Sunday, May 17, 2009

Message In A Battle

Nepal’s preeminent democrat the other day sought on behalf of the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) the support of someone reviled as one of the most despicable faces of the discredited royal regime. Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal president Kamal Thapa must have been amused by Girija Prasad Koirala’s plea.
As the see-I-told-you-so moment unfolded its full glory, Thapa probably wondered what it was that had impelled the grand old man. Age-induced magnanimity toward a party that has tormented him so much? An act of contrition for having agonized UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal with the premier-in-waiting appellation for far too long?
As one of the fiercest critics of the Nepali Congress-led mainstream’s alliance with the Maoist rebels in 2005, then-Home Minister Thapa often heard Koirala lead the charge: the Maoists, at least, were murdering and marauding for the people.
Koirala’s similar plea to Chinese ambassador Qiu Guohong on behalf of the UML merits less scrutiny here because His Excellency had something bigger to say to the Nepali Congress president. Qiu essentially notified our political patriarch that any government that sought to marginalize the Maoists would not survive.
Although Qiu was careful not to name names, he was not so cryptic as to leave us in any doubt about his government’s disdain for the remote-control wielders so comfortably ensconced across the southern border. What’s more, Qiu cautioned Koirala that playing out an artificial game of numbers could prove disastrous for Nepal.
The Chinese ambassador probably felt entitled to let off some of his steam in Maharajgunj. His predecessor, Zheng Xiangling, was the first ambassador to present credentials to officiating head of state Koirala, thereby formally severing Beijing’s traditional links with the palace. There must have been some quid pro quo for such potent symbolism.
Subsequently, Koirala did blame New Delhi for fomenting unrest in the Terai. Fed up with India’s penchant for using oil as a political weapon, Koirala also urged China to supply petroleum products. If he ignored the economics of it all, it was to prove his political point. At the SAARC summit in New Delhi in 2007, Koirala outdid former king Gyanendra by calling for China’s inclusion in the organization as a full-fledged member.
Koirala aides have been understandably tightlipped about any specifics Ambassador Qiu might have volunteered during the meeting. Although other Chinese officials have been no less enigmatic, they have been indicating how vigilant they have become on our affairs. Beijing’s response to any perceived diminution of its influence will Nepal will eventually stun the other foreign stakeholders, one source has let it be known. (Certainly something to take seriously given the stunner the draft of the new Peace and Friendship Treaty was.)
Among the many peculiar things Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal told Indian reporters after his resignation was that the succession of Chinese delegations that had descended on Nepal during his tenure had not done so at the Maoists’ invitation. At first, that sounded like Dahal’s desperate attempt to contain the damage done by the Indian media’s obsession with one part of his televised resignation speech. On closer reflection, however, the comment sounded like the precise message Beijing wanted our caretaker premier to deliver.
Dahal’s speech at the “anti-foreign interference rally” in Kathmandu, we are told, bore considerable resemblance to the message Ambassador Qiu has been carrying to Koirala and other leaders. – a missive and mind-set with which Kamal Thapa, given his political past, certainly has had a far longer history of familiarity.