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Dipta Shah: The 12-Point Agenda – A Summary

The 12-Point Agenda – A Summary

By Dipta Shah

“The beginning of the end” read an article published in the Kathmandu Post. But really, “The end for whom?” questioned a friend.

Although largely speculative, an answer may be sought from the flurry of activities that have unfolded in India over the past week. With the shuttling of politicians to Delhi and the publication of the 12-point common agenda (between the 7-party alliance and the Maoists), the pieces of the puzzle are gradually coming together.

As the saying goes, “(the) beauty (of this outcome) is in the eye of the beholder.” For the Nepali people, the prospect of Maoist integration into mainstream politics is a positive outcome. After over a decade of senseless violence, at least a glimpse of peace rests on the horizon.

For the ever-agitating political parties, their claim to have brought the Maoists into the mainstream is an achievement that will partially exonerate their past ills. The long overdue “self-evaluation” undertaken and the commitment “not to repeat mistakes of the past” are appreciated. Adherence to these vows in practice will be the real test of commitment.

Although kudos my be shared by the whole 7-party alliance, Madhav Kumar Nepal in particular deserves recognition for steering this initiative to fruition. This leader’s interpretation of the attrition of his party base as the UML’s infiltration of the Maoist rank (and his determination that the Maoists can be enticed to join the mainstream) have been proven correct – at least for now.

As for the Maoists, the reduction of their demand from abolishing the monarchy to “establishing absolute democracy by ending autocratic monarchy” is a gigantic compromise. Clearly a crawl in the right direction but a fraction of the distance that must be traveled to absolve the Maoists crimes against humanity. This significant point aside, it must be said that the Maoist compromise is a positive one (if sincere).

Now, moving on to what has become the default point of deflection (rightfully or wrongfully) for all of Nepal’s woes – the monarchy.

Based off initial reports that have surfaced in the media, it appears that the 12-point agreement between the parties and the maoists has sealed the fate of the Nepalese monarch. As clearly outlined in the 12-point agreement, the certainty of an end to direct rule is evident.

However, also glaringly evident is the absence of a term that has come to symbolize the 7-party movement and one that has remained at the core of Maoist demands – “republic.” When evaluated in light of this realization, the 12-Point agreement is simply an alternative to proposed elections that the 7 Parties (for various reasons) are unable to participate in.

The agreed upon path to first restore parliament, then form an all-party government and then hold “elections to a constituent assembly through dialogue and understanding with the Maoists” is a rather long-winded plan. In a lay mans terms, this amounts to keeping the Maoists “hooked,” the monarchy in “tow” and giving the mainstream parties sufficient time to re-group and re-establish contact with their rural electorate.

Although negotiations between the Maoists and the 7-party alliance have been progressing for some time, it is not unfathomable to assume that informal dialogue between agents of the Maoists and the those of the Palace have also simultaneously progressed. As for interaction between the King’s representatives and the 7-party alliance, a recent function organized by the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute and Liberal Democracy Nepal was a much publicized (and to a large degree), successful confidence-building event.

It takes little imagination to comprehend why certain media segments may jump to conclusions regarding the end of Monarchy in Nepal. However, this bland interpretation does not do justice to the immensely complex message encapsulated within the 1,008 word translation. It is unlikely that even 10,000 words would resemble a marginally sophisticated transcription.

So without delving into too much detail on the text of the agreement, one may start by evaluating the circumstances that culminated in the formulation of the 12-point agreement. To accomplish this, one must first evaluate the Indian psyche and its role in the events that have unfolded in Nepal.

2. The Real Party that Called all the Shots

- Dipta Shah

The fact that India has been, remains (and in all probability will remain) the greatest external influence on Nepali politics is no revelation. However, the degree to which the South Block has been active in Nepal’s politics is as ambiguous as ever.

It is natural for the external agenda of any regional power to factor prominently in the domestic politics of neighboring states. In Nepal’s context, India is no exception. What Nepalis (and increasingly, Nepal analysts) do take exception of, is the nature of India’s influence – whether the manipulation has been positive or negative.

Indian sway over political outcomes in Nepal vary significantly. Some out rightly brand Indian positions as “external interference in Nepal’s domestic affairs.” Others refer to the same as “constructive involvement of a neighboring state.”

The point here is that there are glaring ambiguities in Indian policies vis-�-vis Nepal. These inconsistencies more than justify a cautious appreciation of the regional power’s intents. Although the practice of dismissing analysis of Indian designs (as misguided nationalism) is prevalent in elite political circles, this misconception is inherently flawed and should not thwart necessary examinations.

A determination over whether Indian involvement is constructive or destructive varies on a case-by-case basis. As Nepal’s number one foreign aid donor, not all of India’s involvement deserves trepid analysis. However, where the Maoist insurgency is concerned, India’s association is complex, intricate and largely indecipherable.

Indian policies concerning Nepali Maoists are at best, schizophrenic. More precisely, Indian attitudes have been consistently and openly bi-polar.

On the one hand, India was the first nation state (even before Nepal itself) to declare the Maoist organization as terrorists. On the other, India has largely ignored Nepali Maoists operating on its soil and according to some, has openly abetted and harbored the Maoists. Reasons behind why an external and ultra-nationalistic outfit has been tolerated on Indian territory for so long, defeats rationalization.

There are ample reports of Nepali security personnel training in Indian camps that previously hosted Nepali Maoists. So when senior security personnel state that no resolution of the Maoist insurgency exists (in the absence of Indian acquiescence), they’re not “pointing fingers” or “shifting blame.” Such sentiments are completely legitimate – more so today, than they were a week ago.

On occasion, India has successfully modulated anti-Indian Maoist rhetoric by imprisoning the most radical of the bunch (C. P. Gajurel, Mohan Vaidya). Such actions have also served to assuage the perception of India’s duality (for the international audience) and sent a stern signal within the Maoist ranks that India favors a certain faction, but not the entire Maoist outfit. This was key a driver of the much publicized split within the Maoists, earlier this year.

As part of the patch-up process (within the Maoist party), meetings were held between the Maoists second man (Baburam Bhattarai) and a prominent leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Prakash Karat. Why a man with an Interpol-issued Red Corner Notice was chauffeured around New Delhi to meet with high-ranking Indian politicians is a discussion for another time. To put the issue mildly, nation states have gone to war for less.

This is not to suggest that Nepal should go to war with India, but a reaffirmation of the helplessness and frustration that Nepalis feel.

India’s treatment of Nepal’s Maoist insurgency has several interpretations. A belief is held within some circles that the regional power’s conduct is a function of it’s pluralist nature – that there is true tolerance for a range of political ideologies within the world’s most populous democracy.

By this rationale, India’s policy on Nepali Maoists is a manifestation of it’s tolerance for diversity. Apparently, even those deemed terrorists at a national level are tolerated (if the terrorized populous is non-Indian). Could India’s definition of terrorists differ for those who use terror as a tactic but uphold political change (through violence) as a strategy?? Perhaps this interpretation is why Pakistan’s refuses to recognize Kashmiri militants as terrorists.

Another interpretation is that India’s incapacity to control radical left-wing insurgencies within its own borders accounts for its inability to control Nepali Maoists also. By this logic, India is a regional power for its neighbors to reckon with and simultaneously a union of dysfunctional states that its own federal government struggles to control. India’s inability to tame its own insurgencies aside, how is it that Indian authorities could arrest some Nepali Maoists at will but not others?? And, how does one interpret the alleged presence of these “imprisoned” Maoist leaders during the talks between the 7-party alliance and the Nepali Maoists??

A third interpretation is that India by design, acts, walks and talks like a regional power – this is to say, there are parallel structures of authority within the nation state. As in the case of the lone Super Power that India attempts to emulate, India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is called upon to execute government initiatives in times of crises. In this instance, the “crisis” faced by the Indian establishment was a measured dose of humiliation.

For a nation striving to project its prominence in global affairs, nothing hurts like a well placed snub – especially when the goading is done by a puny, insignificant country that supposedly resides within the rising power’s sphere of influence. Could it be that India’s reaction was to assert its regional power by forging an alliance between the King’s opponents??

If the answer to this question is “yes,” India has inadvertently acted in the best interest of the Nepalese people. By demonstrating its ability to coerce an agreement between the 7-Party alliance and the Nepali Maoists, India has selflessly exposed (to the rest of the world) that it has complete and unflinching control over an entire generation of Nepali politicians and Nepali Maoists. India has also left little room for speculation regarding the reason behind “coming clean” – retaliation against Nepal’s Monarch for procuring China observer status in India’s backyard..

It is very fortunate for Nepalis from all walks of life to finally witness a political event that enhances the prospects of a lasting peace. It is rather unfortunate for India’s image because the world now realizes that had India wished an end Nepal’s misery, it could have acted years ago and in the process, spared thousands of innocent lives.

That it took an act like February-1 to forge a stable alliance amongst 7 of Nepal’s political parties and a calculated humiliation of the Indian polity to force a reaction (that serves in Nepal’s best interest), is unfortunate. In fact, this sort of behavior is conduct unbecoming a regional power.

Could India’s bid (in uniting the Nepali Monarch’s opposition) have been a foreign policy blunder for the South Block? Was this outcome an unintended confirmation of General Mehta’s (a retired Indian Army General) claim that "in circumstances as that of the Maoists, government strategy is implemented through intelligence agencies and not the official channels?"

If so, how confident should India’s neighbors be, knowing that when push comes to shove, democratic Indian governments are prone to relying on clandestine agencies like RAW to execute their strategies??

Nepal’s experience with this practice will definitely resonate across South Asia – to what extent can official Indian statements be trusted when come implementation time, it is the unofficial channels that are put in motion? Where does accountability reside in such situations? Are all of South Asia’s problems really instigated at the behest of the Inter-Services Agency (as RAW would have the world believe)??

It cannot be coincidence that although “Indian intelligence established links with the Nepalese Maoists at least two years ago” (according to General Mehta), the days following the SAARC summit suddenly became the most opportune time to leverage these contacts. If there is truth to General Mehta’s claim, why did the Indian establishment wait for “at least two years” to do something about Nepal’s problem? What could possibly account for this lapse in communication between “official” and “unofficial” channels in a country that boasts the brains behind the global IT revolution?

Whatever the case may be, heartfelt gratitude goes out to the Indian government for acting in the best interest of Nepal. The envisioned outcome of February-1 may have failed to materialize in the manner intended, but thanks to our southern neighbor, there is renewed hope (with all the fundamental intact) for an end to this senseless insurgency.

3. The Voice of Reason: The United States of America

- Dipta Shah

Initial indications point out that when India decided to “shove” the Maoists and Nepali Parties together, the US prudently stepped up its moderating capacity thereby reducing the “shove” to a measured “nudge.” Had the US not exerted much needed wisdom on the Indian establishment, the haste in which the South Block proceeded to rectify damage to its image would probably have yielded an unacceptable proposition to ending Nepal’s insurgency – at least from the Palace’s perspective.

Coincidental as it may have been, Ambassador Moriarty’s visit to the Indian capital was very timely. Despite the Ambassador not having had “telephonic or telepathic” conversations with the Maoists, he is certain to have had realistic and substantive dialogue with his counterpart in Delhi. His counterpart in turn, would have likely relayed the American message to appropriate parties within the official (and more importantly, unofficial) segments of Indian polity.

The need for the US to remain involved in Nepal (even if it’s through indirect participation) is paramount. As the world’s lone Super Power, American involvement is substantively (and symbolically) important. There is no prevailing view on the situation in Nepal that is more moderately calibrated than the US position. For this reason, extremists resent and make every effort at undermining policies executed by the American embassy in Kathmandu.

Efforts aimed at belittling the outcome of confidence-building workshops held in the US (between 7-Party and Palace representatives) was a clear indication that opponents to a peacefully negotiated solution in Nepal are perennially active. Not unexpectedly, the outcome of the informal proceedings mirrored suggestions that the Americans have continually made to all power-centers in Nepal – suggestions that radicals find unacceptable.

The efficacy of American policy on Nepal is that by-and-large, it is emotionally detached. Nepal’s case is frequently highlighted in US government proceedings but because American soldiers are not in harm’s way (in Nepal), the debate is dispassionate and the outcomes, constructive.

US Senator Patrick Leahy has been vocal and rightfully disparaging of Nepal’s human rights record. His office has issued several statements critical of the RNA (Royal Nepalese Army) and the current government. The significance of these statements are reflected in tactical modifications to the existing moratorium on US arms transfers to Nepal.

However, on a strategic level, the sentiments expressed by Senator Leahy’s office (a necessary component of overall policy) are balanced by other views within the US government. The inclusion of these views completes a holistic assessment of Nepal’s plight.

These balancing views may not be as transparent for public consumption, but they are present nonetheless. More importantly, these balancing views are not contradictory to Senator Leahy’s, but re-enforce his sentiments through alternative options. Differences do not exist in the end-goals, only in the means by which these goals may be achieved. The message here is that America’s strategic vision for Nepal continues to outlive competing contemporary views.

Ambassador Moriarty has gone on record consistently suggesting that the most viable outlet to Nepal’s crisis would be a merger between the Palace and the Parties. In light of recent developments, his insistence on why this alternative should have been pursued becomes apparent. The US appears to maintain (very logically) that a sustainable negotiated solution cannot be had in the absence of the participation of all political forces – the Palace included.

While some interpret this persistence as American leniency on the institution of Monarchy, others view this as a critical, tactical component to a strategic solution. It is rather unfortunate that opponents of all forms of monarchy are quick to hail the Maoist-Party alliance, but slow to consider the consequences of such an alliance resulting from Indian pressure. Let us be clear that Madhav Kumar Nepal and the UML had likely sought such an alliance for some time now but the deal would have never materialized had it not been for Indian “encouragement.”

Having bled through Vietnam, American policy makers are acutely aware of the consequences of radical nationalism and its implications for long-term democratic polity in Nepal. That the 7 Party-Maoist understanding was forged in the supposed absence of Palace participation undeniably reduces the Royal Palace’s best alternative to a negotiated solution. This also significantly alters the construct of the potential negotiated solution itself and constricts options available to the 7-Party and Maoist leaderships. Having enacted the worst-case scenario for the King, the Parties find themselves deprived of additional options to exercise.

America is a nation that understands the value of upholding a sustained strategic vision and the need to calibrate tactical moves in support of realizing overall strategy. After all, the US Armed Forces won every single tactical battle that was fought in Vietnam but lost the war because of their inability to focus on strategic objectives. Participants in Nepal’s politics have a lot to learn from their American counterparts.

Assuming that American interests rest firmly in guaranteeing democratic discourse in Nepal, the cautionary welcome to the 7 Party-Maoist alliance expressed by the USG is understandable. The Indian government’s cautionary welcome is farcical – they should be the ones claiming the credit the 7-Party alliance is flaunting.

Events in Nepal are not likely to test the bonds of the US-Indian alliance. However, if India actions are perceived by a conservative American administration as furthering communist designs for Nepal, a departure from the US reliance on India (to execute its Nepal strategy) cannot be easily dismissed.

4. The Unspoken Voice - China

- Dipta Shah

The audacity displayed by the current Nepalese government on several fronts has raised the eyebrows of more than a few China observers. Why the Nepalese government continues to take actions that inadvertently antagonize the international community is an enigma, the key to which may lie with Nepal’s northern neighbor.

Since China has remained silent on most issues it considers the “internal affairs” of Nepal, reading Chinese policy is extremely difficult.

However, what can be inferred from statements made by Nepalese government officials is that China has taken a friendly attitude toward the current setup in Nepal. And to be sure, Nepal has returned the favor beginning with the closure of the Dalia Lama’s offices and more recently by forcing the induction of China as an observer into the SAARC community.

It is rumored that China voiced its displeasure at having been neglected during the nineties by Nepal. Although the modus operandi during the democratic years was focused on dealing with India, China’s diminishing relations with Nepal appear not to have gone unnoticed.

Despite the socio-economic revolution that has taken hold of China, the old guard remains firmly in power and many of the overarching perceptions remain unchanged. While an emerging breed of Chinese beaurecrats have learned to sophisticatedly navigate international laws and alleviate international concerns, the conservative arm of the Chinese policy machine remains alive and well and highly suspicious of American designs. This suspicion is reciprocated by a significant segment of the American government also – especially those who reject the “near-peer” theory in favor of the “rising-competitor” argument.

China’s willingness to deal with regimes regarded unfavorably by the Americans (and its strategic procurement of energy deals with traditional US allies) does not sit well with conservative elements of the US Government. Recently, a Chinese bid to purchase an American energy company (Unocal), faced stiff opposition from the US Congress and resulted in the bid being dropped. This is one of a growing list of examples where conservative American politics have reigned over economic sense.

That the two most populous countries in the world (China and India) are in a dead heat competition to acquire energy assets around the globe is one of the most talked about trends in international affairs. That Nepal is sandwiched between these rising economic powers is inconsequential except in situations that involve the analysis of regional politics.

So what does this imply for political developments in Nepal? It implies intentional ambiguity. The same policy that that the US traditionally used regarding Taiwan (vis-�-vis China) appears to have been adopted by China regarding Nepal (vis-�-vis India).

China may not have a fleet of ships patrolling the Indian Ocean, but it certainly has sufficient economic and political deterrents that would cause India to think twice (before making unilateral moves involving Nepal in the future). Nepal could well be to China, what Taiwan was for the US – a symbolic stand.

If the Chinese were to issue a statement that ignored the 7 Party – Maoist alliance and instead, supported the upcoming municipal polls, the Indian reaction would probably be far from a “cautionary welcome.” Alternatively, if China pushes through weapons to Nepal (as it has indicated it might), Nepal may use the Maoists hesitation at extending their unilateral ceasefire as justification for the arms transfer. What then?

By fostering the worst-case scenario for the Nepalese Monarch, these are some of the risks that Indian policy makers have inherited. With Natwar Singh’s implication in the UN’s oil-for-food scandal and swelling discontent within the opposition (to the ruling Indian government’s conduct of foreign policy), nothing can be discounted.

The Indian decision to force the Maoists to concede to an agreement with the 7-Party alliance has the potential for very beneficial outcomes to Nepal. This decision also has fringe benefits extending as far north as Beijing. What the decision truly accomplishes for India (aside from a cheap shot at the King) will likely become clearer in the weeks and months ahead.

5. Understanding the Limitations of the Maoist-Party Alliance

- Dipta Shah

Although a statement of the obvious, sufficient stress cannot be placed on the need to emulate the Americans’ cautionary welcome of the 7 Party - Maoist alliance.

The desperate situation Nepal finds itself in tends to produce euphoric responses to any political development that has prospects for peace. However, an exhilarated reaction to the recent development in Nepal must not be permitted to overshadow realistic challenges that have yet to be navigated. For the proposed prospect (of bringing the Maoists into the mainstream) to be kept alive, public expectations must be carefully managed.

The key objective of the agreement reached in Delhi is to entice the Maoists to join the political mainstream (by undermining the Monarchy). In order to accomplish this objective, one must begin with the explicit understanding that “selling” this proposition is probably the most challenging task the Maoist leadership has faced to date – assuming they are acting in good faith.

As if obtaining “buy-in” from multiple levels of the Maoist hierarchy was insufficient, the Maoist leadership must also demonstrate its commitment to disarmament and must take concrete steps to gain international legitimacy in this regard. The question of how to proceed should the results of the constituent assembly not be in line with Maoist expectations needs to be addressed explicitly and immediately.

Additional clarity is also required on which armed force is to maintain law and order during the proposed elections to a constituent assembly (and also during the interim). No room can be left to interpretation where the unacceptability of a future return to hostilities is concerned.

All parties’ whose ultimate goal is the restoration of peace and democracy in Nepal must pressurize the Maoist leadership to act in unflinching and good faith – an indication of which could be the indefinite extension of the unilateral ceasefire and a continued cessation of hostilities.

Furthermore, if the 7-party alliance is to encourage Maoist participation in “peaceful” demonstrations, the leaders of this movement must remain accountable. Armed Maoists should not be permitted in protest programs and at no cost should the security forces be given excuses to engage “peaceful” demonstrators. Should any hint of instigation become evident, it would be to the ultimate detriment of the entire alliance.

The pressure that the agreement with the 7-Parties puts on the Maoist organization is insurmountable. Having filled their cadres with revolutionary dreams for over a decade, the Maoist leadership is now faced with the enormous task of shifting its operating paradigm in favor of a negotiated settlement. All out victory was never a realistic option so despite what the Maoists term this envisioned end-state, for everyone else, it will be a negotiated settlement (if matters proceed as planned).

For the Maoists, the re-emergence of existing fissures within its ranks is a highly probable occurrence. While the political faction (lead by Baburam Bhattarai) has always been more inclined to join the mainstream, the military faction (overwhelmingly controlled by Pushpa Dahal and company) may not be as forthcoming. Recent statements made by Pushpa Dahal already show signs of divergence from the 12-point agreement (and not even a full week has passed).

If the 7 Party-Maoist alliance is to pose a credible challenge to the status quo, even the slightest hint at a vertical split cannot be permitted to pass.

The same is true of all other political parties. The signal that actions like Bam Dev Gautam’s departure from the UML generates to the public, undermines the strength of the overall alliance. The exodus of well known personalities from any of the 7 parties (as a consequence of the agreement with the Maoists) will be to the detriment of the 12-point agreement and to the goal of integrating the Maoists into mainstream politics.

Attrition rates will continue to be the key indicator regarding the success (or failure) of the 7 Party-Maoist agreement. And this will not be an easy metric for party leaders to manage. Convincing party cadres across political boundaries to look beyond previous Maoist atrocities will not be simple. Many of the psychological (and physical) wounds are fresh in the minds of victims of years of senseless violence.

The perception that the UML stands to gain the most (from the 7 Party-Maoist merger) is widely held. By political calculation, this perception is accurate because the likelihood of disgruntled Nepali Congress leaders departing from the mother party is now heightened.

To add to this trend, the reintegration of Maoists into the political mainstream will definitely swell the ranks of the UML. Should the Baburam faction choose to work from within the bounds of legitimate politics and (disassociate with the militant wing of the Maoists), a significant augmentation of the UML support-base is a foregone conclusion.

These scenarios of “churn” combined with a gradual rise in nationalist sentiments could prove fatal to the initiative at hand, should these scenarios materialize. Leaders of the 7-Party alliance bear the burden of preserving the composition of their parties while discussions with the Maoists progress.

As for the current government and the Royal Palace, it must be understood that over the long run, what is good for the country has to be good for the Monarchy. Although executed at India’s behest, the Nepalese government should embrace the outcome of the 7 Party-Maoist understanding and proceed to offer flexible negotiating terms with expanded political participation (beyond the 7 Parties and the Maoists).

Whether through the 7 Party-Maoist alliance or otherwise, the goal is to re-establish peace and functional democratic polity in the Himalayan Kingdom. The opportunity for the Maoists to play the 7-parties against the Monarchy should be immediately curtailed by accepting in principle, the 12-point agreement.

Since the thrust of the agreement is to end autocratic monarchy (which the King has stated to be his own intent), cause for fundamental disagreement does not exist. In fact, the required time-frame to transition from where Nepal is now, through re-enactment of the House, formation of an all-party government and finally, the holding of election to a constituent assembly is likely to take at least 3 more years.

To the likely credit of the Americans, nowhere in the 12-point agreement is it stated that the propositions put forth are non-negotiable or final. If the 7-Party alliance and the Maoists have entered into this agreement with Nepal’s best interest in mind, it would be incumbent upon the remaining power centers to oblige with at least a conditional offer to further dialogue.

Should the Maoist-7 Party alliance fail to accept an offer of good faith from the current government (or should signs of degradation of the 7 Party-Maoist alliance become evident), all bets will be off.

As a precautionary measure, preparations for municipal polls should proceed as scheduled as should the day-to-day activities of Nepal’s security forces (unless negotiated otherwise).

The guiding principle for concerned parties should be to move forward swiftly and decisively and take full advantage of the opportunity to compel the Maoists down an irreversible path of re-integration into legitimate Nepali politics. If lost, opportunities like this are unlikely to re-emerge.


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