M.R. Josse: Nepal's Conflict And National Security
Nepal's Conflict And National Security
By M.R. Josse
This paper is basically composed of two segments. The first – in greater length – will review and analyse events leading to the current politico-security state of affairs in Nepal; the second – much more abbreviated – will attempt to suggest possible plans and policies with a view to ending the nearly 10-year conflict triggered by the Maoist-declared "People's War" and to enhance national security.
If the former is a composite of both the objective and subjective aspects of the subject being dealt with, the latter will necessarily be a more personal contribution to this attempted academic exegesis.
More than a year ago, this commentator had presented a paper at a similar NEFAS/FES seminar entitled "History and Genesis of Nepal's Maoist Insurgency: Tools for Negotiating Conflict." That paper, now in published form, was also divided into two parts: the first detailing the history and genesis of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal; the second with a short-listing of suggestions for negotiations. In sum, however, contrary to popular opinion, I had concluded "the prognosis for a negotiated settlement of the Maoist insurgency is, at this time, not very encouraging." My assessment today remains basically the same despite the large quantity of water that has flown down the Bagmati since then.
In the first segment, I propose to provide a synopsis of key events and developments on the ground having a direct bearing on the theme of this paper. A similar approach will apply to the second section of this document. Because of obvious space and time constraints it will not be possible to detail every single development or event relevant to the subject of this intellectual enquiry. In any case, I do not believe it is necessary to do so for our purposes here.
A general review and analysis of the main events and developments, including government decisions relevant to the current state of play on the conflict and national security fronts, will then be attempted through the four specific prisms: the Palace, mainstream political parties; the Maoists; and the international community. Due to the theme and scope of this essay neat, watertight compartmentalisation will not always be possible; there will inevitably be some occasional overlap.
Given the impact of the direct intervention of February 1, 2005 by King Gyanendra and its far-reaching consequences on the ground, I shall accord it major attention. In fact, the following portion of the paper will constitute a run-up to it, then continue coving the period until end of August 2005.
A GENERAL REVIEW OF EVENTS AS A RUN-UP TO DIRECT ROYAL INTERVENTION OF FEBRUARY 1, 2005 TO AUGUST 31, 2005, WITH COMMENTARY.
A. April 6, 1990-October 4, 2002.
Following the six-week Jana Andolan or People's Movement of 1990 spearheaded by the Nepali Congress (NC) and a conglomeration of Communist parties culminating on April 6, a constitution was hurriedly drafted, principally by the same political duo and adopted by royal proclamation on November 9, 1990. That vital exercise was finalised, it may be usefully recalled, without it being neither nationally debated and sans representation of the national political spectrum – political elements of the Panchayat order, who subsequently refashioned themselves into the Rashtriya Prajatanta Party (RPP) and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP), for example, were not represented.
In fact, the whole endeavour then seemed – and is even more clear now – aimed at reducing the King from an all-powerful ruler to a virtual cipher. In other words, there seemed to be a tearing haste to swing the political pendulum, within six months, from one extreme to another. I strongly suspect that a more concerted and thorough national debate might have produced a workable, enduring compromise, one more in keeping with the national ethos, culture and history of the land than the present Basic Law.
Incidentally, Nepal's aspiration to be recognised as a Zone of Peace (ZOP), that secured the support of 116 countries by April 1990, including that from the world's only Super Power the United States, was thrown out unceremoniously, without any explanation. As many of you will surely recall, India had resisted it tooth and nail. To this day, the erudite drafters of the 1990 Constitution have not a word of explanation!
Needless to say, the ZOP initiative, formally proposed by the late King Birendra at his coronation in 1975, had clear, positive and profound national security implications, not only for Nepal but, indeed, for India and China as well. As it now turns out, we are faced with a brutal insurgency and its by-product, a counter-insurgency operation by the security forces of the State. The net result is there for all to see and mourn: a tranquil Nepal transformed into a bleeding Killing Fields.
To be sure, a more enlightened approach to constitution drafting might have led to a truly legitimate consensus on the Basic Law of the land, one that took due cognizance of the King's established role in a society steeped in tradition, with a dizzy mosaic of ethnic and religious groups, diverse cultures and languages, not to mention such legacies of isolationist history as dire underdevelopment, crushing poverty and rampant illiteracy.
As I recall, neither was any effort made to touch base with prominent members of diverse ethnic groups and communities or the clergy of diverse religious faiths or even with respected figures of society or elders from the world of the arts and letters. The pat and false assumption, then, would appear to be this: that the political forces that led the 1990 Movement were the sole representatives of the people!
The first post-Jana Andolan general election on a multi-party basis was held in 1991. The NC won a slim majority (110 seats, with three independents joining later) in the new Parliament composed of 205 members. Its chief Girija Prasad Koirala became the elected prime minister. Squabbles within the ruling party, however, soon began. In order to prevent what seemed to be an imminent vote of no confidence, Koirala decided to call snap polls, as permitted under the constitution.
The mid-term polls of 1994, a year and a half before the tenure of parliament expired, produced surprising results: the NC lost its majority in parliament sliding down to 83 seats while UML secured 88. It paved the way for the first-ever Communist national government, albeit a minority one, to attain power through the ballot. In effect, the much-hyped "rollback" of Communism, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the land of Lenin and Stalin, in 1991, seemed a far cry from the political realities of Nepal a few short years later.
UML's chairman Manmohan Adhikary became the prime minister and Madhav Kumar Nepal, UML general secretary, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Incidentally, the Maoists, whose political front Samyukta Jana Morcha (SJM) had secured 9 seats in parliament in 1991, decided to boycott the 1994 elections on grounds that parliament was no more than an expensive talking shop. Their leading lights argued that the trappings of democracy were but superficial, and charged that political power must be used to serve, not exploit, the people.
Koirala's unwelcome gift of a hung parliament in fact set of the landslide of political instability and mayhem that, in my view, created the conditions for the quagmire that Nepal has tragically sunk into today. For example, even after three general elections – in May 1991, in November 1994 and in May 1999 – no parliament has been permitted by our politicians – none else – to last its full five-year term. Clearly, neither the late King Birendra nor King Gyanendra bear any responsibility in that regard, a fact that is all too conveniently ignored today.
Be that as it may, hardly had Adhikary set himself on the prime ministerial seat when moves began for toppling his government, an effort widely perceived by knowledgeable analysts at the time that it had the unofficial backing of a West baffled and uncertain about what a Communist government really meant for Nepal and beyond. A short nine-month period later, the first elected Communist government in Nepal collapsed – although not without an effort, by Adhikary, to emulate the "Koirala solution" for political longevity: snap polls.
Curiously, however, when the matter was referred to the Supreme Court, then headed by Viswanath Upadhayay who had chaired the Constitution Drafting Committee in 1990, he ruled that a head of a minority government did not have the right to call snap polls, a la Koirala. It led, among other things, to massive demonstrations by the UML against the decision and created the widespread perception that Upadhayay, well known for his NC sympathies, had gone beyond merely interpreting to virtually re-writing the constitution.
In the event, the NC eager to make a comeback to power spearheaded a vote of no confidence. The Manmohan government fell and was replaced by a coalition headed by NC's Sher Bahadur Deuba and which included RPP stalwarts such as Pashupati Shumshere Rana and Prakash Chandra Lohani, throwbacks from the partyless Panchayat era.
Not unexpectedly, the politics of instability born out of the hung parliament of 1994 triggered the most bizarre and opportunistic political combinations and permutations imaginable, besides an unlovely byproduct: a succession of revolving-door governments.
To date, there have been 15 governments in 15 years, taking into account the three after the dismissal by the King of the second Deuba government on October 4, 2002, and including the government that he presently heads.
Such a hothouse of instability and rank opportunism is popularly considered responsible for what is now pejoratively termed the "Pajero" culture, with weak faltering governments and a pliant parliament all-too-ready to grant members juicy perks and privileges completely inappropriate in a bone-poor country.
Not surprisingly, this dank atmosphere of political turbulence and short-lived, rainbow-hued governments not only was at odds with the multi-party ethos of the national polity – with each party with its own well-defined political ideology – but indeed created and enhanced the make-hay-while-the-sun-shines climate in which political carpetbaggers held sway – to the bitter dismay of the general populace that had such high expectations.
*** On February 13, 1996, the Maoists, led by Prachanda aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal, decided to launch his Jana Yuddha or "People's War.'' Little notice was taken of it, initially, since governments were busy merely surviving, while politicians not in power were busy plotting the downfall of one government in the hope that they might find a berth in the next.
Matters came to a head in July 2001, when Deuba successfully forced Koirala to step aside as premier, claiming that he was capable of quelling the Maoist insurgency. Although the changing of the NC guards was followed the very next night by a Maoist attack on a police outpost in Bajura, where 17 policemen were killed, Deuba struck a truce with the Maoists and announced that talks with them would begin.
On June 1, 2001, on Koirala's watch, the ghastly Royal Palace massacre took place which, as far as this observer is concerned, has not been fully explained to the adequate satisfaction of all. It resulted in the slaughter, allegedly by Crown Prince Dipendra, acting alone, of his father and mother, brother and sister as well as five other relatives before reportedly shooting himself.
That horrendous, unprecedented tragedy resulted in the then Prince Gyanendra acceding to the throne, incidentally for the second time. The first had been in 1950 when the Rana rulers had him crowned after his grandfather King Tribhuvan fled to India to spearhead the struggle for democracy, aligned with the then fledgling underground democratic forces.
Prince Gyanendra's absence from the dinner in the Palace on that fateful day – he was in Pokhara at a meeting with a group of foreign dignitaries – ostensibly saved his life and, possibly, ensured the continuance of the Shah dynasty. Clearly, the eradication of the Monarchy in Nepal had been attempted and had almost succeeded.
Had it done so, the politics of Nepal, as well as that of the region, would have been unrecognisably altered. The anti-Monarchy Maoist mission, and perhaps that of extraneous forces desiring the same end, would almost certainly have succeeded.
The first round of Government-Maoist talks began on August 30, 2001; the second on September 14-15, 2001and the third on November 13, 2001 . Prior to the third round of talks, HMG scrapped the Public Security Regulations and freed 68 Maoist prisoners. However, all the mainstream political parties rejected the Maoist insistence on a constituent assembly. Incidentally, in today's climate of organised dissent against the King by seven political parties, that key fact has apparently been submerged in the public conscience.
Thereafter, Maoist supremo Prachanda declared he saw no point in further talks and announced the setting up of a 37-member Joint Revolutionary People's Council headed by Baburam Bhattarai.
Then, in the wake of successive Maoist attacks in Surkhet, Dang, Syangja and Salleri – including assault for the very first time on RNA barracks – King Gyanendra, at the recommendation of Prime Minister Deuba – declared a state of national emergency on November 23, 2001 and, for the first time, ordered the mobilisation of the RNA. Simultaneously, the government that he headed declared Maoists as "terrorists".
To recall, Deuba, during a struggle for power within the NC, split from that party and formed a splinter, the NC (Democratic), which he heads. In order to avert an almost certain vote of no confidence organised by Koirala, Deuba dissolved parliament, once again on the plea of holding a snap poll. The dissolution announcement came on May 22, 2002. Simultaneously, in accordance with Article 53 (4) of the constitution, it was formally announced that fresh elections would take place on November 13, 2002.
That, however, was not to be. On October 3, 2002 he approached the King and, going back against his solemn constitutional commitment for new elections to parliament within six months of its dissolution, recommended that the election be postponed by over a year and that he be allowed to head an "all-party" government.
Here, one may note that Article 128 (2) envisages the possibility of the King constituting a Council of Ministers "consisting of representatives from the main political parties." There is a difference I maintain between a Council of Ministers comprising representatives of the "main" political parties and one that is of an "all-party" character.
In any case, it may be recalled that Deuba, in a mood of self-introspection, admitted at a press meet in Dhangadi on August 24, 2004 "his decision to recommend to the King for the postponement of parliamentary polls was a mistake."
Instead of accepting Deuba's unconstitutional demand, King Gyanendra, no doubt disgusted with the state of political affairs – as, incidentally, were most of the Nepali citizenry at that time – dismissed Deuba on October 4, 2002 and, invoking Articles 127 and Article 27 (3) of the constitution, assumed all executive powers "until alternative arrangements are made"; announced the indefinite postponement of the polls; and proposed the setting up of an interim administration
*** To go back a bit, Deuba's dissolution of the House of Representatives on May 22, 2002, and several weeks later in July 2002, that of all elected bodies has perhaps not been adequately taken cognizance of either in the context of the heated political debate in the country today or against the backdrop of Nepal's conflict and national security imperative.
Robert Gersony, an American scholar who conducted intensive research in 2004 in the six most conflict-affected districts in mid-west Nepal – namely, Rolpa, Rukum, Surkhet, Salyan, Banke and Bardiya – has, in my view, some very cogent observations to offer on the nexus between failure to extend the tenure of local officials and the Maoist insurgency.
"By failing to extend their tenure, the NC government caused the collapse of the representational system, leaving a political vacuum in the midst of an armed political struggle. Through this measure, it achieved what the Maoists had been attempting to achieve since the outset: to empty the rural areas of the local elected leaders who opposed them and to diminish the government's presence at a moment when it was most critically needed." David Scott Palmer, another American scholar, a conflict mitigation and prevention specialist, has more or less the same opinion. "With the decision not to extend the terms of office of the thousands of elected officials at the District Development Committee (DDC) and Village Development Committee (VDC) levels and to replace them by officials appointed by the central government, the country lost most of what remained of its democratic process." After all, local elected officials are the sinews that link rural villages with the government. They, thus, constitute the backbone of a democratic system.
Incidentally, King Gyanendra's proclamation of October 4, 2002 broadcast live on Nepal Television had, inter alia, announced the setting up, soon, of an interim, neutral administration, composed of individuals with a 'clean' image, who would contest the forthcoming polls."
Notably, "while the sweeping impact of the royal proclamation was generally greeted with a mix of utter disbelief, open scorn, and audible relief, it did not come completely out of the blue. Most political observers had indeed been cognizant of the hectic rounds of consultations that the King had recently been having with political leaders, heads of constitutional bodies, constitutional experts, apart from representatives of civil society."
Indeed, as I recalled in a paper presented at a regional seminar in Islamabad on May 26, 2003, the King's move "was greeted with relief by the common man, welcomed by the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and a multitude of smaller parties, besides a wide spectrum of civil society…Predictably, however, it met with critical, even angry, comments from senior politicians, including Nepali Congress' Girija Prasad Koirala, CPN-UML's Madhav Kumar Nepal and Deuba of the NC (Democratic) Party."
At this point it will be germane to pause awhile and mull how such a situation came to pass. As I recapitulated in my seminar paper:
The Election Commission had announced a six-phase, two-month long programme for the same, after expenditure of huge amounts of public funds. Despite that, Deuba in an audience with the King a day earlier recommended putting off the general election for over a year, as also that he be allowed to head an all-party government…Deuba's U-turn came, significantly enough, after seven political parties represented in the dissolved parliament, including the NC and the main opposition party the UML prevailed upon the King to make such an unconstitutional recommendation.
To be sure, in doing so, they accorded to the Maoists, at "war" with the State, a grand victory such as had never been won on the battlefield. No wonder, then, that its repercussions continue to haunt the nation to this day.
Incidentally, this crucial fact, too, doesn't get much notice – in political, academic, media and diplomatic circles – these days. That does not, however, mean that we should ignore it while attempting an objective review/analysis of events/developments of the past.
To appreciate the significance of Deuba's and others' attempt to ride roughshod over the constitution, it is necessary to point out that, as per Article 54 (4) of the constitution, it is mandatory for elections for a new House to be held within six months of the dissolution of parliament. Indeed, it was under this stipulation that when parliament was formally dissolved on May 22, 2002, it was simultaneously announced that the next general election would be held on November 13, 2002.
For record purposes and for the sake of academic objectivity, it will be appropriate to recall that the King's action in dismissing Deuba was based on two specific Articles of the Constitution: Article 127, dealing with the removal of obstacles/difficulties in implementation of the Constitution, in conjunction with Article 27 (3) that permits the King to "preserve and protect the Constitution by keeping the best interests and welfare of the people of Nepal."
It is also worth bearing in mind that RPP's Lokendra Bahadur Chand, who was subsequently nominated as prime minister after Deuba's dismissal, had in a nationally broadcast message to the nation, reminded one and all that "when parliament was dissolved no political party opposed it; instead, they went against holding the general election…and suggested the then prime minister to put off the election so they could remain in power indefinitely."
Many will surely recall that, then, the common perception was that the political parties, having made a fine hash of things for the past 12 years – that is, between April 6, 1990 and October 4, 2002 – were unable or unwilling to face the electorate. Their stratagem of evading the election, no doubt, was also conditioned by the fact that the Maoists had made their intention to disrupt the proposed general election loud and clear.
It should however be underlined, yet again, that until a week before his audience with the King on October 3, 2002 Deuba had publicly and repeatedly insisted, as did his Home Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka, that elections scheduled for November 13, 2002 would be held on time, as is borne out, among other things, by a plethora of newspaper reports at that time.
So, too, that government spokesmen including Khadka had consistently kept claiming in public that the security apparatus of the state was fully capable of ensuring a secure environment for the polls. Also, there is the public disclosure by the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Devendra Raj Kandel, "that elections could take place in as many as eight phases with a gap of 15-20 days between two stages."
Noteworthy, too, of the spirit of those times was the statement in Pokhara of Minister of State for Information, Hari Prasad Choudhary, quoted by RSS, in which he declared categorically that "election is the only medium to end terrorist activities in the country."
To give another example, UML's K.P. Oli speaking in Pokhara before representatives of the media went on record to affirm that the elections "should be held and will definitely be held in (the) stipulated time, nobody doubts this."
At this juncture, it will be in the fitness of things to recall that political parties contested the May 1999 elections – more than three years after the launch of the Maoist's Jana Yuddha. In that election the NC, despite its lacklustre performance in government and inability to resolve the Maoist issue, were, surprisingly enough, able to add to their strength in parliament.
One popular theory, much bandied about at the time including in the media, was that Koirala's public commitment that it would be K.P. Bhattarai – nominated prime minister of the interim, coalition government from April 19, 1990 to May 26,1991 that was charged with holding the first post-1990 general election and overseeing the drafting of a multi-party constitution – who would be the next prime minister, if the NC were triumphant at the polls, was responsible for the NC's electoral victory.
Be that as it may, Bhattarai, despite his purported contribution to the NC's electoral victory, was able to function in his position for barely 10 months, i.e. from May 31, 1999 to March 22, 2000. His successor was, of course, none other than Koirala who had, all along, been impatiently waiting in the wings for his chance to step into Bhattarai's shoes!
The reason for that, at the popular level, was that Koirala made it impossible for the enfeebled Bhattarai, within the NC, to do so accusing him, among other things, of weak leadership. To be sure, Bhattarai's tearful farewell speech in parliament made abundantly clear the principal reason for his resignation. Such, then, was the sorry state of affairs at the apex level of the NC, marked by personal rivalry and group interest.
Be that as it may, the UML secured a convincing majority for their candidates at local and district elections following the general elections of 1999, despite the on-going Maoist insurrection. Plainly, the "People's War" was not an obstacle.
What might also usefully be recalled is that the initial "joint movement" against the King's actions began not immediately after the royal proclamation of October 4, 2002 but, intriguingly enough, only on May 4, 2003, or a full six months after the King's dismissal of Deuba. The four parties were the NC, the UML, the Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party and Janamorcha Nepal.
Later, this grouping expanded to five with the addition of Nepal Sadhbhavana Party (Anandi Devi), a splinter of the Terai-oriented Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP).
Anyone who closely followed the news and political analysis in the media of that period should be able to come up with the logical explanation to such a bizarre, belated protest movement: that the principal political actors on the Nepali stage at that time were convinced that the King would, soon enough, invite him/them to head/form the interim government!
B. October 4, 2002-February 1, 2005.
However, to resume the sequence of political events after October 4, 2002, let me begin with the nomination by the King of Chand – a former prime minister of Panchayat lineage and a senior leader of the RPP – as prime minister under Article 127 of the Constitution.
The Chand cabinet included, inter alia, Badri Prasad Mandal, NSP president, Ramesh Nath Pandey, a royal nominee of the Upper House, Narayan Singh Pun, a former NC minister, a former RNA officer and head of the new Samata Party.
Another prominent member was Kuber Sharma – a former NC maverick, a one-time protégé of K.P. Bhattarai of the NC and chairman of the relatively new Hariyali Party – besides a number of prominent businessmen, a woman with a social service background, an academic, a former diplomat, members of ethnic minority groups, including a Muslim, and a former civil servant.
Notably, despite the King's appeal to political parties to provide names of individuals with a "clean" image who would not be contesting the envisaged elections, for inclusion in the interim government, they refused to oblige. After waiting a week, the King finally went ahead without them.
It may be noted, at this point, that in the royal proclamation of October 4, 2002 the King had announced he would, within five days, set up an interim government charged specifically to conduct elections to parliament, as per the 1990 Constitution. Also, although he did not make any specific reference to the Maoist insurrection, he had declared: "the government to be constituted will make adequate arrangements for peace and security as soon as possible."
Following Chand's resignation from his post, the King on June 4, 2003 nominated another RPP leader – this time, Surya Bahadur Thapa – to fulfill the mandate he had given Chand: to bring in the political parties, generate conditions for the elections and to create a climate of peace and security in the land. Thapa, a former prime minister, both under the Panchayat system as well in the multi-party dispensation, is considered to be close to the powers that be in New Delhi.
Thapa, unable to expand his small cabinet, composed solely of RPP politicians, continued for less than a year in office. He, like Chand, engaged in a dialogue with the Maoists, only to have them back out unilaterally.
Following Thapa's resignation, the King once again appealed to the political parties to come forward and take the responsibility of an interim government. This time, however, the King stipulated that whoever came forward to lead it should be able to forge as broad a coalition as possible.
Deuba, who had indicated his interest in the job, was nominated soon after Thapa's resignation on May 7, 2004. In the event, he headed a four-party government dominated by the UML. The other constituents were the RPP and Sadbhavana. UML's chief representative, Bharat Mohan Adhikary was made Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister – but only after a period of intense haggling over portfolios and numbers, as was widely reported in the media.
This combination, to no one's surprise, could not function as a team. The UML, in particular, seemed to be unable to make up its mind whether it was in the government or in the opposition! Crucially, it was also unable to forge a united position in dealing with the Maoists and in bringing the dissenting parties, principally the NC, in from the cold.
Deuba himself called for a stiff attitude – perhaps because of having been severely bitten once before – while the UML appeared to suggest that the Establishment endorse the Maoist platform lock, stock and barrel.
Indeed, aside from the failure of talks between the homogeneous government that he headed and the Maoists in 2001, none should forget that on August 25, 2003 he escaped an assassination bid on his life at Amkhaiya forest area Kailali district. Deuba had declared: "This is a cowardly act of the Maoists and I strongly condemn this heinous act". While Deuba rejected the Maoist explanation that the attack on him was a mistake, it came "just a couple of days before the Maoists unilaterally decided to break the seven-month long truce."
With such a sorry political disarray, no visible prospect of general elections anytime soon, the Maoists seemingly getting closer to their objective of delivering a death blow to the Monarchy and the parliamentary system, King Gyanendra on February 1, 2005, invoking the spirit of the Constitution and Article 27 (3) specifically, dissolved the Deuba-led coalition, declared emergency, and decided to rule directly for a temporary period to, as he put it, "fulfill the people's desire for the restoration of peace and stability."
C. February 1, 2005-August 31, 2005.
The King, in a nationally broadcast address to the nation on February 1, 2005, explained in detail the raison d'etre for his decision to rule directly for a temporary period. Since it constitutes a vital element in the current political discourse, both within and outside Nepal, it will be germane to recall below some key excerpts of that historic proclamation, even though it will necessarily add to the length of this paper.
"History is witness to the fact that both the Nepalese people and the King have, in unison, played decisive roles in each and every period of the Kingdom's process of unification, democratization and modernization…
"Even when bloodshed, violence and devastation has pushed the country on the brink of destruction, those engaged in politics in the name of democracy and people continue to shut their eyes to their welfare. Tussle for power, abuse of authority on gaining power and unhealthy competition in fulfilling personal and communal interests at the expense of the nation and citizens contributed to the further deterioration of the situation…
"Our desire to ensure social, political, and economic justice for our people through the meaningful exercise of multiparty democracy could not be materialized. There was a steady rise in crimes against the nation and the people, including destruction of development infrastructures constructed for the people's benefit.
"Whereas all democratic forces should have adopted an unified approach against terrorism, leaders instead continued their tussle for power, encouraging simple political workers to vandalize public utilities in the name of politics. Faced with this steadily declining situation, it is now time to bring to an end the ongoing acts of terrorist violence and pledge, in earnest, to fulfill the people's aspirations with the restoration of peace and security in the country…
"Multiparty democracy was discredited by focusing solely on power politics…Not a single House of Representatives was allowed to complete its tenure…
"After being incapable of holding elections, there were conspiracies to form undemocratic governments, which could be responsible to no one…
"In order to conduct the general elections in an environment of peace and security, opportunities were given to leaders of various political parties to constitute the Council of Ministers, with executive power. But the situation did not improve…
"No serious efforts were made to attenuate the real threat posed against democracy by terrorism in the form of a single-party autocracy...Political parties were unable to display responsible behavior in augmenting the patriotic fervor of our dutiful security personnel, who are active around the clock in ensuring security of the nation and the people…
"No democracy has ever had to go through such a dismal situation, where the innocent are punished by criminals, people whose property is seized and innocent children, women and the elderly who are mercilessly killed by criminals cannot receive any kind of protection from those who govern in their name and parties who claim to represent the people do not act in their defense…
"Nepal's independence, national unity and sovereignty are best safeguarded by the intimate relationship between the King and the people...We are committed to social justice; totalitarianism and authoritarianism are entirely inconsistent with the Monarchial traditions of the Shah Dynasty…We believe that centralisation of authority is against democratic norms…
"We have no interest other than the restoration of sustainable peace and exercise in meaningful democracy for the welfare of Nepal and the Nepalese people. It is clear that what the people want are a meaningful exercise in democracy, an effective market economy, good governance, transparency and a corruption-free rule of law…
"Contrary to the wishes of the people on whom sovereignty is vested, no serious efforts were made towards initiating elections to the House of Representatives within the year 2061 BS by maintaining, to the extent possible, peace and security…
"The Council of Ministers to be constituted will be under our Chairmanship. This Council of Ministers will give utmost priority to reactivating multiparty democracy in the country within three years with the implementation of effective reforms by restoring peace and security…
"No one will be allowed to jeopardize the people's security and the future of democracy. Nepal will not allow terrorists to use her territory against herself or against any other friendly nation…Effective measures will be adopted to curb corruption while ensuring that the principles of justice are not infringed upon…
"Today, it is we Nepalese who must take an initiative to ensure a bright future for Nepal and the Nepalese...An independent press serves as a medium for raising the level of democratic consciousness...We believe that the press will make effective contributions in ensuring that democratic norms and values inspire our way of life as well as governance…
"The nation has taken a step forward towards democracy and progress leaving behind violence, insecurity and conflict. At a time when the country is in the grip of terrorism those who believe in democracy and peace must unite…
"Any nefarious attempts at disturbing peace and security and hindering efforts at making democracy meaningful will not be tolerated either by the nation or people. Yet, in pursuit of liberalism, we should never overlook those who cannot believe in the sound judgement of the people and those who cannot stand in favor of peace will stand condemned by the motherland."
*** As with the King's intervention on October 4, 2002 his even more direct involvement in the affairs of the nation generated mixed reactions within Nepal and abroad. Predictably, while the dissenting political parties and their foreign patrons (which will be taken up later in more detail) were alarmed and taken completely off guard, the reaction of ordinary folk was quite different as is more than borne out by official newspaper reports.
However, entirely in keeping with the traditions of the partisan Nepalese media, which claims to be "free" and "independent", it did not believe that the warm welcome accorded to the King's move, at the popular level, merited any coverage!
The observations of a well-known senior attorney and constitutional lawyer, I believe, merits special attention, in particular his pithy comment that the "royal proclamation was to save the country from more crises." *** Inevitably, at the administrative level, a flurry of events, announcements, and decisions followed in the wake of the King's direct intervention. Among them was the setting up on Feb. 2 of a 10-member cabinet headed by the King, including Ramesh Nath Pandey, Radhikhrisna Mainali and Krishna Lal Thakali. The seven new faces on the team were: Tanka Dhakal, a former Rashtriya Panchayat member; Durga Shrestha, a former DDO; Buddhiraj Bajracharya, a former mayor of Lalaitpur Municipality; Khadka Bahadur GC, a former zonal commissioner; Ramnarayan Singh, a former CDO; Dan Bahadur Shahi, a former HMG secretary; and Madhukar Shumshere Rana, a former Ministry of Finance official.
Though compact the new cabinet reflected representation of various ethnic communities and regions including Brahmins, Chhetris, Newars and Thakalis. While Mainali and Bajracharya are associated with the Leftists, Shrestha and Singh are activists of the RPP.
*** Inevitably, the imposition of emergency led to the arrest of a number of senior political leaders, mostly detained in their residences, as well as others, in order, as RNA spokesman Brig. Gen. Dipak Gurung explained, "to maintain law and order." As also explained, the arrests were meant to prevent them from instigating the public "so that the security forces could concentrate on taking on the Maoists."
Among those arrested were: NC president Girija Prasad Koirala, UML General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, former prime ministers Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, (NC), NC-D president Sher Bahadur Deuba, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Lokendra Bahadur Chand of the RPP.
Similarly UML's K.P. Oli, Amrit Kumar Bohara, Bharat Mohan Adhikary, Asta Laxmi Sakya, Sahana Pradhan, RPP Chairman Pashupati Shumshere Rana, Chairman, NSP Badri Prasad Mandal, and Chairman, Janamorcha Nepal, Amik Sherchand.
Likewise, former ministers Bachaspati Devkota, Inshor Pokhrel, Raghiji Pant, Krishna Gopal Shrestha, Urbadatta Pant, Bhim Kumari Buda, Bal Krishna Khand, Lal Bahadur Biswakarma, Yuva Raj Gyawali, Bamshidhar Mishra, Tek Bahadur Chogyal and Purna Bahadur Khadka were also kept in detention.
NCGeneral Secretary Sushil Koirala, NC's Ram Chandra Poudel were arrested and detained respectively in Nepalgunj and Tanahu. NC's Narahari Acharya was also among those arrested in Kathmandu.
These individuals were released at different times, a number within a week or two of their detention, others after a period of two to three months. After the release of UML's Nepal and his associate Bohara, following a three-month period of house arrest, all chiefs of political parties had been freed. However, following after Nepal's release "authorities nation-wide extended by another three months arrest warrants of 175 mostly NC leaders and workers, including former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, amid opposition and international protests."
In addition to the series of arrests and detentions of political leaders and activists, in the wake of the declaration of emergency, travel restrictions were also imposed against individuals on the list of the security forces. Among those who were restricted from leaving the Kathmandu Valley, at that time, were: Padma Ratna Tuladhar (former minister, considered close to the Maoists), Krishna Pahadi (human rights activist), Daman Nath Dhungana (formerly NC and Speaker of House, considered Maoist sympathiser), Gopal Shivakoti "Chintan", Gopal Krishan Sivakoti, Mathura Prasad Shrestha (former minister and Left supporter), Sushil Pyakurel (member, National Human Rights Commission), Gauri Pradhan , Kapil Shrestha (member, National Human Rights Commission), Arjun Karki, Nilambar Acharya, Krishna Prasad Khanal, Om Gurung, Krishna Bhattachand, Shyam Shrestha (editor, Left monthly Mulyankan), Laxman Prasad Aryal (former Supreme Court Justice), and Sindhu Nath Pyakurel (former president, Nepal Bar Association.)
*** The very first cabinet meeting chaired by the King decided to establish a Royal Commission to probe and fight graft thereby projecting an anti-corruption drive as the new government's foremost priority. Accordingly, legal arrangements were to be made to immediately confiscate and nationalise illegally acquired wealth. The Royal Commission for the Control of Corruption (RCCC) was, in fact, actually constituted by the King on Feb. 16 in accordance with Article 115 (7) of the Constitution.
It is composed of the following six members: Bhakta Bahadur Koirala (chairman), Shambu Prasad Khanal (member), Hari Babu Chaudhary (member), Raghuchandra Bahadur Singh, (member), Prem Bahadur Khati (member); and Judge Shambu Bahadur Khadka (member-secretary).
The same day, the government also adopted a 21-point programme of action as well as decided to launch a special development package for Karnali, an insurgency-affected region of the Kingdom. Days later, the King issued an order that, inter alia, "banned unions in government offices and public corporations, comments against security operations" besides empowering officials "to monitor such reports through the electronic media, including telephone, radio, fax, television and e-mail."
On Feb. 7, the Ministry of Local Development (MLD) issued a 39-point action plan designed to make delivery of public services at the local level more effective and result-oriented. Landline phone services which had been disconnected immediately after the declaration of emergency through the royal proclamation were resumed on Feb. 7 and Internet service quickly followed. Wireless communication and cell phones (mobiles) were to be on hold pending a comprehensive review of the security situation.
(Post paid phones and, much later, a number of pre-paid ones in Kathmandu Valley were gradually restored after re-registration with special attention being paid to security considerations. The re-registration process, as of this writing, is still underway.)
On Feb. 14, the King, in accordance with Article 127 of the Constitution, nominated two former prime ministers, Tulsi Giri and Kirtinidhi Bista, as vice-chairmen of the Council of Ministers. Giri was given the charge of the ministries of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Water Resources, Land Reforms and Management, Forest and Soil Conservation, and Science and Technology.
Bista, for his part, was accorded charge of the ministries of Industries, Commerce and Supplies, Agriculture and Cooperatives, Population and Environment, Physical Planning and Works, and Health. As recalled, Giri, is "a two-time prime minister during (the) Panchayat era and a vice-chairman in the cabinet formed by the late King Mahendra on December 26, 1960, immediately after the King dismissed the elected BP Koirala government." Bista is a "three-time prime minister during the Panchayat era." While Giri was quoted, in a post-swearing in comment, as saying "the government may hold talks or seek a military solution" Bista indicated, for his part, that the "restoration of peace is our primary duty."
Another notable policy initiative by the government was the decision "to constitute a Dalit and Indigenous Nationalities District Coordination Committee for supervising programmes targeting the neglected, oppressed and downtrodden communities and the indigenous people and nationalities." The programme was to be implemented as per the 38-point action plan issued by the Local Development Ministry.
Yet another important policy move by the government was the constitution, on March 17, of a high-level committee for the protection of human rights, headed by the Attorney General, to "work towards ensuring the protection of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the legal rights and the rights under international treaties which Nepal has signed."
Significantly, too, the government decided "to set up a rehabilitation centre at Sundarijal for those who gave up their involvement in violent activities and now want to lead a normal life."
On April 11, the King appointed five regional administrators as also zonal commissioners in the 14 administrative zones of the Kingdom.
A major development was the decision of the King, April 29, to lift the emergency, invoking Article 115 (11) of the Constitution. The emergency, clamped on Feb. 1, was "lifted two days before its expiry and within a few hours after the return of Their Majesties from a 10-day trip to Indonesia, China and Singapore." The King made possible the continued functioning of the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC) by invoking Article 127 of the Constitution. Had that not been the case, it would have become defunct with the lifting of the emergency.
An important political development soon thereafter was the arrest by the RCCC of NC (D) president and former prime minister, Deuba on July 25.
[Days earlier he and his colleague former minister for works and physical planning Prakash Man Singh were held in custody after they refused to post a bail amount in the Melamchi Drinking Water Project access road case. On August 28, they "moved the Supreme Court against the Royal Commission for the Control of Corruption (RCCC) challenging the commission's constitutionality and its verdict." ]
Deuba was presented before Commissioners of the high-powered agency 11 hours after his arrest amid tight security. The Commission began investigating Deuba after the project chief of the approach road project alleged that Deuba had personally intervened to award the tender to a foreign contractor.
The investigation had clear international implications – as were, indeed, validated subsequently – because the approach road of the drinking water project is being financed by a consortium led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Nepal's main multi-lateral donor.
Earlier, Deuba and Singh became the first politicians to challenge RCCC's authority and legality, although six ministerial colleagues in the Deuba cabinet pre-Feb.1 reluctantly cooperated with the Commission to probe the disbursement of millions of rupees from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
Jog Meher Shrestha (RPP), Yubraj Gaywali (UML), Badri Mandal (NSP) and Mohammad Moshin (Independent) were also placed under the RCCC's scanner in the above context. So were Purna Bahadur Khadka and Hom Nath Dahal of the NC-D.
On June 28, Deuba, six former ministers and 27 others were acquitted on the disbursement-to-cronies charge. at which point he did not contest the RCCC's legality or authority! As one perceptive observer pointed out in reference to their keeping mum earlier, the US, which had protested Deuba's sentencing "could not be bothered as long as RCCC decisions are of their liking."
In the event, on July 25, the RCCC sentenced Deuba, Singh, HMG secretary Tika Dutta Niroula and executive director of the Melamchi project Dhruba Bahadur Pradhan each to two years imprisonment. It also slapped a Rs. 90 million fine on each of them.
The anti-graft body also sentenced deputy executive director of the project Dipak Kumar Jha and the contractor Jeep Chiring Lama (the foreign company's Nepali partner) to one year's in jail and fined each Rs. 45 million.
While this understandably raised a storm of protest from the NC (D), other political parties and brought forth lectures from India, the US and the ADB, as one informed commentator pointed out: "The RCCC has not convicted Deuba and the others "for irregularities in the tendering process. The conviction is based on the over-estimation of the works of, and the distortions of the terminated contract, avoiding the approval process stated by the financial rules and regulations, and awarding the contract to a non-qualified contractor who happens to be a Central Committee member of Deuba's party."
*** To return our general overview of the recent past, however, on April 30 the District Administration Office, Kathmandu, prohibited organising of any form of protests such as meetings, processions, sit-ins, gheraos and strikes in a number of specified public thoroughfares in Kathmandu, with immediate effect.
Perhaps the most significant political development of the past few weeks was the cabinet reshuffle on July 14. This cabinet reshuffle, and expansion, turned out to be very controversial. Through this move the King inducted four new cabinet ministers, along with eight new assistant ministers, "ignoring the opposition".
The four new cabinet level ministers are: Badri Prasad Mandal, NSP chairman; Prakash Koirala, son of Nepal's first elected prime minister B.P. Koirala who had been expelled from the NC Central Working Committee by president Girija Prasad Koirala, his uncle, for ridiculing a demand for the reinstatement of parliament. The other two inductees are Salim Miya Ansari, a Muslim and a former member of the UML and Niranjan Thapa of Panchayat lineage.
The eight persons appointed as assistant ministers were: Rup Jyoti, Yankila Sherpa, Golchhe Sarki, Niksahya SJB Rana, Binod Kumar Shah, Chandra Bahadur Lama, Jagat Gauchan and Senate Shrestha.
Not surprisingly, this came in for particularly sharp criticism from the dissenting political leaders, including NC's Koirala and UML's Nepal. The duo publicly derided the cabinet expansion for its alleged feudal character. In all fairness, it must also be recorded that displeasure over the individuals inducted was not limited to the political opposition. Indeed, it was even manifest among those generally supportive of the Feb.1 move.
On July 16, Finance Minister Madhukar Shumshere Rana presented a Rs. 126. 8 billion budget for the fiscal year 2005/2006. Rs. 77.75 billion, Rana said, would be generated from existing sources of revenue; Rs. 18. 68 financed from foreign grants, leaving a deficit of Rs. 15. 90 billion.
As the Finance Minister explained: "The main vision of this budget is to create (a) foundation for prosperous new Nepal within three years by contributing to the political, social and economic sectors and by reducing the level of poverty…The main mission is to put Nepal into a respectable position in the comity of nations by restoring peace, achieving prosperity and reactivating democracy by means of pursuing market-oriented economy, maintaining fiscal discipline, following public-private policy and protecting people's lives and property."
While staunch critics in the media made much of the fact that "the budget has allocated 19 billion rupees for security, a whopping 26 percent rise from last year's Rs. 14.7 billion" it also claimed that "the real security expenditure will be more than this allocation if past indication is anything to go by."
Notably, however, Finance Secretary Bhanu Prasad Acharya speaking at a post-budget press conference in the capital along with his minister denied claims that the budget on defence and Royal Palace had been increased at the cost of social spending. "The budget on Royal Palace head has been increased only by 5.8 percent against 25.71 percent rise in the size of the total budget."
For his part, Minister Rana explained that the budget tried to maintain a balance between security and development, growth and justice, planned and market economy, and the role of national and local agencies. "The budget tries to walk on two legs rather than limp on one, " as he put it.
Another notable development of that period was the dissolution of civil servants unions, through the introduction of the new Civil Service Act 2062 BS. Explaining its rationale, Minister forGeneral Administration Krishna Lal Thakali, claimed the hitherto existing Civil Service Act was reformed. "The reforms were made after extensive discussion and consultation with the administrators, government officials, and stakeholders and the new act will address the challenges (that had) surfaced in the civil service sector."
On August 2, the government nominated chairmen and vice-chairmen to 47 district development committees. Those who were so nominated generally had a Panchayat era past. In the circumstances, with the dissident politicians refusing to play ball, it could hardly be otherwise, especially in the context of the upcoming municipality polls the date for which the Election Commissioner Keshav Raj Rajbhandari said would be announced by mid-October, 2005.
Two interesting disclosures were made respectively by Vice-Chairman Bista and Finance Minister on August 5, the former indicating that the government was ready for talks with the Maoists while the latter was quoted as stating publicly "we can go for referendum to test who is popular (monarchists or republicans)."
It was not immediately known whether the latter made that intriguing remark merely off-the-cuff or whether there is something more to that outburst than that. Perhaps time will tell.
*** An interesting development was reported in the media on August 27. As disclosed, "Himalayan Plastics, a blacklisted company in which Dr. Tulsi Giri, vice chairman of the council of ministers, was also involved, repaid Rs 3.5 million to Nepal Limited (NBL)" on August 26. "The repaid amount was 20 percent of the total outstanding loan liability of Rs. 17.5 million."
The same report went on to report that "Himalayan Plastics has also agreed to clear the remaining amount within a period of 12 months through equal monthly installments." To understand the significance of the above development it needs to be pointed out that, not long after Giri's nomination, his default of a NBL bank loan in the 1970s by Himalayan Plastics, where he was a partner among others, had been highlighted by the opposition media in a move to embarrass the King who has repeatedly stressed the need to take stern action against corruption, including those in positions of power.
(The main developments on the foreign policy front during the period under review will be discussed below, in the Royal Palace and the international community segments.)
PERSPECTIVE THROUGH FOUR KEY PRISMS
Having attempted a generalised review of the main developments relevant to the evolution of the current political situation in Nepal, let me now, briefly, present four additional perspectives beginning with that of the Royal Palace that occupies centre stage today.
It will be germane, I believe, to organise them into the following clusters: messages to the nation; major policy statements to the national and foreign media; those made in the context of foreign visits and during internal inspection tours. Taken together, they provide considerable insights and food for thought.
In his traditional New Year's message to the nation for the year 2062 BS, the King declared that there had been "a steady improvement in the law and order situation" since Feb.1and stressed that "a robust and effective multi-party system envisages governance of the country by the people's representatives through impartial elections on the basis of adult franchise."
Significantly, too, he informed the Nepali people in that message that "we have, therefore, commanded the election commission to conduct municipal elections within this year." Days later, in an interview to US magazine Time (Asia edition) he "defended his February 1 move, reiterated that democracy in Nepal would survive and said that multi-pronged approaches would be employed to resolve the conflict which the nation could not afford anymore."
Speaking conversationally with the editors of a number of broadsheet dailies a few weeks after Feb. 1, King Gyanendra declared "terrorism is not accepted anymore in Nepal." Among the other main points he made on the occasion were, as encapsulated in newspaper headlines: "problem not with political parties"; "we expect friends to help in word, deed"; and "time for collective thinking, partnership".
Two other significant quotes that were recorded by the media were: "Once we have chosen the path of not accepting terrorism, we expect our friends to help us by word of mouth and deed. We want to give a message to the Nepali people. We are fighting for democracy against terrorism. The Nepali people want to know what our friends are thinking." The other quote: "It's my belief that if the press were responsible and did not in any way strengthen the hands of terrorism, they should be free to write anything."
Addressing a felicitation programme at Tribhuvan University on May 27, the King offered an olive branch to the dissenting political parties, stating, inter alia: "We call on them to shoulder the responsibility of making all democratic institutions effective through free and fair elections. We have constantly held discussions with everyone in the interest of the nation, people and democracy, and will continue to do so."
*** King Gyanendra, post-Feb-1, continued the practice of periodically touching base with the people in far-flung districts, including those affected by the Maoist insurgency, though on a scale much smaller than his regional visits of 2003 following the one-year anniversary of the palace massacre of June 1, 2001, beginning with one to Biratnagar on January 3, 2003.
Then, as I recalled, "a mass of humanity turned out" to offer felicitations to the King and Queen "defying the call for a Mechi-Koshi bandh by Maoists protesting the royal couple's visit to that eastern metropolis."
The latest series of inspection visits took place in August 2005, beginning with a visit to eastern Nepal "to inquire about the security situation, and services and facilities which (the) local administration are providing to the people in the region." On that occasion, he gave collective audience to the DDC Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the Mechi, Koshi and Sagarmatha zones.
As he reminded them: "The country and the people do not want terrorism; all newly appointed local body officials should work in a coordinated manner to give the assurance of peace and security to the people." As reported, the King also called on the security forces to provide the necessary security backup to ensure a peaceful environment to advance development work in the districts by forging coordination with the DDCs.
The King followed up his inspection mission to eastern Nepal by one to the Far West, beginning with Mahendranagar and including Dipayal, Dhangadi, Dang, Jumla, Surkhet, and Banke. Apart from a personal inspection of the concerned districts, and an inter-mingling with the common folk, the King received briefings and issued instructions to the heads of the local development agencies as well as to contingents of the security forces stationed in those areas.
Among the King's directives that received particular media attention was his instruction to district authorities "to shift all regional government offices from Nepalgunj to Surket within three months." As reported, the King, at a meeting with concerned officials at the Bheri Zonal Administration in Kohalpur reminded those present: "I had issued similar instructions one-and-a-half-years ago so as to transform Surkhet into a development centre." He also directed that all zonal offices be shifted to Kohalpur, the headquarters of the Bheri Zone, within the next six months.
Thereafter, the most noteworthy of the King's public pronouncements were made in the course of a joint interview, on his return from his latest internal tours, to RSS, Nepal TV and Radio Nepal. The interview was broadcast live on NTV and Radio Nepal and reported in detail by RSS. The King answered a battery of questions with reflection and deliberation generally with a grave demeanor. The overall impression to me was that he was deeply touched by the problems and poverty, including, the overwhelming desire of the people of the areas visited, particularly the remote areas of Mid and Far Western Nepal.
In the main, the King asked political parties to make clear to the public their stand on terrorism, corruption, good governance and financial discipline before talks with him. He expressed displeasure over their willingness to either hold talks or reach an alliance the Maoists without mentioning the latter by name.
Of them, he declared: "initially, I had thought they were looking for a change as wished by the people. But they have now been completely alienated from the people as they followed the path of terrorism." The King blamed the Deuba government (the first) for not paying attention to the 40-point demand that they had forwarded (i.e. in early February 1996 prior to their launching their armed offensive). With regard to the press, the King said a responsible media should act in a "disciplined manner" and that it must in no way "encourage terrorism."
The King has not neglected to pursue his mission to explain his Feb. 1 action and to seek help and understanding from foreign leaders and government, among other things, through personal interactions with visiting dignitaries or in through meetings with world leaders at various international fora.
Among the most significant of such was his meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in Kathmandu on March 31. Li's visit was significant on two key counts: one, it was the very first to Nepal by a foreign dignitary, post-Feb.1; two, because right after his Nepal visit, Li accompanied Prime Wen Jiabao on the latter's official visit to India soon thereafter. That the Chinese side was fully in the know of the Nepalese perspective on key current issues by the highest authorities in the land, before the India-China parleys in New Delhi, was noteworthy and possibly had a bearing on those discussions.
>From photographs of the facial expressions of the King and Foreign Minister Li during the audience published in newspapers the next day, it was apparent that the meeting had gone off very well. As much was also underlined by Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey when he disclosed to the press: "Substantial talks were held between His Majesty the King and Li."
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that when Pandey paid an official visit to China at Li's invitation in August 2005, he, in turn, had the rare opportunity to have a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in what observers considered a rare gesture to Nepal from the Chinese leadership. The Chinese president does not normally receive all visiting foreign ministers.
The King's first foreign outing after Feb. 1 was to Jakarta where he led the Nepalese delegation to the official celebrations marking the golden jubilee of the hosting of the first Asian-African Conference in Bandung in 1955. Addressing the conference, the King highlighted his commitment to combating terrorism, as well as to explain to the august assemblage that the Nepalese monarchy was "guided by people's consent" even while emphasising that his commitment to democracy was "unflinching".
That apart, the Jakarta conference also provided the King the opportunity to interact with a bevy of Asian and African leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As reported, an Indian TV channel disclosed that the Nepalese King had said that India would resume military assistance to Nepal, suspended since the declaration of emergency in Nepal on February 1.
Furthermore, the King was also quoted as saying: "We agreed that Nepal needs to tackle the Maoist issue and at the same time also to re-energize (the) political process…We had a very cordial meeting with Dr. Manmohan Singh."
>From Jakarta, King Gyanendra proceeded to Boao in China's island province of Hainan where he addressed the Boao Forum for Asia-2005. Apart from stressing the importance of the Boao Forum, he also utilised the opportunity to meet and interact with a large number of dignitaries present, including the Chairman of the Chinese Political Consultative Conference Jia Kwingling, and former Japanese foreign minister Kawaguchi Yoriko.
The King's next foreign excursion was to Doha, in the state of Qatar, venue of the Second South Summit of the Group of 77. Perhaps the most notable feature of the King's address to the Doha assemblage was outlining his vision of developing Nepal "as a transit economy between China and India (and) contribute to realising the largest potential synergy in Asia" given that Nepal's two immediate neighbours as "two of the fastest growing economies in the world."
*** Mainstream Political Parties
At the very outset, let me recall that as this is being written a 7-party alliance has been forged for "struggle" against "regression," political code for King Gyanendra in particular and, more generally, against the institution of the Monarchy. They are the NC, the UML, the NC (D), the Nepal Peasants' and Workers' Party (NPWP), Janamorcha Nepal (JN), NSP (Anandi) and the Samyukta Bam Morcha (SBM) led by C.P. Mainali.
The history of this conglomeration of dissenting mainstream political parties, large and small, is a relatively brief one. Its growth while evolutionary is hardly linear. In fact, it began as a four-party combo – the NC, UML, NPWP and JN – then expanded to five with the addition of NSP (Anandi), before being reduced to a four-party movement, when the UML quit to join the Deuba-led coalition.
Thereafter, SBM entered the political club raising it to a five-member affair. Finally, following the direct royal intervention of Feb. 1 its membership rose to seven with the addition of the UML and the NC (D).
At first, or on January 22, 2003, the four parties mentioned above set up a task force to chart the modalities for a "peaceful joint struggle" directed against "regressive forces." As explained then, it was for the lofty purpose of "safeguarding the achievements of the 1990 movement", to "reactivate" the constitution and to secure "rectification" of the King's October 4, 2002 promulgation and follow-up steps.
It is interesting to note, as this is being written towards August end 2005, how far the dissenting political parties have traversed from desiring to "safeguarding the achievements of the 1990 movement" to their virtual working understanding with the Maoists!
That aside, the two main parties, the NC and UML, were, at that point, wide apart in what they wished to achieve, as was underlined when NC's Ram Chandra Poudel on January 25 ruled out joint agitation with the UML. Interesting, too, is that then NC's Koirala was consistently refusing to attend any function where Deuba is present.
It thus remains to be seen how far, if at all, the 7-party alliance will remain intact given not merely the fissures and dissentions within its major constituent elements but, equally importantly, only their very different personal and party agendas.
For our purposes here let us now focus on the main trends and developments relevant to that grouping, in the aftermath of the King's direct intervention of February 1.
Meeting in New Delhi, representatives of that alliance "appealed to the international community, especially India, to stop all military assistance to King Gyanendra." They, however, "side-stepped questions whether they want the monarchy to be abolished and would seek support of the Maoists." Following his release after a two-month period of detention, Koirala stated that dialogue was possible only if the emergency was lifted, political detainees released and press freedom restored.
Days later, the major political party leaders expressed cautious reaction to the King's declaration to hold municipal elections within a year. They added that the political situation needed to be normalised. Beating a retreat soon thereafter, they "strongly flayed the idea of holding municipal polls and demanded that the environment for polls should be prepared first."
Weeks after that, leaders of the alliance announced a six-point common programme "to end the King's direct rule and to restore democracy and people's sovereignty." They also stressed that the revival of the House was the "entry point" while keeping the constituent assembly option open.
At this stage, it may be in order to point out that the alliance's bid to secure foreign help for their political agenda in Nepal drew considerable flak from non-partisan circles including, for instance, from one prominent woman activist who made the public claim that in "in 1975 when Mrs. Indira Gandhi, after having declared a state of emergency, asked B.P. Koirala to take with him the Indian army to topple the system in Nepal he declined."
She disclosed that B.P. Koriala had rejected the suggestion outright, returning to Nepal with a national reconciliation agenda to save the country from external influence. She said that it is sad to note that "G.P. babu has done just the opposite."
Several days before that the NC chief Koirala revealed that he had had telephonic conversations with Maoist leaders during his weeklong trip to India. He was reported to have stated: "I urged them to support the common agenda of the House of Representatives but there was no concrete response." Days after his return from India, "top leaders of the seven-party alliance…univocally decided to boycott municipal elections, which the King had issued directives to the government to hold this year." Needless to say, the significance of the same was not lost to anyone. Not long thereafter, the alliance's leadership declared that they would "hold dialogue with the Maoists to bring the rebels into the political mainstream.
Another twist to the story was added when UML's Bamdev Gautam, speaking at a mass meeting of the alliance at Basantpur, "warned that people could form a parallel government if the King ignored the seven-party alliance's call for the re-instatement of the House of Representatives and restoration of (the) constitutional process."
In response to the seven-party's siren calls to the Maoists, its supremo Prachanda "called on the parties to form a negotiating team 'immediately' to settle difference between them." Koirala in reply said that the seven-party alliance had taken Prachanda's call for constituting a talks team "positively on the surface level but were still in a wait-and-watch" mode.
For his part, UML's chief Nepal, at a party programme declared: "We haven't said we will immediately initiate negotiation with the Maoists" adding "therefore, we don't say that the negotiation will proceed only after the Maoists lay down their arms." Another noteworthy development came as the dissenting political leaders "put the ball back in the Maoists' court, saying that they must come up with concrete initiatives on the issue of translating their commitment to peaceful ways of resolving the crisis."
A further development came as "second generation leaders of the seven party alliance…said pro-parliamentary forces are fighting for total democracy in which the constitutional monarch will have no say."
At around the same time, it seemed that the King's opposition began to develop cold feet, as judged by commentators noting, among other things, comments such as that by NC's Sushil Koirala that "nothing has happened in developing a cooperative alliance with Maoists. An environment has not been created" – after the initial euphoria and threat to talk directly with the underground communists apparently began to fade.
Perhaps to dispel doubts created by Sushil Koirala's statement, UML's general secretary declared that his grouping is "gradually building confidence with the Maoists to fight (the) authoritarian rule." Responding to Finance Minister Madhukar Shumshere Rana's comment that the government could go for a referendum to test the popularity of the monarchy (see section on government policy above), Gautam declared with bravado: "King come to the referendum, it will decide about monarchy and republic."
In his familiar fluctuating mode UML strongman Nepal told the party faithful on August 29 that the party had "made clear that the collaboration with the Maoists is impossible unless they lay down their weapons and give up their terrorist activities."
The NC, preparing for their 11th General Convention, omitted reference to constitutional monarchy from its statute on August 29, which Koirala, addressing the inaugural session of the convention the following day, declared that his party was "forced to remove constitutional monarchy from the party statute because of the King's repeated refusal to remain a constitutional head of state."
Since Maoist activities, including wanton terror and killings, have become a daily staple for the media it will be sensible to focus on just the main recent developments having a bearing on the subject. All the same, a sampling of a few newspaper headlines of a recent period should be instructive:
"Maoists shoot 4-yr-old and mother"; "Terrorists continue atrocities, kill 24 civilians in three weeks"; "Maoists mine claims 41 lives"; "Apology notwithstanding, Maoist excesses continue"; "Terrorists abducted thousands of children:AI";" "Rebels bomb spinning mill"; "Over 1,000 Maoists storm RNA camp"; "Maoists bomb Jyoti Spinning Mills"; "Maoists rape over 2 dozen women"; and "Six passengers killed, 7 hurt in Kapilbastu blast."
Worthy of special note is Prachanda's interview to Time magazine. Among his pronouncements: "Our party is not only fighting autocratic monarchy – so many countries have already finished this task over the last centuries – but also the evil of the imperialist world, the hypocrisy of the so-called democratic countries that a superpower like the US represents…
"We deeply believe that what we are starting in Nepal is part of a worldwide 21st century revolution…There will be competition among political parties, (provided they) oppose feudalism and imperialism and work for the service of the people…The international community should understand the feudal autocratic nature of the King and the democratic nature of the Maoists…China's current ruling class dreams of being the new superpower, which goes directly against the path charted by Mao Zedong. China fears the return of Mao in Nepal…
"My vision of a perfect Nepal is a democratic new Nepal, free from the exploitation of feudalism, working for economic and cultural prosperity…I have no time or interests outside the party, the campaign and the masses."
A scrutiny of a few write-ups covering the period from January 2004 to March 2005 provides some illuminating insights into the Maoist leaders, their strategy and tactics, the changing dynamics of their insurrection and how it has become a tool of diplomacy.
"Recent Maoist atrocities in various districts, and statements from central level leaders claiming these are against party policy, has (sic) raised a serious doubt: Is the Maoist leadership increasingly losing (its) grip over its militias?"
One Nepali military analyst has thus outlined what he believes to constitute Maoist strategy and tactics. "Their immediate objective/strategy is to seek national and international legitimacy and recognition as a political movement with their own established security wing. In this regard they have to prove that there is a strategic stalemate, there are controlled areas and static HQs in Nepal…
"Their second objective is to capture (a) couple of district HQs and strategic locations and force the government to declare (a) unilateral cease-fire and present unacceptable demands during the negotiations. Thirdly, they want to exploit the internal intrigues and conflicts in the democratic political parties, particularly some of the unbridled leadership, by preaching people's new democracy/democratic republic etc till they capture the state authority and finally impose their own ideology."
A Delhi-based Indian researcher has focused on Maoist incursions across open borders, drawing attention to what he terms as the changing dynamics of such movements. He claims that, in addition to the Maoists' linkages with People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in India, there are reports that they have also established contacts with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), two insurgencies that are active in India's northeast.
He says: "ULFA and the Maoists are reported to have recently agreed to operate three new bases in Nepal. These moves towards closer links with the Maoists may be hastened by the ULFA's current problems in Bhutan. There is also some speculation that the ammunition and explosives seized in June-July 2003 from the Jogapara village in Bogra district in Bangladesh were to be smuggled into Nepal."
Furthermore, he claims that the Maoists are attempting to organise the approximately 10 million of Nepalese in India through, among others, the Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Ekta Samaj (ABNES) which is proscribed in India under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). He goes on to allege that, according to sources. "ABNES Secretary Bamdev Chhetri had visited Jammu in September 2001 to establish contact with Kashmiri militant groups in order to set up a supply line for arms for the CPN (M)."
Another interesting write-up attempts to establish that the Maoist insurgency in Nepal is a tool for Indian diplomacy. The author quotes Karl W. Deutsch to the effect that the mass media report terrorist events with sensationalism that is used by the terrorists to gain attention for their cause. In doing so, "they become the unintended link in the widening spiral of terrorism."
Doubtless in the March-August 2005 period one of the most seminal or dramatic developments revolved around Baburam Bhattarai's being relieved of his leadership responsibilities. As much was not only confirmed by a Maoist FM station from Pyuthan district but also confirmed by the RNA that, among other things, produced an audio tape in which, inter alia, Prachanda attempted to justify his feud with Bhattarai saying that the world knows that Baburam had been reprimanded.
Another highly revealing development had to do with Bhattarai's meeting in New Delhi with Indian Marxist leader Prakash Karat – reportedly "to convince the Maoists to join the pro-democracy movement spearheaded by the seven political parties in Nepal" – as per a Times of India disclosure that was later denied by both though confirmed by Prachanda.
Bhattarai later stated that "preliminary homework" had begun in the first week of Ashad (June 15-21) at an undisclosed location in India with the seven-party alliance for a "joint movement." Although Bhattarai did not confirm that other leaders of the seven-party grouping, camped in the Indian capital, had met him for the same purpose, Bhattarai did indicate that the goal was to abolish the monarchy and establish a "popular republic." However, he termed NC chief Koirala's demand for parliament's reinstatement "almost impossible."
A follow-up development of note was Bhattarai's reinstatement in his party, along with two colleagues, including wife Hisila Yami "after Indian Government pressure and intervention." Bhattarai was apparently embarrassed by the charge that he is "pro-Indian" leveled, among others, by Leftist leader Shakti Lamsal in vernacular daily Nepal alleging that he was responsible for the arrest by Indian police of Maoist leaders Mohan Vaidya, CP Gajurel, Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar.
Lamsal had quoted Prachanda as stating that while India and the King are the main enemies, Bhattarai under the present circumstances says India is a friendly power.
Follows below a summary of the reactions of the "international community" to King Gyanendra's direct intervention of Feb. 1, with a focus on India, the United States, the UK, the UN, China, Pakistan and Russia.
Even prior to Feb. 1 "sources close to the Indian government", had begun to give advice on how Nepal should deal with the Maoist insurrection, as indicated in a news story from the Indian capital which disclosed: "When King Gyanendra begins his India visit…New Delhi will politely ask the monarch to take proactive action against Maoist rebels – even if that means temporarily suspending all ongoing peacekeeping operations."
In the Lok Shaba, India's Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh said India's military aid to Nepal was under "constant review" even while admitting that India's relationship with the RNA was "very, very close" and disclosing that "positive signals had started emanating from Nepal with regard to India's concerns." A month later, Singh indicated that India would resume military aid to Nepal unconditionally, dropping an earlier demand that the King should first restore democracy.
However, less than a fortnight later, Singh began to sing a different tune. Thus, in an interview to the Hindu newspaper Singh stated "the supply of arms to Nepal is under constant review" – despite assurances to the King in Jakarta for the resumption of military supplies. In another reversal of policy, a Foreign Ministry statement declared that the said supplies are being released, days after the lifting of emergency in Nepal and the release of several political leaders and activists.
In yet another twist, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at a breakfast meeting with Left parties, informed them that the supplies in the pipeline for RNA constituted "only some transport vehicles."
A month later, following Koirala's separate meetings with Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi urged a Nepali leader to involve Maoists in the process of national reconciliation, notwithstanding that the Indian government, led by BJP's Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had been the first to describe the Maoists as terrorists. This development also came just days after "a team of Maoist emissaries led by Baburam Bhattarai held confidential talks with Indian Left leaders and exiled (sic) Nepalese leaders in New Delhi." Nearly a month later, media reports disclosed that the first consignment of non-lethal military aid supplies from India had arrived in Kathmandu.
Not long thereafter, however, the existence of differences in power circles in India over arms supply to RNA were reported, illustrating "the Nepal-India dilemma confronting the Indian establishment, specially the differences between New Delhi's Foreign and Defence establishments…after the royal takeover on February 1."
Two weeks later, it came to light that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] urged the Indian government to reconsider its decision to resume arms supply to Nepal and said it should also take a "firm stand" on restoration of democracy in Nepal. Soon thereafter, an Indian forum composed of Leftist and socialist groups cautioned the government against legitimizing King Gyanendra's actions.
On another front, meanwhile, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between His Majesty's Government and the Government of India regarding upgrading four border checkpoints – viz. Raxaul-Birgunj, Sunauli-Bhairahawa, Jogbani-Biratnagar, and Nepaljung Road-Nepalgunj. Though projected as a trade and connectivity facilitator between Nepal and India its obvious security ramification can hardly be overlooked.
Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee speaking in Kolkata said that he was concerned that the situation in Nepal could "go out of hand" because the Nepali army's efforts to crush a Maoist rebellion are proving ineffective.
Addressing participants at the South Asia Student Leader Conference, US Ambassador James F. Moritary stated that the US is concerned about the insurgency in the country and urged the Maoists rebels to come to the negotiating table and into the political mainstream. He also disclosed that the US believes the King would move towards restoring the democratic process and release all political detainees within 100 days, as the King had indicated to him.
He also said that US military and other aid was at risk following the royal intervention: "There is pressure on US assistance here, that's understandable." Visiting US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs, Donald Camp, at a press meet, quoted US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice as saying: "Giving security priority over democracy gives us neither…Democracy is the only idea powerful enough to overcome division, hatred and violence." He urged the King to take initiatives to reach out to the political parties, termed the Maoists as "terrorists" saying that they continued to be a threat after February 1. "The ruthless violence and terrorism they sow offers nothing to Nepal but destruction and sorrow."
Camp also ruled out the supply of lethal weapons for the time being and added that the army had shown some progress in regard to human rights and called for further improvements in this area. A month later, Patrick Leahy, chairman, US Senate Appropriations Committee stated in Washington that Nepal had not met the US conditions for providing military aid. He did not criticise the Maoists who launched a ruthless war on the State, nor did he fault the political parties for their gross failures in government and the corruption that went hand-in-hand with it or their inability of tackle the brutal insurgency, but went on to add: "We should make clear we unequivocally reject the King's ambitions, that the days of an active monarchy are over, and that we support the political parties."
In another major policy statement in Kathmandu Ambassador Moriarty six months after Feb. 1charged that "the government has gone back on its own core principles" adding that "the time for rhetoric is over" and calling on the Palace "to reach out to the political parties with sincere proposals that reflect their common agenda of multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy and a return to full electoral democracy."
However, Moriarty had some further observations, including that: "The continuing divisions between the Palace and the political parties aid only the Maoists and their plans to turn Nepal into a brutal and anachronistic state."
He pointed out that the insurgency posed a threat to regional stability in South Asia. He also declared the Maoists "want to re-educate class enemies – a plan to wipe out educated, free-thinking people." He also announced that the US would provide more than $ 44 million to Nepal in bilateral development assistance in the next fiscal year.
In the aftermath of Feb. 1, British Ambassador Keith Bloomfield has become an extremely controversial figure given to frequent and intemperate outbursts against the Establishment, including the King.
To begin with, hot on the heels of the King intervention, the British Foreign Office Minister Douglas Alexander expressed concern predicting that "this action will increase the risk of instability in Nepal, undermining the institutions of democracy and constitutional monarchy." Furthermore, he said that his government would "have to assess the impact of this move on our security and development assistance."
Britain, which has not listed Maoists as terrorists, as has India and the US, decided soon enough to suspend military supplies to RNA, although by the end of May, it amended that and agreed to supply 'non-lethal' aid to RNA, to the tune of Sterling Pounds 1.34 million for purchase of equipment such as Land Rovers and explosive ordnance disposal equipment and some other types of vehicles.
Raising questions about rule of law in Nepal, Bloomfield accused the government of contravening commitments to the UN and saying "there is a school of thought in Nepal which espouses that 'democracy and human rights will find its place only after terrorism is contained', but we don't believe that." He also said that the major issue at the present time was democracy, "not merely the politics." He also declared that "national human rights monitoring institutions have failed, that's why international monitors have come."
Days later, Foreign Secretary Madhu Raman Acharya summoned the British Ambassador and sought clarification over his remarks on democracy and rule of law in Nepal. HMG also conveyed "its displeasure over his interference in Nepal's internal affairs."
The subsequent appearance of a series of write-ups and commentaries in sections of the press against Bloomfield, some even demanding that the government declare him persona non grata, also testifies to his controversial utterances, including at social events.
Following the London explosions and carnage of July 7 and on July 20, Bloomfield was taken to task over what many observers and commentators viewed as Whitehall's double standards on terrorism. Subsequently, however, Bloomfield has maintained a rather low profile, perhaps because he has been asked by his bosses to cool his personal rhetoric. Sources indicate that it has cost him the ambassadorship to a Central Asian republic, after his soon-to-end tenure in Nepal.
The United Nations
On UN Day on October 24, 2002, Henning Karcher, UN Resident Coordinator, publicly suggested that the UN was ready to provide its good offices for ending the (then) six-year plus insurgency. His successor Matthew Kahane has, since, also made similar suggestions, even while adding the caveat: both sides to the conflict must first request the UN for it to discharge such a role.
That, of course, has not happened since HMG has long adhered to its stance that Nepal is quite capable of resolving the conflict on its own, even while making the point that the UN can play a useful role in the post-conflict period particularly in the rehabilitation and reconstruction areas. It is instructive, in the meanwhile, to note that the Maoists who had rejected Karcher's suggestion outright, is gradually coming around to enthusiastically rooting for a UN role.
In the interregnum, the UN has been particularly active in the human rights area propelled, among other engines, by the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). At its latest annual session in March 2005, for instance, searing pressure was exerted on Nepal to appoint a Special Rapporteur by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
In the event, following the visit to Geneva and address to the 61st session of UNCHR by Foreign Minister Pandey who offered a fulsome explanation of the rationale of the King's Feburary 1 move, a compromise was reached between HMG and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on April 11 agreeing to set up an international monitoring mechanism to monitor and protect human rights in Nepal.
While HMG dropped its opposition to any form of international monitoring of human rights, the inernational community, especially the European Union, agreed to withdraw its insistence on appointing a UN Special Rapporteur. As per the agreement, OHCHR would also advise and assist the National Human Rights Commission and would remain valid for a period of two years, extendable through mutual consent. Ian Martin was appointed head of OHCHR's Nepal office.
During a three-day visit to Nepal in July 2005 led by Lakhadar Brahimi, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative, he stressed the need to find a lasting solution to the internal crisis in Nepal. He also underlined that Nepal did not need international mediation to resolve the Maoist problem. Speaking to the press prior to his departure, Brahimi said: "The solution rests on three critical elements: a return to constitutional order and multi-party democracy, and end to hostilities and an inclusive national dialogue towards a negotiated solution to the underlying causes of the conflict."
China's stance on Nepal's internal politics, including the Maoist insurgency, has been clear and consistent. It has been reiterated from time to time not only by the incumbent Chinese Ambassador to Nepal but, occasionally, by high ranking Chinese leaders as well.
"China's policy vis-à-vis the Maoist insurgency has been clear and consistent. It has been the least 'involved' among important external actors in Nepal. That might seem paradoxical given the rebels' 'Maoist' tag. Yet, Chinese officials have long maintained that while Mao Zedong was a great Chinese leader, his advocacy of 'People's War' took place at a very different time and circumstance in China and cannot be replicated."
Former Chinese Ambassador Wu Congyong in a public statement in November 2002 provided a three-point summation of the Chinese position. "First of all, China labels the insurgents as 'anti-government outfits' and we never call them 'Maoists'. Secondly, (the) Chinese government consistently opposes terrorism in any form, upholds international cooperation. In this context, we condemn the violence and terrorist acts unleashed by anti-government outfits in Nepal. Thirdly, China will continue to support HM (His Majesty) and HMG's efforts to restore peace and stability in Nepal."
Speaking at a public function on King Gyanendra's July 9-15, 2002 visit to China, he reiterated that "the Chinese government supports HM and HMG's efforts to quell (the) insurgency and condemn any forms of terrorists' acts and (are) confident that HM and HMG are fully capable to resume peace, stability and development."
During his two-day visit to Nepal in April 2005, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing maintained that recent political developments in Nepal are "Nepal's internal matter, which has nothing to do with China." Talking to the media Li added: "We respect and would like to help the Nepalese have their own way in their nation's specific political development…Nepalese people have full authority to take their own decision regarding their internal politics and development."
Hua Han, School of International Studies, Peking University offered a refreshingly frank Chinese viewpoint on the Nepalese situation more recently. Presenting a paper at a seminar in Lalitpur organised by the China Study Centre, Han stated, inter alia, "it is interesting to see that the US, having long been indifferent to Nepal, started to show its interest in assisting (the) Nepalese government to suppress the insurgency in 2002…Beijing also shares its own concerns on the domestic instability in Nepal, simply because it would (be) likely to have a spill-over effect on the security environment in China's frontier areas."
She also referred to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin's public support to "the King's anti-Maoist campaign when he met the King in Beijing" and added that the US's "dramatic move, somewhat, caused concerns among Chinese analysts as they see a political scenario in which (the) US accomplishes its military presence in Nepal."
Equally significant was the Chinese academic's argument that "Nepal still stakes high in China's South Asia policy and the stability of Tibet, plus the new momentum in Nepal-US interaction." She also sought to point out the contradiction between the Bush administration's "negative view towards the direct rule by His Majesty the King" and the fact that it has placed the Maoists forces "in the list of terrorist groups by the US."
The position of Pakistan on the political impasse and insurgency in Nepal has, like China's, been both sympathetic as well as non-interventionist. While many statements have been made to support that view, two specific instances may be quoted here.
In a press statement by the Embassy of Pakistan not long after the King's Feb.1 decision to take personal charge of public affairs, a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan was quoted as declaring that Pakistan supported the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nepal. "Pakistan respects the principles of non-interference and views recent developments as purely an internal matter of Nepal."
It went on say that Pakistan is confident that Nepal and its proud people will effectively overcome any transient difficulties. It also added that Pakistan has always supported the efforts of the government and the people of Nepal to rid the country of the menace of terrorism and would continue to extend all possible assistance for the economic development of Nepal.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was quoted as having stated at a dinner in Islamabad for delegates of South Asian parliaments, that he was not aware of Pakistan supply of arms assistance to Nepal. As recalled, during her visit to Kathmandu on March 29, Pakistani State Minister for Economic Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, had said that Pakistan would "consider providing military assistance to Nepal if the latter made a formal request."
As with Pakistan, two concrete pieces of evidence reflective of the position adopted by Russia may be recalled and examined here. The first is the valedictory address by the outgoing Russian Ambassador Valery V. Nazarov in which he called on the international community for their support to Nepal. He questioned whether Nepal really had experienced a democracy in previous years, saying: "As Nepal has not experienced real democracy, the present transition would ultimately lead to a democratic setup that would suit its very fabric."
Nazarov also asserted that "after the Royal Proclamation, the Nepalese have experienced a steady improvement in the law and order situation due to the efficiency of the dedicated security forces and the cooperation they have received from all loyal countrymen."
Nazarov's successor, Ambassador Andrei Leonidovich Trofimov also demonstrated a similarly sympathetic and non-interventionist approach in explaining his country's stance on the Nepalese condition. In an interview to an English daily, Trofimov, inter alia, stated that "His Majesty has (the) vision to set things right" as also that "foreign interference will not provide (a) long lasting solution."
A. Possible Plans and Policies toEnd the Conflict
B. And Enhancement of National Security
Since the nearly 10-year conflict in Nepal is inextricably linked not merely, as the conventional wisdom goes, to three parties – the King, the Maoists and the mainstream political parties – but also to a whole galaxy of external actors and players with varying agendas, declared and hidden, it is quite unrealistic to believe that any lasting solution – if there is one – can be achieved by limiting the search to the three aforementioned forces.
In the circumstances, it may be worthwhile, for academic purposes if nothing else, to examine a number of possible "solutions" that have been suggested by "experts" – self-declared or otherwise – from time to time. As Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore reminds us, "most democracies from the Philippines to Colombia, have failed to quell domestic rebellions democratically."
Gunaratna's suggestion that the King "will need somehow to forge a national consensus to contain and ultimately end the insurgency" is, of course, more easily said than done. As we have just seen in the extensive review in Section I, political parties, who were primarily responsible for birthing and nurturing the Maoist insurgency, before the royal intervention beginning in October 2002, and who belatedly initiated an anti-insurgency campaign spearheaded by RNA in 2001, are now virtually rooting – in my view, suicidically – for the Maoists.
How a national consensus is possible in such circumstances defies all logic. All the more so when, as I have attempted to show, the Maoists are not only virtually supported by sections of the Indian establishment but when they are openly linked to such international organisations as the Revolutionary International Movement (RIM) as also to a plethora of like-minded extremists groups in India with an agenda that is no longer limited to Nepal.
Besides, quite apart from the very real possibility that the Maoist leadership is losing its grip over its cadres, all have only recently been provided with the spectacle of splits and dissent even within the commanding heights of its leadership, many analysts suspect over policy differences with respect to India and the Palace.
Though patched up for now, could they not re-surface, especially if they were to be faced, one, with the real prospect of foreign military intervention or, two, with successive military reverses at the hands of a RNA finally adequately supplied, equipped and trained for their anti-insurgency mission?
Can meaningful negotiations be possible in such circumstances? Who will call the shots for the Maoists: known members of its Nepali leadership or the invisible foreign comrades and others who assist, perhaps even guide or direct, them?
As far as our mainstream political parties go, their policy zigs and zags, not to speak of their suppressed political rivalry, so well advertised in the past, will, in my assessment, surface sooner rather than later. Besides, if history is a reliable indicator, there is simply no guarantee that the recent "revolutionary" shifts in policy that the two major political players – the NC and the UML – have ostensibly initiated out of sheer animus against the King will not, ultimately, contain the seeds of their own destruction.
In any case, it is hardly likely that the Maoists will, for long, tolerate political rivals in the shape of either the UML or the NC, after nearly a decade of their "people's war" or when/if "victory" looms on the horizon.
Likewise, there are ample indications – reflected in the constant flip-flopping in New Delhi over resumption of committed arms supplies to RNA – that there is no firm consensus on how to deal with the situation in Nepal, not least since the present government in India is led by the Indian Congress party which depends on its survival on the Indian Communists, notably the CPI-M, which are virtually joined at the hips with the Nepali Maoists.
According to knowledgeable sources, I have it that while South Block and sections of the Indian intelligence community favour supporting parties/Maoist unity against the King, the Indian Army and the Prime Minister's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan consider the Maoists to be the most serious threat to Indian security today, far more, for example, than the Islamic militants in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, to return to Gunaratna's suggestions, one that I can agree with is that "the government should remain open to dialogue but incessantly carry out counterinsurgency operations until the enemy is substantially degraded."
His proposition that "the government must decapitate the rebel leadership" is a more controversial but one, I'm sure, one that has ardent advocates in the RNA general staff. Of course, as he says, that is a "task that will require investment in high-quality intelligence."
While his proposal that "the government must win citizens' hearts and minds by launching a sustained publicity campaign that exposes the brutality of the insurgents" is more or less being carried out – though not with the desired level of success perhaps – his reminder that "no insurgency has succeeded without media and public support" does strike a chord, particularly in the matter of the media.
Gunaratna's advice that "the King must offer an amnesty to insurgents who renounce rebellion" is, in my view unexceptionable, and indeed finds reflection in HMG's long-standing policy in that regard. So, too, is his commonsensical counsel that "security forces must move to regain control over towns and villages near Kathmandu – a key step towards reclaiming control of the country." Much the same is true of this recommendation: that "the government must promise its suffering people what the insurgents are unwilling or unable to provide: jobs and security."
Thomas A. Marks, a professor with the graduate faculty (unconventional warfare) of the American Military University who has specialised in insurgencies and small wars, speaking at a lecture in Kathmandu stressed – rightly in my view – that "the best way to tackle the Maoist insurgency is to deal with the security crisis first; democracy will, then, take care of everything else."
This is what, essentially, the King has attempted, first, through an indirect intervention in October 4, 2002 and of direct rule since February 1, 2005.
Marks has offered some other valuable observations/suggestions that might form part of any overall strategy of containing the insurgency through an appropriate mix of military pressure and political initiatives. Notably, those who are entrusted with the responsibility of countering the insurgency must, first of all, have a clear idea of why they are fighting the Maoists.
As others have also recommended, Marks too pointed out that there must be strategic plans with socio-economic reforms for a coordinated response; information warfare must move from its current unfocussed, weak state to the status of force-multiplier; and Special Operations capabilities need to be more robust and integrated into the overall approach.
Another sensible policy proposal that Marks has underlined in the context of quelling the rebellion concerns the role of the political parties: basically, that they are not united to deal with the Maoists (at least, that was the general impression till very recently.) As he stated in a magazine interview: "When political parties are in power they talk about the mobilization of the army and defend their actions. As soon as they are removed from power, they talk about the need for dialogue and oppose army mobilization. Your political parties must rally behind the security forces when they have been fighting in the (most) remote part of the world with very limited resources and old weapons."
It is axiomatic that no lasting solution to the conflict can be envisaged without the restoration of democracy. The problem in Nepal is, however, that external forces, particularly an India fixated on acknowledgement as the dominant power in South Asia has being playing ducks and drakes in her internal affairs. Thus, whether through providing sanctuary and other forms of assistance to the Maoists or by egging the dissenting political parties to challenge the King and stymie his efforts to boldly take on the Maoists, New Delhi's Great Power ambitions stand in the way.
As far as I can make out, neither the King nor the overwhelming majority of the people are ready that Nepal be transformed into either a Sikkim or a pliant Bhutan on any plea including the spurious one that democracy is under threat in Nepal as I have tried to demonstrate in Section 1.
As also indicated through specific and multiple examples in Section 1, the King has consistently committed himself to the values of a constitutional monarchy and a multi-party polity while the dissenting political parties have been stubbornly refusing to cooperate, including in contesting municipal, local and national elections, essential steps to bring democracy back on track.
India's brazen hobnobbing in New Delhi with the Maoists and her open encouragement at "regime change" whether via the activities of her ambassador in Kathmandu or through public advice to the dissenting parties to join hands with the Maoists – hardly paragons of democracy and liberalism – are nothing if not a prescription for more bloodshed, and turbulence in the region. They certainly are not tantamount to a blueprint for peace, democracy and prosperity for Nepal or for the neighbourhood around Nepal.
In fact, short of an unconditional surrender by the King and the RNA to India's proxies – the Maoists and the agitating political parties – there is, in such circumstances, no realistic prospect for meaningful peace talks in my view.
Indeed, the situation has morphed into such a dangerous stage, among other reasons, precisely because of the open-ended support to India from the US and the UK (as also the EU) for the advancement of her long-standing designs on Nepal, albeit in the guise of advancing the cause of democracy in Nepal. Incidentally, why democracy in Nepal must serve India's and the West's interest, and not that of her own people, has never been explained!
At this point it will perhaps be germane to underline that such a policy – aimed, in my view, at capitalizing on the large Indian market for her products and investment, and, in the longer term, to contain a China that is fast emerging as a super power and rival – is bound to set alarm bells ringing. After all, China is extremely sensitive about protecting her borders. That, of course, includes the Sino-Nepalese one on the southern flank of Tibet, long considered in the West as China's "soft under-belly".
No doubt, that Beijing, which is cognizant of how party-governments in the past winked at the illicit anti-China activities of the Dalai Lama's followers in Nepal, has not forgotten the CIA-funded, Nepal-based Khampa operations of the 1960s.
As much is reflected in Prof. Hua Han's delicate reminder to a seminar audience: "Bordering the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Nepal holds a high stake in the Chinese government's endeavour on national integration and domestic stability."
Given the West's propensity for pushing the independent Tibet cause, including by American politicians active at the current "regime change" effort in Nepal, and considering the rock solid understanding presently subsisting between Kathmandu and Beijing, it would be extremely naïve to assume that a naked move to stage "a Sikkim" in Nepal will be treated with unconcern by China.
At this juncture, when New Delhi's backing for the Maoists has been advertised to the world, it also remains to be seen whether the West, principally the United States on a self-proclaimed messianic mission to democratise the world in her own image, will continue to support New Delhi and, by doing so, endorse the brutal actions of the Maoists, which it placed on its terrorist list and declared constitute a threat to the United States.
At the external level, Nepal's continued survival as an independent monarchy or its transformation into an Indian vassal state will, ultimately, depend, among other factors, on such a policy reversal, not to mention China's response or that of the other South Asian nations or of the larger international community.
One should not, I believe, rule out a strong anti-government mood developing in India, particularly in the Nepali speaking areas in the north and northeast, as well as, possibly, within the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army itself.
Within Nepal, however, it will largely be determined on whether the never colonised people are prepared to be under Indian domination or become merely statistics in a totalitarian one-party state – if the Monarchy and RNA are removed from the Nepalese scene. I ardently believe not.
To be Continued…
(Reproduction of the paper presented by the author at the NEFAS/FES Seminar held recently in Kathmandu)