Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Precarious Premise Of Peacemaking

By Sanjay Upadhya

The grins, quips and all the other breezy displays of optimism surrounding the post-Dasain phase of the peace process have dissolved in the somberness of the indefinite postponement of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist talks.
Given the murkiness of the enterprise, however, another phase of ebullience and enthusiasm could bounce back with surprising speed. The “homework” hiatus should afford the country an opportunity to reflect on the predicaments on both sides.
For the Maoists, blaming the palace and foreign powers for conspiring to keep them out of power would help energize the base and thwart the prospect of serious discontent over the political leadership’s capitulation to the machinations of the mainstream.
When the rebels continue to ascribe to the palace the ability to torpedo the peace process, they are virtually negating the finality of the “historic” proclamation the House of Representatives adopted in May. Yet the SPA – at least the sections of the two Nepali Congress parties that seem to be propelling the ruling alliance – does not seem too bothered.
The Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and the other communist constituents may be too busy protecting their own turfs against the imminent influx of their more radical cousins to challenge Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s deepening affection for the monarchy. The mainstream communists, like the republican wing of the Nepali Congress, have evidently recognized the asset a sufficiently and certifiably tamed palace could prove to be.
The two factors supposedly holding back the breakthrough that was so tantalizingly close – the monarchy and Maoist arms – have brought out the painful predicaments of peacemaking. The government’s annoyance with the Maoists eagerness to maintain simultaneous access to their arms and political power – in defiance of international pressure – is understandable.
No less so is the Maoists’ bafflement over the government’s refusal to “suspend” the monarchy, when, for all practical purposes, the House proclamation has already done that.
Introspection is in order. Considering the approaching anniversary, it should begin with the 12-point SPA-Maoist accord reached in New Delhi last year. The reality that the accord stands on flimsier ground than the 1951 Delhi Compromise rests not on the absence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the preponderant player.
The real distinguishing feature is that Jawaharlal Nehru represented India far more credibly than the current Congress premier – and perhaps any future leader of the world’s most populous democracy – can expect to.
The fragility of the peace process becomes more ominous when Maoist chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai praises India for facilitating the accord and then blames it for conspiring to keep the rebels out of power, almost in the same breath. If the adroit hair-splitter is making a distinction between those in the Indian Left who mediated the talks with the SPA and the “official sources” who leaked reports to the media that Indian intelligence agencies were “chaperoning” him around New Delhi, then he needs to be more explicit about those negotiations.
The question is, can he? When UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal traveled to Lucknow in November 2003 to meet with Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai, there was palpable mix of outrage and embarrassment in both sides of the border over the ease with which the leader of the opposition could meet “terrorists” on Indian soil.
Those sentiments obscured the more relevant story: Dr. Bhattarai’s candid acknowledgement that the Maoists, like any other political organization in Nepali history, could not advance their objectives by criticizing India. The Indians, for their part, must be equally baffled by how the Maoists, who have vowed to launch massive peaceful urban protests in case the talks fail, could still keep their broader pledge to turn South Asia into a flaming field of Maoist revolutions.”
Such fiery rhetoric cannot obscure the flexibility behind the Maoists’ growth. An organization that took up arms against both the monarchy and parliamentary democracy – more vigorously against the latter until the June 1, 2001 royal palace massacre – has now allied with one.
A 40-point list of grievances heavily targeted against India has now been distilled into diatribe against the 238-year-old monarchy. The obfuscation and prevarication that has gone into justifying such shifts are not helpful. Yet the Maoists persist.
Providing revolutionary ardor to Prithvi Narayan Shah’s famous counsel, the Maoists describe Nepal as a dynamite between two boulders. The yam metaphor of the first Shah king may have contained traces of weakness – as the Maoists allege -- but it still pulsated with a quest for life.
The notion of self-destruction – and its wider devastation -- inherent in the dynamite analogy may not have alarmed many Nepalis. The international community has taken notice. No wonder U.N. General Assembly members on Monday refused to be taken in by the peace-and-democracy platform in Nepal campaign for a two-year seat on the Security Council.

Originally posted on October 16, 2006

Monday, December 26, 2016

क्रान्तिकारी भाषामा राजकीय शव्द

सञ्जय उपाध्याय

नयां नेपाललाई पुरानोले कति सम्म लखेटिरहेको छ भन्ने एउटा उदाहरण नेपाली काङ्ग्रेसका उपसभापति रामचन्द्र पौडेलले हालै पोखरामा दिन पुगे। प्रधानमन्त्री पुष्पकमल दाहालले अचेल प्रयोग गर्ने गरेको भाषामा पौडैलले तत्कालिन राजा महेन्द्रका शब्दहरु भेट्न थालेछन्।
आफ्नो संघर्षमय राजनीतिक जीवन राजा महेन्द्रकै शासनकालमा सुरु गरेका पौडेललाई उनको त्यस बखतको सम्झना बेला बेला कुनै न कुनै रुपले आइरहंदो हो। दाहालले खुलेरै नेपालले आफ्नै प्रकृतिको लोकतन्त्रको विकास गर्नु पर्ने कुरा गर्न थाले पछि पौडेललाई विगतले झन् सताएको होला।
दाहालको कथनका पछाडि जेजस्ता कारण रहे पनि केही त माओवादीहरु कै राजनीतिक आस्था, हाम्रो विगतको संसदीय अनुभव र समसामयिक राजनीति संग गासिएका छन्। मूलधारमा आइसके पछि नेकपा माओवादीले आफ्नो विशिष्ट क्रान्तिकारी छवि गुमाउदै गएको भन्ने कार्यकर्ताहरुमा बढ्दै गएको असन्तोष कसैबाट छिपेको छैन। जनयुद्ध राजतन्त्र र संसदीय व्यवस्था दुवै विरुद्ध सुरु भएको स्मरण गर्नेहरु मध्ये धेरैले त त्यो असन्तोष नै दाहालका लागि सबैभन्दा ठूलो समस्या बन्न सक्ने शान्ति प्रक्रियाको आरम्भ संगै ठम्याएका थिए।
उता नेपाली कम्युनिष्ट आन्दोलनको नेतृत्व सम्हाल्ने होडवाजीले पनि काम गरेको छ। अघिल्ला पुस्ताका उग्रबामपन्थीहरुको मूलधारिकरण गर्न सफल मदन भण्डारीको जनताको बहुदलीय जनवादका तत्कालिन बिरोधीहरु मध्येका एक वर्तमान एमाले महासचिव झलनाथ खनालले आफ्नो दललाई क्रान्तिकारी छवि दिने भरमग्दूर प्रयास गरिरहेका छन्। उनले पनि नेपालको अनुभव र आवश्यक्ता अनुरुप राजनीतिक व्यवस्थालाई परिमार्जन गर्नु पर्ने मनतव्य दिइरहेका छन्।
नयां संरचना सम्वन्धि स्पष्ट विवरण माओवादी वा एमाले कसैले दिन नसकेको सन्दर्भमा त्यस्ता भनाईहरुलाई लोकतन्त्र बिरोधी चरित्र दिन नेपाली कांग्रेसलाई सजिलो पर्यो। अनि राजा महेन्द्रद्धारा संसदीय प्रजातन्त्रको अन्त्य गरी प्रतिपादित निर्दलीय पञ्चायत व्यवस्था संग दाहाल र खनाललाई जोड्न पौडेललाई सजिलो भयो।
तर यहां अर्को खेल सुरु भएको आभाष हुन्छ। निश्चय पनि आधारभूत दलविहीन स्वरुपले नै पञ्चायत ब्यवस्थालाई अप्रजातान्त्रिक बनाएको थियो। जनताको राजनीतिक आस्थाका आधारमा संगठित हुने अधिकारलाई बर्गीय संगठन जस्ता अन्य बैकल्पिक माध्यमबाट सुनिश्चित गर्ने निर्दलीय अभियान ब्यर्थ रह्यो। आधारभूत निर्दलीय स्वरुपकै आयामहरुले राष्ट्रको समग्र जीवनलाई नियन्त्रण गर्यो।
तत्कालिन अन्तरराष्ट्रिय परिस्थिति माझ संसदीय प्रजातन्त्रको भविष्य कति सुरक्षित थियो भन्ने विवाद कहिले नटुंगेला। तर पनि फर्केर हेर्नु पर्नै हुन्छ। एकातिर परस्पर विपरित राजनीतिक प्रणाली बोकेका हाम्रा उतर र दक्षिण छिमेकी वीचको शत्रुता थियो भने अर्को तिर पूर्व र पश्चिम विश्व राजनीतिक आस्थाका आधारमा शितयुद्धमा लिप्त थिए। अनि दोश्रो विश्व युद्ध पछि एशिया, अफ्रिका र लेटिन अमेरिकामा उदाएका नेपाल जस्ता नवप्रजातन्त्रहरुले अन्तरराष्ट्रिय शक्ति संघर्ष माझ गुमाउनु परेको राजनीतिक स्वतन्त्रता फेरी हासिल गर्न शीत युद्धको अन्त्यको प्रतिक्षा गर्नु परेको यथार्थ थियो।
राजा महेन्द्रको राजनीतिक अनुदारता भित्र पनि उनको शासनकालमा नेपालले आफ्नो विशिष्ट अन्तरराष्ट्रिय पहिचान बनाउन सफल भएको स्वीकार्न कन्जुस्याइ गर्नु पर्ने कारण छैन। भारत संगको सम्वन्धलाई शान्त कूटनीति भित्र समेटेर नेपालले त्यतिवेला आफ्ना स्वतन्त्र र सार्वभौम आकांक्षा र अपेक्षाहरु विश्वव्यापी रुपमा सम्प्रेषण गर्न राजा महेन्द्र सफल भएका थिए।
हो, उनको कूटनीतिले छोडेको पिडादायी पक्षहरुमा कालापानी र १९६५को हतियार खरिद सम्वन्धि समझदारी जस्ता मुद्दा हाम्रा सामु अझै छन्। राजा महेन्द्रलाई जति दोष दिए पनि विर्सन नहुने कुरा चाहीं के हो भने कालापानी र १९६५को समझदारीले वोकेको आधारभूत अन्यायलाई उनको अप्रजातान्त्रिक पक्ष संग जोडेर भारत मूल विषयबाट उम्कन सफल भएको छ।
नेपाल राज्यको उदय, बिकास र वर्तमान स्वरुपका आलोचकहरु राजा महेन्द्रलाई आन्तरिक रुपमा कृतिम नेपालीत्व लादेकोमा दोषी ठान्छन्। तर नेपाली नेपाली वीच भावनात्मक एकता बन्न नसकेको एवं एउटा वर्ग, समुदाय र तप्काले समग्र मुलुकलाई शोषण गरेको भन्नेहरुले पनि नेपाललाई दर्जनौ सूक्ष्म राष्ट्रहरुको पुंजका रुपमा परिकल्पना गरेका छैनन्। जे जति न्यायपूर्ण प्रतिनिधित्व, समावेशिकरण र सम्वन्वय बढाउनु पर्ने हो अहिलेकै हाम्रा भौगोलिक यथार्थ र अन्तरराष्ट्रिय पहिचानकै परिधि भित्र गर्नु पर्ने हुन्छ।
यो आकांक्षालाई बुझेको अभाष नेकपा माओवादीले जनयुद्ध सुरु गरे देखि नै औपचारिक दस्तावेज, नेतृत्व पंक्तिका सार्वजनिक भनाई र लेख रचना मार्फत दिएको हो। प्रधानमन्त्रीका रुपमा दाहालले त्यसो गर्न सफल होलान् वा राष्ट्रियता सम्वन्धि मुद्दाहरुलाई सत्तारोहणको मार्गमा सीमित राख्लान् त्यो त भविष्यले नै बताउला। तर प्रधानमन्त्री भएको महिना दिन जसो भित्र दाहालले नेपालमा प्रभावशाली तीनवटै शक्तिशाली मुलुकका सर्वोच्च नेतृत्वलाई भेटी नेपालीहरुको स्वतन्त्र र सवल भई वाच्ने आकांक्षा सम्प्रेषित गर्न सफल भए जस्तो देखिन्छन्। साथै उनले ती सरकारहरुको अपेक्षा बुझेका पनि होलान्।
तिनको समायोजन गर्न सक्नुमा नै नेपालको भविष्य निर्भर हुने कुरामा दुईमत नहोला। अहिले नै नयां नेपालको सम्भावित सम्वन्धि दाहालको एउटा अस्पष्ट अवधारणालाई राजा महेन्द्रको एउटा अप्रीय पक्ष संग जोड्न खोज्नु मुलुकका लागि कतिको हितकर होला?

Monday, October 24, 2016

अनौठो र विवादित अमेरिकी चुनाव

सन्जय उपाध्याय

19 अक्टोबर 2016
बीबीसी नेपाली

विश्वको सबैभन्दा शक्तिशाली मानिने देश अमेरिकाको विश्वकै सबैभन्दा शक्तिशाली भनिने पदका लागि अगामी महिना हुने निर्वाचन नजिकिँदै जाँदा त्यसका दुवै प्रमुख प्रत्याशी आ-आफ्नै विवाद र बहसमा गहिरिँदै जानुले परिणामबारेको उत्सुकता र अन्योललाई बढाएको छ।

खरो टिप्पणी, तर्कसंगत नभएको भनिएका कतिपय नीतिहरु एवम् अपरम्परागत व्यक्तित्वका कारण चरम विवादमा झेलिंदै आएका रिपब्लिकन पार्टीका राष्ट्रपतीय उम्मेदवार डोनल्ड ट्रम्पले अहिले आएर यौन दुर्व्यवहारका संगीन आक्षेपहरुको पनि प्रतिवाद गर्नुपरिरहेको छ।

ती सबका कारण आफ्नै पार्टीका वरिष्ठ नेताहरुको दह्रो समर्थन पाउन नसकेका ट्रम्प बेला-बेला स्वतन्त्र उम्मेद्वारझैँ देखिने र सुनिने गरेका छन्।

कतिपय रिपब्लिकन नेता एवम् विश्लेषकहरुले ट्रम्प अभियानको कथित अराजकताले अमेरिकी संसदका दुवै सदनमाथि आफ्नो पार्टीको नियन्त्रण नै खतरामा पर्न सक्ने चिन्ता व्यक्त गरेका छन्।

अन्य कतिपय रिपब्लिकनहरुले चाहिँ डेमोक्रेटिक पार्टीका उम्मेदवार हिलरी क्लिन्टनलाई भोट दिने सार्वजनिक उद्घोष नै गरिसकेका छन् भने कतिपयले ट्रम्पलाई कुनै पनि हालतमा भोट दिन नसकिने बताउँदै आएका छन्।

नयाँ मत सर्वेक्षणहरुमा हिलरीभन्दा पछि परिरहेका ट्म्पले सार्वजनिक भेलाहरुमा भने समर्थकहरुको निकै राम्रो उपस्थिति पाइरहेका छन्

उनीहरुलाई ट्रम्पका विवादका श्रृंखलाले विचलित नपारेको सन्देश मत सर्वेक्षणहरुले दिइरहेका छन्।

ट्रम्पकै शब्दमा 'खतरामा पर्दै गएको परम्परागत अमेरिकी राजनीतिक, सामाजिक, आर्थिक लगायतका पहिचानको जगेर्ना गर्ने' उनको अठोटले धेरै गोरा अमेरिकीहरुलाई ती अर्बपति व्यापारीप्रति आकर्षित गरेको देखिन्छ।

कट्टर समर्थकका भरमा मात्र चुनाव जित्न सकिने आशा भने ट्रम्पलाई पहिलेदेखि नै थिएन र उनी दुबै पार्टीका संस्थापनसँग आजित सबै पृष्ठभूमिका मतदातालाई जित्न सकिने विश्वासमा छन्।

उता प्रथम महिला सिनेटर र विदेशमन्त्री भइसकेकी हिलरीलाई पनि स्थिति त्यति सजिलो देखिँदैन।

ट्रम्पसँगको दुईवटा सार्वजनिक बहस जिते पनि हिलरीको स्वास्थ्य स्थितिबारेका प्रश्नहरु अनुत्तरित रहेका छन्।

हालैका दिनमा आएर विकिलिक्सले खुलासा गरेका उनीसँग सम्बन्धित निजी इमेलहरुले समस्या थपेका छन्।

महत्वपूर्ण विषयहरुमा उनका सार्वजनिक र निजी विचारहरु बाझिने गरेको आरोप लगाउनेहरुलाई ती इमेलहरुले बल दिएका छन् भने विदेशमन्त्री छँदा संवेदनशील सूचनाहरुको सुरक्षा गर्न नसकेको आरोपमा सरकारी सफाइ पाएपनि हिलरीको आधारभूत विश्वसनीयताबारे आश्वस्त हुन नसकेकाहरुको जमात उनकै पार्टीभित्र देखिएको छ।

महत्वपूर्ण सञ्चारमाध्यमसँग डेमोक्रेटिक पार्टीको विशेष सम्बन्ध रहेको आसय झल्कने खालका इमेलका व्यहोराले ट्रम्प खेमाले लगाइरहने आरोपलाई बल दिएको छ।

आफ्ना पति पूर्व राष्ट्रपति बिल क्लिन्टन एवम् हालका राष्ट्रपति बराक ओबामा जस्तो जनस्तरमा व्यक्तिगत आकर्षण बढाउन नसकेका कारण डेमोक्रेटिक मतदाता अपेक्षित संख्यामा भोट खसाल्न नआउलान् भन्ने पिरलोले पनि हिलरी खेमालाइ गाँजेको देखिन्छ।

मत सर्वेक्षकहरुलाई आफ्नो भित्री चाहना बताउन नचाहेका भनिएका मतदाता समूह आउदो नोभेम्बर ८ का दिन ठूलै सख्यामा ट्रम्पतिर लाग्ने छैनन् भन्न सक्ने विश्लेषकहरु कमै भेटिन्छन्।

त्यसमाथि अन्य दुई उम्मेदवार- लिबरटेरियन पार्टीका ग्यारी जनसन र ग्रीन पार्टीका जील स्टाइन- ले कसबाट बढी मत काट्लान भन्न सकिने अवस्था छैन।

क्लिन्टनको समर्थनमा एक सभामा बोल्दै ओबामाले रिपब्लिकन पार्टीका सबै वरिष्ठ नेताहरुलाई ट्रम्पलाई गरेको समर्थन औपचारिक रुपमा फिर्ता लिन आह्वान गरेका थिए।

ट्रम्प समर्थकहरु रिपब्लिकन आलोचकहरुप्रति नै आक्रामक रहँदै आएको यस अवस्थामा त्यसो हुने संभावना न्यून छ।

अमेरिकी इतिहासकै एउटा सबैभन्दा विवादित र अनौठा राष्ट्रपतीय चुनाव अभियानहरुमध्ये स्थापित भइसकेको यस अभ्यासको परिणाम मतदानमा असम्मिलित तर प्रभावित हुन बाँकी विश्वले निश्चय नै मनोरञ्जन र आशंकाको सम्मिश्रणका साथ प्रतीक्षा गर्नेछ।

Copyright © 2016 बीबीसी.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Unfolding ‘Great Game’ In South Asia

By Sanjay Upadhya

South Asia’s growing geo-strategic profile is being raised several notches by another global player. Japan plans to create a special South Asia department in its Foreign Ministry, designed to coordinate diplomacy with India and monitor China's regional influence, the Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun reported April 5. The new department will also be responsible for focusing greater attention on Pakistan and other South Asian nations, the newspaper said.
During the Cold War, ideological inhibitions and the insularity of South Asian economies had pushed the region to the margins of Japanese diplomacy. Although Tokyo saw South Asia as strategically important, especially in view of the sea-lanes vital to its oil imports from the Middle East, development cooperation with the region took precedence over everything else. As South Asian nations began liberalizing their economies and opening their doors to foreign investment in the early 1990s, Japan's economic involvement in the region grew substantially.
The timing of Japan’s latest effort to step up engagement with South Asia is significant; it comes weeks after the Bush administration merged the State Department’s South Asian and Central Asian bureaus into a single unit. Afghanistan, which is set to officially join the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as a full member later this year, is seen as the vital bridge between the two volatile regions of Asia. The United States and South Korea have applied for observer status at SAARC, a position China and Japan have been granted.

Geopolitical Shift
The geopolitical locus of South Asia underwent a dramatic shift last November when Nepal successfully tied Afghanistan’s SAARC membership to observer status for China. New Delhi’s strong initial opposition to the linkage crumbled as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka backed Nepal.
Clearly, the simultaneous inclusion of Japan – a traditional rival of China to which India has been warming up in recent years -- was intended to mollify New Delhi. For Tokyo, a formal foothold in South Asia comes amid a resurgence of popular opinion in favor of a more vigorous international role.
A recent poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun found 71 percent of Japanese want the country's constitution to "clarify the existence of the Self-Defense Force." Fifty-six percent said the constitution should be modified to take the SDF into consideration. The poll also put the number of those who want the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution revised at 39 percent - the highest percent in five years.
Ever since coming to office in 2000, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has argued the need for Japan to come out of the humiliation of its defeat in the Second World War and consider itself as a regional, if not global, power. In Beijing’s view, Tokyo has already embarked on assertive internationalism, especially in view of its deployments in Iraq, joint development of anti-missile systems, in-air refueling capabilities and interoperability among the various branches of service. China, which opposes Japan’s and India’s bids to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, is anxious to offset a Tokyo-New Delhi alignment in South Asia.

Asian Giants’ Rivalry
To be sure, relations between India and China have come a long way since their brief but bitter border war in 1962. The upturn has been spurred in large part by the two Asian giants’ booming economic ties. China is set to replace the United States as India's leading trade partner in the near future. New Delhi and Beijing, which recently held their second "strategic dialogue," have declared 2006 as a friendship year. They have agreed to cooperate, rather than compete, for global energy resources vital to fueling their growing economies.
Overall relations, however, are still inherently fragile. Contrasting cultures, disparate international outlooks, divergent political systems, and competing geostrategic interests, among other things, have left India-China ties vulnerable to sudden deterioration.
The U.S.-India nuclear deal, which aims to recognize New Delhi as the sixth nuclear power as well as open up civilian nuclear supplies, despite India’s refusal sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is only one of several contentious areas. Beijing believes the deal, signed during President George W. Bush’s visit to India early last month, would have a negative impact on the global nuclear order. The official Chinese media have been less reticent in voicing their concern; editorial writers and opinion columnists warn that if Washington made a nuclear exception for New Delhi, other powers could do the same with their allies.
Two other developments have forced Indians to sit up and ponder. Last November, New Delhi was taken aback by the emergence of a pro-China bloc comprising Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh at the 13th SAARC summit in Dhaka. A month later, at the first East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, China largely succeeded in confining India to the periphery of a future East Asia Community.

Chinese Strategic Contours
The strategic contours of China’s South Asia policy are becoming clearer. After Pakistan and Myanmar, Beijing is skillfully employing economic and military means to draw India’s other smaller neighbors into its own sphere of influence. The People’s Liberation Army’s recent incursions and road construction in Bhutanese territory are aimed at pressuring the tiny Himalayan kingdom to end its protectorate ties with India.
China has been steadily enhancing cooperation with Nepal, where King Gyanendra’s takeover of full executive powers last year prompted widespread international condemnation and arms embargos from traditional suppliers India, Britain and the United States. Spurning Indian pleas not to step into the vacuum, Beijing has supplied arms to King Gyanendra’s government, which – ironically enough -- is fighting a vicious Maoist insurgency.
Amid a downturn in India’s relations with Bangladesh, over such issues as illegal immigration, Islamist terrorism and trade, China has gained naval access to the Chittagong port. Through a road link with Bangladesh via Myanmar, China hopes to access Bangladesh’s vast natural gas reserves. China, the major arms supplier to Bangladesh, recently offered to provide Dhaka with nuclear reactor technology, heightening Indian anxieties.
China's growing regional assertiveness has had its impact on bilateral relations with India. During the last round of border talks in September, Indian analysts detected a hardening of Beijing stance on their long-running territorial dispute. Moreover, China, which finally seemed to have come around to recognizing India’s 1975 annexation of the former Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, now appears to be going slow on formalizing that position.

U.S. Written All Over
Beijing’s fears that Washington was using New Delhi and Tokyo as part of a broader campaign to contain China were further enflamed in February by the publication of the U.S. Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized Washington for attempting to play up a “non-existent Chinese military threat.”
Chinese analysts see the QDR’s designation of their country as a “strategic threat,” along with the U.S. focus on enhancing its Pacific military assets and increasing its long-range strike capability, as clear preparations for a future conflict. The full implications of a U.S.-led China-containment strategy in South Asia are yet to emerge. In an already volatile region, perceptions have a dangerous way of defining reality.

Originally published on April 12 2006.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pulling Nepal Back From The Precipice

By Sanjay Upadhya

Having endured scathing criticism from much of the world for his February 1 decision to take direct control of the government, Nepal’s King Gyanendra now has a special opportunity to present his case on the sidelines of two major regional forums later this month.
The monarch is scheduled to participate in the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Asian-African summit, considered by many the precursor to the Non-Aligned Movement, on April 22-23 in Bangdung, Indonesia. The following day he is to arrive in Boao, in the Chinese province of Hainan, to attend what is described as the Asian equivalent of the Davos economic forum.
The stakes for the Nepalese entourage could not be higher. The detention of political leaders, declaration of a state of emergency, and imposition of harsh censorship has isolated the royal government. Britain and India have suspended military aid to help fight the nine-year-old Maoist insurgency, which has claimed close to 12,000 lives, while the United States is mulling similar action. Nordic governments have announced a freeze in further development assistance until democracy is restored. The Royal Nepalese Army has come under heavy criticism at the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva over reports of abuses during its counterinsurgency operations.
The government remains defiant amid the international outcry. In a televised address to the nation on February 1, King Gyanendra justified his takeover, saying the political parties had misgoverned the country since the restoration of democracy in 1990 and blaming them for the rise of the Maoists. He said he needed three years to restore peace, put democracy back on track, and hold fresh elections. He asserted that he needed to suspend civil liberties to focus on the fight against the insurgents. That continues to be the message coming from senior Nepalese ministers and officials.
Predictably, the estranged political parties have decided to mount active resistance against the royal government, which is reminiscent of their conduct during the last opportunity Nepal had to restore peace. In 2003, the mainstream parties, while continuing to voice support for a favorable outcome in the government-Maoist negotiations that were under way, focused their energy on confrontation with the palace, which had just stepped into day-to-day politics for the first time in 12 years. While blaming the obstinacy of the palace-appointed government and “foreign powers” for the collapse of the peace process, the Maoists also lashed out against the mainstream parties’ demand to restore parliament and introduce reforms through amendments “to the old moribund constitution” they had declared war against.
The Maoists, who rebuffed subsequent governments’ peace overtures by insisting they would only talk directly with the king, evidently see in the current crisis an opportunity to mount their much-vaunted strategic offensive against what they consider a tottering state. The government, for its part, appears determined to inflict a decisive blow on the rebels in an effort to force them to the negotiating table.
How far the military’s recent battlefield victories against the Maoists and reports of a deepening schism within rebel ranks will change the dynamics of the nine-year-old conflict remains unclear. There are ominous signs the international community must not ignore. In parts of the country, armed villagers have begun attacking those they suspect of being Maoists. The rebels, for their part, have retaliated against those they consider state-sponsored vigilantes. Amid the mayhem, thousands of villagers have fled across Nepal’s southern border into India.
Regional alignments have been rapidly shifting. India’s initial tough response to the royal takeover, including its decision to halt military assistance, has given way to a sobering recognition in political, diplomatic and academic circles in New Delhi of the possibility of China and Pakistan stepping into the vacuum. Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing became the highest ranking foreign leader to visit the kingdom since the royal takeover. In the aftermath of Li’s visit, Nepalese and Chinese officials have stepped up deliberations on various sectors – from transportation to trade -- signaling a desire on both sides to offset the kingdom’s traditional dependence on India. Before Li’s visit, Nepal and Pakistan held their first joint economic commission meeting in 10 years. Islamabad extended a $5 million credit line for boosting the kingdom's industrial and commercial development and growth and has promised to provide military assistance if requested.
In the midst of these fast-moving events, a credible roadmap for renewal has become all the more urgent. Restoring the status quo ante cannot lay the basis for an effective agenda for change. The sturdiness of democratic institutions can be ensured only by restoring the people's faith in them. Theoretically, elected representatives can provide people-oriented governance, but the Maoists have vowed to sabotage fresh elections. The restoration of parliament, dissolved three years ago by an elected prime minister exercising his constitutional prerogative, has been advanced as a way out of the crisis. Indeed, such a move may provide the framework for creating a broad-based government. Considering the skirmishes and deadlock successive sessions of parliament have witnessed in past years, advocates of this option need to be more forthright on how a broad-based government would develop a political, security and socio-economic strategy to address the insurgency and the underlying issues.
To the extent that a reform agenda has been formulated, it is centered on constitutional changes to limit royal powers, ensure civilian control over the military, and codify the supremacy of parliament over the palace. Blaming the current crisis on royal assertiveness would be a monumental abdication of responsibility by the other principal players. If the political mainstream and sections of civil society are so convinced that the palace is indeed the problem, then a more credible approach would be deliberations with the Maoists on the structures and sustenance of a republican Nepal. A constitutional monarchy that would exist merely to bear silent witness to the partisan politics of the day is not what Nepal needs.
King Gyanendra has put his throne on the line at a time when Nepal is facing the most serious crisis of its 237-year existence. This is an opportunity for the Nepalese people and their international well-wishers to launch efforts to pull the kingdom back from the precipice. The obsession with viewing the king’s intervention as little more than a palace power grab will not help such efforts.

Originally published on April 13, 2005

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Republican Nepal’s Royal Quandary

By Sanjay Upadhya

Five years after Nepal’s democratic parties and former Maoist rebels joined hands to abolish the 240-year monarchy, turning the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic, elements on both ends of the erstwhile alliance have begun voicing doubts on the wisdom of that decision.
Their comments come on the heels of growing indications that regional giants India and China, rivals for influence in the small landlocked nation they sandwich, might be working together to prevent instability from seeping into their own borders.
Massive and bloody popular protests in 2006 forced King Gyanendra to restore parliament and end his direct rule. The Maoists, who had waged a decade-long violent insurgency to abolish the crown before entering peaceful politics, eventually persuaded the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) to abandon their support for constitutional monarchy.
Elections in 2008 made the Maoists the largest party in the constitutional assembly, which formally abolished the monarchy. Their common adversary vanquished, political infighting intensified, leading to five prime ministers in as many years. The assembly failed to write a new constitution institutionalizing Nepal as a federal democratic republic, despite repeated extensions.
Facing mounting public criticism, Nepal’s key political parties earlier this year invited the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Khil Raj Regmi, to head a government of retired bureaucrats to hold fresh elections in November.
Many Nepalis doubt the elections would be held on time, given the deep polarization. Others remain skeptical whether another elected assembly could resolve the tough issues that stymied its predecessor.
Chief among them is the issue of federalism. The Maoists owed part of their success to effective articulation of the aspirations of Nepal’s dozens of ethnic and linguistic communities. These groups – at least 72 by official count – felt marginalized by what they considered a traditionally centralized polity symbolized by the monarchy.
Republicanism has created demands for separate states by many of these groups. Public debates on the model of federalism and the number of states Nepal needs have turned vociferous and protests have often brought the country to a standstill. A growing number of Nepalis now fear a fragmentation of the nation.
The prospect of several microstates in a geopolitically sensitive region has worried China and India. Beijing, long preoccupied with calming Tibet, which Nepal borders, fears destabilization from Nepal spilling all the way into Xinjiang. India, many of whose border states are larger than Nepal, worries of growing separatism within at a time when it is battling a raging Maoist insurgency of its own.
Although China has made significant inroads into Nepal, which India has traditionally considered its exclusive sphere of influence, there have been suggestions of cooperation between Beijing and New Delhi to stabilize Nepal in their mutual interest. Prolonged political instability, both New Delhi and Beijing seem to recognize, would allow extra-regional government and nongovernment forces greater room for maneuver.
In public, the imperative of stability is being expressed more candidly inside Nepal. Shashank Koirala, a leader of the Nepali Congress, conceded in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation that abolishing the monarchy had been a blunder. “There may come a time when the Nepali people might have to bring back the monarchy to save the nation-state,” he said.
Days later, Mohan Baidya, chief of the Maoist faction that broke away from organization that led the insurgency and who is perceived to be close to Beijing, spoke of a possibility of an alliance between his party and the former king. “Royalists are more nationalist than the other political forces,” Baidya said in a jibe at the perceived pro-Indian tilt of the major politicians.
These comments led former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, the chief ideologue of the main Maoist party, to demand the arrest of former king Gyanendra for alleged attempts to subvert the elections. The former monarch is on an extended tour of western Nepal where he is also distributing relief material to people affected by recent floods.
Opinion polls have shown a sharp decline in popular faith in political leaders. However, no survey has directly asked respondents on whether the monarchy should be restored.
Gyanendra ascended to the throne in June 2001 after the bloody palace massacre that wiped out much of the royal family. Although an official report blamed then Crown Prince Dipendra for gunning down King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other relatives over a domestic dispute before killing himself, suspicion long focused on Gyanendra, as the immediate beneficiary.
Before vacating the royal palace seven years later, Gyanendra rejected those allegations and dared those making them to prove his complicity. The two Maoist leaders who had directly accused Gyanendra – Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Bhattarai – both became prime minister but did nothing to reopen the case. This led many Nepalis to see political posturing in the allegations, allowing them to review their opinion of the former monarch.
During Gyanendra’s previous national tours – marked by inaugurations of temples and attendances in religious ceremonies – he has conceded that direct rule had been a mistake, while keeping open the prospect of a restoration of the monarchy. Leading politicians tended to ridicule the prospect of a return to monarchy. The fact that Bhattarai has now taken a stern tone also suggests that few of his peers may be considering that a laughing matter anymore.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Disturbing Admission Of Failure

By Sanjay Upadhya

In their eagerness to cede power to a ‘non-political’ election government, the architects of our headlong plunge toward a ‘new Nepal’ have admitted failure. That is a disturbing development on multiple levels.
Sections within the erstwhile Seven Party Alliance and the breakaway Maoist group -- representing the ideological core that drove the ‘People’s War’ -- have denounced the move as having been driven by foreign hands. The fact that the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninists seemed to have wilted overnight after ridiculing the idea lends credence to the critics.
Within both major parties, moreover, there are constituencies strongly opposed to the idea of the chief justice leading the government. A section of the Madhesh-based parties, too, has opposed the move from a different direction.
These critics deserve greater attention than those questioning the constitutionality of the move. After all, many of those criticizing the development from a constitutional vantage point are willing to accept it as a needed political outlet. Constitutionalism, in any case, has long ceased to govern the political process.
A political outlet that departs from the parties’ familiar shenanigans may be more attractive to the general public. And this is where things get scary. The foreign elements influencing our affairs hitherto got to shoot from the shoulders of traditional politicians. A ‘non-political’ government runs the risk of providing cover to both the foreign hand and the political parties.
It is hard to believe that the parties advocating such a government would be ready to cede the initiative. The prospect of political brinkmanship by proxy is real, especially when the parties can now consider themselves a step removed from direct responsibility.
The road-blocks to the promulgation of a new constitution will not have been removed by a mere change in the nature of the government. A ‘non-political’ government may be better able to hold credible elections. Yet the parties will have incentives to delay such elections if they perceive adverse conditions to their individual organizations. The parties that were not part of the April 2006 Uprising may see a better chance of earning the trust of the electorate. New realignments could underscore the shifts the public has undergone in these seven tumultuous years. In such a case, political stakeholders other than the principal parties might seek a say in the mechanism overseeing the election government. That would be more than enough to the currently predominant parties to stave off elections. Clearly, a prolonged transition is not in Nepal and Nepalis’ interests. Who, then, stands to benefit?
Unfortunately, the principal political parties seem to have absolved themselves from the responsibility to provide an honest answer.