Monday, December 31, 2007
The latest display of nationalism, or at least a variation of it, which I saw recently came about in rather an ironic fashion. An Indian Policeman from Darjeeling won the “Indian Idol” song competition and Nepalis went wild with pride and joy. This is not to take anything away from Prashant. A clean cut young man, who probably looks more “Nepali” than you or me, he has a beautiful voice and sings Nepali songs from the heart. The irony, obviously, is that the latest show of Nepali nationalism can be attributed to the musical talents of an Indian policeman. Where then are our Nepali icons and idols?
Nationalism is defined as “Patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts; policy of national independence” by the Oxford English Dictionary. In today’s Nepal, nationalism means different things to different people. It is a concept either mutated for political convenience or, more often, ignored altogether. What makes us proud to be a Nepali and how do we express this pride? Certainly it is foolish to be proud of our current development status, economic or political. So we need to look elsewhere to fan the sparks that can ignite the flames of our patriotism. History is an obvious area, but there are other not so obvious areas which can provide us with these sparks too.
While it has become recent fashion to debase our history for political reasons, we cannot ignore our glorious history. During the last truly national war, Balbhadra Kunwar displayed his bravery at Kalapani earning the respect of his British adversaries; the names of Kazi Amar Singh Thapa and Bhakti Thapa also shine on from that war. Bahadur Shah’s consolidation of his brother’s work in forming Nepal is a lasting legacy. The great poet laureate Bhanubhakta Acharya; the literary giants Lekh Nath Poudyal and Laxmi Prasad Devkota; more recently, Kazi Sherpa, mountaineer supreme who has climbed Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) more times than any other human – these names and many others adorn our history. And the name that reigns above all is one Pritihivi Narayan Shah, who founded Nepal by means of his leadership and military genius and with the gallant support of his army, composed, it might be noted, not only of chhetris but numerous other hill tribes. This is the same Pritihivi Narayan Shah whose remembrance day, a national holiday, was ignored last year so fickly by an unelected interim government. The same individual without whose deeds, none of us would be Nepalis today. Alas, nationalism is but a pawn these days of power grabbing politicians.
Besides history, we must be proud of our country’s natural beauty. Agreed hungry stomachs cannot appreciate nature’s bounty; but that’s another issue, already mentioned above. We live in the shadow of the great Sagarmatha. Our rivers rush down from the Himalayas in torrents of silver streaks. The beauty of Nepal draws tourists from all over the world making it one of the prime trekking and mountaineering destinations. The artistry of our temples awe all. Not least, the gentle hospitality of the Nepali people is appreciated by the world. Given the events of the past 11 years, all of this may sound maudlin and laughable. But if we are to recover from these gory 11 years, these items of pride are the very instruments which will aid the recovery.
We do seem to have very little to be proud of today, in these times of lack of law and order, rabid corruption and the hawking of our sovereignty to foreigners. But the trick is to rise above our condition and to act with vision and courage for a better future, one that we can be truly proud of. This effort, in itself, is Nationalism. We must not forget that we are a proud people never subjugated to colonialism, That we are Nepalis first, seconding our ethnicity for the greater good. This is not a dreamer’s wish. If we are to survive as a nation, we must all be Nepalis first. We can safeguard our ethnic heritage, but never forget that we are first and foremost Nepalis. We need to inculcate in ourselves discipline and fairness. For example, Switzerland has 10 times the number of vehicles as compared to Nepal, in an area less than 30% of Nepal’s. Yet the chaotic traffic that we see here is unheard of there. The simple reason being that all drivers know traffic rules and follow them strictly. Obviously we need to raise ourselves from the mire of poverty. Hopefully, a stable legitimate government will soon be in place which will concentrate on development as opposed to staying in power. Well, we can always hope!
Sports is one area in which Nepalis are doing well while much more still needs to be done. The haul of tae-kwon-do medals garnered by our athletes in international competitions is something to be truly proud of. A gold medal Olympian would coalesce the nation in a show of real nationalism. Beijing beckons. Our film industry has not risen to the challenge of nationalism. A recent Indian film “Chak De India” (we seem to be looking south for all our examples, but that, in itself, is no sin) made Indians proud of their nationality. Why not have a film that inspires Nepali nationalism, which could also be commercially successful at the same time? The theater arts and music also bend well to inspiring nationalism. I remember vividly Ganesh Rasik’s song of the 1960’s with lyrics dripping with nationalistic fervour - “Hati hoena dati ladne Nepali ko bani huncha/Kahiley najhukne seer utheko swavimani Nepali huncha….” We must use lines like these to motivate us, to work harder, to be proud of being Nepali.
Prashant Tamang is a gifted singer who sings also in Nepali with brilliance. Our nationalism however must be stirred by stronger stuff - true pride, made in Nepal. We have much to be proud of if we can only shake off the lack of confidence our economic condition bestows on us. We are indeed a poor country. We must strive for progress. Meanwhile, let each of us do his or her part in making us proud of being a Nepali. Let us never lose our self-respect. Thank you, Prashant, for giving us a glimmer of nationalism. But now we want to do it our own way – the Nepali way!
Smoke and Mirrors - Why Nepal's Constituent Assembly Elections Won't Happen in April 2008
High On Oxygen
Betrayed Beyond Belief
Sovereignty Should Lie With the People - But It Lies With the Parties and the Maoists
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The need to re-assert Nepal's national interests in unambiguous terms, is immediate. For a "New Nepal" a "new" set of basic motivations are desperately needed to spur debate on what is (versus what is not) in the interest of the Nepali state and her people.
This writing marks the commencement of a "name and shame" campaign to force Nepali politicians to reverse the current priority of "me," "my party" and "my nation" to a viewpoint that defines Nepal's national interest and pursues its implementation relentlessly.
In order to identify a yardstick against which performance may be measured, behaviors that ARE NOT in Nepal's interest may be exemplified. Outlined below are documented activities (ideas) that have undermined the image of Nepal and Nepalis - condemnable activities that should not be tolerated in the "New Nepal."
No more Indian communists in Nepal's parliament. When it comes to Nepal's national interest, the "New Nepal" got off on the wrong foot. An Indian communist (Sitaram Yechuri) presiding as the chief guest during the inaugural session of Nepal's post-Gyanendra parliament was a disgrace to the Nepali psyche. Two years on, Yechuri's dream of mainstreamed Nepali Maoists serving as a model for Indian Naxalites sounds like a bad joke. A interim Nepali parliament that insists on Maoist decree over democratic mandate, is an even worse tale.
That Indian and Nepali interests do not align is not a panchayati myth; it is fact. The mention of Yechuri however, should not confuse anti-Indian sentiment with the pursuit of Nepal's national interest. Nor should excuses that portray anti-Indian sentiment as archaic, panchayati-era thinking be taken at face value. Determinations as to whether or not policies are in line with Nepal's national interest should be made on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, whatever is deemed to be in Nepal's interest should be pursued in an uncompromising manner, and without exception.
Nepali politicians who fail to act in Nepal's interest should move to India. The practice of Nepali politicians taking direction from their Indian counterparts on matters of sovereign Nepali interests, is unacceptable. It is bad enough that Nepali politicians are unable to articulate what Nepal's interests are without making allusions to either India, China or the United States of America. Worse still is leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Krishna Prasad Sitoula who consistently serve the Indian interest and simultaneously undermine Nepali dignity.
Political parties that feel the need to open satellite offices in India should contest in Indian elections. The Nepali Congress' decision to open a satellite office in New Delhi is confounding. Is it the NC or the Nepali Embassy that represents Nepal in India? Precisely what about the Nepali Congress (it's bahun dominated politics? it's undemocratic mechanics?) is it that leads the NC leadership to envision the NC as India's conduit into Nepal? Should the Maoists follow up by opening a satellite office in China? The sort of public subservience that the Nepali Congress displays towards India is precisely what undermines Nepal's sovereign interests.
Reliance on American policy to counter Maoist extremism must end. The change in American personalities (as opposed to American policy) has certain political elements reminiscing the days of Moriarty. Ironic as it may be, the former American ambassador probably did more for Nepal's sovereignty than Gyanendra, Girija and Madhav combined. Gone are the days of spoon feeding when Moriarty would do all the trash-talking on behalf of Nepal's cowards in parliament. The changed American stance truly forces Nepalis to take hold of their own destiny and fend for themselves. Whether Nepalis are able to consolidate and build upon the base that Moriarty left behind remains to be seen.
When it comes to their national interests, do either India, China or the US (or any other country for that matter), consider what might be best for Nepal? If the Dalai Lama was permitted to open an office in Nepal or if ULFA was given sanctuary in Nepal, would China or India care to ask Nepali politicians for their guidance and direction? If American intelligence estimated Bin Laden's location in a Saudi-sponsored madrasa (along the Indo-Nepal border), would the US pause to consult Nepal's politicians before taking unilateral action?
To cite recent history, when it served India's interest, Nepal's Maoists were provided sanctuary and exclusive access to Indian resources. Retired Indian Army General Ashok Mehta was RAW's designated chauffer to Baburm Bhattarai (and Suresh Ale Magar) during the signing of the 12 Point Agreement. Mehta served as Baburam's (and Ale Magar's) official tour guide at a time when official Indian policy identified Nepal's Maoists as "terrorists." Given changed circumstances and realities however, Ashok Mehta has ratcheted up his anti-Maoist rhetoric and has even suggested a limited Indian military incursion into Nepal.
The hypocrisy described above is what the pursuit of national interests is all about - dynamic responses to changed circumstances, using modified approaches. The example above should serve as a timely reminder on how India pursues her own national interests. And by extension, this example should also prompt Nepali leaders to first clarify what Nepal's interests are instead of relying on Indian, Chinese or American direction on sovereign issues that pertain to Nepal.
Credit must be given where it is due and on the topic of defending Nepal's national interests, the Maoists are the only party to have recognized the value and importance of this political theme. The manner in which Maoist leaders have attempted to create space for forces traditionally loyal to the Monarchy is politically masterful. Their intuition demonstrates superior knowledge of the construct of forces the NC and UML pitted against the Maoists' in combat. Moreover, the Maoists' rush to capture a politically (and economically) viable voter bank shows how reactionary and far behind Nepal's traditional "useful idiots" are.
Given the nature of the groups that have traditionally advocated Nepal's interest above all else, a merger of like minded forces to continue protecting and serving Nepal's interests cannot be ruled out. While Nepal's supposed democrats are left wondering when the nationalist train left the station, other forces are busy cementing relations that will define Nepal's interests moving forward.
However, an immediate alliance between nationalists that cross party boundaries, the Monarchists and the Maoists is hardly a done deal. The insurmountable damage that the Maoist insurgency has wreaked on Nepal's sovereignty, her identity and her once bourgeoning democratic politics is not easily negated. The Maoists thrive on conspiracy theories that portray their opponents as pawns of one external power or the other. It appears the Maoists' transition to civilization has provided them with a rude awakening that the Maoists' too have played their part as expendable puppets.
(Nepali) Congress At Crossroads
The Problem with Nepali Political Civil Society - The Leftist, the Cowards, and the Compromised
No Impunity for Civil Society Leaders: Nepalis are watching....
December 28th was another busy day for the unelected interim parliament of Nepal. With 3 dissenting votes, it approved the declaration of Nepal as a Federal Democratic Republic – to be “implemented” by a simple majority of the 601-member Constituent Assembly when elected by mid-April 2008. The declaration had been made public a couple of days earlier with the machination and blessings of the leaders of the three major political parties in Nepal.
International media, CNN and BBC in this case, have trumpeted the headlines “Nepal abolishes its 240 years old monarchy”, “Nepal ceases to be the last Hindu Kingdom in the world”, and so forth. The headlines, of course, ignore the “implementation” part of the parliamentary approval though it does appear inconspicuously in the body of the news stories. They do not question why the CA is needed if this parliament is going to do its work. For all purposes, the World woke up today to discover that in one fell swoop Nepal is now a republic. Voila!
I have always been under the impression that “democracy” is rule by the people (of the people, for the people – if you want the full American definition). I am bemused that a parliament which has not been elected, at the instigation of three political leaders – one an octogenarian with ambitions to be the first President of Nepal before it is too late; another a leftist politician who has hopes of somehow being the first Prime Minister of a republican Nepal; and the third whose political party is in government solely from the effects and future threats of its guns – has declared this country a republic without finding out what the Nepali Public wants.
Further, this declaration goes against the Comprehensive Peace Accord between the then government and the Maoists which clearly stated that the issue of republic versus monarchy would be decided by a two-thirds majority of the Constituent Assembly, when elected. Of course, the CA elections have been postponed first in June 2007, then in November 2007, and are now vaguely planned for April 2008. In short, the common Nepali in the street has never been asked whether he wants a republic or wants to maintain a constitutional or ceremonial monarchy. This “asking” is commonly known as a Referendum.
If Nepal is to be a modern multi-party DEMOCRACY, it is time for Nepalis who love this country to practice wisdom and rationality and take this declaration as a direct insult to their intelligence and basic human rights. If Jana Andolan I (1990) put an end to the Panchayat system and Jana Andolan II (2006) to an autocratic government, it may be opportune now for Jana Andolan III. This one will put an end to the high-handedness of an oligarchic government controlled by a triumvirate of power hungry politicians.
One might also ask what the Nepal Army is doing about this despotic declaration. The Chief of the NA has clearly stated that the NA will support democracy and the legitimate government of Nepal. It is time now to ponder on the legitimacy of an unelected government which seeks changes based on the agreement of three politicians and their mostly befuddled parties.
Half of the world’s population is below the age of 25. At a time when National Leaders all over the world are taking the helm of their countries while they are below the age of 50 – France’s President Sarkozy is a recent example – the youth of Nepal confine their involvement in politics to senseless “mobism”, indoctrination into obsolete political ideologies, or being the stooges of wily old politicians.
As per data from the “2006 Demographic and Health Survey – Nepal”, almost 40% of Nepal’s population is between the ages of 10 and 29. If ages 30 to 34, which really are young enough to be considered youths, are included, the figure rises to over 45%. The present political leaders have followed the near-sighted power-crazed policy of not grooming young political leaders. This is one reason why our political leadership is well beyond the range of what can be called youths. This alone however does not give almost half the population of Nepal under the age of 35 the excuse to sit quietly while the country is robbed of its right to Democracy. It is time Nepali youths use their education, nationalism and vision to speak out with firmness and non-violence. The country awaits you to lead Jana Andolan III!
Emulating a Singaporean Model -Overhauling the Leadership First
The "New Nepal" - The Maoist Way or the Highway?
Hedging Against Nepal's Leadership Crisis
Friday, December 28, 2007
United we stand, divided we fall. This aphorism is becoming salient to Nepal's current context. As the country deviates from the course of peace and prosperity while ethnic and political polarization widen, devastating consequences seem inevitable. But that need not be so, only if Nepal could discern a new linchpin.
Amongst the innumerable identities the Nepali State has acquired, "a nation of crabs" is perhaps the one that is least heard of. As the analogy goes, when crabs are placed even in an open basket, no crab is able escape to freedom. It is because of the crabs' innate tendency to pincer back anyone trying to make its way out. Eventually, every crab in the basket is doomed.
Although a majority of Nepalis have never seen a basket of crabs, Nepal is awash with examples of such crabby demeanour. This analogy is applicable at every level of the Nepali society. However, it is the political tussle that epitomizes the country's crabby characteristic. After more than a year of bickering and haggling, Nepal is back to square one. The political parties have wrangled so much that neither has a consensus emerged nor has the promised peace been palpable.
To make matters worse, the resignation tendered by a few Madheshi members of Parliament (MP) and a Madhesi minister from their respective positions portends further polarization. This incident has given a new twist to the current political gridlock because many believe that the Madheshi leaders are aligning to form a grand Madheshi party.
Given the apathy exhibited by the governing authorities towards the Madheshi grievances, unity along the ethnic lines were inevitable. It was just a matter of when.
But now as the speculation of a grand Madheshi party seems to be materializing, there is a growing hum of fear that such an ethno-political alliance will only exacerbate the already fragile political landscape. Many believe that such an ethno-political alliance will only widen the rift in both the political and societal spheres. Further, Hridayesh Tripathi's warning of a secessionist movement in Terai if the national army is mobilized to quell the Terai agitation, has only added to the tensions.
More ominously, the formation of ethnically homogeneous militant factions has surely increased the prospects of violence. The Madheshi groups have recently unveiled a militant wing named Madesh Raskhya Bahini (Madhesh Security Brigade). Likewise, Chure Vabar Ekta Samaj – a group that was formed to counter threats against people of hilly origin in the Terai region, has made its 100 manned army public. And with the formation of these two militant ethnic factions, it clearly appears that Nepal is headed for another bout of an even more intractable identity-based conflict.
Losing a linchpin
Since the birth of modern Nepal, the King and the institution of Monarchy had served as the linchpin. For more than two centuries, the institution not only served as a symbol of national unity but had managed to prevent any blown out ethnic or religious frays. For better or worse, the institution was reckoned as a bastion of national identity and many regarded it as the cohesive factor.
Today, however, Monarchy no longer serves that purpose. Following the February 1st takeover, intense opprobrium was heaped on the Monarch by the international brethren. And following the April uprising, the King and the institution of Monarchy have been ostracized by the political parties, and the media. As a consequence, the King has been turned into a bête noire, the Royalists have been depicted as outcasts, and the institution of Monarchy has become a taboo.
The damage the royal-bashing has inflicted upon the institution of monarchy, however, is of little significance when compared to the damage it has inflicted to the nation. With the removal and degradation of Monarchy as the symbol of national unity, Nepal has certainly lost the cohesiveness. But even more calamitous has been the inability to provide a substitute for the discarded linchpin. Because of this loss and the lack of a substitute, ethnic, political and individual zeal have quickly replaced that void. And the repercussions have been nothing but utterly polarizing and weakening the nation. And it has become increasingly evident that no single political force in the country possesses the capability of providing a sustainable solution to Nepal's woes. Neither has the alliance amongst the top political parties been adequate to deliver the desired progress.
The oxymoronic example of Girija P. Koirala adds more weight to the notion of a weakened nation. Although Koirala is touted as the most powerful prime minister in the history of Nepal, yet he is also the most impotent prime minister ever. First, his ill-health has confined him to the contours of his official residence. Injected with oxygen, he feebly delivers his edicts from his sick-bed. Second, during his reign, his authority has been hounded by more protests and agitations than ever recorded in Nepal's history. Third, under his commandership, the State's authority has critically eroded to a point that his government's writ barely operates in large swathes of the country, especially in the Terai region. Fourth, right under his nose, border encroachment is perilously rampant. But Koirala neither has the courage to confront the Indians over this issue nor does he have the capacity to prevent such encroachment.
Today, it has become apparent that there is absolutely no alternative to unity amongst all political forces in Nepal. The authority of state has weakened so much that any minor spoiler is capable of causing a major disturbance to the process. Hence, what is direly needed is a mother of all alliances - a grand alliance. Only such an alliance can salvage the country from total disintegration.
Unlike before, this new alliance should include all the major and minor political forces. It is not just the Royalists or Madhesis that need to be included in the process. Other regional groups and other political parties should be included as well. Inclusiveness, however, should not imply that each will acquire a prominent position. Rather, it is to ensure that even the minor players become stake-holders of the process.
Following the formation of the grand alliance, the primary objective should be to transform the conflict into a consensus. Only achieving a consensus is insufficient. What is required is a commitment from all in the alliance to collaborate and cooperate. And that commitment, cooperation and collaboration will require continuity. Any break will only mess things up.
Although it may sound flimsy and redundant, a consensus is certainly feasible. If all the squabbling factions were to start from the factor that unites rather than ones that divide, they would come to realize that a consensus can be engendered. A simple introspection into their respective positions and interests would reveal that the ultimate crystallizing element is the linchpin. And that linchpin is the idea of "for the better good of the country." Even if the hubristic ambitions of the leaders are factored into the equation, all protagonists in this process are nonetheless in the pursuit of the greater good of the country to a certain extent. The only varying factor is the approach to achieving that greater good. Since the primary objective is the same for all and only approaches vary, why not coalesce for the objective rather than remain divorced over the approach?
Nepal urgently needs "constructive engagement" rather than "cleansing confrontation." Instead of cleansing attempts - that are bound to lead to further conflicts, an inclusive approach would undoubtedly increase the prospects of yielding a sustainable solution. By trying to purge the Maoists, the nation has had to endure a decade long violent conflict. So, the possibility of similar conflicts cannot be denied if attempts are made to proscribe any political force from the process.
The biggest threat to Nepal stems not from anything else but from the internal weaknesses and most of it is self-inflicted. The longer the major political players are divided and are at daggers drawn, the higher the prospects of disintegration. Also, the longer political forces remain divided, the more uncertainty and instability this divorce will breed. This in turn will provide more room for international actors to interfere in Nepal's internal affairs.
Today, Nepal truly stands at the crossroads. And Nepal's destiny lies in the hands of the Nepalese themselves. The divergent factions can remain hunkered down in their unyielding positions and be doomed like the crabs, or they can converge and unite to discover the possibility of unimaginable prosperity for the country. The moment is ripe to cast off the crabby characteristic and become true citizens of a country. But until all the political forces realize that their credibility and viability is contingent upon cooperation and collaboration, a peace and prosperous Nepal will prove illusory.
Where's Nepal heading?
The Forgotten Police Story (in Nepal)
Debunking the Democratic Dogma
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The predicted future of the so-called "New Nepal", in terms of peace, stability, democracy, and political liberalization, has been far from realized. The current political mess raises fundamental questions about the role and the ability of the current generation of politicians at the helm of affairs to provide the structures and institutions which are required for sustaining the drive for much needed social, economic, political reform and democratic consolidation.
In Nepal, where meaningful employment and professional development opportunities are scarce, politics has become a very useful means of conversion of political power and position into economic wealth for the benefit of the few at the expense of many. The politics has degraded to such a level that, it is all about regime survival rather than addressing the broader needs of the nation. Nepal's malaise, thus, is a reflection of endemic political problems.
What the current generation of politicians fails to understand is that democracy is simply the means, it is not an end in itself. The presence of democracy (debatable in the case of Nepal) neither guarantees peace, stability, nor prosperity. Political sincerity and selfless desire to serve the nation is needed to ensure peace, stability, and prosperity. Mere lip-service of democracy is not worth a penny.
With the passing of each day, the situation is getting even more complicated. Exit of Mahantha Thakur and other members of parliament representing constituencies in the tarai will harden the lines of ethnic division and further alter the already bitterly fragmented political landscape in the future. However, it is both a crisis and an opportunity.
One may question the timing of their quitting the party. Obviously, there is a political space available in the tarai, which they know, is up for a grab. There is nothing wrong with that. Politics is all about competition. As long as politicians follow the rules of engagement and remain loyal to the constituents and the nation, formation of new political parties will not hamper democratic consolidation. It will rather enhance the process.
Mahanta Thakur and others that reigned from the parliament to start a new party have done what most politicians shy away from doing. This is not the first time politicians have deserted their party with a perception of better political future. But the purpose of deserting the parental party is quite different this time around. Unlike Sher Bahadur Deuba and Bam Dev Gautam, who led the dissident factions of the NC and the UML solely for the purpose of remaining in the corridor of the power, Mahantha Thakur has taken a plunge to empower fellow Madhesis from the tarai. He says so and there is no evidence at this point in time to discredit his intentions as a flat lie. Politicians within the NC may choose to disagree, but there are not enough grounds to question his integrity, at least not for now. Although he did not do a good job at explaining the vision and long-term goals of his yet to be named party in his recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the recent interview alone does not provide sufficient grounds for political pundits to write his political obituary and brand him a traitor.
Thakur did not have tons of cash at his disposal like Deuba and Gautam, which they used for horse-trading in the parliament. If Thakur had money like them when they broke away from the NC and the UML respectively, there would be at least a dozen more parliamentarians from the tarai behind him. What is exemplary here is, unlike Deuba and Gautam, who masterminded virtual split of their parental party for the sole purpose of remaining in the corridor of power, Thakur has deserted his parental party, which is already in power to start a new party, for which, it may take years to come to the power. He could have remained in the NC and enjoyed power, but he has chosen not to do so. Actually, he is a rare species among the Nepali politicians.
The tendency among the politicians is to raise their voice when they are out of the power. But by dissenting when in power and quitting ministry and the parliament, he has to some extent proved that he has set a positive precedence. The days ahead will prove whether he did so to vent anger against his Pahadi masters within the NC or to empower fellow Madhesis.
When the major political parties are on decline, ethnic politicking moves from the margins of political arena to fight for center stage. This is what happened in India and this is what is happening in Nepal as well. Regional parties got stronger with decline of Congress Party in India. To some extent, it is a natural process. With time, ethnic groups get educated and become aware of their rights. Unlike in India, where it took nearly half a decade for ethnic forces to understand their rights and solidify their bases to challenge the monopoly of the Congress Party, in Nepal, it was rather quick. One of the main factors that propelled the rapid surge in demand for ethnic rights was the division of nation state along the ethnic lines by the Maoists. Needless to say, they had done it to buy unequivocal and everlasting support of ethnic groups. The recent dissolution of the sister organizations formed on ethnic and regional basis proves that the Maoists are getting increasingly nervous about the increasing dominance of ethnic politics in Nepal.
What does the exit of Mahantha Thakur and other MPs from their respective parties mean for the functioning of Nepali democracy? If viewed from the standpoint of ethnic interest, the exodus of MPs from major political parties should be seen as a healthy development. Of late, it has become clear that getting ahead in Nepal depends to a large extent on obtaining at least a partial stake in the state for your own ethnic group. It has given ethnic groups a form of psychic emancipation that NC, UML, RPP, and RJP, were not capable of conferring.
Although the line of difference between the major political parties and genuine ethnic political outfits such as MJF in the tarai is getting hardened, the political necessity of alliance building in future will prevent the hardening of identity from being translated into conflict. As the tarai also has big percentage of people that have migrated from hills, the moderating constrains exerted by ethnically heterogeneous constituencies will make it impossible for one narrow ethnic party to win elections without the help of another.
Although the new political party floated by Thakur will result in renegotiation of power relations, it can help resolve the problems in the tarai. The major political parties instead of snubbing and discrediting Thakur and his colleagues should try to reach out to them and forge an alliance to stabilize the tarai. They are the best bet available. As most of them are staunch believer (at least were so till a while ago) of liberal parliamentary democracy, they can negate the secessionist effects exerted by the groups led by Jay Krishna Goit and Nagendra Paswan. Thus, the new party floated by Thakur should be seen as an opportunity rather than a crisis. It can act as a buffer between the state and the secessionists and help pacify the dissent.
The future steps taken by the government with regard to addressing the legitimate demands of the people of the tarai will determine whether the government is for national consolidation or disintegration. The current Seven Party Alliance government should stop viewing the problem in the tarai from the Maoists' lenses and immediately start negotiating with this new front. The need of the hour is a unified state with unified economy. By denying the rights of people, forget about building a "New Nepal," the current political leadership will not be able to maintain even the status quo.
Nepali Congress under Koirala: The Great Betrayal
Betrayed Beyond Belief
Sovereignty Should Lie With the People - But It Lies With the Parties and the Maoists
The Problem with Nepali Political Civil Society - The Leftist, the Cowards, and the Compromised
Debunking the Democratic Dogma
The Nepali Times Gets it Wrong - Lazy Thinking and Unworthy Patronage of Maoists
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
An authoritative expert on counter insurgency, scholar and author, Dr. Thomas A. Marks ended his response to a question regarding UNMIN on the following note: "It is difficult to speak of accountability when dealing with an institutional culture that invariably recognizes potential mass murderers only after they have committed their crimes. Read any work on UN performance in Rwanda, Darfur, and you see the problem." (http://nepaliperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/10/troglodytes-stalk-nepal-exclusive.html)
On December 14 2007, Ian Martin, Chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) displayed precisely the idea expressed in Dr. Marks' response. Essentially, Ian Martin lost his cool: http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=131262
Martin's frustration was visible and his irate message to the Nepali people is best encompassed by following question (statement): "Are chances of maintaining and strengthening peace in Nepal greater with UNMIN's presence? If the answer is no, tell us to go. If the answer is yes, then please don't stop criticizing us, but do constructive criticism."
Here are a few questions that Ian Martin should ask himself:
- Is it customary for the Chief of a mission bearing the UN flag to indirectly "threaten" the very people the mission was created to help?
- Is it normal for moderators/facilitators to insinuate that without their participation, the process they are supporting is doomed?
- Is it standard operating procedure for the UN to agree to a mandate without negotiating results-oriented terms and conditions (and then complain about not being able to do its job when failure becomes evident)?
If the answer to either of the questions above is "yes," then the chances of maintaining and strengthening peace in Nepal is less with Ian Martin's presence. Because a "yes" would be indicative of Martin's mindset - how best to entrench UNMIN in Nepal for the foreseeable future. Such an attitude is conducive neither to regional politics nor to Nepal's immediate needs.
The point that Ian Martin highlights (at this late hour in the peace process), is "mandate." This is the very heart of the issue that Martin should be taken to task on for a number of reasons.
First, the situation in Nepal was not at all "foreign" to Ian Martin. Having served as Louise Arbour's regional representative and the head of OHCHR in Nepal (before the peace process started), Ian should have anticipated better than most, the specific mandate needed for the UN to effectively pave a path to lasting peace in Nepal.
So a year later, how dare Martin make loose allusions to the inadequacy of UNMIN's mandate in Nepal. Having failed to negotiate the precise terms and conditions that UNMIN would need at the onset of Nepal's peace process, how dare Ian Martin now report to the UNSG (who in turn reported to the Security Council) that the "limited focus of the mandate of UNMIN has constrained its ability to adequately assist the overall management of the peace process."
Second, Ian Martin's stark failure is magnified by the overwhelming faith that civil society members (such as journalist Kanak Mani Dixit), placed in Martin's abilities. In "Come back, Ian" (http://www.nepalitimes.com/issue/307/Comment/12177), Dixit made an impassioned appeal to then UNSG, Kofi Annan in the following terms: "Well, what of the peace process in Nepal? It is poised on a razor’s edge and requires full UN engagement. Is not Nepal as important as East Timor (population 1 million)? And is this not one of those places where the UN can be pre-emptive for peace? How does the geo-strategic significance of East Timor compare with that of Nepal?"
Such public displays of confidence in Ian Martin led to the formation of a team of "subject matter experts" on Nepal. Namely, John Norris, formerly of the International Crisis Group (an individual whose coverage of Nepal's Maoist insurgency qualified him as an "expert" on Nepal), Ian Martin (then head of OHCHR in Nepal), and several Nepalis, experienced in INGO circuits.
In hindsight, what do Mr. Martin's advocates have to say about Martin's results? Can the blame for UNMIN's underperformance be squarely attributed to Nepal's political sphere or is Martin also liable for his egregious failure in leadership (guidance)? Was the creation of a team of "experts" preconditioned to a certain political outcome, a smart move or is this turning into a case of 20/20 hindsight? How is East Timor faring these days in Ian Martin's absence? Is Nepal to share a similar fate?
Third, Ian Martin's comment that "our (UNMIN's) mandate is to monitor, not enforce," is just ludicrous. The question that needs to asked is "how well has UNMIN executed on its limited role of "monitoring" Nepal's peace process?" Are stakeholders to Nepal's peace process content with the "value" that UNMIN has added? Based on what UNMIN has accomplished (given its "monitoring" mandate), do the results inspire confidence in Ian Martin's leadership to add three additional roles to UNMIN's existing mandate?
Dr. Bishnu Raj Upreti's comment to Ian Martin's outburst is right on target: "UNMIN can't deny responsibility saying that they were here just to monitor." This sentiment is echoed by former National Human Rights Council member, Sushil Pyakurel who made the following statement: "UNMIN can't say it could not deliver owing to a limited mandate."
Fourth, as for the "constructive" ciriticism that Ian Martin wants, it appears more a case of acting on the criticisms that have already been forwarded rather than receiving any to begin with. What Martin wants to hear is praise for the little his leadership has yielded and sympathy for his self-fabricated dilemma.
Unfortunately for Martin, he will get neither from thinking, feeling, rational Nepalis because it is evident that Ian Martin has clearly failed to deliver the consultative, subject matter expertise that the Nepali people expected of him. UNMIN's progress under Martin's leadership has not reached even a fraction of its true potential.
When Ian Martin spoke on December 14, 2007, it is possible he was having a bad day (week or even month). It is also possible that Mr. Martin's utility to Nepal's peace process had ended. Perhaps it is Ian Martin (not UNMIN), who should consider going home?
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Listed below in chronological order is all the "constructive" criticism that Ian Martin could want. Whether he has acted on the criticisms provided is for the Nepali people to judge.
(Readers should feel free to e-mail the moderators at email@example.com for the full text of any of the pieces listed below)
February 25, 2007
Summary of Declared (by State) vs. Inventoried (by UNMIN), Weapon Counts
February 25, 2007
Discrepancies in Maoist Weapons Inventoried by UNMIN – Do the Math
March 01, 2007
The UN and Maoist Arms Controversy: Overkill or Negligence?
March 01, 2007
UN Fast Losing Credibility in Nepal
June 18, 2007
UNMIN Clarifies its Role but Just in Time to be Humiliated by the Maoists
July 04, 2007
UNMIN's Arms Verification Process in Nepal - More Timely Information and Transparency Needed
July 15, 2007
The UN's (UNMIN) Involvement in Nepal's Peace Process: A turning point or another fiasco in the making?
July 17, 2007
UNMIN's July 16 Press Release and Subsequent Q&A Disaster
July 19, 2007
UNMIN's "Consulting" Mentality Not Conducive to Nepal's "Stakeholder" Needs
September 21, 2007
What has UNMIN Accomplished in Nepal?
November 01, 2007
What UNMIN Should Do to Manage Nepal's Peace Process
November 26, 2007
UNMIN in Need of Immediate Reform
Under ordinary circumstances, "unpredictable," and "uncertain," are terms that ring synonymous with Nepal's politics. But there is one aspect of politics in Nepal that is completely predictable and totally certain: There is absolutely no chance that the Nepali people will see elections to a constituent assembly by April 2008, if ever. The reasons are varied and many, but the fundamental cause is this - the Maoists have done (and will continue to do) everything in their power to prevent elections from taking place.
Almost two and a half years after a Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists (together, SPAM) were empowered to tame Nepal's overextended regal influence, engage in meaningful peace negotiations, and hold constituent assembly elections, the results are at best, mediocre.
Beating a dead horse
In short, Nepal's interim coalition government remains hostage to the notion of peace on Maoist terms and has no credible recourse (or contingency) to maneuver into a more plausible agenda. Predictable as the future chain of events were in April 2005, Nepal's mainstream politicians (and it's intelligentsia) chose to take the starry eyed, naive path to peace and democracy - both of which remain elusive theoretical terms to be abused as the audience and time sees fit.
In fairness, some of the components that enabled an active Monarch (e.g., direct ties to the Army through the Office of the Principal Military Secretariat, the Raj Parisad, etc.) have been curtailed. However, more essential drivers such as overall political ineptitude, decaying security, loss of national identity and overall illiberal democracy, persist. While the image of a Monarch with his wings clipped is often paraded for populist consumption the image of a corrupt, self-serving, and archaic political class (that invites political intervention), has seen little in the way of positive change.
Maoist sympathizers and political class apologists default to their thesis that much progress has been made because "at least, the country is not at war." This line of thought although correct, is incomplete, inadequate and severely short-sighted. To the contrary, given the tensions that appeasing the Maoists have birthed, the prospect of a much larger (armed) conflict now features on Nepal's immediate horizon.
Another civil war brewing
Maoist appeasement at the cost of Madhesi neglect will be the SPAM coalition's Achilles' heel. The message on the "street" is that attention at the local, national and international levels is best garnered when the philosophy of armed struggle (and "power though the barrel of a gun") is operationalized.
Many of the armed factions in Nepal's south are splinter groups from the Maoist umbrella. Even the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF - now a registered political party led by Upendra Yadav) shares close ideological ties with Nepal's Maoists. In fact, the points of contention between organizations like the MPRF and the Maoists are much less grounded in political ideology than in ethnicity/identity based politics.
As conflicts around the globe have shown, armed indoctrination and ethnicity based politics make for a particularly explosive mix. Add to this Indian sympathy for the Madhesi people (as a policy instrument), and an "explosion" is near certain. A cursory review of the history of the Kosovar Albanians provides valuable insight into one potential outcome to Nepal's perennial political crisis.
Basically, the ethnicity based politics the Maoists preyed on as part of their power grab has come back to haunt them. The people of the Madhes see no value to a Bahun-led, Pahadi dominated Maoist entity, speaking on behalf of the Madhesi people.
For many Madhesis (and Pahadis alike) this is a positive sign because despite all the populist rhetoric and Maoist highhandedness, at least one group in Nepal has risen to the occasion of checking Maoist aggression.
But for the Maoists, Madhesi opposition is the clearest, most present form of danger to the Maoists' rise to illegitimate power. Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal's reference to an alliance between "Nationalists" and "Maoists" is but another utilitarian tact, designed to exploit growing Madhesi-Pahadi tensions.
The Maoists' shifting gears to nationalism (after obediently bowing to Sita Ram Yechuri in Nepal's parliament, after feeding off of Indian hospitality and funds for the better part of their armed struggle) rings hollow. Unfortunately though, the Maoists are possibly the best of the worst on a long list of Nepali politicians who feel it necessary to consult with their Indian counterparts on all issues, be they sovereign or bilateral in nature. At least Maoist consultations are limited to dicussions on how to usurp state power.
Regardless, nationalism as a Maoist policy agenda equates to a common front against Indian "expansionsim" and ultimately confrontation with the Madhesi people. The Maoist experiment with nationalism reeks of desperation and deserves no serious consideration. Those who would revel at the Maoists' suggestion should first consider the extent to which the Maoists themselves have compromised Nepal's soverignty. Only then can the question of whether the Maoists are serious be answered.
SPAM neglect and obduracy
To the Madhesi people's credit, they have shown tremendous courage and resilience. Especially since the majority of the Madhesi movement's activities have been of a peaceful character.
Despite Maoist provocation in places like Lahan and Gaur, and despite this SPAM government's unrestricted sunshine policy towards the Maoists ("Maoist happiness in the name of peace"), the Madhesi people have stood by, bearing one humiliation after another.
Krishna Sitoula was never reprimanded for haphazard security actions in parts of the Terai (many in conjunction with armed Maoists); the promise of constituent assembly elections was broken (again, to please the Maoists); and Madhesi representation in the current interim parliament has actually declined since the attrition of existing MPs from various parties.
The current SPAM government has been severely negligent in addressing the legitimate demands of the Madhesi people. Koirala's attempt to divide the MPRF by using the façade of constituent assembly elections rings fresh in the minds of all Madhesi leaders - especially Upendra Yadav. Broken promises of such gravity are certain to leave a bad taste in the mouths of Madhesi people who feel increasingly betrayed by Nepal's interim government.
The SPAM government's inept handling of the brewing crisis in the Madhes and it's inability to offer reasonable and timely concessions to the Madhesi people is unacceptable. As the key antagonist of the Maoist uprising, Girija Prasad Koirala (of all people) should know better.
Many preconditions to come
Perhaps Girija does know better. He probably knows that given the current political climate, all existing political entities will take a severe beating under any election scenario. With the creation of a united Madhesi front, not the NC, not the UML and especially not the Maoists are on the path to electoral supremacy.
It is this reality that is giving Nepal's political honchos, sleepless nights. And what little sleep Koirala does get, it is certainly interrupted by nightmares of a divided, factionalized Nepali Congress, vulnerable to a full range of the on-coming leftist onslaught. For this is certainly the legacy that Girija Prasad Koirala will leave behind.
As for others in power, can Madhab Kumar Nepal expect to win in his own constituency? Can any of the Madhes based (non-Madhesi) MPs expect to return to parliament after general elections? With slightly over 50% of Nepal's population as die-hard anti-Maoists, can the Maoists ever expect to win elections (minus their guns)? The answer to all these questions is "no."
This is precisely why a day after agreeing to hold elections by April 2008, the Maoists have already started setting the stage for additional pre-conditions. They will want the declaration of a democratic republic before elections; they will want a fully proportional electoral system before elections; they will want their combatants fully integrated into the national Army before elections; they may even want Maoist combatants deployed along the Nepal-Indo border (under an integrated military command), before elections. The list of preconditions is unlimited and ranges as far as the imagination permits.
With plenty of "useful idiots" like Madhab Kumar Nepal (in parliament) and a limitless supply of gullible civil society activists to choose from, the Maoists will once again, thwart elections in April 2008.
Instead of preparing to disappoint the Nepali people again, members of the interim parliament should be fully engaged in dialogue with their political counterparts in the Madhes. They should be seeking to accommodate Madhesi demands such as the sacking of Krishna Prasad Sitoula and the launching of criminal investigations into atrocities committed by state (and Maoist) forces, during the Madhesi peoples' uprising.
Nepal's interim government needs to seriously consider integrating Madhesi constituents into an expanded interim parliament; they need to evaluate the merits of greater and fairer representation before making any more grand declarations with no legal basis for implementation. They need to take a long hard look at their own politics before making allusions to "regression" and "feudalism" and all the other catch populist phrases in fashion today.
Above all, Nepal's interim parliament needs to stop its policy of limitless appeasement and start practicing the politics of compromise. It need to work on building space that will accommodate all political constituents with an object to averting future conflict. More importantly, today's law makers and leaders need to start displaying some of the self-sacrifice and democracy they preach to others. If the mission ahead is impossible for the current lot of MPs, they need to step aside for the new generation to take over.
Until each of the criteria above are fulfilled, Nepal will never see free and fair elections.
Nepali Congress under Koirala: The Great Betrayal
Betrayed Beyond Belief
Earth to John Norris and Kanak Dixit
No Impunity for Civil Society Leaders: Nepalis are watching....
Nepal's Constituent Assembly Elections - It's not Just a Matter of Security
The Case for Shitoula’s Resignation
Monday, December 17, 2007
December 10, Human Rights Day, is celebrated annually across the world to honor the UN General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948. Human Rights Day 2007 marks the start of a year-long commemoration of the 60th anniversary of UDHR. The theme for 2008, Dignity and Justice for all of us, reinforces the commitment of UDHR to universal dignity and justice. UDHR, for the very first time in the history of mankind, codified a common standard of human rights for all peoples and all nations – a true milestone in the progress of civilization.
Unfortunately, the term “human rights” has been bandied about by all and sundry so much that it has begun to lose its meaning. A concept meant to safeguard the dignity and worth of every individual has been used haphazardly by politicians and pressure groups. Even the industrialized countries use it regularly to pick on the developing world. It is worthwhile here to recall the words of Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the occasion of Human Rights Day in 2006:
“Today, poverty prevails as the gravest human rights challenge in the world. Combating poverty, deprivation and exclusion is not a matter of charity, and it does not depend on how rich a country is.By tackling poverty as a matter of human rights obligation, the world will have a better chance of abolishing this scourge in our lifetime...poverty eradication is an achievable goal.”
These are not empty words of a UN bureaucrat. They embody the essence of the most pressing human rights need of today. Indeed, fighting poverty is NOT charity. At the social and humanitarian level, it is helping the disadvantaged. At the economic level, it is the most prudent action to preserve and expand wealth. At the political level, if we keep on amassing wealth ignoring the poverty surrounding us, we should not be surprised when the ‘have-nots’ rebel against the ‘haves’.
A recent survey cited Nepal, along with China, as having the widest gap between the rich and the poor in Asia. China’s galloping economic growth accounts for this; Nepal has no such excuse. For at least the last three years, poverty alleviation and development in general has taken an unfortunate back seat to politics in Nepal. Moreover, even excluding the issue of poverty, our brand of politics has paid scant attention to human rights. It is remarkable to note that the National Human Rights Commission has received no less than 186 complaints of human rights violations since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Gaur, Kapilvastu, Birendra Sah are only some of the examples that make headlines; day in day out, the human rights of the ordinary Nepali is abused and there is nowhere to turn to for justice.
Let us examine the relevant articles among the 30 Articles of UDHR as they apply to so-called “New Nepal”. We are supposed to be entitled to our rights without distinction of political opinion (Article 2). Yet we are castigated for any opinion divergent to that held by the Seven Party oligarchy. We are supposed to have the right to life, liberty and security (emphasis added) (Article 3). Security is one commodity that none of us, except those with unauthorized weapons, have. We are all to be equal before the law (Article 7). What law, I ask! The police have been cowered by lack of support and direction from the Home Ministry. The Army is locked away in their barracks. So that leaves the streets to gangs of unruly mobs. We are entitled to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal against any criminal charges (Article 10). Yet so many turn to non-governmental “tribunals” having lost all faith in the government judiciary system. We are to be safe from arbitrary interference in our privacy, family and home (Article 12). Tell that to the criminals and politically motivated mobs that attack private homes. We are to be safe from being deprived of our property arbitrarily (Article 17). The numerous persons displaced during the past 10 years who are yet to return to their homes bear testimony to failure on this count. We should be able to express our opinions freely (Article 19). Yet any opinion which deviates from the oligarchic government’s is politically denigrated as regressive, anti-democratic and worse. Finally, we are to be safe from being compelled to belong to any association (Article 20). Perhaps the folks deserting the cantonments have heard of this one.
UDHR remains, in Nepal like in many other countries, an archaic peace of writing concocted by diplomats at UN Headquarters while sipping cocktails and shedding crocodile tears for the woes of the world. But that is not the way it has to be, certainly not the way it should be. It is unfashionable these days to harp on the right of every individual to basic dignity. You take away a person’s dignity, and you take away that person’s humanity. The very first article of UDHR states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” At the risk of sounding overly idealistic and even quixotic, when it is currently fashionable to be cynical while pretending to be pragmatic, this humble piece is an appeal. An appeal to reason, to compassion – before it is too late for all of us. Martin Luther King once said “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” So let us consider seriously the Human Rights theme for this coming year and breathe life into the words through action.
What UNMIN Should Do to Manage Nepal's Peace Process
Sovereignty Should Lie With the People - But It Lies With the Parties and the Maoists
The Problem with Nepali Political Civil Society - The Leftist, the Cowards, and the Compromised
Nepali Congress party now stands at crossroads. Its right decision can guarantee the stability and democratic process in Nepal and its wrong decision can bring about prolonged political instability and chaos For the Congress, Constituent Assembly (CA) is associated with its existence as it is the first political party, which had demanded the election of CA. The demand for CA has come as a consensus agenda following the signing of twelve point’s agreement. Under the agreement, CPN-Maoist also agreed to be a part of joint agitation against the autocratic rule of the monarch. Thus, the mandate of April uprising was to end the autocratic rule of the King, reinstate the House of Representatives, ink peace agreement with the Maoists, form interim government and hold the CA poll. Although the dates for the elections were fixed twice in the past, they were postponed at the last minutes.
After the dismissal of elected government in October 4, 2002 and taking up of executive power by King Gyanendra, Nepali Congress launched a nationwide agitation with a demand to reinstate the dissolved House of Representatives and activate the Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990.
Other parties also joined the agitation against the direct rule of the King. With the imposition of direct rule by the King in February 1, 2005, seven political parties had no option other than to launch a joint agitation against the autocratic step of the King. Maoists, too, joined the agitation of seven parties to end autocratic rule of the King. The agitation was called off following the reinstatement of the House of Representatives by the King as per demand of seven parties. Maoists, however, put psychological pressure on the seven party alliance to choose between them and the King after the reinstatement of the House. This was the first step with which seven parties were trapped in the Maoists’ strategy. As political parties were trapped in the Maoist agenda, the mandate of the uprising was gradually overlooked. The parties are now interested to woo the Maoists rather than prepare a ground work to hold the elections at the earliest, which was one of the key demands of the uprising.
In the last one year, seven parties have committed many mistakes, one after another, under Maoist pressure. Instead of working to hold the elections for CA, parties diverted their focus towards non-political agenda. The 14-point proclamation of House of Representatives - which made many articles of then Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990 null and void – pushed the country towards an uncertain phase by destroying democratic norms and values as well as institutions. Under this proclamation, interim constitution 2007 was promulgated. The dissolution of the reinstated House of Representatives further created confusion and overshadowed the CA polls. The termination of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 was another political blunder committed by political leadership, which pushed the country into the course of prolonged political instability. It is unfortunate to say that nowhere in the democratic world does parliamentary proclamation supersede the constitution but we saw this in our country. Had the CA polls act been formulated immediately after the reinstatement of the parliament, CA polls would have been held in October, 2006 and the present crisis would have been averted.
From twelve point agreement to Comprehensive Peace Accord, different agreements were signed between the government and the Maoists but none of the agreements were respected by the latter. The criminal case against the Maoist leaders and cadres were withdrawn but the people who were displaced by Maoists have yet to return to their homes and get back their properties. While two billion rupees were given to the Maoists to look after their cadres, the displaced persons got nothing. Government ignored the Maoist victims. It even stopped the scholarship given to the martyrs' (people killed by Maoists) children.
One of our mistakes was that we signed twelve points agreement with the Maoists without proper discussions and home work in the party. Seven party alliance blindly welcomed the Maoists hoping that their entry into mainstream politics will end the twelve years long bloody conflict and give relief to the people. However, Maoists have not changed their actions as they have shown that their ultimate aim is to grab state power. By forcing the postponement of the elections for CA, Maoists showed that they don't have any faith and commitment in the election. Despite joining the political mainstream, Maoists continue to engage in terror, abduction and extortion. Maoists, who claim to have 30,000 army, had handed over 3,400 weapons to the United Nations.
Contradictory to our expectation, Maoists pulled out from the government after Nepali Congress agreed to go for republic. The CA elections were postponed even though we changed our party's ideology. Furthermore, Prachanda is now calling for the unity with "royalist nationalists." Maoists have proved once again that autocratic power is dearer to them than democratic Congress. Even acting president of Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala revealed that the Congress was trapped in Maoists’ political strategy and was forced to proclaim republic under their pressure. Another vice president of Congress Ram Chandra Poudel, too, has blamed Maoists for forcing Congress to go republic.
In the last one and a half year, the law and order situation has deteriorated. There is a virtual anarchy in the country though the main responsibility of the government is to give security to the people and guard the border of the state. The interim government has proved to be very weak in maintaining internal security. Home ministry failed to contain the activities of Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL). The public felt that law is in the hand of Maoists and their cadres are above the law. As home minister was the coordinator of the talk team whose duty was to negotiate with Maoists, appointing the same person with dual responsibility was the reason behind the present situation but it was never seriously discussed. With a hope to restore long lasting peace by bringing Maoists to the mainstream, we have even betrayed our founding leader BP Koirala's ideology of national reconciliation by tilting too much towards extremist communists. We have now realized that why BP always stood against the alliance with communists. In his long political career, BP always held the view that that there is no important matter than the protection of motherland and he always asked party workers to take the soil of country in their hands whenever they faced any dilemma in taking decision on national interest.
We undermined that by signing the twelve point agreements with Maoists in foreign soil. BP never tried to convert communists into democrats. We forgot the 30 years long intimacy of communists with Panchayat and the twelve years long instability caused by activities of Maoists. This turned out to be a big mistake. According to BP, our society has major influence of aristocratic families. This traditional force, with which we share commonalities of interest, need to be converted into democrats. But we didn't make any effort towards that. We condemned them as regressive, reactionary and anti-democratic elements. We have lost our support base on those elements after aligning too much with radical communists. As our party undermined this powerful traditional force, the situation is now such that neither our party could penetrate into communist vote bank nor could we retain our traditional support base. Our party has lost its political base.
After committing the ideological blunder, our party is making another major mistake by agreeing to integrate Maoist cadres into national army. According to Article 146 of interim constitution, a special committee will be formed by the cabinet to look after People's Liberation Army (PLA) and for its re-establishment. It is mentioned that the committee will be under the cabinet and will act according to the cabinet decision. From twelve point agreement to Comprehensive Peace Accord, there is no agenda for integration of PLA into Nepal Army. Can a particular political party’s cadres be integrated into national army? What would be its result? Is there any example in the world where ideologically indoctrinated army is integrated into national army? The rest of the six parties have to take this point seriously. The Maoist cadres without weapon cannot be called army. As they handed over just 3,400 weapons to UNMIN, how can one justify the existence of 30,000 plus army? Here also Maoist have demonstrated their tactics by pushing for integrating PLA into Nepal Army - they want to capture the state power. This fact is not realized by the leaders in the government.
On issues of republic and proportional representative system, the Mahasamiti (General Convention)of Nepali Congress has already decided that interim parliament cannot proclaim republic. It has also endorsed mixed electoral system. Our party stand is that proclamation of republic without the mandate of people is against the democratic practice. On the other hand, accepting fully proportional representation system will violate the fundamental right of people to fight in an election.
My opinion is that the alliance of communists has already proved harmful for NC. If congress gives up its principles and values, it will lose its existence. So, Congress has to stick to it democratic values and principles.
When we have been busy all the time tackling the Maoists, we have undermined many other problems. Madhesi issue is one of the major ones. Of course, there are some genuine grievances of Madhesis, which Nepali Congress needs to address. Maoist leader Prachanda's statement in Janakpur and senior cabinet minister Ram Chandra Poudel's provocative statement in Nepalgunj are just two recent examples how they tried to ignore Madhesis. People from Madhes feel that the government and Nepali Congress have become pro-Maoists as the government oppressed Madhesi uprising in Lahan, Kapilvastu, and Nepalgunj. Even as the government is preoccupied with the Maoist agenda, we must realize that until and unless we solve the problems of Madhes, CA is impossible in coming April also. Following the resignation by the Madhesi leaders of major political parties, the problem of terai has not only become a security problem but also a political one. Seven parties have to address it politically. Failure of home ministry is that it decided to address it through security actions, which are inevitable to boomerang.
The political solution to the present stalemate is the holding of free and fair elections for the Constituent Assembly and drafting a new constitution. Leaders of the seven political parties are just caretakers and they cannot take major decisions on behalf of the people. As people are supreme in democratic process, they should be given the right to choose what forms of government and what kinds of political system they want. If present political deadlock is not resolved in time, it will become a threat to democracy, nationality, and sovereign rights of Nepalese.
The Root of Nepal’s Insecurity – Home Minister Krishna Prasad Shitoula
Paradigm Shift - Where Does Nepal Stand? (Re-run)
The Idiot’s Guide to the Maoist Playbook
After a Year of "Loktantra" - Is it finally time for a Democratic Alliance?
A Democratic Alliance, Accountable to the People
Nepal's Struggle with Feudalism and Fatalism - Moriarty, Martin and Manmohan as "Gods"
Monday, December 10, 2007
The Nepali Army is a Favorite Target for Cheap Provocateurs - An Analysis of a Nepali Adolescent's Professional Obituary
Nishchal Basnyat, a Harvard student who bills himself as a co-author of a book on India, and proclaims to have written prolifically on institutionalism in developing countries, recently put out a verbose and woefully written commentary “The Royal Army: An Analytical Obituary” in nepalnews.com.
The writing is so loose, one wonders if Harvard is giving parents their money’s worth these days. In an analysis of this magnitude (an obituary of an institution more than two centuries old), one might expect a more disinterested and scholarly tone.
But instead of insight, sober analysis, and facts, Nishchal chooses to become a petulant provocateur – vacillating from condescension to patronage in the same piece. Preparing us for what is to come, he warns us early in his piece that “it is imperative, therefore, the country look back at its “royal” army impartially.” This is humor at its finest – the unintentional kind.
If his intent is to be impartial, he might have offered us some numbers, perhaps a chart or two, maybe a comparative analysis with other institutions, the prevailing social and historical context during the army’s evolution, specifics on strategy and tactics during counter-insurgencies, and a discussion of other relevant issues.
But like most intellectuals in Nepali society (even those from other Ivy League schools we have seen), he decides to pass on the hard work and relies on words and phrases like “demi-god”, “bourgeoisie sycophants”, “extremist force”, “omni-present phase of indoctrination”, “charlatan aristocrats”, “servility enforced upon subordinates” to make his case.
The first issue (he piles issues within issues and at times difficult to figure out the points) is that the Royal Army remained the most political institution in the country, and was ready to get down on its hands and knees for the King. He also makes us suffer through his own fantasy that the Army was complicit in the Royal Massacre (a speculation that doesn’t deserve a response).
Civil-military relationships are complex affairs even in stable democracies. Prakash Nepali and Phanindra Subba writing in the journal Small Wars and Insurgencies (Volume 16, Number 1, March 2005), offers us this more sober assessment:
“King Mahendra wooed the Army (he also granted it the right to use the prefix “Royal”) while simultaneously emasculating it as a political force. The Military Secretariat, which was established in the Palace in 1954/55, was the principal mechanism by which the King sought to keep the Army under close control. The emergence of key actors…distorted the chain of command and caused resentment within regular army circles.”
Indeed, it was the very lack of the Army’s (although they are not alone here) ability to grasp the political components of the insurgency that hampered its operations.
An often ignored point is that the army has never engaged in political adventurism in its history. There is no record of Caesarian actions by the army in Nepal ’s history. It has always been disinclined to act politically. This is good for the peace process.
Under intense pressure, the Army proved it could do the right thing when it held its fire like it did during 2 Jana-andolans. So the over-the-top assessment that it is the MOST political institution is bogus.
Nishchal’s second observation “the Achilles heel of the Royal Army was that it had always been an ethnically homogenous institution..although there are a few Gurungs, Newars, and Brahmins [their numbers were insignificant] and is in no way a demographic representation of Nepali Society.”
Here is where some numbers might have helped. While the army is by no means a bastion of ethnic representation or egalitarianism, it stacks up very well against comparable Civil institutions according to Nepali and Subba:
“The increasingly representative nature of the officer corps in the army is in stark contrast to the civil bureaucratic structure. In 1999, out of 721 top level (special and first class gazetted officials), 717 (99.45 percent) were still occupied by Brahmins, Chettris, and Newars. In mid-2004, 75 percent of the special class officers (secretaries) in the civil service were Brahmins, 10.4 percent Chettris, and 10.4 percent Newars, and 4.2 percent of Terai origin.”
When one places issues in context and uses numbers to support premises, a concept that has no meaning amongst Nepali intellectuals, Nischal’s notion of a monolithic and homogenous army is not accurate but rings of the rhetoric of an emotional child begging for an i-POD.
The third issue Nischal raises is that of corruption within the Army - a serious pathology that is now prevalent in every aspect of Nepali Society. To this one might add that a great deal of wealth from corruption wasn’t generated under the army but through various institutions in many civilian sectors.
Corruption and mismanagement also has not gutted the army like other institutions like, for example, the Nepal Oil Corporation, Nepal Airlines, and the Customs department.
Nishchal’s fourth lament (plague, he calls it) is about indoctrination. He incoherently notes “From Nazi Germany to American forces, the Nepali Army also went through an unavoidable and omnipresent phase of indoctrination….they were told all politicians were corrupt and Maoists were killers…and children were told of the army’s great sacrifices and awesome heroics of the country.”
Armies are not democracies – even in democracies. The job of learning to kill has always required a separation from civilian society since our tribal ancestors first engaged in combat.
All armies use shared history as motivation. Stalin, finding no equivalent symbols of motivation in Russia at that time, used the name of a famous Russian Royalist commander from the Napleonic wars for the offensive (Operation Bagration) that destroyed a large part of Hitler’s army.
One part of the shared history of the creation of modern-day Nepal are the exploits of the Gorkha Army led by Prithivi Narayan Shah. Elements of the same army also checked Chinese and British imperialism (for better or worse). This is the same Army that fought the Maoists with little empathy from almost every sector of Nepal. They won some and lost some tactical engagements.
Without the efforts of those soldiers from the past, Nepal may never have existed as we now know it. This is a fact that cannot be erased by toppling a few statues.
Fifth, his bleeding heart cries about the maltreatment of the “peepas” and the lower-ranking soldiers of the Army. Here he might note that “peepas”, relatively under-educated (meaning borderline illiterate) with respect to other ranks (other enlisted and officer) also end up going on UN peacekeeping missions, obtain free health care, and receive pensions.
Nishchal might reflect on his sanctimony and ask how servants are treated in the house-holds of progressives like the political parties, the media, the ex-pat community, or his own house? Do servants there get fair market wages? Do they receive pensions? An opportunity to travel? How much physical and sexual abuse occur in those environments?
It should be noted that recruitment drives by the army in Nepal often results in overwhelming demand. 10,000 people show up for to fill 200 slots!
Sixth – he feels qualified to dissect tactical and strategic failures during the insurgency. He might recall that the army routinely “hit” targets in Kathmandu. Valley commanders were captured and any overt action suppressed. The fact that Maoist leaders were captured in India underscores the fact that Maoists could had been operating freely in India.
In the villages, attempts to form civil-defense forces modeled after Peruvian tactics (advocated by counter-insurgency experts) to gain back political space from the Maoists were quickly abandoned after intense pressure from international NGOs who quickly labeled these as “vigilante units.” Of course, the NGOs offered no alternative solutions to fill the security void in villages.
Whenever the army appeared to get the upper hand, moves by the politicians to hold peace talks only served to put the army back and gave time for the Maoists to re-group (also recall the post-peace-talk assassinations of the police chief and army officers in their homes or in civilian environments).
The opportunity for the Army to gain political legitimacy to fight the military battle never materialized – largely due to King Gyanendra’s moves. But it never got any assistance from the national media, international NGOs, and inept politicians also allied themselves either directly or naively with the Maoists even during multi-party rule.
All this gloating has quickly subsided and now faced with a far less benign force than the army and feeling the Maoists tactics up close, Nishchal might ask why the normally shrill bunch of civil society leaders, leftist NGOs, and those directly promising “peace” by bringing the Maoists as partners are so quiet.
Nishchal might also note the irony that the only people who have received “surakshit abataran” so far are the Maoists.
This is not to say there were no tactical and strategic failures or gross incompetence and for any army person to say they “won” is ludicrous but they did stay intact – a force that quietly but effectively prevented the Maoists from achieving their end-game.
All this “analysis” demonstrates is that Nishchal feels his limited knowledge, sense of history, and his educational pedigree qualifies him to write an obituary of the army. If there is an obituary to be written let’s have someone worthy write it – not some under-qualified juvenile from Harvard with mediocre writing skills.
Revisiting Recent Nepali History - A brief Collection of "Inconvenient Truths"
The Utility of a Professional Nepalese Army
Life is Good When You Are a Nepali Intellectual Elite
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Savvy streets in Tokyo are hoarded with Oxygen Bars, this is where the concept of the Oxygen Bar first originated in the world. The high intake of oxygen enhances your stamina and in tandem reenergizes your body and refreshes your mind. Today, expensive bars and even night clubs around the world provide facilities of an oxygen parlor; this dramatically has enhanced the party goers’ ability to dance all night long. Similarly in Nepal, while the country blatantly seems to be falling apart, the prime minister on the other hand is very optimistic – he even told a foreign dignitary that he would hold elections on the eve of the deferral of elections. Perhaps, the prime minister is high on oxygen and he last lost his grip on reality.
First, over the last one month at least three hundred civil servants have resigned en masse in the Terai. Second, the Maoists have already come up with a new set of demands as a prerequisite for their participation in the polls. Third, the country is plummeting towards anarchy and this claim can be validated by the apparent lawlessness throughout Nepal. And last, the very democrats (Civil Society and the Dixit’s) who talked highly about democracy are falling in the Maoists trap once again. And Girija is of course oblivious to all of this.
The Terai is burning and the problem has morphed significantly from what it was in the summer. The inability on the part of the government to exhibit political authority has eroded its own capability to leverage any influence in the Terai. In the absence of government authority, radical ethnic groups have filled in the vacuum. While it would make sense for the government to directly negotiate with these ethnic groups, the Maoists have put on a lot of pressure on the government not to talk with the agitating Terai groups. This is primarily because the Maoists have lost their base in terai and are in no state of mind to allow other groups to prevail the terai.
Perhaps it is naiveté; but even now the political pundits and the civil society leaders boast of taming the Maoists. Ironically, the reality is the exact opposite. The biggest problem in Nepali politics is the inability of the political class to understand the complexities of a communist insurgency and the dogmatic ideology it stands for. Even if the parties yield to two of the Maoists key demands, it is only foreseeable that the Maoists will put forward new set of demands as a prerequisite to their participation in the polls. Just like Sher Bahadur Deuba chose to ignore the 40 Point Demands put forward by the Maoists in 1996 and flew to India; Girija and his aides have failed to realize that the Maoists have twenty other demands that have to be met by the other political parties. Ignoring the 40 Point Demand by Sher Bahadur resulted in a decade long war; the time around the inability of Girija to comprehend the nefarious scheme of the Maoists to sabotage the political parties in their 22 point demand is a ploy to ultimately overwhelm the political parties and storm to absolute power.
Perhaps Girija’s outburst in the cabinet and ordering the home minister to prepare a security plan with in 24 hours might have amused the debutant health minister Giriraj Pokharel. No sane man would want a government to chart a security plan in twenty four hours. But the twenty four hours has passed and there is no concrete security plan in sight. The home minister on the other hand is busy pocketing hefty commissions and chalking conspiracies to defame perceived political opponents. A businessman on the condition of anonymity revealed that “the home minister had transferred SP Dhak Bahadur from Hanuman Dhoka to the airport after he submitted to Sitaula a large chunk of cash. The cash was raised by Dhak Bahadur on the premises of Casino Royale”. On the other hand a Terai politician narrated an incident where in February during the height of the terai agitation, “the home minister had partnered with the Maoists when the Maoist cadres attempted to assassinate Upendra Yadav. The police were instructed by Sitaula not to provide adequate security cover to Yadav”. Koirala has indeed gone too far in trusting and shielding Sitaula and in the process; he has birthed a Rasputin in Sitaula.
If the country is declared a republic without the mandate of the people, the decision can be reverted at any time in the future. A lasting solution is a solution that is never debated or contested in the future. A lasting solution can only be achieved when the people of Nepal vote to decide on whether or not they want a Republic in the country. But if the country is declared a republic abruptly without going to the people, the move contradicts democratic norms and values. What was most embarrassing was when Dr Shekar Koirala, the prime minister’s nephew declared that “a referendum would give the king the benefit”. This cowardly statement only signifies that the political parties are seeking ways to end the monarchy by either refusing the people to vote or by initiating electoral mechanisms that are designed specifically to guarantee the kings loss.
Who knows what Girija Babu has under his sleeves, but he sure doesn’t seem to have a plan. He has failed repeatedly to live up to his assurances and his time is certainly running out. While GP Koirala and his party are repeatedly being ambushed by their own, Sitaula, GP is all high on oxygen and refuses to come to terms with the reality.
Sovereignty Should Lie With the People - But It Lies With the Parties and the Maoists
Girija's Grand Design
New Nepal - A country out of whack?
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