Nepali Times
Here And There
A glass of hope


As an elder of the diminishing worldwide community of optimists, I am often asked for my opinion on particular issues. At which point I usually wake up and utter the phrase "half full" before nodding back to sleep and hoping my questioner will go away. Lately though, it's been hard to find any trace of liquid in the proverbial glass that's supposed to be fifty percent water, fifty percent empty space.

Let's start with Iraq. Now if there's anyone, anywhere who find anything resembling an upside to the absurd theatre of redoubled demonisation emanating from Washington towards the Tigris-Euphrates basin, I'll rush to sit at their feet and listen in awe. Maybe that rotter Saddam Hussein does have all these horrible devices that he's accused of possessing. Never mind that the leading anti-Saddam hawk on the UN weapons inspection team, the American Scott Ritter, now says he doesn't. Just presume he does. Then the best thing to do is to jolly well bash him about until he gives them up. Isn't it?

Er, no, says just about everyone else but the Americans. Even the Israelis worry that Saddam-with B52s bombing Iraq into rubble all around him-might just decide it's time for the last waltz, for him to go out with an ugly, poisonous bang before he turns out the lights. So if we accept Washington's argument that he has them, and he plans to use them, where's the wisdom into provoking him into poisoning his neighbours, Israel or the Himalayan-Hindu Kush region that lies downwind of the Gulf, especially in January when the fireworks are due to start.

So we optimists are forced to grasp at the following microscopic straw. He doesn't have such weapons, at least on any scale, and President Bush's plan is hammer him-like the Taleban in Afghanistan-until he collapses, then loudly trumpet a victory for the war on terror. A rare victory, perhaps the only victory. Then it'll be time for America to retreat into resolving its growing domestic problems and for the White House to focus on its most important task, getting George W Bush re-elected in 2004. History tells us that presidents who don't get the economy right get more time to play golf than bomb enemies.

Okay, Iraq. Sorted. Now what about India-Pakistan. Well, the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are proceeding despite violence, apathy and fear. Yet there's no doubt any number of Kashmiris are voting, wanting peace, normality, jobs for their kids. That wretched evil attack in Gujarat last week provoked little in the way of a response from India, which shows admirable restraint, but does little to quell public demands for an end to vulnerability. Hmmmm, tough one. How about this? Once the J and K elections are over, India will live up to its promise to talk to Kashmiris, all of them, separatists, pro-India types, Muslims, Hindus, business people and so on. The talks will be fraught with difficulty and there will be frequent displays of pique on all sides. Quietly, Pakistan will be talking to India too, even more quietly to some of the Kashmiris.

Eventually, in the name of the economy and under immense western and Japanese pressure, a troubled, controversial settlement will be worked out along with plans for a referendum. Pakistan will claim that voting fulfils its interminable demands for a UN-sponsored plebiscite on the fate of Kashmir. India will say nonsense, it's yet another exercise in the sort of democracy we've been practising for decades. Pakistan's mullahs will howl with outrage but Musharaff will be committed, under fierce pressure from his many creditors, to get his act together and opt for regional peace.

The next generation in India, Pakistan, Kashmir and indeed, South Asia, will live somewhat less in fear of nuclear annihilation.

Now Nepal. Oh dear. Here, I worry that too few of the fundamentals are in place, even for an elder optimist like myself to start postulating properly. But I promise to spend the next week ignoring the Byzantine goings-in in the political courts of Kathmandu. Instead, I'll reflect on the sufferings of the people, the shadowy plans of the Maoists and the overwhelming goodwill of the world for Nepal. I hope, pray even, that'll lead to a ray of hope. Otherwise I may have to give up on optimism.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)