Nepali Times
Here And There
Year of the truly weird


What a year it's been. First off, no need to split semantical hairs over Nepali years, mis-measured millennia or whatever. But no one could argue that the past twelve months have not been seriously strange, downright weird.

Here in the Himalayan kingdom, it all began much as it is right now. With mist and cold and with gloom, or at best, uncertainty about the future. A Maoist war was marching on. A shaky collection of has-beens, technocrats, wannabes and political cast-offs formed a government with no authority. Early enthusiasm for the king's dismissal of Deuba had well and truly waned.

In late January, the Kathmandu elite-the people who think they matter in this country-discovered national unity by getting gloomy themselves. Over the tragic murder of Krishna Mohan Shreshta, his wife and bodyguard.

Paradoxically though, within days we were over the moon. Ceasefire! Peace in our time! Negotiations! User friendly Maoists and a government minister who seemed to know what he was doing. Narayan Singh Pun's accomplishment in setting up the last round of peace talks remains the single most positive achievement of the last year.

But the inevitable happened. Squabbling broke out in government ranks. A weak prime minister who once admitted to me in a television interview that he "wasn't used to working very hard" fell victim to his own inability. The country's hopes for peace faded although-stubbornly-the ceasefire held.

A new, hard-line RPP splittist government took the king's salt. Agitating political parties finally started to realise that a few citizens wanted some humble pie eaten. Nepali hope sprung eternal. 'Peace, peace and peace' was the government's ostensible mantra. But in late August, as long delayed peace talks resumed in Nepalganj and Dang, the security forces massacred about 20 people in Doramba-an event they have yet to explain to the people. War resumed shortly thereafter.

Kathmandu rediscovered fear in September. Rumors of a 'hit list' circulated. It became perversely fashionable to boast that one was on it. Ministers, ludicrously, were given an official directive not to venture beyond the Ring Road. Slowly, as more human rights abuses by the security forces came to light, it became obvious that the government meant to win this war with force. The Royal Nepali Army was confident. Even the police seemed more able on the field of battle. Eventually, an increasingly emboldened Nepali media uncovered incident after incident where the state was illegally killing or detaining its own citizens. Amnesty International said Nepal had more disappeared people than any other country in the world. The government's response was to set up a human rights cell in the prime minister's office, a clear attempt to bypass the National Human Rights Commission.

So as an arbitrary twelve month period comes to an end, what have we got to look back on with anything other than fear, loathing and regret? Well, not much.

The media got better in 2003, so did human rights activists. Nepali films like Bhedako oon jasto and Numafung wowed us, distracted us from the carnage and entropy. Deep Shreshta and others rocked the country in a fabulous peace concert. Various business ventures came and went, a hundred thousand more Nepalis went abroad to earn hard currency and escape the war.

Anything I've missed? Either positive or negative? Letters are welcome because I'd sure like some help in figuring out just what the hell happened in Nepal in 2003.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)