(Courtesy: el Mariachi)
Less than five years ago, no one would have guessed that the leader of Nepal's Maoist party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as "Prachanda") would become the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Nepal. After a decade of unrelenting, terror, murder and degrading the Nepali psyche, Nepal's Maoists are close to achieving their political objective - "capturing" state power.
The Maoists do deserve some credit. Even their harshest critics will admit that the Maoist leadership has more than its fair share of strategic masterminds. This is not to discount the impacts of acute incompetence and self-centered politics that continues to plague Nepal's non-Maoist leadership. But it is fair to also say that the Maoists have distinguished themselves with political machination and foresight of a level that far exceeds the collective intellect of their political contemporaries.
The Maoists' have masterfully accomplished their end-goal by leveraging every available opportunity to their political advantage. Twice, State forces had beat down the Maoists' insurgent capabilities and at both times, the Maoist leadership came to the negotiating table while their fighting forces re-grouped and re-armed. The Maoists' even recognized opportunity when King Birendra's family was murdered. They wasted no time in blaming the multiple murders on the new King, Gyanendra, and essentially, fed off of the public's standing discontent with the Gyanendra and his son.
When former King Gyanendra took over, the Maoists turned a life-threatening situation to their advantage by forming an alliance with seven political parties (including those who commissioned the war against the Maoists). Having eliminated the Royalist and military threat, the Maoists have now discarded the Nepali Congress - a party the Maoists were able to manipulate to the maximum extent through the NC's "Achilles' Heel" - Girija Prasad Koirala's never-ending lust for power.
The Maoists' have leveraged every agenda from republicanism, to nationalism, to ethnic determination, to gender-based politics, to federalism, to human rights - each, depending on time and situation. When examined over a continuum, the contradictions inherent to various Maoist positions is apparent. But, the Maoists' have managed to sell their changed positions as "adaptations" (or flexibility) as opposed to the tactical maneuvers they really are; the Maoists' have managed to keep the Nepali public focused peripheral issues and their political opponents, guessing and in disarray.
Nepal's Maoists' have also used civil society and the INGO community as stepping stones on their path to power. Politically speaking, there is nothing wrong with the manner in which the Maoists have campaigned - they have operated under the same constraints as their political rivals. However, there is one differentiator between the Maoists' political campaign and the campaigns of others. This differentiator is the subtle (but ever-present) threat of violence.
Whether through the PLA, the YCL, or through their unions, the Maoists have always retained a credible (and demonstrated) penchant for the application of force. Meanwhile, Nepal's liberal elite (domestically and abroad), have continued to focus on the more progressive aspects of the Maoist agenda while turning a blind eye to the not-so-progressive, power plays that actually enable the Maoists as a force to reckon with.
The height of hypocrisy has been so-called civil society leaders expressing fear for their lives in private and then praising the Maoists' in public. The Maoists using the human rights lobby to neutralize the NA's most effective counter-insurgency unit - "Brigade #10" - while burying documented human rights abuses of their own (during the war and during the on-going peace process), is also an "exemplary" feat. For the Maoists, the entire peace process has been a one-way street of "take, take and take some more." This, according to the international community and the gainfully employed UNMIN, has been indicative of the "success" of Nepal's peace process.
Consider for example, the number of concessions that the Maoists have gained from a single demand they continue to agree to meet and then flout - the return of seized properties. Or, consider the Maoist leadership's promise to curb violent YCL activities and more recently, to disband the YCL. The first promise will never materialize; the second one has more potential since the Maoists' have figured out how to disband the YCL only to recreate it under the illusion of a "Youth Ministry." The net result of both examples is the same - the Maoists retain the initiative while their rivals remain helpless. Ironically, it is what the Maoists do (and how they do it) that makes their opponents "reactionary."
When any other party challenges the Maoists', the peace process comes under threat; but as long as the Maoists get what they want, the peace process remains on track. This however, is about to change. As the head of the interim government, the Maoists' no longer enjoy the luxury of opposition. With Pushpa Dahal as Nepal's newly elected Prime Minister, over night, the Maoists have become front and center of the peace process, of the nation's governance, its foreign policy and the constitution-writing process, all at the same time.
Using the Nepali Congress as a diversion to focus public angst is not going to be as easy as it was when Nepal had a Monarchy to blame everything on. Hydropower is not the panacea the Maoists have painted as the solution to Nepal's economic woes. Taxing aphrodisiac sales my have helped the Maoists with their insurgency but it is hardly something that can be relied upon as a GDP enhancer. The Swiss model of federalism works best for Switzerland because Switzerland isn't where in Nepal. These are all realities the Maoists will have to face.
According to work cited by best selling author Malcom Gladwell, 150 persons (or less) is the optimal number when it comes to operational efficiency (decision making). While there are certainly levels of acceptable efficiencies, 601 (the number of individual in the constituent assembly chartered to write Nepal's new constitution) appears "slightly" suboptimal. The "logical end" to the Nepal's peace process is not as forthcoming as Mr. Dahal would have us believe - unless of course, the "logical end" by Dahal's definition differs from the "logical end" as envisioned by others.
Whatever the case may be, the time has finally arrived for the Maoists' to put their money where their mouths are and deliver on their populist rhetoric. The "people" want a "Switzerland" in Nepal and they want it yesterday. The educated Nepali elite want a liberal democracy. China wants the Tibetan issue to disappear. India wants whoever is in power to continue reporting to New Delhi on a periodic basis.
The international community (especially the UN) has done an excellent job of crediting the Maoists for being pragmatic in their political approach. The Maoists for their part would do well to continue being as pragmatic in leadership, as they were in opposition. A few useful tips to Nepal's new Prime Minister may come from News Week Editor, Fareed Zakaria; both from Zakaria's seminal writing ("The Future of Freedom") and from Zakaria's very bold and pragmatic recommendation (in News Week - http://www.newsweek.com/id/151731) that the Bush Administration's second term policies are balanced and should be continued irrespective of which presidential hopeful reaches the White House, this Fall. There are lessons for Nepal's Maoists in all of Zakaria's work.
Unfortunately, for brilliant minds like Fareed Zakaria, Nepal is at best, a data point. And since it is unlikely that Nepal has Zakaria-equivalents on stand-by to advise the country's new Prime Minister, Mr. Dahal may wish to spend a little less time attending Olympic fanfare and more time thinking about drafting Nepal's new constitution. He may also want to take a few notes from Zakaria's writings on "illiberal democracy." Then again, a "liberal autocracy" may be of more interest to Dahal.
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