Nepali Times
Here And There
Soft targets


Perversely, when state authority weakens, the weak suffer. Ask yourself who have been the overwhelming victims of the crumbling Nepali government's offensive against the Maoists, and be damned if you don't answer, "the weak, the innocent, the ordinary". Of the nearly 10,000 dead in the long Maoist war, more than half are probably non-combatants, citizens, people next door.

Similarly in India, when the Kashmiri uprising was raging in the early 90s, Indian security forces tended to go after the softest of targets. Human rights abuses abounded. Whole villages were rounded up and people were never seen again. Women were raped, schoolboys slaughtered. It got better as the decade wore on. The Indian army and paramilitary forces learned the value of intelligence, something that demonstrably isn't happening in Nepal. A distant elite in a cloistered capital is hardly able to penetrate fiery, ideological movements based on rural alienation. So they lash out at those least able to protect themselves, or have their bully boys in uniform do it for them.

Now look at America. And consider the case of Kari Rein. She's a Norwegian-born US resident who lives in the fair state of Oregon. Her husband and her two children are full-fledged US citizens, born on American soil. She holds a green card and has for nearly two decades. Last year, Kari's American dream went sour. She and her family were returning for a vacation abroad when she was stopped by the immigration authorities at Seattle airport.

Her husband and sons didn't see her again for nearly three weeks as the US government held her incommunicado, without charge, under some draconian provision in the immigration act, bolstered by the current obsession with homeland security. Then a lawyer cracked the government's wall of silence and discovered that Kari was being held as a "dangerous drug offender". Fourteen years earlier, she and her husband had been convicted of growing a few marijuana plants. They'd paid fines, done community service and avoided drugs ever since.

But now, post 11 September, America is on guard against dangerous foreigners. And Kari Rein is going to be deported. That's right, deported. Various statutes have come together to empower immigration officers to take action against any foreigner with a drug offence in his or her background, regardless of the circumstances. So it's back to the fjords for Kari Rein. Her adopted hometown in Oregon is up in arms and is raising money for her legal defence. The state's best paper is campaigning hard in her favour. She's out of jail but bound by a court order to inform police of her movements.

Reporters say the local police force is embarrassed to have to pay attention to her at all, considering her an exemplary citizen. But a floundering Bush administration in Washington is rounding up and deporting people like Kari simply because they can. They are classic soft targets. There are still thousands of people-mostly, but not all, Muslims-in US jails who were rounded up after 9-11 and not charged with any crimes. They are suspected of immigration act violations and can be held indefinitely pending deportation. Some have drug convictions, like Kari. They're a danger to America and they'll be kicked out.

Soft states are dangerous. To themselves and their citizens. A healthy body politic is less so but it bears watching nonetheless. It's yet another reason to get democracy back in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)