Friday, February 24, 2006

Uncle Sam's Cavil

Never in the field of Nepal's conflict -- to paraphrase Winston Churchill -- was so much owed by so many to so few. Or, more accurately, to one man.
U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty's February 15 speech warning mainstream political parties against aligning themselves with the Maoist rebels against King Gyanendra continues to rouse the nation. Although His Excellency reserved some of his harshest words to rubbish the royal regime's yearlong record in office, the prime beneficiary of his speech was the palace. The king retreated half a step in his Democracy Day message and a realignment of non-communist forces has once again become a viable project.
The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA), having spent much of the past year extolling the Washington-London-New Delhi axis' sustained pressure against the palace, was rather subdued in its response to Moriarty. It fell upon civil society to warn the alliance constituents not to lose their coherence in the face of this latest egregious display of American unilateralism.
In subsequent comments to a newspaper, Moriarty essentially reiterated his original contention: if armed Maoists and unarmed parties successfully implement the insurgents' vision of a violent revolution, the Maoists will ultimately seize power, and Nepal will suffer a disaster that will make its current problems pale in comparison.
One leader was especially attentive. The first thing Nepali Congress (Democratic) president Sher Bahadur Deuba did after walking out of prison was not rail against the king who tormented him but poke holes in the three-month-old 12-point pact between the SPA and the Maoists.
On a parallel track, Deuba and Girija Prasad Koirala are seriously working out unity arrangements between their two factions of Nepal's largest democratic party. Significantly, this time, Deuba is negotiating from a position of strength.
With Unified Marxist-Leninist general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal under detention, the principal communist faction in the mainstream is in disarray. For one thing, no one is sure which subordinate speaks authoritatively for the general secretary. Moreover, a few other eloquent leaders have gone underground to evade arrest. No wonder the UML, which sought to take exclusive credit for the agreement with the Maoists, couldn't vote in favor of a proposal to incorporate the rebels in a broader front against the palace.
The Maoists, understandably, were miffed the most by Moriarty. Regaining the initiative from party supremo Prachanda, chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai used a newspaper article to unleash a diatribe against Moriarty's pontification. (Dr. Bhattarai's apparent swipe at the Vatican, through the article headline, was perhaps unintentional.)
Indeed, the Maoists must be under tremendous pressure from their mentors in the erstwhile Revolutionary International Movement. For this group of international proletariats, much was at stake in Nepal's Maoist insurgency. The Nepalese comrades' sudden alliance with the SPA was bad enough. Their repudiation all but ideological links with newly resurgent Indian Maoists was unpardonable, especially after all the noise about creating a South Asian Compact Revolutionary Zone.
Even after Dr. Bhattarai's exegesis, we don't know how much the Maoists actually hold the United States responsible for the world's ills. Moriarty, for his part, could hardly have been impressed by Dr. Bhattarai's indictment when much of the world is accusing Uncle Sam of worse things.
As for the blistering criticism he triggered in the Indian media, Moriarty perhaps expected it. After all, he was in New Delhi when Nepal's mainstream leaders and the Maoists negotiated the accord with India's overt blessings.
All the same, Moriarty's remarks have had a beneficial effect. It has sensitized Nepalis into recognizing their primary responsibility in saving the nation. No amount of blood, toil, tears and sweat – pardon this Churchillian fixation -- can alter this reality.

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Double Whammy

It looks like the volatility of Nepal's political fluidity is going to be determined by how the Prachanda-James F. Moriarty posturing plays out.
In a recent barrage of interviews, the Maoist supremo has all but conceded that but for the Americans, his people already would have let a hundred flowers bloom across Nepal.
Looking past that unmistakable compliment from an unlikely admirer to the hyperpower's prowess, the American ambassador warned the mainstream parties to avoid the Maoist trap of forming a parallel government and army.
King Gyanendra, despite the sustained record of royal stubbornness, remains the best partner for Nepal's democratic parties.
But how might the posturing evolve? Moriarty's predecessor, Michael Malinowski, was far more intolerant of the Maoists. (Under his watch, at least two Nepali employees of the American Embassy, fell to Maoist bullets.)
Given Malinkowski's strong public condemnations after a few spectacular Maoist attacks in western Nepal, some expected the U.S. military to dispatch daisy cutters to decimate Maoists clustered in the caverns in midwestern Nepal.
Clearly, the CIA could have sent in precision-target unmanned drones without upsetting too many Nepalis. Instead, Malinkowski was replaced by a supposedly more consensual Moriarty.
Even consensus has its limits. We now know that Moriarty attended sessions in New Delhi that preceded the mainstream-Maoist 12-point accord against King Gyanendra.
All the while, he had been stressing that his presence in the Indian capital when Nepal's main opposition leaders were undergoing collective medical treatment was merely coincidental. He's been shuttling between Kathmandu and DC a lot more than he used to. Moriarty's latest admonition to the mainstream parties seems to stem from Washington's anxiety about the absence of a non-communist center. With Girija Prasad Koirala virtually reading from Prachanda's script, the resurrection of Sher Bahadur Deuba was only a matter of time.
It would be up to the UML to choose between the Maoists and the democrats. If they chose the latter, this time they would have to change their party flag and name.
It's somewhere around here that Maila Baje feels the mainstream parties are going overboard with praise for the Supreme Court's abolition of Royal Commission on Corruption Control, which led to Deuba's release from detention.
True, the bench dealt a heavy blow to an executive monarch's decision. By eulogizing the justices to such an obsequious extent, can opposition leaders retain their ability to oppose future decisions not to their liking?
What if the Supreme Court were to affirm that restoring a prematurely dissolved House of Representatives at a time when it would have completed its natural life would be tantamount to restoring the legislature King Mahendra disbanded in 1960?
What if the justices were to decide that the constitution did not envisage a constituent assembly election? (Believe me, there are any number of wannabe legal stars committed to public interest litigation.) Do the justices then expose themselves to demonization?
Yes, yes, I know I'm drifting here. Coming back to Prachanda, he must feel why the Americans hate him so much.
Washington, which can't stop equating the Nepalese Maoists with the Khmer Rouge, once supported the Cambodian radicals. Prachanda, for his part, was once on the employ of the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to sketchy biographies.
The Fierce One probably knows the answer. Remaining communist in the post-Cold War world is bad enough. Also being on the terrorist list of the prime global warrior against terrorism exposes the Maoists to a double whammy.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tang Tied

The postponement of State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan's three-day visit has set off wild speculation over whether Beijing might be abandoning what is perceived to be its steadfast support for King Gyanendra's government.
Beijing refused to criticize the monarch's seizure of full executive powers last year, describing it as an internal matter, when the rest of the world was up in arms. The palace was not too eager to dispute the equation of Chinese silence with support for the royal takeover.
Ever since, each gesture of Chinese support – apart from the visits of Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other senior officials – was announced by the Nepalese side. News of Chinese financial support and military assistance emanated from Nepal. As King Gyanendra spent his first year in power derided for having flashed the "China card," the other principal protagonist remained conspicuously silent.
China, resentful of the way in which Nepalese insurgents have misused their late leader's name, refuses to recognize the rebels as Maoists. China has come long way since the days of Mao Zedong. Many Chinese today wish to forget the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and forced collectivization of agriculture. Officially the Chinese government believes Mao was 70 percent right.
Long anxious to prevent Nepal from becoming a launching pad for pro-Tibetan groups, China has also been voicing concern that the kingdom could become a base for Islamic separatists active in its north-western Xinjiang region. The open Nepal-India border, furthermore, exposes China to such undesirable elements as criminals and drug traffickers. The apprehension behind China's silence was all too apparent.
Tang was set to visit the kingdom against the background of Beijing's candid reiteration last month of the need for reconciliation of all political forces. China's vote in favor of referring Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council, a pronounced departure from its penchant for abstaining, encouraged many in the anti-palace camp to advance Beijing's sudden emphasis on pragmatism.
The purported shift in China's Nepal policy is traced to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kong Quan's response to a correspondent's question at a regular briefing last month. As Maila Baje noted last week, the transcript of the January 24 briefing shows that Nepal figured in a two-part question that also sought details on Saudi King Abdullah's visit to China. It was politically expedient for the anti-palace camp to project Kong's remarks as articulation of a policy shift.
The inaccuracy of that claim appeared to be strengthened by the reason cited for Tang's postponed visit, again by the anti-palace camp in the Nepalese and Indian media. The fourth session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) -- in view of which Tang delayed his visit by a month – is scheduled to begin in March.
Clearly, the all-important session would have been scheduled long before Tang's itinerary had been drawn up. Moreover, Tang would have departed Nepal long before the formal opening of the NPC session. What explains this discrepancy?
Perhaps the NPC session acquired heightened sensitivity considering, among other things, the Pentagon's recent Quadrennial Defense Review, requiring Tang's full participation in pre-session deliberations. The Chinese government has expressed its firm opposition to what it describes the Pentagon's attempt to play up the "Chinese military threat."
The suggestion that Tang postponed the visit at the request of Nepal, principally because King Gyanendra objected to his eagerness to meet with top opposition leaders and to issue a formal statement for reconciliation before departing is ludicrous.
The Indian media in particular has gone overboard in reporting that such meetings would have been an embarrassment to King Gyanendra, especially with so many opposition leaders under detention or house arrest. Clearly, Tang would be meeting top leaders of the parties, most of whom are roaming free.
During his visit to Nepal in 2001, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji met with an array of opposition leaders (when Tang was foreign minister). Even after King Gyanendra took executive control in October the following year, the Chinese Communist Party has invited top Nepalese leaders to Beijing as part of its policy of building cross-party ties with friendly nations.
All the same, the inanity of the ongoing speculation does not detract from the significance of the postponement of the visit. Maila Baje believes there is a very pragmatic reason: US President George W. Bush's visit to India in early March. Bush made the announcement over a week ago, after Tang had scheduled his Nepal visit.
It would be prudent to view this development in the context of Washington's evolving "transformational diplomacy." Expanding on the subject, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed last month that the fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power.
Among the threats to U.S. security she identified were terrorism, pandemics, arms proliferation and failed states, all of which she said could only be countered by cooperation with regional powers and access to trouble spots. Within these stark parameters, Nepal would certainly seem to be a prominent candidate for American concern.
In India, the "regional power" most relevant to America's South Asian strategy, there seems to be emerging a greater recognition of the inevitability of broader international involvement in resolving the conflict in Nepal.
According to some reports, the United Nations has offered to India the contours of a potential mission in Nepal. Under the U.N. plan, the reports continue, the king would remain the constitutional head without executive powers – which would be temporarily vested in the world body. The U.N. insists that the political parties and Maoists should get ready to fight elections, ultimately paving the way for the restoration of full Nepalese sovereignty and democracy.
Under the U.N. plan, New Delhi worries, the king would still retain greater influence than the political parties. The U.S. eagerness to see India take the lead role in resolving the conflict is matched by New Delhi's discomfiture at acquiescing in a palpable diminution of such a role.
Any official U.N. involvement would require getting China – a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council – on board. How far Beijing would be ready to go toward supporting a U.N. operation in Nepal – especially in view of the undesirable precedent it could set for its own restive regions -- remains to be seen. Clearly, Beijing would want to see how Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh address the Maoist insurgency first.
From China's perspective – and perhaps also from the royal regime's -- the rescheduling of Tang's visit would fit into this imperative. He is, one must not forget, considered by many the de facto foreign minister of China.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Post-Poll Pointers

The Feb. 8 municipal elections have thrust the conflict in Nepal into a new phase.
International condemnation of the polls being a hollow exercise was not entirely unexpected.
Nor was the barrage of headlines portraying the low turnout as a personal defeat for King Gyanendra. During the run-up, the media did their best to play down the boycott call of the mainstream parties and the Maoists threats of violence.
Whether the palace expected Japan, the largest bilateral donor to Nepal, to fully position itself in the anti-palace camp is unclear. The same could be said of the reversal of the roles of the United States and India. Washington came out with a strongly worded statement against the king and his motives, while New Delhi sounded uncharacteristically conciliatory.
All eyes are now on China. State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, China's foreign minister until 2003, is scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu next week amid a much-hyped intensification of Beijing's interest in the kingdom's situation.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson's response to a correspondent's question last month has been played up by the mainstream Nepalese opposition parties and the Maoists as evidence of the second thoughts Beijing is having about its open support for the monarchy.
A basic reading of the transcript of the January 24 press conference shows that Nepal figured in a two-part question that also sought details on Saudi King Abdullah's just-concluded visit to China.
Out of the 235 words spokesperson Kong Quan devoted to answering the question, Nepal took up 65. And Nepalis are made to believe that the Chinese government came out with a white paper explaining its changed stance on the kingdom.
No wonder King Gyanendra's government is gearing up for the long haul. Dr. Tulsi Giri, the vice-chairman of the royal cabinet, said the municipal polls strengthened the regime's resolve to go ahead with parliament elections in 15 months' time.
With the Maoists having taken clear steps toward persuading the world of their commitment to competitive democratic politics, the contours of a solution should have become clearer. Reconciliation between the palace and the mainstream parties, for all practical purposes, is out of the question.
Royal advisers probably believe that another shot at wooing the Maoists might not hurt. (Who knows? Maybe the independents and obscure candidates that swept the municipal polls are Maoists.) Privately, royal advisers readily state that they believe King Gyanendra seems more sympathetic to the Maoists' claim to power.
Undoubtedly, public affirmation of such sentiments would bolster the we-told-you-so cries in the mainstream. Nepali Congress and UML leaders remain convinced that the Maoists could not have become such a formidable force without the active support of the palace.
Maila Baje believes there is a deeper – and more benign – reason for the palace's preference for a Maoist-led government: the rebels' firm insistence on a constituent assembly.
King Gyanendra is often depicted as the principal obstacle to a constituent assembly. However, the monarch insisted, in the early months of his reign, that he would agree to such elections if all the political forces reached consensus.
Although Prachanda has offered wildly varying viewpoints in recent interviews, the Maoist supremo seems ready to defer to the people as far as the future of the monarchy is concerned. The Maoists blame America's full backing for the king for their failure to capture total power. The corollary of that reasoning? The king would provide much needed legitimacy to the rebels.
The Sihanouk-Khmer Rouge analogy might not be so far-fetched. In one interview, Prachanda said he would accept the popular verdict even if it goes in favor of a politically active monarchy.
King Gyanendra is as human as the rest of us to make safe predictions of the popular mood – especially in a country seeking a sixth constitution in as many decades.
But he is too experienced not to detect the legacy even an adverse vote would produce. How many monarchs has the world seen who have presided over the abolition of the institution based on a democratic vote.
Here's the rub. King Gyanendra recognizes that inviting the Maoists to lead an interim national government would provide an outlet to the crisis. He also recognizes that Nepal's international stakeholders wouldn't want him to do that.
Eventually, the Indians and Chinese may find a way of living with the Maoists. For the Americans, the rebels are not only communists; they are also terrorists.
Let's brace for the parliamentary polls.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A 'Sham' With Symbolism

Nepal's Feb. 8 municipal elections have allowed all three of the kingdom's principal protagonists to emerge as victors. The Maoists could boast how successfully they sabotaged the latest plot of the tottering feudal order before withdrawing a general shutdown that was becoming increasingly unpopular among ordinary people.
The mainstream parties could claim that the Nepalese people responded overwhelmingly to their call to thwart King Gyanendra's effort to legitimize his takeover of full executive powers a year ago.
Over the preceding months, the seven-party anti-palace alliance could barely disguise its frustration at not being able to join the Maoists in violently resisting the polls without undermining their self-proclaimed commitment to democracy.
The royal government, for its part, proved that elections could be held in the worst of times. King Gyanendra clearly preferred to incur the wrath of democrats for holding elections, not for abandoning them.
Yeah, and turnout? Confronted with the fact that a quarter of 4,000 seats had no one standing at all, the palace probably had already figured out that the same rebel-induced fear would grip constituents.
For a regime facing scathing criticism at home and abroad for failing to keep its pledges, moreover, holding the local elections on schedule provided a rare opportunity to respond. After King Gyanendra, the man with the greatest stake in the polls was Home Minister Kamal Thapa. He must have uncorked a steady stream of champagne – figuratively, at least.
The United States was quick to denounce the polls as a sham. Much of the democratic world evidently shares the sentiment. Indeed, the legions withdrawing their nominations over the last two weeks citing threats from the Maoists were the respectable ones. Among them, one understands, were people who had personally assured the monarch of their participation, come what may.
Countless others pulled out saying they had no idea they had ever filed papers. There were no candidates or candidates stood unopposed in 22 municipalities. Of the contestants in the remaining 36 towns and cities, most were ordinary people. Of course, longtime advocates for ending the tight grip the elite have traditionally held on electoral politics kept quiet in view of their more immediate target: the palace.
Candidates determined to stick until the end invariably fell under heavy military security. Anxious family members, more than armed rebels, seemed the real reason for the electoral hemorrhage. More bullets than ballots, the international media's favorite punch-line went.
In such circumstances, sham was hardly an inappropriate word. For many, the municipal polls have undoubtedly provided a glimpse of the shape of things to come in the national elections due next year.
In terms of immediate politics, the municipal polls have done little to shift the balance of power. For now, Nepalis would probably have to endure the stalemate that has wearied them for the last three years.
Not all may be doom and gloom, though. The 10 percent turnout, perhaps a fair estimate between the government's and opposition's propensity for exaggeration, is not that bad. That's about the same turnout in the Indian states of Punjab and Kashmir during the height of the insurgencies there.
Those elections are still cited as turning points in the Punjabis' and Kashmiris' road to recovery. Hoping against hope? One hopes not.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Higher Calling

Home Minister Kamal Thapa has set himself apart from the rest of King Gyanendra's ministers. Given the current political climate in the country, Thapa's portfolio was bound to catapult him to prominence (critics would say controversy).
But it is the man Maila Baje is impressed by. By announcing that his faction of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party was "royalist" and inviting Marich Man Singh Shrestha and all of his living predecessors as Panchayat prime minister to join the party, Thapa brought honesty in one critical aspect of Nepalese politics. (Maila Baje cannot fathom why former panchas studiously refuse to acknowledge their association with the Panchayat system.)
A few days ago, Thapa accused some media houses of being remote-controlled from abroad and said the facts would emerge soon. (Cross-referencing particular bylines with particular stories in particular publications would be enough for that.)
Thapa, indeed, is a product of the partyless system. As president of the Rastrabadi Swatantra Bidyarthi Mandal, Maila Baje found in him an eloquent exponent of the values of nationalism and discipline.
Today, that organization lives in our collective memory as an adjective describing the excesses of Panchayati zeal. No doubt, mandales used violence and other forms of intimidation to vanquish their foes. Just as members of Congress's Nepal Students Union and the assortment of Akhils owing allegiance to different communist factions have done.
For those familiar with the Mandal's broader activities – symposiums, quiz contests, debates, among other things – the denunciation and denigration are unjust. The banning of the organization – a demand of student protesters King Birendra agreed to before announcing the referendum in 1979 – prevented pro-Panchayat students with a forum during the following decade.
Among the handful of younger Nepalis set apart as prime ministerial material, the names Maila Baje most frequently came across were those of Sher Bahadur Deuba and Kamal Thapa.
The first has already risen to the office three times. Despite his fall (all three in highly charged circumstances), Maila Baje believes Deuba still retains the resiliency of consensus to become head of the government again.
Maila Baje is eager to see Kamal Thapa as prime minister. After he lost the first direct election to the Rastriya Panchayat in 1981, the press had a field day mocking how even a power blackout sponsored by the high and might couldn't save Thapa's candidacy. His understudies occupied prominent cabinet positions, but that's the nature of the game.
Defeated, but unbroken, Thapa went on to head Nepal Youth Organization. During his tenure, the United Nations observed International Youth Year. Thapa drew up and oversaw programs in Nepal very effectively.
After he won a Rastriya Panchayat seat in the 1986 election from his Makwanpur constituency, Thapa was spotted, together with a few other victors, descending the steps of Manakamana daubed in red. Thapa was among the very few Panchayat ministers who maintained a library.
Should his faction of the RPP emerge dominant in the weeks and months ahead, the onetime captain of Nepal's national football team will have positioned himself as a frontrunner for the premiership. Controversy – often merciless -- will no doubt continue to dog him. But, then, Kamal Thapa probably recognizes better than anyone else that that's where he excels.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Invoking The Laws of Necessity

"The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when it is in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose law itself."

The preceding quote is not from King Gyanendra, although it pretty much sums up his belief.
Danger Nepal is in. When the European Union dismisses the municipal elections as a setback to democracy, you get a better picture of the crisis. (The strongly worded text from Brussels was probably a partial result of the jolt triggered by Hamas' victory in Palestinian Authority polls.)
Those who have been urging King Gyanendra to loosen restrictions on civil liberties apparently aren't reading Nepali newspaper headlines. No Nepali has been exposed to the kind of calumny being heaped on the monarch.
The best part about it? Not a single Nepali soul has been forced to depart for its next abode for criticizing the king. The Maoists, one must be clear, are being targeted by the state as terrorists. Since these facts don't seem to have swayed the world, King Gyanendra should shelve Article 127 of the constitution and invoke the doctrine of necessity. He should urgently invite the Maoists to lead an interim government. He should then sit back and let the dynamics play out.
If the Maoists rebuff the monarch's offer, then let the seven-party alliance come out with a clarification on the operating paragraph of the 12-point deal. If a full-fledged republic was what they intended, the palace would be better able to respond.
The palace must not insist the Maoists disarm before entering Singh Darbar. Let the Maoist prime minister do that within three months of taking office.
Of course, one important thing needs to be taken care of before that. Maoist supremo Prachanda, long cast in the head-of-state mold, would probably not accept anything short of the presidency. So the next in line would be Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, whose understanding of ground realities is documented in his powerful prose.
An architect known more for his destructive abilities, he should be given a free hand in sketching the plan, section and interiors of his coalition. If Dr. Bhattarai can form a purely Maoist government, with the explicit support of the seven-party alliance, all the better. If not, the onus should fall on the signatories to the 12-point to allocate posts and portfolios.
Once the Maoists disarm, the country can set its sights on the election to a constituent assembly. The future of the monarchy can be debated in the broader context of the sweeping change the Nepalese state urgently requires. Moreover, a constituent assembly election would at least raise the hope of settling an issue that has poisoned Nepalese politics for over half a century.
King Gyanendra has little to lose. The Maoists know they need a head of state. If they really expected to storm Narayanhity, they would have done so long ago. Moreover, the Maoists would end up campaigning against an institution they would be cohabitating with.
The international community, which seems to see the palace as the principal impediment to peace, would face a significant test. For the Bush administration, the successful mainstreaming of a communist-cum-terrorist organization in Nepal could provide pointers to an eventual truce with Al Qaeda. Terrorists, too, hold some truths to be self-evident.
Oh, yes. The man who uttered the sentences that opened this entry was Thomas Jefferson.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

At Whose Command?

Media reports on the 24-hour visit of Admiral William J. Fallon, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, continue to be bewilderingly divergent. At one extreme are the official media, which suggested that Adm. Fallon had been won over by King Gyanendra's televised address to the nation.
The private-sector media see the visit by a top U.S. military official as the sternest gesture the Americans could have devised to warn the supreme commander in chief of the Royal Nepalese Army of the gravity of Nepal's conflict.
Maila Baje is less sanguine. His mind wandered back to 1979, when another generation of idealist students had risen up against a monarchy that had seemed invincible.
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran had been confronting the combined wrath of liberal democratic and Islamist opponents.
A year earlier, U.S. President Jimmy Carter had toasted the Shah's Iran as an island of stability in the region's turbulent waters.
Officially, Washington had not withdrawn its support for the Shah, whose rule the CIA had restored in 1953 after a brief interruption.
The Shah had no shortage of allies in Washington. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinksi and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger urged Carter to support the Shah to the hilt.
A little-known governor who had gone on to win the president on a platform of, among other things, bringing human rights to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, Carter was less enthusiastic about that course of action.
His ambivalence was deepened by younger diplomats at the State Department who wanted the Shah out regardless of the alternative.
In the seeming disarray, Carter discovered a more appealing choice: reaching out to moderate elements of the government/military and the opposition.
Working behind the scenes, Carter's Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, detected an eagerness on the part of the mullahs to carry the pro-American mantle in what was becoming an increasingly turbulent region.
William Sullivan, the U.S. Ambassador in Teheran, soon discovered that the White House had been running a parallel mission there under Gen. Robert Huyser.
The result of the two-faced diplomacy? A two-part revolution. The first phase consisted of Ayatollah Khomeini's willingness to cooperate with the broader anti-Shah front.
The Islamic fundamentalists' attack on the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and seizure of American diplomats and employees provided the mullahs an opportunity to strengthen themselves for the second phase of the revolution: total capture of the state.
Moderates were either killed or exiled.
Sounds scary? Consider the last time the head of the U.S. Pacific Command was in town while Nepal was boiling. Six years ago, Adm. Dennis Blair came and went amid considerably less fanfare.
In a subsequent appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Blair voiced frustration over the Nepalese government's failure to fashion the right combination of negotiations, economic development, and military/ police operations to turn the tide of the Maoist insurgency.
This was the period when King Birendra and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala were at loggerheads over the issue of mobilizing the military against the Maoists.
In public speeches, Koirala variously suggested that the army had already been deployed, would be deployed, could not be deployed and should never be deployed.
King Birendra, in an act of growing assertiveness, summon Koirala, key ministers and bureaucrats to the palace to discuss an integrated security and development plan.
This was also the period when Ralph Frank, the American ambassador in Kathmandu, publicly chided political parties for debasing democracy and, in private meetings, warned King Birendra of the terrible consequences of inaction.
Put the Maoists in place of the mullahs and see if the picture becomes clearer.