Nepali Times
"Bring the Maoists back to the table."

Nepali Times: How do you reconcile America's need to support democracy on the one hand, with the requirement that democracy may need to be shelved to bring things back on track?
Michael Malinowski: Democracy is resilient, flexible enough to withstand dire threats like this insurgency. But to function well, democracy needs structures like parliament, elected public officials, their accountability, institutions that support the freedom that democracy requires, free press, an honest bureaucracy, intellectual exchange. But what it comes down to at the end is the political will of an individual-whether individuals can work as voters, whether they are educated, whether the people they elect are accountable to the electorate. This can only be done by a country's own citizens. That is the drama that is being played out today.

You were one of two envoys the king consulted before he took over executive powers. What do you make of the recent political developments?
The US and other countries are concerned about political developments in Nepal. We are hoping that the Nepali people can overcome this crisis, that peace can be restored. We support Nepal. We support a continuation of the constitutional role, we support the continuation of multi-party democracy, we want to see the people able to articulate their demands through an organised system, and we expect that free and fair elections will take place. There are three points here: a constitutional role, continuing multi-party democracy and full commitment to seeing elections happen.

What can be done to attain this? I think there are four major areas. Firstly, politics. It's been frustrating that the legal politicians have not been able to come together in a more concerted fashion to face the threat from the Maoists. You know, the house is on fire and people are still worrying about who is going to sleep in the master bedroom. We hope that people will rise above their personal, political concerns for the good of the country. That hasn't happened so far, though the people are trying to make it work.

The second plank is to get to the resources for not only the insurgency, but the process of development of Nepal in general. Nepal has larger development problems. We need to develop more effective programs to get to the grassroots problems. Things are being done. Coupled with that, you need a better economic atmosphere to bring in employment. To create jobs you need to have a government that better delivers goods and services, you need to have a government that is not corrupt.

We applaud the recent anti-corruption effort. We hope that it is done according to the law, that it is non-partisan in nature. If people abuse the public trust they should be held accountable. This is not passing judgement on any of the personalities involved, but the system should sort that out.

The third is on the security side, and a lot of the above cannot be done because of the security situation. The security forces have to become better at what they are doing. The object is not to kill people, but to bring them to the negotiating table, bring them back into the system. I am happy to say that the US is involved now in trying to help the military and security forces to get better. To get better also means things like civic action.

The fourth plank is international and regional support. Neighbouring countries have an obvious role to play. There is a porous border with India, it has expressed concerns about the situation here. Certainly they have a very positive role to play in this.

This is not going to be easy, it can't happen unless Nepalis themselves do it. Outsiders can, but at the end of the day it's Nepalis who have to be in charge of their own future.

You have publicly equated Nepal's Maoists with other militant groups like the Senderos in Peru and the Khmer Rouge. But does this insurgency actually fit into the global US war against terror?
The terrorists today are driven by a lot of reasons-religious, sectarian, ethnic, philosophical. This group here, the so-called Maoists, are driven by the philosophy of ultra-left extremist Marxism coupled with a willingness to take individual lives, to use innocent victims, to destroy infrastructure in an effort to get their goal which, after all, is power.

So, the link between so-called Maoist groups and other terrorist groups is the equation of tactics, the use of violence, and the goal is to attain power. Tactics used are the same. They admire the Sendero Luminoso and the Khmer Rouge, one of the most horrific examples of the 20th century of violence against humanity.

Now, how does this fit into our worldwide campaign? We abhor all types of terrorist acts. The world has no place for such tactics in the 21st century. The arrogance of the people for this type of terrorism is fairly unjustifiable. People who think they have the right to impose their will through violent methods. There is no place in civilised society for that. So, the United States recognises that and it is part of our overall action against terrorism, terrorist movements. We are concerned about developments in Nepal and we are actively engaged with the government and the people of Nepal to try to terminate this insurrection.

The goal of the US, the goal of Nepal, the goal of all friendly countries, is not to kill Maoists. They are all Nepalis. The goal is to bring them back to the negotiating table.

Your government has committed support to the Nepal government to fight the Maoists. But there is concern in some quarters about the delay in that assistance. What is holding things up?
Late last year, the US government undertook a policy review on our relations with Nepal. It determined that the US would help the government of Nepal face this violent terrorist, so-called Maoist, insurgency. And there would also be economic assistance designed to go to the root of insurgency, and also to help form a security shield so the government would be able to better fulfill its primary requirement. The primary requirement of any government is to protect its citizens.

Since that decision was made, we are developing new programs of assistance. This is in addition to our regular programs, and they are specifically designed to help end the insurgency, to bring the Maoists back into the system.

I am happy to report that the USAID budget, which was about $24 million last year has been kicked up this year, to about $34 million. Most of the new funding is for things that have relevance in getting into the root causes of violence and the insurgency. All programs that other countries, other donors do are, of course, done in conjunction with the government of Nepal. On the development side, we have the resources and are studying programs to bring goods and services to areas that may have been neglected before, basically to show that democracy and the government can deliver.

On the security side, we have been able to cobble together significant funding, and basically there is $17 million this year to be used on the security side. This money will be spent in conjunction with the government of Nepal, the Royal Nepal Army and other security forces here. It will consist of a multifaceted package that will include equipment, supplies and training. The training will include a number of things obviously for counter-insurgency. Also it would include things like civic-military relations, public relations, human rights. We have already done programs with both the military and the police on human rights. So there would be a wide range of efforts. I am happy to report that we will not be the only ones doing this, there would be other countries as well. I would call on other countries, friends of Nepal, to bring in the programs they already have to address these counter-insurgency efforts. Some countries can offer help on the development side, some countries might be able to help on the security side. But rather than criticise Nepalis and the government of Nepal, we would ask the donors to bring something to the table.

You have mentioned human rights violations by the Maoists. But there is also concern about violations by the security forces. Is this in any way affecting the level of military assistance?
We have good rapport with the government and security forces to combat human rights abuses. They understand the need to address this concern. It is not only a moral thing to do, but it is a smart thing to do. You don't gain intelligence from someone who is dead. It is a huge mistake to use tactics that make more enemies than friends. These things are hard to do. It comes down to people in the field who may be scared or angry, who are humans after all. Nevertheless when human rights are violated, people have a responsibility, nations have a responsibility to address that situation.

On the Maoists' side, other countries, institutions, NGOs, international groups who monitor human rights, have an important role to play. The human rights abuses of Maoists were being ignored way too long. Now that is changing, as the true nature of their movement is being unveiled.

You took part in the Nepal donor contact group meeting here three weeks ago. Was there a consensus on support for Nepal?
We thank the government of the United Kingdom for putting things together. This was a follow-up to the London meeting. The countries represented there ranged from Nepal's neighbours, traditional donors, international organisations. All of them recognised that Nepal was in crisis and these friendly nations and institutions had a responsibility to help Nepal. Certainly the statement that came out condemning the Maoist insurgency tactics was strong and clear. Nepal is in this situation today because of this insurgency.

How much co-ordination is there between Washington and New Delhi on events here?
We have a very good dialogue with India on a variety of issues. Certainly, Nepal has been and should be one of the subjects of dialogue as it is a friend of both countries. Everybody wants to see peace return here.

But some people in Europe and the United States are arguing that providing military assistance to one of the world's poorest countries will just prolong the conflict, and impoverish it further.
They should visit the Teaching Hospital, or Bir Hospital, where the victims of Maoist insurgency come in. They should look at the type of injuries people have been subjected to. The bottom-line is, people, society, come together to form a government for self-protection. The so-called Maoist insurgency has deliberately used tactics to target innocent people, to target social, educational, developmental institutions. Any state has not only the right but also the responsibility to defend itself, it has a right to ask friendly governments for help in defending itself. This is what Nepal is doing, and this is what we are responding to.

What lessons can we learn from the tragedies in Cambodia and Afghanistan?
Both Cambodian and Afghanistan have relevance here, in terms of what might happen. In Cambodia the movement was conducted by people who read the same books as Nepal's Maoists, and they had over three-and-a-half million people dead in a very short time. National genocide, focused by the same political arguments that these Maoists use. The result is that the international community is now spending massive amounts of money in Cambodia to rebuild. It is not only a question of money, it is the question of human costs. How many people killed, how many people brutalised, how much infrastructure has to be put back together, how many lives have had to be healed. We don't want to see that happen in Nepal. We have already seen element of that in terms of the setbacks in development brought by the Maoists and in terms of the brutalisation of many of the victims, including the Maoists themselves. Their callous use of children, 14, 15, 16 years old. Their leaders bear the responsibility for this.

And, on the Afghanistan side we have seen a situation where anarchy has allowed groups of mischief-makers to come in. The world doesn't want to see that happen in Nepal, where anarchy could land new birds here whose nests were broken in Afghanistan. So both of those frightening analogies present lessons why the world should help Nepal meet this challenge.

You were first posted to Nepal after the democratic transition of 1990, and today there is a different kind of transition going on. How have things changed, what has remained the same?
I came in the summer of 1991, after the political change and the formation of the new government. There was a need to consolidate democracy working with the political figures, the new government and new institutions. At the same time, there was also the need to consolidate the economy and bring out new economic policies.
To be honest, we felt that expectations were extremely high. A lot of people thought that the new system would have a measurable impact on their lives. Overall there were great expectations that democracy would solve things, which were not met. Then people started questioning the institutions. I think the massacre at the royal palace was another body blow to the psyche of the state, as well as the people of Nepal.

On the other hand, Maoists are indulging in attacking innocent people and the huge level of violence has prompted people to ask questions about the relevance of these institutions. So, the challenge of 1991 and 2002 remains in a sense the same: how do you make democracy work and how do you provide for socio-economic development for the rapidly growing number of people of Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)