TRIBUTE series



The talk is about the war on terror in Afghanistan and Maoists in Nepal

The situation has changed in Afghanistan with the apparent collapse of Taliban forces in the face of massive and prolonged US bombardment, and ground attacks by the Northern Alliance. In the absence of any clear statement from Osama bin Laden besides his attitude of defiance, there is reason to believe that the Taliban will fall back on guerrilla warfare from their mountain strongholds.

However, the warnings that Washington has issued about the danger of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands justify the view that the US’ commitment to destroying terrorist networks will continue.

Meanwhile, the focus in Afghanistan has shifted from the military struggle against the Taliban to forming a stable government and ending more than 23 years of civil war. There is a genuine fear that the end of the war against the Taliban could result in a recurrence of civil strife between rival factions. The Northern Alliance is an example of rival groups that are beset by tension and conflict.

The defeat of the Taliban could set the stage for a lethal civil war. And it’s in this context that initiatives are being undertaken by the UN to effect a political settlement and establish a multiethnic government in Kabul to replace the Taliban. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi is the key figure in this initiative.

Representatives of various Afghan groups met at a conference in Berlin to establish a temporary government – and the hope is that this will pave the way for the formation of a durable government in the future. The United Nations has pledged a trust fund of US$ 3.5 billion to develop Afghanistan, which should act as an incentive for its success.

A feature on the international scene in the recent past is the high profile recognition that Russian President Vladimir Putin has acquired for both diplomacy and statesmanship. His latest achievement is the understanding that he reached with US President George Bush on the sensitive question of missiles and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

In South Asia, many developments are afoot. An alarming scenario is the sudden upsurge of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. The government has declared an emergency and its troops are engaged in combatting the threat. Maoist attacks include those on an airport control tower and local army barracks, which have resulted in considerable casualties.

The Nepalese Army is clearly unprepared and has sought military assistance from India, which is supplying arms, ammunition and helicopters. But whether this support includes troops on the ground is unclear. Apart from the implications of the Maoist uprising on regional security, it also causes serious problems in Nepal in context of the forthcoming SAARC summit and the location of the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu.

It seems that Nepal is paying the price for its delay in engaging militarily with the Maoists owing to political rivalries in the government. This has enabled the insurgents to consolidate their power and make demands for an interim government, and the creation of a republic.

The SAARC summit is scheduled for January in Kathmandu but the Maoist problem has created doubts as to whether it will take place. However, SAARC members are looking forward to the summit in order to deal with a number of problems.

One of the main expectations is that it will afford an opportunity for India and Pakistan to pursue reconciliation in their strained relations, which have worsened recently with the activities of Pakistani militants in Kashmir. A recent attack by suicide bombers on the state assembly in Srinagar claimed 30 lives.

This situation has been aggravated by the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban militia is entering Pakistan and being diverted to Kashmir. It’s estimated that around 3,000 terrorists from Pakistan were active in Kashmir and the Indian Army is finding it hard to prevent them crossing the Line of Control.

The hope is that the two leaders will rise to the occasion and endeavour to arrive at an understanding in continuation of their recent peace initiatives. So the need for this has become even more urgent in context of the war in Afghanistan and the threat of international terrorism that could target South Asian countries.

Indeed, the situation in Pakistan itself and the turmoil due to the war in Afghanistan renders reconciliation between the two countries an urgent necessity. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has expressed a desire to engage with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during the summit and this has been welcomed as a hopeful sign.

It seems that Nepal is paying the price for its delay in engaging militarily with the Maoists owing to political rivalries in the government

BY  The late Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis