Sunday, September 06, 2009

Neighbors’ Frenzy, Owners’ Hayride

To: Girija Prasad Koirala and
Pushpa Kamal Dahal

From: Tang Jiaxuan and
Karan Singh

As the principal interlocutors for the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India, respectively, during the April 2006 uprising, we are jointly writing to convey our profound concern and regret at the manner in which Nepal’s transition to greater representativeness and inclusiveness is progressing. While cognizant of Nepalis’ sovereign and inalienable right to chart their own destiny, we remain deeply troubled by the wider geopolitical ramifications of the volatility of your peace process.
It was with an earnest desire to bolster the strategic engagement between our two ancient civilizations that we had agreed to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the crisis resulting from the breakdown of the constitutional process in Nepal. Although, at the time, our missions seemed separate and unrelated, it was a product of close consultation based on the mutuality of our interests and basic complementarities. As you surely recall, the understanding we had reached during our separate consultations with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in Kathmandu in March and April 2006 was premised on your express commitment to bridge the dangerous breach between the monarchy and the anti-government rebels in an effort to allow Nepal to continue on its own course and consolidate regional stability. But things went against our expectations. Today, China and India are locked in one of their worst crises ever, partly resulting from distrust of each other’s motives and intentions in Nepal. There is a dangerous escalation in the rhetoric on each side by the day, which threatens to result in untold catastrophe.
We recognize that things began to worsen in Nepal almost from the outset. The Indian government, in close consultation with Beijing, welcomed King Gyanendra’s decision to restore parliament and invite the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to form a new government. Our expectation was that the palace and the parties would bring the anti-government rebels to a mutually acceptable settlement in keep with Nepali aspirations as well as the imperatives of regional security. The rebels, who then dominated the streets, took a harder line than the SPA. To prevent further instability, the Indian government appeared to revise its stand. China, in keeping with its traditional foreign policy precepts of non-interference, refused to comment publicly.
Both Beijing and New Delhi understood that the rebels had to conciliate their cadres. This was, after all, no surrender on the part of anyone. The House of Representatives moved to strip the monarchy of the controversial powers it had been exercising since 2002. However, the secularization of the Nepali state was not on the agenda. Yet it became part of the House Proclamation. The Indian ambassador, as you may recall, immediately conveyed his government’s concern at this incongruity to the king and the parties. Beijing, too, used every opportunity to remind the major actors of the urgency of adhering to the agreed framework.
When China and India acquiesced in a United Nations role in the peace process, it served to underscore our commitment to establishing lasting peace and stability in Nepal. Given our own international situations, few in the West expected either of us to set an “unwarranted precedent”. But the Nepali anti-government rebels had made U.N. involvement a precondition to their return to the negotiating table. We recognized that a tightly focused and outcome-specific U.N. mandate would be the best guarantor of a settlement conforming to the desires of the Nepali people and the aspirations of its two friendly neighbors. China’s permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council and India’s influential role in the world organization permitted the creation of such an international mission.
Almost immediately, a few other members began using the mission to pursue their narrow objectives unrelated to the basic mandate. Since many of these activities directly impinged on Sino-Indian interest in a strong, stable and prosperous Nepal, we always voiced our firm and unequivocal opposition to such nefarious activities at the appropriate forums. Despite our genuine endeavors, everything represented a serious deviation from the Sino-Indian understanding. But the Nepali leadership, from across the political spectrum, constantly advised us that all this was merely aimed at preserving the peace process.
When the Chinese ambassador became the first foreign representative to present his credentials to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, it represented a powerful symbol from Beijing for reasons widely known. Maintaining stability and tranquility in the region was uppermost in our minds, so the peace process was encouraged to take its course. But western powers fomented the so-called “Free Tibet” protest in advance of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Certain elements in India, particularly in the security services, saw an opportunity to strike hard against the Chinese for perceived and real grievances the two nations were thought to have risen over. In the midst of the coalition configuration in New Delhi, they gained the upper hand. Saner minds in India instantly began warning against the damage accruing from needlessly raising Chinese apprehensions.
It was only after the Chinese government lodged a strong protest to the Koirala government that the “Free Tibet” protesters suspended their activities. This allowed the much-delayed constituent assembly polls to be held, marking a major milestone in Nepal. The monarch willingly vacated the palace in keeping with the popular aspirations for peace. But the elected assembly instantly degenerated into the same venue for political horse-trading as it had been between 1991 and 2002. Only this time, the United Communist Party of Nepal became participants.
Under Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, China saw an important opportunity to modernize its ties with Nepal. Yet many hardliners in China, especially those with longstanding ties to the Communist Party’s Ministry of Foreign Liaison, were waiting for a moment to hit back at the Indians for having abetted the “Free Tibet” protests in Kathmandu. The new friendship treaty we had proposed to Kathmandu was a genuine attempt to update ties in keeping with the new realities. It became a subject of needless politicization, wherein one section of the Nepali prime minister’s office leaked it to the Nepali media.
Unfortunately, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in Beijing gave the impression that China somehow backed the Dahal government’s decision to sack the Nepali army chief. We noted with regret how elements within the Nepali prime minister’s party sought to convey that impression. The ill will this created in India, which has honored the Nepali army chief as an honorary general of the Indian Army, was understandable to the Chinese.
With the monarchy out of the way, Nepal, in our view, is farther removed from a popularly drafted constitution. For Nepal’s two neighbors, this has been a wider moment for introspection. Under the monarchy, the “Free Tibet” movement never acquired the rowdiness sufficient to imperil Sino-Nepali ties. From the perspective of India, terrorist activities linked one way or the other with Nepal were virtually non-existent during palace rule. The Chinese and Indian people are justified in revisiting these realities. Today Nepali legislators openly meet with the Dalai Lama, the political head of the “government in exile”, in contravention of Kathmandu’s official One-China policy. The Indian government has had no handle on the situation, which has been largely instigated by western-funded non-governmental organizations albeit abetted by recalcitrant elements of Indian officialdom. The newly appointed priests of Pashupatinath Temple are beaten up and paraded ignominiously, with the government relegated to a mute bystander. Hardliners in India suddenly see a Chinese hand in the attack. The total absence of leadership in Nepal is unacceptable. Any false move will play into the hands of Chinese and Indian hardliners, which, needless to say, would be ultimately detrimental to all concerned.
Ordinary Nepalis are today apprehensive of an impending “political accident” when they should have been preparing to welcome a new constitution and witness the rebirth of the nation. At the same time, ethnic and regional fragmentation, growing criminalization and lawlessness, political polarization and the other unhealthy manifestations of change have exacerbated the national-security concerns of both China and India.
In the spring of 2006, we volunteered our time and effort to resolve the constitutional deadlock as men of peace. Today, in the same capacity, we issue this urgent appeal to your wisdom and judgment. The Nepali parties must honor and uphold the commitments you had made during our talks in Kathmandu. In the absence of that, we would have no recourse other than to offer our personal admission of failure in what we considered a solemn endeavor. But that shortcoming would pale into insignificance compared to the consequences for Nepal, an admonition we feel compelled to offer as true friends and well-wishers.