Monday, July 02, 2007

Between The Monarchy And The Maoists

Winding up his tenure in Nepal, US Ambassador James F. Moriarty is currently busy conforming to a time-honored tradition of his office. Nepal should do this… Nepalis shouldn’t do that… American ambassadors to Nepal have been at their most candid during their final weeks in office.
Moriarty, of course, has been outspoken almost from the outset. You could love him or hate him, but certainly not ignore him. Rock star and rogue – depending on who’s talking – Moriarty will surely miss the limelight in Kathmandu. After three tumultuous years here, His Excellency is entitled to expounding on his hopes and fears for Nepal with greater bluntness.
His Excellency’s tirades against the Maoists may have obscured it somewhat, but Moriarty remains livid with the palace. In a recent interview with BBC Nepali Service, Moriarty, for all practical purposes, saw King Gyanendra as a spent force. Since the military is no longer loyal to the palace, he claimed, a royal takeover is out of the question. (A military takeover, however, would be squarely blamed on the government, he implied.)
In a subsequent television interview with Bijay Kumar, Moriarty urged His Majesty not to mess things up. Since the latter admonition presupposes the palace’s continued ability to do so, one is obliged to ask what may have led Moriarty to engage in this subtle revisionism.
Regulars to Kathmandu’s cocktail circuit always found Moriarty’s impressions of King Gyanendra both colorful and consistent. The first time you met the monarch, according to the envoy, you were instantly impressed by the monarch. By the second meeting, you invariably gave him the benefit of the doubt. After the third, you could see straight through the palace spin machine. (The ambassador’s real words on the third encounter were more direct and devastating.)
Deep down, Moriarty, it appears, hasn’t forgiven himself for being suckered into such sweet talk. In his first meeting with the US envoy after the February 1, 2005 takeover, King Gyanendra purportedly promised to restore the democratic process in 100 days.
Now, that was Moriarty’s version of the meeting. Since the palace didn’t rebut it, it probably was true. The US ambassador was still being prevented from meeting with Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, then under house arrest.
Then came that daring midnight arrest of Sher Bahadur Deuba on corruption charges. Since one of his predecessors had facilitated the ex-premier’s marriage as part of, shall we say, advancing American foreign policy interests, Moriarty must have found that slap a little too stinging.
Still, in public pronouncements during his frequent trips back home, the US envoy sounded guardedly optimistic about preventing the world’s first post-Cold War communist takeover.
Then things started going downhill. Even after sharing that flight to New Delhi with UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, Moriarty couldn’t prevent the Seven Party Alliance’s 12-point agreement with the Maoists against the palace. He kept quiet until the Supreme Court ordered Deuba’s release. Then he unleashed a blistering attack against the mainstream parties’ alliance with the rebels, laced with a rebuke to palace rule.
Six months later, the April Uprising gathered momentum as the Young Communist League (YCL)’s forerunners swarmed the country’s streets. Jimmy Carter cancelled his trip. More important, though, was the decision by Denny Hastert, the then Republican House of Representatives speaker, to call off that detour from Delhi.
Then came Moriarty’s warning of a messy abdication. The embassy, for all practical purposes, relocated to New Delhi for the first time since 1959. The outrage over the diplomatic corps’ premature enthusiasm for King Gyanendra’s first address to the nation prompted the world to distance itself from the palace.
With the Maoists in parliament and – subsequently – government, Moriarty was left with balancing repeated warnings against an October Revolution with expressions of a desire to shake hands with our would-be Lenin, Comrade Prachanda. (The appeasement part of the strategy earned him those YCL rocks in Jhapa.)
When he finally did arrive last month, Jimmy Carter did more than shake hands with the ex-rebel chief. He urged Washington to withdraw its terrorism tag on the Maoists.
Granted, the former peanut farmer wants to embarrass the Bush administration at every turn. But in front of the ambassador? It’s possible to see Carter landing in Baghdad one day and urge the White House to open talks with Al Qaeda in Iraq. But in front of the American ambassador? Wouldn’t such an appeal reveal more about Ryan Crocker than Carter himself?
We never got to know for sure whether Moriarty ever had an opportunity to converse with the Chinese ambassador in Mandarin on Nepal’s underlying maladies. He did acquire enough Nepali to assure audiences in the Terai of Washington’s belated recognition of their grievances. In retrospect, getting the Chinese to release that reconnaissance plane and crew in the spring of 2001 must have been a breeze for Moriarty.