Thursday, March 27, 2008

Caught Between Containment And Preemption

Behind the cluttered façade of the constituent assembly elections, Nepal is confronting a deepening crisis stemming from externally driven imperatives of containment and preemption.
An upsurge of the Free Tibet movement in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics was hardly unanticipated. Nor were the depths of Chinese sensitivities. Nepalis thus had ample time to prepare themselves for the showdown of the last couple of weeks. In some inexplicable bout of reverse narcissism, many saw ourselves too inconsequential for regional powers and beyond.
The Kirkpatrick Mission, the Younghusband Expedition, the Kodari Highway and the rise and fall of the Khampa insurgency were all considered disparate historical aberrations that had nothing to do with Nepal’s precise geographical position on the globe.
Nepalis were asked, until fairly recently, to shun the notion of Chinese-Indian rivalry in our midst as the last refuge of regressive elements. Beijing may have acquiesced in New Delhi’s preponderant role in Nepal considering its multifarious links. The flipside is China’s wariness vis-à-vis the Americans riding too far on the Indians’ pillion.
When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the august presence of her Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee, enjoined Beijing to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese recognized the stakes.
As part of its response to a resurgence of American-led containment, Beijing seems to have expedited its own dialogue with King Gyanendra. At a minimum, that’s what Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP-N) chief Kamal Thapa’s suggestion of an imminent Maoist-monarchist nationalist alliance suggests.
No Maoist luminary, garrulous at the slightest opportunity, has chosen to dispute Thapa’s assertion. If this silence doesn’t sufficiently signify that something is in the works, consider this: Surya Bahadur Thapa, who served as premier under three monarchs, now claims the institution is merely weeks away from its demise.
Thapa, as is widely believed, may represent the southern lobby. But he is just one voice of the many Indias in Nepal. Other Nepali spokesmen for the Indians have suddenly started claiming that New Delhi, too, is extending its own overtures to King Gyanendra. The purpose? Well, it ranges from checking the scruffiness of the ruling political parties to roping in the palace as an anti-China bastion.
The latter is tied to New Delhi’s claim that Beijing – which King Gyanendra once called a “fair-weather friend” – ultimately ditched the monarchy as the challenge to the royal regime grew in size and scope. The Indians subsequently sought to buttress that argument by citing the fact that Chinese ambassador Zheng Xianglin became the first foreign envoy to present his credentials to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.
The possibility that the Chinese envoy – like some of his other foreign counterparts – was merely abiding by the interim constitution was downplayed. That omission came to haunt the Indians when Zheng chose to meet with Prime Minister Koirala not at his official residence but in the bug-proof seclusion of daughter Sujata Koirala’s home.
As the ambiguity called the peace process deepens with each turn, more and more Nepalis have begun to wonder what precise formula Karan Singh, India’s special envoy, had really brought to the palace and the parties at the height of the April Uprising.
What we really should be pondering a little deeper is the blueprint Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan had brought to Kathmandu a few weeks earlier.