US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher has cancelled his visit to Nepal planned for next week. It would have been his first trip here since the Maoist-led government took over.
The visit had been eagerly anticipated here for the perceived legitimacy it would give to the government. Until recently US politicians and diplomats had refused to meet Maoist leaders. Boucher’s trip was seen to be the cap to a recent series of high-profile visits to Nepal by Indian, Chinese, South Korean, Danish and British officials.
There have also been rumors and high hopes in Kathmandu that during his visit Boucher would announce the lifting of the US proscription of the Maoists as a terrorist organization. That move would be a most welcome boost to the tourism industry.
The Hindustan Times quoted the Nepali foreign ministry spokesman as saying that they had no idea why the visit was cancelled. That may be true – the US embassy need not have offered a specific reason – but there is no great mystery about it.
Boucher is in Pakistan now along with Secretary of State Rice: they met with the Pakistani prime minister and others today. He is focused on the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, increasingly being blamed on a Pakistani militant group that is banned officially but is alleged to have had help from retired members of the Pakistani military and security services.
Boucher has spoken out in the past against the suspected group, but has also been an advocate of helping regional governments combat militants themselves. His presence in Pakistan can be expected to cool heated tempers on both sides of the India-Pakistan border.
The US has made it clear that it considers the stability and development of Nepal vital to the region, but two nuclear-armed neighbors and the parlous situation following the Mumbai incident are clearly more urgent. Nepalis should not take offense.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.