South Asia Theater
Reversing a policy instated by his own father, President Bush has authorized the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan—a move India has warned could destabilize the region. The US banned the sale of such potential nuclear delivery systems to Pakistan in 1990 due to concerns about its nuclear weapons program.
New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited New Delhi March 16, where she offered India US assistance in building nuclear plants, while admonishing Indian leaders to drop plans to build a pipeline to import natural gas from Iran. Ironically, the US is seeking to isolate Iran over its perceived nuclear ambitions, while India has already developed and tested nuclear weapons. (SMH, March 18)
While a big anti-Syria rally in Lebanon made the front page of the NY Times Feb. 15, a nationwide coordinated campaign of protests for restoration of democratic rule in Nepal—harshly put down with hundreds of arrests—rated only a small blurb in the "World Briefing" section at the bottom of page 6. Nepal has almost completely dropped from the news since the seizure of dictatorial emergency powers by the king Feb. 1, but repression is escalating. Student protest leaders are wanted for arrest and have gone into hiding; newspaper editors who report on the protests are themselves hauled before the police and held "for questioning"; the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has called for a thorough investigation in the recent shooting of an editor in east Nepal, and for the immediate release of detained journalists.
Pakistani authorities say they will appeal the acquittal by the country's Supreme Court of five men charged in an "honor rape" case that drew international condemnation.
The crisis in Nepal has disappeared from the headlines since King Gyanendra suspended civil government in an "auto-coup" Feb. 1, but he continues to tighten dictatorial rule in the Himalayan kingdom. For the first weeks after the coup, newspapers ran blank space in their pages to let readers know that stories had been cesnored. But after the editors of four major newsweeklies were detained for several days and threatened with prosecution for implicitly criticizing the king, they pledged to halt the practice. (AFP, Feb. 26)
The crushing of a rally for the restoration of democracy in Nepal Feb. 10 rated a tiny blurb of wire copy on page 10 of the next day's NY Times. Meanwhile, the crisis in the Himalayan kingdom rapidly deepens. Security forces are hunting down the 150 inmates liberated from a prison in an attack by Maoist rebels, and pledge to break up road blockades the guerillas intend to launch throughout the country to resist the state of emergency. Concerned about reports of detention of political leaders, rights activists and journalists, Amnesty International is sending a special high-level team to Kathmandu, led by the group's secretary general Irene Khan. (Indo-Asian News Service, Feb. 11)
The first public protest for restoration of democracy in Nepal since King Gyanendra suspended civil government Feb. 1 was predictably shut down by police Feb. 10, as 12 members of the Human Rights and Peace Society were arrested upon arriving at the gathering point. As the detainees were hustled into vans, police set up a cordon around the rally site to prevent other activists from gathering.
With most of the international community condemnding King Gyanendra's suspension of civil government and democratic rights in Nepal, Pakistan's embassy in Kathmandu released a statement of support for the king, saying "Pakistan and Nepal share the objectives of combatting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations" and invoking the principle of non-interference. The People's Republic of China is the only other nation to refrain from criticizing the king's power seizure.