Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Bipolarity That Really Matters

Considering the fervor with which it is broached, speculation of recent secret talks between a team of Chinese officials and top Nepalese Maoist leaders threatens to throw our nascent peace process off course.
According to sections of the Nepalese and Indian media, the Chinese delegates weren’t content with their face-to-face encounter with the Prachanda-Baburam-Mahara triumvirate in the resort of Dhulikhel. They wanted to see the men and women in uniform.
A Maoist maneuver close by provided the perfect setting for this fact-finding tour. Depending on who you listen to, the Maoists have either received firm pledges of Chinese military support or are actually hoarding guns and bullets as we speak.
At first, all this seemed merely to suggest that Nepali Congress leader Govinda Raj Joshi’s had discovered a platform from which he could resurrect his blemished politics. Painting the northern neighbor as the principal obstacle to peace is a sure-shot way of ensuring the eternal patronage of those who matter down south.
Since the story has acquired a momentum of its own, it no longer matters whether a Chinese-Maoist alliance is merely a perception or a reality. So the subject must be approached with the seriousness it warrants.
At a time when Nepal is grappling with what to do with the weapons the Maoists already have, why has China stepped in with an offer of more? Bring up all the pejoratives you want, but you can’t accuse the Chinese of being interventionist on the side of war before listing a bunch of other friends and neighbors of Nepal.
Perhaps the two have been united more by compulsion than choice. Contrary to popular belief, the April Uprising was not a success for the Maoists. Everyone knows that the rebels were at the forefront of the anti-palace protests. Everyone also knows that the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) leaders went AWOL as the protests climaxed. And the first thing they did even before fully emerging to relish victory is reject the slightest suggestion of a Maoist role in the protests.
Initially, the comrades seemed to empathize with the embarrassment the SPA leadership would have suffered had it acknowledged the rebels’ preeminence in bringing down the royal regime. However, suspicions deepened as each constituent started repeating that negation. Maoist supremo Prachanda had to reprimand the SPA for what he called a sustained campaign to marginalize the rebels before the government would even contemplate a summit. Prachanda’s ferocity at his first news conference was rooted either in wounded pride to the promise of power. Then the SPA signatories to the eight-point accord began describing their assent as a mistake.
With Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in poor health and the two deputy premiers locked in a bitter power struggle, Prachanda unleashed his October Revolution threat. That pushed the Unified Marxist Leninists closer toward the state army they had just emasculated.
Worse, Washington and New Delhi, in a remarkable coincidence of timing, rejected the notion of the Maoists joining an interim government without disarming. The copy of the letter the government wrote to Kofi Annan seeking U.N. involvement in managing rebel arms got lost even before the foreign minister got a chance to read it.
By then Prachanda & Co realized that the spirit – if not the letter -- of last November’s 12-point SPA-Maoist accord did not envisage a significant political role for the rebels in a post-royal-regime arrangement. Suddenly, the Maoists’ political leadership figured out the threat levels emanating from their own fighters as well as their Indian allies.
Running for cover, they discovered how bruised the Chinese were after the fall of the royal regime. Indian reporters based in Kathmandu made much of how the royal defeat was an unmitigated debacle for Beijing. Nepalese Maoists pursued a different line of inquiry.
The Chinese, our comrades concluded, must have based their acquiescence in the India-driven evisceration of the monarchy on their mutual interest in marginalizing the Americans. And what does the SPA government do? It allows the reopening of the Tibetan offices shut down by the royal regime and works toward providing Tibetan refugees travel documents for resettlement in the United States.
Compulsion clarified compatibilities. For the Maoists, the Chinese communists may be guilty of ideological deviance. But they never branded the Nepalese rebels terrorists. From the Chinese point of view, the Maoists as warriors tarnished the reputation of the founder of the People’s Republic. As men and women of peace, the Nepalese rebels not only represent dispossessed and marginalized but also 70 percent of what Beijing officially considers to be Maoism’s enduring magnificence.
Nepalis remain precariously perched between the vigilance of their two giant neighbors. That’s the bipolarity that really matters.