Nepali Times
Guest Column
How foreigners can help


People power. It dislodges dictators, autocrats, now even god-kings. It's a glorious expression of human potential in action. The best we can be, or at least, the best as a large group full of emotion and fire.

Now the land lies quiet and the work of remaking Nepal in earnest has begun. People power has gone back to, well, school, kitchens and offices, where its daily life exists. No barracks for these brave soldiers. The hardest work of all though lies ahead and it's helpful to keep in mind examples from elsewhere about peace building, entrenching democracy, inclusion and justice.

South Africa's truth and reconciliation commission offers an obvious model for Nepalis to start addressing the rampant carnage that Maoists and security forces have inflicted on the countryside. Especially the latter which behaved abominably from the late 1990s onward, murdering thousands of innocent people, raping, stealing and thus provoking large numbers of alienated people into Maoist ranks. The guerrillas and their cold-blooded ideologues can't escape scrutiny either, nor the process of justice. There were many crimes by rebel fighters that had nothing to do with any Peoples' War. Journalist Gyanendra Khadka's brutal execution in 2003 comes to mind. For a start, I'd like to see arrests in every case for which a politburo member apologized for a brutal act by a regional commander or underling. Just for a start.

Truth and reconciliation also mean forgiveness and both sides will have to study South Africa and Northern Ireland for examples of how this helped heal badly damaged societies. What's crucial is the transparency of the investigation progress and that accused people tell the truth to their victims' families. If they don't, they should be punished. If they do, then let them ask for mercy and let that mercy be granted, in the name of national healing.

Sri Lanka provides both good and bad examples for a nascent peace process. Not that the Maoists bear any resemblance to the Tamil Tigers, or the RNA to the Sri Lankan military. Both are far more battle hardened and well financed. The current disarray in the peace process tells us of the importance of disarmament, decommissioning, ceasefires and monitoring when armed conflict does stop. This will require a broad international effort, not just a single do-gooder country that shuts other interested parties out of the peace mechanisms.

In East Timor, the United Nations and regional powers like Australia managed a tricky transition from rebellious colony to independent state by providing incentives for both sides to reconcile. Indonesia, in particular, was going through political turmoil and had far-sighted enough leaders to reject the notion that an ultra-nationalist response in Timor might entrench Jakarta's power. Instead, they played along with the peace process.

Now India bears no real resemblance to Indonesia at the time of Timor crisis, nor was Nepal its errant colony. But let's face it. India has powerful and real interests here, economic, political and geo-strategic. To deny that would be blindness and folly. So India needs to be intimately involved in the making of the new Nepal, yet counterbalanced by international resources and know-how so that the 'India card' can never again be played by militants or recalcitrant royalists to spark a riot or provoke support for fascist measures. And you know what? I think India has changed immeasurably in the past decade and it's ready to play this role, involved, at the fore front, yet consultative, one friend of Nepal among many.

We need to reign in the aid agencies who'll see this new period as yet another opportunity to convince their home governments to shower them with money - funds that won't leave the Kathmandu valley and the usual circle of suspect aidocrats. There's enough expertise among civil society in Nepal, which includes those who work in the aid and NGO sectors, to tell the donors what is needed and who it's to be given too. If the foreigners want democracy, they should behave democratically. Cambodia in the 1990s is a case in point of aid agencies and the UN run amok, with disastrous effects on the local economy and polity.

Military assistance from abroad is both essential and potentially disruptive. Here India will want to restore its links to the RNA but they must be patient. So must Washington but we're not dealing with reasonable people in the US government these days. We must rely on the likes of Human Rights Watch and Senator Patrick Leahy, feeding them with plenty of information, to keep tabs on the Pentagon and the State Department.

If there's an underlying point here, it's that the people have spoken. They have asserted sovereignty and a long silenced voice in their own affairs. They need information, support and resources to solidify their victory. But mostly, they need the respect of the international community that's about to come pouring into Nepal to try to win the peace.

Listen to the people and maybe you'll learn something. Do what you think is right without consultation and you'll fail, yet again.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)