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NEPAL: Current Situation- reality check 2- Update 58.

Note No. 244            22. 10. 2004

by Dr S.Chandrasekharan.

With the Maoists declaring cease-fire for nine days for Dasain and the government reciprocating, it is time to make a reality check of the current situation in Nepal, the performance of the Deuba government and the state of law and order.

Many analysts both in Nepal and outside have given a grim picture of the law and order situation in Nepal and particularly in Kathmandu. Many of them have also given varying figures of percentage of area under the control of the Maoists from 75 percent to as much as 90 percent.

But in actual fact the situation is not so desperate and even the threatened siege of Kathmandu by the Maoists did not bring forth any panic save for those 35 establishments who closed their shops rather prematurely!. This included some in which the royalty had stakes thus giving a wrong signal to the people.

The Nepalese Army appears to be doing well and its performance has improved.

In the initial stages of the counter insurgency operations in 1996, the Army was a mere on looker letting the untrained Police take all the beatings until the Maoists themselves decided to involve the army in attacking their posts both in Solakhumbu and Dang in the last week of November 2001. After many initial setbacks, the unprepared army has come a long way and there is a perceptible change in the operations to the advantage of the army for the following reasons.




* There have been no major massive attacks in hundreds on the security posts. The last major attack was in Bhojpur on March 3, 2004.

* After the Bhojpur incident, the Maoists appear to have assessed that in their "people’s war," they had reached the end of strategic stalemate and could then go on to the next phase of "strategic offensive." Even in their plenum they had declared that they have reached a point of "strategic equilibrium." But what is important to note is that they have not and could not move to the offensive phase.

* Intelligence on moves of the Maoists has considerably improved and in many incidents the Army has managed to pre empt the Maoists.

* One of the major objectives of the Maoists was to take control of the districts surrounding the Kathmandu valley and once these are taken, the next stage was to march to the capital. They could not succeed. The security forces had systematically raided and disturbed the cells of the Maoists in the neighbouring districts of Kathmandu Valley and the Maoists were thwarted from the so called "ring round operations".

* Recent inputs by way of manpower, equipment and training have substantially raised the fighting capability of the army exponentially. Helicopters are being successfully used against large concentrations of Maoists. As recently as on October 15, security forces carried out a successful aerial attack on a central level political camp of the Maoists at Dorpatan in Baglung district.

What is lacking now is a strong political leadership:

Soon after Deuba’s reinstatement as Prime minister, we had in an earlier update 49, mentioned that he has three major tasks before him and these were




1. Have an All Party government and in the absence of an overseeing parliament the government should be seen to be taking independent decisions.

2 Manage the law and order situation in such a way to bring the Maoists into a dialogue after agreeing to a cease fire.

3. Conduct the elections within one year.

Deuba has now a government that is nearest to an "All Party government." His efforts to get around the recalcitrant main group of Nepali Congress of G.P.Koirala have not succeeded. Talks between the two groups for unity have failed with both the leaders holding on to rigid positions. G.P. Koirala more than Deuba has an ego problem.

The Prime minister is yet to give the impression of being the man in charge. Discordant noises are made not only by the coalition partners but also by the members within the cabinet itself. A typical case was the recent cease fire declared by the Maoists and tamely agreed to, by the government subsequently during the Dasain.

Initially Deuba was not for a cease fire unless it was as a prelude to the talks. Instead the Maoists declared the cease fire for the limited period of Dasain. His coalition partner and leader of the UML Madhav Nepal had been openly insisting on a unilateral cease fire though internally both the cabinet and the army were against it. But Deuba had to succumb to the pressure once the Maoists declared the cease fire.

Similarly in the matter of elections, the Prime minister had again and again declared that he would conduct the elections by April. Here again, the major coalition partner UML has said that elections can be thought of only after the dialogue process is started.

Deuba declares that he would be ‘flexible’ in his talks with the Maoists and his own minister and the King’s nominee Dr. Mohsin not only contradicts him but questions about flexibility itself.

The impression gained is that of a weak government subjected to forces of all hues.

The opposition political parties are equally in disarray:

G.P.Koirala’s fulminations against the King and the Deuba government continue. In an apparent reference to USA, he said "what we insist is that regression here, and double standards on the part of powerful nations must end." And he continued that they will not call off the agitation until they prevail.

Koirala and his three other partners who are agitating against the October 4 "regression" want the constitutional process to be restored but without using article 127 of the Constitution. Koirala in effect wants the restoration of the dissolved Parliament and how does one restore it without recourse to the omnibus powers vested with the King under article 127? No one appears to explain this contradiction. On the other hand, Deuba has claimed that the Supreme Court has already endorsed the dissolution of the Parliament. Here Deuba is actually wrong as the Supreme Court has only endorsed the process of dissolution made by the King on the recommendation of the Prime minister as legal and constitutional. The Supreme Court has not entered into the substantive question whether the dissolution was justified and surprisingly no one has so far gone to the Supreme to seek this clarification.

Another issue that baffles one is how the restoration of Parliament would help G.P.Koirla’s faction. One of the senior Nepali Congress leaders explained that in the event of the parliament being restored, the Koirala faction would be able to win over many of the parliamentarians now on Deuba’s side and thus give them a majority. We wonder how politicians with decades of experience could come to such naive conclusions.

What is likely however is that the Deuba’s faction may tie up with Madhav Nepal’s UML to form a majority and the resulting arithmetic will be no different from the current position. The change perhaps could be that Madhav Nepal instead of Deuba could be heading the government, but this does not bring Prime ministership either to G.P. or his associates.

The King:

Two diametrically opposite opinions are being held on the King and his actions since his accession to the throne. Before his accession the King had a poor opinion, in fact contempt of political parties which he believed were bringing ruin to the country. He was still in the "Panchayat mind set" and his initial actions as well as his first interview to the Press gave the impression of one who had set his mind to be an "active King." His sacking of the Deuba government and taking recourse to Article 127 of the Constitution in forming the Lokendra Bahadur Chand government and his subsequent actions in increasing the funds of the royal household and placing the house hold affairs outside the purview of the cabinet, all gave the impression of the King going back to Panchayat days! .

The other more charitable view is that the King is on a learning curve and has by now realised the limitations of the monarch in the present environment in Nepal and is still hovering between the positions of being over active to being a passive onlooker. In the present political and constitutional crisis, no one has more stakes than the King himself in the continuance of the present constitutional dispensation. He is still the unifying factor and Nepal’s future lies on the twin pillars of constitutional monarchy and multi party democracy. For this all the actors other than the Maoists will have to cooperate. This is not happening yet.

The Indian angle:

No country could be more concerned than India in the developing situation in Nepal. From one of benign neglect, there is increasing concern about the stability of Nepal. The consequences of Maoists over running Kathmandu and the destabilising impact it will have in the region are understood. The latest thinking is that the Maoists are a common threat to both India and Nepal. This explains the vehemence of Maoists against India in the plenum document of end August 2004.

Deuba on his return has openly declared that he has the full support of India. He had a very successful trip and has been promised everything he needs to combat the Maoist problem.

As we had said before in one of our updates that the problem is with Deuba himself. If he believes that he has been re appointed and not reinstated, then he will continue to be the problem. He has to assert himself and not let his ministers run riot.

In India too, a major development of significance which could have an impact on Nepal is the merger of the PWG and MCC. This would also make PWG which is stronger in mainland India a part of the RIM. ( Revolutionary Internationalist Movement).

Conclusion:

A weak government headed by not so decisive prime minister does not augur well for Nepal. The tasks ahead are daunting. The only silver lining is that the Army has gained considerable experience in dealing with counter insurgency and is doing well. Inputs by way of training and weaponry and related equipment has provided the army with the means to improve their performance. But this needs to be matched with political stability which is lacking. Success in the military operations alone will not bring in stability. Beyond a limit one cannot be strengthening the army without a parallel stabilising political structure.

This brings us to the question of the constitutional process itself. Elections to a Parliament will have to be held some time or other and sooner the better. For this there has to be a conducive climate and the Maoists will have to be roped in for a dialogue. If not, the law and order situation will have to improve to such an extent that the elections could be held and people could vote without fear. This is not an easy task but there is no way out.

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