The commander of the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) Admiral William J. Fallon arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday, 1 February on a 24-hour flying visit. His first sojourn to Nepal, Admiral Fallon, who reports directly to his secretary of defence and his President, was to have jetted in a day earlier but could not due to inclement weather.
Though brief, the Fallon mission was a significant political event marking as it did the first visit by a very senior American defence official since the US slapped an arms embargo on Nepal following King Gyanendra’s February 1 political intervention a year ago. It also came exactly a month before American President George W. Bush proposed visit to South Asia.
A pre-arrival statement by the American Embassy had explained its general purpose, thus: “to convey serious US concern about the situation in Nepal, including both the threat posed by the Maoist insurgency and the King’s decision to sideline Nepal’s political parties and establish rule from the palace.”
While the anti-Establishment media, quite naturally, sought to extract maximum political capital from the reference to concern over the King’s Feb. 1 decision, neutral and discerning analysts noted that reference to “the threat posed by the Maoist insurgency” had taken precedence over that relating to the King’s action a year ago.
Notable, too, was the careful avoidance of the term “coup” which anti-King elements, both in political as well as media circles in Nepal and abroad, bandy about with a tedious, unthinking and inaccurate frequency. What was also noteworthy was that King Gyanendra received Admiral Fallon in audience. That was an act that is eloquent per se.
What was equally telling was mention in Fallon’s pre-departure statement of the imperative of reconciliation between the political parties and the King, not merely “to restore democracy” but, indeed, “also to resolve the Maoist insurgency effectively.” Given that the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) have already forged a pact with the Maoists – despite earlier American warning not to – that formulation, while ostensibly neutral, is tilted more against the SPA that, for all intents and purposes, is now a Maoist ally.
Equally eloquent is that before departing, Fallon should have reiterated the US position vis-a-vis the Maoists, in these categorical terms: “Maoists cannot be considered as a legitimate political group.” (It was revealing, if not surprising, that some anti-King newspapers sought to “tailor” that out of their news reports.) Once again, it can be justifiably argued that the above reference is aimed against the SPA, which has acted as if the Maoists are a legitimate political group.
Indirectly, of course, it is also directed against India that facilitated the cobbling in its capital of the 12-point SPA-Maoist pact of 22 November last year. Its significance almost exactly a month before President Bush begins his much-hyped journey to India can thus hardly be minimized, leave alone ignored. One corollary leaps up from that almost immediately: that the politico-security situation in Nepal will, almost certainly, form an important agenda item for formal talks in New Delhi between the US and India next month!
Another interesting tell-tale clue connected to the just-ended Fallon excursion to Nepal is to be had in the optimism expressed by Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, after his meeting with the American visitor, about discussions regarding “various areas of cooperation” as reported by the Himalayan Times.
Similarly, it is nothing if not revealing that although mention was made that Fallon did meet representatives of various political parties, among others, the anti-Establishment press was not able, or did not wish, to identify whom exactly Fallon met with in that regard. Normally, this segment of the national media goes into overdrive in quoting various party spokesmen on the nature, scope or outcome of such parleys. My guess would be: they did not wish to listen to Fallon’s lectures on the dangers of cooperating with the Maoists.
Be that as it may, what was also conspicuous was that Admiral Fallon not merely met with RNA brass, including COAS Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa, but as reported by The Rising Nepal, he also visited RNA troops and facilities in some areas of the country.
No less significant is the apprehension and opprobrium expressed in an editorial in the Himalayan Times as reflected in this revealing sentence: “It is another matter that even blocked US military aid can be resumed if it is thought to be in the American interests to do so, irrespective of the higher questions of human rights and democracy.”
To conclude: any way one assesses the flying visit of Admiral Fallon, there is simply no escaping its multi-faceted fallout.