Nepali Times
"The reasons behind the chronic political instability in Nepal may not be solely internal."


Everyone now agrees that Nepal's current political situation is alarmingly complicated and getting out of hand. What people don't agree on is the cause for this. Some find fault with the constitution, others blame the expensive process of elections, still others argue for the direct election of the prime minister with a fixed tenure, and they blame the current deterioration on the lack of a visionary prime minister.

There are visible and invisible reasons for the current political instability. Nepal has had the basic infrastructure of state, but it seems to be non-performing. Politicians who have been elected at enormous cost to lead the nation seem to have lost their way. They have abandoned the job the people entrusted them with, and they have become like captive agents to further destabilise the country under the machination of an unseen force.

The constitution envisages a prime minister with the powers to provide a democratically strong government. But by an authoritative interpretation, he has been turned into a shuttlecock at the mercy of players of a Machiavellian politics. The result: we have had seven prime ministers in five years. There is a crisis of confidence, and society's value systems are at stake. Confused, the people fail to understand the strength of the sovereignty vested in them by the constitution. Such a situation is dangerous even for big and powerful countries, but for a country like Nepal, which is in the vortex of a new cold war between two of its neighbours, it is even more so. And it is getting difficult to figure out whether the crisis is spontaneous or manipulated.

As a landlocked country between two big military powers, we have lived through an economic blockade, sabotage of various kinds, and terrorism-all designed to bring us within the security arrangement of an advantageously located country. Without declaring war, people are being incited to violence to overthrow the state. The traditional goodwill between the peoples of Nepal and India is being systematically dismantled by unfounded and mischievous propaganda. Nepal is no match
to counter it.

About a month ago, a state minister for home affairs of India informed parliament that arms consignments were being delivered to terrorists in India by Pakistan's secret service through Nepal. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition in Nepal took notice of the matter. This was not the first report of its kind, nor will it be the last. It is not because they have space to fill that this kind of propaganda gets place in the Indian media. It is clear that Nepal has now become the target of Indian propaganda at par with Pakistan. It is logical to infer that by spreading prejudice among the Indian public, it will be easier to implement certain designs against Nepal. Unknowingly, Nepal has been engulfed in a cold war-like situation between its neighbours. Indifference to the crisis may prove to be very costly for us.

The historical peace which Nepal had enjoyed with both its neighbours vanished soon after China's military control over Tibet in the 1950s. Considering this a threat, India has since tried to involve Nepal under its security system. This is being forced through various overt and covert operations that have gone hand in hand with all-round instability and disorder within Nepal. Several historical documents and memoirs testify that every decision, political change, upheaval and overthrow of the government, have necessarily reflected the conflict between Nepal's two big neighbours. Both India and China have pursued their policy regarding Nepal, not on the consideration of any particular political system, but their national interests. Communism in Nepal may not be to China's strategic advantage. Similarly, even a self-declared pro-Indian democratic force in Nepal may not be considered by India to be in its security interests. Communists can be a good camouflage for India's covert operations and, pro-Indian elements or persons of Indian origin may be an useful cover to promote Chinese interests.

For example, China may support the traditional institution of monarchy, but may not necessarily be for the king of Bhutan. Similarly, a democratic India may not give the kind of support it reserves for the king of Bhutan to democratic forces there. Both powers compete against each other keeping their national interests topmost on their minds, and this includes their policy towards Nepal. The reasons behind the chronic political instability in Nepal may not be solely internal.

We have seen through history and in our own region that excessive militarisation hurts democracy. Bigger South Asian countries have inherited armies, intelligence agencies and bureaucracies which were designed for protection of colonial rule. Preserving democracy has never been a part of their ethos. Democracy is preserved when the army, intelligence and bureaucracy remain within the control of a popularly elected civil leadership. India and Pakistan, separated at birth and raised on the animosity of partition, are paying the price of their hostility to each other. Because of its size and strength, India has always been considered a threat to Pakistan's survival. Excessive militarisation due to this threat perception has put Pakistan under chronic military rule and forced the country to seek close alliance with China.

This triangular rivalry has set off an arms race in the region. India's extraordinary militarisation followed the brief India-China border war in 1962. A country with world's largest number of poor and illiterate people today is the biggest buyer of conventional arms. This has consequences for India's politics. If there is any serious difference between the army and civilian leadership, the decision of the army seems to prevail. Its security perceptions pervade all other considerations, and India's security agencies have the last say.

India has expanded and diversified its secret services to focus on various arenas of a target country. A study by journalist, Salamat Ali, points out that India has about a dozen intelligence agencies active in its neighbouring countries for dirty tricks and information gathering. The three wings of the military, and each state government have their own spies in neighboring countries who are unknown to each other. Despite covert operations including the Sri Lankan misadventure under Rajiv Gandhi, exporting terrorists and destabilising regimes has not abated, and are an indication that these activities are beyond the reach of a popularly accountable civil leadership.

Soon after becoming prime minister in his present term, Girija Prasad Koirala complained that a foreign power had a hand in making and unmaking governments in Nepal. Even Indira Gandhi once blamed her election defeat on a conspiracy by RAW, and there have been allegations within India that the agency has been misused to settle internal political rivalry. A country with a tradition of democracy in this region is in a serious stage of metamorphosis from a liberal democracy to an aggressive military power. India is at the crossroads and it carries the fate of this country between its civilian rulers and military strategists. Nepal cannot remain unaffected by this crisis.

Nepal has enough internal problems trying to plant the roots of an alien concept of democracy in adverse socio-economic soil. But our external challenges are much more serious, and may thwart our attempts at development and democracy. If there is no hostile treatment from its nearest neighbour, Nepalis will be able to build democracy brick by brick. If civilians reassert control over India's security apparatus, democracy may have a future in the region. On the other hand, if national security interests prevail and the spooks are allowed to run wild, democracy in the region doesn't stand a chance.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)