Nepal: A Political Basket Case?

As Prime Minister M K Nepal travels to New Delhi for his first visit abroad, Nepal comes into the lime light in the subcontinent. When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nepal in November 2006 it was hailed as a major victory for the forces of peace and stability in South Asia. The subsequent declaration of a republic, holding elections and a Maoist government added to the level of confidence that Nepal was overcoming its past history of political dissonance. Yet soon skeptics were proved right as in May this Year, the Maoists government collapsed and the Nepal Army emerged as a player in the new order, an outcome which is least desirable for a functional democracy. While a government led by Mr M K Nepal of the CPN UML is in place there is little hope that there will be stability in the days ahead

The process of Constitution drafting has been delayed though three top leaders of Unified CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN-UML agreed to form a taskforce comprising six members to determine works, rights of the mechanism to pace up the same. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, NC President Girija Prasad Koirala, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal agreed to the proposal. Two leaders from each party will be members in the task force

The tripartite agreement in Nepal between the three top bosses of the parties that matter, Nepal Congress, the Unified CPN M and the CPN UML is a welcome development even though the mandate is restricted to drafting of the Constitution. This should hopefully provide for political stability in the days ahead. While this was long overdue, yet the guard cannot be let down given that there have been many twists and turns in the past. The COAS General Katuwal has now proceeded on leave pending retirement and General Gurung is in charge with possibility of improving relations amongst the political leadership adding to a sense of relief as well. Given these indications, some hope lies ahead for the people of Nepal deprived of governance in the real sense in the past few months.

The process of constitution drafting in Nepal is extremely complex given the political differences. Three largest parties in the Constituent Assembly (CA) -- Unified CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML differ on various issues particularly on appointing chiefs of the constitutional bodies to be formed by the government. The Maoists are for appointing the chiefs by the prime minister on the recommendation of the parliament while NC and CPN-UML are for appointing them by the president on the recommendation of the constitutional council. The Task force being appointed should be able to resolve these issues.

In the beginning of the month, after a long hiatus and passage of the budget by the Parliament, the M K Nepal led government finally started the process of functioning by announcing its agenda of progress and development in the Parliament. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal consulted Unified CPN (Maoist) leaders about the language to be used in his address before the Legislature-Parliament. But the key crisis of Nepal Army and PLA integration is not yet resolved.

UNMIN has been granted extension but the issue is intensely politicized in Nepal. For instance Maoist leaders initially resisted UNMIN or any other UN organization and also began to seek only technical and post-conflict assistance. The Maoists were wary of the world body and repeatedly indicated that all problems in Nepal should be settled by the Nepalese themselves. Gradually, however, they shifted their position and began to indicate their desire to see the world body participating in the peace process in some capacity or the other.

The Nepal government also stirred a hornet's nest by starting the process of disbanding those fighters who are not registered. This was long awaited and Maoists pressure was also anticipated. In some ways the government would also have to ensure that the disqualified fighters are absorbed in society for there is a concern that some of them may pick up arms and go back to militancy with the Matrika faction already raising the ante. This situation would remain prickly in the days ahead and much trouble is anticipated.

The trip by Defence Minister Bhandari to India renewed ties between the two which had been sundered during the Maoist leadership. There were signs of the leadership veering towards the PLA and China which had raised Indian hackles and many analysts believe was the reason for the ultimate resignation of the Maoists led government which could not move to attain this design.

In the wake of rumors of arms deal with India, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal reiterated the government's commitment towards the peace process and said the government is not planning to import weapons from India. Given the crisis in Nepal in the past few months with dismissal of the Maoist government led by a party which was in majority due to the anomalous situation arising from sacking of the Chief of the Army Staff, any proposal for increase in the capacity of the Nepal Army will not be taken in the right spirit by the Maoists. The government should have accepted this situation rather than going into a confrontationists approach which would only undermine its credibility from time to time.
For settling the Nepal-India border dispute, New Delhi has proposed signing of boundary maps. But this was rejected by Kathmandu. Local vested interests are preventing resolution of the border dispute with Nepal, though India has consistently agreed to align the boundary and also the government of Nepal is amenable to the same. These interests are not agreeable to such a change as it has created opportunities for them to take advantage of the open border without any controls, thereby leading to criminal, people and other running rackets. The governments of the both the countries must build consensus within to enable implementing these treaties from time to time.

The news of a special security plan for the Terai is being implemented has been in the air in Kathmandu for many weeks now. That this plan would ensure better law and order while it could also involve the army in some measure is being indicated by government sources from time to time. However this may require greater political consensus than at present and therefore there is a growing reason for skepticism on what the state of security would be in the days ahead. The Madhesi parties are already up in arms over the proposal while any mention of army involvement in law and order is likely to be protested by the Maoists.

So another challenging task awaits Dr Manmohan Singh, teaching his Nepali counter part the art of compromise in national interest. Will he succeed remains to be seen? 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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