Nepali Times
Guest Column
Idealism vs realism


Nepal's conflict is a manifestation of competing ideologies, a particular form of which is inherent to nations in transition. In addition, the theoretical complexities of our internal conflict have their own distinctive dimensions.

Nepal's conflict can be viewed as an offshoot of the inflexibility of extremist ideologies. The extremism of the Maoists coupled with the intransigence OF by successive governments in Kathmandu, have served as perfect catalysts for protracted conflict. The result has been a direct challenge against the state's unyielding attitude and its monopoly over the use of legitimate force.

On another plane, Nepal's conflict is a clash of communism and pseudo-capitalism. The latter is clearly disadvantaged in terms of its duration and cronyism, while the extreme left is what has emerged from a evolutionary selection of the survival of the most-militant.

Ironically, the introduction of democracy in Nepal (or rather the manner in which democracy has been abused) has minimally facilitated the emergence of a capitalist power-base - the urban middle class. At the same time it has strongly favored the radicalisation of a marginalised populace.

Another element in the conflict dynamics is the clash between American and European ideologies. Divergent views have emerged between these trans-Atlantic allies with the conclusion of the Cold War, the emergence of a single superpower and the formation of an attempted counter-balancing force, the European Union. The divergence is manifested in the fallout over Iraq and vis-?-vis policies directed towards developing nations.

The Europeans, having acknowledged that matching the American military might as impossible, have resorted to an ultra-idealist philosophy that dictates a strict interpretation of international law, a means with which to contain the perceived American hegemony. Washington continues its policy of pre-emption backed by unmatched military and economic might as a means to proeject its interest abroad.

This clash of ideologies and pragmatism is evident in the policy prescriptions that the respective sides have put forth to the Nepal government on issues pertaining to the Maoist insurgency. The Europeans (with the exception of the United Kingdom), seemed till recently to advocate an immediate declaration of a unilateral ceasefire and the resumption of talks. The Americans (along with the Indians and the British), on the other hand, have advised a more cautious approach that recognises a military solution to the problem as unrealistic but focuses on persuading the Maoists to lay down their arms, agree to unconditional negotiations and ultimately enter mainstream politics.

Although the end-goal is the same, the prescribed processes by which to attain it are not. Interestingly, the Maoists have singled out the Americans for attack even though it is not the biggest supplier of military hardware to the army.

In this sense, Nepal's conflict is a classic competition between realism and idealism. The only twist is that both warring sides are firmly embedded in a zero-sum power game (and thus the tradition of realism), whereas the injection of idealism is mostly external (although a vocal civil society has also emerged that champions essential, idealistic notions). The Maoists' capitalisation on idealistic values to propagate their notion of power-politics has proved to be a potent formula, one which has simultaneously extracted sympathy from, and instilled terror in the masses.

There has, however, been a misleading association of idealism strictly with Europeans and realism strictly with the United States. The fact that Amnesty International is based in London does not dictate that all of Europe unconditionally supports the idealistic notions used by the Maoists for their realist end-game. Nor does a Republican presidency in the Oval Office today guarantee another one in three months' time.

In a largely aid-dependent economy, the segregation of external competing ideologies has embedded itself in domestic politics. There are those whose convictions are compatible with the Americans and those who find common cause with the Europeans. The task is to find a set of goals and objectives that are in tune to both, a solution that is surely easier to put on paper, than to implement.

The difficult task of picking the best of all worlds is Nepal's responsibility alone. The challenge is to find a set of customised and balanced policies, that attain the stated end-goals without alienating any of our well-wishers.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)