Sunday, October 07, 2012

Perils Of Pressing The Cambodia Parallel

Cambodia has continued to fascinate Nepal’s political class ever since our Maoist rebels burst on to the scene in the mid-1990s. Over time, the South East Asian nation was increasingly cited as an example of how avowedly republican armed communists and the monarchy could coexist.
During the violent insurgency, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai regularly spoke of a Sihanouk-like role for the king in Nepal if the palace adopted pro-people policies.
A Nepali national serving as a senior officer with the United Nations Children Fund soon began recounting his experiences in Cambodia early in his career as the Khmer Rouge had rolled into Phnom Penh. After retiring from the UN, the gentleman returned to Kathmandu as a peacebuilder – donning the title ‘former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations’.
Our peace politics took a dramatic turn in the spring of 2006, sidelining and eventually abolishing the monarchy. Dr. Bhattarai still praised the Khmer Rouge and denounced all those allegations of crimes against humanity as nothing but western propaganda.
Six years later, as talk persists of how the Maoists and the monarchy may yet coexist on a platform of nationalism (with the mediation of the Chinese), we were justified in wondering how Cambodians saw developments in Nepal.
Well, Prime Minister Hun Sen gave us an inkling last week. Hitting out at UN human rights envoy Dr. Surya Subedi – without naming him – for writing ‘untrue’ reports about the Southeast Asian nation, Samdech Hun Sen said the envoy should worry about his homeland Nepal instead.
The author of the untrue writings was a national of a country that “has already abolished the monarchy” and “at this hour... has no constitution”, the Cambodian prime minister reminded graduating students in Phnom Penh.
In fairness, the UN assigned Dr. Subedi responsibility for Cambodia and he concluded, among other things, that Cambodian land disputes “indicate an increasingly desperate and
unhappy population”. Moreover, Dr. Subedi’s predecessor had resigned in 2009 amid a war of words with Phnom Penh.
Still the Oxford-educated legal scholar mounted a spirited defense of developments in Nepal. “Nepal has a liberal democracy where the judiciary is independent and people do not go to jail for criticizing the government,” Dr. Subedi said in a written response to Hun Sen’s comments.
“Nepal has a democratic interim constitution at the moment and people have been trying to write a new constitution with a view to strengthening democracy, human rights and rule of law. Both Cambodia and Nepal have gone through similar experience in the past and have a great deal to learn from each other,” he added.
Regardless of how the exchange plays out, Maila Baje thinks the episode suggests the wisdom of acknowledging the limits of the Cambodian parallel for Nepal. The Khmer Rouge waged war and rained devastation upon the Cambodians several times deadlier than what our Maoists did. Moreover, the Khmer Rouge did so while Mao Zedong was still alive and communism had not collapsed in the rest of the red world.
Our Maoists, for their part, espoused a discredited ideology only to overthrow the established order by exploiting and exacerbating local – and often contradictory – faultlines in what seems to be a sideshow to a larger geopolitical game.
Today, our Maoist luminaries are in power and enjoying pelf and privilege, while the Khmer Rouge leadership – at least the remnant that is still breathing – faces charges of genocide. (The UN acquitted its peace mission in Cambodia in the early 1990s impressively, while messing things up more in Nepal, but that is another story.)
Hun Sen, a junior functionary of the Khmer Rouge who was later purged and joined the Vietnamese-backed administration, reinvented himself as a democrat in a way no Nepali Maoist could ever hope to. Our dethroned monarch, far from hopping between Pyongyang and Beijing, walks among the people.
If anything, we would be served better by looking at our problems – and solutions – for what they are.