Round The World
Nepal At Crossroads
ADROIT APPROACH VITAL
By Monish Tourangbam
Research Scholar, School of International Studies (JNU)
New Delhi, January 31, 2011
The recently concluded visit of India’s Foreign Secretary
Nirupama Rao to Kathmandu came at a crucial time in Nepal’s
beleaguered politics. The Himalayan Kingdom is at crossroads.
Despite the initial jubilation of democracy having triumphed
there, the country’s polity continues to see changes without
any sense of direction and stability still eludes Nepal.
The process of power arrangement has yet to produce any
tangible result and the future is as uncertain as ever.
Multiple rounds of voting in the Nepalese Parliament have
failed to produce a Prime Minister and the crucial question of
integration of the Maoist army also called the People’s
Liberation Army (PLA) shows no signs of easing.
The withdrawal of Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel,
so far the lone contender in the Prime Ministerial race, has
opened the space for a fresh round of nominations and voting.
However, without basic agreement among the rival parties on
key issues of the peace process, it is hard to expect any
concrete result or hope for a stable polity. Amid these, the
UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) just expired.
The Mission was established in 2007 with only a year’s mandate
to supervise the peace process in the aftermath of the armed
insurgency. But, as political stability and compromise was
hard to come by along-with the lack of agreement among parties
on basic issues of power sharing led to the continuous
extension of the mandate.
However, last year, the UN Security Council is reported to
have decided against any further extension citing a lack of
progress and stating the mission had unfairly been drawn into
political battles between the parties. Even the UN Secretary
General Ban Ki-Moon was reported to have said that the peace
process was "at a crossroads," and it made little sense to
keep UNMIN open "without any meaningful progress by the
parties on political issues.”
Presently, the exit of the UN mission is being filled by a new
mechanism agreed on to handle the controversial rehabilitation
of the PLA. The crucial role will now be taken over by the
Special Committee for the Supervision, Integration and
Rehabilitation of the Maoists headed by interim Prime Minister
Madhav Kumar Nepal. Whereby, the PLA cadres have been formally
put under the supervision of this committee which will take
forward the crucial process of rehabilitation. Its
effectiveness, to a large extent, will determine the shape of
things to come in Nepal.
The formalities are done but as they say, “the proof of the
pudding lies in the eating.” The real test is how the finer
details concerning rehabilitation and integration are worked
out, agreed on and implemented. Things are not going to be
According to reports, while the Maoists are demanding that all
the PLA fighters be inducted in the army and be allowed to
keep their ranks, the parties have been insisting that about
5,000 PLA combatants be inducted. The rest, they say, should
be rehabilitated, preferably being given business training and
sent abroad if they wanted.
As such, it is best to let the political parleys take place
among the Nepalese parties themselves without any
interference. And if one goes by experience, one should not
resort to any conjecture as far as Nepalese politics is
concerned. India already stands accused by the Maoist Party of
interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs. There have been
reports of an internal divide within the Maoists, between
Maoist Chief Prachanda and his senior colleague Baburam
Bhattarai, who was in India recently.
Bhattarai is reportedly opposed to Prachanda’s anti-India
stance. As such, he was in a damage control mode in India.
"Though we have problems, we need each other," he said. "India
also increasingly realizes that it needs to work with us, the
biggest party, despite the hawks on both sides,” Bhattarai
Now, if the crack widens in the Maoist Party and a split
becomes imminent, the anti-India hawks will go out guns
blazing on how New Delhi influenced the outcome. Hence, India
needs to maintain a studied restraint and not give
opportunities for another round of India bashing in Nepal.
Soon after her arrival to Kathmandu, Foreign Secretary Rao set
the record clear, “I am not here to comment on the internal
affairs of Nepal,” she stated, adding that India was committed
to working with the political leadership there for a
democratic, stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal.
While talking to the Maoist Chief in Kathmandu, Secretary Rao
is reported to have raised the issue of the anti-India stance
taken by the Party, a sentiment specifically attributed to
Prachanda. But as was expected, the Maoist Chief back-tracked
and tried to reassure the visiting Indian diplomat that his
party was not against India.
However, at same time, he brought forth his consistent demand
of abrogating all past unequal treaties with India, including
the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty in order to reflect the
changed circumstances. But, Indian diplomatic sources have
argued that the Maoists are not clear as to what they really
want in place of the old agreements. Hence, when appropriate,
the Maoist should specify their grievances and be clear on
what are the provisions they term as “unequal”.
As the political impasse continues in neighboring Nepal, India
needs to maneouver cautiously and adroitly. The country is
engulfed in multiple differences over various issues of basic
importance. Continued uncertainty still defines the situation;
be it the integration of the PLA, the lack of consensus over a
leader, or the progress made in the essential process of
drafting the Constitution.
Recall, the Constituent Assembly was elected in May 2008 with
a two year mandate but it was further extended in order to
complete the Constitution. But looking at the present
situation, one cannot be very optimistic that Nepal would have
a complete Constitution by the extended dateline of May 28,
Considering the long Indo-Nepal border, close cultural and
economic ties and the looming shadow of China it is naive to
expect New Delhi to be a bench-warmer. Clearly, developments
have spill-over consequences for India and weigh heavily in
its foreign policy calculations.
New Delhi’s concerns over the Maoist Party’s close ties
with competitor China are palpable and hence it would not want
the Communist Party to single-handedly control Nepal’s
It is not rocket science to discern that New Delhi will be
apprehensive of any move towards Maoist authoritarianism in
Nepal. India favours a democracy where there would be enough
consultation and negotiation before any decision is taken.
Given that it lives in a neigbourhood with lots of fault lines
and if not handled properly, a tremor might strike Indian
At this juncture, New Delhi cannot let Kathmandu turn into a
permanent political migraine.
Therefore, India cannot lose track of the evolving
situation in Nepal. It has to walk the diplomatic path keeping
its interest in mind but at the same time without appearing to
intervene in the affairs of another country. ---- INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)