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Published:February 2nd, 2010 08:43 EST
Nepali politics

If Neighbor Indeed, Talk Only When Need

By SOP newswire2

After a prolonged crisis and stalemate, Nepali politics is once again taking an encouraging step forward. The government has agreed Maoists` demand and formed a three member High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM) to be led by veteran Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala along with Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda " of CPN (Maoist) and Jhalanath Khanal of CPN (UML) which would play an active role in facilitating the Constitution drafting process and taking the peace process to its logical end. The idea of new Nepal conceived by April revolution of 2006 had slipped into a painful labor after a democratically elected government of Prachanda " resigned in May 2009 on high moral ground protesting an unconstitutional intervention " by President Ram Baran Yadav in the executive decision of the government after he reinstated the expelled Chief of Army Staff Gen. Rukmangad Katwal. Prachanda had expelled Katwal stating that the decision was based on maintaining civilian supremacy over the military which he alleged Katwal of undermining on more than one occasion.

Nepali politics

However grave the situation, opportunism has always prevailed to the disaster of Nepalese politics and this time was no exception. The other political parties who had so far been unable to play any influence in the government following their unpopularity in the Constituent Assembly election grabbed at the opportunity to establish their lost legitimacy. The result was a government led by CPN (UML) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal who had been defeated in the CA election from his own constituency. However the government soon ran into crisis due to a nationwide protest, strikes and obstruction of CA proceedings led by the Maoists demanding reinstatement of civilian supremacy and action against Yadav`s move. The government existed without actually doing anything for almost eight months as it was impossible for CA to proceed onto any political agenda with the largest party agitating in the street. The last eight months have been one of the most traumatic times in the Nepali politics, when the hope for new Nepal have been depressed by lack of progress on agendas that are crucial to it namely: drafting of the Constitution by May 2010 and taking the peace process towards a logical end by rehabilitation of the Maoists combatants in cantonments as well as their integration in the Nepal Army. Political commentators and civil society bigwigs in Nepal have spent these eight months doing little beyond criticizing one party for being undemocratic " and violent and occasionally criticizing other parties for their arrogance. But none provoked the nation to come together across parties and ideologies to end the stalemate. If the parties were not reminded that no matter how much they may enjoy disagreeing, it is their responsibility to find out why they disagree and then work on how they can mutually agree, the so-called watchdogs of the society have surely fallen short of their duties.

As these lines are being written, the rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants have already begun and the High Level Political Mechanism is already working towards building trust among the parties as they prepare to get into the most contagious issues that have so far obstructed the drafting process. But road ahead is uncertain and there will be times when their loyalties and trust would be tested and the same would have to be stated and restated. India, who would be eying the proceedings with interest is expected toll occasionally make seemingly casual calls into the political circle of the Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML). No matter how flowery India`s statements about respect for Nepalese sovereignty, when it comes to its own interest, the South Block is well known for its covert diplomacy. Therefore, Gen. Deepak Kapoor`s advice to his Nepalese counterpart on the latter`s visit to India last month expressing the Indian displeasure over the prospect of integration of Maoist combatants in the Army en masse should above all be seen as a breach of diplomatic norm and direct interference in Nepal`s internal affairs. Gone are the days when India`s constructive interferences " were accepted by the landlocked Nepalese as a price to pay for logistical dependence on its neighbor. On 22 December, within few days of Kapoor`s statements, Prachanda strongly criticized government`s silence on the matter and inability to protect nation`s sovereignty. In a satirical note Prachanda even expressed his willingness to talk directly to India to take the peace process to its logical end if the other political parties could not act without instructions from their Lords " in Delhi. This was not just Prachanda`s  attack on what he called meekness and muteness " of Madhav Nepal government on issue of national sovereignty but also his subtle note to New Delhi as to what is expected out of good neighbor.

India understands that Nepal`s stability and prosperity is ultimately in their interest. There is so much potential to be exploited by both the nations from mutual cooperation. Nepal`s largely unharnessed hydro resource can find a profiting market in India and India on the other hand can meet energy needs for its booming economy. The rivers that flow from Nepal causing disasters in the Indian villages and towns can be tamed to bring light and power to the same towns and villages. India has been maintaining that there is frequent infiltration of terrorists into India through Nepal as well as counterfeit Indian currencies smuggled into India through Nepal. If these claims have any validity and if there is any way to check this then India has to do its bit to help Nepal through this transition to strengthen rule of law in the country and controversial statements are certainly not going to help. New Delhi has to get rid of its Nehruvian hangover that anything coming over the Himalayas in the North is a threat to Indian security ". China is a neighbor and certainly an important one for Nepal. Nepal`s trade ties with China have been historical and the two countries have always been in warm relationship irrespective and inspite of Nepal`s affair with India. But it will always be in Nepalese interest to maintain its friendship with India. Thousands of Nepalese study and work in India not in China. Nepal shares boarder on three sides with India not with China and Nepalese cultural bonds are stronger with India than with China. Hence, India has no reason to get cranky about Nepal-China cordial relations as often Indian security pundits are found cribbing in their overstated string of pearls theory.

After its much appreciated role in securing a historical Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the seven political parties and the Maoists which led to latter`s introduction in the mainstream Nepali politics, India`s image has taken some bashing due to its involvement in the Katwal affair which was made quite obvious by Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood`s frequent statements in the media and his visits to the President at awkward hours. However, now that the Nepalese political parties seem to have found themselves in no-holds barred " situation with May deadline alarmingly  close and scores of unsettled issues, India should help to foster the atmosphere of cooperation among the parties urging them not to detract from consensus and  to finish drafting the constitution in time. That will be the most welcome New Year wishes from New Delhi for what is hopefully going to be the most important year in the history of the Himalayan republic.

Source: By Anurag Acharya