing and valuable contribution to the Mission, will keep the interest of the Mission at heart while withdrawing its personnel,” he said.
In his report, Mr. Ban calls on all parties to the Syrian conflict to cease military actions inside the country, including in the UNDOF area of operation. Further, he says the threats by Syrian leaders to act against Israel on the Golan undermine the Disengagement Agreement
Mr. Ban says also he remains “deeply concerned” about incidents involving UN personnel on the ground, and stresses that the safety of UN personnel is essential for UNDOF to continue to implement its mandate under difficult conditions.
“It is equally critical that the Security Council continue to bring its influence to bear on the parties concerned to ensure that UNDOF is accorded the ability to operate freely and securely within its area of operations in order to be able to carry out its important mandate,” the UN chief adds.
Apart from Syria, Nepali soldiers are currently working under the UN flag in eleven other countries – all of which are of deep international concern:
Nepal became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and since then, has been an active participant of most UN endeavors. The participation of Nepalese Army in the UN peacekeeping operations spans a period of 53 years covering 37 UN Missions, in which over 95,954 personnel have participated. The Army’s long association with UN Peace Support Operations began with the deployment of five Military Observers in the Middle East (United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon) in 1958. The first Nepalese contingent, Purano Gorakh battalion was deployed in Egypt in 1974. The Nepalese Army has contributed force commanders, elite military contingents, impartial military observers and dedicated staff officers. Throughout the decades, their performance has been widely acclaimed worldwide.
May 16, 2013
Recently, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) published Jayadeva Ranade’s analysis of China’s “Defense White Paper 2013”. Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and Distinguished Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
China issued its eighth bi-annual Defense White Paper entitled: ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, on April 16, 2013. The last White Paper, pertaining to 2010, was published in 2011. China’s Defense White Paper, 2013, is a 47-page document with five sections and 3 short appendices listing: joint exercises and training with foreign armed forces from 2011-2012; participation of China’s armed forces in international disaster relief and rescue (2011-2012); and China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations (2011-2012).
The Defense White Paper, 2013, makes it apparent that the Asia-Pacific region currently dominates Chinese military thinking. This Defense White Paper is at once an expression of the Chinese leadership’s self-confidence and its confidence in the capabilities of its armed forces. After the ritual assertion that China will “not seek hegemony, behave in a hegemonic manner or engage in military expansion” and brief token acknowledgement of the importance of international cooperation, it states clearly that the military build-up and modernization will continue. There is discernible emphasis on expanding the capabilities and operational reach of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) together with increased investment in domestic R&D to upgrade the indigenous defense industry.
China started to fall in line with international practice on matters relating to military transparency since 1998, when it first began to publish Defense White Papers. Issued with the twin objectives of meeting international demands for a degree of transparency with regard to its defense modernization programmed as well as wanting to stay engaged with the international community, China has, of late, also begun using the Defense White Papers to publicise its national objectives and worldview, albeit in a very cautious way. In this, it follows the practice of other nations.
Though they avoid specifics, China’s Defense White Papers nevertheless do offer an insight into the broad thinking of senior echelons of the Chinese political and military leadership associated with matters of national defense. Unlike Western documents that also focus more on detail and specific capabilities, China’s Defense White Papers gloss over specifics and reveal few details of expenditure or weapons acquisitions or manufacture. China’s record of transparency in these matters remains opaque, though there has been slight incremental improvement over the years. As could be expected in a country where the armed forces are subordinate to the ruling political party, namely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s Defense White Papers blend political thinking with the broad plans for the armed forces. The leadership’s thinking on a range of issues including: the future plans and role of the armed forces; anticipated areas of conflict; levels of suspicion of other countries; areas of China’s interest; and the extent of military cooperation with foreign nations, are discernible in the present Defense White Paper, 2013. China too uses the Defense White Papers as instruments of politics and diplomacy.
China’s worldview outlined in the latest Defense White Paper clearly highlights its preoccupation with the developments in the Asia-Pacific region, especially the role of the US, and identifies potential anticipated threats to China’s ambitions. In the initial two paragraphs of its first Section captioned: ‘New Situation, New Challenges and New Missions’, the Defense White Paper singles out the Asia-Pacific region as having become “an increasingly significant stage for world economic development and strategic interaction between major powers”. Hinting at Beijing’s concern about US interference it says, “The US is adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy, and the regional landscape is undergoing profound changes”. A blunt, yet thinly veiled, comment follows in the very next paragraph with the assertion that “Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser.” The implied reference to the US is unmistakable.
The next sentence in the same paragraph makes specific mention of Japan as one among “some neighboring countries” that are taking actions to exacerbate the situation and cites its “making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu islands” as example. Affirming that the threat from the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism is increasing, this White Paper in language almost identical to that used in the Defense White Paper of 2010, describes “Taiwan independence separatist forces” as “still the biggest threat to the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations”. Security risks to China’s overseas interests, it concludes, are on the rise.
Clarifying the role of the armed forces as “to win local wars under the conditions of informationisation”, it listed among the tasks for the armed forces the containing of “separatist forces”, safeguarding border, coastal and territorial air security, and “protecting national maritime rights and interests” and “national security interests in outer space and cyber space”. Significant are the independent references to the armed forces providing “reliable support for China’s interests overseas” and “firmly safeguarding China’s core national interests”. These “core national interests” are neither defined nor elaborated.
Of particular concern to China’s neighbors with unresolved, or overlapping, territorial claims are the portions relating to the PLAN and PLAAF in the section on ‘Building and Development of China’s Armed Forces’. The PLAN, it affirmed, will accelerate its pace of modernization and develop advanced submarines, destroyers and frigates and develop blue-water capabilities of conducting mobile operations. It described the development of an aircraft carrier as having a “profound impact on building a strong PLAN and safeguarding maritime security”. Interestingly, the release of this Defense White Paper coincided with the official disclosure the same day -- incidentally also PLA Navy Day -- that China’s new aircraft carrier ‘Liaoning’ would go on a long voyage on the high seas later this year. Separate reports suggest it could sail from its present berth at Qingdao’s military dock within about 3 months up to Okinawa or Guam.
The PLAAF, it said, is developing advanced weaponry and equipment such as new-generation fighters, new-type ground-to-air missiles and radar systems, improving its early warning command and communications networks and “raising its strategic early warning, strategic deterrence and long distance air strike capabilities”. There is no mention of the 3-phase R&D effort underway to indigenously develop advanced jet engines for the PLAAF, disclosed in mid-March 2013 and for which a huge budgetary allocation has already been made.
A novel feature of China’s Defense White Paper this year is the disclosure of troop strengths of the PLAA, PLAN and PLAAF. It was accompanied by a sketchy outline of the deployment of their formations and, in the case of the PLAA, the identifying numbers of the Combined Armies located in each of the seven Military Regions (MR), which the Defense White Paper called Military Area Commands (MAC). The PLAA’s troop strength was disclosed as 850,000. Listing the MRs in order of seniority, it disclosed the following Combined Army deployments: Shenyang (16th, 39th, and 40th); Beijing (27th, 38th, and 65th); Lanzhou (21stand 47th); Jinan (20th, 26th, and 54th); Nanjing (1st, 12th and 31st); Guangzhou (41st and 42nd); and Chengdu (13th and 14th). The disclosure in the White Paper 2013, confirms the deployments estimated by foreign analysts.
The total strength of the PLAN was stated to be 235,000, while that of the PLAAF was declared to be 398,000 with an Air Command at each of the MRs. This official revelation of troop strengths has helped correct international estimates that were in use till now. These estimates placed the PLAN’s total strength as ranging between 255,000 and 290,000 with that of the PLAAF ranging between 300,000 and 330,000. China’s Defense White Paper 2013, now shows that estimates for the PLAN were low while those for the PLAAF were high. China’s strategic missile force, or the PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF), continues to stay shrouded in secrecy and no details of its strength or deployments have been disclosed.
A close reading of this Defense White Paper reveals certain possible policy level statements. Specifically, these pertain to the use of missiles and nuclear weapons. It described China’s strategic missile force, namely the PLA Second Artillery (PLASAF), as a “core force for China’s strategic deterrence”. It disclosed that the PLASAF will use nuclear missiles to launch a counter-attack either independently or in conjunction with “the nuclear forces of other services”. It added that the PLASAF’s conventional missile force can shift “instantly” from peacetime to wartime readiness “and conduct conventional medium- and long-range precision strikes”. Absent in the White Paper were the routine references to non-first use of nuclear weapons by China, though while referring to the PLASAF’s role the terms “strategic deterrence” and “nuclear counterattacks” were repeatedly used. The assertion that the PLASAF will use its nuclear missiles in conjunction with those of other services makes clear that all the services of the PLA are operationally nuclear capable. That the PLASAF will engage in conventional conflict is made clear in the White Paper, which raises the risk of miscalculation by the adversary.
As in the Defense White Paper, 2011, which used the acronym for the first time, this White Paper also refers to the PLA’s ground forces as the PLAA. There has, however, been scattered mention of the PLAA in China’s official media through 2012.The Defense White Paper 2013, similarly placed the PLAA, or PLA Army, first followed by the PLAN, PLAAF, PLASAF and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF). Details of the role and functions of the PAPF, militia and border militia, and the Hong Kong and Macao garrisons are additions in this year’s White Paper.
Repeated usage of the acronyms PLAA, PLAN, PLAAF and PLASAF indicates that these services are increasingly acquiring independent identities and coming out from under the dominance and control of the PLAA or the PLA’s ground forces. The composition of the new Central Military Commission reinforces this view. The moves would be part of the leaderships’effort to professionalize the armed forces, inculcate ‘service pride’ in each service and encourage each of them to generate their own doctrines, or theories, of war and battle plans.
Nevertheless as the large number of PLAA personnel present among the Delegates and Deputies to the 18th Party Congress and 12th NPC reveals, the status and influence of the PLA ground forces remains unaffected, though they have probably dropped more to the level of ‘primus inter pares’. Furthermore, the Military Region Commanders are all from the ground forces and the PLAAF and PLAN personnel are placed under their command. PLA General Departments too continue to be staffed mainly by personnel from the ground services and they are the ones who plan, formulate and issue central directives.
China’s Defense White Paper 2013, touched on the other roles of the armed forces including Military Operations other than War (MOOTW), joint exercises and training with foreign forces and international disaster relief. It dwelt at some length on the contribution of the Chinese armed forces to international peacekeeping where Africa came into focus.
Finally, this Defense White Paper contained two references to India in one paragraph and in the same context. This was in the context of the observation that “since January 2012, independent deployers such as China, India and Japan have strengthened their convoy coordination”.
May 14, 2013
According to an article published this morning by Smriti Rai, Dorje Gurung, who had been imprisoned in Qatar last week on anti-Islam charges, was released yesterday.
This is welcome news but what is interesting is the part the Internet has played in securing his timely release. Thousands of people signed a petition at change.org. Thousands more participated in Facebook and Twitter pages created specifically for demanding Gurung’s release. This exemplifies the extent to which social media has been understood and embraced by the younger generation of Nepalis. It’s a very good sign indeed. And the older politicians of Nepal, who fight among themselves at the expense of Nepal’s well being -- while making sure that the younger set remains on the sidelines -- should take heed. The old patriarchal hold on Nepali hierarchy is actively being challenged and compromised by 21st century dynamics.
May 13, 2013
Two very different news articles circulated in Asia this week. Both focused on the increased difficulty facing foreigners who are in Nepal without proper visas. The forces at work are external and internal and the non-Nepalis in question range from Americans to Tibetans:
Nepal to blacklist foreigners working without permit
Beijing, May 9 (Xinhua-ANI): Nepal's Department of Labor (DoL) is going to strictly regulate the non-diplomatic foreign workers working without employment permit in the country, according to a government official.
The non-compliant workers, if found, would be blacklisted, said Krishna Hari Pushkar, director general of the department.
"Some 50,000 foreign nationals are working here without official work permits, which could pose threats to our national sovereignty, integrity and even job creation for Nepalese youths. Se we have decided to strictly impose the work permit system as per the Labor Act 1992," he told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday.
Only 9,119 foreigners working in various hydropower projects, construction companies, telecommunications, banking and hospitality sectors, among others, have been granted official work permit, according to DoL statistics.
There are mostly Chinese nationals among the foreigners who have obtained the official employment permit to work mainly in infrastructure and communications sectors in Nepal.
A team led by DoL officials, comprising representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Immigration, will start on-the-spot monitoring of the non-diplomatic foreigners working in different sectors such as social organizations, charities and diplomatic missions from next week, the official said.
The DoL has planned to put the names of non-compliant foreigners who will continue their jobs without official work permits finally in the blacklist and such individual will have to leave the country.
Likewise a separate team will conduct the status assessment study of the informally working foreigners in Nepal that is expected to reveal the facts.
Assessing primarily that Nepal is losing some 46 million U.S. dollars annually due to tax avoidance by foreigners working informally in Nepal, the DoL has begun scrutinizing the applicants ' details before issuance of the work permit.
The DoL has initiated the process of interviewing respective candidate who seeks employment permit to work in Nepal.
During the interview, one must justify his/her compatibility to Nepal's national interest, correlation between the academic certificate and nature of job along with the necessary approval from other concerned authorities according to the job specifications.
Though the DoL received some two dozens of applications for work permit in the last fortnight, it has approved only four of them after successful completion of the interview.
Most of the foreigners working without official permit in Nepal are from Bhutan, South Korea, Europe, the United States and Australia, according to the DoL.
Bhutanese nationals are informally working in the education sector largely whereas the South Koreans and Europeans are illegally working in various charities. The citizens of the U.S. and Australia are found to be working in several nongovernmental organizations, international nongovernmental organizations and even in some diplomatic missions.
"The donor agencies such as UNDP, DFID, ADB and the like are also hiring non-diplomatic staffs for very common job positions like computer operator or vehicle driver which is against the provision in section 4(a) of the Labor a Act 1992 given that foreigners can be hired for high level technical jobs only," Director General Pushkar stated.
Any individual working in Nepal for more than 180 days must pay the income tax as per the Income Tax Act 2002. But most of the illegally working foreigners are supposed to receive their benefits directly at their bank account in their home countries.
"If any foreigner generates income here in Nepal, he/she must obtain a permanent account number and paying the income tax, rental tax and other necessary taxes, which is mandatory by law," said Bishnu Nepal, deputy director general of the Inland Revenue Department, adding, "We will coordinate with the DoL to investigate the issue further." (Xinhua-ANI)
China 'crushing’ Tibetan dissident groups in Nepal
Bharti Jain, TIMES OF INDIA | May 12, 2013
NEW DELHI: Wary of dissident Tibetan groups making Nepal a hub for their anti-China activities, Beijing appears to have taken to squeezing the Himalayan nation on the issue by using its developmental initiatives there as a counter-pressure tactic. China, which already boasts of a wide involvement in Nepal that covers all critical areas including defence, infrastructure development and cultural activities, is now focusing on taking up development initiatives across Nepalese villages adjoining Tibet, besides liaisoning with Nepalese border authorities and security officials to enhance border security and upgrade police stations at points used by Tibetans to cross into Nepal.
Recent intelligence assessments by the Indian security agencies have drawn the government's attention to attempts by China to "crush" Tibetan activities in Nepal. Nepal is a major shelter destination for Tibetans who cross over in large numbers before proceeding to India or elsewhere. Over the years, many Tibetans have settled in Nepal, leaving Beijing worried that the dissident elements among them may be working against China's interests.
In a bid to thwart such designs, China has proposed to develop some village development committees (VDCs) contiguous to Tibet, jointly with the Nepalese ministry of physical planning. As per the proposal sent recently to the Nepalese government, China would support basic infrastructure building in some of these VDCs. The project, Indian intelligence agencies' warn, would enable a sizeable Chinese presence in these border VDCs and also let Beijing to exercise control over the crucial border link used by Tibetans to cross into Nepal.
Under the proposed "nationwide assistance programme" awaiting clearance of Nepalese authorities, the Chinese would also provide basic supplies to VDCs in at least 15 border districts.
Incidentally, the Chinese have gone beyond development initiatives to counter the alleged Tibetan dissident activities in Nepal. Chinese Embassy officials based in Kathmandu have been regularly visiting border areas, including remote north-western districts like Humla and Mustang to check the security situation and use their interaction with the Nepalese border authorities to push for tighter monitoring of the Sino-Nepal border. The Chinese officials seek to know the equipment and support mechanism needed for better border security and convey these requirements to Beijing so that they can be factored in future agreements with Nepal.
Another key initiative aimed at greater control over areas bordering Tibet, is China's offer to upgrade police stations along the Sino-Nepal border. Chinese embassy officials, intelligence reports say, had lately visited police stations along the border and made a proposal to renovate them, which is now under consideration in Kathmandu. If accepted, the Chinese side would get a significant say in policing in sensitive border areas. However, what may be more worrisome for India is if China's focus shifts to modernizing police stations along other borders as well.
New Chinese ambassador Wu Chuntai's security background may only help to step up vigilance and counter-efforts against the Tibetan population in Nepal, feel Indian intelligence experts. Chinese security officials have been apprising the Nepalese authorities to be on the lookout for Tibetan groups from India visiting Nepal to "influence" Tibetans settled there.
May 11, 2013
Dorje Gurung, a chemistry teacher from Pokhara, who taught chemistry at Qatar Academy in Doha, has been jailed on felony charges for insulting Islam. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison, according to Doha News.
An online campaign is underway seeking his release. (See link below.)
Gurung was fired from Qatar Academy after arguments with students on April 22 and 23. Although he was set to leave the country, he was summoned by the police and has been jailed since last Wednesday, according to The Himalayan Times. Gurung was accused of comparing all Muslims to terrorists. But two of his friends shared Gurung’s version with Doha News:
On Monday, April 22, Gurung said he had a sit-down chat with three 12-year-old boys who were making fun of him. Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him “Jackie Chan,” a famous Chinese actor. On Tuesday, April 23, the mocking again began in earnest while Gurung was in line for lunch. At first, he said the teasing was light-hearted, but then one student put his hand on Gurung’s shoulder and a finger in his nose. At this point, Gurung grew agitated and said remarks to the effect of, how would you like to be stereotyped i.e. called a terrorist?
Gurung has no legal representation, but the Nepali embassy is seeking permission from the Kathmandu government to meet with Gurung, Doha News reports. Without a lawyer, Gurung’s friends fear he would not get a fair trial. The court would rely on the complaints from Qatar Academy’s students, they said.
News of the charges spread quickly to Nepal, where Gurung attended the prestigious St. Xavier’s School and later won scholarships to study in Italy and the United States. In all, Gurung has spent 24 years abroad pursuing higher studies and teaching in over ten countires.
Friends say Gurung’s words were taken out of context. “Because of his education, his travels and the worldly students he teaches, one can say that he is one of the most cosmopolitan, open-minded and fair persons,” Ashutosh Tiwari, who attended school with Gurung and works on water issues in Nepal, said in an e-mail. “He is a kind, gentle person who loves nothing more than teaching chemistry to students and getting them excited about science.”
Gurung maintains his own Web site, where he blogs about chemistry, his classes and the state of education in Nepal.
Gurung’s friends say he was planning to return to Nepal to start a school for neglected Nepali children. “He is very much in touch with where he came from and how he made his life better despite all odds of being born in a low socio-economic family, ” Jay Shrestha, who said Gurung was his best friend while attending St. Xavier’s in Kathmandu, said in an e-mail.
Religion is a sensitive issue in Qatar. The U.S. State Department notes and recommends that “discussing religious issues, or answering questions about a religion, should be treated with care and sensitivity.”
The country also strictly controls freedom of expression, especially when it comes to the leadership. Earlier this year, Qatar jailed a poet for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government, after finding a YouTube video of him reciting a poem criticizing Qatar’s ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Friends from his schooldays at St. Xavier’s School have started a Facebook page called “Free Dorje Gurung” to drum up support for his release. They hope to exert pressure on Nepal’s foreign affairs ministry to take up the matter with the Qatar government.
Here’s how you can help:
May 9, 2013
On May 7, 2013, Kathok monastery in Derge (Kham) caught on fire. Contrary to earlier reports, it was not burned down to the ground: According to Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), which has been in contact with the monastery, the extent of the fire was exaggerated. TBRC reports that a fire did break out in the apartment of one of the Lamas. Apparently, the Kathok edition of the Nyingma Kama is safe. It has not been determined whom or what started the fire. As of yet, there is no information on injuries or fatalities.
Having said that, the photos that were forward to me, would seem to indicate that there was considerable damage to the building -- certainly more than one apartment is seen in flames. This needs to be further clarified.I will add details about injuries and damage, as it becomes available.
Kathok Monastery is listed in various enumerations as one of the six principal Nyingma monasteries, one of the main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also where, historically, one of the most important printing presses in Tibet operated, printing sacred texts and thangka line-drawings from huge woodblocks.
The Kathok Gonpa main monastery, (Kathok Dorje Den), is over 840 years old. It was established sometime around 1159-1162 c.e.. The monastery’s founder was Kathok Kadampa Deshek, (1112-1192 c.e.) Among his immediate successors were Tsangtun Dorje and Jampabum.
After centuries of carrying on the lineage, in the seventeenth century, the great treasure revealer, Ringdzin Duddul Dorje and his disciple, Vajradara Longsal Ningpo renewed the energies of the great lineage. Of the many great disciples of Duddul Dorje, Kunsang Sherab began Payul Monastery, which later on became a very important lineage in Nyingma tradition. Another follower, Pema Ringzen, created the Dzogchen monastery.
Perhaps Kathok’s greatest master, however, was the treasure revealer, Longsal Nyingpo. According to tradition, through his past life connections with Guru Rinpoche, (and as Guru Rinpoche prophesized), Longsal Nyinpo revealed many sacred texts and substances and carried on the lineage accordingly. It is widely believed that on the original spot where Kathok Gonpa is located, Guru Rinpoche and his 25 disciples practiced for 25 days and consecrated the ground 13 times. There are many miraculous signs there such as the handprints and footprints of Guru Rinpoche in solid rock. Also, the great translator, Vairotsana, when he was exiled to Gyarong, practiced at the future site of Kathok Gonpa for one month.
According to The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, disciples of Kenpo Munsel and Kenpo Jamyang at Katok Monastery in 1999 compiled a Katok edition of the 'Kama' (Wylie: bka' ma shin tu rgyas pa (kaH thog)) in 120 volumes: "...twice the size of the Dudjom edition, it contains many rare Nyingma treatises on Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga that heretofore had never been seen outside of Tibet."
I had the privilege of visiting Kathok monastery in 2001, just as its famous woodblock printing operation was getting back into full swing -- after the horrendous destruction and vandalism of Mao’s 1960s “Cultural Revolution”. The burning of the building would be a great loss to Tibetan Buddhist practitioners worldwide.