SPAM Makes Political Ground Tremble Beneath SPA Feet

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Clearly, the political ground beneath the SPA’s feet has begun to tremble. The tremor, as you might have guessed, began with US Ambassador James F. Moriarty’s belated assault on 15 February 2006 on the 12-point SPAM pact – that is, the unsavoury deal negotiated between the SPA and the Maoists.

To recall, that spurious document was crafted in New Delhi and announced to the world on 22 November last year. It aims squarely at the overthrow of the institution of the Monarchy that unified and consolidated this nation and safeguarded its sovereignty and independence through the vicissitudes of history, including during the period of British imperialism that kept South Asia in its thrall.

Moriarty’s Missile

Notably, Moriarty’s broadside was timed exactly two weeks before his political boss, President Bush, descends on the very capital where the SPAM pact was cobbled together. It is notable chiefly for its frontal attack on the Maoists and a right hook on the SPA face. Yet, in so doing, Moriarty also took a figurative swipe at the Indian government although the pro-Indian lobby here is pretending not to have noticed.

The motivation for that rather unexpected development was admittedly unstated – India was, indeed, not mentioned by name anywhere in the Ambassador’s by-now famous peroration of 15 February, possibly to allow her to save face even while sending out America’s sobering message not to mess around with terrorist groups.

One may thus speculate that that unexpected move was triggered after Foggy Bottom, following long deliberation with inputs by the CIA and the Pentagon prior to Bush’s South Asian journey, concluded that India needed to, at the very least, be rapped on her knuckles for having facilitated/inspired it.

After all, it is a deal between what the lanky American envoy diplomatically refers to as “constitutional forces” and an outfit that his government has bluntly termed terrorist. It would therefore be analogous, in American terms, to an anti-US pact being stitched between the Democratic Party and Al Qeada say, in the UK, France, Germany or some such place otherwise considered friendly to the United States!

Besides, the powers that be in Washington-on-the-Potomac probably concluded, correctly in my opinion, that Bush would have no moral right to order President Musharraf to rein in the Islamic militants in Pakistan from wreaking havoc in India-held Jammu and Kashmir if New Delhi were to be allowed to play footsie with Nepalese Maoists while dining and wining at the high table with him.

(Moriarty, I am perfectly aware, also lambasted the King. My point is on this is a simple one. Since that has become a routine ritual on his part, it is certainly not as significant as his firing his big guns at the Maoists, the SPA and New Delhi – simultaneously. That’s new and therefore far more meaningful.)

Koirala/Deuba

That Moriarty’s verbal missile zeroed in on some important political targets was clear early on. Among the first to be hit was Sher Bahadur Deuba of NC (D). Barely had he been released from jail, almost coinciding with the Moriarty speech, when he started to babble publicly about “amending” or “altering” the 12-pact SPAM deal. I believe there is no reason here to elaborate upon the widely held perception that he is pro-American – just as NC’s Girija Prasad Koirala is viewed as pro-Indian.

I have it on excellent authority that Koirala, after a meeting with the American envoy on 23 February, has now begun searching rather frantically for an individual who could act as a go-between to facilitate contacts/talks with the King. I also understand that Moriarty conveyed to Koirala, in no uncertain terms, America’s displeasure at his promiscuous political conduct of sleeping with the Maoists.

Another tangible outcome of the Moriarty blast was the catalytic impact that it had in bringing Koirala and Deuba together for “unity” talks. Although, at this time, formal unity may be a while away what is significant is that despite their personal discomfort in each other’s presence – clearly demonstrated in a large sized news photo in the Kathmandu Post – they have begun an exploratory process in that regard.

Moreover, on the NC (D)’s part, Deuba’s senior party colleagues publicly urging the reunification process have followed it. A number of additional points need to be mentioned at this stage. The first: the drive for “unity” is probably linked to their belated realisation that such a prospect would immeasurably strengthen their political prospects at a future general election, securing for a united NC a commanding position in the new parliament.

Secondly, to this analyst it would appear that such “unity” between the two wings or factions of the NC would provide it the most effective safeguard against the near-certainty of both being decimated by the Communists in the future. As one wag put it: in the highly unlikely event that the Monarchy is toppled, the Reds would have Sadbhavana (Anandi) for breakfast, NC (D) for lunch and NC for dinner!

Finally, it is no secret to the political cognoscenti that although the de jure “Commander” of the SPA is Koirala, the de facto one is UML’s chief honcho Madhav Kumar. It is well known among the political savvy class that it is the UML – taking its cue from the Maoists – that is now calling the shots: indeed, the SPA was, as Left journals have been bragging about, worked out by the Maoists and the UML.

Rumours, Again

Not surprisingly, a variety of rumours and speculation have been triggered in the past week or so. Among them is that Deuba will be back in the saddle – this time with strong and open American support. Although this commentator does not subscribe to that naive school of thought, he is aware of such speculation, some of it seriously floated, others in sheer jest.

However, two opinions/reactions may be taken noted in that regard. One is by a Nepali student in a Delhi university that some consider as the Maoist epicenter in India. He writes in the Times of India: “Sher Bahadur Deuba has been set free. He has brokered more than one insidious bargain in the past and is likely that royalists will use his services again – ” And so on.

Meanwhile, the Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai in the Kathmandu Post suggests that Moriarty has “exposed the strong nexus between the US imperialist ruling classes and Nepal’s feudal autocratic forces” and goes to the extent of suggesting that a military alliance between the Establishment and the US is in the offing.

Hypothetically, if that were the case, surely Deuba would be the man to lead the cause. Underlying it all is the apprehension that the SPAM deal may indeed begin to unravel, beginning with desertions by the NC parties. Indeed a month ago, commenting on the Prachanda interview in the Kathmandu Post/Kantipur, this observer had concluded that one of its main objectives was precisely to “tempt” the SPA not to abandon the SPAM ship.

The fact that the Maoists continue on their killing/abduction/bombing spree (where, oh where, is Ian Martin?) has not been lost on those who follow public affairs closely. That, and the slaying of a NC cadre in Dhanusha district the other day, is as clear an indication as any underlining that the 12-point deal is not meant to come in the way of engaging in politics by other means.

The fact that despite such grave provocation the NC (and others) have not been able to break loose from the Maoists’ grip is eloquent commentary of how scared the SPA constituents are of deserting them. Combined with the fact that, according to excellent personal sources, the Indian government and its intelligence agencies are now actually arming the Maoists – a la the LTTE in the first phase of the Sri Lankan conflict – a serious re-think by all true friends of Nepal is urgently called for.

Will that happen? It’s hard to predict. Let’s first wait and see what happens when President Bush is in our backyard. Some indications should, at least, be clear by next week.

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.