AFTER POWELL'S VISIT, 'FEAR OF WAR IS GONE,' DIPLOMATS SAY
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jan. 28, 2001 -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent visit to the South Asia region, including the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal, was "very fruitful" in reducing tension between the two nuclear rivals and neighbors India and Pakistan -- so much so that diplomats say the fear of war is gone -- and in strengthening the fight against terrorism in the region, diplomats here told The American Reporter last week.
Powell's diplomatic efforts paid dividends, they say, as he convinced the leaders in New Delhi and Islamabad to resolve the crisis through diplomatic efforts and not through weapons tests. Relations between India and Pakistan, long time rivals over the issue of Kashmir, have worsened since a Dec. 13 terrorist attack on India's parliament in which 14 people died. India blames that attack on Pakistan-based militant groups that India says had the support of thePakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, but Pakistan denies the charges.
The American secretary of state met with Pakistani President General Perez Musharraf and urged him to take more action against Muslim militants. Musharraf banned five Muslim militants on January 12 and announced a multipart reform package to quell the militants, including the modernization of madrasas, the traditional Muslim schools, which are considered a key source of future terrorists.
Powell assured Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that Musharraf was ready to control the militants' activities against India. Indian leaders believe that Musharraf will respond to American pressureand have assured Powell that India would not use its army first. The two nuclear rival countries have deployed around 800,000 soldiers along the India-Pakistan border; if war had broken out, the impact on the region would be catastrophic. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, which they tested in 1997.
After the visit the situation improved, and the psychological fear of the war has vanshed in the region. "Without consulting the U.S.A, India would not wage war against Pakistan," a diplomat from a Western country told the American Reporter. "The fear of war has gone at least for the time being."
At a joint press conference with Nepal's Prime Minister, Powell said, "I come away encouraged that we have a possibility, a good possibility to resolving this crisis through diplomatic efforts and not through a test of arms on the battlefield."
"Both Musharraf and Vajpayee are committed to finding a diplomatic solution. They both are demonstrating action that allows us to pursue a variety of diplomatic options. Musharraf's speech and actions that he has taken since that speech I think have impressed the world and impressed the Indian government," he added.
Powell had repeatedly telephoned the Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh during the South Asian Association for Regional (SAARC) summit held in Kathmandu on January 5 and 6 to urge them to meet, and on his advice both foreign ministers held talks that led to a handshake between Vajpayee and Musharraf, a public milestone in progress towards reducing tensions. India and Pakistan are both U.S. allies in the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which harbored Sept. 11 terrorist attack mastermind Osama bin Laden, and his terrorist organization Al Quaeda.
The war against terrorism has dislodged terrorists in the region. With the support of the United States, the war against terrorism has been intensified in the region, including in Nepal,where more than 2,300 people have been killed since the Maoists launched their insurgency in 1996. Nepal declared a state of emergency on Nov. 26, 2001 and mobilized its small army for the first time to control the Maoists. More than 500 Maoists and over 100 security personnel have been killed since the rebels broke the four-month long ceasefire talks with the government and mounted a series of attacks on Nov. 23.
Powell's visit, the first by an American secretary of state to Nepal since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1947, was very important to the governmentof Nepal. American support for in fighting Maoist guerrillas who want to establish a Communist-style republic in place of the Parliamentary democracy established in 1990 through the populist movement is seen as vital here,and officials were buoyed by his remarks.
"We fully acknowledge the government of Nepal's right to protect its citizens and institutions from terrorist attacks," Powell said.
Most political parties here believe the Maoist terrorism is part of a conspiracy to finish democracy in Nepal.
The continuation of support for Nepal's socio-economic development was another important aspect of the visit. The U.S. government provides about $20 million in aid every year to assist in health, education, and infrastructure development, strengthening of democracy and good governance.
Over the years, the United States has provided more than $1 billionin aid and another $1 billion through various agencies like the World Bank for the last five decades of partnership.
Though he did not make any commitment of aid or military cooperation for Nepal, he discussed the country's needs with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and senior army officials, talking in detail about the development of Nepal during his 19-hour visit to this landlocked country located at "the top of the world" between India and Tibet.
"We are also committed to continuing to aid Nepal's economic development. We recognize that Nepal needs and wants foreign investment. To attract investment, Nepal needs peace. Nepal needs security. It also needs to combat corruption, increase transparency and adopt a good regulatory framework to create a healthy investment climate," Powell said.
Most countries in the region have been fighting terrorism for the last few years and the visit of Mr. Powell was a friendly gesture of cooperation. The visit also reinforced the White House message that the fight against terrorism is not limited only to Afghanistan but extends to other countries of the region.
"We believe that [Secretary Powell's] visit is a reflection of the excellent relations between Nepal and the U.S.A.. I expressed my appreciation for the U.S. government's solidarity with Nepal in its fight against terrorism," Nepalese Prime Minister Deuba said.
Deuba asked Powell to give the country preference in exporting garment products to the U.S.A. Withut making a commitment, he later told the press, " I was kidding both with the Prime Minister and the King earlier, as a soldier and diplomat I did not know how much I was going to have learn about textiles when I became secretary of state. Because in almost every country that I visit the issue of textiles comes up."
Mr. Powell also met the new monarch of Nepal, King Gynendra, went to the biggest Buddhist temple, in Bauddhanath where most of the Tibetan refugee community lives, and also went sightseeing in the Himalayas.
The visit left a strong impression with the government and people that America is a good friend of Nepal. Minister of state for foreign affairs Arjun Jung Bahadur Singh called it "very fruitful in many aspects."
Powell also impressed the war-torn country Afghanistan. A senior official of the state department who was present during the meeting between Powell and Hamid Karzai, the interim head of Afghanistan told the American Reporter that Powell told Karzai, "Afghanistan is emblazoned on President George W. Bush's heart."
America's senior diplomat also announced $396 million in aid to Afghanistan, and with the U.S. government's efforts, $4.5 billion in aid for Afghanistan was committed at a Tokyo economic summit he also attended.
Those commitments were a big achievement for the war-torn country, which has harbored terrorists for the last few years under the Taliban rulers.
Powell advised the Nepalese government to focus on good governance that makes the Maoists less attractive to unemployed youths. "Effective government policies dry up the swamp that produces terrorism," he said.
"It applies to all the countries of the region," a diplomat added. "The fight against terrorism and the strong support of the U.S. strengthen the democratic process in the region, including in Nepal," the diplomat told American Reporter. "The fight against terrorism is a gift in disguise to consolidate democracy in the region."
"The visit has shown both India and Pakistan that the shortest political distance between Islamabad and New Delhi is by way of Washington," Indian journalist V. Sudarshan wrote.