Sunday, December 23, 2007

Probing The Parallel Peace Process

The ruling alliance has finally decided to declare Nepal a “federal democratic republic state,” a status that would be ratified by the first sitting of the constituent assembly. Their resolve to hold the elections within mid-April, together with the Maoists’ apparent readiness to rejoin the interim government, has contrived a modicum of stability.
With the Six Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists dominating the interim legislature, the relevant amendments to the interim constitution should breeze through. Despite their public opposition, “royalists” within the Nepali Congress can be expected to go along with these changes, now that even the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has disavowed official links to the monarchy.
Ordinarily, the spectacle of a self-appointed assembly striving to make such a sensitive decision, with the monarch safely ensconced in the palace, would prompt jeers of derision. The absence of rudimentary national debate on such issues as federalism and democracy a post-monarchy Nepal would have underscored the buffoonery.
They don’t because these public moves seem to have provided a smokescreen for a parallel peace process. From conversations in Kathmandu over the last several days with individuals familiar with this relatively stealthy exercise, Maila Baje can identify the two principal domestic protagonists: Army chief Gen. Rukmangad Katawal and Maoist supremo Prachanda. The external players are the usual suspects: India, China and the United States.
No source this blogger spoke to could offer a coherent plan in the works, but these conversations did suggest broad outlines. Central to this initiative is the retention of the monarchy in a ceremonial form with overt backing of the Maoists.
This “nationalist” realignment is understood to have been the principal pivot of China’s growing activism in the country. When State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, a former Chinese foreign minister, arrived in Kathmandu during the final weeks of King Gyanendra’s regime, he had received categorical pledges of support for the monarchy from principal Nepali opposition leaders.
After its early overtures to the former rebels, Beijing was subsequently said to have given a specified timeframe to Prachanda to persuade his rank and file of the urgency of building an alliance with the palace. The Maoist supremo’s much-anticipated visit to China is believed to be contingent upon his ability to rally his party behind him.
Maoist representatives visiting Beijing have, almost to the person, have been politely reminded of that imperative, while successive Chinese delegations in Nepal have pressed the point directly with former rebel leaders.
Growing Chinese assertiveness is believed to have precipitated a thorough review of India’s policy on Nepal. Gen. Katuwal’s high-profile visit to India provided the public manifestation of an impending shift. Nepali Congress leader Sujata Koirala’s less conspicuous discussions in New Delhi reinforced key tenets for Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s benefit.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s personal intervention is said to have been behind the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)’s chief’s recent visit to Nepal. Although he met with all leading power centers, according to Nepali sources, the RAW chief was preoccupied with covering his tracks on a strategy gone awry.
The United States, for its part, is believed to be amenable to a military-backed government led by the Nepali Congress. Washington, which seems more insistent on holding a popular referendum on the monarchy than on constituent assembly elections, believes such a government would draw the support of the RPP and Rastriya Janashakti Party as well as an influential section of the Unified Marxist-Leninists. The monarchy, in the run-up to a referendum, would remain out of the public scene.
That specific proviso runs counter to Beijing’s instincts, according to sources. The Chinese, with an eye on the Beijing Olympics, are averse to doing anything precipitous. On the other hand, they see the referendum plan as a prelude to the end of the monarchy. Still distrustful of the Maoists’ links to constituencies in India, Beijing views the monarchy at the center of the nationalist plank in Nepal. Gen. Katuwal’s upcoming visit to China may not be as high profile as his visit down south, but, according to Nepali military sources, it promises to be politically significant.
Significantly, the Nepali Army figures prominently in all three external stakeholders’ political calculations. Senior commanders, contrary to rumors of frenzied jockeying for power, are apprehensive of the political establishment’s record of destroying the police between 1990 and 2002. Concern for professionalism remains the strongest adhesive in the military.
The Maoists seem most worried by this external convergence. During the height of the Madhes movement last winter, the former rebels seemed confident that the most segregated institution, in that context, would desist from striking. The dramatic dissipation of the movement seems to have reinforced Maoist fears of external involvement to their detriment. Accordingly, a dominant section of the former rebels is trying to woo the generals and soldiers alike with the nationalism plank.
The Young Communist League’s recent warning of a mass revolt should the party leadership forge ties with royalists was played down by key Maoist functionaries during recent conversations with this blogger. They seem to be growing extremely anxious about their physical well-being. This, they concede, may nudge prominent mid-level leaders toward an alliance with the palace.
As for the rank-and-file, according to these sources, the same threat of an “externally inspired campaign of physical liquidation” could significantly tone down their recalcitrance over the next few months. Prachanda may then get his long-cherished audience with Chinese President Hu Jintao.