- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

After more than 14 weeks of political and diplomatic brinkmanship following the Feb. 1 royal coup against the multiparty government, Nepal’s King Gyanendra scored a diplomatic victory Tuesday as India resumed delivery of military supplies for his army fighting the Maoist rebels.

After halting deliveries for 100 days, New Delhi announced a partial release of arms supplies to Nepal and expressed hope its government would take “further and early” steps to restore multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy.

Human rights organizations and opposition party leaders expressed dismay at India’s decision and fear the United States and Britain may follow New Delhi’s cue.

Gyanendra fired Nepal’s elected prime minister in October 2002 and ruled the country through three handpicked prime ministers before resorting to direct rule 103 days ago.

King seizes power

On Feb. 1, Gyanendra imposed a state of emergency, arrested all political party leaders, gagged the press, shut down telephone and Internet services and ruled by decree with the help of the military.

The monarch lifted the emergency on April 29, apparently to appease foreign critics. It would have lapsed anyway two days later, since Nepal’s constitution requires parliamentary approval to continue a state of emergency beyond 90 days, and Nepal has had no parliament since May 2002.

Analysts say lifting the emergency was meaningless, since the royal decree banning public gatherings or public protests remains in force. Journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights activists are systematically barred from aircraft or buses when trying to travel into or out of the country, and reporters face censorship, harassment and intimidation by men in uniform.

Hundreds still in jail

Though senior politicians have been released from house arrest, hundreds of others remain in jail. On May 2, their terms were extended for another three months.

The royal regime has set up a commission to investigate corruption and has filed charges against some politicians, including deposed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Mr. Deuba has refused to provide a statement to the commission, which he calls unconstitutional.

The king justified his Feb. 1 power grab by saying it was needed to control the Maoist rebellion seeking to replace the monarchy with a republic, but no improvement in law and order is visible except in Katmandu, the capital, where the presence of an estimated 40,000 soldiers gives the impression of a war zone.

Western diplomatic sources in Katmandu say the Maoist rebels have driven the government from 70 of the kingdom’s 75 districts. The number of police stations has been reduced to 350 from 1,500 in 2001.

The killing continues

Human rights groups say nearly 11,500 people have died in the conflict, many of them killed by the royal army in fake encounters or extrajudicial executions. Since the Feb. 1 coup, 655 persons have been killed, 530 of them by the army, according to the Asian Center for Human Rights.

The royal regime has earned more international notoriety over “disappearances” than any other government, according to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Also since February, anti-Maoist vigilantes sponsored by the royal regime have killed 46 residents of 21 villages in the southwestern Kapilbastu districts who were accused of supporting the Maoists.

The king endorsed these vigilantes in an interview in the April 18 Asian edition of Time magazine, saying: “Enough is enough. They are rising up. And I welcome these moves by the people.”

Maoist rift exploited

On April 20, the royal regime agreed in Geneva on the deployment of 50 U.N. monitors to protect the human rights of Nepalis from the rebels and security forces in exchange for withdrawing an item in a U.N. resolution that was intended to “name and shame” Nepal for its human rights violations.

Seeking to divide and rule, the king created divisions among the parties, making it easier for him to force them out of the political process. This was no help to the king against the underground Maoist party, whose guerrillas have the royal army on the defensive.

But last August and September, the royal government learned of a rift in the Maoist party between its leader, Prachanda, and Baburam Bhattarai, the No. 2. The discord led to the purge of Mr. Bhattarai and his supporters from the party’s upper ranks.

Analysts say the Maoist split encouraged Gyanendra to pursue his dream of being a “constructive monarch.” With the political parties in disarray and the Maoists squabbling, the king apparently believed he could tame all political forces, including the Maoists, using the military.

$100 million in arms

Reports from India quoting intelligence and diplomatic sources said Gyanendra wanted to assume direct rule last December but was restrained by New Delhi.

The king, however, surprised his foreign friends — India, the United States and Britain — with his Feb. 1 coup, hoping the world would back his fight against “terrorism.” But few believe there is a military solution to Nepal’s Maoist revolution.

New Delhi and London immediately condemned the royal government takeover and stopped the flow of military hardware. The Bush administration followed in condemning the royal coup, but was silent about arms transfers, apparently because everything earmarked for fiscal year 2005 was delivered before the coup.

The three foreign governments have given Nepal more than $100 million worth of arms, ammunition and training for the royal army since 2002.

Naxalites a factor

After the king’s February coup, the international community treated the royal regime like any pariah state. India went so far as to cancel a summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Bangladesh to avoid a meeting between India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gyanendra.

When the royal army began to run low on ammunition, the king tried to mobilize Hindu nationalists in India to press New Delhi to release suspended military shipments to Nepal. When India stood by its decision to halt military supplies, Gyanendra turned in vain to China and Pakistan.

Though political and diplomatic circles in New Delhi disapprove of the king’s coup in Nepal, the Indian military appears more concerned about the Maoist insurgency. India’s defense and security establishment is concerned about growing ties between Nepal’s Maoists and India’s own version, known as Naxalites, who now operate in half of India and influence more than a third of India’s population.

Analysts say India’s Nepal policy is wavering between the security perceptions of the military and the political considerations of the coalition government.

U.S. policy similar

Support from India’s leftist parties, which oppose supplying arms to the royal autocrat of Nepal, is vital for the survival of Mr. Singh’s government. As a result, New Delhi is reportedly considering opening communications with the rebels and keeps “reviewing” the king’s request for the resumption of arms deliveries.

U.S. policy toward Nepal is similar to India’s, which seeks reconciliation between the king and the parties to isolate the Maoists and force them to end their war. During her May 9-11 visit to Nepal, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca met Gyanendra and his counselors as well as political party leaders, and welcomed the king’s lifting of the emergency decree. She told participants at a seminar that Nepal’s king and parties must make common cause to face the Maoist challenge.

She also voiced concern about reports of continuing repression of civil liberties and additional arrests, and said the future of U.S. military help would depend on the human rights record of the Royal Nepalese Army.

Parties form alliance

On Sunday, the seven opposition political parties formed an alliance to oppose royal autocracy. It demands restoration of the dissolved parliament. Maoist leader Prachanda announced two days later that his party backs the seven-party alliance against the king.

Analysts say the royal regime’s attempt to capitalize on news of a split in the Maoist leadership may backfire, since Prachanda retains the loyalty of the guerrillas and the political commissars. They add that purged ideologue Mr. Bhattarai may be rehabilitated at the next party congress.

With the Maoists controlling large swaths of countryside and an expected total resumption of arms shipments from India, concern mounts that Nepal will face more bloodshed.

Chitra Tiwari, a former lecturer of political science at Tribhuvan University in Nepal, is a Washington-based analyst of South Asian affairs. He can be reached by e-mail at cktiwari@verizon.net.

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