Nepali Times
Here And There
In a state of permanent war


Ist's not Nepal's uniqueness that should ever worry us, however infuriating it may be that the local elite and opinion formers seem unable to learn from the mistakes of others. No, it's the way that the downward spiral in the kingdom bears far too much resemblance to the pace of life elsewhere, with few of the other mitigating and compensating elements.

Consider for example what some fear is potentially the country's lapse into the state of 'permanent war' which has been the situation in the United States and other Western societies since the Al Qaeda attacks of 11 September, 2001. President Bush's war on terror, lately extended by now-discredited reasoning to Iraq, has been used to put the United States on a permanent war footing-a situation emulated by many of her allies, however reluctantly.

Scholars who devised the notion of 'permanent war' come largely from the political left. But they echo the uneasy warnings of the Republican president and war hero, General Eisenhower, who said in the 1950s that the 'military-industrial complex' was the biggest threat to American freedom and democracy. Bigger by far, the president privately believed, than the doomed ideology of Soviet communism. Eisenhower's chilling words went largely unheeded at the time and the architects of permanent war prevailed in ostensibly left of centre administrations, headed by John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, to undertake military adventures in South East Asia. It was the 'war on terror' as seen then, a massive deployment of men and technology against an ephemeral foe-communism-that could not be beaten by such means. Nonetheless, many, many members of Eisenhower's military industrial complex were enriched and empowered. Never mind the 50,000 American dead or the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotions who were killed. Never mind the social destruction. That war was good for business.

Permanent war receded, although military adventurism continued in tiny, sometimes ludicrous hotspots like Grenada, the Falkland Islands and Panama. When the big powers weren't so engaged, there were myriad smaller and local conflicts to keep up the corporate cash flow. Angola, Mozambique, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Sierra, Leone, Liberia and countless other post colonial places were kept awash in arms and materiel so that fighting could continue. Arms merchants, military consultants and troubleshooters, not to mention humanitarian types and journalists, had a happy time of it. Or at least, were kept gainfully employed.

Then 11 September: a shocking and outrageous event that clearly demanded stern, comprehensive responses. But instead of constructive engagement, improved and infinitely more subtle intelligence gathering and a charm offensive to the terrorists' core constituency, we got-yes-permanent war. Just check the increase in share prices for the likes of Raytheon, Colt, British Aerospace and others to see why. Look at the soaring value of the security industry and the continuing privatisation of the US and British military's support functions, a new grab bag of opportunity worth an estimated half a trillion dollars a year.

So does the breakdown of the peace process here and the 'securitising' of Nepali society mean that we're embarking on our own version of permanent war, with all that implies? Ever stricter security measures, the military playing a prominent role in everyday life, larger and larger sums of money on arms and training, funds denied to development or attacks on the root causes of insurgency, the marginalisation of dissent and democracy and-perhaps most ominously-a growing role for a shadowy, unaccountable band of foreign advisors who make aid workers seem positively transparent by comparison... is this what's happening in Nepal?

Not quite. Not yet. Not if a brave media, human rights community and civil society can come together to articulate their desire for peace, sustainable development and real social change through democratic and consultative means. That's self-evidently what almost everyone wants, whether insurgent, soldier, shopkeeper, activist or politician. So it's time to get on with it, before the military industrial complex-in whatever form-comes looking for a permanent place in our lives.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)