Jan 21, 2012

When Wen came

By Yubaraj Ghimire

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Kathmandu may have rescued Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai from a huge embarrassment, but no one believes that it was the motive of the official visit — which was less than five hours in duration. Unlike earlier high-level Chinese visits, Wen’s was below the radar. There were no cheering crowds. There was no international media covering the event. From the airport, Wen went to the prime minister’s office, and then to the president’s office for a courtesy call — and he was off to Qatar.

Bhattarai was criticised by many, including his own party leaders, that his untimely disclosure of Wen’s three-day visit (earlier proposed from December 20) was the reason behind Beijing eventually calling it off. After Wen’s visit, Bhattarai called some journalists to his residence to claim that he was the only statesman after B.P. Koirala, the first elected prime minister, who could negotiate both with China and India on equal footing. Within minutes after Wen’s aircraft took off on January 11, Deputy Prime Minister and Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha claimed that it was a “historically successful visit”.

Apart from promising to give 12 billion Nepali rupees as enhanced grant, China advised Nepali leaders to maintain good and friendly relations with India and wished them success in finalising the peace process and constitution delivery on time.

Nine days after the visit, Bijay Gachedar, a deputy prime minister, got the same piece of advice from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi — that Nepal must develop friendly ties with China. What was behind this gesture from India? Of course, Delhi has often said that it is up to Nepal to decide the kind of relations it wants with Beijing, but quite often Delhi has also made its displeasure known to the rulers in Nepal over the perceived or real use of “China card” against India.

Since 2005, India has played a lead role in Nepal, something which western countries have accepted and which China showed indifference to. How should Nepal interpret India’s recent recommendation that enough space be given to China? Does it mean that if Nepal fails to complete the peace process and the drafting of the constitution by May 28, China and India, and not so much an India-led Western equation, will be playing a constructive role? If so, then China has reasons to smile over its successful diplomacy in Nepal.

By all accounts, the peace process is falling apart. Except for the Maoists, every political party in the country is saying that the peace process cannot be delinked from the drafting of the constitution any longer. As per the latest agreement signed between the Maoists and the four big parties, the government should have returned all the property that the former insurgents had seized during the years of conflict (1996-2006) and set up commissions to try human rights violation cases. Not only have these not been implemented, but there have been bigger complications.

Bhattarai has instructed the office of the land revenue to legalise the transfer of all land during the years of conflict, which means allowing Maoist occupants to continue possessing the land which was supposed to have been restored to its rightful owners. The office of the “Peoples Liberation Army” has told the government that combatants would not vacate cantonments if ranks were not given to its satisfaction. Much against the earlier agreement that not more than two combatants opting for integration in the Nepal army would make it to the rank of major and above, the Maoists are now demanding 443 officer-level positions, including that of lieutenant-general, something which the technical task force that worked out the previous agreement says “cannot be done under any circumstances”. Bhattarai is either endorsing the latest party line or is helpless to overrule “the PLA”. The casualty, no doubt, is the peace process.

Amid all this Beijing possibly realises that a stable Nepal under any political dispensation is preferable to a chaotic Nepal under Maoist leadership.

Courtesy: Indian Express

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