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What if a 'Lebanon' comes up on our border?

By T V R Shenoy
August 03, 2006 18:21 IST
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Can two swords live comfortably in a single scabbard? Can two armies coexist in a single nation-state? And what happens if that clash of rival swords takes place across the Indian border?

Let me start with something happening on the other side of Asia before I come closer home. Knowing perfectly well my secularist brethren will foam at the mouth should they read this, I believe Israel had a point when it sent its soldiers into 'Lebanon'.

I have deliberately placed 'Lebanon' within quotes; simply put, I do not believe that 'Lebanon' meets the minimum standard to qualify as a proper country -- namely the capacity of a government to enforce its will within its borders. Hezbollah runs its own army, enforces its own foreign policy, and organises its own network of social security organisations (schools, hospitals, pension funds).

What exactly is the response of the 'government of Lebanon' as Israel tries to cleanse the rats' nest? Its hapless Prime Minister Fouad Siniora runs to Rome and crawls before the assembled Western dignitaries, begging them to send soldiers to protect his people. I am surprised he didn't take this whining to its logical extent, pleading with France to declare that it was resuming its old status as colonial master of the territory!

Some would argue that this is not how the world should be, to which I respond that this is how the world is -- and always has been for that matter. In 1908, imperial Japan occupied the kingdom of Korea. The then president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, refused to intervene.

'Korea is absolutely Japan's. To be sure, by treaty it was solemnly covenanted that Korea should remain independent. But Korea was itself helpless to enforce the treaty, and it was out of the question to suppose that any other nation would attempt to do for the Koreans what they were utterly unable to do for themselves.' Substitute 'Lebanon' for 'Korea', and little has changed in a century.

Let me sum up the situation as I see it. The 'government of Lebanon' is unable to prevent the Hezbollah terrorists from using its soil to attack Israel, and it is equally helpless in preventing Israel from extracting justice. So tell me again, why exactly is the Left Front demanding that India snap all defense links with Israel (which happens to be the second-largest supplier of military equipment to India)?

Frankly, the only time I want to hear about the Government of India taking any action vis-a-vis 'Lebanon' is to hear that it is extracting every Indian citizen from that troubled Mediterranean territory. That includes every soldier seconded to the United Nations. Sadly, the deaths of Indians sent to West Asia for God-knows-what-reason has not been adequately covered in the media. (Scroll down to Robert Fisk's diary entry for Wednesday, 26 July.)

I have spoken, so far, only about what was, once, a country called 'Lebanon'. It is, thank Heaven, far off enough that we can ignore it should we choose. But what happens if a 'Lebanon' comes up right across the Indian border?

I speak of Nepal. We have in the form of the Maoists an exact equivalent of the bloody-minded Hezbollah. They too have set up an army of their own, a trained and equipped militia that has thus far refused to disarm. It is, again like Hezbollah, inimical to its southern neighbour -- India rather than Israel. It is, once again like Hezbollah, all too willing to sing the praises of its giant northern mentor -- China in place of Syria. And Nepal's ministers are just as helpless to enforce their will on the Maoists as those in 'Lebanon' are reluctant to criticise the Hezbollah terrorists.

Let me remind readers that on New Year's Day of 1975, Lebanon was arguably the best administered nation in the Arab world, and that its capital, Beirut, served as the banking headquarters of choice for the whole region. It was seven years of civil war that destroyed Lebanon, long before Israel crossed the border in 1982. Could we see a repetition in South Asia?

As a student of history, however, I think a better analogy might be a western European nation precisely seventy years ago.

'At the end of July 1936 the increasing degeneration of the Parliamentary regime in Spain, and the growing strength of the movements for a Communist, or alternatively an anarchist revolution, led to a military revolt which had long been preparing. It is part of the Communist doctrine and drill-book, laid down by Lenin himself, that Communists should aid all movements towards the Left and help into office weak Constitutional, Radical, or Socialist Governments. These they should undermine, and from their falling hands snatch absolute power, and found the Marxist State. In fact, a perfect reproduction of the Kerensky period in Russia was taking place in Spain. But the strength of Spain had not been shattered by foreign war. The Army still maintained a measure of cohesion.'

That lengthy quotation is from the first volume of Churchill's monumental history of the Second World War. Which part of it could not apply equally well to contemporary Nepal?

The Maoists's hatred of India -- indeed for Hinduism -- is no secret. Mere months after the weak seven-party alliance took power in Kathmandu the Maoists began to present the bill for their support, and even the Manmohan Singh ministry has been forced to take notice. (Interested readers should peruse this.) Please note that the Maoists are not against foreigners per se, they are making Indians a specific target, not, say, the Chinese. Draw your own conclusions from that!

There are some apologists who believe that there is no harm in the Maoists coming to power in Nepal. These are the myopic men who applauded Sitaram Yechury's trip to Nepal, where the CPI-M Politburo member talked to the local Maoists. There was even talk of the Maoists in turn 'helping' with their Indian brethren, the Naxalites.

This nonsense holds water only if you are living in a fool's paradise. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Naxalites as the greatest internal threat to India. And West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee put it very tersely when he said, 'What do the Naxalites here ask for? They do not want us to construct roads or to conduct health camps. I see no logic in their demands. They don't have any socio-economic programme. All they want is to kill the police and the CPI-M.'

In the same interview Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also said, 'They will come to attend this constituent assembly (in Nepal). If the Maoists join mainstream politics, one can well imagine what the outcome will be. It is sheer madness." It is worth reading the Rediff interview for the chief minister's views on illegal immigration from Bangladesh too!

The civil war in Spain began as the outcome of an outraged army taking on a radical Left. The civil war in Lebanon began as a conflict between Christians battling Muslims. Whether caused by religion or ideology, the result was the same. I see some of the same conditions being created in Nepal. King Gyanendra is indeed unpopular, but the middle class and the army are uneasy about their ministers' eagerness to appease the Maoists, not least in compromising the status of the Hindu religion. What will happen if the Maoists go too far?

I hope the Himalayan kingdom is not wrecked by the same bloodshed that stains the Lebanese hills. But, even as we hope for a peaceful evolution in Nepal, it would be prudent to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Does the Manmohan Singh ministry -- functioning without an external affairs minister for over six months -- have any policy for Nepal?

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T V R Shenoy