Nepal- Future Steps
Research Officer, IPCS
Speaker: Dr Rhoderick Chalmers, International Crisis Group
Chair: Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee
The seminar on Nepal is a continuation of IPCS's study of the developments in Nepal. The key is to focus on the larger issues at stake while keeping in mind the internal situation in Nepal. What would be the next steps in Nepal? The Indian Prime Minister met King Gyanendra in Jakarta during the Afro- Asian summit. Some steps have been taken in Nepal. The emergency provisions have been withdrawn, but it has not made much difference. One needs to look into the future to suggest the policy options for India and the International community.
I would begin with general disclaimers as there are in this audience a range of people with vast experience and knowledge, especially of defense and security issues. The focus of my presentation is the larger issues at stake in Nepal rather than the short term frustration with the actions of the King. India's reactions are, to some extent, reflective of its frustration with the King's coup, which has diverted attention from the crisis at hand.
The need of the hour is to undertake a practical and long term analysis of the crisis in Nepal. The central question is: has the King fulfilled his stated goal of dealing with the Maoists? The talk will focus on three options that were available to the King in this situation.
The military strategy was the best bet for the King after his removal of the executive government. The King then had a free hand without the delaying and disagreeable presence of the political parties. However, this option proved non-viable option since the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) is largely a ceremonial, and not a fighting force. Prior to the outbreak of the Maoists revolt, it had about 40,000 troops, which has doubled over the last ten years. However, the Maoists have spread over 75 districts of Nepal; without any dramatic change in its fighting ability, the RNA lacks teeth to change the balance of power in Nepal. The February royal coup opened up another front for the RNA. With the declaration of emergency, imposition of censorship and political prosecutions, the anti-King activities of the parties have increased, tying down the already stretched RNA forces. This was a gross miscalculation on part of the King, as it diverted the RNA's energies from its main task, which was to combat the Maoists.
The military strategy in the past three months has witnessed some minor victories, in which a large number of Maoists were killed. However, these are largely defensive operations in response to Maoists attacks. Credit for the calm and peace in the Kathmandu valley, however, must be given to the RNA.
Talks with the Maoists
The Maoists had consistently stated that they would not negotiate with the lame duck executive governments of the day prior to the 1 February action, but talk directly with the King, who must have taken this into consideration before dismissing the Deuba government. After the royal coup his calls for peace talks were rejected by the Maoists, who described the King's move as regressive. The Maoists went to the extent of stating that they would rather work with the political parties, and fight against the anti-democratic step taken by the King.
Internal contradictions in Maoists
This strategy assumes internal contradictions growing within the Maoists and, with military pressure being exerted, bringing about their collapse. There have been no dramatic developments yet leading to the collapse of the Maoists. The sidelining of Babu Ram Bhattarai, notwithstanding, a collapse is nowhere in sight, nor is there any sign of a split. However, this is a serious development. Bhattarai was the Maoist leader during the past peace negotiations. A split is ruled out as Bhattarai does not seem to have many followers, nor does he have the support of the military commanders. Thus, this development has not really weakened the Maoists.
Move towards peace
Governance in Nepal is virtually non-existent and the military stalemate continues. The King's ascension to the throne does not appear to have been thought through. The political parties have not responded to the situation even after three months of the royal coup. They have also not made any response to dealing with the Maoists.
Long term road map
The crucial element is that no solutions can or should be dictated to Nepal. The resolution of the crisis requires the international community to share its understanding of the situation, and also involve the United Nations. The United Nations Commission of Human Rights (UNCHR) is sending a big team to investigate the human rights situation in Nepal. India, United States and the United Kingdom have been working with each other over the past three months and formed an informal contact group. The involvement of the UN in this group would help in two ways. The first and most important way is that it would test the intentions of the Maoists. The Maoists have for long been talking of a UN brokered peace talks. The UN mandate on human rights and the UN involvement would either get the Maoists to the negotiating table or call their bluff, which would go a long way in judging their trust worthiness.
The King has visions of a constructed or controlled democracy. His lieutenants in the current government hark back to the days of Panchayati Raj. The democracy that the King has in mind is a move away from the multi-party system in Nepal. The latest rumblings from the political parties portend that they are coming together. However, their common minimum program does not appear to be well thought out. There is a remarkable absence of political strategy to deal with the gamut of problems in Nepal, like the need to co-opt the Maoists, the question of a republic, issues of constitutional change and the devolution of power. The one issue that is being bandied about in Nepal is a referendum. This is not the correct path for Nepal, as a referendum will not bring about consensus, which is the need of the hour. These basic constitutional questions are not being addressed and there appears to be no mechanism to address them in future.
The international community can work at multilateral levels to streamline the varied interests of the diverse groups. Its own interests in Nepal range across the military and developmental areas. The informal contact group already operating could work as an informal coalition to bring about the desired results in Nepal. The UN itself cannot adopt a political role but its presence would be important as it would represent the world community. Thus, with the informal contact group bringing about unity within the divergent political and developmental interests, and in tandem with the UNCHR, can test the sincerity and the purpose of the Royal government and the Maoists.
The world response has been felt in Kathmandu. The Indian response has boosted the morale of the political parties and has been welcomed by them. However, the basic question regarding the Maoist conflict has been left unaddressed by the three segments in Nepal and the international community. The King has been in power since October 2002 and there is no improvement in the situation; security is absent even in major towns. There can be no magic solutions; rather a coordinated approach is needed by the domestic actors.
1. Who are the Maoists? What is their political strength? What kind of support base do they have? Is it a democratic movement? Do the Maoists have a clear notion about the evolution of their society and economy? What is the public perception of the crisis?
Response: The Maoists have incorporated some elements of Mao's strategy of protracted war with variations. The Maoist charter released in 1996 has forty points and extends from 'Bhadralok Communism' to that of the Cambodian variety. The Maoist ideology is very sophisticated and is grounded in a sound intellectual base. As to what will the Maoists settle for, is any body's guess. The people in Nepal will not be able to exercise their rights or have their say by any of the three parties involved. The Maoists had good support in the early years, but cannot be said to have had committed support. However, they have frittered this away over the last three years.
2. What is the situation like? Is it worse than 2002? There have been no dramatic attacks by the Maoists in past months? Isn't two years too short to judge the results of military action?
Response: There has been no dramatic upswing in attacks since October 2002; however the situation has steadily deteriorated. In the post- 1 February period, the Maoists have not exploited international pressure on the monarch, partly due to their own weakness and differences between themselves. But, the level of violence has increased. This may not be the proper time to judge if a military solution is possible or not, but one can map the direction of the war.
3. As the politicians have been discredited, the whole Maoists problem is due to mismanagement by the political class in Nepal over the past fifteen years. Under these circumstances, is it not better to make the monarchy stronger? Or does the King need an assurance about his position in the Nepalese constitutional structure? What would an ideal constitution for Nepal require? What is the role of the judiciary as a watch dog over the legislature and the executive?
Response: Strengthening the King so that he can bring about democracy is a very dangerous argument. In this endeavor Gyanendra is learning from Musharraf, as his father [Mahendra] learnt from Gen Ayub Khan. The ushering in of democracy in Nepal in 1990 did not change the socio-economic basis of Nepalese society. It essentially grafted formal political structures on the existing Panchayati Raj institutions. The RNA and the King cannot do without each other, although their interests are divergent. Since 1990, the democratic upsurge was expected to take control of the state from the King. This did not happen. More importantly, the RNA was left in the control of the monarch. On the question of a new Constitution, it is important to understand that any Constitution will have to interact with the socio-economic structures of Nepal. Legal formalism is not essential. In fact, even the current Constitution in Nepal can work. The judiciary in Nepal is non-functional.
4. Are the neutral positions of China and Pakistan consistent? Or is it moving towards failure? Has India lost its influence in Nepal?
Response: India still appears to be assured regarding the intentions of China and Pakistan. India has not lost influence in Nepal; it is firmly entrenched in all social, economic and political spheres. The 1989 blockade of Nepal by Rajiv Gandhi exposed the limits of Chinese influence in Nepal, which is of limited capacity and counter productive in the short term.
5. What is the number of people who have fled from Nepal to India in the post-coup situation? Is there a sudden influx?
Response: There is no data on the numbers of Nepalese who have moved to India after the coup. But there are a significant number of professionals who have gone, but they have moved as they are connected to political parties. There is no general exodus.
6. Is Nepal a failed state?
Response: This is not true. If we go by the definition of a failed state, Nepal has been one for the last two centuries. Moreover, the social structure has not collapsed and the economy is not in negative growth though it has declined. The problem in Nepal is that, basic and fundamental questions have arisen together with no moderating or stabilizing institution to negotiate change.
7. Would the end of conflict bring stability? How does democratization matter if it is unstable?
Response: The question in Nepal is more complex than that of democracy versus stability, as figures would show. The economic growth rates during the stable Panchayati Raj years were two percent while during the unstable last decade Nepal grew at about six percent per annum. Also the instability in the multi-party system lies with the King's usurpation of powers or when the Royalist parties were at the forefront as instruments for the King to manipulate.
8. When is a crisis considered resolved? And isn't the a priori selection of one side to support problematic?
Response: A crisis is resolved when the crucial issues have been solidly dealt with and the situation subsides. In this case, when the Maoist threat is addressed and the tussle between the political parties and the monarch is satisfactorily resolved. On the question which side to support, it is difficult to answer, as the situation requires much give and take.
The final question for us in this seminar is, do we accept a certain amount of the internationalization of the situation in Nepal, and where would India fit in? The solution lies, of course, within Nepal, but requires the help of the international community. Too much of an Indian role would be counter productive. The monarchy in the post-coup phase is seen as tainted anti-democracy. The relevance of the monarchy remains, but its position has been weakened.