"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.
Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 09/08/2008
When Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known by his rebel name, Prachanda (the sharp one), became prime minister of Nepal on August 18, the first thing on his mind was to visit China. After a 10-year guerilla insurgency, late last year, Prachanda achieved his demands for the abolition of the monarchy and declaration of a republic. However, political manoeuvring continued throughout the first half of this year, until Prachanda was finally elected prime minister. Within only four days, he began his first state visit, to Beijing. It signaled not only the new face of China-Nepal relations, but a potential changing template in China-South Asia relations.
In Beijing, Prachanda was received by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao , highlighting the leadership’s realisation of the importance that this small nation carries for China’s own stability. En route, Prachanda had an unprecedented meeting with Tibet Autonomous Region chairman Xiangba Pingcuo when in transit in Lhasa . This meeting underscored the importance of Nepal given the sensitivity of the border it shares with Tibet. In many ways, this small nation could set a precedent for Himalayan stability.
After a decade of guerilla struggle, Nepal’s Maoists laid down their arms and entered politics as a legitimate party. Prachanda’s leadership has set an unprecedented example of how many conflicts can be resolved through pacifism. His is the first duly elected “Maoist” leadership embracing democracy. Moreover, Prachanda’s Maoists seek a mixed market economy and wish to learn about capitalism from China while providing social support systems to lift people out of poverty and protect their ethnic diversity, religious beliefs and cultural sustainability. Who knows, maybe China can learn from them?
“The economic policy of China has become a great success,” said Prachanda. “But the current line has also led to corruption and social poverty. I don’t want to follow blindly the IMF and World Bank, either. China went from socialism to capitalism, and we want to go from capitalism to socialism. For both, it is a matter of finding an economic middle way. We cannot ignore globalisation and capitalism. We want a mixed economy that combines socialism and market economics.”
Significantly, all Nepalese prime ministers had, in the past, been expected to make their first state visit to India, given traditional ties and India’s prominent influence in South Asia. Prachanda chose to visit China instead, underscoring Nepal’s new role in the balance of power between these two giants. Nepal shares a vast border with Tibet; the final peace settlement between Nepal’s diverse political parties may serve as a rudder of stability in an otherwise potentially volatile region.
Previously, most of China’s leadership dismissed Nepal as a “poor little country”. Only after widespread demonstrations throughout Tibetan ethnic regions did officials actually begin to understand that Nepal shares an enormous contiguous border with China through some of the world’s most remote and inaccessible places. As one Nepalese diplomat said: “China should pay attention to Nepal, because China does not have a single stable border except with Russia.” Beijing began to realise how delicate stability in the Himalayan region might really be.
Nepal is key to the stability of South Asia. One look at a map shows why: Kashmir awaits a solution; border disputes with India remain unsettled. Unfortunately, China’s leadership and think-tanks dismiss South Asia with cultural and historic prejudices that are unfathomable in the 21st century. Probably only three people in the entire Foreign Ministry have decent research on South Asia; the political affairs officers in Dhaka, New Delhi and Islamabad. So, China’s leadership is left with an information and knowledge black hole about the world’s second-largest potential economic superpower region, which shares most of China’s sensitive, unstable border regions. Moreover, the region should be China’s strategic partner. Perhaps Prachanda can help change all this.
Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.