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Dipta Shah: Reason Over Reaction

Reason Over Reaction

What should be the prescribed course of action for the international
By Dipta Shah

With the royal proclamation of February First, Nepal has once again been thrust into the international limelight. The question at hand is not whether to support or oppose King Gyanendra's actions. What is lacking is a range of perspectives emanating from those to whom political developments in Nepal matter the most: Nepali citizens.

And what should be the prescribed course of action for the international community? Let's dispense with some of the more common misperceptions that mainstream media has capitalised on.

First, media reports have been rife with official statements from foreign governments which have bluntly demanded the immediate restoration of previously established 'democracy' in Nepal. Those who subscribe to the underlying ideals of democracy (and comprehend not only democratic freedoms but also associated responsibilities) can't seriously insist on the re-establishment of a set of principles that ceased to exist years before February First.

What Nepal had was a judiciary with the power to indict but not prosecute, political parties with the ability to incite but not be held accountable, security forces with a broad mandate to protect but no clear objectives which to execute. Surely, when responsible world leaders call for the restoration of Nepal's system of 'multiparty democracy', one would hope that they are not implying a move towards the status quo, ex-ante?

Second, the right to assemble, freedom of speech, and the right against preventive detention (while extremely important) are not the only principles enshrined under the broader democratic umbrella. The right to peaceful co-existence (without fear of intimidation), the right to education (without political disruption), the right to a proper childhood (without being subject to indoctrination) these are also fundamental rights that every Nepali citizen is entitled to, independent of the prevailing system of governance.

Third, it would be misleading for the international community to formulate its course of action based on the assumption that a minority two percent (representative of Nepal's relatively educated and politically savvy elite) accounts for the collective views of a nation of 24 million. This is especially true when no consensus exists within that two percent itself.

Also erroneous is the underlying assumption that the 'representative elite' is guided purely by populist concerns. No more need be said on this except to note their self-serving nature and absolute unwillingness to even begin to grapple with the problems of the country. And although it is unfair to group all Nepali politicians in this inept category, it would also be a great disservice to imply that there are more than a handful of respectable leaders.

While the prospect of near-authoritarian rule (for the interim) is alarming, one must take into account the alternative: Maoist totalitarianism. Clearly, endorsing Maoism is not a viable option by national or international standards. This is even more the case when considering the Indian position that has not swayed from its declaration of the Maoists as terrorists and the US government's addition of the Maoists to its terrorist watch list. India simply can't afford to alienate Nepal at this critical juncture. If New Delhi was to abandon Kathmandu, all bets would be off including certain arms procurement covenants between the two countries, which may then leave Nepal with no option but to deal with the Chinese, a nightmare for both India and the US.

More seriously, disengaging Nepal now would open the door to the Maoists' long-sought Compact Revolutionary Zone through which Indian and Nepali Maoists function across national and state boundaries in much the manner of the communists in Southeast Asia in their fight against the Americans during the 1970s.

All of Nepal's well-wishers want genuine multi-party democracy in Nepal. There is no ambiguity or ulterior motive. But the time to forward this agenda will undoubtedly come and will be accomplished with support, but not direct involvement from the international community.

That time however, is not now. And lobbying to force the king to reverse his decision, threatening to cut off foreign aid to Nepal, and alienating the new government are not means with which to ensure a democratic future for Nepal. If we can't unite to guarantee the sovereign integrity of our nation, there is no honor, no pride in calling ourselves Nepalis.


(This article was originally published in Nepali Times)

Dipta Shah is a Nepali citizen and a recent graduate from Columbia University's School of International Affairs (SIPA).

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