The conflict tourism season is well underway. Foreigners have found that their expertise in dispensing gratuitous advice is in high demand here.
John Parr and Chris Goostrey from the British Ministry of Defence passed through purportedly at the invitation of our own security establishment. Two more of their colleagues have arrived at the behest of the United States Institute of Peace, a body that claims to promote, well, peace. Ann Fitzgerald and Gordon Hughes are academician-strategists, the kind who specialise in manufacturing consent for clients.
They join US security experts apparently already in Kathmandu to train the Nepali Army on how to run a 'civil military campaign', a euphemism for propaganda warfare.
Such missions are usually hush-hush, but they're already having an impact on the capital's seminar circuit. At Chez Caroline's you often hear the word "DDR" wafting in from adjoining tables. Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration has become the flavour of the month. The in-thing is to deplore Maoist donation drives, support the restored parliament and dismiss calls for a political accommodation of the insurgents. "They must disarm first," is the battle cry.
Before his departure, Congressman Jim Kolbe repeated what Senator Arlen Specter had said earlier: "US laws would not allow the US government to provide financial assistance to Nepal if the Maoists are included in the government with their weapons."
Yet, it's the combatants that the government should worry about, not their weapons. And to address the issue of their rehabilitation, a mutually agreeable political settlement is the primary condition. The seven-party alliance leaders seem to have failed to convey this convincingly to high-profile foreign visitors. If the peace process flounders, western embassies will once again dispatch non-essential staff to Thailand. That will leave the rest of us who must live or die here to set our own priorities.
Our ruling political parties are restrained, by diplomacy and economic pressure, from raising their voices against important donor countries. So it's up to civil society to oppose unwarranted international meddling. But given the composition of the Nepali civil society (mainly bahuns, all male, mostly western-educated, largely donor-dependent, and almost exclusively upper crust) it's unlikely that they will spit on the very hand that feeds them. That leaves us with the hyperactive muckrakers of the civic movement. Unfortunately, they too seem to have their priorities mixed up.
Activists have every right to caution the government and rebel group about the pitfalls of delaying the constituent assembly elections. But after a point, disparaging the ceremonial monarchy ad nauseum, denigrating political party leaders, needling rebels, and vilifying the security forces become irritating.
The Disparage, Denigrate, and Ridicule the monarchy agenda of the civic movement activists is as trite as the donor DDR. Activists must come up with fresh ideas to clean up the mess. One could be unequivocal opposition of all foreign interference, other than that by the UN in the ongoing peace process.
Fortunately, Ian Martin knows the limitations of outsiders in armed conflicts as entrenched as the Maoist insurgency. Short-term consultants on lucrative assignments will only be making his job difficult by dropping another acronym heard commonly these days during lunch break at Baber Mahal, "SSR" (Security Sector Reform).
All that we need from bilateral donors is their assistance in the 3Rs of economic revival-Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, and Reinvigoration of physical infrastructure. Since not a paisa of promised US assistance is meant for any of those purposes, there is no fear of losing it if we accommodate the Maoists in the government on our own terms, rather than those of US diplomats, congressmen or senators.