Saturday, February 05, 2005

NEPAL: Situation Update 05FEB [ 7 NEWS CLIPPINGS]


01. Units alerted to refugees from Nepal
02. Nepal’s newly formed government announces 21-point program
03. Nepal king seeks support with anti-graft drive
04. Nepal's king could be right, don't ignore him:
05. Pakistan, Nepal agree to enhance trade ties
06. Four ex-ministers arrested in Nepal
07. Democracy Undone in Nepal


01. Units alerted to refugees from Nepal

5 February 2005: Apprehending the influx of five-lakh refugees from Nepal, the Indian government has put units of the SSB, DRI and CRPF on the Indo-Nepal border on full alert, and threatened closure of border points and restrict country-to-country movement.

India has told Nepal it cannot handle such a large refugee influx, but Nepal has expressed equal helplessness, since the Royal Nepalese Army cannot patrol the border engaged in battling the Maoists, and Nepalese feel very insecure in district camps set up by the government because of the widening conflict.


02. Nepal’s newly formed government announces 21-point program

Nepal's King Gyanendra, along with his newly formed council of ministers, has decided to develop a 21-point program, which will focus on anti-corruption, good governance, economic growth and poverty alleviation.

The cabinet also decided to form a Royal Commission within 15 days to probe and take strong action against those who amassed huge property by evading tax and smuggling. The announcement was read on a state radio by a cabinet office member.

The government will empower the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority to facilitate its actions against corruption rampant in the country. The government will also set up a land bank and distribute land to squatters, landless peasants and freed bond laborers.

As far as poverty is concerned, the government will initiate a long-term program to modernize farming, implement small and big irrigation schemes and run horticulture, cash crops and livestock on the basis of geographical possibilities. So also, the disabled, underprivileged and lowest cast students will be provided with free education up to secondary level along with free textbooks and scholarships.

For tourism, the government has formulated a master plan to provide necessary cooperation and facilities to hotels, resorts, tourism destinations and tourist industries.

The government, addressing the unemployment issue, has decided to generate employment opportunities in the country, besides seeking opportunities abroad.

Nepal's King Gyanendra formed the 10-member Council of Ministers under his chairmanship on Wednesday, after the country has been in political turmoil since Tuesday, when the king dismissed the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, declared emergency rule and isolated his country by telephone and Internet lines.

The king accused the previous government of failing to organize parliamentary elections or control the Maoist insurgency, and pledged to do both himself within three years.

The king suspended freedoms of the press, speech and peaceful assembly, along with rights to privacy and against preventive detention.

Since then, dozens of politicians have been detained or put under house arrest. Strict censorship has also been imposed on Nepal's media.

Soldiers and policemen continued to patrol the streets of the capital Kathmandu on Saturday, and communication lines remained cut.


03. Nepal king seeks support with anti-graft drive

KATHMANDU, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Nepal's new government, led by King Gyanendra, will focus on fighting corruption and poverty in the Himalayan kingdom, state media said on Saturday, setting a populist direction days after the monarch seized power.

Analysts say Gyanendra is likely to work quickly to win popular support, capitalising on a brief honeymoon period for his move with many Nepalis fed up with the politicians he sacked on Tuesday and placed under arrest.

In its first meeting, Gyanendra's appointed cabinet drafted a strategy focusing on corruption and poverty, state media said, but announced no strategy for peace with Maoists fighting the monarchy in a nine-year revolt that has killed 11,000 people.

The army said on Friday it would step up its offensive against the guerrillas to force them back into peace talks after Gyanendra's sudden move, in which he also suspended civil rights and isolated the tiny country from the world.

Authorities continue rounding up activists, including sacked prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's chief spokesman, Minendra Rijal, who had been one of the few political leaders left free to speak to reporters.

To stifle dissent and avoid protests, Gyanendra has cut all public phone lines within the Hindu kingdom and with the outside world. The media have also been banned from dissent.

In some newspaper offices, soldiers proof-read stories, at others, soldiers and armoured cars are stationed outside.

The blackout makes it impossible to find out what is happening in Kathmandu and in the largely isolated rural areas.

The independent human rights commission is investigating reports soldiers fired on students protesting the king's power grab, wounding some, in the western tourist town of Pokhara.

But the commission cannot contact its staff there and considers it too dangerous to send a team from Kathmandu while phone lines are down and conditions uncertain, commission member Sushil Pyakurel said.

Gyanendra and his ministers said the new government would fight rampant corruption in the Himalayan nation, one of the world's poorest countries.

Nepal's political parties have been squabbling among themselves and with the king for years. The country has had 13 prime ministers since its first democratic leader in 1991.

Some Nepalis are adopting a wait-and-see attitude to the king's assumption of power, glad he has ousted politicians they regard as corrupt and incompetent and pinning hopes on peace.

"The king is really taking a gamble on this, it's win or lose," said Kunda Dixit, analyst and editor of The Nepali Times.

"He has risked all. He is hoping he can tackle the real problem of the Maoist revolution.

"There is big competition for peace in Nepal. Whoever can deliver peace will be OK."

The Maoist rebellion has killed more than 11,000 people and crippled an economy dependent on aid and tourism.

The king's government will also tackle poverty by initiating farm aid programmes and will boost the powers of a body charged with investigating abuse of authority state media said.

The cabinet meeting was on Wednesday, but news of the talks and the government's decisions filtered out only overnight in the strictly controlled media. Some journalists have been arrested and others have gone underground, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists says.


04. Nepal's king could be right, don't ignore him:

More than half a century ago, on Nov 7, 1950, when Prince Gyanendra was placed on the throne of Nepal by Prime Minister Mohan Shumshere Jang Bahadur Rana, it was part of an elaborate conspiracy to oust his grandfather King Tribhuvan who had fallen out with the all-powerful Ranas and taken refuge in New Delhi.

High intrigue in Narayanhity Palace and its political implications were not high on the agenda of either Europe or the US then and, therefore, there was no immediate, leave alone firm, Western response to the palace coup in Kathmandu. For a while, it seemed, the Ranas would, yet again, have their way.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru nipped that conspiracy in the bud. With India's full, unequivocal and firm backing, King Tribhuvan returned to Kathmandu and resumed his role as the Hindu kingdom's absolute monarch and Mohan Shumshere Jang Bahadur Rana slipped into history books as the last hereditary prime minister of Nepal.

Destiny, the defeated conspirators would later say, favoured King Tribhuvan. But destiny did not abandon Prince Gyanendra either.

After King Birendra's gory death in the bloody massacre of June 2001 that wiped out his entire family, the four-year-old child who in 1950 wore the famed pearl-and-plume crown for a few days before the coup failed ascended the throne and was proclaimed King Gyanendra.

There was a difference, however. The king was no longer an absolute monarch, but the head of a constitutional monarchy whose affairs were run by a democratically elected government and a multi-party parliament.

The revolution of 1990 followed by constitutional reforms which saw Girija Prasad Koirala coming to power in 1991 as the head of a popularly elected government had irredeemably changed the status of Narayanhity Palace and the stature of its presiding "living avatar of Vishnu".

New age psychologists could argue that long-suppressed, subconscious memories of that unhappy winter when he almost became king have played a not too insignificant role in influencing King Gyanendra's political judgement and subsequent actions.

These include his dissolution of parliament in 2002, his playing ducks and drakes with politicians, and finally his sacking of prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's coalition government Feb 1 and assuming absolute power over the affairs of Nepal.

The palace coup of 1950, in which Prince Gyanendra was but a pawn, may have abysmally failed, but not the coup of 2005, in which King Gyanendra is both conspirator and victor. Or so it would seem for the king and his royalists.

While King Gyanendra has given himself three years of absolute power, suspending fundamental rights and other attendant freedoms enshrined in the constitution that he now disowns, it is unlikely that Narayanhity Palace can ever regain the absolute powers of the past.

"I have exercised the rights given to the crown under the present constitution (of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990)," King Gyanendra said, explaining his action to dissolve the government, "because it has failed to make necessary arrangements to hold elections by April and protect democracy, the sovereignty of the people and life and property."

Prime minister Deuba and his government, of which the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) was a key partner, have had to go ostensibly because he failed to tie down the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which has been spearheading a "people's war" for establishing a republic, to a peace deal by mid-January and organise elections by April this year.

Nepal's politicians, stunned by the turn of events, describe the declared reasons as bunkum. What Deuba could not achieve by April, the king now wants three years to achieve. Suspension of democratic rights and constitutional guarantees are hardly the best way, they point out, to protect "democracy, national sovereignty, people's life and property" as has been claimed by King Gyanendra.

The king and his royalists have a different view and are not entirely wrong. King Gyanendra has attacked Nepal's famously fractious political parties for "indulging in factional fighting" instead of coming together to fight the challenge posed by Maoists who virtually control 68 of the country's 75 districts.

The king, as the proverb goes, is never wrong. Nepal has seen four parliamentary elections and 13 governments in 14 years. Its parliamentary track record since 1991 does not add up to political stability, nor does it reflect political maturity.

Infighting within and feuding among the mainstream political parties and their leaders in Kathmandu have helped Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Comrade Prachanda, and his Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in no small measure to wage war against the Nepalese state, bringing all economic and development activities to a halt in most parts of the kingdom.

Decrepit governments in Kathmandu, despite generous material assistance from India, the US and Britain to fight the Maoists and huge sums of development aid, have miserably failed to fight back the insurgency either by launching a coordinated military counter-assault or implementing effective programmes to alleviate the misery of millions of Nepalese who live in gruelling poverty.

Nepal's political elite is widely perceived by the people as corrupt, uncaring and self-serving. Their influence is fast shrinking to the municipal confines of Kathmandu; most of them cannot even visit the towns or villages from where they hail for fear of being killed by the Maoists. They live in heavily guarded homes to which they have now been confined by the new emergency dispensation.

It is entirely possible that King Gyanendra was prompted by genuine concern and the need to act decisively before it was too late to ward off the Maoist challenge. It is also possible that he took a tad too seriously the recent statements of Comrade Prachanda and his colleague Babu Ram Bhattarai to the effect: "Now we don't want to talk to Deuba, or anybody, but the king himself."

There is a problem, though, about taking Maoist utterances at face value. Comrade Prachanda has now offered to join hands with other political parties to form a joint front to topple the monarchy, elect a constituent assembly, draft a new constitution and abolish Nepal's "feudal monarchy" to set up a "People's Republic of Nepal".

That would cheer China no end. The king, unlike his predecessor, understands this better than most others. Recall the recent dismantling of the offices of Tibetans in exile that have existed in Kathmandu for decades and connect that with China's indifferent response to King Gyanendra's coup.

India realises the import of this week's dramatic developments in Nepal and is rightly concerned about both its short-term and long-term implications. Ever since facilitating King Tribhuvan's return to Narayanhity Palace, India has invested heavily in its strategically located northern neighbour with which it shares intimate cultural, social and civilizational relations.

By articulating its view without mincing words - "India has consistently supported multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy enshrined in Nepal's constitution as the two pillars of political stability in Nepal" - the government of India has made its position abundantly clear.

That point has been further driven home by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opting out of the SAARC summit in Dhaka, forcing its cancellation at the last moment.

The snub was as much aimed at Prime Minister Khaleda Zia for pandering to Islamist forces as King Gyanendra for assuming absolute power.

Having done that, India must now look at possible ways and means of engaging King Gyanendra rather than forcing him into majestic isolation. New Delhi's concerns are not necessarily linked to those emanating from either Washington or Brussels. Nor would it be wise for New Delhi's foreign policy establishment to delude itself into believing that the West wants India to lead the protest against this week's coup.

There were deep flaws in India's Nepal policy, not least New Delhi's amazing disregard for King Gyanendra's sensitivities and its astonishingly naïve faith in Nepal's discredited political elite. If India really believes, as it claims, in a balance of power between palace and parliament in Nepal, its actions have not demonstrated that belief.

India's relations with Nepal are far too important to be held hostage by pretentious morality and sanctimonious self-righteousness. King Gyanendra at least enjoys the legitimacy endowed by Narayanhity Palace. Many other heads of state with whom New Delhi "does business" cannot even claim that much.


05. Pakistan, Nepal agree to enhance trade ties

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Nepal Friday agreed to enhance trade ties and economic relations in different areas between the two countries.

This was decided in meeting between Binod K. Chaudhary head of the Nepalese delegation of Industrialists with Jahangir Khan Tareen, federal minister for industries, production and special initiative, here.

They discussed ways and means for extending economic and trade relations between the two countries. The minister while talking to the delegation members said that Regionalism is a key to success in current world, so both countries should try their best to realise this dream.

He said the government was pursuing a liberal industrial policy, which was more competitive and conducive in the region.

He also accepted the invitation given by the delegation to visit Nepal along with a group of Pakistani businessmen and industrialists in order to explore further avenues to enhance cooperation between two countries.


06. Four ex-ministers arrested in Nepal

Kathmandu, Feb 5: Continuing its crackdown on political activities, Nepal's new royal government has arrested four ministers of the ousted Deuba Cabinet and has decided to set up a commission to probe corruption cases against politicians and others.

Those arrested include former Works and Physical Planning minister Prakash Man Singh, Agriculture minister Homnath Dahal, Education minister Bimalendra Nidhi, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Prakash Mahat and spokesman of Nepali Congress (Democratic) Minendra Rijal.

The central members of Deuba's Nepali Congress (Democratic) party were arrested yesterday while they were holding a meeting at the party office in Maharajgunj area of the capital, party sources said.

The first meeting of the new council of ministers chaired by King Gyanendra, who assumed all executive powers after dismissing the Deuba government, decided to form a Royal Commission within 15 days to probe corruption cases, state-run Radio Nepal reported today.

The meeting decided to take strong action against those who amassed huge property by evading tax and smuggling.

It also decided to empower the commission to investigate abuse of authority. Besides making public its 21-point programmes, which includes administrative reform plans and ways to penalize corrupt politicians, the King Gyanendra's government decided to form a land bank within 15 days to distribute land to landless people.

The government also decided to provide educational scholarship to the Dalit, backward and handicapped students.

Leaders of various political parties, including Nepali Congress (NC) president Girija Prasad Koirala, appealed to all democratic forces to join hands and unitedly oppose the "unconstitutional" steps taken by the King and fight to restore the sovereignty of the people and protect the 1990 democratic constitution.

Nepal Communist Party (UML) president Madhav Kumar Nepal in a statement said all progressive, democratic and patriotic forces should unite against the "autocratic steps" and urged the international community to stand against the authorotarian rule.

Despite the bandh called by the Maoists, vehicles operated and shops opened in Kathmandu today, the third day of the strike.

Telephone services, cut off after the royal takeover, resumed for about two hours yesterday afternoon and an hour at night for the first time but again it was disrupted.

All the Internet service provider offices have been closed and security forces have been deployed there.

Army heavily guards Kathmandu and the police had stepped up security measures across the country.

The Nepal government has virtually halted all party activities by arresting top leaders and keeping vigil on active workers of major political parties since emergency rule, though the political parties were not officially banned.

Earlier, Koirala and Nepal were under house arrest.

Similarly, former prime minister and NC founder leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, NC Democratic president Sher Bahadur Deuba, former prime ministers Surya Bahadur Thapa and Lokendra Bahadur Chand have also been put under house arrest, party sources said.

According to 'The Kathmandu Post' former deputy prime minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari, Badri Prasad Mandal, president of Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Mandal), Pashupati Rana, president Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Amik Serchan, president People's Front Nepal were also under house arrest.

Authorities have already arrested Deuba government's Minister for Industry and Supply Ishwor Pokhrel and Women and Social Welfare Minister Asta Laxmi Shakya (CPN-UML) and Education Minister of State Balkrishna Khan (NC-Democratic).

Political activists have organized small-scale protests in the capital and other major parts of the country.

There are unconfirmed reports that dozens of students and youths were injured in clashes with security forces in Prithvinarayan Campus in Pokhara hours after the King seized power.

Reports filtering in now said that agitators had burnt eight vehicles outside Kathmandu on the day when state of emergency was imposed.


07. Democracy Undone in Nepal

Nepal's 14-year-old experiment in constitutional monarchy suffered a major assault on February 1, 2005 when King Gyanendra sacked the prime minister, formed a new cabinet composed largely of royalists, and established direct monarchical rule. This was followed by a declaration of a state of emergency as leading political leaders were placed under house arrest, media censorship was imposed, fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of assembly were suspended, and telephones (landlines and cellular) as well as the Internet were shut down.

The King justified his actions under a constitutional provision that enjoins the monarchy to uphold and protect the Constitution. While he repeated many times in the royal address his commitment to constitutional monarchy and multiparty rule, the king's drastic action went patently against those principles. First, he was taking over as executive monarch on the basis of a personal decision. Second, the royal address was full of denigrating references to political parties, who are the intermediaries for pluralism and democratic practice anywhere in the world.

King Gyanendra's antipathy toward the political parties is well known and has been often-expressed, but by sidelining them completely and planning to rule as well as reign, the king has removed a buffer between himself and the rough and tumble of politics. To that extent, he has taken a great risk and put the institution of monarchy in the line of fire. Clearly, the king believes that the risk is worth taking.

This raises the issue of whether Narayanhiti Royal Palace has a trump card vis-à-vis the raging Maoist insurgency, which has claimed roughly 10,000 lives since 1996. If the King does have an agenda that can resolve the conflict, with the insurgents either being routed or laying down arms, then the royal palace may be able to overcome the turbulence it has introduced into Nepali politics. Peace and an end to the insurgency would put the monarchy back on the pedestal as a respected institution, but everything depends on how soon that would happen. At one time, the Maoists did announce that they would negotiate only with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's "master," so are we to hope that now with the king directly in charge, the Maoists will extend a hand? We can hope.

Further, the Royal Nepal Army's fight against the highly motivated and increasingly brutal insurgents thus far has been lackluster. Will the royal palace's direct control of national affairs mean that the military will now put up a spirited fight, and also that its human rights record will improve from current levels? We will have to see.

What is clear is that this has been a radical step exposing the monarchy to criticism, when other approaches could have been tried. Such approaches could have included using the inherent powers of kingship to cajole the political parties to work together and establish a political front against the insurgents. But the king's deeply held feelings toward the political parties seems to have blocked off this avenue toward resolution. The calls made since King Gyanendra took over informally in October 2002 for an all-party government or revival of the Third Parliament, all of which would have provided political challenge to the Maoists on their home ground, are now meaningless.

King Gyanendra's announcement of a takeover for "up to three years" provides a long window in which Nepal's highly successful experiment with democracy of the past dozen years may be eroded. Unless there is a rapid move toward resolution of the insurgency, it is also likely that the Maoists will try to make common cause with the political parties. Although it is not likely that the legal parties will ally with the insurgents as long as they engage in armed struggle, it is certain that the royal action will add strength to the insurgents' demand for a king-less republican constitution and government, a call that has been taken up with alacrity lately by many politicians.

It remains unclear how the royal palace plans to respond to the criticism that has already erupted domestically as well as in the international community. India, the United States, the United Nations, and others have already denounced the King's actions. In castigating the political parties, King Gyanendra preferred to hark back to the Parliament dissolved three years ago, while keeping silent over the interim period and his rule through palace-appointed prime ministers. This is the period when the peace and security of the country's populace plummeted more than in any previous period.

In his speech, King Gyanendra highlighted the great contribution of the Shah dynasty to the creation of the nation and ventured that he was speaking for the janabhawana, i.e. the Nepali people's feelings. While it is true that the desire for peace overwhelms all other political desires among the Nepalese people, the question arises whether the royal takeover was the proper way to address these chahana (desires). Rather than denounce the political parties' inability to work together and opt for the takeover, it would have been a much more popular and realistic move for the king to have used his prerogative as head-of-state to bring the bickering parties together at this critical juncture, thereby defending rather than weakening democracy.

In the end, unless King Gyanendra is able to pull out the trump card of peace vis-à-vis the Maoists in the near term, one can conclude that his unprecedented action of the first of February has exposed the historically significant institution of Nepal's monarchy to the vicissitudes of day-to-day politics and power plays. Did the Nepali monarchy deserve this at this late a date in history?

Kanak Mani Dixit is the editor of Himal, Himal Southasian and the fortnightly news magazine Himal Khabarpatrika, all published from Kathmandu.