Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Amongst all the various changes that are taking shape in Nepal, mainstreaming the Maoists occupies the level most priority. The successful implementation of this initiative requires flexibility in modes of operation, in attitudes and most important of all, in the level-setting of expectations across the political spectrum.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, changes to Nepal’s political landscape require ownership by the Maoists, the SPA (and other political parties), civil society and the Nepali people-at-large, as victory in their own terms. For changes to be consolidated, they even require recognition from Nepal’s right-of-center that the attainment of lasting peace, is a “win” for their constituents as well.
Cementing victory in terms that are generally acceptable is where matters become tricky. Concessions to the Maoists have to be tailored to meet their leadership’s challenge of assuaging the Maoist cadre-base. Similarly, what the Maoists’ offer in return, must also qualify as substantive reciprocity for their dispensations to allay the concerns of political and apolitical actors in Nepal and abroad.
This is why rhetoric requires responsible moderation. Writing off inflammatory language as necessary to alleviate the concerns of one element is akin to condoning the escalation of counter-rhetoric for the sake of equilibrium.
It would be most unfortunate to equate the process of mainstreaming the Maoists with the act of defining the mainstream itself. The process will consist of steps required to achieve the goal; the goal’s definition, will be derived from public discourse – precisely why what leaders utter today, counts more than ever before.
During the run up to the constituent assembly, it is very important for the Maoists to publicly renounce violence and educate their cadre on the generally accepted version of liberal democracy. This is just as paramount as it is for advocates of a liberal democratic set-up in Nepal, to extend flexibility to the Maoist leadership’s plight.
It is also significant for the Maoist leadership to recognize that the onus of rectifying the over-inflated expectations they set for their cadre-base, is primarily theirs. The idea here is to mainstream not just the Maoist leaders and a segment of sympathetic elements, but the entire Maoist mass. The failure to achieve this tidal shift will have catastrophic consequences on the primary agenda at hand – sustainable peace.
Just as the state will gradually need to accept the notion of invoking the Maoists into the halls of power, the Maoists also have to accept the idea that their integration requires behavior befitting responsible statesmanship. Negotiating with the government on the one hand while feeding their cadre unrealistic aspirations on the other, is not helpful to anyone. Neither is issuing provocative statements against the state’s security forces that detract debate form substantive issues and drive divisive wedges amongst the SPA’s leadership.
While Nepal’s political elite have much to learn from their Maoist counterparts, the Maoist leadership also has much to learn from others. The first lesson for the Maoists should be the consequences of making empty promises, in favor of short-term political gain.
It is as crucial for the Maoist organization to remain intact as it is for the seven party alliance to hold; at least until an interim constitution is drafted and preparations are made for constituent assembly elections. This is in the best interest of all Nepalese, political and apolitical alike. The need for such continuity is what draws unwavering support from civil society leaders who advocate the Maoist position and tolerate inflammatory rhetoric as a necessary evil.
But the guarantee of an equitable and sustainable political solution depends as much on ferrying the Maoist agenda as it does on ensuring that every voice in Nepal has adequate political representation. This includes the right-of-center (without royal liability), the center, the left-of-center, the Maoist army (or militia) and members of the state’s security forces.
An agenda for peace that is premised on meeting unconditional demands from one party runs the risk of undermining the entire agenda, by de-facto exclusion. While the exhibition of willingness on the part of the Maoists (to enter the mainstream) is a realistic pre-condition to peace, it is also a concession that serves their legitimization just as much as it serves the national interest.
Ultimately, the measure of real concessions from all political actors will come in the form of moderate rhetoric, which by way of public record, will define the mainstream going into constituent assembly elections.
Monday, June 26, 2006
It would be an overstatement to say that it came as a surprise but it was enough to give any thinking person some jitters. The “champions of democracy” of Nepal, who legitimised themselves as supra constitutional and claim to hold the reigns of the country did not dare open their mouths when Prachanda, sitting in the country’s command station, slammed the system and vilified the army. Ironically this came at a time when Baluwatar is at its zenith of power. Finally after a week of silence the rebuff, which was long overdue, came from the army itself. But this time a senior minister in the government was quick to retort, accusing the army of trying to disrupt the peace talks !!
The politicians seem to have forgotten (if not foolishly undermined) the Army’s role in arriving at this point. No matter how hoarse they shout about the army’s role in suppressing “andolaan 06”, the fact remains that the army was the only institution that had the capability to counter the rebels, when the party cadres were being mercilessly killed throughout the last decade. And it was the only force that protected the party leaders for a decade, when they were holed up in Kathmandu.
The parties have always been suspicious of the army, mainly because the ghost of 1960 never ceased to haunt them. But history shows that the party leaders have been, by design or by virtue of naivety, terrible managers, especially when it comes to the armed forces. It is also a common knowledge that at many instances, irresponsible dealings and blatant political intrusions and pressures in the working affairs of the armed forces has invoked ire of the servicemen against the political leaders. One can always marvel at the folly of the leaders, never even to attempt to take the security forces in confidence.
The story starts in 1991 when Krishna Prasad Bhattarai headed the interim government and Yog Prasad Upadhyay was the Home Minister. The inability of the
Home Ministry to give orders to fire in defence to the police when attacked by unruly mob resulted in lynching of nine police personnel. The incident sparked a police revolt. Timely intervention by the palace and specific orders given to the “right persons” by Late King Birendra is said to have averted what could result into a major crisis. The incident was never reported to the public and in absence of vibrant media the story never leaked beyond certain circles.
Attempt at making the security forces, especially the police, answerable to the people never ensued. Rather the parties started taking key officers under their wings and using them for their political advantage. One of the more popular examples is the huge controversy regarding the appointments of Inspector General of Police, Achyut Krishna Kharel and Dhurva Bahadur Pradhan in 1997. A big fiasco was created when the new UML-RPP (Chand) government unceremoniously fired Kharel, who was considered close to the Congress party and appointed Dhurva Bahadur Pradhan instead. This incident is important to note, because it depicts the insecurity and the mistrust of the party politicians in the security institution.
Time and again some political parties, including the UML, had expressed reservations while the issue of bringing the army under the parliament was raised when Congress party had the full majority. Madhav Kumar Nepal has gone on record saying that he feared that the army would be dictated and operated by the majority party in the parliament and would be used to crush the oppositions. While parties themselves could never agree on the issue of bringing the army under the parliament, the politicians never ceased to vilify the army of being loyal to the palace and palace as not letting the parties work in this direction. One wonders whether they were always so keen on bringing the armed forces under the parliament. What had prevented them to pass a bill with the approval of 2/3 majority in the parliament at the time?
In 1998, Prime Minister Grija Prasad Koirala gave a go ahead to the infamous Kilo Serra I and II and Romeo operations, even though he was fully aware that the police force was not trained and equipped to handle insurgency. Although, Koirala supporters have attributed this decision to the “wish” (of Late King Birendra) not to unleash the army against its own people, there is little doubt that it was due to Koirala’s inability to trust the army. Even later, when the police operation spelled disaster, Koirala decided to create a new force rather then entrust the army with the job of fighting insurgents. Hence, the Armed Police Force (APF) was born.
The AFP was the baby of the Nepali Congress. Kum Bahadur Khadka, when home minister, was even accused of filling the rank and file of this new fighting force with his loyalists and supporters. But it did not take long before disenchantment grew in this new force against the government. The very ranks and file of the APF grew agitated because of corrupt practices of the Ministers, which resulted in risking the lives of the men fighting insurgents. After every big defeat of the APF, allegations of Ministers misappropriating the arms funds and political intrusion in decision making had surfaced. One of the more serious allegations that surfaced after an APF base in Satbariya, West Nepal was run over by the Maoists in April 2002 was that Home Minister, Khum Bahadur Khadka had forced them to rent the building he owned there, despite the officers’ repeated pleas, that the location was strategically vulnerable.
The story of now suspended APF chief Sahabir Thapa, shortly after the Satbariya incident, verbally abusing Khum Bahadur Khadka, in Nepalgunj airport in front of everyone and challenging Khadka to fire him if he could, is well known in security circles.
Only few months before the above-mentioned incident, the biggest controversy ever regarding the Army had occurred. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had resigned, openly accusing the army of not obeying his orders. The Maoists from Holleri, Rolpa had abducted 71 police personnel in July 2001 and according to news reports the government had decided to mobilize the army against the Maoists. Radio Nepal went on for several days blaring that the Army had surrounded the Maoists in Jungles around Budhagaon area and rumours started going around Kathmandu that hundreds of Maoists were killed. But nothing had happened. Later actual fact emerged. The army had surrounded the Maoists and taken position but never opened fire despite orders from the government. Army always took a stand that the orders did not come a) from the right quarters and b) in a written form.
Whereas doubts can also be raised at the army’s intention, it appears that the inability of Koirala to give orders through the right channels and his refusal to give a written command gave way to the incident. According to the 1990 Constitution, the army could function only when decisions of the Defence Council and the Cabinet was endorsed by the supreme commander of the army. Allegedly, Koirala never referred any documents regarding deploying the army to the King nor give any written orders to the Chief of Army Staff.
Whatever the case, Koirala rather than try to facilitate the correct procedure, chose to lash out at the army and the palace and then resigned. The political party circle then became rife with the rumour that the “Maoists was run by the palace to undermine democracy”.
The political parties always saw the security forces as threats. Even as they held the seats of power and even as hundreds of young security personnel lost their lives in defence of democracy and the very Constitution, the political parties drafted. The leaders could never treat the security forces as their own.
At present the parties argue that because of the army, the King could take power in 2005 But have they given a single moment of thought as to why the Nepal Police whom the very leaders had taken under their wings and their own baby, the APF were more than happy to lock them behind bars? Now even after they have deprived the monarchy of all powers and claim total legitimacy and claim to have brought the army under parliament, why do they still accuse the army of doing things that the government disapproves?
If the army is under the parliament and under the command of the government, isn’t it the government’s responsibility to refute any unfounded allegations made by the rebels ? If the government had issued a statement as soon as Prachanda made the allegations would there be any need for the army to say anything? How can allegations of a rebel leader, who still commands a militia force fighting the State, not be rebuffed ? Have the political parties given the decision of running a country to Prachanda, so that he can decide on the number of armed forces of the country?
If Nepal had only 20,000 troops as suggested by Prachanda then do the political parties think that they would still be making deals with the Maoists today? Would the people be “democratically” protesting in the street fighting autocracy? Would the Maoists ever agree to come up in democratic set up of governance?
The present government has already made a mistake by directing the Army to drop fresh recruitments and cancel its arms orders, even as the Maoists are on a "donation" drive and abduction spree. The Government has already started efforts to leash the military and release the jailed rebels, while getting nothing in return except promises from the Maoists. True Prachanda came out in the open for the first time and expressed his commitments but no confidence building measures has been taken from the Maoists so far.
Another mistake of the government has been to let the rebel leader vilify the army openly. This is alienating the army, which has promised to remain under the jurisdiction of parliament. It was this inaction of the government that forced the army to make a statement for its own defence. Yet another blunder has been to accuse the army of trying to disrupt the on-going talks. True, a ray of hope for peace exists but have the leaders thought what will happen if the talks fail and armed attacks resumes? By criticizing the army, even after the State authority is completely under the parliament and the cabinet, the government is not doing anything more than advertising its own myopia, incompetence and folly.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Last week, the top 2 Maoist strongmen, Pushpa Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai, emerged triumphantly from a day of negotiations with SPA leaders. An 8-point agreement was declared that effectively placed a stamp of approval on 12 years of methodical murder, political cleansing and intolerance for anything that remotely resembles western-style, liberal democracy.
It was in the presence of thunderous applause that Nepal’s elected leaders traded their position of electoral legitimacy (and any remaining notion of liberty), in a desperate bid for peace - the attainment of which ironically, is now perceived as part of the Maoist agenda.
Among the first to enthusiastically laud the Nepalese Maoists’ victory, have been India’s leftist parties. These groups appear eager to omit the recent past of violence and bloodshed by focusing solely on their Nepali brethren’s “last mile” to power. India’s political left is keen on leveraging the Nepali Maoists’ as an example that political power need not “flow from the barrel of a gun.”
To the contrary, if Nepal’s Maoist movement serves any example at all, it shows that violent rebellion can succeed and that political power can “flow from the barrel of a gun.” In fact, the success of the Maoist insurrection categorically demonstrates how the consistent application (and now the threat) of force can ultimately be justified as a necessary evil to achieve power and make a complete mockery of democratic processes.
Far from being a lesson on how entering mainstream politics can benefit the Naxalite movement, Nepal’s Maoist insurgency is a potent exhibition of how the mobilization of frustrated civil society elements, ideologically imprisoned intellectual capital and like-minded global elements can yield a position of strength from which to dictate terms.
The victory of Nepal’s Maoist insurgency could well be the 21st century’s first successful example of how societal tensions and inequities may be effectively exploited, to the ultimate benefit of a protracted armed campaign (launched behind the façade of progressive politics).
To term the recent exchange between the Maoist and SPA leaders as “negotiations” would be a generous stretch of the imagination. Based on available information, what transpired between the Maoists and the SPA reads more like the state’s admission of defeat than a process of substantive give and take. The level of sophistication and finesse with which the Maoists have forwarded their agenda finds no intellectual counter-weight from either the political class or civil society in Nepal – clearly, not a sign of healthy competitive politics to come.
Moving forward, the Maoist strategy appears to be based on three tactical pillars: their ascendancy to power through key positions (ministry of education, local development, land reform and agriculture), the forwarding of peace as a Maoist initiative, and the dismantling of the only effective deterrent to their final victory – the state’s military apparatus.
Collectively, these elements could result in the unchallenged consolidation of overwhelming Maoist support, right before the constituent assembly convenes. From an election standpoint, such planning is brilliant. But given where the country currently is, Maoist maneuverings may also be interpreted as continued and shameless exploitation of exceptionally delicate circumstances.
The Maoists seem to understand perfectly well, the fallacy of the political situation – the same forces wed to the Maoists by the 12-point agreement are expected to run the country and simultaneously, compete for seats in the upcoming constituent assembly. Given this glaring contradiction, it is the Maoists who are best positioned to be in full swing campaign mode. Not surprisingly, the SPA is way behind the 8 ball – again.
That the Maoist strongman was visibly perturbed by the resurrected parliament’s adoption of radical reforms was evident during his interview on Kantipur television. Hence, this government’s haste to dissolve the parliament – the same parliament that only days before, the leader of the mainstream communists (the UML), had strong reservations over dismantling. More likely than not, this government will eventually yield to the Maoists, the most coveted ministerial portfolios that could be had during the run up to elections. This concession, at a juncture when the country’s future political outlook is up for grabs.
With the utility of riding (solely) on popular dissatisfaction with the King on the decline, the Maoist leadership has shifted its focus to harnessing Nepal’s thirst for peace. It is because the Maoists’ have swept yet another initiative from under the SPA’s “rug,” that the majority of SPA leaders are left with no room to maneuver.
The same is true of a minority civil society element that believes in rational thought. Who in their right state of mind would question the Maoists’ motive at the risk of being branded a “war monger” or a “royalist?” Moreover, who would dare risk the prospect of peace and their lives, given the established precedent of repercussions for opposing the Maoists publicly? The former president and vice-president of the Maoist Victims’ Association could probably have expanded on this point a little better, god bless their souls.
Why else would silence prevail when Pushpa Dahal instigates the state’s security forces, claiming that they have exhibited proficiency in one thing alone – killing fellow Nepalis? Why do Nepal’s otherwise proficient intellectuals and capable leaders remain unperturbed at the thought of holding elections to a constituent assembly with an armed political competitor? Where are all the advocates and activists who battled so vehemently against the king, when the notion of liberal democracy that guided their recent struggle, is under threat once more?
The perversion of this situation is that Pushpa Dahal has no one to thank more than King Gyanendra himself. For had it not been for February-1, there would be no 12-point agreement, no 8-point understanding and no systematic erosion of the palace’s most potent utility – as an effective ideological counterweight to leftist extremism in Nepal.
As convoluted as this line of reasoning may be, it is on par with Pushpa Dahal’s (otherwise plausible) assertion that a country like Nepal does not need a standing army of 90,000, that both the state’s army and the Maoist army should be dissolved and that elections are possible under a security blanket provided jointly by the police and Maoist militia.
The probability of Pushpa Dahal praising the king for sacrificing the monarchy (in exchange for peace), is as high as the probability of his acknowledgement that the justification for the 90,000 strong army was the armed insurrection that Mr. Dahal himself, chose to wage. After all, his army is no less proficient at killing Nepalis in “human waves” and his militia is even better at slitting journalists’ throats’, bleeding political opponents to death and blowing up busses full of innocent civilians.
Most troubling isn’t Mr. Dahal’s lack of self-admission, but the complete absence of logical “Q&A” coming from the ranks of the political elite, civil society and the international community. There’s a reason why the Maoists are intent on mobilizing their militia – it’s because there’s no distinction between the Maoist army and their militia; there’s a reason why the Maoists are so keen on involving the UN – it’s because they know that effective arms management and decommissioning can only be had in view of real consequences (i.e. Indian Gorkha operations in Nepal).
One can absorb the rationale the Maoists are applying because given the position they’re in, there’s no way to decipher truth from propaganda or reality from perception. There should be no conditionality on giving the Maoists-at-large, the benefit of the doubt, for the desire to live in peace must be universal.
However, taking confidence-building steps is distinct from offering the Maoists’ a free-for-all opportunity to hold the state hostage, using the prospect of peace as a bargaining chip. Offering the Maoist leadership the luxury of overnight celebrity status is an insult to each and every victim of Maoist atrocities, their families and the families of hundreds of thousands of Nepalis that have suffered to pave the way for a handful of ultras to hold the reins of state power.
The only way to understand the Maoists’ intent with certainty, is to ask them (and their representatives in Washington DC, Brussels and London), piercing questions in public. Questions, similar to those fielded by leaders in democratic societies the world over. The time to test the water is now. Not tomorrow, not after constituent assembly elections, but now.
It’s time for Nepal’s political masters (especially the Nepali Congress) to re-mobilize its global resource base, from New York to Washington, from London to New Delhi. For tyranny comes in many forms and must be checked every single time – not just when it irks misguided, class or caste-based pride.
With all the exchanges taking place in Nepal, there’s just one thing to say: trading “apples” for “apples” would be optimal. Even trading “apples” for “oranges” is acceptable. But trading “apples” for “orange peels” just isn’t smart and pretending that “orange peels” is better than nothing at all, is plain and simple stupid.
Retired Indian Army General Ashok Mehta has been a consistent commentator on Nepal. As a former Indian Army officer, he is widely published on matters that pertain to Indian security interests. The relevance of his writings on Nepal however, derive more from having commanded the Indian Army’s Gurkha brigades than from substantive exposure to Nepal’s own military assets (and national interests).
While General Mehta’s book, “The Royal Nepal Army: Meeting the Maoist Challenge” is a mediocre work of tailored facts and figures (many of them inaccurate and out of context), it’s his recent views on Nepal’s road to peace, that are significantly more thought-provoking.
The eight-point agreement between Nepal’s government and its Maoist outfit includes a stated desire to solicit assistance from the UN to help Nepal’s peace process. Although the particulars are ambiguous at this time, the desired role for the UN extends to managing arms and thus factors directly into enforcing peace, in general.
Although UN participation is being enthusiastically sought by many in Nepal (and elements in the UN organization itself), the modal requisites of such involvement will not offer immediate results. Needless to say, the UN’s own record of performance in peace making (and consolidation) is shabby at best. The UN’s DPKO has demonstrated capabilities in peace keeping, which entails the maintenance of peace. But as a general trend, successful UN operations have tended to come mostly on the heels of successful, external military operations by third parties that first “make” the peace.
This is a critical point of distinction for Nepal, because the nature of assistance sought from the UN will be an indication of where the Maoists, SPA and Civil Society believe the country stands – at a point where peace has been achieved and only requires continuity or at a point where peace has been initiated, but requires further consolidation and vigilant enforcement. It appears the former may be the case, but there is a very fine line of perception, that distinguishes the two scenarios.
This point of distinction may provide one layer of rationale for General Metha’s insinuation that if agreeable to Nepal’s government and the Maoists, India could operate under the auspices of the UN, to assist in arms management in Nepal. This proposition acknowledges the threat of force as a necessary precondition to consolidate peace. It offers a realist view that inventorying arms and combatants is an insufficient deterrent to the likelihood of the resumption of violence, which at least for now, seems increasingly unlikely.
General Mehta’s “offer” may also be reflective of the heightened concerns felt by the Indian security establishment, at the rate of unreciprocated concessions made to Nepal’s Maoists. This sets a rather alarming precedent for dealing with India’s growing Naxalite movement that has obvious fraternal ties through CCOMPOSA and RIM, to Nepal’s Maoists.
Having actively enforced the assumption that the power void resulting from a decimation of the Palace could easily be filled by the SPA (who could then offer peace to the Nepali Maoists on their own terms), the features of an emerging, but unexpected outcome seem to have caught India’s foreign policy hawks off guard.
Thus, General Mehta’s proposal could offer room for Indian Gurkha peace keeping operations in Nepal, under the broader UN umbrella. The 60,000 strong force could serve as a reasonable complement to any UN mission because by and large, the Indian Gurkhas consists almost entirely of Nepali citizens for whom the attainment of peace in Nepal, is a logical priority.
The Gurkha troops have no linguistic barriers (which reduces communication challenges) and they have allegiance neither to the Maoists, nor Nepal’s government. And, if mandated under the UN, the Gurkhas’ operational capabilities would be constrained by UN rules and regulations, which would directly reflect mutually agreed upon parameters between the Nepali government, the Maoists and the UN. Further, the designation of a member of the Janajati community as the UN’s force commander for Nepal, should be a fitting complement to what the emerging Nepal should look like.
Form the UN’s perspective, a “donor” force of 60,000 Indian Gurkhas would be a budgetary blessing. India has already received praise from the Maoists’ for cementing the 12-point agreement, has received thanks from the SPA for Sitaram Yechuri’s advocacy and has gained the trust of Nepal’s civil society for having morally (and financially) buttressed the nation-wide uprisings that ended the February-1 affair. In the eyes of the world, such adulation speaks highly for India’s coveted role as a regional power and its goal to eventually become a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council.
Supplementing India’s Mashall plan for Nepal with additional funds to guarantee the enforcement of peace (through a large and capable peace-making, keeping and consolidating force), should not be cause for alarm for any peace-loving party in Nepal – not the Maoists, not civil society, not the military and certainly not the SPA.
To keep fooling ourselves that a “solution to the political problem will be found from within the country” is an insult to collective Nepali intellect – who are our leaders kidding by pretending that were it not for external Indian assistance, the SPA alliance would still be talking about “regression” and the Maoists would be busy playing the parties against the Palace? If Nepal’s leaders can accept development and budgetary aid from India with open arms, they should have no reservations accepting aid aimed at consolidating peace, either.
Although official statements from major powers on the eight-point agreement (between the Nepali government and the Maoists) have not yet emerged, it may be safe to assume that where Nepal is concerned, India is likely to continue its policy of employing unofficial channels like Sitaram Yechuri and now, Ashok Mehta. This is an approach that acknowledges limited liability for the South Block and also pays heed to the complex role that India plays in the Nepali psyche.
For General Mehta’s suggestion to materialize, there are practical considerations to be had on both sides of the fence – the Indian public has to remain convinced that involvement in Nepal will not be a repetition of India’s experience in Sri Lanka. Nepalis on the other hand, will have to become resigned to the idea that moving forward, by virtue of India’s economic and power projection capabilities, Nepal will remain a de-facto extension of the Republic of India.
Now, coming to terms with this realization, would really qualify as an historic event for all Nepalis, at home and abroad!
Saturday, June 17, 2006
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
-The Great Gatsby
Nepal, like Gatsby, must feel a bit like the lead in the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Such extraordinary hope, even as days pass, so much drift back to the discredited utopian solutions of the past century.
“But you can’t relive the past,” exclaimed Nick Carraway one day to Gatsby. “Oh, but you can, old sport,” said Gatsby. And in the book, he ends up floating dead in his pool, a bullet in his back.
In the Eight Point Agreement we see an agreement that the Maoists feel can be exploited to give them power. Power will be divided in ways they are unwilling to put on the table, precisely because they have been shown, time and again, universally, to lead to tragedy.
If you understand "democracy" in Iran, you have a good idea of what the Maoists mean by the term. Only the correct people get to run, so the correct people win, so the correct outcome is assured, thus the will of the people has triumphed.
At heart, the bedrock for Maoist thought is dividing the world into groups. This is clearly visible in the interviews which Maoist luminaries have been giving fast and furious. They ascribe motives, actions, and outcomes not to individuals but to "sectors."
Thus "(R)NA" consists of an officer corps not of individual, thinking persons but of a mass that mindlessly marches to the dictates of the palace. Likewise, democratic politicians, to the Maoists, represent no one, because democracy of the "secret ballot" type is only a facade behind which slavery continues. Marx called democratic capitalism the most perfect form of slavery ever devised, because it creates false consciousness -- the slaves think they are free, they think they have choice.
Therefore, in the Marxist-Leninist world, only with the ouster of the old-order, ancien regime, can man be free. What the Maoists mean is that the "structure of oppression" must end. Thus their conception of "democracy" or even "equality" are not ours.
In point of fact, they are not sure what they mean. In proceeding, they are first and foremost typical Nepali politicians, in that their strategic plan is simple: "give us power, and then things will be better."
All the parties of Nepal function that way. None have actual platforms that can be implemented.
What is decidedly dangerous is that this political trait is accompanied by a second, also shared by all parties: a position is legitimate simply because it has been advanced. Simply observe Kathmandu traffic, and you understand.
As traffic backs up, vehicles invariably move out into the opposing lane. They are clearly in the wrong, especially the motorcycles on the sidewalks.
Yet having established position, the interlopers claim legitimacy. Should anyone have the unmitigated gall to collide with them -- which is inevitable, since they are now in the wrong lane -- conflict results.
The willingness to defend to the last Nepali perfectly illogical position once claimed may make splendid Gurkhas, but it makes for horrid politics, all the more so when the perpetrators, like the Maoists, are armed.
To the above two traits, let us add the third, a corker in the case at hand: the realities of personality. Koirala, for instance, is in such poor health it's problematic he will be able to see this business through. Opposite him, the top two Maoists are arguably, clinically paranoid types.
As for the NC ally, the UML, it is headed by a radical wannabe, who can't get himself to rise above his leftwing claptrap to statesmanship. Each time circumstances call for rational, reasoned discourse, he takes the low road, as though compelled to descend to nastiness, simply because no one else has reached that spot for the moment.
As if this were not enough, all major figures of all parties are surrounded by what amount to male groupies. Even when they disagree, they say nothing, because to do so would be to lose their place in the que.
These are not exactly promising midwives for the birth of a new Nepali world.
It is the Maoists who are the most dangerous, because they have come to believe their radical, left-wing drivel. What to think of people who make school children begin the day by "praying" to the martyrs of the revolution? Who themselves make saints of bearded, dead white guys (and one very evil, disgusting Chinese fellow)?
Still, such actions should surprise no one. The fourth element in the equation is that Nepal has always been a society shaped by the hardball nature of the struggle for existence. The zero-sum existence is much like that in the colonial Massachusetts in America that produced the Salem witch trials of Daniel Day-Lewis and “The Crucible.”
As a wag might put it, seldom does good come from believing in witches and goblins, and fervently proclaiming that UFOs and aliens are real makes for deadly courses of action when lunacy becomes social policy. We seem to have all too few prepared to grapple with Maoist ideology on its demerits.
In Nepal, it was only a matter of time before the witch-hunters, the Maoists, found their demons and convinced a mass base that exorcism would deliver to them Paradise. What they have in mind, then, is not pretty -- if you are a rational individual.
So are the Maoists irrational? Not at all. Bin Laden, to cite an analogy, is perfectly rational within his framework of logic. It is his framework that is cracked.
There is a difficulty confronting the Maoists. The more people know about them, the less influence they have. Their way around this conundrum is classic Lenin. It is not a clash of ideas which is taking place -- it is a clash of rival mobilization efforts.
And in this, the Maoists are much ahead of the game.
Exhilaration is probably the term that best describes the emotion evoked when listening to emerging leaders espouse progressive ideas of radical change. For the younger generation, this is the norm, the trend and the source of all hope that credible, noteworthy leadership will one day rise to the challenge of propelling Nepal into the 21st century.
By contrast, observing a 78 year old veteran of Nepali politics deliver an unflinching, hour-long account of over 50 years of historical context, of career highs and lows, and of experience-laden perspectives, was at once a deeply humbling and inspirational exercise. Former Prime Minster Surya Bahadur Thapa’s public address (at an event sponsored by the ANA in Washington D.C.), was such an experience.
The actual date on which Mr. Thapa spoke, was itself symbolic. The 29th of May in the United States, is Memorial Day – a public holiday dedicated to American sons and daughters, who sacrificed their lives to guarantee the uninterrupted progression of freedom and liberty for their fellow countrymen and beyond.
This symbolic backdrop evoked deep melancholy when transposed against the 21 plus 13 thousand lives that have been sacrificed in Nepal over the last decade. Such an enormous sacrifice because one group of Nepalis failed in their attempts at nurturing and expanding the freedoms they earned while other groups preyed on the resulting public disillusionment, systematically dismantling what little had been built.
Mr. Thapa’s oration of the Nepali state’s struggle to consolidate meaningful democracy, to foster disproportionate empowerment of the most underprivileged in society, and his account of the challenges that lie ahead were comprehensive.
Former PM Thapa spoke at length on the need to transition the reins of political leadership to the new generation. Although overdue, his acknowledgement is prophetic in comparison to the demonstrated mentality of his peer group. Mr. Thapa’s recognition of the frustrations borne by Nepal’s emerging leaders and the need to alleviate such disgruntlement through an accelerated leadership transition, is farsighted indeed.
The majority of questions emanating from the audience pertained to the issue of recently initiated dialogue with the Maoists. In response, the veteran politician painted a holistic picture that placed full confidence in the ability of the current leadership to accommodate the Maoists’ transition into the political mainstream.
The former PM demonstrated in-depth knowledge of both the facilitating elements as well as the realistic considerations that could inhibit the desired outcome of negotiations. His measured optimism was cognizant of the fragility of the negotiations and yet, confident in the state’s capacity to successfully navigate any and all potential obstacles. Mr. Thapa’s assignment of the benefit of the doubt to the Maoist camp speaks both to the changed political attitudes in Nepal and also to the elevated responsibility the Maoist leadership bears for the eventual outcome of on-going negotiations.
On questions regarding the royal institution, Mr. Thapa’s views were clear – the decision on the form and continuity of the royal tradition rests firmly on the will of the Nepali population-at-large. Resolution on this issue amongst others, will be had through deliberations held via the Constituent Assembly.
Rather than beating a dead horse on the relevance of the monarchy, Mr. Thapa’s discourse alluded to the greater issue of rehabilitating a significant and resourceful constituency, affiliated through tradition and politics with the royal palace. His implication was that channeling resources and energy to constructive ends is inherently more valuable than intentionally alienating an organized and still influential electorate.
This is the type of insight that comes from one source and one source alone – years of experience at navigating political minefields. At a time when his contemporaries are occupied with addressing immediate demands from the street, Mr. Thapa distinguishes himself as an individual occupied with mitigating potential risks, well into the future. Such perceptive vision is perhaps what has enabled a man of 78 years to seamlessly transition from one system to another – his ability to embrace the politics of the future and adapt to changed realities with graciousness and political rectitude.
Former PM Surya B. Thapa is a survivor of Nepali politics. He represents a unique breed of politicians who saw a future in democratic governance, even while serving in a system of highly centralized authority. The state-led persecution Mr. Thapa endured for attempting to liberalize the Panchayat structure from within the system (and more importantly, within Nepal’s boundaries), is a telling tale of unwavering conviction.
Given the complexity and volatility of the situation in Nepal, the opportunity to hear first-hand on the state of affairs from a veteran Nepali politician was a real treat. Much thanks goes to organizers from the ANA and all affiliated parties for making the interaction session possible. Even more thanks goes to former PM Surya B. Thapa who after three kings, two political systems and fives times as the Prime Minister of Nepal, is still going strong!!
There are certain features of effective management that apply irrespective of organization or context. The minutiae varies on a case-by-case basis, but the overarching rationale does not. Whether expressed as metrics, development indicators or risk management techniques, the successful institution of performance measures facilitates a critical operational function – expectation setting.
Nepal’s resurrected parliament must complement its stipulated objectives with milestones, targets, timelines and comprehensive roadmaps that outline both costs and benefits. In other words, the overarching goal should be heightened public awareness that sets a precedent of informed decision-making through the consumption of accurate and timely information.
Balancing the alleviation of anger from the street with discrete, achievable objectives is not an easy task. The recently initiated peace talks append another dimension of complexity that requires careful maneuvering. With an indeterminate time-frame of reference and a mandate partially derived from a constitution that is practically nullified, the current government is challenged with placating the general public, an irate civil society, an armed insurgent group and its own constituent parties. In the meantime, the government must also continue to deliver on a full range of governance functions that includes the maintenance of law and order.
Much like a private enterprise undergoing an organizational overhaul, the measure of success for this government will be the rate at which it meets the expectations to which its mandate is inextricably tied. This is all the more reason for the present House to expediently move beyond its “quick wins” and serve a strategic platform that addresses the state’s underlying deficiencies in a structured, visible and measurable capacity.
For example, the declaration of a secular state could have fared better with full disclosure in terms, acceptable to both the Hindu majority as well the multitude of religious ethnicities. For what reason was the secularization of Nepal a priority? Was the move designed to demonstrate that armed insurrection need not be a requisite to progressive change? Was it enacted to emancipate downtrodden constituencies and enhance social equality? Was it a symbolic extension of the roadmap to permanently disempower the status of the royal institution? Was it all of the above?
Having declared Nepal a secular state, what are the practical implications of this change? Is the list of public holidays to be expanded to include Ramadan and Christmas? Will Hindu holidays be limited to include only Dashain and Tihar? Will law dictate a holiday scheme that permits a fixed number of days off, irrespective of religions affiliation? What is the timeline for such changes to go into effect?
A similar line of reasoning applies to the disassociation of the term “royal” from the military. Is a name-change where the intended reform ends or is the cosmetic change to be supplemented by a systematic revitalization of the military? If the latter, what are the concrete steps, and how and when will they be implemented? What measures are the political elite taking to accommodate and wield the military as a legally sanctioned instrument of state power?
On the topic of setting expectations, now is as good a time as any, to preemptively address the inevitable increase in fuel prices. The past witnessed attempts at winning political favor by artificially deflating the price of fuel. Funds to be spent on repairing vandalized infrastructure could be saved by outlining the rationale behind why national fuel prices must mirror world prices. A simple yet apt explanation of the magnitude and timing of what is sure to come, could alleviate politically motivated civil unrest.
The rationale presented above applies equally to the on-going negotiations with the Maoists, elections to a constituent assembly, the plight of Bhutanese refugees and issues of ethnic discrimination. Surely, this government is cognizant of the varied social and political agendas from which it derives its legitimacy.
Empowering people through accurate and timely information is crucial to democratic governance and to the perceived success of this resurrected parliament. The more information that is shared with the public on what is realistically possible (versus ideally attainable), in what time-frame and through what mode of operation, the more measured public frustration is likely to be.
Given the context of recent political transformations, the sympathy of the population-at-large will likely remain with this government for some time, but not indefinitely. The unique circumstances under which this government is operating provides both extraordinary challenges and opportunities. Success in managing the risks against the rewards requires visionary planning, timely execution and above all, a consistent public message that unambiguously depicts the possible, the probable, the “why?” the “how?” and the “when?”
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