Nepali Times Asian Paints

No peace dividend

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
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Then-Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Kathmandu on 21 November 2006.

As Nepal marks the tenth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that formally ended the decade-long Maoist war, the peace process may not be as fragile as feared before, but is far from complete.

When Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) signed the CPA on 21 November 2006, it fuelled hope for peace and prosperity among Nepalis exhausted by the decade-long war in which 17,000 people were killed.

Dahal is now Prime Minister for a second time, and said this week that the first 10 years of the peace process were “encouraging” as integration of ex-combatants into the army, promulgation of the constitution through an elected assembly and declaration of a republic became possible in this period. He also claimed that Nepal’s peace process moved relatively faster than in many other countries.

Political analysts agree that Nepal’s peace process has achieved major milestones in the last decade, and is unlikely to unravel. After all, Dahal is in a coalition with his erstwhile mortal enemy, Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress as his partner. Particularly after the promulgation of the new Constitution, the probability of former rebels deviating from the political mainstream is slim.

But a section of former rebels led by Netra Bikram Chanda is threatening to take up arms again. “The relevance of the CPA expired long ago, when the first Constituent Assembly was dissolved,” said Guna Raj Lohani of the Chanda-led Maoist faction. “The country is now regressing, and we need a sustained struggle against this parliamentary system. If the state suppresses us, we are prepared to retaliate.”

Unlike the Chand Maoists, Madhesi parties have not totally rejected the constitution, but they want it to be amended so they can have greater representation in Parliament and other state organs. They are now obstructing the restructuring of local bodies and have warned of resurgence of extremist outfits in the Tarai if their grievances are not addressed. This raises the spectre of the Maoist class war being replaced with sectarian or ethnic conflict.

Transitional justice – an important component of the peace process – is still elusive. Nearly a decade after the signing of the CPA, the government finally formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission for the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). But these transitional justice mechanisms lack resources and strong mandates. Conflict victims have also questioned the process and legitimacy of these commissions.

“It is true that several milestones have been achieved in the last 10 years, but they mean nothing to us,” said Bhagi Ram Chaudhary of the National Network of Families of Disappeared and Missing Nepal. “For us, the peace process has not even started.”

When the CPA was signed, the political leadership described it as the onset of an era of prosperity. But economic growth rate has been disappointing with not much investment in manufacturing sector.

The number of able-bodied Nepalis migrating out of the country surged during the conflict, and was expected to go down after the ceasefire. But that did not happen: over 3.5 million Nepalis have gone abroad to work abroad in the last 10 years, up from 758,000 migrants in the previous decade.

Om Astha Rai


Art for the environment

Friday, November 18th, 2016
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Pic: Shreejana Shrestha

Pics: Shreejana Shrestha

The Alliance Francaise in Kathmandu Saturday started a two-day arts and environment festival in Jawalakhel focusing on wildlife conservation and the illegal trade in animal contraband.

The fourth edition of the annual ‘Planet Nepal’ festival hopes to attract young people to the venue near the Central Zoo in Patan and features stalls of various environment groups, concerts, photo exhibitions and panel discussions.

Prabin Bikram Rana of the Alliance Francaise said: “The issue of environment awareness should be raised throughout the year but not just on a particular day but we are trying to make this a festival for the youth.”

Alliance Francaise is using art and culture to promote environmental protection because it  says this is more effective than making scientific arguments. It also wants to work on the youth so that the need for nature conservation stays with them throughout their lives.

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Editor of Nepali Times Kunda Dixit launched the Green issue of La.Lit, a literary magazine, during the official opening of the event on Friday. French Ambassador Yves Carmona also attended.

Organisations working on environmental issues have put up exhibition stalls at the Jawalakhel Football Ground. Visitors enjoyed dramas on environmental themes and musical concerts on the first day of the festival. The second day’s treats include live performance by popular band, 1974 A.D and recital of ‘Aatma (Spirit)’ produced by WWF.

Alliance Francaise will also be announcing the best photo submitted by various amateur photographers, through a public voting. The organisation had called for photographs related to wildlife and nature.

 


Collateral damage

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
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Hundreds of people line up to change the weekly INR 1,500 limit by showing citizenship certificates at the Birganj branch of Nepal Rastra Bank. Picture: Jiyalal Sah

Just like Nepalis queued up to buy fuel last year, all over India people are now lining up to exchange their high-denomination currency notes.

In a shock move ostensibly aimed at weeding out black money, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes illegal and asking people to exchange them at banks within 50 days.

But banks failed to distribute sufficient low-denomination notes, and there is chaos, anger and frustration across India. And it has affected Nepal too like an aftershock of last year’s Indian blockade.

Early this week, Nepal’s business leaders met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and asked him to provide exchange facility for the demonetised Indian notes in Nepal. Dahal then called Modi and sought necessary help.

But the estimated 2.5 million Nepali migrant workers in India are the hardest hit by demonetisation, and they are helpless and voiceless. “We cannot buy food with our hard-earned money,” says Baldev Bhattarai of Dadeldhura, who has been working in Punjab.”If I go to exchange money, I lose my income. If I do not go, I have no money to buy anything,” he added.

Irrespective of their nationalities, those who hold Indian bank accounts can exchange the demonetised rupee up to IRs 250,000. They can also withdraw money up to IRs 4,000 every week. But Nepali migrant workers in India do not have hold bank accounts, and rely on others to exchange their money.

Devraj Air, President of All India Nepali Migrant Workers’ Society, says: “Those who hold Indian bank accounts are ready to help, but they give us only IRs for 400 for every Rs 500. We have lost so much money.”

After the demonetisation, Nepali migrant workers are now being exploited more at the border. They cannot cross into Nepal, and exchange money at Nepali banks. They are forced to exchange before crossing the border, and get only IRs 300 for every IRs 500.

“Indian police are also extorting us,” said Krishna Oli of Bajura, who returned home this week from Delhi. “If they see demonetised currency with us, they take us to nearby Indian money exchangers who give us only half the amount.”

Bachchu BK 


One China

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
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111New Chinese ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong called on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at the latter’s official residence in Baluwatar, Kathmandu on Tuesday.

Dahal reaffirmed Nepal’s once China policy, discussed the possibility of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Nepal and thanked Beijing for its development assistance to Kathmandu during the meeting, according to a statement posted on Dahal’s personal website.

Ambassador Yu has met Prime Minister Dahal at a time when Beijing is reportedly miffed at Kathmandu for showing indifference towards its One Road One Belt initiative by not implementing trade and transit treaties signed last year between the two countries, and inviting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee before Chinese President Xi.

The recent India visit by NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba, Dahal’s coalition partner, also seems to have upset Beijing. Deuba had attended a conference in Goa, which was also attended by a top Tibetan leader.

China had donated fuel to Nepal last year when India blockaded against the Himalayan nation. Then-Prime Minister KP Oli subsequently visited Beijing and signed a historic transit treaty with China, which is expected to reduce Nepal’s trade dependence on India.

But after Oli’s ouster, the new ruling collation of the NC and the Maoists, believed to have been forged with India’s support, has done little to allay Beijing’s concerns.

 

 

 


Let there be light

Sunday, November 13th, 2016
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Pic: Bikram Rai

Pic: Bikram Rai

Bachchu BK in Himal Khabarpatrika (13-19 November)

If it were not for the death of a young pregnant woman, many people in Giranchaur village of Sindhupalchok district could have died when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake flattened their houses on 25 April last year.

The villagers had gathered outside their houses to attend the funeral of 23-year-old Purnima Tamang, who had died after struggling for days to give birth to a baby. She was not taken to hospital because the villagers thought that her labour pain was a result of the wrath of the goddess.

“It was a Saturday, and we normally used to spend Saturdays indoors watching television,” recalls 62-year-old Tasang Tamang. “But we were out that day for Purnima’s ritual. Her death saved our lives.”

One and a half years later, the villagers of Giranchaur still remember Purnima as a young, beautiful and cheerful woman. They no longer remember the ruins of their destroyed houses, and the rainy and chilly nights they spent in flimsy tents in the past year and a half.

People in Giranchaur now have new, clean and earthquake-resistant houses to live in. As thousands of earthquake survivors wait for the second installment of housing grants from the National Reconstruction Authority, 56 Tamang villagers recently moved into three-room houses with separate kitchens, bathrooms and spacious verandahs. They also have solar, drinking water and internet facilities.

Pic: Bikram Rai

Pic: Bikram Rai

At a time when Nepalis are frustrated at the delay in post-earthquake recovery, the construction of a model village in Giranchaur has raised hopes. “For us it is a rare beacon of hope,” says anthropologist Suresh Dhakal. “It has inspired other philanthropists, and put more pressure on the apathetic government.”

The Giranchaur model village was built by an unlikely activist: the Dhurmus Suntali Foundation. Initiated by Sitaram Kattel and his partner Kunjana Ghimire, the most popular comedian duo on Nepali television,
the Foundation is now developing the Giranchaur village as a tourist destination.

Giranchaur is located on a mountain top against the backdrop of Ganesh Himal, and above the Indrawati River. With comfortable home-stay, paragliding and a chance to observe the rich Tamang and Newar culture, Giranchaur could attract homestay tourists.

Pic: setopati.com

Pic: setopati.com

Named after Kattel and Ghimire’s most iconic television characters ‘Dhurmus’ and ‘Suntali’, the Foundation previously built 19 model houses in the earthquake-ravaged Paharigaun of Kavre district. It collected Rs 5.85 million from the television serial ‘Meri Bassai’, another TV serial ‘Bhadragol’ and the social networking site www.sagun.com.
Dhurmus and Suntali made a personal contribution of Rs 900,000, and worked themselves in the construction of the model houses.

After Kavre, Dhurmus and Suntali wanted to build another model village in Sindhupalchok, the worst earthquake-affected district. When they reached Giranchaur village, not many people believed that television actors could actually help them.

“Initially, I did not trust Dhurmus and Suntali,” said Bahadur Tamang, who has recently moved to a new model house in Giranchaur. “But I soon realised they meant it. They worked day and night themselves, and built houses for us.”

After the success in Kavre, more people trusted Dhurmus and Suntali, and they raised Rs 491 million from Nepalis living within and outside the country. At least 225 people, including 70 masons and 65 labourers from the village, worked on the houses. The Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police also contributed.

Dhurmus and Suntali also sold their two-storey house and shifted to a one-storey house to manage for the new village. After the earthquake, they have stopped producing television serials to focus on their reconstruction projects. Their daughter is sick, and doctors have advised them to take her abroad for treatment, but personal loss did not
stop them from working tirelessly for earthquake-survivors.

“Our hearts burn with pain when we see the broken state of our country,” says Dhurmus. “We feel immense satisfaction when we contribute to rebuilding the country. ”

Surya Raj Acharya, an expert on infrastructure building, says Dhurmus and Suntali have not only inspired Nepalis but also set an example of integrated development.  “In a mountainous country like Nepal, it would not be possible to build infrastructure for all the scattered households,” he says. “To build the houses at minimum cost, we need the kind of integrated village that Dhurmus and Suntali have helped set up.”


Not getting down to business

Friday, November 11th, 2016
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Madhesi MPs walk out of Parliament on Friday. Photo: RSS

After a long festival break, Parliament resumed deliberations on the impeachment motion against the suspended CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki on Friday.

But the process to impeach Karki is likely to drag on longer than expected, with the Impeachment Committee of the House unable to elect its President and finalise necessary guidelines. And the Nepali Congress, the largest party in Parliament, is still undecided whether to endorse the motion.

Despite his party’s indecision, NC MP Dhan Raj Gurung stressed the need to pass the impeachment motion, accusing Karki of violating the Constitution and undermining democratic institutions. “There is a conspiracy to protect Karki,” he said. “If we fail, Parliament will lose its relevance.”

Purushottam Poudel of UML and Shiva Chandra Chaudhary of ML also pressed for impeaching Karki.  Rashtriya Jan Morcha MP Chitra Bahadur KC urged the House to investigate even those who appointed Karki as the CIAA Chief in 2013.

The list of MPs who have registered their names to speak about the impeachment motion is long, and Parliament may need weeks to conclude the debate on this matter. And Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar is scheduled to go on a week-long visit to Russia, further delaying the impeachment proceedings.

Meanwhile, Madhesi parties are putting pressure on the NC-Maoist leadership to table the constitution amendment bill along with the impeachment motion. Although the main opposition UML has agreed in principle to carry forward the motion and the bill simultaneously, it has asked the NC-Maoist leadership to explain why another amendment is needed.

Miffed at the delay to amend the Constitution, Madhesi MPs walked out of the House on Friday. They have refused to participate in the impeachment process unless the constitution amendment bill is registered in Parliament.

As Parliament faces hiccups in the impeachment process, Karki is reportedly planning to challenge the motion against him at the Supreme Court. Lawyers have reportedly advised him to claim that the signatures of the MPs used in registering the impeachment motion were forged.

However, Karki himself faces two legal cases – a writ that claims he was illegally appointed as the CIAA Chief and a charge of contempt of court. The Supreme Court is set to conduct a joint hearing on both these cases on 1 December.


A Trump World

Thursday, November 10th, 2016
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Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar casts her vote during a mock election held at the US Ambassador's residence in Kamalpokhari on Wednesday. Pic: Keshav Thoker

Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar casts her vote during a mock election held at the US Ambassador’s residence in Kamalpokhari on Wednesday. Pic: Keshav Thoker

Donald J Trump’s victory in the US presidential election this week shocked Americans and sent shock waves across the world. Here in Nepal, it had analysts scratching their heads about what it means to Nepal’s place in the world, especially the country’s tight balancing act between India and China.

Will President Trump really follow through on his threats to deport illegal migrants, and how will it affect the US administration’s policy on those seeking political asylum, like the remaining Bhutan refugees?

Trump’s disdain for human rights, his seeming sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticism of Barak Obama’s Asian Pivot doctrine vis-à-vis China could dramatically change America’s place in the region. Despite his closeness to Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first to greet Trump with a warm-hearted message. Some Hindu Indian Americans were vocal supporters of the Trump campaign.

Analysts say an unpredictable change in US foreign policy could affect the political economy of East Asia and the Gulf where 2.5 million Nepalis work and send remittance home. What makes some nervous is the Syria-Iraq conflict spreading, dragging Saudi Arabia and Iran into the fray, and destabilising the region.

“The direct implication of Trump’s victory will be his policy towards migrants and refugees,” says Nischalnath Pandey of the Centre for South Asian Studies. “But what his approach will be towards India and China will also have consequences for Nepal.”

Aside from strategic implications and foreign policy, there is also worry about what impact an inward-looking America will have on US official development assistance and funding of the United Nations and non-governmental groups. The US has been one of Nepal’s major development partners for over 60 years with investment in health, education, food security and post-earthquake reconstruction.

Trump’s win has fueled speculation that US will cut down on development aid across the world, especially given his vocal ridicule of climate change, which he has repeatedly called a “Chinese hoax”.

Bhaskar Koirala of Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies says Trump’s pitch to the American electorate has been to make ‘Make America Great Again’, for which his administration would seek to avoid unnecessary and unproductive engagements, including diverting its resources.

“We can expect a scaling down of aid and a re-engagement on traditional bilateral relations that feature more regular high level visits and exchanges and a focus on business promotion between the two countries,” Koirala says, adding that Nepal could assume greater importance under Trump because of its geo-strategic location between India and China.

Trump’s victory has upset liberals the world over, and comes at a time when Nepal itself is debating amendments in the new Constitution to meet demands from Madhesi and other groups on federalism, citizenship and electoral rules.

There has been an outpouring of nationalistic rhetoric in the past week after an unofficial Constitution amendment bill that seemed to be aimed at enabling naturalised Nepali citizens to be eligible for the posts of President and Speaker. Nepal, too, appears more divided than ever before, just like Trump’s America.

Om Astha Rai and Smriti Basnet 

 


 

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