Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Time to wake up



The blasts that rocked Bangkok on New Year's Eve left that city scarred. This Beed has never missed an opportunity to complement the swelling Thai metropolis, but political uncertainty seemed inevitable. With the current military government taking its authority from a constitutional referendum, we need to wait for the general elections at the end of the year. Meanwhile, the Thai tourist industry is suffering from fewer visitors, and the baht's strength against the weakening dollar has left exporters unhappy. Foreign investors are taking a wait-and-see approach and it is only matter of time before the political stalemate starts to damage the economy.

Nepal can surely learn from the Thai experience. After nearly 10 years, Nepali tourism has been heading for a high once more. It has been getting difficult to book an airline seat out of Kathmandu and hoteliers have got their smiles back.

However, the 2/9 blasts have brought a new element of uncertainty. As a fellow traveller put it, repeating the worries of many, are we heading into a war of identity? The wars of Kashmir, Nagaland, and the Tamils in the region have shown what such a conflict can develop into, and surely Nepal does not want to be grouped with these South Asian hotbeds of violence.

The eight-party government has left too much resting on the outcome of the constituent assembly elections. The intelligence machinery has been left to hibernate and the security situation in the streets has been appalling. When one observes the arguments between the new breed of 'irritant white cabs' and traffic policemen, most of the time it seems the cab driver is about to book the cop! More than 17 months since the April Uprising, the security agencies appear not to have returned from their holiday leave.

Security on the ground and security in people's perception are two different things. Perhaps we have not understood that it takes time to restore the 'safe' image of a country. The global media - both print and electronic - still give the impression that Nepal is not safe. 'Thursday columnists' who translate the muckraking tabloids of the Nepali vernacular press make it hard for good news to hit the global headlines. Apart from stories of primitive world heritage conservation activities like the sacrificing of goats in front of electronically wired aircraft, or Badi women protesters going virtually topless, it's just the security scare stories that make it to the world outside.

Nepal as a nation has suffered a decade of insecurity that has clogged the wheels of development. We have been seen as a country where security-related firms can do good business. Until April 2006, it was the arms dealers and conflict resolution specialists, and then came the peace specialists. As the better half of this Beed continually laments, Nepal has become a country where individuals from countries with the highest divorce rates come to lecture us on co-existence! We have become just another experiment for the peacemakers, and the longer they stay, the worse for Nepal.

Thailand's experience has shown that a few months of political uncertainty and a couple of bomb blasts can sully a country's image. We are still trying to build an image. A major responsibility for our citizens is to ensure that we can be seen as a country that is safe, and show that 2/9 was an exception. Otherwise, we will all be finding jobs in the permanent UN Mission in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)