Are India And US No More On Same Page On Nepal?
Are India And US No More On Same Page On Nepal?
By M.R. Josse
Are India and the US no more on the same page on Nepal – despite all the hoopla that accompanied the Indo-US message to and on Nepal which was unveiled on 2 March during a press conference addressed by US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
Heretical as it might sound, that is precisely what is happening a week after Bush's celebrated one-liner on Nepal: "We agreed that the Maoists should abandon violence and that the King should reach out to the political parties to restore democratic institutions."
The impression that a schism of sorts on Nepal has developed between the two "strategic allies" has gathered increasingly currency in the wake of the 9-10 March visit to Nepal of Donald Camp, the US's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. Its highlight was his audience with King Gyanendra in Pokhara hours after arrival in Kathmandu.
As far as the seeming divergence is concerned, recall the suggestion that India should part company on Nepal with the US offered by The Hindu of Chennai on 22 February. That, significantly enough came in the wake of Ambassador James F Moriarty's frontal assault on 15 February on the 12-point Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist pact of 22 November 2005 (SPAM) negotiated in New Delhi with India acting as mid-wife.
More recently, such a state of affairs has been reflected on two fronts, one on the rhetorical plane; the other, through events on the ground having a bearing on relations between the SPA and the Maoists, après 2 March. Thus, note may be taken that in distant New York, almost immediately after 2 March, well-known Nepali anti-Monarchists and equally famous defenders of the Maoists began a virulent anti-Bush campaign, lambasting him for his supposedly unfair criticism of the Maoists and his allegedly soft treatment of the King.
At home, newspapers well known for their Indian connection and/or leanings began to take pot shots at the United States. For example, the Himalayan Times on 9 March, as Camp stepped on Nepalese soil after having briefly stopped over in New Delhi, attempted to suggest – wrongly – that the US had executed a U-turn on the 12-point pact between the Maoists and the US.
In an editorial suggestively entitled "the new devils" it stated, inter alia, "the Americans had agreed to such a thing" (the SPAM pact) and had now taken a completely different view. The fact, of course, is that at that time the only official statement from the US was a qualified one stating in broad terms that it would welcome any development that would contribute to peace in Nepal and a restoration of democracy. That was, and is, not tantamount to support for the SPAM deal as was made out.
Not satisfied with that pinprick at the United States the same daily the very next day landed a much harder blow at her in a revealing editorial entitled "come dance with me." Among its litany of charges against America was that "the American position has been unhelpful to a genuine search for a broad-based democratic political settlement in Nepal."
It then went on to chastise her for not desiring to "go beyond the 1990 Constitution" or, in other words, for not endorsing the Maoist demand for a constituent assembly to redraw a new constitution. Not satisfied with those swipes at the world's sole Super Power, it suggested that there could be a "resumption of the supply of American weapons aimed at crushing the Maoists."
Recalling the 9 March matter-of-fact statement of Elizabeth Millard, a high US official who recently served as Moriarty's deputy, that "the US has interests in Nepal as Nepal lies strategically between China and India" the newspaper went on to darkly predict: "The American formula is arguably a recipe for a (sic) prolonged political instability and conflict."
Although the newspaper does not admit it in so many words, what is undeniable is that Bush's reference to the Maoists' proclivity for violence, while summing up a common position with Singh, are tantamount to a public rap on India's knuckles. It, after all, reminds all and sundry of the cynical Indian role in stitching a deal between the SPA and the Maoists that aims, essentially, at the liquidation of the Monarchy.
If Bush could do that in public, imagine what he must have told Singh, his putative "strategic partner", during their private confabulations given his well-known zero-tolerance towards terrorists.
Despite that message not to mess with terrorists if she wishes to share in American nuclear and other largesse, hardly had Air Force One left Indian air space then SPA honchos and their Maoist allies once again began to confer and conspire against the Monarchy – not far from where Bush and Singh stood on 2 March when they proclaimed their Nepal formula.
Thus far, the Americans, like the Indians before them, are pretending not to notice the contradiction between what Bush stated was a common position vis-à-vis the Maoists and the hanky panky that has now resumed in New Delhi effectively defying Washington.
How long such as an absurd situation will continue is anyone's guess. What it does point to, however, is that India and the US may in fact, no longer be on the same page with respect to Nepal.