Journal of South Asia Women Studies

The New Political Scenario in Nepal and in Afghanistan and The Fairy Tale of the “Good Taliban”

Editorial Note by Enrica Garzilli

Two major events shaped the politcs and the regional equilibrium of Central and South Asia. The first one is the end of despotism in Nepal and the aim of his Prime Minister, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda (who assumed office on August 18, 2008), to transform the country into a pacific, democratic, prosperous and neutral buffer zone between India and China, a new “Switzerland of Asia”. A very challenging goal, considering that the new State of Nepal is still one of the poorest of the world and the 11 year long war has left behind several major problems, including a tremendous electric power shortage, and 22,000 ex-Maoist combatants to relocate in the national army or to employ in different occupations.

The other main event affecting Asia is the election of Barack Obama, and his new deal in the regional politics.

Nepal's landmark election on April 10, 2008 leading to the abolition of monarchy and formation of the Maoist-led government, was one of the most important historical events of Asia of the last 2 years. The country had some 105 years of Ranarchy (from 1846 until 1950-51), the period of absolute power by the hereditary prime ministers of the Rana family, who ruled in the name of the powerless Shah kings. The most lasting contribution of the revolution of 1951, the Jana Andolan, which ended the Ranarchy, was the restoration of the Shah supremacy and the beginning of the modernization of the country. It was necessary another armed rebellion, after many years of peaceful movements, and the powerful People’s Uprising, called Jana Andolan II, made by the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists, in April 2006, to transform the Hindu kingdom into a republic.

In the country election of the Constituent Assembly, to draft a new Constitution, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) of the former guerrillas emerged as the single largest party with 220 seats out of a total 575 declared, followed by the country's oldest party Nepali Congress, which received 110 seats, while the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) obtained 107 seats. These were the three main parties. The Maoists joined mainstream politics after the 2006 peace deal with the interim government led by G. P. Koirala and took part in the April 2008 elections after months of deadlock with the government over poll procedures. After the hard struggle of groups and people marginalized since the very beginning of the nation such as tribals, women, Madhesi, Dalit, which feared to be neglected again, Nepal was declared a Federal Democratic Republic on May 28, 2008.

The dramatic change in the Nepal government has shaped its national politics forever and had bearings on its foreign ties, particularly with its giant neighbours, India and China. New Delhi, which was considered by the Maoist movement (before it became an institutional party) an enemy, has supported Nepal in the democratization process since the signing of the 12-point agreement between the SPA and the Maoists. China signed an Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement with Nepal in 2003 and 2004. Thanks to it, on September 23, 2007 was signed an execution contract of optical fiber cable project from Kathmandu to Khasa, at the border of China, between China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation and Nepal Telecom. This link could be used as a transit point between India and China, ex Prime Minister Koirala said. With the completion of the 125-km optical information super- highway, the project helps Nepal link the rest of the world via China.

Obama put at the center of his Asian politics Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, the regional commander for Afghanistan and Iraq, haa convinced Obama last month to move 16,000 new soldiers to Afghanistan in addition to the 38,000 American troops already there. Obama plans to ask the Europeans to support more of the financial and police-training burdens in Afghanistan as the United States increases its military presence and shifts its counterinsurgency tactics. This will change the relationships between the USA, Afghanistan and the neighbour Pakistan, and between many European countries and USA, since not all of them are ready or willing to give support.

The Obama advisers have one more plan for Afghanistan. Since Gen. Petraeus has the U.S. intelligence estimates that only 5% of the Taliban are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, they want a significant outreach by provincial Afghan officials and the U.S. officers who work with them to the "recoverable" Taliban. Obama is thinking over this strategy and has delayed a decision on Afghanistan beyond his announced original mid-March deadline.

In our opinion, Petraeus point’s of view is a bit naïve: there is no “good Taliban” or “evil Taliban”, there is Taliban. It is a group of people with certain aims and priorities, the same aims and priorities. This does not necessarily mean that Taliban is pro al-Qaeda, but it means that is an Islamic fundamentalist group, and certainly it will not fight international Islamic terrorism.

Obama should not be fooled by this fairy tale of the “good Taliban”, or Afghanistan will become a new U.S. nightmare, the second Vietnam.

After the long break, mainly due to the technical reorganization of the Asiatica site, we reopen the publications of the JSAWS (started in 1995) with the paper “Female Rishis and Philosophers in the Veda”, by Dr. Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, Editor-in-chief of the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies and Managing Editor of the International Journal of Tantric Studies. Originally it was a speech given at the International Symposium “Understanding Indian Women: Love, History and Studies”, which was held on October 18-19, 2002 in Milan (Italy) and was organized and supported by the Asiatica Association.

In this issue we are also offering a light review of some of the many books we have received. The remaining books will be given in review to bona fide scholars.

The following is the summary of the paper.

Enjoy it!

It is a traditional but common misconception that a considerable number of Ṛgvedic hymns were composed by women. Though female authors and interlocutors are not entirely absent from the Vedas, the role of 'literate' women in the Ṛgveda will have to be re-evaluated. The traditional names given for female Ṛgvedic authors include those derived from the wordings of the hymns but also personified Belief, Speech and a bitch.