Geopolitics

Nothing surprising about situation in Nepal
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Issue Book Excerpt: The Unmaking of Nepal | Date : 08 Nov , 2015

The present state of Nepal is not a sudden development, but has been building up over the years. The tragedy was that Pakistan obsessed India was non-chalet and dismissive about Nepal. Most defence analysts ignored the country because of their mindset of assessing countries based on their military inventory and strength. This flawed approach led to the splintering of the Soviet Union and will spell disaster for India. If we fail geopolitically, tanks and aircraft remain pieces of metals. This is what has happened in Nepal.

The present Indian approach to Nepal is most appropriate. It was high time that the bluff of a segment of Nepalese residing in Kathmandu with regard to China was called. It is a time to test the Chinese ability to sustain Nepal on any long-term basis. Meanwhile shortages of fuel, cooking gas and essential commodities have crippled Nepal owing to the blockade by Madhesis. A cooking gas cylinder is selling for Rs.6,000 in the black market. Shortages have given rise to violent public mood. This Communists and the Maoists are in the pressure from public to reach out to their benefactor China for solving the crisis. Given the constraints of geography, China can do only that much, and no more. A situation is fast building when the people of Nepal will make the Maoists and Communists scurry for cover against marauding mobs. It will be a sad day for Nepal and the previous dispensation in India, which in first place had put the Maoists on the driving seat based on the Counsel of the mainstream Communist Party in India.

A bloodshed in Nepal involving Maoists versus the rests was predicted in the book “The Unmaking of Nepal” published way back in 2009. The excerpt of the book in this regard is reproduced.

India’s response to the crisis in Nepal has been one of ambivalence, devoid of genuine strategic perspective. It outsourced its Nepal policy to the CPI (M) in the hope that it could persuade its comrades in Kathmandu to join the democratic stream.

For the Maoists, the establishment of a one-party rule based on their ultra-leftist ideology overrides any considerations of political stability, prosperity and security of the country. A healthy respect for rival or opposition groups, the spirit of any vibrant democracy, as also consensus building, which cements a nation’s path to a new era, is conspicuous by its absence in Maoist thinking. As a political player now participating in the formulation of the constitution the Maoists have the same rights and duties as any other political group. It therefore cannot have the exclusive right to maintain an armed force, as it gives them the unfair advantage over other parties at a time when the nation’s new democratic polity and governance is still experiencing teething problems. The fact cannot be overlooked that long before the Maoists, other parties had been consistently fighting for democracy and had, over the years, created the anti-monarchy constituency which the Maoists later exploited. The Maoists cannot claim special political privileges just because they launched an armed struggle. Granting such privileges would mean setting precedence for any other armed groups that might crop up.

India’s response to the crisis in Nepal has been one of ambivalence, devoid of genuine strategic perspective. It outsourced its Nepal policy to the CPI (M) in the hope that it could persuade its comrades in Kathmandu to join the democratic stream. It failed to gauge the intensity of the Maoists’ commitment to the objective of turning Nepal into a Maoist state. India has always believed that there are no military solutions to violence and anarchy being perpetrated by a handful of armed outfits like the Maoists or the LTTE. Sri Lanka has proved emphatically that, beyond a certain point, the only way to solve an ethnic or revolutionary insurgency is by the effective use of the military. They crushed the left wing JVP extremism in the 80s and now have decimated the LTTE. It is hardly ever possible for a state to find a peaceful solution when an adamant antagonist just refuses to repudiate its armed might. Such an outfit will only join the peace process to recoup, rebuild and continue on the same old path with renewed strength — its ultimate goal unchanged. In the case of Nepal, the only political entitity today with its own armed might is the Maoist party. They can, with this advantage, intimidate any opposing party that can rely only on the state apparatus for their security and survival. If the state allows itself to be outmaneuvered by the Maoists to marginalize the army and the other security forces, it would amount to begging the Maoists to take over the country.

While the Indo–Nepal open border regime has its own problems, a closed border regime could pose an even greater threat to India’s security and may even trigger an upheaval in Terai, with ominous ramifications for India.

Fall of the Maoist Government and Constitution

Writing Process

The post of the Chairperson of the Constitution Drafting Committee has become a contentious issue after the Maoist-led dispensation was replaced by a government headed by the previous Chairperson, Madhav Kumar Nepal. The Maoist resolve to install their key ideologue, Babu Ram Bhattarai, is strongly opposed by the other 22 parties forming the new government. Bhattarai on many occasions has reiterated that it will be the Maoists, who will decide the import and content of the new constitution. The other parties will quite naturally pose a stiff resistance to such designs to hijack the Constitution making process. Nevertheless, it is also acknowledged that, without the involvement of the Maoists, a Constitution will never see the light of the day and may ultimately spell the demise of the peace process.

The Maoists have not reconciled to the idea of sitting in the opposition, since they allege that the fall of their government was engineered by India and the US. Prachanda had clearly tried to sell this conspiracy theory to his cadres during his recent speech in a close door training session. After his government fell, Prachanda is reaching out even more fervently to Beijing. Between September and October 2009, he has made two visits to China, the first to Hong Kong and the second to Beijing. The details regarding the real purpose of his visits and discussions with the Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao, are under wraps. In a significant statement — denied later, ostensibly under pressure — Ms Sujata Koirala, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Nepal, revealed in Nepalgunj that she has evidence pertaining to arms supply by China to the Maoists in India through the Nepal Maoists. Some analysts infer that the upsurge in Maoist violence in India is at the behest of their Nepalese comrades. The Maoist leaders’ aim is to distract the Indian establishment so that they could reactivate their arms struggle for a decisive bid to capture power in the near future.

To bounce back into power in a legitimate manner, the only alternative that the Maoists have is to sink their differences with other leftist parties, particularly the CPN (UML). Alternatively, they could also muster majority by creating splits within the CPN (UML) and the Nepali Congress. Some political observers in Nepal are of the view that Mr GP Koirala, who is considered to be highly ambitious, could be manipulated by the Maoist leadership.

The entity called Nepal had been preserved primarily because of the isolation afforded by the forbidding snow-bound, high altitude northern frontier with Tibet, and densely forested malarial curtain in Terai with respect to India in the south.

The Maoist leadership in the past has displayed great flexibility in forging alliances with various political forces for pure political expediency and advancement of their revolutionary cause. For that matter, it did not hesitate to reach out even to the monarchy. The Nepalese Congress, which till recently was its alliance partner, is now a sworn enemy. In fact, the Nepali Congress leader and former prime minister GP Koirala recently warned the Maoists that they may have to face the wrath of the state in a manner similar to the LTTE in Sri Lanka and the Taliban in Pakistan.

If the Nepali Congress is marginalized and isolated, the Constitution writing process will tilt heavily in favor of the Leftist parties. The resultant animosity between the Maoists and the Nepali Congress will spill on to the streets of Nepal. Notwithstanding the number of seats that the Nepali Congress won in the Constituent Assembly elections, the party has substantial historical appeal and presence in most parts of Nepal. In ushering in the peace process and deliberations, India had a major role and it blundered in not extracting a formal commitment from the Maoist leadership that, in case they came to the helm of power during the transitional phase, they would not interfere with institutions like the judiciary and the army. Probably the entire Indian approach was based on its miscalculation about the Maoist inability to emerge as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly elections.

Policy makers and analysts, both in India and Nepal, tend to ignore the demographic and geographical changes in the last century that have begun to seriously defy the very rationale of Nepal as a nation-state. The entity called Nepal had been preserved primarily because of the isolation afforded by the forbidding snow-bound, high altitude northern frontier with Tibet, and densely forested malarial curtain in Terai with respect to India in the south. The forests and the malarial curtain, gradually over a century or so, have disappeared and consequently the existence of the people in Nepal’s Terai has become culturally, socially and economically intertwined inextricably with the people in next door India.

…the Army is not inclined to interfere in the political happenings of the country, but if it continues to be humiliated and the situation in Nepal becomes untenable, they may well step-in to salvage the country from the brink of collapse.

While the Indo–Nepal open border regime has its own problems, a closed border regime could pose an even greater threat to India’s security and may even trigger an upheaval in Terai, with ominous ramifications for India. The existence of eight to ten million Nepalese nationals engaged in various economic pursuits in India, the continued recruitment of Nepalese Gurkhas in the Indian Army, the swelling in ranks of Indian Army ex-servicemen in Nepal has, in effect, blurred the eco–cultural lines of separation between India and Nepal. If the anti-India and pro-China constituency is allowed to gain ascendance by the manipulation of uninformed masses in Nepal, or through armed coercion — particularly in the Hills — Nepal is bound to explode. India can allow this only at its own peril. China may not be averse to the implosion or vertical split of Nepal, as only a tectonic shift can make it supplant the Indian influence in Nepal and create an ideological buffer between India and China, given its paranoia with regard to Tibet. For long, China has considered Nepal vulnerable to external manipulations by the West, particularly the US, as also India, to upset its forced consolidation of Tibet. The unique cultural, demographic and historical factors, as also the geopolitical parameters of a nation-state make a Westminster pattern of democracy an almost impossible proposition for Nepal.

The process of evolving a Constitution has come to a grinding halt due to the intransigence of the Maoists, who have not allowed the Constituent Assembly to function. Even the budget for 2009–10 that was to be passed in June has not been legislated till November 2009. It is a common belief in Nepal that the Maoists will not yield to a Constitution which does not accommodate their long term agendas explicitly or implicitly. The anti-Maoist forces in Nepal, which are in majority, are acutely apprehensive about the Maoist takeover of the country, and it pins its hopes on the West, particularly the US and India to prevent such a scenario.

There are also people in Nepal who are not averse to a takeover by the Nepal Army, but they doubt its capability to do so. It is also true that with the passage of time and the demonstrated inability of the political forces to even decide upon a Constitution, many in Nepal who were disenchanted with the monarchy are now tentatively veering around to the idea of resurrecting the institution in some form or the other, if it is necessary for saving the country.

A very highly placed representative of an Indian industrial house, who recently visited Kathmandu to explore the feasibility of setting-up an industry in Nepal, confided in this author on the condition of anonymity that another Nepali industrialist advised him to meet a Maoist leader, no more than 25 years of age, if he wanted to make any headway in Nepal. The Nepali industrialist went on to say that he had learnt his lesson the hard way; the said Maoist leader had brought his two industries, one in Terai and the other in Kathmandu to a crippling halt by engineering labor unrest. His industries were allowed to resume production only after he agreed to part with a fixed amount of money on a monthly basis. It may be added that Chinese businessmen and their business concerns are never thus victimized. This, in a nutshell, sums up the present day internal and external dynamics of Nepal.

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Based on my interactions with the people, politicians, administrators and others in the government, I foresee three very unpleasant scenarios in the immediate future of Nepal.

•   Scenario-A: A violent showdown between the Maoists versus the rest. The latter will include all other political forces and the Army as well. As per my inputs, the Army is not inclined to interfere in the political happenings of the country, but if it continues to be humiliated and the situation in Nepal becomes untenable, they may well step-in to salvage the country from the brink of collapse.

•  Scenario-B: A total Maoist takeover of Nepal with the tacit support of China.

•  Scenario-C: Split of Nepal into various entities.

I need now only add that most institutional players in Nepal concur with these scenarios.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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