Archive for the UNMIN Category

Indian policies responsible for the Nepalese stalemate?

Posted in LWE, Maoists, Nepal, UNMIN, on 13 June 2010 by indiasecuritymonitor

An influential Maoist movement and a powerful India are at the heart of the country’s stalemated political transition, says Manjushree Thapa, a Nepali novelist, translator and writer. Her article in the website has castigated the Indian policymakers for causing an impasse in the Nepalese polity by their stubborn resistance to the Maoists.

UNMIN’s initial visibility gave the peace process an international air. Kathmandu was flooded by those who had worked in comparable post-conflict situations: Guatemala, Haiti, South Africa, Bosnia, East Timor. There was a certain optimism too that Unmin would take effective charge of the peace process. This was always an illusion: Unmin’s responsibilities were strictly limited, and the agency would later lament the narrowness of its mandate (monitoring arms and armed-personnel management; assisting the management of arms and armed personnel; assisting the monitoring of ceasefire arrangements; and providing technical assistance to the election commission ahead of the elections planned for 2008). But the illusion also proved helpful: the belief that Unmin’s scope was more wide-ranging than it was in reality made both the Maoists and the democratic political parties feel watched by the world, and accountable to it.

Ian Martin’s background in human rights (he had headed Amnesty International in 1986-92) also did not impress India. Even within its own borders, official India views human rights as at best namby-pamby European left-liberalism, and at worst an activist-led instrument of anti-state politics (italics added). Where its strategic interests are at stake in an unsettled country across its borders, such an attitude is applied with bells on (see “India in its Nepali backyard”, 2 May 2008).

An equally serious and even more immediate consideration for India was that Unmin treated the Maoists and the Nepali state as equal partners in the peace process. India had only ever seen Nepal’s Maoists as a force that, having proven undefeatable in combat, now needed to be contained by bringing them into a democratic framework and tying them down with strict rules. This was not altruism: India had to solve Nepal’s (relatively small) “Maoist problem” in order to open a path to solving its own (relatively large) “Maoist problem”. New Delhi is still working on that one.

Even if Unmin could have taken charge, however, India had no intention of allowing it to do so. Nepal is, after all, New Delhi’s backyard. India’s attitude to the new UN mission was cautious from the start, but when Unmin’s presence in Nepal’s southern Madhesh region was revealed in 2007 this deteriorated into open hostility. Unmin was within its mandate in being in the Madhesh – a turbulent area of shifting allegiances, complex ethnic make-up, new political forces, and (crucially) a long strip of open border with India – but its presence was an irritation to an India with a strong intelligence-agency influence there.

India’s military and defence elites remain staunch in their support of the Nepali army; the upper-caste north Indians who dominate the foreign ministry have little regard for everyday Nepalis’ progressive aspirations(italics added); India’s high political class still feels the influence of the maharajas of yore (with their links, by marriage, to Nepal’s maharajas of yore); there are strong sentimental links to the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), both founded in exile in India in the 1940s; and the presence in Nepal of India’s intelligence service, the Research & Analysis Wing, is an open secret. 

This is a surpisingly absurd twist to the tale, considering how well Ms Manjushree had built up the argument of her hypothesis.

India, in short, is not an agent of any namby-pamby European left-liberalism in Nepal. The gist of its policy has been unquestioningly to back the non-Maoist parties, and to encourage them to give as little space as possible to the Maoists. The results have been a mix of failure and blowback.

 First, integration between the Maoists’ army and the state’s stalled; and instead of being demoralised by this, the Maoists used the extended period of cantonment to professionalise their 19,000-strong force and to build a parallel paramilitary force, the Young Communist League. They are now larger, and more militarised, than ever (see Kanak Mani Dixit, “Letter to the whole-timer”, Himal South Asian, February 2010).

Conceded, but with a pound of salt. Exactly how professionalised is this force remains to be seen – however, yes, the integration has run aground for the moment.

Second, the newly-formed Madheshi parties have halved the Maoists’ support base in the south; but in the process, the Madhesh has succumbed to the cross-border political-criminal underworld. Kidnapping, extortion, threats and targeted assassination have risen dramatically in the area since the launch of the peace process.

And India is to be held responsible for the increase of crime in Nepal – any takers?

Third, India’s pressure on the non-Maoist parties to resist two key Maoist demands – republicanism and federalism – proved abortive; its proposal that Nepal save the monarchy by having a “baby king” (the under-age grandson of former King Gyanendra Shah) was ridiculed within Nepal; and against Indian pressure and non-Maoist reluctance, the federalists demand of many Nepalis outside Kathmandu have been accepted in principle (even if the exact modality of the federal states remains to be defined).

That India would be trying to save the monarchy seems far-fetched. If that were the case, would if have allowed Bhutan to go the democratic way?

The failure of India’s containment strategy became clear with the Maoists’ surprise victory in the constituent-assembly elections of 2008, when they won over 38% of the seats and transformed themselves into the country’s largest party (see Prashant Jha, “Nepal’s Maoist landslide”, 16 April 2008). At that point Rakesh Sood jumped to the forefront of the peace process, taking charge – and elbowing Unmin out of the way. On 12 May 2010, the UN Security Council renewed Unmin’s mandate for five more months; accompanied by a request from the Nepali government that by the time it expired on 15 September, “arrangements should immediately be made for withdrawal of the mission by that date”.

After the Maoists’ landslide, there followed an unseemly delay in allowing the victors to form a government; and a year on, a just-as-unseemly showdown over the Maoists’ attempt to dismiss the army chief-of-staff, Rukmangat Katwal. The Maoists’ chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was disallowed – by a questionable technicality – from effecting the dismissal, and resigned the prime ministership. Since then, by the grace of India, a vaguely neo-liberal twenty-two-party bloc has not so much governed as occupied the space of government so as to lock the Maoists out (see “The Maoist-non-Maoist Polarisation”, Himal South Asian, June 2010).

Ms Manjushree Thapa’s post finds relevance to the ISM Team on one major ground – in that it gives a course of action for tackling our Left Wing Extremism (LWE) issue. Consider her conclusion –

A circle closed

How to contain the Maoists? Nepal’s case is instructive – and for India, chilling.

Perhaps there is no containing the Maoists. Perhaps they have to be negotiated with – and accommodated.

Perhaps the twenty-two-party bloc has to prepare for some disappointment.

Perhaps it would take democratic socialism – of the kind that India went through in the Nehru period – for both sides to reach a lasting compromise.

Who knows? Perhaps the answer for Nepal lies not in the neo-liberalism that India now so favours, but in something closer to namby-pamby European left-liberalism.

The Indian policy makers must decide how much they would like to accommodate the Maoists. Accommodation of the Maoists is not a problem so long as they manouver within the democratic framework of the nation.

The lady, nothwithstanding her obvious bias against India, has highlighted a valid point.