May 10, 2011

Home truths

By Yubaraj Ghimire

Nepal has been a failed lab for many political experiments since the 1990s. Now, the control of the state by the radical left is emerging as a distinct possibility. Its takeover will be difficult to contain if the tenure of the constituent assembly, which expires on May 28, gets extended.

Last week, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, who is also the chairman of the CPN-UML, entrusted the home ministry to Maoist leader and Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, overruling his own party’s directive. For Khanal, appeasing the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the largest in the House, is important to ensure his survival.

The Armed Police Force (APF), the police and the intelligence come under the home ministry. That the Maoists are now in charge of that portfolio, when their army is still intact, has worried the other parties and even a large section of the CPN-UML. According to a leaked statement, the UCPN-M’s secretary, C.P. Gajurel, told cadres at a training programme that controlling the police and the APF is necessary to eventually “take on the Nepal army” — perhaps the biggest if not the sole hurdle — in its taking control of the state.

Extending the term of the constituent assembly, which has so far failed to deliver a constitution, is now solely the agenda of the radical left in general, and of Prachanda and Khanal in particular. Only then can the UCPN-M continue to enjoy being the No 1 party in the House. More than any other party, the UCPN-M needs the House to gain whatever legitimacy it can in the peace and democratic process.

The international community, which supported the entry of Maoists into Nepal’s democratic process about five years ago, is confused and remorseful of what now appears to have been wasted years. The European Union, mainly the UK and Denmark, mooted the idea of bringing Maoists into peace politics in March 2005. India, which wields considerable influence in Nepal, came into the picture nine months later, but took the lead by bringing Maoists and pro-democracy parties together through the much-talked-about 12-point agreement.

Unlike the UK and Denmark, India — given its location next door and various security-related interests — does not have the luxury of ignoring the current mess in Nepal. India, of late, seems convinced that the continuation of the constituent assembly will not be in the interest of democratic consolidation and has possibly outlived its utility.

A delegation of the European Parliament was in Nepal in May last year to lobby for the extension of the constituent assembly. India had endorsed it then. The constituent assembly is unlikely to fulfil its task even this time. The EU may not be able to lobby openly for another extension. India too is unlikely to watch the process unfold silently; it could in fact be very vocal in its opposition.

India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, during his recent visit to Nepal, said that India was in favour of a constitution being drafted within the designated timeframe. Meanwhile, there are fears in and outside Nepal that China has come to patronise Nepal’s radical left ruling coalition. China has kept away from directly or visibly dictating Nepal’s political course. However, it has given clear messages over a period of time, especially after the end of the monarchy, that its interests in Nepal are no less than India’s. Even so, more than Chinese involvement, the two crucial issues that will concern internal and external players will be the future of democracy and political stability.

The consolidation of the radical left and its control of the state apparatus have greatly minimised the participation of democratic groups, including the Nepali Congress and most of Terai-based parties, in government. Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai has been advocating their entry to government, but it seems more of a tactic to secure their support to have the House tenure extended, than a genuine commitment to democracy.

Nepal could see new permutations in the near future. One possibility is that Khanal will be blamed for the crisis, and a section of the Maoists will propose that the Nepali Congress lead the new government on condition that the House continues to exist.

What Nepal’s political class should realise is that the constituent assembly has run its course. The parties, including the Maoists, should accept full responsibility for the time wasted and opportunities bungled.
They should chart out a new course for peace, democracy and reconciliation.

If they fail to do so, the radical left could be pitted against the rest. It may even lead to the restoration of the constitution of 1991 that was unceremoniously and unconstitutionally dismantled exactly five years ago. After all, a country cannot indefinitely remain without a constitution.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)

May 2, 2011

Nepal political deadlock and SM Krishna's Nepal visit

By Deepak Gajurel
The ground reality of Indian Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna's Nepal visit. Please click on the following link to listen or download a dawn to earth analysis based on realpolitik.

The Army Advances

By Yubaraj Ghimire

With Nepal’s constituent assembly unlikely to draft and deliver the constitution by the new deadline of May 28, and given the loss of credibility of the bickering political parties, the army is being seen by every major external player as the most important — if not the only — stabilising institution in the country. Clearly, countries near and far are keen to cooperate with it.

The Chinese army chief, Chen Bingde, was in Nepal a month ago to hold meetings with the president, the prime minister and the chief of the Nepal army. The army accepted 160 million yuan from Beijing for expansion and purchase of equipment for the military hospital in Kathmandu. Interestingly, Pakistan had earlier offered 1 billion Nepali rupees for the expansion of the military hospital, but the Nepal government declined it. Given its long and traditional relations with the Indian army on one hand, and the hostility between India and Pakistan on the other, the Nepal army was hesitant to accept the offer from Pakistan.

India’s army chief, General V.K. Singh, during his visit to Nepal about three months ago, confided to a small group of senior generals that he felt India’s new Nepal policy was not all that right. He did not explain the statement, but those present there read it in two ways. One, that the Indian establishment’s complete trust in the Maoists — who still treat Nepal’s army as their enemy — in 2006 was inappropriate. Two, that the overthrow of the monarchy, without mooting a credible, permanent and strong institution in its place, was counter-productive.

India is not the only country uncomfortable with China’s growing interest in Nepal — since China is perceived to be close to the Maoists, the biggest party today. The US, going by its recent Congressional report, seems as wary. General Chen’s efforts to develop closer ties with Nepal’s army will add to those concerns.

Chhatraman Singh, chief of the Nepal army, found that out when he went to Washington, DC less than a week after General Chen’s visit. Apart from the unusually warm welcome he received, the army chief was happy that the US did not raise the issue of human rights for the first time in many years, nor their violation by Nepal’s army.

The US’s deliberate omission and the usual promise of support as well as India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s statement during his visit that the army’s professional and apolitical character must be maintained only signal the role the army will be playing in Nepal in the days to come. Perhaps the world outside has inferred that there will be more chaos and uncertainty in Nepal, and that the political process and parties are likely to be further discredited.

Political parties no longer indulge in cornering the army as an outfit loyal to the king. The army is neither branded as pro-king nor vilified as anti-democracy. The issue of “democratisation” of the Nepal army is no longer being raised, with no one having clarified or explained what that term means.

Although the perception of the army has undergone a major change at home and abroad, there are still concerns about differences at the top level and the role it should play in the future. With just about a month left for the extended deadline for drafting the constitution, Nepal’s political players are looking for an excuse to justify the failure of the constituent assembly. They are sure to face the people’s anger and non-cooperation. The four big parties, including the Maoists and the Nepali Congress, have fallen out, and a broad political consensus that almost all the parties swore by has evaporated.

However, chances of their coming together to give the House a further extension cannot be ruled out, given the fact that these parties will otherwise be dumped as a collective failure. The army may seek a larger recognition if that happens. It is likely to demand that it should not be treated on par with Maoist combatants, something which the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) promised, that the army will mainly decide on the conditions for integration of Maoist combatants in the security set-up and that political parties will abide by it if peace and political stability are achieved. The army in that context would have gained a lot, but the question that needs to be urgently answered is: what can a national army without credible political bosses or set-up, during an unduly prolonged transitional phase, do?

The army, despite regaining its lost image, cannot substitute for political parties. This is something political parties perhaps understand and one reason why they are not quite keen to get their act together.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)