Nepali Times
Who's the roadblock?

Nepali Times: Has the US position changed since 1 February when State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated that the royal action was a setback in the fight against Maoism?
Ambassador James Moriarty:
Actually I think what Mr Boucher was referring to was the fact that we thought ultimately if the palace and the parties are not cooperating then you are going to have a tough time getting to a final settlement of the Maoist question. It was against that broad perspective that he was speaking and that still has not changed... We were not saying that we thought the army would be less effective. We were saying that the conditions for negotiating a settlement with the Maoists would not be there. If you do not have reconciliation, I cannot figure out how you can deal with the Maoists problem.

Our reading was that the State Department statement was premised on the royal action, and that it would affect the fight against the Maoists.
No, it was not. Trust me, I wrote it! (Laughs) To address the Maoists you need three conditions in place: unity among the legitimate political actors, unity among the international community pushing the Maoists towards the table, and the question of whether the Maoists recognise that they are not going to win militarily. So, sure the army can be more aggressive for a while and that can cause the Maoists some pain, but if the Maoists believe that they have a chance to wedge the parties and the palace apart, they are not going to come to the table in any serious fashion because they are going to think that we do not have to. If the international community is saying that the problem here is the government and not the Maoists, then again the Maoists are going to just hang on without having to worry about international public opinion.

In the call for reconciliation, is it not the palace that has to take the initiative rather than the parties?
We have been noting all along that there has to be a proper atmosphere for reconciliation and that does involve the release of most of the political detainees, and a little bit more clarity on the status of civil liberties. We welcome the lifting of the state of emergency but obviously things have happened since then to cause people to doubt the seriousness of that action. So, I am not going to say that the initiative lies with one side but there does have to be created first of all the atmosphere for reconciliation. Once that is created it has to be a two-way road. I do say that the government has to create the atmosphere, but if the finger-pointing continues thereafter you will not get anywhere.

Is this an attempt to place equivalence in the responsibility?
I take your point, but on the other hand the king is not talking about doing away with the parties. The king is talking about the need to get back multiparty democracy. I am not trying to defend the king's actions, we have already said that we are concerned by them. Ultimately, the two sides have to cooperate, against the much bigger threat... The parties say some reasonable things to me in private but if you look at what they say in public, well its pretty tough.

The international community and the king himself have always called for the parties to unite, and now they have. Shouldn't the US be more welcoming of this effort by the parties?
Well, actually when she was here Christina Rocca said something pretty close to that. She went on to qualify it, basically said that this should be the beginning point for talks rather than a bottom line ultimatum. Because let's face it, you know I know that the king has flat out said publicly that he believes that restoration of parliament would be unconstitu-tional. So, it is going to take convincing for him to buy that. And that's why we are not specifically saying, 'Gee whiz, we agree with all of this.'... What is key to me is that there has to be agreement between the palace and the parties, and anything that they can agree on is great by me. I trust the wisdom of the parties not to do anything suicidal.

The perception is that the US is lukewarm towards the democratic process, and exclusively focused on battling the Maoists insurgency.
In response, all I want to do is scream. What we have said is in the public record: the very fact of the Maoist insurgency makes it that much more necessary for the parties and the palace to work together to figure out the road back to functioning democracy. Let us face it, all of your questions so far have implied that the king is the roadblock to a functioning democracy. Well maybe he is, but I will give you the bigger one that has been proven, which is the Maoist insurgency and its aversion to elections.

The role of the political parties in engaging the Maoists seems to be the central factor that is missing in the king's plan.
From the government and other people, and I will not say who, I do hear exactly that point. They recognise the necessity, and the question is how they go about implementing it.

There are moderate politicians who have been languishing in jail for months, in bad health.
Every time I see someone from the government I tell them you have to release these guys. The published record of what I say and the private record of what I do all is a recognition that the arrests are unacceptable, that the detainees have got to be released, and then a way has to be found for reconciliation between the parties and the palace. Everything I do here is about that. There is no way that you are going to get the Maoists to come to a reasonable peace as long as the parties and the palace are not together.

Have things changed since the lifting of the emergency?
Obviously the government has to be a lot clearer where it stands on civil liberties and what is the meaning of the lifting of the state of emergency. I have been pretty outspoken since February 1st on the matter of curbs on civil liberties. It is just plain dumb. Frankly, they put in the state of emergency much more effectively than they lifted it.

How about the use of the military to enforce the royal takeover?
The military was used specifically, as far as I can tell, in enforcing press censorship. There was very limited role otherwise. Let us face it, most of what has been done, including the continuing detentions and arrest of demonstrators is done by the police. I am not trying to whitewash the army, but this is the situation.

But all over the country the army has become the entity of last authority, whether it is vis-?-vis local administrators or the media.
You do raise a question, but what can I say. The nation has been militarised by the insurgents. In times of war, and you are in effect in an internal war here, the military gets much more power than makes us comfortable. The question is what kind of checks and balances you have. There have to checks and balances.

The centralisation of state since 1 February would seem to go against the tenets of democratic development.
The king and the government talk constantly about decentralisation. But I am not naive, I understand that whenever you have someone who is clearly at the top, people tend to defer to that person.

Do you believe that the dozen years of parliamentary democracy till October 2002 to have been a success or failure?
If you had not had an insurgency, people would be looking at Nepal today as a country was making progress in most of the key areas. Between 1990 and 2002, life expectancy increased 50 percent, education increased more than that, the network of paved roads trebled, income went up significantly. Frankly, if you had not had this ideological insurgency, you would have seen conditions for an economic takeoff, with the economy growing at seven or eight percents a year right now.

A Polar Air Boeing 747 freighter landed this morning (Wednesday) at 10:10 am in Kathmandu. Where are we on military assistance?
We have been saying all along that we will be continuing non-lethal security assistance, while lethal military assistance is under review. We have not made any decision because we have not had anything specific to force our hand on the latter question. Decision has not been taken on lethal assistance. As for the plane that landed today, there should be a shipment coming in. I will not comment other than to say that it is non-lethal.

Do you think that the present royal government benefits politically when the military assistance is resumed?
I will tell you that if the king had not taken over, we would not have kept our lethal military assistance under review. Obviously, the government would have got a lot more Indian weapons by now as well. So I do not agree with that suggestion at all.

Is it possible for the Maoists to win in a conventional war and to take over the state?
If the army has the weapons and ammunition, it will not be possible for the Maoists to win. What happens if your military runs out of bullets, is the number one question facing your country today. Figure it out, that's where lethal security assistance comes in.

What about Maoist capabilities?
Frankly if the army runs out of bullets, they can come in with khukuri knives.

The army seems more than capable of defending the 75 district headquarters, the Maoists do not have any base area in their command, and they seem to have fractured at the top.
From the study of totalitarian parties, you may actually see the Maoists come out more unified and tougher, leaner and meaner. Baburam may patch up and come out singing praises of Prachanda. In terms of capabilities, two and half years ago Maoists were active in 14 out of 75 districts. Today, it is 70 out of 75. Basically, there is a question of the army maintaining its capability, and they do need weapons and bullets before long or they will get into serious trouble.

What is your sense of human security outside Kathmandu Valley after 1 February?
I do not have a good feel for what happens in the 4,000 villages, and I would guess that the conditions vary considerably. Elsewhere, I get a mixed picture. Obviously the Valley has been getting pretty safe since even before February First, and the bandas are not being respected here. There is news that Nepalganj has got better over the last few weeks, which I find very interesting because it had been an area of complete failure.

Is there a distance between the State Department and the senators and congressmen on the Hill, in terms of how they see February One, the palace and military assistance?
I think that basically everybody shares the same two goals of return to democracy and effective handling of the insurgency. There is some debate about how exactly you do it but I do not get the feeling that we are constantly under siege from parts of the Hill. We have a pretty good dialogue going.

It has been said that in Washington DC recently you painted a rather rosy picture of the current situation in Nepal, particularly having to do with the Kapilbastu vigilante action, the NHRC and on habeas corpus.
On Kapilbastu, frankly there is a range of opinion on what happened and that is what I reported. On NHRC, they have undeniably gone to more places since about a month after the first of February. It is a statistical fact that they are getting better access. The Supreme Court tells me that there are no writs of habeas corpus outstanding, these are facts and I am sorry if they do not jive with people's perceptions of the way things must be here after February 1. You've got a glass here, obviously it is mostly empty, maybe only a quarter full, but there is some fullness here and it is not that everything has gone to the extent of your worst nightmare.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)