AMERICAN COMMITMENT TO DEMOCRACY IN NEPAL DOUBTED AS U.S. AID PACKAGE BACKS MONARCHY, ASKS REFORMS
by Chiranjibu S. Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
LONDON, Nov. 17, 2005 -- Once thought of as a savior of democracy in Nepal, the United States is now criticised for being too lenient towards the autocratic rule of King Gyanendra, who took power in a coup on February 1, effectively destroying the nation's fragile, 12-year-old democratic system.
Though the Bush administration has suspended military aid to Nepal since the coup, suspicions were raised after the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, issued a press statement warning political parties not to form alliances with Maoists who are fighting to end the monarchy in Nepal.
In a statement Nov. 12, the embassy said: "the U.S. Embassy notes with alarm recent reports in Nepal media on the emerging potential for an 'alliance' between one or more of the major political parties and the Maoist rebels."
The embassy statement has come at a time when Nepal's seven political parties, which represent more than 90 percent of the seats in the dissolved House and local-level elected bodies, are trying to hold negotiations with the Maoists to bring them into the peace process.
"The U.S.A is trying to legitimize the February 1 coup of the king," Madhav Kumar Nepal, General Secretary of the largest democratic party, the Communist Party of Nepal known as CPN-UML, is quoted as saying by local Nepali media.
"The U.S. statement comes as an attempt to legitimize the royal takeover," he said after returning from a three-week visit to India, where he met with Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and senior leaders of the ruling and opposition parties to garner support for the establishment of full-fledged democracy in Nepal.
The United States is opposed to any alliance between the democratic political parties and the Maoists against the king. The alliance of the parties and the Maoists would ultimately make it difficult to contine the monarchy in Nepal.
"Republic," once the demand of the Maoists, has become a popular slogan among the younger generation and the intellectual community of the Himalayan Kingdom.
Despite the urging of the United States, India, Great Beritain and other major power players in Nepal, the King has not taken any initiative to restore democracy and recreate a constitutional monarchy such as those in Britain and The Netherlands..
Meanwhile, however, President George W. Bush has just signed a bill setting strict conditions for the monarchy to get military aid from America. There are nine conditions -five more than last year's apropriation contained. Protection of human rights and civil liberties are the major clauses of the bill authored by Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, while major amendments were made by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
"This [passage] is significant, as just a few months ago it did not look as if any conditions would go through," said Veena Siddharth, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch/Asia. "The King's actions since February and the recent passage of the media law have made it more difficult to take at face value his claims of having a plan to restore democracy and rights."
Nepal's army was criticised for the violations of human rights in the past and the aid suspended before the coup of the king on February 1 this year.
Criticism of the coup is increasing inside and outside the country. The younger generation of political activists seems to be completely against the monarchy and is pressuring the parties to beome a republic or a full-fledged democracy without a king.
Under pressure from yopung activists and professional organisations, two major political parties, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have decided to omit any provision for a constitutional monarchy in their proposed statutes.
"Monarchy is always against democracy and we cannot accept dictatorship in Nepal," said veteran student leader Gagan Thapa in London recently.
"Our three generations have fought for democracy, and if there is monarchy then the coming generation will have to struggle against the king for democracy, so we want the abolition of monarchy," said Thapa, who was in London after a three-weeks visit to America at the invitation of the U.S. government.
"That is the voice of Nepalese youths," he said. "There has been suppression and conspiracy in Nepal's royal palace since ancient times. The army is like the personal property of the palace and people have to suffer."
Originally, King Gyanendra said that his takeover was essential to restore order in the country. and that otherwise Nepal could be declared a "failed state." The political parties said, however, that "the Maoist insurgency could not be resolved due to the non-cooperation of the palace."
The army, which is under the king's control, was not mobilised when the government ordered the army to cooperate with the police in the fight against the Maoists that has claimed thousands of lives.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala resigned in 2001 when the army refused to obey orders from the government to rescue 71 policemen abducted by Maoists in Holeri, in Rolpa district, the hotbed of the rebels.
"The palace is always trying to end the democratic system and the problem is due to a conspiracy of the palace," said Krishna Pahadi, a veteran human rights defender in Nepal. Democracy is not possible without the end of monarchy in Nepal, said Pahadi, who is touring the United States now, said in London two weeks ago.
Senator Leahy, speaking in the Senate, urged the American government to cooperate with the political parties, not the king. Yet the imprerssion lingers in Nepal that the United States, despite the suspension of military aid, is cooperating with the king to prolong his undemocratic rule.
However, American officials say that the United States has always demonstrated support for multi-party democracy in Nepal.
"We urge both to re-establish an effective working relationship to lead Nepal out of its current crisis, and to work toward a democratic and peaceful future for the country and its people," the embassy said in a statement.
However, the parties are not in a position to resolve the political crisis on an ad hoc basis and accept the king as constitutional monarch as in the past. Civil society, professional organizations and students are pressuring the parties to adopt the republican system of government.
Meanwhile, monarchy has lost its credibility among the people. King Mahendra, the father of the present king, sacked the elected government in 1960 and ruled the country under the dictatorship of monarchy until democracy was restored in 1990. King Birendra, who was murdered with nine of his family members in the royal palace dinner party on June 1, 2001, agreed to be a constitutional monarch at the height of the popular movement in 1990.
After his assassination, his brother Gyanendra came to power and sacked the elected government and took power. Once revered institution of monarchy is in the history after the palace massacre blamed to be carried out by drunken crown prince Dipendra who was also killed in the same incident.
Leaders of the political parties believed that the Maoists insurgency could not be resolved due to the palace.
"In fact, palace's non-cooperation was a major hurdle in resolving the Maoist problem before February 1," said Ram Chandra Paudyal, general secretary of the Nepali Congress, the largest democratic party of the Himalayan Kingdom.
"Maoist leaders have revealed their tacit understanding and working alliance with the royal palace much before," the English language daily Kathmandu Post quoted him as saying.
The parties demand the revival of the dissolved Houses of Parliament. "We will form an all-party government and hold talks with the Maoists," a senior leader of the seven-party alliance told The American Reporter.
"The army will be brought under the control of the government and the election will be held under the observation of the international community," he said, shedding light on a plan to resolve the problem.
More than 12,000 people have been killed in the nearly 10-year-long insurgency, and property worth tens of millions of dollars was destroyed in the desperately poor, landlocked country; thousands of Nepali's citizens have been displaced.
The palace tried to play the game of Maoists to end democracy, thinking that the principle of Maoists will be discarded by the Western countries; however, the king is caught in the net, said a diplomat, who is very familiar with Nepal's politics.
The palace never tried to be democratic and always believed in the suppression of rights and freedom, he said. Media is censored. Freedom is curtailed. The government is trying to silence the voice of the people through the barrel of guns in the name of Maoists terrorism.
The Maoists are running their FM radio stations. They are doing their activities in the villages. However, the media, which favour for democratic values and norms, are banned.
"What the government is doing? Is it trying to resolve the Maoists problem and restore democracy or finish democracy?," said a political analyst of Kathmandu.
The activities of the government are clearly targeted to finish democratic institutions, he said on condition of anonymity.
If the government wants to resolve Maoists problem, it could do so when Maoists declared unilateral cease-fire, said the political party leaders. The rebels declared three month cease-fire in September. The government did not reciprocate despite the call to do so by the parties, people and the international community.
Nepal is in a stage of big change. The anti king slogans can be heard from the palace. There is protest and demonstration almost every day. This is not in the jungle or by the Maoists but by political parties, journalists, teachers, lawyers, doctors and people of all walks of life.
The government is isolated from all fronts. India, the United States and the United Kingdom and other major donors are urging the king to restore democracy. Countries with repressive regimes, including China, Pakistan, and Myanmar, have expressed support for the current government.
Despite America's suspension of military aid and repeated calls to restore democracy in Nepal, there is still doubt about the official policy towards the king in the political circles of Nepal. The statement by the U.S. embassy does not say anything about the king, who has the responsibility to restore democracy and civil liberties, and that has raised doubt's about America's commitment to democracy there.
The United States should not go against the will of the people at a time when there is anti-American sentiment across the globe, especially in the Middle East, due to its support of corrupt, dictatorial regimes, they say.
The words of senior party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal clearly reflect the reality of Nepal. "It should not be objectionable to the U.S. if political parties take the initiative to bring Maoists to mainstream politics. All should know that the king can't maintain peace in the country."
A country known as the defender of democracy should not go against the will of the people, said a senior political figure of the seven-party alliance. "America should understand the ground reality of Nepal's politics."
The words of President Bush during his visit to South Korea clearly reflected the reality of what it meant to live under a dictatorial regime.
Speaking of North Korea and Myanmar, which "still have not taken even the first steps toward freedom," Bush said the price of their "refusal to open up is isolation, backwardness, and brutality."
These Nepalis say, Mr. President, "Nepal cannot also remain in isolation, backwardness and brutality in this 21st Century."
American Reporter Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal recently fled Nepal, where he headed the Nepalese News Association, after a crackdown on journalists there. He has reported for AR on democratic issues in the Himalayan kingdom since 1999.