Monday, October 23, 2006

‘The Key Is Stuck In New Delhi’

The reality that the key to our stalled peace process lies down south was apparent long before Ian Martin, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan special representative for Nepal, decided to take a pre-Tihar day trip to New Delhi.
When a senior leader of the ruling Seven Party Alliance (SPA) concedes as much, then the matter ceases to be a mere political platitude. And when the SPA leader making that assertion happens to be Narayan Man Bijukchhe, we must sit up and take notice.
As his SPA colleagues and Maoist leaders used the Tihar hiatus to build popular optimism over what has become an esoteric exercise, the president of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party injected a jarring note.
“The key is stuck in Delhi,” Bijukchhe told journalists at his home turf of Bhaktapur. “The big parties as well as the Maoists are dependent on New Delhi.” The sanguinity on each side is impelled by a desire to blame the other should things go sour.
With the latest phase of summitry stuck on the issue of Maoist arms (more than the monarchy) it is worthwhile to remember that Bijukchhe was the first critic of last November’s 12-point SPA-Maoist signed in New Delhi.
His principal objection then was the ambiguity surrounding the involvement of a third party in the monitoring/management of government and rebel weapons. What specifically irked Bijukchhe was the ease with which the SPA equated the then-Royal Nepal Army with the Maoist fighters. (We now know why the SPA did so: It desperately needed the Maoist guerrillas to thwart the royal regime’s plans to hold local and national elections.)
What really seemed to rile him was the possibility of Indian “peacekeepers” marching in under the UN flag. Bijukchhe, after all, represents a community that has always been the most skeptical of Indian motives in Nepal.
In fairness, we must note that Bijukchhe was among the vociferous critics of US Ambassador James F. Moriarty’s visit to military installations in western Nepal last month, prompting the envoy to personally explain to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala that such field trips were part of his job description.
This time, Bijukchhe seems to have spoken with the Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee on his mind. Mukherjee’s extensive – and widely covered – briefings in New Delhi must have focused on an initiative to break the Baluwatar logjam.
The fact that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other ministers took time to listen to Mukherjee as the Ministry of External Affairs ranked Nepal eighth on its Relevance for India index becomes relevant here.
Nepal ranks higher than Pakistan and China in the index, which categorizes countries based on their political and strategic importance and their economic and commercial value to India over the next decade.
What kind of Indian initiative can we expect? Former premier Surya Bahadur Thapa has affirmed that during his recent visit to New Delhi he got the clear impression that India supported multiparty democracy as well as constitutional (not ceremonial) monarchy. In effect, the twin-pillar theory is still valid across the southern border.
Now unless Thapa has lost his long acknowledged ability to read the Indian mind correctly, any new initiative from New Delhi would be focused primarily on the Maoist weapons. As much has already been suggested by retired Major-General Ashok K. Mehta, India’s scholar in residence on the Nepalese Maoists.
There may be another overriding imperative. The recent “democratization” of the Nepalese military has not changed the practice of the top generals of India’s and Nepal’s armies enjoying honorary chief status in each other’s countries.
With the implication of the Maoists’ quest for parity with the Nepal Army so obvious, can New Delhi be expected to exercise hitherto unused leverages on the Maoist rebels? Was the recent pledge by South Asian Maoists to turn the enflame the region an act of pre-emption?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dissecting The U.N. Security Council Debacle

As if the vote count wasn’t humiliating enough, the government and the Maoists have been caught in a sickening blame game over Nepal’s failure to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Let’s face it: Nepal never had a real chance against a formidable competitor like Indonesia. If Ban Ki-moon’s hadn’t been elected secretary-general, leading South Korea to pull out of the race, Indonesia’s 158 votes in the General Assembly would have shrunk. Nepal’s 28 would have whittled down most conspicuously.
Diplomatic discretion disallowed any direct discouragement. Yet in the corridors of UN headquarters, there must have been a palpable expectation that Nepal would bow out and back Indonesia. But, no, Oli had to link Nepal’s candidacy to peace and democracy. If that were a viable strategy, it’s time ended circa 1995.
Now, Nepal’s dismal showing cannot be construed as a decisive repudiation of peace and democracy. Yet the world needed a rationale. You have a government that admits to parliament that the letter it sent to UN Secretary General Annan somehow got lost for several days. You have a Maoist organization that hollered the most in favor of UN involvement in the peace process, only to insist that Nepalis were capable of solving their problems once a UN mission did arrive in the country. The holier-than-thou attitude of Messrs. Oli and Mahara is outrageous.
When Nepal was elected to the Security Council for the first time in 1968, it had set the record for the highest number of ‘yes’ votes. Of course, UN membership has expanded massively since, but that doesn’t reduce the significance of the global affirmation in terms of proportion.
The second time Nepal succeeded in winning a seat on the most powerful organ of the world body in 1988, it promised to become a stepping stone to even greater accomplishment: the presidency of the General Assembly. But, no, the democratic government had to dismantle the foreign policy apparatus because it was created by the palace.
In 1968, Permanent Representative Padma Bahadur Khatri and his deputy, Devendraraj Upadhyaya, led a powerful campaign. Two decades later, Ambassador Jai Pratap Rana and his deputy, Mana Ranjan Josse, reaffirmed the extent of Nepal’s diplomatic dexterity provided the right people were doing the job.
Nepal’s third campaign began taking shape during the royal regime. King Gyanendra’s Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey was at least making a valiant effort. The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) government probably expected its “historic mandate” to impress the world. With foreign ambassadors presenting their credentials at the palace even after the “historic proclamation,” Shital Niwas – one presumes that is what the Foreign Ministry is still informally called – should have known better.
The cacophony of a government that speaks with seven different voices, distorted by rebels who believe only their voice should prevail, can hardly claim coherence. Could Nepal form an opinion on international issues? If so, could the world expect Nepal to vote on a resolution with any credibility?
And our opponent? The world’s largest Muslim nation at a time the world is grappling with Afghanistan, Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iran’s nuclear program, among other things.
Had Nepal gracefully bowed out, it might have sorted out its internal dissonance for a more viable campaign two years later. Maybe – and just maybe – we could even have counted on a departing Indonesia.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How About The Real Story?

Now that the Rayamajhi Commission has finally submitted its questionnaire to King Gyanendra on the “excesses” his government committed against the April Uprising, the buck may finally stop somewhere.
The panel, which hyped its determination to spare nobody, should have made public those questions. For now, whether or how the monarch responds and what the panel will do about remains uppermost on most minds.
For the record, King Gyanendra should provide a full accounting of the context of the royal takeover while explaining why his government acted in the way it had during those 19 tumultuous days.
By now, even the most inveterate critic of then-Home Minister Kamal Thapa can probably sympathize with his contention that the Maoists drove the show. The chief rebel ideologue, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has already disclosed how the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) had implored the Maoists to lend their armed strength to disrupt the local elections and the national polls the king had planned.
Moreover, Dr. Bhattarai has expressed fulsome gratitude to India – yes, the collective Indian state – for facilitating the SPA-Maoist accord. The record shows that New Delhi, which was toying with the idea of a joint front against the palace for a while, was goaded into action after King Gyanendra led the initiative linking China’s inclusion in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as an observer with the admission of Afghanistan as a full member.
The record also shows that Maoist chairman Prachanda, having purged Dr. Bhattarai for, among other things, his pro-Indian inclinations, somehow suddenly forgave his transgressions and reinstated the chief ideologue before dispatching him for talks with the SPA in New Delhi.
With the SPA’s anti-palace agitation having failed to pick up momentum beyond political activists and their cousins in civil society, masses had to be mobilized from Maoist ranks – without the fingerprints.
The massive crackdown was uncharacteristic for a government that, until then, had shown remarkable tolerance for dissent. True, the press was muzzled, politicians incarcerated and political activity suppressed – but, then, there was a state of emergency in force. It seemed odd that the royal regime, vowing to snuff out the Maoist insurgency, should be going after the mainstream politicians. Considering the SPA’s inner tantrums on display since April, it’s not unreasonable to presume that the palace considered them the greater evil.
Once Chinese arms began entering Nepal, the interests of those intent on fostering another color-coded revolution converged with those bent on teaching a recalcitrant monarch a lesson in the geographical vulnerabilities of his realm. (Remember those foreign doctors already positioned in the capital to treat those they expected to be wounded during the penultimate fight against autocracy?)
A series of questions come to mind. Could the massive crackdown have been part of the script all along? Could the orders to open fire have been given by mid-level or junior officers on the scene? Could these officers have been influenced by the same forces that brought the SPA and Maoists together.
The faces in the crowd, lest we forget, were not ones Kathmandu residents normally saw. Could the intention have been to create a sudden “surge” of anger against a vicious palace? Ordinary Nepalis had reason to be angry. Royal ministers, after all, had been warning of Maoist infiltration, hadn’t they? So they must have ordered the crackdown. Too bad they hadn’t prepared for the Maoists’ coming out without their guns.
This point has become more relevant against the backdrop of the developments since April. The reinstated parliament – technically long expired – has become the longest session in country’s legislative history. The Maoists, who so energetically demanded United Nations supervision of the peace process, now believe Nepalis are capable of driving everything indigenously.
Forget the 12-point accord, even the eight-point agreement reached after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s first talks with Prachanda seemed to suggest the signatories had worked out a post-royal regime arrangement. Who deceived whom?
It’s clear the alliance was merely a ruse to roll back Nepal’s resoluteness in asserting its sovereign rights between two regional behemoths against the ambivalence of the global hyperpower’s South Asia strategy.
As for the “excesses,” King Gyanendra should take responsibility for the 24 or so deaths. But only if the SPA and Maoists take joint responsibility for all those lives lost since in the endless chase for that fictional ‘loktantra’.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Narhari Acharya & Red Scare Candor

Score one for Narhari Acharya. The leading theorist of the republican wing of the Nepali Congress has let it be known that the Red Scare has pushed his party closer to the palace.
Not that Acharya's statement breaks any new ground. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the supreme commander of the April Uprising, has earned much criticism – and rare praise – for advocating a ceremonial monarchy.
Yet he has justified that as an imperative driven by Nepal's internal and external realities. It's Acharya's candor in articulating the specific reason that is significant and should clarify the emerging dynamics in weeks and months ahead.
Before the April Uprising, many Nepalis thought Acharya – and his fellow republican Gagan Thapa – would emerge as the principal voices of a post-royal regime Nepali Congress. When Koirala, during the height of his rants against "regression" described the duo as agents of the palace, many Nepalis were infuriated by the octogenarian's intolerance for talent.
Acharya, like Thapa, has become a voice in the wilderness. During the royal regime, the security forces scoured his computer hard drive and seized his republican treatises. Now, under a decidedly "democratic" Nepal, Acharya is forced to push his agenda at a venue in India.
For a while, Nepali Congress luminaries like Ram Chandra Poudel argued that Koirala's attachment to a ceremonial monarchy stemmed from his personal sentiments, not those of his party. Today Poudel, too, seem to have been sensitized enough by the gains the Maoists to acknowledge the virtue of silence as far as the palace is concerned.
There may be larger imperative here. However you may want to define it, the Nepali Congress remains an embodiment of the Koirala legacy. The same factors that led B.P. Koirala to abandon his original infatuation with communism and strike a posture of a more moderate brand of socialism would prevent him from ever forging a common front. B.P.'s rabid anticommunism may have set back the democracy movement by a generation. Ganesh Man Singh, who parted with his late colleague in building an alliance with the communists, brought down the Panchayat system. Yet Singh would go on to find enough space in his own Nepali Congress.
As a politician, Girija Prasad Koirala has proved far more skillful than any of the Congressmen. One reason has been his ability to use the communists as a prop to boost his party's pragmatic side. Having gone so far to enlist the Maoists' support against the royal regime – something put to pen by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai in some of his livid moments as essayist – Koirala was quick to acknowledge how victory necessitated a correction. The Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists can squabble eternally over who really forced the palace to capitulate. Without Koirala's leadership, it is doubtful the hordes of Maoists masquerading as diehard democrats, could have dominated international headlines. Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai's urgency in claiming full credit for the April Uprising only hardened the wily old man.
Girija Koirala, central to the Nepali Congress' plots to assassinate Kings Mahendra and Birendra, could easily claim the 1990 movement as a victory for the panchas – and by logical extension – the palace.
It's hard to believe that hardened radicals like Narhari Acharya and Gagan Thapa could have failed to see the difference between a avowedly republican platform and their party's decision to delete its traditional reference to the monarchy from its statute.
Whether they were prepared for the promptness with which a Prime Minister Koirala would – to rephrase B.P.'s memorable reference to the shared vulnerability of the royal collar and his own – stick out his neck for the king is altogether a different matter.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Extradition Embolism & Maoist Motives

Deferring to Maoist wishes, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has called off his visit to India.
All those non-Nepali-speaking Muslims we are told the country is rife with may now loosen up a bit.
The absence of the government’s point man on the peace process on the eve of the rescheduled “summit” with the rebels would have undermined the state’s commitment. Rushing to New Delhi to sign a controversial extradition treaty would have been a bald-faced display of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government’s real priorities.
Maoist leader Prachanda has burnished his credentials as a pragmatist, although it’s highly doubtful that this was his primary purpose. Self-preservation sounds better as a motive.
Two senior Maoist leaders – C.P. Gajurel and Mohan Baidya -- remain imprisoned in India. Countless others remain incarcerated, some for crossing into India for medical treatment after being injured in clashes with the Nepalese security forces.
The SPA government may have withdrawn the terrorist tag and red-corner notices on the rebel leaders. The Indian government is not bound by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s version of national reconciliation. Especially not after Nepalese Maoists, despite their peace protestations within the country, joined regional allies in vowing to create a “flaming field” across South Asia.
Gajurel and Baidya are being held for alleged offenses on Indian soil. The more obscure Maoist functionaries may be extraditable, but, then, why would the Koirala government want them?
Prachanda, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Krishna Bahadur Mahara and the rest of the leadership can slip into India at will. New Delhi can feign ignorance, as it always has, citing the cross-border fraternity of these adherents of the Great Helmsman.
Even if New Delhi seized senior Nepalese rebels and foisted them on Kathmandu, they would get a free crash course in transnational jurisprudence as well as a free ride to freedom back home.
What must be bothering Prachanda and his cronies are the India-specific alleged offenses they might have committed during the past decade. Training Indian allies to break jails in Bihar and almost kill a former chief minister in Andhra Pradesh? Selling arms seized from the Nepalese military and police to an assortment of militants in India? Exporting Yarchagumba to third countries with scant regard to Nepal’s landlocked status and its international obligations to the transit country?
Since Dr. Bhattarai has formally thanked India for its role in forging the Maoists’ 12-point accord with the SPA last November, the rebel leadership has probably reconciled itself to the eventual conclusion of that stringent extradition accord. Maybe the Maoists just want to make sure they get into the government as an indemnity against extradition. Or, better still, maybe Mahara aspires to sign the accord as Nepal’s home minister.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mass Resonance Of Royal Message

King Gyanendra’s Vijaya Dashami message to the nation was bound to generate a gush of analyses – and it certainly has precipitated a copious flow. Despite the “political marginalization” of the palace in the months since the April Uprising, far too many minds were focused on the political content the royal message might contain.
The monarch’s emphasis on encouraging the peace process, which he described as the nation’s urgent need of the hour, has prompted derision from predictable quarters – most notably from sections of our narcissistic civil society. Their interpretation is that a king humbled by the masses is merely trying to send overtures to both the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists.
What they are utterly incapable of acknowledging is that King Gyanendra, having seen his roadmap derailed for a variety of reasons – some more obscure than others -- has thrown his weight behind the alternative. (An exhortation to the SPA and the Maoists to show Nepalis that last November’s 12-point accord was anything more than a tool to re-establish the southern neighbor’s grip on their country?)
SPA leaders, chastened by the compulsions of governing, have made a political point by not attending (boycotting?) the traditional Dasain tika ceremony at the palace. Ceremonial monarchists led by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala are being politically prudent ahead of the constituent assembly polls -- more out of self-interest than anything else. Despite all the hype over the civilian government’s tightening grip over the military, the SPA remains unsure of whether the palace has been tamed enough to remain a convenience, an anxiety the ripples of the coup in Thailand have reinforced.
Republicans in the SPA ranks were always grudging in their Dasain attendance in the past. Don’t be surprised when these sections do return once they factor the palace into their formulations. (It took Madan Bhandary, Nepal’s last revolutionary, two years to acknowledge King Birendra’s palace as a political center. Maoist supremo Prachanda did so by seeking to strike a deal with King Gyanendra’s government in 2003 against the back of the political parties.)
Interestingly, the international media have carefully calibrated their coverage of the royal tika with the premise of their coverage of the April Uprising. The “hundreds” who converged on the abode of an embattled monarch offer a multiple that may be factually correct but contextually imprecise.
What impelled these people seek royal blessings? The prospect of being branded regressive conspirators evidently failed as a deterrent. Were the attendees least bothered by the spectre of dire appellations because of their detachment from the SPA-Maoist loop?
Could these “other Nepalis, orange-clad sadhus and the odd tourist” – to borrow the description of Agence France Presse – be so out of tune with the country? Or were they representatives of a constituency that remained silent during the April Uprising but didn’t lose sight of the traditional pivot that has always sustained Nepal?
This section of Nepalis has observed with the greatest apprehension how obsequiously the SPA, having eviscerated the monarchy, has begun repaying its debts to its Indian patrons. The citizenship bill – consisting of many of the provisions the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional after the constituents of today’s SPA foisted it on King Birendra – has revived fears of a massive demographic shift to the advantage of Indian interests.
The SPA government is on the verge of signing an extradition treaty of with India that would virtually assure New Delhi the final word on the innocence or guilt of third-country nationals in Nepal.
Nepalis are evenly divided on whether to keep the monarchy? Try conducting another poll today.