Sense From Across The Seven Seas

It’s not too often that one notes in Western, or American, writing on Nepal any degree of maturity, much less sympathy, for her acute existential concerns or anxieties. Thus, when one has the rare opportunity to read two such well-researched and sophisticated pieces on Nepal within an interval of days, it is something that must not only be celebrated quietly but also brought to public notice.

The two write-ups that I wish to refer to are respectively those by Dr Thomas A. Marks, political risk consultant, and Robert Kaplan, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and author of the Imperial Grunts (Random House, 2005).

Marks’ article on Nepal appears in South Asia Intelligence Review (Vol. 4. No. 21, December. 5, 2005.) and is entitled Between Illusion and Reality. Kaplan’s piece, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 20, 2005 is provocatively called “Who Lost Nepal?”

Marks focuses on the 12-point letter of understanding between the Maoists and the agitating Seven Party Alliance while Kaplan’s covers a broader canvas. Marks questions UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal’s naive contention that the Maoists have “developed a new maturity” in concluding that they are unable to complete their “capture of state power through the barrel of the gun.”

Going further, he argues that Madhav’s assertion that “if the well-equipped Shah of Iran can be uprooted by unarmed people, there is no reason why it can’t happen in Nepal” is astonishing as it can hardly be expected that the King “would be even slightly interested in holding a discussion based upon such terms.”

According to Marks’ reading of the agitating political parties’ confidence that the King would be interested to negotiate on their terms is “because the most important thing is ‘peace’.” As the American risk consultant puts it graphically:

“Waving this flag, the political parties have, indeed, stormed back onto centre stage, making a bargain which is altruistic, Machiavellian, or simply suicidal, depending on how the cards fall. However this may be, their long-running battle with the palace has caused them to play ‘peace’ as the hand that will gain them both power and breathing room from their mortal foes, the Maoists.”

Continuing to elaborate, Marks explains:

“There is no ‘peace’ goes the stated logic, because there is no ‘democracy’; and there is no democracy ‘because the Palace’ insists upon violence. That this is a historical falsification of the first order would be apparent to anyone who has even notional familiarity with the political history of Nepal.” Hitting the nail squarely on the head, Marks observes:

“There is insurgency in Nepal due to shortcomings of the system that evolved during the democratic era. Those most responsible are the same individuals who have cut the present deal with the Maoists – not just the same parties but the same individuals.”

He also points out, very correctly, that such advocates of democracy never practiced the same “either in power or within their own ranks.”

Kaplan, for his part, begins his piece with what must be jolting for many ‘democrats’, not only in Nepal but in America. It opens, thus:

“Nepal, sandwiched between the two rising economic and demographic behemoths of the age – China and India – could be the first country since the fall of the Berlin Wall where communists emerge triumphant. If the Bush administration does not act decisively, that’s what might happen.”

Kaplan then goes on to caution that “the administration should not take solace in the flurry of negotiations between the Maoist insurgents (who control most of the hinterlands) and the country’s political parties in Kathmandu, which could undermine the last vestige of legitimate royal authority while further strengthening the insurgents.”

Kaplan, admonishing the Bush administration for canceling Special Forces training missions to the besieged Royal Nepalese Army, and with the possibility of lethal cuts of aid to the local military, has “brought about into popular abstractions about how to best implant democracy while ignoring the facts on the ground.”

Though it might appear a mite alarmist to many, it is sobering to be reminded by Kaplan that “Nepal is fast becoming a replay of both Cambodia in the mid-1970s and El Salvador a decade later. In Cambodia the monstrous Khmer Rouge were threatening the capital Phnom Penh, home of the pathetically undemocratic yet legitimate regime to which a Democratic Congress had cut off aid…In El Salvador, murderous right-wing forces that nevertheless represented a legitimate state were pitted against the murderous left-wing ones that represented the geopolitical ambitions of the Soviet Union and Cuba.”

Continuing his story, Kaplan recalls that ultimately “the right wing in El Salvador, with the help of a small number of Army Special Forces trainers won the day. And in the years that followed the Salvadoran state and military were reformed.”

Though, naturally, there is much more to read in both the quoted write-ups, even in the few selected excerpts that have been recalled here, I am encouraged to believe that the gentle winds of common sense seem, finally, to be flowing through the groves of academe and journalism in America.

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.