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Nepal - The Curfew: Pros and Cons

The Curfew: Pros and Cons

By Preeti Koirala

There has been much debate on whether the curfew clamped by the government on January 20th was actually needed. While some have said that it exposed the defeated mentality of the government in not allowing a supposedly peaceful rally by the 7 agitating parties, others have maintained that to avert any possible violence in the capital city this preventive measure was essential.

One incident, which is still afresh in the people's minds, is what happened on the fateful day on September 1st 2004 in the valley. Taking cue from the killing of innocent Nepali laborers in Iraq, thousands of protestors poured into the streets of Kathmandu and started vandalizing vehicles, burning and destroying manpower offices, throwing stones at travel agencies, burning the holy mosque and pelting stones at policemen. Manpower offices were set ablaze and office apparatus such as computers were devastated, and passports as well as many important documents were burned. Within a few hours the angry sympathizers of Nepalese killed in Iraq had metamorphosed into a gang of looters, muggers and hooligans. By 12 in the afternoon, offices of prominent media houses such as Spacetime and Kantipur Publications were attacked. Spacetime daily since then has ceased publications. The investigation committee that was formed after the incident could not find out who these looters were and could only recommend to the government that a timely curfew would have saved millions worth of government and private property on that horrible day in Kathmandu.

The same civil society groups, human rights activists and journalists that are clamoring today against abuse of civil liberties by the government, had at that time groaned over government apathy and sluggishness in imposing curfew. They even said that the government was non-existent and the Prime Minister (Sher Bahadur Deuba at that time) remained a mere spectator till everything had gone out of hand. The government even failed in giving compensation to the owners of properties that were looted or destroyed.

So, what is correct? To allow a frenzied mob to take things into their own hands and let the worst happen in the name of civil liberty and democracy or take timely measures to ensure that the sovereign people's life and property is not destroyed by the same bunch of people that claim to be the messiahs of democracy. Any sensible government would choose the latter. At least people are secure, at least private houses are not burnt, shops not looted even though they have to sit inside their own houses under a curfew. It is indeed a difficult choice but the choice has to be made. The Maoists could well have planted a bomb in Basantapur rally and blamed the Royal Nepal Army of murdering party workers, or the Maoists could have shot one of the senior leaders and blamed the royal government for committing a heinous crime. It is better that the leaders are locked up inside their own houses if it saves their lives.

What is most appalling is the reaction of one section of the international community, mainly India and the US over this incident. Just a month ago, there was a big riot in Haryana and the Haryana police baton-charged, used rounds of tear gas shells and even misbehaved with the locals. Dozens of protestors and CPI (M) leaders were arrested. They beat up protestors who apparently were workers of a multinational company so much that it became national news. Curfew was clamped in the city. Did the Nepal Government issue a statement saying that it "was greatly disturbed and concerned by the incident?" Did Nepal Television over-blow the footage of the scene and question Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh for being out of Delhi at that time?

During the elections in Iraq, thousands of Iraqis were killed, several more thousands of American soldiers have already lost their lives trying to bring "democracy" in Iraq but the majority Sunni population decided to boycott the elections. The elections were important because it was already a prestige issue for President Bush and indeed for the cause of democracy, freedom, and stability in that country. Without elections there would never be an elected government, and the Americans would continuously be hammered for remaining without the mandate of the people of that country. So, with or without the Sunnis, the elections were held. When Nepal is trying to do the same by trying to hold municipal elections in 58 municipalities which are very crucial for bringing back democracy de-railed by the democratically elected Prime Minister and when a group of Sunni like 7 parties vow to disrupt the polls, why does America take the side of the same election boycotters? Did Nepal say that Sunni leaders should not have been arrested whatever the mischief they did? Or, America should only abide by the dictates of the mullahs and high priests of Sunni mosques because they had once represented the voice of the majority people of Iraq? Did Nepal ever condemn the atrocities committed by American soldiers in trying to disrupt grand Sunni rallies in Iraq? Did our government spokesman ever call for reconciliation between the American soldiers and the Bathists at the earliest?

After the audiotape warning of Osama Bin Laden a few days ago that they would try a major attack yet again, President Bush categorically said that he doesn't negotiate with terrorists (Period)? So, why does American envoy James F Moriarty incessantly urge us that there is no military solution to the problem in Nepal? If there is none, why doesn't his own government try negotiating with the Al Qaeda? It is clear given the scale of violence around the world that the American and the British Army will never be able to curtail the Al Qaeda, let alone defeat it. Why doesn't Prime Minister Blair therefore accept the genuine demands of Bin Laden or else tell his foreign office to shut up on the case of Nepal?

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