Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cost Of Capriciousness

Even after stripping the monarchy of the basic powers and prerogatives commonly inherent in a titular head of state, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists continue to project the palace as the principal threat to Nepalese democracy.
In any other place, such an act would have been the gravest admission of incompetence by a newly ascendant political class. But, then, few countries have averaged a constitution a decade without figuring out a clear political course.
For a moment, it looked like the SPA and the Maoists had finally found that prized political potion. With India having strengthened its position in Nepal after the April Uprising, the fact that the 12-point SPA-Maoist accord was forged in New Delhi looked like its biggest strength.
If blatant Indian interference could bring peace to a country sunken by a decade-long orgy of death and destruction, perhaps that brazenness was worthwhile.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s dispatch of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) leader Sitaram Yechuri to Kathmandu served to reveal New Delhi helplessness in the midst of the existing political alignments. Yechury would probably dispute the premise that he is an emissary of the prime minister. But that would not change the reality that the Singh government has virtually subcontracted its Nepal policy to the CPM leader.
For Yechury, mainstreaming the Maoists is an act of self-preservation. The CPM must make sure Prachanda and his people join the democratic process to prevent Indian Maoists, or Naxals, from dominating the Indian left. But Yechury may not be able to untangle the web of doublespeak Prachanda and his lieutenants are currently caught in. Like it or not, Prime Minister Singh must bear full responsibility for the experiment underway in Nepal.
Clearly, New Delhi conceived the SPA-Maoist alliance to prevent King Gyanendra from taking Nepal out of India’s stifling embrace. A sobering moment must have come for the Indian architects when the Maoists and SPA constituents rushed to admonish Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala not to give in to any kind of pressure during his hastily arranged visit to New Delhi.
Indian media are reporting on how Nepal had become an alternate route for Kashmiri militants. This revelation comes close on the heels of reports that Al Qaeda had struck a working alliance with the Maoists. (Which, again, came a few months after Osama bin Laden for the first time identified India as a legitimate jihadist target?) The contours of an Indian preemptive strategy are becoming clear. However, these must be juxtaposed with another reality.
Considering the anxiety permeating the Indian media over China’s motives in South Asia, it is hard to believe that New Delhi could have driven the political change without consultations with Beijing. Although he vigorously denied having discussed Nepal during his visit to China, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran must have compared notes on the mutual urgency of preventing the Americans from fortifying their foothold in Nepal.
Has that understanding now been breached? The Koirala government’s move to grant travel documents to Tibetan refugees slated for resettlement in the United States threatens to become a major irritant in bilateral relations.
The palace is the least of the SPA and Maoists’ worries. Let’s hope they don’t have to learn this the hard way.