In the dictionary of diplomacy, smallness has nothing to do with the size, population, resources or even military might of a country. Any state that can't look after its vital interests (security, welfare and identity) is considered small. They depend upon regional or global hegemon to safeguard their existence.
Iraq is small despite its oil while Norway is big-a 'peace superpower'. Economic stagnation and democratic decay have reduced the stature of nuclear-power Pakistan, but Bangladesh has become bigger, despite endemic political instability and recurrent natural disasters because of a vibrant civil society and openness.
Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara says he is aware of the risk of international intervention in the internal affairs of Nepal, but do his warlords know how much they have endangered the very survival of the state?
Nine years of armed insurgency and its fallout has shrunk Nepal in the world. It is now a nation of conflict and a human rights hot spot. A country known for its UN peacekeepers now needs peacekeepers itself. Still, several hundred Nepali blue-helmets left for Haiti early this week.
Our diminishing size is reflected in the way the international media treats us. From Bhutani refugees to democratic reversal, it couldn't be bothered. More recently, the world largely ignored the tragic fate of 12 Nepalis in Iraq, but played up the blockade and forced closure of a few businesses as signs of a failing state.
The state itself is desperately looking for a saviour from outside its borders. The United States seems willing to play the role of a guarantor to quarantine the Maoist contagion. Its instant offer of $1 million in the wake of the blast at the American Centre on the eve of 9/11 wasn't a tip for the loyalty of the royal government: it was a diplomatic statement of intent to intervene in a more direct way.
In effect, the Americans were telling the Indians: if you do not want to handle the Nepali Maoists we will. South Block reacted with alacrity in denouncing Prachanda's minions as a 'common threat' for India and Nepal during Sher Bahadur Deuba's New Delhi visit. Early this week, Nepal figured in the talks between George Bush and Manmohan Singh too.
Norway and Switzerland are willing to be facilitators for negotiations between the insurgents and the government, but not in a way that strengthens the status quo of the Royal Nepali Army's domination over the polity of the country. The UN Secretary General has been offering his 'good offices' to resolve the issue, but so far no one has taken it seriously. Publicly offered explanation is that inviting a third party in the internal conflict of Nepal may antagonise India, but the real reason is perhaps the fear that an UN-brokered peace may break the domination of the ruling elite.
By now, almost everyone has realised that Nepal can't handle the Maoists on its own anymore. The confusion is over the role that we are ready to give to an outsider. The rebels want the UN as guarantor to secure a position commensurate with their armed strength. The royal government is quite happy with the cash and weapons it has been receiving from the Americans, British, and Indians to fight the insurgents. Mainstream parties fear being marginalised if the military and the militants strike a deal. Civil society swears by the UN, but other than a vague faith in the good intentions of Kul Chandra Gautam, Nepali intelligentsia doesn't know what exactly it wants from the it.
Only Narayanhiti Palace is completely free of all illusions. It knows it has to depend on the Indians now to protect the monarchy from all possible threats. Life certainly is a lot simpler when you know when, where and how to kowtow. This is a lesson that Girija Prasad Koirala never learnt, but Madhab Nepal rapidly grasped.
When King Gyanendra goes to New Delhi, expect him to lay the ground work for yet another Nepal-India treaty somewhat similar to the India-Sri Lanka Peace agreement signed between Premier Rajiv Gandhi and President JR Jaywardene in 1987. Some, it seems, want peace at any cost. The price of unjust peace, however, is usually very high and often turns out to be unsustainable.