Turning Nepal into Bangladesh

South Asia’s political parties learned during the nineties that the best way to rise from opposition to leadership of the government was to render the country ungovernable. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, the government would fall and new elections would bring either a new party to power or a new faction of the original party.

Nepal’s politicians honed their skills against each other for years, then teamed up with the Maoists to apply the same tactic to King Gyanendra’s direct rule. The Maoists had already stirred up ethnic tensions and destroyed most of the country’s local governance to promote exactly the same end during their people’s war.

The fruits of destructive opposition in Nepal are deadlocked government and a host of ethnic groups using the same tools – strikes, road closures, political intimidation and violence – to further their own ends. The politics of obstruction has stalled development for decades, and the anger here over the failure of governments of all ilk to improve the lot of ordinary people’s lives is visible in the streets every day.

Failed governance and growing incivility pose enough challenge for any country, but new tensions between the government and the courts and army threaten to push Nepal into Bangladeshi-style chaos.

Both institutions have been strong supporters of civilian and royal rule alike, but both are now pushing back against the Maoist-led government. The army disobeyed orders from the (Maoist) defense ministry to stop recruitment of 3,000 soldiers. Though the Supreme Court eventually ordered the army not to repeat the recruitment, it allowed the hiring of the 3,000 to stand. The same court ordered the Maoist PLA to halt its tit-for-tat recruitment plans.

Stung by the defeat, the defense minister this week refused to renew the commissions of eight army generals, forcing their early retirement. Despite sharp protests from their coalition partner the UML and opposition Nepali Congress and urgent meetings between the PM the army chief of staff and ambassadors, the government has said that the decision, reportedly taken at party-level, will stand.

Even so, a local newspaper says that the eight officers are still at work at army headquarters.

Another confrontation is brewing with the Supreme Court. On March 3 a habeas corpus suit was filed on behalf of two activists of the Maoist Victims Association, which is pressing for compensation for Maoist “atrocities” during the war. The two were alleged to have been arrested in Kathmandu.

In response to the suit, the home secretary and five senior police officers gave the court individual statements denying that the two had been arrested or that the police had any interest in them.

Following a tip-off that the two were detained in a police station in Pyuthan in western Nepal, the justices dispatched a court registrar who found the two in an interrogation room. The court immediately ordered the police to produce the men and filed contempt charges against the home secretary and the police commander. They and the other four police officers have been called to appear within three days.

Nepal learned only half of the Bangladeshi lesson about the politics of obstruction. It does work in the short term. But whether practiced at the level of political parties, interest groups, civil-military affairs or by the government, destructive opposition is the enemy of progress and development. And that is the only thing that can solve Nepal’s problems.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.