- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

Nearly eight months after the royal coup of Feb. 1, Nepal’s King Gyanendra is increasingly losing support as major parliamentary parties turn their backs on “constitutional monarchy” and prepare for a showdown against the king in alliance with the Maoist rebels.

On Sept. 1, the Nepali Congress (NC), the country’s oldest and largest political party, removed from its charter its 60-year-old written pledge to uphold constitutional monarchy, though it left room to return to the former policy if the king agreed to remain a ceremonial monarch. But the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML), which gave conditional support to monarchy in 1990, decided clearly in favor of a “democratic republic.”

Maoists call cease-fire

Analysts say the countdown for the Republic of Nepal appears to have begun in earnest.

In response to a request by the parliamentary parties to stop violence to pave the way for a party-Maoist alliance, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) declared a three-month unilateral cease-fire on Sept. 3. The Maoist party spokesman, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, made it clear his party’s announcement was not aimed at opening negotiations with the king.

The leaders of the seven-party alliance, including Girija Prasad Koirala of the NC and Madhav Kumar Nepal of the UML immediately welcomed the Maoist unilateral cease-fire and urged them to return to peaceful politics.

The statement by Maoist leader Prachanda declaring the truce warned of renewed hostilities if the royal regime expands its military bases and keeps up its offensive. It also endorsed an interim government and elections to a constituent assembly as the only way to establish a “democratic republic,” welcomed the NC and UML moves toward republican democracy, and voiced hopes that the truce would spur political powers, including the United Nations, to take new steps for reforms in Nepal.

King urged to reciprocate

The Maoist statement, however, advised the seven-party alliance that their demand for reinstating the parliament dissolved in October 2002 would not help solve the country’s problems — “It would only give the palace an opportunity to conspire.”

The international community welcomed the Maoists’ unilateral cease-fire and urged the royal government to reciprocate.

India, which has an important stake in neighbor Nepal, issued a statement in New Delhi Sept. 5 saying the Indian government hoped the cease-fire announced by the Maoist rebels would create an environment in which the peace process could begin.

Interestingly, the Indian government statement was silent regarding its previous emphasis on a “twin-pillar theory” designed to bring the monarchy and parliamentary parties together to fight the Maoist rebels.

World voices hope

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the cease-fire Sept. 5 and expressed hope “all sides in Nepal will take measures which will lead to peace talks and the lasting peace the people of Nepal crave and deserve.” He also repeated his offer of a United Nations role in searching for a peaceful solution, if the Nepali parties agreed.

A statement issued by the British Embassy in Katmandu in the name of the European Union on Sept. 7 welcomed the unilateral cease-fire and asked the government of Nepal to respond positively to the truce announcement in order to ensure a durable, negotiated solution.

The U.S. response to Maoist cease-fire, however, was belated and guarded.

“The United States welcomes any measures taken to reduce the violence in Nepal,” said U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty on Thursday in Katmandu, but he cautioned “not to expect too much from the truce,” adding that “the Maoists should show their commitment not only in words but in action.”

The government of King Gyanendra, despite the overwhelming approval for the Maoists’ unilateral cease-fire and calls for a similar response, did not reciprocate, saying the rebels cannot be trusted and that the cease-fire is only a ploy to regroup and rearm.

Consequences are many

The unilateral cease-fire of the Maoists killed many birds with one stone.

First, the rebels won popular appreciation for stopping the violence during the season of Hindu festivities.

Second, the rebels received a broad welcome from the political parties.

Third, many foreign governments and international organizations with stakes in Nepal welcomed the Maoist rebel move and turned their pressure on the royal government to reciprocate.

Fourth, the cease-fire spoiled King Gyanendra’s plan to address the United Nations General Assembly to win favor by portraying his actions in Nepal as being for peace and against terrorism.

U.N. visit canceled

The king was to have addressed the General Assembly on Sept. 16, but his visit was abruptly canceled in view of the developing political situation in Nepal following the Maoists’ unilateral cease-fire, as well as the cold shoulder the monarch was accorded by the international community.

Sources say diplomats from Katmandu’s royal court failed to schedule a one-on-one meeting for King Gyanendra with President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr. Annan.

Adding to the international rebuff to King Gyanendra was the injury from the domestic opposition. The opposition seven-party alliance appealed to Mr. Annan on Sept. 6 not to recognize the Nepali king’s legitimacy, saying he was going there to mislead the international community into thinking that he was fighting “terrorism” like Messrs. Bush and Blair, and that he deserved a lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Nepal after the Feb. 1 royal coup.

Army desertions rise

The Royal Nepal Army’s ability to control the insurgency remains questionable in view of its past performance. Besides, sources close to Indian military intelligence say the RNA is suffering from desertion, if not defections to the Maoist side, of 200 to 300 soldiers per month.

The RNA suffers from a lack of ammunition because its suppliers — India, Britain and the United States — continue the arms embargo they imposed after the Feb. 1 royal coup. The Bush administration, silent about the Maoist cease-fire without asking the king to reciprocate, informed the royal government through its embassy in Katmandu early this month that $5 million worth of military assistance to Nepal proposed for fiscal year 2005-06 will not be forthcoming.

There are unsubstantiated reports that the RNA is obtaining ammunition from the Israelis and has proposed a deal with China for $22.5 million worth of arms, ammunition and other military hardware — which if true, must have raised eyebrows in New Delhi and Washington.

Charges of “terrorism,” issued to ostracize the rebels, have failed to achieve their intended purpose as all political parties condemn King Gyanendra’s effort to centralize power in his own hands. Analysts say the increasingly isolated royal regime is pursuing a military solution to the problem of the Maoist insurgency against the advice of many of its international backers and well wishers. The analysts also complain that the actions of the royal regime since the Feb. 1 takeover has eliminated the possibility of a peaceful solution of a deadly conflict that has already taken more than 13,000 lives.

Chitra Tiwari, a former lecturer of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, is a Washington-based freelance analyst of international affairs specializing in South Asia. He can be reached by e-mail addressed to [email protected]

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