Apr 28, 2011
Apr 7, 2011
International Crisis Group
Nepal is entering a new phase in its fitful peace process, in which its so-called “logical conclusion” is in sight: the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants and the introduction of a new constitution. The Maoists, the largest party, are back in government in a coalition led by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), UML party. Negotiations, although fraught, are on with the second-largest party, the Nepali Congress (NC), to join. Agreement is being reached on constitutional issues and discussions continue on integration. None of the actors are ramping up for serious confrontation and few want to be seen as responsible for the collapse of the constitution-writing process underway in the Constituent Assembly (CA). But success depends on parties in opposition keeping tactical threats to dissolve the CA to a minimum, the government keeping them engaged, and the parties in government stabilising their own precariously divided houses. It will also require the Maoists to take major steps to dismantle their army.
The fundamentally political nature of the transitional arms and armies arrangements became clear when the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) departed in January 2011, as did the resilience of the peace process and the Maoists’ continued buy-in. That is encouraging, as is the fresh momentum. But major challenges remain. The CA may need a short extension when its term expires on 28 May 2011 if the parties cannot quickly agree on integration or federalism. But the Madhesi parties and sections of the NC and UML are willing to argue against extension, largely as a bargaining posture, and to slow down negotiations to suggest that the CA is ineffective. All parties in government are in the throes of factional struggles; internal disagreements and threatened splits complicate the outlook. In their rush to get to the finish line, all parties risk doing the bare minimum to “complete” the process. After 21 months of fighting over access to power, including sixteen unsuccessful votes to select a prime minister, and limited progress in the year before that, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has become a ragged document.
There has been no empirical survey on the state of landholdings and no land reform measures implemented yet. The Disappearance and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have not yet been formed. Plans for what the CPA calls the “democratisation” of the Nepal Army are so far largely self-directed and more concerned with beautifying the bureaucracy surrounding the army, rather than making the institution more accountable and smaller. These long-term projects would be easy to push on to the back burner. But to do so would undermine implementation of the new constitution and the deep political reform envisaged in the CPA, and consolidation of lasting peace. State restructuring, though broadly agreed to be essential or unavoidable, plays out in public as a binary debate on the Maoists’ contested definition of federalism, rather than on what it is Nepalis want out of this change and how best to deliver that.
The immediate tasks, integration and getting the new constitution right, are critical to addressing these issues in the long term. This government has close to the two-thirds majority needed to pass the constitution or extend the CA. But the resistance of some in the NC and the Madhesi parties, encouraged by India, could make for another messy, last-minute action, in which substantive issues are compromised to defend power-sharing arrangements. Further, a constitution, or a plan for its deferral, that any of the larger parties does not sign off on would be contested from the start. Visible progress is needed to reassure the fractured polity and public that the task of transforming the state has not been abandoned and to counter the threat of localised violence in the lead up to the 28 May deadline. Ideally, extension of the CA would be short and accompanied by a non-negotiable timeline for resolution of the federalism question, and public disclosure of even a partial draft.
The NC and Madhesi parties from the country’s southern Tarai region should join the government to make decisions truly consensual and share the political gains of success. Until then, the ruling UML-Maoist coalition needs urgently to engage with these parties. The Maoists must finally make a good faith gesture on dismantling its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The NC must go beyond its rhetorical dichotomy of democracy versus Maoist state capture and contribute constructively to negotiations.
The Maoists are undergoing a transformation, dramatically visible in divisive public spats between the leaders, as the party simultaneously acts as a revolutionary movement, a political party aggressively pushing the limits of democratic practice, and an expanding enterprise of financial interests and patronage. With the Maoists announcing, while in government, the creation of a new “volunteer” outfit, continuing extortion by the party’s various wings, monopoly over decision-making and intimidation in some districts, and ideological reiteration of “revolt”, they are a difficult partner to trust. This is their moment to acknowledge that capturing state power through armed force is no longer on their agenda, and to address the deep discontent within the leadership.
For the NC and UML, which have done little to rebuild their political organisations and regain political space after the 2008 CA elections, contributing positively to immediate and medium-term peace process goals could revitalise their bases. Their greatest challenges come from divisions within, rigidity towards the new political order, and the social changes at the grassroots. Their weak organisations and internal disputes, reservations about the extent of reform proposed by the peace process and poorly articulated party policies may further marginalise them.
Most Madhesi parties, whose participation in national politics in the last two years has been largely limited to making up the numbers for a variety of alliances, still look to New Delhi for assistance. Their political agenda is devalued by their opportunistic political alliances, but they retain the ability, with some assistance, to mobilise in order to give the government a hard time and push for a role in decision-making so their concerns are addressed.
With the departure of UNMIN, New Delhi again finds itself in a leadership role in international engagement with Nepal. The new coalition demonstrates the limits of its policy of isolating the Maoists and India must now re-assess whether it can continue to hold this position and whether dissolution of the CA, its preferred option, will have controllable consequences. Re-engagement with the Maoists will require the various sections of the Indian establishment to manoeuvre themselves out of the corner they have painted themselves into; having supported and encouraged Nepali actors in taking extreme anti-Maoist stances, they will have to backtrack, potentially leaving allies in Kathmandu to pay the political price. The rest of the international community needs to offer consultative, unstinting and transparent support to implementing long-term peace process commitments.
Kathmandu/Brussels, 7 April 2011 / Asia Briefing N°120 / 7 Apr 2011
Apr 6, 2011
Apr 2, 2011
By: Yubaraj Ghimire
A Chinese army chief does not undertake a visit to Nepal routinely. General Chen Bingde was in Nepal for three days in late March — the first in 11 years by a chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). And the message that he has given has implications not only in the bilateral context of Nepal-China relations but also the larger regional context.
Chen, who led a 15-member delegation, signed an agreement with the Nepal army, not with the defence ministry as the host government wished. China promised a grant of 160 million yuan for modernising the military hospital in Kathmandu and for army construction activities. Not only has China substantially increased its assistance to the Nepal army, but it has also conveyed keenness on army-to-army relations with Nepal.
In the absence of the monarchy, that China trusted in the course of its 55-plus years of diplomatic relations, perhaps it has come to realise the significance of the Nepal army. In a country going unpredictably anarchic, many institutions have been largely politicised.
Chen said China is keen to expand its assistance to the Nepal army as “its economy grows”. In his close interaction with the top brass of the Nepal army, Chen chose not to conceal China’s resentment with the EU, the US and India — either for “instigating Tibetans” or for too much interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. He was slightly more diplomatic during his interaction with President Rambaran Yadav and Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, referring only to EU “instigaton” of Tibetans, and extracted an assurance that “Nepali territory” would not be permitted to be used against its neighbour. Chen, who appeared in a jovial mood during that meeting, said China would not tolerate a third country coming in the way of the friendship between Nepal and China. He said good relations were vital for regional peace and stability.
Although the PLA has been cultivating Nepali Maoists and inviting several delegations to China, Chen chose not to meet any Maoist leader, fully sensitive to the strained relationship between the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) and the army. He brought a message from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to his Nepal counterpart, wishing the peace and constitution-writing process success.
In contrast to India’s oft-repeated stance that it is always ready to extend any kind of help that Nepal wanted to complete these processes, China’s message was meaningful: “China wants Nepal to complete the peace and constitution-making process on its own, and we believe it is capable of doing it.” Analysts say China wants to be seen as favouring an assertion of Nepali sovereignty.
China, like India, is aware of a situation in which a constitution might not be delivered and also understands the role the army would then play. It has been able to convey that China will continue to be a player in its south, and would not like too much meddling from other countries, including India. All at a time when India is not only getting unpopular in Nepal but is largely blamed for the prevailing uncertainty and chaos — as the one that brought various political parties, including the Maoists, together.
There is a fear that the current political dispensation may not be able to hold the country together as a demand for federalisation on ethnic and caste lines has created divisive trends. More political parties at home, except the Maoists, are turning towards the army, calling it the only hope to address the emerging crisis. And President Yadav has come out in open confrontation with the government dominated by Maoists, often criticising them for their laxity in completing the peace and constitution-making process on time. He obviously hopes that the army will at least support him should the executive responsibility fall on his shoulders when the constituent assembly misses yet another deadline (May 28).
The army chiefs of India and Nepal are honorary generals in each other’s country and the Nepal army has also been the recipient of the largest volume of assistance, including arms, from India — nearly 70 per cent in grant — in the past. Often India has resisted a direct dealing by the Nepal army with a third country without keeping it informed. General Chen’s gesture and promise of support is definitely a test case. As China builds inroads to Nepal and befriends its army, it is not leaving the mountain country to India alone any more.
Incidentally, the supply of arms and ammunition to the Nepal army that India suspended in February 2005, in protest against the royal takeover, continues even now as no government in the past four years has written to India demanding a resumption.
Nepal’s army still remains anti-people in the eyes of the Maoists who dominate the government and parliament, and other parties are too week to go against the Maoist will. China understands what a warm handshake and promise of increased support to the Nepal army at this crucial juncture means.
(Courtesy: Indian Express)