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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chaos descends on Nepal

August 14, 2008

By Dhruba Adhikary
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
August 13, 2008

KATHMANDU -- President Ram Baran Yadav would have found himself in
the midst of dignitaries and luminaries at the Beijing Summer Olympic
Games opening ceremony last Friday, but unsettling political issues
at home compelled him to cancel the visit to China. His presence at
the closing ceremony on August 24 is also under threat.

Had the planned sojourn in China materialized, it would have been a
historic trip for Yadav, who was sworn in as post-monarchy Nepal's
first president on July 23: it was to be his first visit abroad. A
flight to China would have also broken the tradition which required a
Nepali head of state to make his maiden visit to southern neighbor India.

The president's presence in Kathmandu became a must as the deadline
he had set for the Maoists to form a government by consensus was
coming to an end on Friday. As the leader of Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist), the party which emerged as the largest in April 10 poll,
chairman Prachanda had been invited by the president to put up a
government with the support from allies in the 601-strong Constituent Assembly.

However, Prachanda's bid to secure a nod of help mainly from three of
the 25 parties in the assembly did not succeed, thereby forcing him
to inform the president of his inability to head the republic's first
government with executive powers.

The president, as the constitutional head, then had to send a message
to the assembly to elect the prime minister. "All emerging trends
show that the phase of consensus and cooperation has ended," said
Daman Dhungana, a former speaker of parliament with a strong Nepali
Congress background. The next phase is likely to be of competition
leading to confrontation of a devastating kind, he added. The main
task - of drafting a new constitution - is being pushed to the
sidelines. Dhungana wondered how the ongoing peace process could
reach its logical end.

The Maoist leaders believe that their initial attempt to woo
like-minded political groups into their fold were thwarted primarily
due to conspiracies hatched both internally and externally. Sources
in the Maoist camp claim that conspirators were working at the
promptings of New Delhi and Washington. But negotiators on the other
side of the table, mainly from the centrist Nepali Congress and the
moderate group UML, rejected these allegations.

On the contrary, the UML accused the Maoists of betrayal at the
instigation of intelligence agents working for India's Research and
Analysis Wing. Had it not been the case, UML insiders contend, former
general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal ("Nepal" is a family name in the
country) would have been elected president. Caretaker Prime Minister
Girija Prasad Koirala had been another contender for the top post.
Since he found his name unacceptable to rivals, he quickly fielded
Yadav, who eventually carried the day.

In Koirala's perception, he was prevented from becoming the
republic's first president by Prachanda; that is why he tried to
block Prachanda's election as prime minister. Some saw the
85-year-old Koirala's attitude as a natural reaction, others found it
sheer churlishness displayed by an elderly leader of high standing.
It is a fact that except for the Maoists, all other parties were
reluctant partners in the agenda aimed at transforming Nepal from a
monarchy to the republic. But now there is a battle among leaders to
claim credit for this "landmark change" - a change that appears to be
pushing Nepal into a protracted phase of transition, fraught with
instability and disorder.

Nepal is no longer a country known for peace and tranquility.
Villages have been made unsafe by armed groups, often raising ethnic
slogans with secessionist overtones. Urban dwellers are terrorized by
criminals who often pass as members of the Young Communist League
(YCL), belonging to the Maoist party or Youth Force, associated with the UML.

Travel on highways is not safe much of the time. If spared by
bandits, bus passengers and other highway users are likely to be held
up for hours, if not for days, by agitated crowds of villagers who
block their passage by placing big boulders and felled trees on the
roads should one of them be killed by a passing vehicle. The
government is unable or unwilling to intervene.

Similarly, street violence has increased, with little government
reaction. In July, the International Crisis Group said "law and order
is in tatters".

A large number of people in the predominantly agricultural country
face starvation. Media reports from districts in remote far western
hills claim that about 4 million people are affected by food
shortages. The worst-affected district is Bajhaang, where 30 of the
47 villages are "directly affected" by food shortages, the official
newspaper, Gorakhapatra, reported on Sunday.

People are leaving their villages in hundreds, going to towns in the
southern plains in search of food. The less are often seen crossing
the border to India without any definite place to go.

Local yields are insufficient, but authorities are not making
arrangements for additional supplies from adjoining areas.

The political leadership appear criminally indifferent and
insensitive to human lives. And those in the opposition look as dull
as the dead.

That Nepal possesses the characteristics of a fragile, if not failed,
state is obvious. It ranks 22nd among 141 countries selected to be
included in an "Index of state weakness in the developing world",
which was prepared this year by the Brookings Institution in the US.
The 21 countries where the situation is worse than in Nepal include
Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Haiti and North Korea. The index is based
on relative performance in four critical spheres: economic,
political, security and social welfare.

This worrisome scenario, analysts say, offers grounds for possible
external intervention. The Chinese are restive and unhappy because
"Free Tibet" activists conduct their campaigns freely, despite
Kathmandu's official assurances that Nepal's territory will not be
allowed to be used for anti-China activities.

And behind much of the Indian rhetoric, in the words of the
International Crisis Group, "is a fear of China's quietly growing
power". The party of the Maoists considers itself closer to China, so
do the other left-leaning parties, who together obtained over 60% of
the votes cast in the April election. And, as the Crisis Group points
out, all major parties are scared to offend China.

Undoubtedly, Nepal is in a volatile situation, and in a vulnerable position.

But to blame either of the neighbors for the current chaos and
anarchy would be a shameful act of the incumbent bunch of politicians
trying to hide their inability and selfishness. "It is unfortunate
that we don't have leaders with vision, willingness and ability to
govern Nepal which has two of the world's largest economies in its
immediate neighborhood," observes former chief justice Bishwanath
Upadhayay, who headed the panel that drafted the 1990 constitution.

He is not sure if a new democratic constitution can be written
without a conducive atmosphere. That is why he has not taken oath as
a member of the Constituent Assembly, where he is one of the 26
persons nominated by the government. He says he has no wish to join
the assembly merely to be a job-holder.

* Dhruba Adhikary is a Kathmandu-based journalist.
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