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Dipta Shah: Policies for Nepali Decision-Makers

Tenable Policies for Nepali Decision-Makers

By Dipta Shah

The post-February One era has witnessed a range of political developments.

From an internal perspective (the apparent divide amongst the Maoist leadership aside), the most significant development has been the formulation of a seven-party alliance, a feat that Nepal hasn’t witnessed since pre-1990. From an external perspective, developments revolve around the observed behavior of the US, India and the EU.

US policy vis-à-vis Nepal is constrained by the same parameters as those faced by all international community members. These constraints culminate in a forced decision over whether to risk regional security or to accelerate the pace of liberalization.

In a display of diplomatic excellence, US policy-makers appear to have selected the only viable path to achieving both security and democracy simultaneously. Their decision is manifested in the USG’s quest to advance both agendas in a balanced manner by refusing to fall prey to the prevailing paradigmatic parameters.

Other international actors have displayed far less wisdom in their navigation of identical pitfalls.

Given the legacy of deteriorating human rights in Nepal and the ambiguous achievements / failures (depending on interpretation) of the post-February One environment, the EU has opted in favor of uninhibited liberalization first, in the hopes that peace and security will prevail later.

While the Indian government’s official stance appears firm (and in line with the EU’s), its unofficial position remains ambiguous. The Indian government’s reluctance to cater to the security concerns of its own Armed Forces is rather alarming because it is India’s security wing that will bear the brunt of failed policy vis-à-vis Nepal. Owing to its proximity, the EU enjoys the luxury of maintaining a policy that ignores South Asian security concerns – the Indian government does not.

In other international developments, Baburam Bhattarai’s Delhi-tour occupies some significance. Although it is rather unprecedented for a political figure from any nation to hold talks with an organization (deemed a terrorist outfit by its own government), Baburam Bhattarai’s alleged engagements with CPI-Marxist leader Prakash Karat could be a positive development.

As a politician in the world’s largest democracy and an individual who answers first and foremost to the interests of the Indian people, it is inconceivable that Mr. Karat would advise the Nepali Maoist leader to traverse any path other than that which is characterized by moderation.

Media reports that highlight the act of the meeting accentuate India’s blatant disregard for Interpol but fail miserably on delivering on more significant aspects of the reported rendezvous - analysis on the possible outcomes of the interaction.

Meanwhile, the United States has remained resolute in its policy that long-term peace and stability can only be achieved through concerted action by all major power brokers in Nepal. Despite constant lobbying by various groups and organizations, the US has maintained its far-sighted vision for peaceful and democratic discourse – one that retains the perspicuity of discerning partisan lobbies from those that serve Nepal’s long-term interests.

The beauty of the US policy formulation process is that it incorporates all legitimate parties with concerns on Nepal. This does not imply that every concern results in policy shifts, merely that all parties are granted the satisfaction of being heard and the assurance that their interests will somehow factor into overall decision-making.

Notwithstanding the low priority that Nepal occupies in terms of American obligations, it is encouraging that the US remains involved in lending resolution to Nepal’s crisis. Granted, major decisions on Nepal are deferred to India but the knowledge that India’s status (as a regional power) is inextricably tied to her performance as a regional stabilizer is a reassuring realization - especially for a country where the Indian military’s war games are constantly misconstrued as evidence of an imminent invasion of Nepal.

A high-level interpretation of current US policy runs as follows: the Maoist insurgency remains the primary driver behind instability, non-democratic discourse cannot be sustained indefinitely (but neither can democracy with historical standards of governance) and measured reforms across the political spectrum (combined with continued harmony between Nepal’s legitimate political forces) is the only way out.

A failure to recognize the significance of these broad principles will be Nepal’s tragedy alone. Admission of guilt is insufficient if the only alternative is indefinite agitation; rigid positions are untenable, if room for inclusive politics is decimated; propagation of insignificant gossip (and name-calling) is counterproductive, when the ability to absorb and interpret is lacking; employing threats as political leverage (the ramifications of which are not fully understood) is dangerous, for fear that such threats may become self-fulfilling prophecies.

There still remains enormous potential for mutually agreeable progress in Nepal if future decisions (by all parties) are weighed using the proposed American yard-stick.


Dipta Shah is a recent graduate from Columbia University's School of International Affairs (SIPA). now he works for a global advisory services firm, doing finance and risk analysis.

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