Moriarty Missile: Backdrop and Fallout

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Last Wednesday, American Ambassador James F Moriarty speaking at a public forum in Kathmandu, fired a political missile whose fallout is yet to be fully assessed. In essence, however, he made abundantly clear that incorporation of the Maoists into an interim government – without the rebels first giving up their arms and renouncing the politics of violence and terror – would have serious consequences, including a cutoff in American assistance to such a government.

That cautionary note came in response to a pointed query from a journalist. Although that sombre warning, or advance notice, from Washington’s man-on-the-spot tended to hog public attention in political, diplomatic and media circles throughout last week, his carefully crafted written statement contained what in this commentator’s mind is an even more significant political message. It has not, somehow, received as much attention as the prospect of the cutoff of American aid.

A Bit of History

In it, Moriarty surmised that Nepal is currently in a situation analogous to the Russia of 1917. Then, the revolution that toppled Czar Nicholas II and established an unstable democratic government was a few months later consumed by a violent coup d’etat that not merely ended Russia’s short-lived experiment in democracy but indeed replaced it by a totalitarian one-party state that was to last more than seven decades.

Translated into the political idiom of contemporary Nepal, Moriarty’s analogy and reference to the two Russian revolutions of 1917 clearly, if diplomatically, suggests that in the US’s official estimation Prime Minister Koirala and the SPA government could in effect, like Alexander Kerensky’s government established in Moscow after the February revolution of 1917, be forcibly replaced in an “October Revolution” by a Nepali Lenin determined to establish a people’s republic. Through reference to two relevant quotes on the October Revolution attributed to Prachanda, Moriarty could not have made his central thesis any clearer.

In Moirarty’s own words: “The Russian people hoped their February revolution would bring democracy. Indeed, a constituent assembly to write a new constitution was planned for the next year. Amid this elation mixed with uncertainty, the Bolshevik Party and its leader Lenin violently and aggressively asserted their dominance over the other parties, sidelined the constituent assembly entirely, and created their own republic. The ‘second’ Russian Revolution was complete, and a totalitarian state was established.”

[Before proceeding any further,attention is drawn to a thoughtful opinion piece by Krishna Singh Bam entitled “A Nepalese Kerensky in the making” originally published in Sept 29-October 2005. Bam makes essentially the same point that Moirarty recently did: that Koirala could turn out to be a Nepali Kerensky. Readers who may have missed the piece earlier may read it now.]

Returning to the Russia of 1917, in February after the overthrow of the Czar, a provisional socialist government was set up under Alexander Kerensky only to be overthrown in a violent coup by the Bolsheviks in Petrograd under Lenin who later disbanded the elected constituent assembly and brutally suppressed all opposition.

Notably, the Bolsheviks (who later renamed themselves Communists), won only 136 seats in elections to the November 1917 constituent assembly elections, as compared to 237 for the Social Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks disbanded it following a one-day meeting in January 1918.

Fallout: Prachanda

Having provided a snapshot of what the two Russian revolutions of 1917 were essentially all about, and how it can be compared to the situation in Nepal today, let us discuss the fallout of what I’ve termed as the Moriarty missile.

However, before doing so, it will be in order to mention that the American ambassador said what he had to only after a recent consultation visit to Washington. As such, his remarks must be considered as the most up-to-date and authoritative reflection of official American policy on the current situation.

Also to be noted is that just hours before his 1 July departure for the US – this time, reportedly for a vacation – Moriarty had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Koirala at his official residence. While this commentator has no first hand information on what exactly transpired there, it does not require too much imagination to conclude that he must have explained in detail America’s difficulties in dealing with outfits that have been placed on their terror listing, particularly against the backdrop of the raft of anti-terrorist laws that have been adopted by the US Congress in the aftermath of 9/11.

What he did tell reporters after his meeting was, however, more or less along lines he had indicated in the Q & A segment following his statement on 28 June at a Rotary Club function. The only new element was his reference to American policy vis-a-vis Palestine’s Hamas government. Here, it may be recalled that an international boycott and economic siege has been imposed on the Hamas-ruled Palestinian Authority until it recognises Israel’s right to exist.

Significantly, Prachanda dashed off to Koirala’s residence on the very same day that Moirarty had paid a pre-departure call. Here, too, it does not require much cerebral prowess to assume that the rebel leader must have sought a briefing on the Koirala-Moriarty meeting and impressed upon the prime minister his own views. Whatever Prachanda told the PM, his public views on Moriarty’s observations, referred to above, were soon out in the open. In an interview to the Rising Nepal (2 July) the Maoist supremo stated, inter alia: “I am not surprised with the comments of the American Ambassador to Nepal James F Moriarty – because he doesn’t want peace in Nepal … He is having a headache with the Eight-Point Agreement. He seems very unhappy and restless over the recent political development and is trying to dismantle the harmony that is about to develop among political parties. But we have taken his remarks very, very seriously.”

Notable too were Prachanda’s comments aired in an interview to NTV on 30 June. Apart from lashing out against Moriarty’s “provocative” remarks, he stated that all political parties should take the forthcoming constituent assembly polls as symbolically an “October Revolution” to establish a democratic republic in the country.

Incidentally, in his interview to the Rising Nepal, Prachanda has admitted that his “ultimate” objective is “people’s republicanism via democratic republicanism” meaning that finally the Maoists want “to transform” Nepal “into a people’s republic.”

Fallout: Others

While there has been considerable, if silent, support for Moriarty’s insistence that the Maoists must first lay down their arms to ensure free, fair constituent assembly elections, and be participants in government, angry responses have come from other quarters as well.

Among those of note in that respect is UML’s Bamdev Gautam – regarded as the most pro-Maoist element within the UML leadership – who went so far as claiming that Moriarty’s remarks were directed by the palace and asserted that Nepal could go ahead without US support.

DPM Amik Sherchan, perhaps the most pro-Maoist figure in the Council of Ministers, for his part flayed the American envoy (and, by implication, also the former British Ambassador Keith George Bloomfield) saying “ambassadors from several countries to Nepal have expressed their own interests, and they are not happy with the new changes.” He also charged that “problems to the peace process could come not only from the regressive forces but also from international causes.” (Himalayan Times, 1 July).

Not surprisingly, sharp barbs against Moriarty were also directed by Sitaram Yechuri, a CPI-M leader who was here recently. Yechuri, long regarded as India’s point man vis-a-vis the Nepali Maoists, and a key figure in the actual crafting of the 12-point SPAM pact of 22 November 2005, declared that his anti-Maoist remarks “grossly violated” international norms, asserting that it is up to the people of an independent country to decide on major issues without imposition from outside. ( Kathmandu Post, 2 July)

Incidentally, no one seems to have reminded Yechuri that he is not known for being a stickler for adherence to the doctrine of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others – but that is another matter.

Question of Aid

Bamdev Gautam, as noted above, has claimed that Nepal can do without American aid. That is not a view that is widely shared, particularly by a government that is as cash-strapped as the SPA one is. While bilateral American aid to Nepal constitutes, and has always constituted, a significant chunk of the overall aid pie, Gautam seems not to take into account the fact that American aid also comes in via other channels, e.g. the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Besides, it is a well-known fact that hundreds of INGOs in this country receive massive non-official funding from private sources, including those from America. All that could be placed at risk if adequate cognizance is not taken of the timely warning that Moriarty has given, in explaining his government’s position.

Furthermore, given the hyper power’s influence or international diplomatic clout it could well be that many other Western countries – save perhaps a few Scandinavian ones – including Japan, Britain, Germany and France could also follow the American example – if the Maoists refuse to surrender their arms before joining an interim government.

That apart, the powers that be must take into account the possibility of the US blocking funds coming in from America to Nepal from Nepalese working in America, of suspect Nepali nationals in the US being repatriated, of hundreds of students’ plans of studies in America being scrubbed, and so on.

Finally, those who nonchalantly dismiss the importance of American/Western aid would also do well to remember that, by virtue of the US being the largest contributor by far to UN coffers (not to mention its veto in the UN Security Council), this government’s plans for arms management under UN auspices (a costly affair) could well be torpedoed. In any case, the government faces an excruciating dilemma: whether to accept American/Western terms for Maoist participation in an interim government or to tell them to, in effect, go to hell, as Bamdev Gautam wants it to, clearly in keeping with Maoists’ plans and priorities.

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.