Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Reconciliator Deuba?

The political storm U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty unleashed this week refuses to relent. Nepal's mainstream political parties and their clones in civil society had pretty much made up their minds about the Maoists.
So what if their commitment to multiparty democracy was suspect. The constituents of the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) were willing to risk finding out once the monarchy was out of their way.
The municipal polls had sounded the death knell on the royal government. The Maoists had begun their final assault on the head of the royal government, as the SPA looked the other way.
Then the Supreme Court dissolved the Royal Commission on Corruption Control. The SPA began singing paeans to this sparkling display of rule of law. Before they could reach the refrain, Moriarty stepped in by warning the mainstream parties not to cozy up to the Maoists.
Here's the essence of what Moriarty said: "You think Nepal has gone to the dogs under King Gyanendra's direct rule? Wait until you let the Maoists seize power right over your backs."
Clearly, the real intention of the Supreme Court was not to inflict a devastating blow on the palace. It was to free Sher Bahadur Deuba, the most America-friendly politician in Nepal today, from detention with his reputation enhanced.
Compare this with the situation of B.P. Koirala, Nepal's first elected premier, who walked out of prison in 1968 after pledging to cooperate with King Mahendra, the man who had ousted him eight years earlier. (Of course, B.P. didn't have to demonstrate his fealty to the partyless Panchayat system because he slipped into exile in India.)
The first thing Deuba did after winning his freedom was second Moriarty. Of course, he was more strident against the king. (Who wouldn't after having been dragged from home in the middle of the night to face charges of corruption?)
Deuba insisted that he needed more clarifications on key elements of the 12-point SPA-Maoist agenda signed in New Delhi in November. Although his Nepali Congress (Democratic) was a signatory to the deal, Deuba's incarceration prevented him from savoring the real Delhi atmosphere that spawned it.
Now President George W. Bush, who won the SPA's plaudits for equating King Gyanendra with Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il and Robert Mugabe, faced the Nepalese opposition's wrath. For the SPA, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Halliburton have become the defining feature of this White House.
It was a travesty of royal justice to see Deuba jailed for corruption in a deal the principal donor agency considered clean, while all those certifiable sleazebags got to reinvent themselves as the greatest democrats on the streets of Kathmandu. It wasn't so, once the real purpose of Deuba's detention became clear.
The timeline is illustrative. Moriarty hardened his stance on the royal takeover after it became clear Deuba would be in the gaol for a while. Once the three-time premier walked free, the U.S. ambassador gave the palace a lifeline.
That, too, while addressing a program organized by the Ganesh Man Singh Academy. For purposes here, not Ganesh Man Singh, the supreme commander of the 1990 People's Movement, but Ganesh Man Singh the father of Prakash Man Singh, the former minister jailed with Deuba.
From the imminent demise of the monarchy, national attention is now centered on a possible realignment of non-communist forces. The last time around, UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal was the last leader to be freed from house arrest. His detention just got extended this week. So that part is taken care of.
Deuba, Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, Rastriya Prajatantra Party leader Pashupati Sumshere Rana, Rastriya Janashakti Party president Surya Bahadur Thapa have become the favorites of western diplomats.
Combine the forces of the assortment of parties represented in the royal government and you get a sense of the scale of the potential change.
No wonder the Maoists seem keen to meet King Gyanendra during his three-week retreat in and around Pokhara.