Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
Outside, looking in


Aside from the apparent divide within the Maoist leadership, the most important post-February First development within Nepal has been the formulation of the seven-party alliance. This is a feat we haven't witnessed since 1990.

Externally, US policy vis-?-vis Nepal is constrained by the same dilemma faced by other members of the international community- endanger regional security or shore up democracy.

American policy-makers appear to have selected the only viable path to achieving both security and democracy simultaneously by refusing to fall prey to the prevailing polarisation.

Other international actors have displayed far less wisdom in navigating the same pitfalls. Given the legacy of deteriorating human rights in Nepal and the ambiguous achievements and failures (depending on interpretation) of the post-February One environment, the EU has opted in favour of full democratic restoration first as a prerequisite to peace and security.

While the Indian government's official stance appears firm (and in line with the EU's), its unofficial position remains ambiguous. The Indian government's reluctance to listen to the security concerns of its own military is rather alarming because it is India's security wing that will bear the brunt of a failed policy vis-?-vis Nepal. Owing to its distance, the EU enjoys the luxury of maintaining a policy that ignores South Asian security concerns. India does not.

Baburam Bhattarai's recent tour of New Delhi has raised eyebrows. It is unprecedented for a political figure from any nation to hold talks with an organisation it has labelled terrorist but Bhattarai's alleged engagements with CPI-Marxist leader Prakash Karat could be a positive development. As a politician in the world's largest democracy and an individual who answers first and foremost for the interests of the Indian people, it is inconceivable that Karat would have advised the Maoist leader to do anything but join the political mainstream.

Meanwhile, Washington has remained resolute in its policy that long-term peace and stability can only be achieved through concerted action by all major power brokers in Nepal. Despite constant lobbying by various groups, the US has maintained its commitment for a peaceful and democratic discourse-one that retains the perspicuity of discerning partisan lobbies from those that serve Nepal's long-term interests.

The US policy actually includes the views of all legitimate parties with concerns on Nepal. This does not imply that every concern results in policy shifts, merely that all parties are granted the satisfaction of being heard and the assurance that their interests will somehow factor in overall decision-making.

Granted, major decisions on Nepal are deferred to India now but the knowledge that India's status as a regional power is inextricably tied to her performance as a regional stabiliser is a reassuring realisation -especially for Nepal where Indian moves are constantly misconstrued as evidence of imminent invasion.

There is still potential for mutually agreeable progress if certain bottomline issues are addressed:

. the Maoist insurgency remains the primary driver of instability
. non-democratic discourse cannot be sustained indefinitely
. neither can democracy with its past malgovernance
. measured reforms across the political spectrum combined with continued harmony between Nepal's legitimate political forces is the only way out.

A failure to recognise the significance of these broad principles could cost Nepal dearly. Admission of guilt is insufficient if the only alternative is indefinite agitation. Rigid positions are untenable if room for inclusive politics is decimated. Propagation of petty gossip and name-calling is counterproductive when the ability to absorb and interpret is lacking. Using threats as political leverage when their ramifications are not fully understood is risky and there is a danger that such threats may become self-fulfilling prophecies.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)