President Obama and Nepal: What to Expect
It's done, finally. What a long haul for those poor Yanks. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said: "America eventually does the right thing." Too bad it took eight years of the "wrong thing" before Mr. Blair could be proven correct.
What will an Obama presidency mean for Nepal? Let's have a first look.....
It's the economy, stupid---------------------
The American economy is going through a major shit-storm and threatens to sink the world economy as it goes down. Obama's first priority will be to deal with this catastrophy, period.
A few things will come from this. Look for India to get very nervous as most of those outsourced jobs that Mr. Obama wants to bring back to the U.S. are jobs that have been stationed in India over the past decade. Nepalis working in phone service centers in Bangalore, say, should explore the job market now and keep all options open.
Foreign Aid Revamp----------------------
Obama has the rare perspective of being someone who has actually lived in countries that were direct beneficiaries of U.S. foreign aid. Unlike Bush, Obama knows that arrogant U.S. aid policies that simply throw money and staff at underdeveloped countries are bound to fail and must be revamped. Remember the economy? That big gorilla pulling down every plan and every program? Well, the economy, and more specifically, the need to reduce spending, will combine with Obama's knowledge of how aid actually works to form one of Obama's oft repeated budget strategies: "Pay as you go." Nepal, gone are the days when USAID writes a blank check to some clueless minister. If you want to scam the system like before, your best bet will be to try and squeeze money from the UN. Obama will apply an more "incremental" form of aid to Nepal: show initial progress on a program and funding will come for the next phase and so on. Get ready for half of your Gross National Product to arrive with strings attached from now on.
Prachanda and Politics--------------------
The Maoists won't fool Obama. His step-father was detained by a military coup in Indonesia and Obama has seen plenty of insurgent groups masquerading as representatives of "the people" only to pull a bait-and-switch and fall back on their outdated ideological archetypes. Obama is also aware of the misuse of the concept of "democracy." He seldom uses it. At the one spot in his acceptance speech where the term would have fit nicely, he chose the word "freedom" instead. So, the simple use of the term by a regime will mean nothing to the Obama administration unless it is backed by true reforms and a committment to citizen self-determination. He'll punish any Maoist back-sliding by freezing foreign aid; A suggestion proposed by former U.S. ambassador Ralph Frank during a peak period of Maoist activity in 1998.
Fireworks in Pakistan---------------------------
Mr. Obama has made constant statements regarding his desire to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and go after Osama Bin Laden in the mountains of Pakistan, should evidence support such a move. Since Kathmandu already has a direct flight from Karachi, look for our Capital to play host to a lot more pissed-off and demoralized Muslims looking for revenge. There are already some rumblings about an Al Quaida cell stretching its wings in our fair valley, so look for Kathmandu to evolve into more of a refuge for those of a "plotting" nature.
Hard to read this one. The Obama administration will get a security briefing on Nepal that will basically say that India, as a staunch U.S. partner, has the best insight in the region and to trust New Delhi's Judgement, BUT, India is spending up U.S. goodwill and may not call the shots for much longer. Bush's disasterous nuclear proliferation give-away policy towards India is something Obama has bristled towards in the past and will probably manifest itself as a "trust but verify" relationship with New Delhi in the future. Obama knows India pulled a fast one on Bush. It won't happen again, so any opinion or suggestion coming from New Delhi on how best to handle Nepal and the region will be scrutinized.
Obama's is a pro-Tibet, anti-repression administration. They will not simply tolerate abuses in order to keep stability in any given region. Look for harsh reprimands and yes, more aid conditions, Nepal, everytime you kow-tow to China's demands for Tibetan imprisonment and/or repatriation. Pay attention to your treatment of Bhutanese refugees as well. Your precious foreign aid will also be held up if the army goes haywire and kills a bunch of Madhesis.
Don't think, however, that the Americans will look down upon any defensive move you make. Obama was the first candidate to imply that Georgia had no business straying opportunistically into splittist areas. It would be similar to say, Sikkim deciding to break away from a repressive India and join Nepal. Remember again: self-determination is the key. If you want to keep the U.S. gravy train flowing to Nepal, don't mess with innocent people trying to live their lives.