Monday, February 21, 2005

The Situation in Nepal: Possible Outcomes

The King of Nepal, Gyanendra, dismissed the Sher Bahadur Deuba government on 1 February, declared a state of emergency in Nepal that curtails civil liberties and took over the reins of government. The King's dismissal of the Deuba government (the first was in October 2002) is the second in three years. The King's move came in light of the failure of the Deuba government to hold elections by April 2005 and to restore peace in the beleaguered kingdom. In his proclamation, the King claims that his government will bring peace and hold elections within the next three years. The King also delegated increased power to the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA).

The current media attention in India on the King's dismissal of Deuba is missing the trees for the woods as since October 2002, the government in Nepal has merely functioned under Royal sufferance. The King's action merely removed the fig leaf of democracy that successive regimes provided. Power, since the Dasahin festival in 2002, has been with the King who appointed the pro-royalist parties to run the puppet regime under him. In June 2004, the King brought in Deuba to head the executive government.

The quagmire in Nepal has three poles each pulling Nepal in contradictory directions. The Monarch, said to be craving absolute power with the RNA under his control, is the real authority since October 2002. The second are the political parties who have failed to provide stability (in fourteen years of democracy, Nepal has had thirteen Prime Ministers) and are seen as corrupt and incompetent. The third pole is the Maoists who in the last few years have been holding the Himalayan state to ransom and probably have crucial advantages over the RNA.

Thus, for the past three years, a triangular contest was being played out with each making an effort to discredit the other two. The political parties have with their conduct made the task of the King and the Maoists easier. The King in an effort to discredit the politicians whom he regards as venal, corrupt and inept has selectively used the RNA to lay the blame of failure to control the Maoists on the incumbent governments. The Maoists have long been aware of the shallowness of the parties (the Maoists had a few seats in the 1992 Parliament) and have abetted the King's efforts to expose the uselessness of the successive governments. The Maoists have repeatedly stressed that they will only talk to the King as he wields real power. The RNA is constitutionally under the control of the King and not the Nepalese Parliament.

The current dismissal opens two fronts for the King, one with the Maoists and the other with the political parties. At the international level the King will have to cope with pressure from India, the United States and the United Kingdom among other important players. The international community's reaction is very important for the King as Nepal is dependent on foreign military aid to fight the Maoists. And the King's singular task is to either crush the Maoists for which Indian military aid remains the key or to get the Maoists to the table. Considering the importance of foreign military aid to combat the Maoists, it may be assumed that the King had sounded out at least the Indian government on his course of action.

The King has asked the Maoists led by Prachanda to come to the negotiating table for talks or face the consequences. The Maoists have since rejected the offer of talks, and vowed to abolish monarchy, describing the King as a 'national betrayer'. It is difficult to believe that the Maoists will give up their demand of a republican government and join the mainstream and at the same time it would be suicidal for the King to agree to this demand which threatens the existence of the institution of the monarchy.

Possible Future Outcomes

Nepal's future is going to be primarily determined by the International community's reactions to the King's usurpation of powers, the benchmarks that they set or the posturing that they may indulge in.

If the international community is to go soft on the King and continue to support him militarily, Gyanendra's chances against the Maoist might well increase and in the longer run the institution of monarchy may just win this current tug of war among the three poles in Nepal.

A second possibility is that of a continuing military stalemate. Most Nepal experts consider this to be the most likely outcome. Under such circumstances, the Royalist government would move towards a more repressive position in Nepal and towards the possibility of becoming a failed state.

The last and most desirable outcome is that the international community's pressure and the organization of credible opposition by the political parties, forces the King to reinstate or appoint a national government and hold elections. This path holds greater chances of success if the RNA is able to hold the Maoists opposition to elections under bay.

This piece was written shortly after the King of Nepal assumed total powers and dismissed the Sher Bahadur Deuba government in the month of February 2004.

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