Back in Washington, Meetings Galore

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WASHINGTON/TAMPA

After a two-night break in warm Tampa, a most welcome respite from New York’s cold embrace, this weary traveler turned around, and took off, a la an ageing James Bond, for Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, the “nation’s capital” – this time by himself.

Meetings, Meetings

Desirous of getting a proper feel of Washington’s political and diplomatic temperature or pulse, yours faithfully began a series of meetings with a variety of individuals, encounters arranged through personal effort and/or through the cooperation of acquaintances and personal contacts in America.

That includes Dipta Shah, a bright young Nepali who works with a think tank, who made necessary email introductions and even otherwise offered many timely and penetrating insights relevant to the Washington public policy scene.

The first of the series of meetings was with Thomas A. Marks, chair of the Irregular Warfare Department at the School for National Defense University in DC. Well-known in Nepal for his frequent articles and writing on the Maoists, Tom hosted a pizza dinner at a popular restaurant in the company of a friend of his, an expert on China.

It was a stimulating evening at the end of which I was presented with Tom’s “Maoist People’s War in Post-Vietnam Asia” a heavy glossy tome which was adorned both on its cover and on its back with photographs of the Maoists’ PLA.

Though when back in Nepal I intend to read through the latest work of the author that seeks to provide a definite exploration of the most effective means of irregular war yet devised, I did quickly browse through Nepal’s segment. Not surprisingly, I discovered it to be impressive for its meticulous field research, incisive observations and acute analysis of available data.

Lunch/Tea With Ambassadors

Another highlight of the trip to DC was a visit to the Nepal Embassy followed by a Nepali lunch hosted at his residence by newly arrived Ambassador Dr. Suresh Raj Chalise with whom I had earlier made telephonic contact from New York.

He has been registered as an accredited Ambassador but was expecting to present his credentials to President Bush only sometime next month. He was full of enthusiasm and looked forward to getting down to business as soon as possible. I wish him luck.

Interestingly enough, it turned out that, later that day, both of us were invited for tea by former American Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch at her impressive residence not too far from the Nepali Ambassador’s residence.

Also invited for the same occasion was one Jonathan M. Goosen, Manager, Asia Institute for Political Economy, who wished to organize some activity in Kathmandu towards which end contacts with a few Nepalis had been initiated.

Not surprisingly, Julia was keen to have our – the ambassador’s and my – understandably very different perspectives on the situation in Nepal. She confessed that while she tried to keep herself current on Nepalese affairs, especially before any speaking assignment that had relevance to Nepal, there were big gaps in her current knowledge base.

She served us umpteen cups of delicately flavoured jasmine tea, dainty cakes and other edibles in her well appointed drawing room crammed with bric-a-brac from around the world but especially with valuable Chinese objets d’art reflecting not only her Chinese roots but also her continuing interest in America-China relations.

Foggy Bottom

Undeniably, the highlight of my latest DC sojourn was an intensive presentation-cum-discussion encounter on the situation in Nepal at the U.S State Department, or Foggy Bottom as it is also informally or endearingly known as.

Arranged by Nepal analyst Ms Kate Bateman and Robert K. Boggs, former DCM at the American Embassy in Kathmandu under former Ambassador Michael Malinowski, it provided a splendid opportunity for me not only to let off steam but also to familiarize myself with U.S concerns and priorities vis-a-vis Nepal. It was topped by lunch hosted by Boggs at the Executive Dining Room, Foggy Bottom, and the opportunity to get a brief from him on his recent visit to other regions of South Asia which constitute part of his State Department “empire”.

Incidentally, Bateman greeted me at the lobby of the State Department by referring to my earlier piece in this very column about Thanksgiving. It was also personally gratifying to note that those assembled around the U-shaped table of the briefing room I was escorted to had notebooks and pencils besides photocopies of my CV as published in a booklet I had written a few years ago on the political situation back home.

Among those present on the occasion was Diane E. Kelly, Deputy Director, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives & Bhutan.

Another valuable encounter was one that took place after the State Department meeting. This was at the Johns Hopkins University’s The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Or, more precisely, this was with Prof. David M. Lampton, Dean of Faculty, Hyman Professor, Director, China Studies.

The encounter was made possible by Pradumna Bikram Thapa, a young Nepali scholar who works there. He in fact picked me up from Foggy Bottom and escorted me to Lampton’s office at JHU where I was given a very thorough if precise briefing on the current state of play in Sino-American relations.

CSIS Brief

The following day was another educative one. This time the edification came in the form of an excellent tour d’horizon offered by Ambassador Teresita C. Shaffer on India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

I had met with Ambassador Schaffer on my previous visit to Washington two and a half years back when I was a house guest for a few days of Ambassador Kedar Bhakta Shrestha and had made email request for a meeting with her soon after my arrival in Tampa from Kathmandu.

Ambassador Shaffer, Director, South Asia Program and a former U.S. envoy to Sri Lanka, confessed that she was not familiar with the situation in Nepal and, in turn, requested a brief from me.

The academic to-and-fro was followed by a delectable Chinese lunch hosted by Maya Karki, previously associated with the American Center in Kathmandu, near her workplace at the library of the George Mason University in Virginia just outside DC. Her husband, Birendra, an employee of a Marriot hotel also in Virginia, could not make it. In the past, he was assistant manager at the Yak and Yeti hotel in Kathmandu.

While Maya was naturally nostalgic about Nepal and was curious about the zany political goings-on in Nepal, she admitted that her relocation in the United States had done a world of good for the education and future of her two daughters and son. Here’s wishing her and her family all the very best.

Bangladesh, Pakistan

Through efforts initiated from Kathmandu, I managed interesting meetings with Bangladesh Ambassador Humayun Kabir and Pakistan DCM, Mohammad Aslam Khan at their respective embassies in DC’s Embassy Row.

Ambassador Kabir, who had served in Kathmandu not too long ago, was very interested for an update on Nepal, confessing that he was following events and developments there via the Internet. After an interesting exchange of views and insights, we parted with Ambassador Kabir requesting me to convey his personal greetings to all our common friends.

DCM Khan offered a brief discourse on the state of U.S-Pakistan relations, made all the more interesting in that it took place against the current state of uncertainty in Pakistan.

While I was impressed by the structure of the Bangladesh Embassy, especially its interior, I was amazed by the Embassy of Pakistan which was even more attention-grabbing both in terms of size and architectural elegance. It goes without saying, of course, that Nepal’s Embassy appeared totally shabby and tiny by contrast, although sited in a more downtown location. When will this sorry state of affairs ever change?

Incidentally, it was interesting that the Pakistan Embassy was sited almost side by side to the new Chinese Embassy, presently under construction. Its mammoth size not only dwarfed every building and embassy in its vicinity, including the Van Ness campus of the University of the District of Columbia, but that it was a sight to see hundreds of Chinese construction workers with hard hats milling, some within earshot distance speaking Chinese.

Spy Museum

Having half a day to “kill” following my visit to the Pakistan Embassy I decided to cough up 15 bucks to visit one of DC’s most talked about museums – the International Spy Museum. Here I spent a delightful if slightly tiring three hours learning about the art and history of espionage via an interactive and even playful tour.

Though expensive, especially in a city where entrance to most museums is free, it is worth it – if, that is, you are into the James Bond stuff. If I had gone there fresh in the morning I believe I could have spent even four hours. However, not many long time residents had visited it.

Dr Hemanta R. Mishra, who now works for Richard Blum, husband of Senator Diane Fenstein, who hosted two delightful evenings at a DC English style pub, confessed that he had not yet visited the Spy Museum but said that he would soon.

With long and first-rate contacts in DC, Hemanta was delightful company providing a bagful of interesting tid-bits about Washingtonian lore, and anecdotes about the rich and powerful, not to mention those with a Nepal relevance.

Laba Karki, a young and bright lawyer working for a prominent law firm, was another generous host. At his home in Virginia over the melodious strains of Nepali music and finger-lickin’ good Nepali grub we chatted about this and that, joined by his wife, a doctor who studied medicine in Karachi.

Yet another was Brig. General Pawan Pande now in DC for an intensive course where he said he was made to slog it out “like a schoolboy”. Over tumblers of Black Label we gupped about practically everything under the sun ending up with a sumptuous Nepali dinner conjured up by his wife.

Finally, on the day of my departure for Tampa, I was taken to a restaurant for a spicy Vietnamese meal by Jayjeev Hada, husband of my daughter’s friend, who also dropped me off at the airport, as temperatures were beginning to drop fast.

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.