Thursday, December 22, 2005

Robert Kaplan Is An American Cowboy

Op-Ed Piece Sent To The New York Times

To: The Editor, Wall Street Journal.

My attention has been drawn to the recent Robert Kaplan article on Nepal in your newspaper. I am one of the leading Nepali democracy activists in the US, based out of New York City. I have received emails from friends asking me to write a rebuttal to the article.

Robert Kaplan's pride and joy is that he is not gun shy. I wrote the title of my blog entry on him - Robert Kaplan Is An American Cowboy - before I googled him. My suspicions have only been confirmed. This is a cowboy through and through. His prescription for the Nepali army is the same as for the US army. He emphasizes a light, agile force. I would not argue with that. It makes military sense. But he takes it one step further and thinks it has universal applications. He is so excited about the military idea that he has been cultivating for years that he totally misses the political picture in Nepal.

Expert after expert has come out saying there is no military solution to the civil war in Nepal, that there is only a political solution. That puts Kaplan in the wrong camp to start with.

The idea is to make possible a soft landing for the Maoists so that they end up one of several political parties in a multi-party Nepal. And I think peace and democracy will be hastened if the international opinion makers like Kaplan were to nudge the king towards a constituent assembly, the same idea for which America has spent $200 billion, 2100 American lives, and 30,000 Iraqi lives and counting. In Nepal the foreign powers can make the assembly possible simply by standing behind the idea. A respectful, partial integration of the Maoist army into the state army will have to precede any such elections. But before all that, the currrent regime has to fall, and an interim government has to take its place.

That is the roadmap we democrats are working towards. It is beneath someone of Kaplan's wide reputation to write so irresponsibly about Nepal. These are people who read books on other countries to get their ideas about Nepal. There are plenty of books and articles on Nepal available. He needs to be reading them instead.

Unless he was just passing through, as he has been wont to do through many a country.

Paramendra Bhagat
Brooklyn, NY

Who Lost Nepal? By ROBERT D. KAPLAN December 20, 2005; Page A14
Wall Street Journal

Nepal, sandwiched between the two rising economic and demographic behemoths of the age — China and India — could be the first country since the fall of the Berlin Wall where communists emerge triumphant. If the Bush administration does not act decisively, that’s what might happen. The administration should not take solace in the flurry of negotiations between the Maoist insurgents (who control most of the hinterlands) and the country’s political parties in Kathmandu, which could undermine the last vestige of legitimate royal authority while further strengthening the insurgents.

By canceling Special Forces training missions to the besieged Royal Nepalese Army, and with the possibility of lethal cuts of American aid to the local military, the administration, along with Washington, has bought into popular abstractions about how to best implant democracy while ignoring the facts on the ground.

Nepal is fast becoming a replay of both Cambodia in the mid-1970s and El Salvador a decade later. In Cambodia, the monstrous Khmer Rouge were threatening the capital of Phnom Penh, home to a pathetically undemocratic yet legitimate regime to which a Democratic Congress had cut off aid — a result of the Watergate-inflicted weakness of the Nixon administration. In El Salvador, murderous right-wing forces that nevertheless represented a legitimate state were pitted against murderous left-wing ones that represented the geopolitical ambitions of the Soviet Union and Cuba. Though the media emphasized the atrocities of the right wing, the Reagan administration had little choice but to work with them. Eventually, the right wing in El Salvador, with the help of a small number of Army Special Forces trainers, won the day. And in the years that followed the Salvadoran state and military were reformed.

Winning the day did not mean outright success on the battlefield. It meant bloodying the left’s nose enough to give the state an edge in negotiations. Ronald Reagan, a Wilsonian, was also a realist. President Bush now needs to take Reagan’s El Salvador model to heart in Nepal.

* * *

In Nepal, there is an undemocratic monarch (King Gyanendra Bikram Shah) who has canceled the political process, even as his military is guilty of human-rights violations including the undocumented disappearances of civilians. It is also true that the political parties the king has disenfranchised are comprised of feudal politicians, unable to rise above caste loyalties and whose version of democracy was responsible for bringing the country to its knees in the 1990s, thus igniting the Maoist revolt in the first place.

As for the Royal Nepalese Army, or RNA, it is a typical Third World military with all which that entails, from poor discipline to poor record-keeping regarding detainees. The exemplary human-rights record that Washington demands will not be reached in Nepal until the society itself evolves. Meanwhile, the crimes that the RNA is alleged to have committed bear no comparison to those of the Maoists, such as “mutilation atrocities” in which a victim’s bones are broken before his limbs are cut off. Just as there are no good guys in this conflict, nor is there moral parity.

Unrestricted aid to the Royal Nepalese Army is neither necessary nor warranted. I am suggesting a resumption of Special Forces training to one RNA Ranger battalion in particular, as part of a broad-based political strategy that highlights a dialogue between the king and the country’s politicians. Special Forces are a tool, not an answer. The Nepalese Ranger battalion in question is one I know, having spent time at its training base with its officers and enlistees during a recent visit to Nepal.

The Nepalese officers are fluent English-speakers, graduates of Sandhurst, and of either the U.S. Army Ranger course at Fort Benning, Ga., or the Special Forces “Q” Course at Fort Bragg, N.C. These officers speak intelligently and specifically about human rights, and they bear striking resemblance to foreign students at our top liberal-arts universities. A sub-group of the global elite, they would likely make a better impression in Washington than many Nepalese politicians.

Nepalese Rangers fight and train at the squad and team levels, unlike most other third world military units that I’ve observed, which are only confident fighting in mass, at the company level or higher. Counterinsurgency, it should be said, is about small-unit penetration.

Because the political process in Kathmandu will take many months to at least ameliorate, this Ranger battalion is the best tangible mechanism available to keep pressure on the Maoists in the field while that happens. There is no military solution in Nepal — but concomitantly, there can be no political solution without military pressure. This is an aspect of the problem often missed by journalists and human-rights workers, whose relationship with each other is quite close, even as their one with military experts in Kathmandu is less so. In any case, the autocracy of the king and the periodic abuses of the RNA will be tossed aside by the media if the hammer-and-sickle ever does go up in Nepal, as the same media starts chanting, “Who Lost Nepal?”

Don’t discount the possibility. The Maoists have taken a cluster of ideological ideals and launched them into a full-fledged militaristic cult. I saw a similar process unfold in the 1980s in Eritrea, where the guerrilla movement went on to topple the Ethiopian government. Like the Eritreans, the Maoists are media-savvy, whereas the Royal Nepalese Army is not. (It took me weeks of lobbying with Nepalese officials to gain access to their elite Ranger battalion.) The political children of the 1990s in Nepal, who saw free-market economics and popular democracy breed greater social disparities, the Maoists embody a rebuke to globalization that cannot be divorced from social currents running throughout South Asia.

To wit: Nearby Bangladesh, which used to feature a relative easygoing coexistence between Hinduism and a mild Islam, is witnessing a starker and more assertive Wahabbist strain. A poor country that can’t say “no” to money, with an unregulated coastline, Bangladesh has become the perfect set-up for al Qaeda. As for India, because it is so diverse we have tended to see it in stereotypes: the locus of spiritualism during the hippie era and the locus of software genius during an era of global journalists who move between slick corporate headquarters and luxury hotels. But India, as usual, is seething with social unrest, renewed regional identities and impressively resilient leftist movements.

The Bush administration wants India to step up to the plate in Nepal. But India is itself conflicted about the Nepalese situation. Even if the Indian government wants to weaken the Maoists, left-wing parties within the Byzantine political firmament of New Delhi sympathize with them, and have the means of assistance across a porous border. While India does not want to see throngs of refugees from a Maoist Nepal stampede into its already unstable state of Bihar, India also enjoys the fact of a weak, divided client regime next door.

Alas, there is also China, which, just as it did in Uzbekistan, is waiting for human-rights issues to tie the Bush administration’s hands to the point where Beijing can walk in and provide aid without regard to the host country’s moral improvement. China has promised another $1 million in military aid to a Nepalese regime that the U.S. refuses to help, even as Nepal’s defense minister has met with his counterpart in Beijing.

A few Special Forces training teams and some basic weapons — as a tool to everything else we’re doing in the political sphere — is all that should be needed. The earlier in a crisis we intervene, the smaller the military footprint required. That’s how to prevent future Iraqs and Afghanistans.

Mr. Kaplan is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and author of “Imperial Grunts” (Random House, 2005).

Kaplan Biography
The Globalist | Biography of Robert Kaplan
The Media and Medievalism by Robert D. Kaplan - Policy Review, No. 128
The Camden Conference 2004: Robert D. Kaplan
General Theory of Religion Listmania! - View List "The Complete Robert D. Kaplan"
Robert D. Kaplan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia a prominent but controversial American journalist currently an editor for the Atlantic Monthly. His writings have also been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, The National Interest, and The Wall Street Journal ...... his more controversial essays about the nature of U.S. power have spurred debate in academia, the media, and the highest levels of government ..... He lived in Israel for several years and joined the Israeli army...... when the Yugoslav Wars broke out, President Bill Clinton was seen with Kaplan's book tucked under his arm, and White House insiders and aides said the book convinced the President against intervention in Bosnia .... his popularity skyrocketed shortly thereafter along with demand for his controversial reporting..... Kaplan had not set out to influence U.S. foreign policy, but his work began to find a wide readership in high levels of government..... New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called Kaplan one of the "most widely read" authors defining the post-Cold War, along with Francis Fukuyama, Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington, and Yale Professor Paul Kennedy. ...... In his book Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, published shortly after 9/11, Kaplan offered the opinion that political and business leaders should discard Christian/Jewish morality in public decision-making in favor of a pagan morality focused on the morality of the result rather than the morality of the means...... Kaplan predicts that the age of mass infantry warfare is probably over and has said that the conflict in Iraq caught the U.S. Army in between being a "dinosaur" and a "light and lethal force of the future."........ Kaplan sees large parts of the world where the US military is operating as "injun country" which must be civilized by the same methods used to subdue the American Frontier in the 1800s. At one point he observes a Filipino and says that: "His smiling, naïve eyes cried out for what we in the West call colonialism."....... He has lectured at military war colleges, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, major universities, the CIA, and business forums, and has appeared on PBS, NPR, C-Span, and Fox News..... "Kaplan, over his career, appears to have become someone who is too fond of war. "It could be said," he has written, "that occasional small wars and occupations are good for us." He's expanded on this topic: those "occasional wars" are "evidence of humanity." This is because "peaceful times are also superficial times."" -- David Lipsky ...... and his argument--that our future is being shaped far away 'at the ends of the earth' ..... Here is a serious writer in 2005 admiring the Indian wars, which in their brutality brought about the end of an entire American civilization." -- David Rieff in The New Republic ...... "Because he specializes in exploring the San Andreas faults of the modern geopolitical system, his books have had more influence on politicians and policy makers than most travel writing." -- Adam Garfinkle .......
Robert D. Kaplan "A Post-Saddam Scenario," The Atlantic Monthly ...
Financial Sense Newshour's Ask The Expert: Robert D. Kaplan

Isolating The Monarchy

International Community

It is already solidly behind. But we need to keep up the pressure. There are not many examples on world stage where the major powers like India, Europe and the US are so solidly behind a people's aspirations for democracy. And that is a total reflection of the vibrant pro-democracy crowd in Nepal. Absent that the global community could have done little but look the other way for the most part.

Time will not cure this pressure for the king. There has to be a concrete change in ground realities.

It is not true China is supporting the king. China is at best staying neutral. China is too engaged with India, Europe and America to pick fights with them over Nepal.

The diaspora in the US needs to turn up the heat a little more. There has to be greater lobbying. The good work has to be made better.

There is a possible scenario such that the seven party alliance might have to unilaterally declare the formation of an interim government at the height of the movement. At that point we will need all the international friends we have got to recognize that government.

But this part of the homework is mostly done.

Seven Party Alliance, Maoists, Civic Society, The Masses

There has to be a strong alliance of these four forces. The first three need to come together for the benefit of the four. The 12 point agreement between the Maoists and the seven party alliance has to be revised. The seven parties need to let go the House revival stand. And the Maoists need to be willing to let go of their army before the country enters into a constituent assembly. Two of the four projects of the Nepali diaspora in the US are to do with the civic society, and two are to do with the seven party alliance. They are designed to bring them together and cement their bonds.

Ultimately the show of force is going to be when the people show up out in the streets in large numbers. I can feel the groundswell.

The king's reluctance to seek genuine dialogue leaves room only for a decisive confrontation.


They are already with us. They can not join the movement en masse during the early stages. But they will come out in large numbers when it is time to hit the decisive blow. They have been harassed and penalized like the rest of the population. We need to stay in touch with all our contacts inside the bureaucracy. We need to make the regime feel it has no way to keep secrets.


It has not been as out and out as it could be, but the Nepal Bar Association is solidly behind the movement. Shambhu Thapa has been providing great leadership. The Supreme Court itself has prevented excesses by the regime in several ways.


The idea is not to confront the police. We should seek to befriend them and win them over. Being realistic, it might not be possible to avoid confrontations altogether, but we should seek to avoid them as much as possible. The idea is not to fight the police. We are not trying to dismantle the state machinery. We are trying to take it over.

The Army

Should there be a military crackdown, a lot of the army honchos are going to end up behind bars. It is illegal to follow illegal orders. Both giving and following orders will get you into trouble.

On the other hand, try and win them over. The foot soldiers are all janata ko chhoro. They might be susceptible to concerted propaganda.

Stay in touch with all your contacts in the army as well. A lot of up and coming army officers are big on the professional army idea. They are not there for the king. Many of them are in touch with select elements of the diaspora.

Protect The Demonstrators

Document all assaults. This movement will be different from the one in 1990. Legal action is to be initiated this time to book the guilty. The right to peacefully protest is a fundamental human right. No regime or constitution can take it away.

Senator Patrick Leahy

Mr. President, this is the third time in the past six months that I have spoken in this chamber about Nepal. I do so because this land of mostly impoverished tea and rice farmers who toil between India and China on precipitous hillsides in the shadows of the Himalayas, is experiencing a political crisis that may plunge the country into chaos.

As many predicted, King Gyanendra’s seizure of absolute power on February 1st and suppression of civil liberties has damaged Nepal’s foreign relations, triggered clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and the police, and strengthened the Maoist insurgency.

The Maoists, whose use of extortion and brutality against poor villagers has spread throughout the country, announced a unilateral ceasefire on September 3rd which they recently extended for an additional month. Although flawed, the ceasefire was the impetus for a loose alliance with Nepal’s weak political parties after the King refused to negotiate with them and sought instead to consolidate his own grip on power.

Last month, the Maoists and the parties endorsed a vaguely worded but important 12 point understanding that could be the basis for a national dialogue to restore democracy and end the conflict. That, however, would require some reciprocal confidence building measures by the army, which has so far rejected the Maoist ceasefire as a ploy and continues to see itself as the defender of an anachronistic, corrupt and autocratic monarchy.

Although the army has won praise for its role in international peacekeeping missions, its reputation has been badly tarnished because of its abusive and ineffective campaign against the Maoists. It has engaged in arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings of ordinary citizens, which has alienated many of the same people who have been victims of the Maoists.

On December 10th, when hundreds of Nepali citizens took to the streets to protest the King’s repressive actions, the police used force to break up the rally and arrested several dozen people. The press reported another 120 arrests and dozens injured in demonstrations on December 17th. More protests are likely, and it may be only a matter of time before Katmandu is in the full throes of a pitched battle between pro-democracy demonstrators and the King’s security forces.

This is the disheartening situation in which Nepal finds itself today. The immediate challenge for the United States is how to help promote a political dialogue which includes the broadest possible participation from Nepali society to restore and strengthen democracy and end the conflict.

The Maoist ceasefire, while welcome, was a tactical move to lure the political parties into an alliance and further isolate the palace. There is no way to predict with confidence if the Maoists would participate in a political process in good faith, or simply use it as a ruse to gain new recruits and weapons. A resumption of attacks against civilians would be condemned and resisted by the international community. The Maoists should know that they cannot defeat the government by force, and as long as they extort money and property and abduct children they will be seen as enemies of the Nepali people.

Similarly, military experts have concluded that Nepal’s undisciplined army cannot defeat a determined insurgency that attacks civilians and army posts and then disappears into the mountains.

There are also concerns about Nepal’s political parties, who do not have a record of putting the interests of the nation above their own self interest. But the political parties, for all their flaws, are the real representatives of the Nepali people. They urgently need to reform, but there is no substitute for them.

Despite these difficulties and uncertainties, it is clear that the King has failed to provide the leadership to build bridges with the country’s democratic forces and develop a workable plan. It is also clear that efforts by the international community, including the United States, to appeal to the King to start such a process, have failed. The Bush Administration should apply whatever pressure it can, including denying U.S. visas to Nepali officials and their families.

With few options and no guarantees, Nepal’s hour of reckoning is approaching. There is a growing possibility that the King’s obstinacy and unpopularity will trigger massive civil unrest, shootings and arrests of many more civilians by soldiers and police, Nepal's further isolation, and perhaps the end of the monarchy itself.

Only the army has the ability to convince the King to abandon his imperial ambitions, but time is running out. The army’s chief of staff, General Pyar Jung Thapa, was privileged to receive training at the Army War College and he has participated in other U.S. military training programs. He has led Nepali troops in UN peacekeeping missions. He knows, or he should have learned, that the function of a modern, professional military is to protect the rights and security of the people, not the privileges of a dictator who has squandered the moral authority of his office. It is not only in the interests of Nepal, but in the army’s long term self interest, to show real leadership at this critical time.

The United States should do everything possible to encourage the army to announce its own ceasefire, to accept international observers as the Maoists have said they would do, and to support a broadly inclusive political dialogue with or without the participation of the palace.

Such a process, to be meaningful, must lead to free and fair elections. The municipal elections announced by King Gyanendra for early next year, without any consultation with the political parties, are no solution. An attempt to apply a veneer of legitimacy to an otherwise undemocratic process will only prolong and exacerbate this crisis.

Many of the Maoist’s grievances mirror those of the majority of Nepal’s people who for centuries have suffered from discrimination, poverty, and abuse by one corrupt government after another. But Nepal’s problems, which are at the root of the conflict, can only be solved through a transparent, democratic process. The Maoists have opened the door a crack for that to begin. The army should reciprocate. The international community should lend its support.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat, Vermont
Senator Leahy To US Congress On Nepal