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Nepal: Clarity, More Than Condemnation, Needed

Clarity, More Than Condemnation, Needed


By Madan P. Khanal

Three weeks after he dismissed Nepal’s multiparty government and took over direct executive control on Feb. 1, King Gyanendra asked international critics whether they could have suggested an alternative agenda for a country in such profound crisis.

Four months later, international discussions continue to center on the monarch’s supposedly “autocratic” inclinations. Actually, this masks the inability of major governments and organizations to suggest a workable solution to the crisis.

India cannot break free of its utter dilemma because of its traditional policy of playing off Nepal’s legitimate forces. There is little doubt that New Delhi would have been pleased with the royal move if the king had appointed an India-friendly politician like Surya Bahadur Thapa as chairman of the council of ministers, instead of taking the position himself.

Western governments issue ritualistic calls for reconciliation between the palace and the parties without understanding the principal impediment: India’s self-serving twin-pillar policy. In public pronouncements, India reaffirms its support for constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. In practice, over the last 15 years, it has sought to pit one against the other to keep the kingdom in perpetual instability. Ignoring this core problem, Washington and London continue to give New Delhi full authority to handle the crisis.

International human rights organizations are still regurgitating the worn argument that Nepal’s situation has deteriorated since the royal takeover. What good does it do to anyone to state the obvious? There pious-sounding pronouncements on ensuring lasting peace and prosperity in Nepal are tainted by the preconceived biases they inject to the discussions.

No one expected the suspension of the democratic process to brighten the prospects of a country mired in nine years of murder and mayhem that has claimed more than 12,000 lives. The real urgency was to break the impasse created by the simultaneous imperatives of restoring peace and reviving democracy. Ordinarily, both tasks should have gone hand in hand. Successive governments, however, were nowhere close to either holding elections or opening peace talks with the Maoist rebels.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, to his credit, was actively in favor of holding elections to the House of Representatives, which he had dissolved in 2002 during an earlier tenure as Nepal’s last elected head of government. His communist and rightist partners in the coalition, however, came out with conflicting noises. Clearly, Deuba’s ministers were more interested in extending their tenure to replenish party coffers and boost their organizations. Such contradictions only emboldened the Maoists, who not only spurned repeated peace overtures but also began insisting that they would only talk directly to the king.

Contrary to perceptions, King Gyanendra’s intervention was less a response to the Maoist assertions. It was aimed at forcing the rebels to end their double game. The Royal Nepalese Army was apprehensive of the Maoists’ real intentions in agreeing to two ceasefires. The rebels, after all, had used the hiatus to collect funds, regroup and rearm for a greater spree of death and destruction. The mainstream political parties, alarmed by the prospect of a settlement predicated on their marginalization, set up roadblocks. For the Indian establishment, all this provided the perfect cover for subversion. If there were to be a settlement, New Delhi was insistent on its pound of flesh.

A full-scale military operation against Maoist terrorism has finally begun after the royal takeover. The palace is under no illusions. There can be no military solution to the insurgency. The political, social, economic, cultural and other grievances that have fueled the conflict need to be addressed by a thorough revamping of state structures. Over the short term, however, the Maoists need to be pressured militarily to such a point where they agree to a redress of their grievances through peaceful methods.

The first phase of the royal regime’s plan seems to be working. The deep divisions within the Maoists have come out in the open. Rebel supremo Prachanda has, essentially, described the party’s chief ideologue, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, as an “Indian agent”. Dr. Bhattarai has responded to the allegation by implying that Prachanda was an agent of the palace. This is much more than a personality clash. The animus amplifies the realignments taking place among the insurgents over who the primary enemy is – the monarchy or India. It is worth remembering that most of the major Maoists demands – made public in 1996 -- concern Indian subjugation of Nepal.

Clearly, the differences within the Maoists on policy and perceptions need to be widened to the extent they weaken their military resolve. Once the rebels’ political leadership regains a hold, they could be brought into the peace process.

No peace process would be complete without the full and enthusiastic participation of the mainstream political parties. Agreements reached with the Maoists would have to be implemented by an elected government. The mainstream parties, which controlled over 90 percent of the seats in the last House of Representatives, are likely to retain their dominance in the next election. Expecting them to implement policies and programs they had no part in drawing up would only sow the seeds of future conflicts.

The mainstream parties, however, need to be brought to the table only when there is sufficient evidence that they would not resume their role as spoilers. This ties in with the continued detentions and curtailment of civil liberties. True, the primary victims of the royal takeover have been the mainstream parties and the media. This is because they are the tools of subversion India is most likely to use. The fact that India used Sikkim’s politicians to pit Sikkimese of Nepali origin against Sikkimese of Lepcha and Bhutia ethnicity to eventually annex the Himalayan kingdom in 1974 is not lost on Nepalis.

Moreover, the recent “medical treatment” pilgrimage to New Delhi by top leaders of all the mainstream parties should shed any illusions about their participation in the Indian scheme of things. From the 1950s, these parties have been willing tools of New Delhi’s policy of subversion and destabilization. This issue has been raised in recent weeks by none other than Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, former president of the Nepali Congress who as interim prime minister oversaw Nepal’s transition to multiparty democracy in 1990.

For now, India’s agenda appears to be admitting the Maoists into the seven-party alliance to intimidate the palace. This is where western governments need to be careful. Bringing the Maoists into the mainstream is critical to ensuring durable peace and stability. Without enforcing a surrender of arms, the Maoists would be likely to infiltrate the pro-democracy movement, perhaps even mounting a full communist takeover of Nepal. The rebels have hardly concealed the fact that their support for a multiparty republic is a tactical step toward eventual one-party communist rule. Rebel leaders have been equally forthright in asserting that a Maoist Nepal would host all revolutionary movements against the forces of capitalism and globalization led by the United States.

The mainstream parties need to be clear as to their stand on the monarchy. For far too long, they have sought to emasculate the institution to the point where they could use it for narrowly partisan purposes. Toward the end of his reign, there were clear indications that King Birendra resented that effort and was preparing to assert his political role.

From the moment he ascended the throne after a palace massacre that wiped out almost the entire royal family, King Gyanendra has been unwilling to play to the script written by the parties. He believes in a “constructive” monarchy that is not forced to sit idly by as the principal political players persist in power struggles in parliament and on the streets.

If the mainstream parties feel that an assertive monarchy is indeed the problem, let them begin a candid debate on institutionalizing a stable multiparty republic. It can never be too early to force the Maoists to make a public commitment of their unambiguous support for a multiparty democratic republic. Failing that, the mainstream parties should stop raising empty “republic” threats and begin consultations with the king on institutionalizing a constructive role for the crown.

The international community, too, should clarify its stand on the role and powers of the monarchy in the multilingual and multicultural nation Nepal is, instead of criticizing King Gyanendra for what they see as nothing more than a power grab.

ENDS

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