Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hovering On Meddle Ground

When it comes to our peace process, Nepalis aren’t the only ones who are dwelling in the past. Why did Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal resign as premier earlier this year? Chinese President Hu Jintao wanted to know from the horse’s mouth last month. But Dahal either was not the horse or had too many mouths.
Did the then-premier manufacture the standoff with General Rookmangad Katuwal to avoid having to fly to Beijing to sign that harsh Peace and Friendship Treaty? (As a quid quo pro, the Chinese could have saved Dahal’s politics. But would the Indians have been so generous with his life or limbs?)
Or did the Indians actually egg Dahal on before using Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) chairman Jhal Nath Khanal to pull the plug? (That would be entirely in keeping with the Indian playbook. Moreover, it was the Chinese who recently outed Khanal.) Maybe Dahal was under unbearable pressure from the party base to show something revolutionary for his months in power. (What could have been more revolutionary in Nepali politics than to resign before anyone actually demanded you do so?)
Hu probably remains as flustered as he was before meeting with Dahal. But given the way the Maoists have been behaving ever since, it seems Dahal never believed he would really have to vacate the Baluwatar residence. The Maoists have been trying to get back in through every door, window, nook, cranny or pore.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered a helping hand. He stated that a national government was desirable to pull Nepal out of its morass. The original word, we are told, was the more unambiguous “necessary.” But the ruling parties and their allies ended up accusing Ban of interfering on behalf of the Maoists any way. UN spokesperson Michele Montas rebutted that charge after UNMIN chief Karin Landgren avoided the media.
Both ladies had to do what they did. The UN is less interested in salvaging the Maoists. It needs to save its face. The Indians and the Chinese want to bloody the world body’s nose so red that it would never think of returning to the region in any shape or form. Clearly, New Delhi’s and Beijing’s original joint effort was to keep extra-regional forces out of Nepal by giving them just enough space to stand still. But certainly they have been outsmarted.
Even before the pre-Olympics Free Tibet protests last year, the Chinese saw the UN missionaries as partners with the Indians in an effort to upset their soft underbelly. The Indians feel the UN is trying to position scoping missions on their soil well before New Delhi gets a veto on an expanded Security Council.
Beijing, moreover, is anxious to see New Delhi mount a full-blown offensive on the world organization for the wider fallout: scuttling India’s permanent membership bid. The Indians, who feel Nepal has slipped out of their hands – to borrow Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s words the other day – aren’t about to abandon their quest for great power status by appearing to take on Nepal and the international community at the same time.
Those closest to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal seem to have the clearest view of the opening here. Ever wondered why the premier’s official advisers are the most vociferous in their opposition to the continuation of UN Mission in Nepal? UNMIN chief Landgren, too, knows a thing or two about politics in conflict zones. (Her stints in Eritrea and Bosnia and Herzegovina must have come in particularly handy here.) She wants the parties to define the president’s powers, the widely acknowledged root of the current woes. But her advice comes at a time when some of those parties want the president to dissolve the constituent assembly and impose direct rule.
The Maoists reject the interference accusation, claiming the government’s opposition to Ban’s call is aimed at pleasing India. But at the corridors of UN headquarters in New York, we hear, the Indians are the most vocal in asserting Nepal’s sovereign rights. No matter how counterintuitive and convoluted things seem to be getting, you are forced to wonder this much. Having invested so much in Nepal, shouldn’t Ban be able to proffer a word or two without prompting the I insinuation?