There has been such a flurry of international activity on Nepal over the last month that one would think-as with development, peacemaking and conflict resolution-the return to democracy too has been farmed out to overseas friends and next-door neighbours. Fortunately, the past week saw the beginning of coordinated activity by political parties, on whom rests the responsibility of bringing the country back to civilised, democratic rule based on primacy of law, constitutional evolution and representative government.
Given that democracy brokered by anyone other than the representatives of the people is bound to be more conservative than liberal, amidst their concern and activism it is important for special representatives, ambassadors, diplomats and Nepal desk-officers everywhere to pay heed to what is happening on ground level in the country they want to save. Given that only three individuals of the 205 members of the disbanded Third Parliament speak parlour-quality English, it is not hard to understand why the diplomats tend to be one step removed from the political movement on the ground. This demographic distance is a definite factor of Nepali politics because of the weight the internationals pull on national affairs due to geopolitics and control of the purse strings of development and arms delivery.
Three weeks ago, the United Nations decided in Geneva that the protection of human rights of Nepali citizens vis-?-vis the rebels and the security forces required an international presence of more than 50 international monitors. Ian Martin, the much-heralded head of the Nepal Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is due to arrive on Friday. On Tuesday, the UN system in Nepal, in unprecedented action, called for full respect by the government for the principles of press freedom.
At a time when the government willingly has its head-in-sand, it is the United Nations and bilateral donors which have taken a stand on emergency, humanitarian and development assistance to the people at risk. As we speak, there is a high-level meeting to discuss Nepal developments among Delhi-based diplomats, ambassadors arriving from Kathmandu and the Indian Foreign Office. Issuing a joint statement on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists called for a rollback of fundamental rights.
The activism of the world community in favour of human rights and democracy is today matched by the silence emanating from the erstwhile (pre-February First) civil society. What the royal takeover of 1 February has done is started a process where civil society wheat is separating from civil society chaff and we find no more than a handful of those who have dared to speak up for the fundamental principles of governance. Among a particular category, it is almost as if they believe there could be development in the absence of democracy.
The silence of civil society, however, is compensated by the growing activism of the political parties, which were initially impacted by the shock-and-awe of 1 February. The late blooming reaction of the parties is also explained by the internal contradictions within them on matters of personality and principle and the attempts at restructuring while the top men were still in detention. But the news is that the political parties are beginning to coordinate, particularly since the release of NC President Girija Prasad Koirala last month and UML General Secretary Madhab Kumar Nepal at midnight on Sunday. The plan apparently is to announce a common agenda (which is what NC's Ram Sharan Mahat and UML's Subhas Nembang were working on when they were arrested on 27 April) that is to lead to a unified movement not only of the 'five parties' but the 'seven parties' including the Deuba Congress.
The political parties are hopefully chastened by the criticism of their past behaviour in parliament and gullibility while fighting regression. Actively watched by an alert public, they are the ones to chart the course back to pluralism. The world, having stood firm by the Nepali people in the hour of need, must regard the politicians and their parties as representing the aspirations of the population. Unfortunately, the reported comments of US Ambassador James Moriarty at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC last Friday, including reference to the February First action being popular among ordinary Nepalis, at the very least, does not inspire confidence in the intentions of the super power.