Monday 27 April 2009

Will the Maoists defang Nepal's army? (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Nepal would never have come to be led by Maoists were it not for the help that the rebels got from India. For decades, Maoist guerrillas took refuge in India’s eastern states of West Bengal and Bihar, given sanctuary by an indulgent Indian administration.

Later, the Maoists’ numerous contacts within the Indian security establishment ensured New Delhi’s help in emasculating Nepal’s monarchy – according to courtiers within Kathmandu’s Narayanhiti Palace, because the Nepali king and Sonia Gandhi disliked each other – and subsequently nudged the Nepali Congress into joining a government led by the guerrilla fighters.

Since then things have shifted. China has characteristically reversed its earlier policy of backing the monarchy, and has become the most significant international backer of Nepal's version of the Peoples Liberation Army. This is causing increasing disquiet in India, which – foolishly – has an open border with Nepal.

Now the Maoists seem set to increase their grip on the country by replacing the head of Nepal's military with a stooge of their own. Army Chief Rukmangud Katawal has thus far resisted both threats and inducements to infuse a flood of guerrilla fighters into what is still a professional fighting force. Should he be replaced, the odds are that the Nepali army – the only effective barrier between the Maoists and dictatorial control – will succumb to their pressures.

Interestingly, it is the pro-China – and therefore pro-Pakistan, given the alliance between these two neighbors of India – groups within Nepal's political establishment that are backing the dismissal of Katawal. Because their own coalition partners oppose the move, the Maoists are looking to jettison them and form an alliance with the opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Will Turkey succumb to Wahabbism? (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Wahabbism, the radical Islam currently advancing around the globe, originated in the 18th century as a philosophy designed to counter the moderate, syncretic Islam that was the heart of Turkey's culture, and which the Ottoman Empire had disseminated among its principalities, including those in the Arabian Peninsula.

Quick to sense the potential of the new faith in weaning away regional loyalties from the Ottomans, Britain early on became a backer of the creed, thus ensuring its rise to dominance within the Arabian Peninsula by the dawn of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1980s it spread to much of the rest of the Muslim world.

Today, because of the unstinted financial support of its principal adherents, Wahabbism has become the fastest-growing faith on the planet. It has succeeded in taking over many of the institutions, as well as the physical infrastructure, of the Sunni branch of Islam. Even within the Shiite branch, it has found in the Khomeinists an ideological twin that since 1979 has controlled the largest country in the region, Iran.
Thus far, only Turkey has remained immune to its relentless advance, steeped as that country was in the Sufi traditions that underpin its culture.

Turkey is the only country in the Muslim-majority world – since the Mongol invasions of the continent nearly nine centuries ago – to have conquered territory in Europe. The memory of this still makes a majority of Europeans flinch from accepting this entirely deserving country into the European Union.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Outside View: Afghanistan -- back to the '90s? (UPI)

M D Nalapat

At the risk of some repetition, it is worth mentioning two facts that seem unknown to policymakers such as U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke. The first is that the Asia of the 21st century is a tad different from that of the 19th; hence dredging up stored wisdom on how European colonial powers handled situations on the continent during that era may not be an entirely accurate guide to sensible policy.

The second is that the ideology of the Pakistani army is based not on military needs and capabilities but on a vision of Mughal-era India and the conviction that someday that glorious epoch will return to the subcontinent.

Despite 50 years of standing by as money and equipment meant to fight first communism and later the Taliban were diverted toward India-centric purposes, the United States -- under a proposal originally made by Joe Biden, now U.S. vice president, and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. -- is likely to provide a huge budget boost to Pakistan. It seems that U.S. and EU policymakers are still under the delusion that the Pakistani army will -- or indeed can -- take on the jihadists.
Given this, it seems inevitable that the coming years will see the return of the Taliban to effective control of much of Afghanistan.