Nepali Times
Here And There
Gundruk diplomacy


MIAMI-In the political salons of my homeland's capital city, there are sundry noses out of joint. They yaw left mainly but some pitch right, or go both ways according to the vicissitudes of the times. What matters is that they're angling out of true and for an explanation, blame George W Bush.

But wait, dear reader, this is not yet another anti-American rant. I write this week about how important America is, even to those who pretend to disdain the place.

You see, this past week, Mr Bush visited my native land. He flew up for talks and dinner and flew out to the eastern side of the country to thank people there for being so friendly to stranded American airline passengers in the wake of 9/11.

For Canada, this was high drama. Newspapers dissected every nuance of the visit and then some. They probed the words that were spoken in public, in all a few hundred. They pondered whether two old friends like Canada and the US could ever patch up their Iraq-strained relationship. Some even printed the menu for the state dinner on their front pages. Beef was served, Canadian beef, now banned in the USA because of fears over the mad cow disease. Food as non-too-subtle diplomacy.

And those dozens of Ottawa noses out of joint? The self-important of the capital who didn't receive an invitation to the big feed with Mr Bush at the high table. There were only 700 place settings and like any other political hot spot, Ottawa has thousands of big egos who just know they have something important to tell the President.

Outside the banquet hall and meeting rooms was self-importance of another kind. All week long, protesters shouted anti-war slogans and baited the police. Some protesters even lit up huge marijuana cigarettes and smoked them in public in hopes that the CEO of America Inc. would sense their wrath over his country's objections to soft drug decriminalisation in Canada. Or maybe they just wanted to get high.

The point is not in what Canadians thought about was going on. The point is that Washington simply could not care less about a visit that Canada put at the centre of its agenda. American newspapers devoted hardly an inch of column space to the trip, save for words spoken by Mr Bush about Iraq and domestic issues. American issues. In the US, no one even noticed that their president had popped across.

And that's probably how it should be. Canada and the United States share the world's largest trading relationship, the longest un-miltarised border on the planet and a host of other commonalities that go beyond the squabbles over Iraq or beef or anything else for that matter.

The US considers Canada family and although Canadians don't like Mr Bush very much or his wars, they're fond of their American, er, call them cousins. That's why Canadian diplomacy is hugely focussed on Washington, on managing a massively complex but abiding relationship that blows hot, warm and occasionally chilly. But never, ever hostile. Even when Ottawa refuses to send troops to help the US invade Iraq. Even when it serves the Commander in Chief beef that's banned at home.

Now there's a lesson here for Nepal, for New Zealand, for Mongolia, for Belgium, for Uruguay, for, I dare say, Ukraine, for any other lightly populated or small country that has a huge neighbour. However much they annoy you, however much they seem unable to get it right sometimes, however much they ignore you or don't take you seriously, get along with them. Keep them largely happy and put some effort into the relationship.

Start getting the dal-bhat ready for Manmohan Singh, some gundruk and lapsi, alu tareko fried in banaspati ghiu. And aila to wash it all down.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)