- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pro-democracy forces in Nepal have grown bolder, more forcefully protesting the brutal and oppressive rule of King Gyanendra, who seized authoritarian control of the country more than a year ago. Although Nepal is a small country, it’s geopolitical significance is amplified by its location between India and China, and more serious political instability in this buffer country could lead to frostier relations between the two Asian powers.

The conflict poses a dilemma for the United States, which should be reticent to support either an authoritarian monarch or a Maoist insurgency that has been classified by the State Department as a terrorist organization. To make things more complicated, the Maoist forces — which are Maoist in name only and not ideological followers of the founder of the Chinese Communist Party — recently reached an accord with their political opponents, the seven democratic parties of the disbanded parliament, to work together to oppose the king and restore democracy.

The State Department’s official position — a call for King Gyanendra “to restore democracy immediately and to begin a dialogue with Nepal’s constitutional political parties” — is not too much to ask, but it is, in all likelihood, too much to expect from the king. In response to pressure from the United States and India to hold a true democratic contest, the king staged an election in February that was, in the words of State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, “a hollow attempt to legitimize his power.” Turnout was paltry, as the democratic parties and the Maoists boycotted the election, and the king’s support was insufficient to provide a legitimate mandate.

The Maoist forces claim to have re-evaluated their objectives in recent years. In an interview published in The Washington Times, a Maoist insurgent leader claimed that “we will accept the results of a free and fair election… whatever the result may be.” The leader went on to claim a commitment to “multiparty competition, periodic elections, universal franchise, rule of law, freedom of the press and speech.” So long as these pledges are, without exception, fully honored — and are accompanied by a strong repudiation of violence — the Maoist forces should be included in the democratic process.

India has considerably more influence and interest in Nepal than the United States, and this is an important opportunity for the two countries to work together to promote democracy.

Washington’s goal of restoring democracy and preventing the formation of a Maoist-led communist state is correct in theory, but in practice it is being abused by the king, who believes that the United States will be forced to support him — regardless of his actions — as the only alternative to the Maoists. Washington should adjust its position and offer its support to the side that offers the best chance for democracy, thereby leveraging each side off the other and more forcefully exhorting both to enter a valid and fair democratic process.

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