Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Guttural Gasps Of Gloom

The real obstacle to political reconciliation in Nepal is becoming ever more visible in the incessant whining that passes for news and analyses in the Indian media these days.
By concocting a second “agreement” between the Seven-Party Alliance and Maoist rebels in New Delhi this month, the anti-monarchist wing of the Indian establishment had hoped to inflict a decisive blow on King Gyanendra’s regime.
For some reason, the joint statement embodying New Delhi’s message never materialized. It looks like the interlocutors on both sides still cannot fathom the breach that still divides them. In India, the search for the spoiler has zeroed in on the United States.
Despite the overall bonhomie in the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s visit earlier this month, the Indians remain infuriated by the firmness with which Washington has positioned itself against the SPA-Maoist alliance.
A report the other day on an Indian webzine, suggesting that Washington was about to lift its arms embargo on the Royal Nepalese Army, has been roundly denied by the American Embassy in New Delhi.
On the fact of it, the story was dubious; it relied purely on Indian officials who lacked the conviction to go on the record on such a sensitive issue. The American denial therefore may not deter further Indian conjectures.
Judging from official American pronouncements over the months, Washington might be more tolerant of the Maoists if they established their democratic credentials. For the Americans, that would mean a general and comprehensive disarmament before unqualified adherence to multiparty politics.
To be sure, the rebels have been making noises on the latter; on the former, they demand international supervision. Superficially, that stand can be read as an unwillingness to trust the royal regime. Deeper down, international supervision is a nice way of saying no, especially in view of China’s opposition to any direct external role in resolving Nepal’s conflict.
The Indians, too, would like to see the Maoists shun violence and join the political mainstream -- but for a different reason. The taming of the Nepalese Maoists would be an important component of any Indian strategy to quell the flames of ultra-leftist violence at home before it is too late.
New Delhi appeared to have made some headway by extracting an explicit pledge from Nepalese Maoist supremo Prachanda that his “People’s War” was confined to the kingdom.
By reaffirming Beijing’s traditional backing for the monarchy, while appealing for broader political reconciliation, Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan frustrated India’s designs. It is no accident that Indian newspapers have stepped up their defamation campaign against the monarchy, this time with a special focus on belittling Crown Prince Paras’ visit to Europe.
For some collective psychological reason, traceable perhaps to their humiliating defeat in the 1962 border war, the Indians don’t seem capable of looking straight into Chinese eyes to express displeasure. In this instance, too, they have reverted to the circuitous route Pakistan and the United States have provided.
So when U.S.-Indian relations are brought up, “natural allies” and “synergies” become buzzwords. When the United States is referred to in terms of Nepal’s conflict, the Indians bring up Washington’s darker shades through the adjectival forms of proper nouns like “Guantanamo Bay” and “Abu Ghraib.”
With Nepal struggling to break free from India’s stranglehold, the gasps and groans are becoming louder on the Indian side.