Democracy, Freedom in Nepal Must be for Nepalese, not for India and Indians

Dear President Bush,

I write this even as you are, so to speak, packing your bags for your ‘historic’ visit to India and Pakistan in the near future. As you most certainly are aware, your diplomatic mission to South Asia will take place in an environment that is not the most salubrious. I am, of course, referring to the sudden, dangerous flare-up in religious tensions across much of the globe, including in India and Pakistan, triggered by the unfortunate ‘cartoon controversy.’


I am perfectly aware that you have attempted to cool tempers all around on that score. Yet, it is far from certain that elements that consider America an implacable foe will not, all the same, seize the opportunity represented by your personal presence in the region to cause or plot bodily harm.

As a Nepali journalist long fascinated by your great country and one who was in New York City on 9/11, 2001, I have had nothing but the greatest admiration for the leadership and courage you so displayed at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan at that traumatic and landmark moment in American history.

At this time, however, this correspondent cannot but recall the similar diplomatic assignment of your predecessor, President Bill Clinton, when he spent five-six days in India, less than a day in Bangladesh and merely six hours in Pakistan in 2000. How things have changed!

As all who follow international affairs know, 9/11 set in motion protean political and diplomatic transformations, including those affecting this region of South Asia, a long-time nub of terrorism – of the national, regional and international variety – and a hothouse of assorted home-grown or foreign-inspired/funded insurgencies. South/Central Asia, I don’t have to remind anyone, is also home to three nuclear powers.

It is against that backdrop, Mr. President, that I wish to place on record certain views and observations, especially those concerning American foreign/security policy as it affects India and Pakistan, and, more particularly, my own poor but never-colonized country.

9/11, as already stated, dramatically upset the South Asian apple cart, transforming Pakistan from a virtual pariah in American eyes to a staunch ally in the US-led “war on international terror.” We in Nepal are aware that there is a very powerful lobby in Washington, not to mention in New Delhi, that continues to be highly critical of your continued support for President Musharraf’s regime.

In fact, I recall that one of the main reasons why your predecessor’s visit to Pakistan in 2000 was such a truncated one was because of the relentless pressure from India, and elsewhere, to have America declare Pakistan a “rogue state.” I, for one, was gratified that such dangerous, self-serving advice was give short shrift by the US.

Though not the most democratic in the world, even you’ll surely admit, your Administration has adhered to a policy of providing support and succor to Pakistan, perhaps on the assumption “apres Musharraf le deluge.” That, to me, is admirable. Musharraf is after all still America’s best bet in Pakistan, no matter how loudly certain circles wish he were dumped.

Why Double Standards?

From the perspective of Kathmandu, however, what is inexplicable is why you seem to have one set of policies for terrorism-wracked Pakistan and quite another for Nepal which now has a history of more than 10-years of violence, perpetrated by a ruthless foreign-inspired and funded Maoist insurgency?

Quite apart from the fact that Musharraf assumed power in a coup d’etat against an elected government, why should American policy towards King Gyanendra who stepped into the political arena only after a whole string of elected governments would not, or could not, do a thing to resolve the Maoist insurgency, be so blatantly different? Just as you have the supreme duty to protect your people and country, so too does the King in our own case.

Moreover, surely your State Department must have drawn your attention to this key distinction: if Musharraf’s seizure of state power was clearly extra-constitutional, the King’s political intervention was invoked on two specific constitutional grounds, including Article 127 of the 1990 Constitution. Moreover, while Musharraf moved up from chief of army staff to be the country’s president, the King’s status remained, and remains, unchanged.

Both Musharraf and King Gyanendra, on the other hand, have courageously stepped out to take the bull of terrorism by its horns. If the former is hailed and lauded to the skies by Washington, why is it that a similar effort by the King is not only not appreciated but actually penalised by suspension of arms assistance to the Royal Nepalese Army that is at the forefront of the counter-insurgency campaign?

I do not have to elaborate upon the mindless misinformation campaign that the American media is indulging in currently, demonizing the Monarchy and the RNA. These institutions have not only been the principal contributors of Nepal’s unification but also constitute the dyke that is holding back the Maoist tide from sweeping over our land with inevitable overflow effects on India and China.

Incidentally, American journalism gurus lecture us about the ethics of professional journalism but think nothing of pursuing a blind, agenda-driven propagandist line when it comes to reporting Nepal with coverage of only a tiny niche of the public opinion spectrum that it then passes off as constituting the entire picture!

One does not have to be a genius to envisage what such a horrendous eventuality such a spillover would mean to the region, the continent and, ultimately, the world. Those who think that is alarmist are welcome to wade through the outpourings of the grandiose rhetoric and turgid prose of the Maoist chief and his principal lieutenants – not to mention inventorying their gory terror tactics and violence that they have perpetrated thus far in the realisation of their ultimate goal.

That aside, Mr. President, surely you, of all persons, recognize that extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary solutions. For example, post-9/11, you yourself came up with the new American doctrine of preemption. If I recollect correctly, you unveiled that at the US Military Academy at West Point, NY.

Even as I write this, who is not aware of such unlovely features of American policy as your secret directive to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on phone conversations in the US without a court warrant? Or, for that matter, who does not know what goes on at your detention centre in Guantanamo Bay which even UN’s Kofu Anon has asked for closure? Should sanctions, smart or otherwise, be applied against the US?

Besides, even in “liberal” Britain, your partner, Prime Minister Tony Blair, has finally succeeded in getting the House of Commons to approve expanding counter-terrorism laws by making “glorification” of terrorism a criminal offense. Not to be forgotten is that, in India, the Chhattisgarh assembly has just passed a bill barring the media from carrying reports of any kind of “unlawful activities” (read Naxal/Maoist violence) in the state.

Strategic Ally: India

Mention of India brings me, really, to the central focus of this communication. Specifically, I wish to ask you Mr. President to explain, if you will, how you can square India’s activities vis-a-vis Nepalese politics and the Maoists with the grand ideals of your “war on terror” or, indeed, with your noble mission to remake the world in America’s image, beginning in what you call the Greater Middle East?

To take the latter first: allow me to refer to two individuals. The first is an American, F. Gregory Gause III, who in an update to his September/October 2005 essay “Can Democracy Stop Terrorism” in Foreign Affairs, declares that your recent reiteration of spreading democracy in the Muslim Middle East is flawed.

To validate his point he enumerates recent unexpected and uncomfortable outcomes in elections in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. Apart from other measures, he recommends that Washington should “also recognize that non-democratic institutions that are generally supportive of US policy goals (such as the military in Turkey, and the monarchies in Morocco, Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula) can serve as very useful breaks on the power of elected parliaments, and can even moderate Islamist political groups over time.”

The other individual is none other than America-basher, President Mohmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has recently declared, not inaccurately if you ask me: “The American slogan of democracy has had the reverse effect in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and even Palestine.”

The two individuals above have been quoted not because the Nepalese situation is exactly analogous to the countries mentioned above. It is merely to point out that advocacy of a one-size-fits-all democracy, as America is presently attempting to foist upon Nepal, with the aid of India, is fraught with grave dangers and inconsistencies.

Democracy in Nepal, Mr. President, must be allowed to come in at its own pace. It must be in keeping with the Nepalese experience and ethos, conforming to its history, culture and an essential understanding of Nepal’s delicate geo-strategic location between China and India. Most of all, it must take shape not through Indian diktat or even that of the United States but in conformity with the wishes of the Nepalese people, freely determined in an atmosphere totally sans violence, foreign intervention and infiltration. In other words, Nepal must be permitted to remain Nepal!

Encouraged by your charming personal trait of frankness, allow me too to be candid. Why is India, which herself is a victim of scores of insurgencies, including a raging Maoist one, now openly linked to Prachanda’s forces? This was brilliantly underlined by New Delhi’s role last November in cobbling the 12-point pact between the seven party alliance and the Maoists which aims at regime change in Nepal.

While being somewhat encouraged by your envoy Ambassador James F. Moriarty’s recent public criticism of that egregious document, he has not mentioned India by name. Neither, for that matter, has he pointed out the outrageous contradiction in continuing to lambaste Pakistan for allegedly supporting militants on her soil for conducting terrorist activities in India-held Kashmir while she has hosted Maoists cadres and even feted top Maoist leaders in New Delhi, not to mention mollycoddling her stable of political pawns and Quislings for advancing her transparent interests in Nepal.

I should also remind you, I believe, that India’s ruling coalition is totally dependent on Left parties – cousins of the Maoists/Naxalites – and has therefore to placate them as in the matter of enforcing sanctions on committed arms supply to the RNA.

Regarding the much-touted “threat to democracy” bogey that finds such resonance in the West, including America, it is nothing more than a red herring that disguises the real threat to Nepal’s existence as an independent sovereign state.

Especially inexplicable is that the West continues to support an India which is clearly playing a double game: hunting with the Maoist hares it has hosted on its territory, even while pretending to run with the anti-terror coalition under the banner of the US.

Even more conspicuous is the death-like silence of would-be peace merchants when it comes to answering this conundrum: what is the overarching motive of the India-US-UK axis in attempting brazen regime change in the guise of promoting democracy in Nepal?

Why has there been such an unusually coordinated and prolonged international campaign to topple the present regime in Nepal? Indeed, given the US-led international war on terrorism, how is it that a state courageously battling for survival against a fierce foreign-inspired and assisted insurgency should be punished and promoters and partners of terrorism rewarded?

Is it then, Mr. President, that the “democracy card” is being exploited as a convenient cover to affect geo-political transformation not only in Nepal but, ultimately, in Tibet, as well? The latter possibility would seem to be suggested, for example, by the utterances of Senator Patrick Leahy, a well-known free-Tibet advocate.

I need not remind you that Nepal has a neighbour other than India, one that is also known to be taking a great, if discreet, interest in the goings-on in Nepal and the machinations of those who wish, in the so-called game of “restoring democracy,” to advance their own agendas, including hidden ones.

One would hope, therefore, that in your journey through India and Pakistan and bilaterals in India you would demonstrate what kind of “freedom” and “democracy” you stand for. The bottom line is: Democracy and freedom in Nepal must, in short, be for Nepal and the Nepalese people, not for India or the Indians.

Awaiting the arrival of Air Force One in our neighbourhood,

M.R. Josse
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.