Nepali Times

Yoga Diplomacy

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
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When Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal arrives in New Delhi on a state visit on Thursday, he must recognise some familiar landmarks. After all, he spent most of 1996-2006 during the revolution he unleashed on Nepal safe within his party’s secret headquarters in the eastern suburbs of the Indian capital. He will also remember some of the pomp that accompanied his first state visit here in 2008 after his party’s landslide victory in the post-conflict election.
Compared to his last visit, though, Dahal may find the Indian welcome a trifle muted. The reception he got from officialdom and media in 2008 was nothing short of ecstatic.

Photo dating July 2015, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Pic: www.narendramodi.in

Photo dating 2015, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Pic: www.narendramodi.in

It was almost as if the Indian establishment wanted to portray his visit as the successful culmination of the 12-point agreement it brokered between Nepal’s democratic parties and the Maoists in New Delhi in November 2005.

In fact, the media portrayed Dahal as a role model for India’s own Maoists — someone they could emulate. Look at your comrade from Nepal, they seemed to say, he gave up his armed struggle and got elected, and so could you. A full page interview in an Indian newspaper during the visit highlighted his call to Naxalites to learn a lesson or two from him.

But, as we know, it did not take long for Dahal’s relations with India to sour. New Delhi stopped trusting him perhaps because he did not deliver on some undisclosed promises, or maybe owing to moves he made to capture total state power with the removal of Army Chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal as the last straw. Dahal resigned the day after President Yadav reinstated Gen Katawal, and thereafter blamed New Delhi scathingly for being behind the move.

However, Nepal’s rulers and opinion makers seem to have made up their minds that the main reason New Delhi was ticked off with Dahal was that he visited Beijing first. Whatever we may think about India micromanaging Nepal’s political affairs, it is unlikely that India’s foreign policy establishment would be so petty as to punish Nepal’s leader simply for going to China first. India has bigger fish to fry, and contrary to perception here, the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi doesn’t spend all its daylight hours obsessing about goings on in Nepal.

Even so, Dahal seems to be still smarting from the ignominy of his resignation in 2009. Which could be why he is hurrying off to do Delhi before attending the United Nations General Assembly a week later so as not to risk ruffling Indian feathers again. He is doing the usual rounds in Delhi, and even courting the BJP constituency by attending a Patanjali yoga session.
Dahal may have to rely on more than just yoga to restore bilateral relations. After a bruising blockade and India’s open disdain for the coalition led by Prime Minister K P Oli of which the Dahal-led Maoists were a part, Nepal-India relations need to be rebooted. Dahal has tried hard to break the ice by giving conciliatory pre-visit interviews in which he said he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the right ‘chemistry’. However, it may be the ‘physics’ he needs to get right.

India’s main agenda on Nepal seen during the blockade and during the visit is to push through amendments in our constitution passed by the Assembly last year — especially provisions related to the two Tarai provinces and the inclusion of five disputed districts, citizenship rules, and electoral boundaries. Dahal will be under pressure to show flexibility, but since all politics is local, his antennae will be attuned to public opinion back home.
UML leaders K P Oli, Madhav Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal met Dahal before his visit and warned him not to undermine the country’s sovereignty during his visit. It is clear Dahal’s hands are tied because the arithmetic of parliament means that he will need the UML to pass the amendments. Oli wants revenge on Dahal for stabbing him in the back, and will drive a hard bargain for the necessary votes.

Last year’s blockade has been a public relations disaster for India, and the antipathy runs so deep that it will undermine India’s national interest here unless something is done. As Nepal’s neighbour and dominant trading partner, Nepal cannot afford to have antagonistic relations with India. Dahal also has to ensure that ties with China are on an even keel. Beijing is irked by the recent regime change in Kathmandu, as well as Nepal’s lukewarm response to President Xi’s pet project: the One Belt One Road connectivity project for Eurasia.

Besides his southern yoga diplomacy, Dahal may also need to practice tai chi before heading north.

 


Uncovering Asia

Monday, September 12th, 2016
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uncovering-asia1

From left to right: Sheila Coronel, Columbia University, New York, Steven Gan, Malaysiakini, Wahyu Djatmika, Tempo, exposing Panama Papers in Indonesia, Ying Chan, University of Hong Kong

 

Sonia Awale

More than 300 journalists and speakers from 30 countries will be attending the second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference in Kathmandu 22-25 September in Kathmandu, the largest ever-international media conference to be held in Nepal.

The event is organised by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) and co-hosted by the Kathmandu-based Centre for Investigative Journalism Nepal (CIJN), and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of Germany, and will bring together some of Asia’s best muckrakers, data journalists, as well as media law and cybersecurity experts from around the world.

Recent crackdowns on press freedom across Asia have made it difficult and dangerous for reporters, especially investigative journalists. Media has had to battle censorship, overt state control, harassment and reporters have been killed even in countries with long traditions of free press such as Philippines and India.

However, Asia has also seen courageous journalists expose corrupt leaders for their ill-gotten wealth, kleptocratic state machineries, investigated cross border financial crime, trafficking, illegal logging and uncovered large-scale plunder of state coffers like the 1MDB scandal in Malaysia.

“Now, more than ever, Asia needs deeply reported stories that uncover wrongdoing by powerful individuals and institutions,” says Sheila Coronel of Stabile Centre for Investigative Journalism of Columbia University, whose expose of Philippine President Josef Estrada in 2001 led to his downfall. “The Kathmandu conference is a unique opportunity to foster cross-border collaboration among investigative journalists in the region and elsewhere.”

Coronel is a speaker at the conference together with the Pulitzer Prize winning team that investigated the Seafood Slaves story for Associated Press. Walter V Robinson of the Boston Globe whose investigative story on paedophile priests is featured in the Oscar-winning film, Spotlight, will be giving the keynote speech.

Ying Chan who has just finished her tenure as dean of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong, Steven Gan of the independent news portal Malaysiakini, and strong teams of investigative and data journalists from India and Pakistan will be attending.

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“We’re seeing an extraordinary response to the Kathmandu conference, not just in the number of investigative journalists participating but in the high calibre of the speakers,” GIJN Director David Kaplan told Nepali Times. “What happens in Nepal next week will influence Asian journalism for years.”

The first Uncovering Asia conference was held in Manila, Philippines in 2014 and got such positive response that GIJN decided to hold another one, and proposed a partnership with CIJN.

“The conference will provide huge motivation to Nepali journalists, especially investigative reporters, at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to uncover the truth and present facts to the public,” says Namrata Sharma, Chair of CIJN. “At the same time it a matter of pride for Nepal to host an event in which so many globally well-recognised journalists will be participating.”

The conference will have more than 60 workshops and panels: from a forum on the Panama Papers to panels on investigating corruption, climate change, health, and a session assessing the state of investigative journalism in Nepal. Journalists from Kantipur, Republica, Annapurna Post, The Kathmandu Post, BBC Nepali, Nagarik, Ujjyalo and other Nepali media will participate.

There will also be a demonstration on using database managers and a workshop on security for investigative journalists. Advanced mapping, Internet detective, Media Law Clinic and virtual reality and hands-on training in data journalism and digital protection are some of the other panels.

There will also be panels on the best cross-border investigative stories on post-disaster reporting, data mining, covering conflict, human trafficking and slavery, organised crime, and covering terrorism.

Says Sheila Coronel: “The era of the lone wolf is over. An increasingly interconnected world needs journalists who can work across borders to hold power to account.”

 

UNCOVERING ASIA

Some of the notable participants attending the Asian investigative journalism conference:

From left to right:

From left to right: Walter V Robinson, Boston Globe editor featured in Oscar-winning film Spotlight, Mar Cabra, Nils Milvad, European Journalist of the Year, 2005

From left to right: Clare Rewcastle Brown, investigating Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, Brant Houston, author of Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide

From left to right: Clare Rewcastle Brown, investigating Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, Brant Houston, author of Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide

 

IndiaSpend, India

Newstapa, Korea

Katadata, Indonesia

 

 

 


Govinda KC to fast again

Saturday, September 10th, 2016
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Govinda KC, who has been leading a campaign to reform Nepal’s medical education sector has issued an eight day ultimatum to the government, warning that he will undertake a hunger strike for the ninth time if his demands were not met.

Speaking at a press conference at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital on Saturday, the crusading physician asked the government to implement the four-point agreement signed with him in July after he ended his fast after 14 days. He said that although Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had assured him that he would fulfill the agreement pressure was building up for the affiliation of a new medical college in the Valley.

KC is an orthopedic surgeon at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) who has been campaigning against irregularities in the medical sector for over five years. He has also been demanding the impeachment of the Chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) Lokman Singh Karki and Commissioner Raj Narayan Pathak for overstepping their jurisdiction in interfering with medical examinations because of their vested interest in the medical education sector.


Letter from Madhes 

Friday, September 9th, 2016
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As Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s India visit nears, Madhes-based parties have started consultations and are pushing PM Dahal to improve Nepal’s strained relations with India. Dahal will be leaving for New Delhi on 15 September, his first international visit after becoming the Prime Minister.

Chairman of Sadhbhavana Party Rajendra Mahalo on Friday submitted a memorandum to PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal in which his party asked him to improve worsening relations with India, include ‘skill development programs’ targeting Madhesi youth in government plans who are lagging behind socially and economically.

The party even demanded PM to implement the Nijgadh International Airport, Tarai-Madhes Feeder Roads project, Kathmandu–Tarai fast track highway and East West Railway projects at the earliest.

PM Dahal assured Mahato that his New Delhi visit will indeed be focused on strengthening Nepal’s relations with its southern neighbour. Madhesi parties supported the government led by Dahal on condition of amending the constitution.


PM addresses Parliament

Thursday, September 8th, 2016
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Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Thursday claimed that Nepal’s relations with its two big neighbours have improved after he came to power.

“Soon after I became Prime Minister, I sent two deputy Prime Ministers to two neighbours to strengthen our diplomatic ties with them,” he said. “My efforts have borne fruit as well.”

Addressing Parliament ahead of his Delhi visit, Dahal blamed former Prime Minister KP Oli for deepening mutual distrust with India by cancelling President Bidya Bhandari’s visit and recalling ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay.

Dahal is flying to New Delhi next week, and will hold a meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His government has already decided to resend Upadhyay as Nepal’s ambassador to India, and is laying the groundwork for President Bhandari’s rescheduled New Delhi visit.

But China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathmandu is not certain, and Dahal could not assure Parliament about it.

A Nepali daily reported this week that Chinese officials have already informed Nepali officials about cancellation of Xi’s visit, expressing displeasure at lack of interest shown by Dahal in terms of implementing the trade and transit agreement between Kathmandu and China.

In a terse statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed the news, but refrained from confirming Xi’s visit. In Parliament, PM Dahal neither confirmed nor denied the news.

 

 


“We will address KC’s demands”

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016
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FTNP Himal

Pic: Bikram Rai

From the Nepali Press

Excerpts of interview with newly-appointed Health Minister Gagan Kumar Thapa in Himal Khabarpatrika,  4-10 September

Himal: You are considered a beacon of hope in the new government. Are things different after becoming a minister?

Gagan Thapa: I was accused as someone who just talk, but as CA member my job was to talk as I didn’t have any executive power.  Now I have responsibilities at the Ministry of Health and Population. In the beginning I was nervous, but I overcame that after assuming office.

Dr. Govinda KC has undergone hunger strikes eight times demanding improvements in medical education and the health sector. How are you going to address his demands?

The government will indeed address Govinda KC’a demands. The remaining issues, which were not addressed while KC will be included in the Medical Education Act Bill which will be passed soon by parliament. We will start discussions to open medical colleges in all provinces as demanded by KC.

One of the issues raised by KC is related to the conduct of the Commission on the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) chief. I was the one who registered the Proposal of Public Importance but as
Minister I am not allowed to pursue the matter.

Dr. KC has demanded the impeachment of the CIAA chief for his corrupt practices. How will you address this demand?

The demands will be automatically included while discussing medical education and health in parliament. But it is surprising KC ‘s demand is not being discussed.

If the Prime Minister’s speech and the letter sent to India is discussed in parliament, there should be discussions on Govinda KC’s demands too. It will be difficult to restore the people’s faith in parliament if issues of public importance are not taken up. Opinions, both for and against an issue can be taken up but only if they are allowed to be raised in parliament.

There seems to be undue interference by the CIAA in the Medical Council. What do you propose to do about that?

Implementing the Medical Education Act and appointing eligible officials by formulating proper criteria will be done immediately. This is a must to stop irregularities and ill practices like illegally adding seats in medical colleges using and admitting Nepali students as foreigners.

Can we say that the issues raised by Dr. KKC will be the basis of your working plan?

I do not want to confine myself to that, but Govinda KC has demanded improvements in medical education. I am planning for broader changes than that. I plan to leave the ministry only after establishing proper norms.

How will you solve the problem of health care for the poor?

It will take some time to supply medicines regularly to health centers and health posts. Our ministry has already taken up the task to improve the supply of medicines by streamlining procurement and
distribution.


Ginger politics

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
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subhas-rai-cartoon

Cartoon by : Subhas Rai

From the Nepali Press

Sudeep Shrestha in Setopati, 5 September

Citing the ‘maximum use of pesticides’ India has banned ginger export from Nepal just a week before Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is scheduled to visit New Delhi. This can’t be a coincidence because India has repeatedly created trouble in bilateral trade in the past whenever a high-level visit is planned from Nepal to India.

In the past week, a large amount of ginger is rotting in godowns and farmers in Illam, Panchthar, Taplejung including others in eastern region are facing financial crisis. Nepal is the third largest producer of ginger in the world after China and India. All ginger produced in Nepal are exported to India after meeting domestic demand, and 20.83 million kg of ginger was exported into the Indian market in the last fiscal year.

Nepal’s ginger is considered to be of higher quality and Indian agriculture experts have continuously lauded it. But what could be the reason behind the ban in ginger export few days prior to Prime Minsiter Dahal’s visit to India?

India has been creating obstacles on export of Nepali products whenever the volume shows an increase, and always before a high level visit possibly as a bargaining chip.

When Nepali Pashmina exports boomed in the Western and Indian markets in the 1990s, India increased 16 per cent additional charges just two weeks before Nepal-India inter-governmental committee meeting was scheduled. The meeting is considered important even today to resolve bilateral economic disputes between the two countries. Nepal was planning to raise problems related to pharmaceutical exports at that time.

Petroleum is another product in which India has leverage. India imposed hefty taxes, going against petroleum import agreement, on petroleum products when former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was scheduled to visit India in 2004.

Review of 1953 Extradition Treaty, Upper Karnali, and Budi Gandhi and Raxaul-Amalekhgunj pipeline agreements were conditions put forward by India while Nepal was planning to raise the issue of transit access to Bangladesh.

Dahal is leaving for India in a week and easy ginger export will be his top priority now, not the other issues that Nepal was planning to raise. The government’s silence on pesticide contamination has legitimised the Indian ban.

There is nothing new in the ginger ban, India is doing what it has always done: mix trade with politics.


 

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