A crisis over Maoist arms threatens Nepal’s peace process and will raise hopes at the palace.
Friday is the birthday of King Gyanendra of Nepal. In previous years the event came with huge parties arranged by celebration committees with scores or hundreds of members, and newspapers added extra pages to accommodate dozens of display advertisements with His Majesty’s picture and congratulatory messages. This year there are no public parties, and the papers contained only a few royal congratulations, some of them anonymous.
But the monarch is reported to be recovering from a deep depression that sources said overwhelmed him after he gave up absolute rule in the face of massive street protests. If Gyanendra still hopes that the patchwork of agreements between Nepal’s major political parties and Maoist rebels will collapse, causing the people or (more likely) the army to call on him again to lead, he may feel encouraged by looming threats to the peace process.
The latest deal between the parties and Maoists is three weeks old, and it is still causing discord within party ranks and drawing flak from outside. The problems are partly about politicians’ wounded pride: Prime Minister Koirala sealed the deal without thoroughly consulting his party colleagues or coalition partners. Despite the agreement being signed by major party leaders and even though the PM’s office says all parties had agreed on the general terms, the rapid deal seems to have taken many politicians by surprise. Among other things, the eight-point agreement calls for dissolution of Parliament, an interim constitution, and a power-sharing government to implement elections to a constitutional convention.
Those steps seem too much, too fast to some in Nepal. And the apparent lack of a clause requiring the Maoists to disarm before joining the government has raised red flags inside and outside the country. Parliamentarians drew up a committee to “review” the eight-point agreement. They also sent the UN a letter formally asking for arms monitoring – one of the points in the agreement – but did so without consulting the Maoists. Both the outgoing British Ambassador and the vacation-bound American Ambassador issued sharp statements saying that armed parties should never sit in government. The Americans threatened to cut off aid for Nepal if the Maoists, who are on the US Government’s list of terrorist organizations, don’t renounce arms. And Indian newspapers quoted leaks from unnamed police sources saying links between Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, Nepal’s Maoists, and al-Queda had been found.
Nepalis have always been ready to believe that a “foreign hand” was manipulating them. Most Nepalis see India’s work behind the downfall of the king and agreements between the Maoists and parties. They are also quick to see the international statements as US meddling, an attempt to block the eight-point agreement, if not more.
India still backs the process in Nepal – presumably in hopes that peace in Nepal will cool down it’s own Maoist insurgencies in the north and east – so US complaints will have little effect. The parliamentary forces have no leverage, and Comrade Prachanda hasn’t much flexibility if he is to convince his armed forces that this peace process and negotiated change of government is really a victory.
The situation is tense, and many here think that the palace is behind the parliamentary squabbling, foreign pressure, and Indian allegations. If so, the king may even find reason to smile as he turns 60.