Monday, January 10, 2011

Tide is turning in Nepal

Leh/Srinagar: Chinese troops entered Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control in south-eastern Ladakh region some time in September-October last year and threatened a contractor and his team to halt work on a “passenger shed”.
Chinese troops enter Ladakh; halt work

The tide is beginning to turn in Nepal — one which is likely to test India as much as the decision to drop monarchy in favour of democracy back in 2008. This time it would mean standing with the democratic forces in the face of a fresh Maoist onslaught, the makings of which were indicative in a Prachanda-sponsored political document at the central committee meeting of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) this week. Baburam Bhattarai, who is currently in India, was the only prominent dissenting voice.

From what India has reliably learnt, the document identifies “Indian expansionism” and “domestic reactionary forces” as their principal enemies. It signals a call for a people’s revolt, if need be, to defeat these forces. Supporting Prachanda in this call is the Mohan Baidya faction, which leaves Bhattarai on the margins despite his wide urban appeal. At the root of this is a quest for power, which the Maoist leaders have not hidden from their Indian interlocutors, telling them in no uncertain terms that it would be difficult for their cadre to give up arms without first being in power. The Young Communist League and the battery of trade unions are all firmly behind this stand.
The Maoists don’t want the UN’s Nepal mission to be wound up right now. The reason is quite clear — the Maoist weapons are currently inside large containers kept at eight locations, they are locked but the keys are with the Maoists themselves while the locks have been sealed by the UN. Periodically, the locks are de-sealed, opened, weapons checked in the presence of both sides, then locked and sealed again. The locations are under round-the-clock CCTV monitoring to ensure there is no breach of the pact. The mandate of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has already been extended and now ends on January 15. Thereafter, a Nepalese army general appointed by the Nepalese parliament will take over the onerous task of monitoring these containers filled with weapons.

The Maoists, clearly, object to this but the move has the support of all other political parties and so, the Maoist leadership has written to the UN secretary-general to continue with the UNMIN. The matter may be discussed in the UN Security Council, where India is now a non-permanent member and the voice it lends will, perhaps, count the most. New Delhi, by all accounts, should favour the views held by the majority of the parties in Nepal that the time has come for them to manage and monitor these weapons. It also means that the Nepal government gets to handle its own internal affairs. However, New Delhi often gets caught up in artificially balancing disparate voices and this at times creates uncertainty in Nepalese political circles on what is New Delhi’s approach.

There is no doubt that the situation in Nepal has never been tougher than this for India. Just a few days back, Nepal’s parliamentary committee on international relations and human rights, headed by Maoist MP Padmalal Bishwakarma, refused to clear 28 Nepal Foreign Service recruits for a two-week training at Foreign Services Institute (FSI) here on the grounds that it was an Indian attempt to “brainwash” these fresh trainees. As it turns out, these recruits had not received any training before being drafted into the service and the Indian side thought it could be of help. In fact, the FSI was not too keen as it is already overburdened, but South Block managed to prevail.

It is also important to read the commentary against Rakesh Sood, the Indian ambassador to Nepal, in this context. He has had his share of run-ins with Nepalese activists, the press and even politicians who have, in turn, attacked him. No diplomat would like to land himself in such a situation. But having said that, the root of it all lies in a fundamental decision to respond and, at times, even strongly react, to discriminatory or blatant anti-India moves. This, especially, has come to the fore in the case of Indian business interests. For instance, take the case of an Indo-French joint venture that bid for a Japanese-funded Sundri Jal drinking water project. Even though the Indo-French venture apparently bid the lowest, the project went to a Chinese firm even before the bids were opened. Subsequently, it came to light that the Chinese firm had a higher bid. Now, these are commercial allegations with strong political overtones. India decided to back its company’s views and, as a result, the Japanese funders JAICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) have ordered an inquiry into the bidding process.

The fact is Nepal has turned into a place of competing self-interests, where India can no longer take matters for granted, neither can it remain in a constant self-flagellating cycle which rests on the presumption that India is responsible, in some ways, for Nepal’s woes; that there is merit in the Maoist line about Indian hegemony and whatever India does, it must remember these red lines. But there is also a line between observing caution and getting apologetic. India has to let its neighbours run their own countries while also securing its own interests.

Nepal is critical to India’s security. The open border means easier access to Indian hinterland for both terrorists and Maoists. Just recently, between May and August 2010, there was reliable intelligence of 25-30 Indian Maoists having received training in Nepalese Maoist camps. India officially took up the matter, but not much came out of it. Several other inputs keep surfacing about Indian Maoists taking shelter or getting medical treatment in Nepal. But when India offers to strengthen Nepalese immigration or its border-monitoring mechanisms, it invites criticism of interference in Nepal’s sovereign functions.

The same is not the case with China, which has a limited focus on ensuring that Tibetans don’t use Nepal as a staging ground to move in and out of Tibet. So much so, the Chinese ambassador directly speaks to local police officials and goads them to act against Tibetans. In fact, the word is out that China has officially offered monetary remuneration to police officials who nab Tibetans. At one level, no one can grudge China for trying to protect its interests.

India, on the other hand, has large stakes in Nepal and, perhaps, the biggest stake in its peace and stability. The more powerful of Maoist factions, however, see India as part of the problem just as they saw the democratic experiment as a way to capture power and not share it. Multi-party democracy in Nepal is set to come under increased threat — it is, therefore, that much more important for India to speak in one voice and to speak clearly.
The other K-word

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