Nepali Times
Here And There
Hope amid pessimism


For months now, understandably, optimism has been the defining mood in Kathmandu. Last week's coverage of the events of 2006 explains why-Gyanendra's exit, the Maoist ceasefire, a peace accord, agreements on arms management, interim government, constituent assembly elections, a role for the United Nations.

These good things were almost unimaginable a year ago when the dark forces of conflict and idiot authoritarianism were at large. Kathmandu has been partying, even if the rest of the country was less enthusiastic, given that the peace dividend was hardly on offer in many districts.

Lately though, I detect a scrabble of hands in the capital reaching for the switch. As in "turn out the lights, the party's over." There are myriad reasons for this New Pessimism, just as there were for optimism. The timetables set by overenthusiastic negotiators seem un-meetable, if not dangerous. Political infighting has resumed. Long-discredited ideas and nostrums are still being bandied about by people with little credit. Authoritarian monarchy may still be meddling.

Maoism remains on the agenda. The international community's response time, however quick by global standards, can't keep pace with expectations.

The coming weeks and months will doubtless throw up more reasons for pessimism. A month of dreary weather lies ahead and nothing aggravates gloom more than the bone-chilling greyness of winter, days when even a civil servant can't take a sun bath.

Yet, set aside for a moment the hard, perhaps unworkable deadlines and the ridiculously impatient timetables of the November agreements. Ask this question and answer it honestly: what am I optimistic about in Nepal? Write down your answers, speak them out loud, tell friends, colleagues, and people on the street.

Forget Kathmandu if that helps, examine history, look around the world, make an effort to see the points of light, read those newspaper stories that rarely lead the front page but are almost always there. Listen to voices that rarely get heard. For a long time now, I have found reason for hope about Nepal, and here's a partial vision, admittedly longer-term, vision of what I think the future holds, if not how we're going to get there.

Nepal's social development indicators will continue to improve with literacy, women's empowerment, and education leading the way. Technology, money from out-migration, and growing political awareness will transform politics, whatever the scoundrels get up to in Kathmandu. More and more jobs will be created here, largely because of booming economies in India and China. The Nepali diaspora will finally engage with the homeland, bringing investment, ideas, and energy. Nepali pop culture will continue to flourish and move outward from the capital. Political power will devolve because it has to; de facto federalism will help address generations of exclusion and discrimination, if not resolve them completely.

Yes, these are all wildly general points. The devil is in the detail and many pitfalls lie immediately ahead. There will be unexpected, even catastrophic challenges.

The main political players in Kathmandu must be watched closely and held to constant, daily account. The New Pessimism will grow, but for the short term. I remain stubbornly optimistic about this youthful, dynamic land. Nepal has a bright future, if we dare to hope.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)