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Dipta Shah: US Policy on Nepal

US Policy on Nepal

By Dipta Shah

The re-assertion of American policy vis-à-vis Nepal has attracted a barrage of criticism from various quarters. Critics who have fretted and bristled at the American emissary's recent formulations on Nepal will now have to contend with the concise reiteration of that very thesis, this time delivered by US President George Bush (in the symbolic and weighty company of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh). The substance and premise of past and anticipated critiques of America's Nepal policy are themselves in need of critical review.

The most serious, anti-American allegation posits that the US view promotes war in Nepal. This censure is forwarded on the untenable assumption that the 12-point agreement is a guaranteed panacea for sustainable peace.

The reality is that politically, structurally, and strategically, the 12-point agenda is tilted towards the interests and intentions of the Maoists. That the 7-party alliance became convenient after February-1 and that the agreement with the Maoists was acknowledged from a position of weakness are facts. Given these circumstances, a vibrant debate on the practicality and tenability of the 12-point agreement is a valid and necessary discussion that should not be thwarted by rhetorical diatribes or anecdotal threats.

The recent American perspective forces Nepalis to ask some long overdue questions about the 12-point agreement. Intriguingly, the Americans are accused of promoting violence for recommending reconciliation and unity amongst the very constitutional forces that jointly brought about the new Nepali state in 1990. In less polarized times, this advice was regarded as both sound and balanced by the same quarters now determined to dismember it.

Other than replaying the perverse assertion that the American stand is "pro-violence", critics are incapable of forwarding a convincing case as to why the potential for violence in Nepal is not diminished when the two legitimate halves of the 1990 constitution stop assaulting each other, and instead, focus jointly on a strategy to address the insurgency in a lasting and coherent fashion.

Another line of dissention conceives that the US is interfering and taking the side of the Palace against the "democrats." To the contrary, the recent statement by the American Ambassador is no less disparaging than EU or Indian statements since February-1. Nepali intelligentsia appears oblivious to this fact.

Meanwhile, the same Nepali intelligentsia touts conspiracy theories (ranging from "Anglo-Saxon hegemony" to American anti-communism) but remains complacent, forgiving, and often laudatory about India's interests and intentions in Nepal. How is questioning Indian motives "hollow nationalism," but attacking the US position, "true, democratic nationalism?"

Indian intentions in Nepal deserve ten times more scrutiny from Nepalis than do US interests. This is a reality imposed by our geo-political location, by the evolution of Indian hegemony in South Asia and by the fact that many facets of the Maoist insurgency are sustained through Indian links.

The Maoist insurgency has given rise to an existential crisis in Nepal. Yet, Nepali intellectuals waste no time questioning the putative interests of a distant USA while remaining quiet on the much more proximate, obvious and documented Indian links to Nepal's crisis.

On the subject of interests, another view - that the US is somehow advancing its national interests (at the cost of Nepali interests) - also needs to be dissected. Precisely what American interests are forwarded by a position that asks Nepalis to scrutinize and discuss the discrepancies in the actions and words of the Maoists? Is it in Nepal's or America's interest to ask responsible constitutional parties to be mindful of a political course that may usher in an era of greater turmoil and tyranny for all Nepalis?

How is it in only in the US interest to draw attention to a trajectory that potentially commits non-violent democratic forces on a collision course with an armed Maoist outfit? Why should Nepalis not worry about whose version of democracy is ultimately going to prevail – democracy as the Nepalis and the world know and accept or "democracy" with all the caveats imposed by an armed insurgent group that continues campaigning amongst its rural support base for a "dictatorship of the proletariat?"

Should the situation in Nepal spiral out of control, there is no impetus for the American diplomatic presence to remain. The Americans are pursuing their agendas of economic and political engagement with China and India independent of Nepal. Let there be no doubt that tangible US interests in these aspects can and will be pursued with or without a sovereign Nepali state.

Further, who is viewing the world and the American role in Nepal with 'cold war' lenses? Is it the US or its knee-jerk leftist critics in Nepal who are incapable of operating beyond an anti-American world-view? It's high time that Nepali intelligentsia acquainted themselves with the 21st century. Conjuring images of America's losses in the Vietnam war has no relevance to the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. The only images that should be on the radar are those that transpired in Cambodia after the American departure from Vietnam.

With all other angles exhausted comes the personal attack on the American emissary – that Ambassador Moriarty is an elitist who is in cahoots with and favors Nepal's traditional elites.

First, those who forward this charge are themselves bonafide members of various elite cliques in Nepal, be it of the urban educated literati or the INGO-fattened urban consumer class. Second, which is more elitist, trying to start a necessary national debate on the intensions of an armed and avowedly radical outfit or trying to cover up and curtail debate under the façade that such deliberations may dis-empower urban political bosses in their parochial fights?

Despite the various attacks launched on the American position in Nepal, the facts are transparent for all to analyze. There is absolutely nothing that has been said or done that should prevent democratically inclined elements from reconciling, reevaluating and moving forward in unison. There is however, everything to loathe and fear from elements that are bent on imposing their polar positions on Nepal and Nepalis – either from the righteous right or from the lunatic left.


(Dipta Shah is a consultant with a US-based global advisory services firm.)

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