Tuesday, April 01, 2008

As He Prepares To Speak…

It finally looks like King Gyanendra is ready to divulge the details of the agreement that catapulted the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and Maoist rebels to power two years ago.
Reports of an agreement primarily committing the SPA and the Maoists to the continuance of the monarchy have been circulating from the start. The king had made an oblique reference to the existence of such an undertaking in his conversation with journalist Hari Lamsal earlier this year. He had promised to speak in greater detail at the opportune time.
That time seems close at hand. Regardless of whether the constituent assembly elections are held on schedule this month, the monarch is expected use his Nepali New Year message to tell his side of the story.
Admittedly, it is unclear whether the agreement was oral or written. In the first case, the monarch would have a far greater challenge in providing credible evidence. In the latter, the resultant questions are no less vital. Was a formal agreement signed? If so, who were the signatories? If not, did the contracting sides depute representatives with full powers of attorney? Did General Pyar Jung Thapa, army chief at the time, do all the legwork? Or was royal secretary Pashupati Bhakta Maharjan the pointman? Were there witnesses, such as, say, foreign ambassadors who were active during the height of the April Uprising?
Clearly, the answers would have to come from the king. The response of SPA and Maoist leaders would then help to clarify a vital phase of current history. For now, we must rely on the king’s comment to Lamsal as well as a public comment Girija Prasad Koirala made on April 17, 2006.
Speaking to newslinenepal.com, Koirala provided what must be the most explicit undertaking that the Nepali Congress could get the Maoists to agree on a ceremonial monarchy if King Gyanendra reinstated the House of Representatives.
The fact that the 12-point agreement the Indians mediated between the SPA and the Maoists merely pledged to end an “autocratic” monarchy buttresses that reality. The same proviso underpinned the formula brought by Karan Singh, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special representative.
Now, as premier, Koirala and other partisans could argue that events overtook that pledge. However, it cannot diminish the fact that political events were spurred by that undertaking. Clearly, there was little else in terms of clarity than the continuance of the monarchy in New Delhi’s initiative. For proper context, it is essential to step back a couple of weeks.
King Gyanendra’s prolonged absence from Kathmandu was scorned as a stark symbol of royal aloofness. While at the royal retreat in Pokhara, the monarch certainly wasn’t donning “Christian Dior sunglasses and military uniforms, listening to Indian love songs and consulting astrologers,” as The Washington Post’s John Lancaster had us believe. If he “greeted supplicants in a ceremonial tent” and “boarded a French-made Puma helicopter for forays around the countryside,” it was part of his consultations.
More importantly, King Gyanendra sought to give the Indians time to get their act together. Consider the context. Washington, impatient with New Delhi’s deepening ambivalence on the crisis, was prepared to start its own initiative. The Bush administration had just created a wider South and Central Asian Bureau in line with its national security strategy.
Richard Boucher, the new assistant secretary of state, was in Delhi in the first week of April. While his public comments focused on the “failure” the royal takeover had proved to be, Boucher was vexed by the stranglehold Indian communist parties had on the Singh government’s Nepal policy. Sitaram Yechury & Company, for their part, were anxious to mainstream our Maoists before India’s own Naxals acquired enough fervor to choke the Kolkata communists.
The National Security Advisory Board saw mainstreamed Maoists in a more sinister light but was unable to come up with a credible roadmap. (The board continues to be headed by former foreign secretary Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra – who as ambassador to Nepal very discreetly oversaw B.P. Koirala’s return on a plea of national reconciliation and, before that, had served as King Tribhuvan’s liaison during his brief exile in India. He, along with another former ambassador, Krishna V. Rajan, had met with King Gyanendra before the October 4, 2002 dismissal of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.)
The Indian defense and home ministries were still having a hard time persuading the external affairs ministry of the Maoists’ capacity for mendacity in the democratic process. The palace knew that Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran had struck inextricable ties with the Kolkata Reds as a journalist long before he became India’s ambassador in Kathmandu.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, irked by the Singh government’s unwarranted indebtedness to Yechury & Co, announced it was sending former foreign minister Jaswant Singh for talks with King Gyanendra and the mainstream parties. Prime Minister Singh and his Congress party grasped the implications of that mission, especially since U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert – third in line to the presidency – and former president Jimmy Carter had announced plans to visit Kathmandu. The Chinese, meanwhile, were already delivering military supplies to the royal regime, undercutting New Delhi’s leverage.
The Singh government had to do something. It dispatched Karan Singh as an envoy to the king, who had returned to Kathmandu in the expectation of substantive Indian proposals.
Karan Singh, who had Shyam Saran and Pankaj Saran, the Nepal desk chief, in tow during each of his meetings with political and military leaders in Kathmandu, met the king alone.
The message of reconciliation the Indian envoy brought was not new. Karan Singh’s family ties to the Nepali royal family may have allowed him to hold candid discussions. However, he wasn’t able to assuage King Gyanendra’s concerns vis-à-vis the Maoists, particularly those relating to India’s real stance.
After all, the complications gripping the 2003 peace process were clearly rooted in India’s double game. The Nepali public, including those flooding the streets in April, had no way of knowing that. (Could India’s decision in 2003 to arrest Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel as he prepared to board a flight to London at the time King Gyanendra happened to be in the British capital have been coincidental?)
Nor were Nepalis familiar with the pressures India exerted on the palace to de-link the Maoist peace dimension from a royal takeover. It was precisely in anticipation of India’s double dealing that King Gyanendra chose to name himself head of government as well. Having failed to place their own confidante in the premiership, the Indians peddled the line that they had counseled the king against a takeover.
At Jakarta, three months after his takeover, King Gyanendra saw the necessity of personally explaining the contents of his talks with Prime Minister Singh. The monarch’s announcement in a television interview that New Delhi had agreed to lift the arms embargo may have bordered on diplomatic indiscretion. The palace considered more important the urgency of limiting the Indian establishment’s opportunities to play foul.
The next opportunity for a breakthrough arose when Rao Inderjit Singh, India’s junior foreign minister, arrived in Kathmandu to seek Nepal’s support for New Delhi’s bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations. The significance of Nepal’s support could be discounted only by those who did not understand the U.N.’s region-wise mechanism on building agendas.
Naturally, the palace sought – unsuccessfully – Indian support on resolving the Maoist insurgency. The royal regime told New Delhi it would put the request “under consideration.” In their disappointment, the Indians, in characteristic fashion, spun the story in an entirely different way.
Remember the Indian media hype that Prime Minister Singh was going to deliver a stern lecture to King Gyanendra on the sidelines of the Dhaka SAARC summit on the need to restore democracy? Well, the palace pre-empted that virtuous poppycock by spearheading the campaign to tie China’s inclusion as an observer with Afghanistan’s full membership of the South Asian organization.
From the Indian media as well as our own partisan outlets, this seemed like little more than a royal snub to New Delhi. Of course, the fact that Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka rallied behind Nepal was unpalatable to the Indians for a host of reasons.
After the April Uprising, the palace must have anticipated the frequency with which the goal posts would be shifted throughout the peace process under Indian inspiration. Ceremonial monarchy, baby king, the republic-amendment to the interim constitution are different manifestations. The Nepali media, which can catch Maoist leader Prachanda inside the Indian Embassy, won’t report on the Indian ambassador’s forays into the palace with various overtures.
In his state of virtual suspension, King Gyanendra must have found it easy to decline offers of Indian hospitality – under such diverse covers as medical treatment for Crown Prince Paras and wedding invitations – because of his conviction that a positive Indian role would always remain central to Nepal’s well-being.