US Warning Sets Loose Cat Among Alliance Pigeons
US Warning Sets Loose Cat Among Alliance Pigeons
By M.R. Josse
In the ever-changing dynamics of the national political drama, the November 4 "warning" by the US against possible moves by the seven-party agitating combo to forge an alliance with the Maoists comes as the latest example of how external forces have become active, even predominant, players in Nepal's domestic stage.
Although for a long time now Alliance leaders and their media hounds had been basking in the warm glow of American criticism of the government led by King Gyanendra, the varied reactions that the US Embassy statement has promptly triggered amongst them indicate that it has had the chilling effect of a cat set loose among a cluster of pigeons - from the point of view of the birds!
ELEMENTS AND TIMING
Before reviewing a representative sampling of the same, it will be in order to scrutinize the statement noting, in particular, its various constituent elements. But even before doing so, due cognizance should be taken of its timing. As far as this commentator is concerned, two aspects are of special significance in that regard. The first is that it comes in the wake of the steady radicalization of the Alliance's two main parties, the NC and the UML, especially in relation to the Monarchy.
Secondly, the no-holds-barred American policy statement comes when the UML boss has not only been busy drumming up support in India but, more so, that it takes place against the backdrop of multiple media reports of meetings there between him and his Maoist counterpart leading to a common anti-Monarchy strategy.
The most significant element of the said statement issued by the American Center on November 4 is the headline given to it, explaining that it is a "warning" to the agitating political parties not to go whole hog with the Maoists. It begins by stating that it (the US Embassy (or, in other words, the US Government), "notes with alarm recent reports in the Nepal media on the emerging potential for an alliance between one or more of the major political parties and the Maoist rebels."
It then goes on to underline that "the United States, which supports the restoration of democracy in Nepal and the prevention of a Maoist takeover, believes the best way to reach those goals is through unity of Nepal's legitimate political forces - the political parties and the monarchy."
Meaningfully, it has also "expressed the hope that the Maoists will enter into peace negotiations with the government in good faith, abandon their weapons, and come into the political mainstream."
The statement is characteristically harsh on the Maoists, drawing attention to the fact that "despite declaring a three-month cease-fire in September, the Maoists have done nothing to indicate that they are prepared to abandon violence in the long term, and abductions and extortion continue unabated."
From the above, a number of deductions would seem to logically follow:
A. The US frowns on the NC/UML attempt to go to bed with the Maoists.
B. These and other Alliance partners claim that they are "responsible" for the sham truce, which they wish to extend despite the violations noted, has not been taken favourably.
C. The Maoists must not only abandon all weapons and so forth but the Alliance, by implication, must not encourage them by lending them moral and rhetorical support.
D. The US has not taken kindly to the NC's and UML's desertion of the concept of constitutional monarchy rushing headlong towards the Maoist-proclaimed goal of a 'democratic republic.'
E. If or when talks are held these should be between the Maoists and the government, not as many Alliance wallahs claim, between themselves and the Maoists.
F. The US does not consider the government to be unconstitutional as is now being shrilly claimed.
G. Such talks should follow a coming together between the government and the Alliance.
H. Although no reference has been made to the upcoming polls, local and national, clearly agreement by the Alliance to participate would create the basis and platform - a newly empowered parliament - from which to launch such a move.
As already noted above, reactions from the honchos of the dissenting political parties to the US statement have been prompt. Their one common refrain is "dialogue doesn't mean alliance". That apart, it is interesting that there is a pretty wide disparity in their respective assessments.
Some, for example, like Sadhbhavana (A)'s Hridesh Tripathy have attempted to disingenuously downplay divergences with the US stating - quite unconvincingly - that there was no difference between "the grievances of America and the parties" and both desired that the Maoists "lay down their arms, respect human rights and adhere to multiparty principles."
Janamorcha Nepal's chairman Amik Sherchand, however, has quite a different take on the American policy statement of November 4. He slams the US for "recognising the King as a constitutional force" and for suggesting that the parties settle their differences with him. Meaningfully, he went on to assert that the issue of weapons was not a big deal and incidents such as kidnapping and killing by Maoists were trifles!
UML's Shanker Pokharel interpreted the US's latest Nepal policy statement as merely suggestive of Washington's fear of the Maoists filling the vacuum, should the King lose power. He hastened to add, incredibly, that the transformation of the UML leaders from classic Communists to shining examples of democrats should reassure the US that the vacuum would be filled by democrats of the UML stripe.
NC's Ram Chandra Poudel was also scathing in his reaction, asserting that talks with the Maoists did not mean they were about to accept the Maoists' "dictatorial principles" or that they were about "to join their militia". Meanwhile, he did not lose the opportunity to ridicule the US proposal for talks with the King.
Although at the time of writing NC chief Girija Prasad Koriala has not spoken out publicly, analysts note that even before the US note saw light to day he had been cautioning against going all out for a 'democratic republic' expressing unease about what would fill the vacuum that would result sans the Monarchy.
That apart, it is quite significant, too, that Koirala's apparent heir-apparent, Sushil, recently ridiculed the idea of the NC going for a republic, emphasising that the NC would push only the common agenda of the Alliance and debunking the UML slogan of a 'democratic republic.'
It is worth nothing that Sushil's statement, too, predated the US statement - and came while UML's bossman was faithfully doing the rounds of various power centres in India where his prolonged visit was extended by a full week! This clearly seemed to suggest an incipient split within the Alliance.
What seems to have "alarmed" the US are credible, multiple reports that the UML general secretary, among other things, adopted a common political agenda with Prachanda in New Delhi, as, for example, proclaimed by the UML friendly vernacular weekly Roadmap in a detailed front page report in its October 27 issue.
Though the public relations man Ranjan Bhattarai has attempted, through phone calls to selective newspapers, to deny such an occurrence, as much had also been claimed by a number of UML stalwarts including Bamdev Gautam who has been gaga about his recent meetings with Maoists in Rolpa. In a statement in Bhaktapur he declared that there is "no alterantive to forging an alliance with the Maoists to defeat the King's autocracy."
While clearly the repercussions of the American statement-bomb will continue to be felt on the national political scene for sometime to come, in the short term, it will be interesting to see whether it will split or further unify the Alliance in the advancement of its stated goals.
What will also be keenly awaited is the reaction from the Maoists, which as of this writing is awaited.