Journalist | Writer | Analyst
[Coincidence: Both men pictured here bear the name James Moriarty. One is the U.S. ambassador, the other the infamous villain created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]
What should India do now? As Sherlock Holmes would have said when confronted with evidence of Moriarty’s villainy, it’s elementary, my dear Watson.
22 February 2006
U.S. and India part company on Nepal
THE UNITED States and India, never fully on the same page as far as King Gyanendra’s illegal seizure of power in Nepal was concerned, have now decisively parted company with Washington publicly opposing a key aspect of Indian policy: the need for the Nepalese parliamentary parties and Maoists to make common cause for the restoration of democracy in the Himalayan kingdom.
On February 15, James F. Moriarty, the American Ambassador in Kathmandu, delivered a blistering attack on the agreement reached last November between the Nepalese Maoists and the parliamentary parties, an agreement that has the implicit support of the Indian Government.
The 12-point agreement of November 22, 2005, commits the parties and the Maoists to a common struggle against the “autocratic monarchy” of King Gyanendra and to the establishment of “lasting peace” through elections for a constituent assembly. The Maoists also declared their willingness to participate in multiparty democracy and internationally supervised elections — a commitment reiterated recently by their leader, Prachanda, in an interview to The Hindu.
According to Mr. Moriarty, all of this is a ruse and the political parties are making a big mistake in joining hands with the Maoists against the palace. In prepared remarks aimed at sending a clear warning both to the parties and to India — which has encouraged the parties to work with the Maoists — the U.S. Ambassador said the 12-point agreement was “wrong-headed” and “fraught with danger.” Accusing the parties of “wish[ing] away… the uncomfortable fact that their Maoist partners are committed to violence to achieve political ends,” he posed three questions to the backers of the agreement. Are the Maoists truly committed to peace and democracy, as the 12-point understanding suggests? Are the Maoists committed to joining the political mainstream? If the parties and Maoists were ever able to topple the monarchy, what then?
The U.S. Ambassador then proceeded to give his own “uncomfortable answer” to these questions — that the Maoists have not changed their policies and have instead managed to draw the parties closer towards their own agenda. The United States, he said, “views the uneasy partnership between the parties and the Maoists as wrongheaded… [W]e believe cooperation along current lines between the Maoists and the parties is fraught with danger — for the political parties themselves, and for the future of the Nepalese people.”
India must now choose
Mr. Moriarty’s remarks pose a particularly acute challenge for India. Since the February 1, 2005, royal takeover, New Delhi has believed that the crisis in Nepal cannot end unless the Maoists are given a “soft landing.” Unlike the U.S., which sees the Nepalese Maoists as a detachment of that undifferentiated, amorphous threat known as “international terrorism,” the Indian Government has worked on the assumption that a political rather than a military approach to the problem is the only way forward.
Before King Gyanendra’s coup and in its immediate aftermath, India believed the principal challenge to Nepal’s stability came from the Maoists and that the palace and political parties had to join hands to find a political solution. Of late, however, Indian policymakers have grown increasingly wary of the King himself. They have also warmed to the idea of “mainstreaming” the Maoists by linking them in an alliance with the parliamentary parties. Though India is still officially committed to the `twin pillar theory’ — that Nepal needs both multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy — the King’s refusal to accept constitutional limits has led an important section of Indian officialdom to conclude that he is his kingdom’s biggest problem. New Delhi’s tacit support for the 12-point agreement was the product of that conclusion.
At the same time, the Manmohan Singh Government still finds itself at a crossroads as far as the endgame of its Nepal policy is concerned. If Gyanendra’s revanchist agenda suggests the monarchy is hell-bent on abolishing itself, the inherent conservatism of the Indian security establishment prevents New Delhi from totally abandoning the King. In his interview to The Hindu, Prachanda deliberately sought to allay some of India’s misgivings on four specific counts. He stressed the strategic nature of his party’s commitment to multiparty democracy, said Indian encouragement to the democratic forces did not constitute intervention, advised India’s Naxalites to consider participating in competitive elections, and suggested China should coordinate its Nepal policy with India. One of the reasons Mr. Moriarty launched his broadside on the 12-point agreement was precisely in order to ensure that the Manmohan Singh Government is not seduced by the Maoists’ attempt to mend fences with India.
Though the U.S. Ambassador also had words of criticism for King Gyanendra in his February 15 speech, it is clear that Washington has emerged as the Nepalese monarch’s principal international backer. For India, the choice is now a stark one. It can continue to sit on the fence and allow the United States to dictate the contours of yet another counterfeit political settlement in Nepal. Or it can get off the fence and give a fillip to the united struggle of the political parties for a permanent end to the absolutist monarchy via elections to a constituent assembly.
King Gyanendra is already implementing the American plan. “To establish a foundation of trust, the United States believes it is up to the King to initiate [a] dialogue,” Ambassador Moriarty had said on February 15. The King made an appeal to this effect three days later, with the judicially ordered winding up of the Royal Commission for Control of Corruption providing a convenient legal opening.
So far the parties have been dismissive but the more resources Washington commits to this process, the greater the likelihood that some combination of leaders will come forward to claim a mandate that is neither King Gyanendra’s to give nor theirs to receive. And once a “civilian” and “democratic” government is formed, said Mr. Moriarty, the U.S. “would look eagerly for ways to assist” it by, inter alia, “renewing assistance for the Royal Nepalese Army.” Thereby putting Nepal back on the destructive cycle of repression, counter-insurgency, and insurgency.
In response to the American challenge, India must now clearly state its belief that the 12-point agreement between the parties and the Maoists provides a viable road map for the restoration of peace and democracy in Nepal.
It must also call on the parties to be bolder still in their campaign to force the palace to back down. A clear signal — or even a subtle hint — that the monarchy in Nepal is no longer the pillar it used to be and that a constituent assembly is needed to determine the country’s political future would give a huge boost to the morale of the democratic forces. Difficult as this decision may be for some in New Delhi to take, the alternative is far worse. For remaining silent in the face of Ambassador Moriarty’s provocation would be to cede the political initiative to the U.S. — a mistake that can only have disastrous consequences for both Nepal and India.
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