- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

Eight months after widespread protests forced the Nepalese king to relinquish his authoritarian hold on power, the democratic Seven Party Alliance agreed to an interim constitution with leaders of the Maoist insurgency, signaling another successful step toward democracy in the small Himalayan nation. The interim constitution relegates King Gyanendra to an effectively powerless symbolic role, and with the Maoist rebels renouncing violence and entering the political mainstream, Nepal finds itself in a good position to shape its political future and move away from the costly conflict of the past decade.

The Indian government supports the agreement in Nepal, and with good reason. India, along with the United States, called on the king to restore democracy, fearing the worst case scenario: that the Maoist insurgency would simply overthrow the monarch — which it was, by some estimates, capable of doing — if he did not abdicate his power. Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was in Nepal Sunday to meet with the new Nepalese prime minister and reaffirm his country’s support for “all efforts that are aimed at achieving peace, democracy and development in Nepal.” The Indian government has even agreed to supply food for some divisions of the Maoist rebel army, which were confined, like government troops, in cantonments under U.N. supervision.

India itself faces a threat from a violent Maoist insurgency, particularly in its Northern states. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced in April, when the crisis in Nepal was reaching its full fervor, that “the challenge of internal security is our biggest national security challenge,” in reference to the Maoist threat.

The inclusion of the Nepalese Maoists in the political process has been accompanied by a changed outlook — at least rhetorically. After an initial agreement had been reached in November, the Maoist leader told reporters at a press conference that “our experiences have shown we could not achieve our goals through armed revolution, so we have chosen the path of negotiation and formed an alliance with the political parties.” This revelation, which led to the Maoist’s consent this weekend to a new constitution, has brought harsh criticism from the Indian Maoists, reported in the Indian press, but has been welcomed by the Indian government.

The triumph of democracy in Nepal will be measured in the next few years. U.S. State Department officials supported the November agreement with the condition that policy toward the government would be determined by how fully the Maoists’ respect the agreement to disarm. So far, the rebel group has abided. The Maoists’ commitment to democratic principles and their complete renunciation of violence will continue to be the standard by which the success of Nepal’s new government should be judged.

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