- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

King Gyanendra of Nepal on Feb. 1 celebrated the first anniversary of his coup, and the country’s Maoist rebels on Feb. 13 celebrated the 10th anniversary of the start of their “People’s War.”

While Gyanendra claimed an increase of law and order, assuring his subjects that “terrorist activities have been reduced to sporadic criminal activities,” the Maoists carried out a daring attack in Tansen, a town in western Nepal that contains government offices. They seized the town for several hours, killed nearly two-dozen soldiers and got away with hundreds of rifles and ammunition.

Since canceling their unilateral cease-fire Jan. 2, the rebels have undertaken offensives against the royal army and attacked at least eight fortified locations, including Thankot and Dadhikot, the two entry points to the Katmandu valley. The battles cost the lives of nearly 170 combatants, many of them royal soldiers and police.

Royal elections shunned

Meanwhile, the royal regime held elections Feb. 8 in 58 municipalities. The voting was boycotted by the main political parties. The 20 percent participation showed that the royal regime has scant support among the people, but Gyanendra patted himself on the back when he announced Sunday: “The people have demonstrated their faith in the power of the ballot during the recent municipal elections despite the apparently adverse environment. The courage shown by them is indeed commendable.”

Indeed, the king wants to harness the “courage” shown by 20 percent of his subjects, and in his Sunday message he called on “willing parties” to come forward to activate the stalled democratic process for the national interest.

The leaders of the country’s seven-party alliance quickly rejected the king’s appeal as “meaningless” and “artificial.” They vowed to continue to protest autocracy, rejecting any possibility of compromise with the monarch.

Critics have charged that the elections were used to legitimize the king’s unconstitutional authority. The United States described the municipal elections as a “hollow exercise,” and India questioned the “credibility of the polls” in view of the boycott by major political parties.

Court dissolves panel

Meanwhile, on Feb. 13, former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was released from jail after Nepal’s Supreme Court unanimously dissolved the Royal Commission on Corruption Control, arguing that this body set up by the king was unconstitutional.

Mr. Deuba had been jailed since April on charges of corruption involving $5.3 million in selecting construction contractors for the Melamchi Drinking Water Project.

Political and legal analysts say Mr. Deuba was scapegoated by the king to separate himself from party politicians and project himself as “Mr. Clean.” Lawyers hailed the Supreme Court’s verdict as a step toward restoring the “derailed” constitution, but some critics see a plan of the king to divide the seven-party alliance and cancel its 12-point understanding with the Maoists.

After his release from jail, Mr. Deuba raised the suspicions of analysts by demanding that the accord with the Maoists be amended.

Maoists celebrate decade

The Maoists celebrated the 10th anniversary of their insurgency with interviews of rebel leader Prachanda by national and international press, including a lengthy interview with British Broadcasting Corp. Television.

In these interviews, the Maoist chairman emphasized his party’s commitment to participation in competitive multiparty politics as specified in the 12-point memorandum of understanding with the seven-party alliance, and vowed to overthrow the monarchy, saying there was no room for compromise.

Asked what would be the king’s role if the parties succeed, Prachanda replied: “He will be crushed. The king, I think, will either be executed by the people’s court or he might be exiled.”

Prachanda also encouraged the seven-party alliance to create a parallel government and seek international recognition. He suggested that the democratic parties could join the ranks of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army under the new name Nepal National Army.

Prachanda’s suggestion of declaring a parallel government seems to have raised the eyebrows of foreign governments, particularly the United States, whose Ambassador James F. Moriarty criticized the 12-point understanding reached by the Maoists and the parties in November, calling it “wrongheaded.” He repeated the U.S. policy of the need for a party-king alliance to defeat the Maoists.

U.S. stance rejected

Analysts say there are no buyers for the idea of a party-king alliance. Party leaders formerly in step with Washington have begun to criticize U.S. policy, saying Mr. Moriarty’s remarks could become an obstacle to peace in Nepal.

General Secretary Prakash Man Singh of the Nepali Congress (Democratic) party said: “Sustainable peace cannot be attained in the country by isolating the Maoists. The U.S. stance on unity among constitutional forces and isolation of the Maoists is not practical.”

Similarly, Ram Sharan Mahat, a leader of the Nepali Congress party, said the “political parties cannot reconcile with the king as advocated by the U.S. envoy.” Saying that Mr. Moriarty’s policies lack the framework of reconciliation, Mr. Mahat added that the “parties are trying to bring the Maoists to liberal democratic process.”

Krishna Khanal, a professor of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, said the “Maoists have taken an U-turn in their thinking and hence they should be given an opportunity for a safe landing.”

Analysts say there are signs of change in the policies of China and India toward Nepal’s crisis. India had been emphasizing a “twin-pillar theory” of bringing the king and parties together, while China was uncritical of the king’s actions.

‘Twin pillars’ collapse

K.V. Rajan, a former Indian ambassador to Nepal, said: “Well, these days I don’t see a lot of enthusiasm on the twin pillar theory,” while another former Indian ambassador, Deb Mukherjee, said: “I think it ceased to work a long time ago. … India will go by the likings and decisions of the people of Nepal.”

China, which had backed the royal regime, describing Nepal’s crisis as an “internal matter,” has shown signs of concern. Beijing called for a political dialogue in Nepal as a high-level Chinese delegation led by State Counselor Tang Jiaxun was to visit Nepal.

Press reports said the visit was postponed at the request of the royal government when it learned the Chinese delegation had scheduled meetings with the leaders of the seven-party alliance.

As monarchists and republicans spar for control of this Himalayan country, Nepal’s economy is in trouble. A leading economist has warned that the economy could collapse by June if effective measures are not taken immediately.

Raghab Dhoj Pant, executive director of the Institute for Development Studies, writes that due to high inflation and low growth of per capita income, the economy is heading toward stagflation.

Rebels to block roads

The Maoist rebels have announced a three-week blockade of major highways as well as Katmandu and other regional government headquarters beginning March 14, and have called for an indefinite nationwide strike beginning April 3.

As monarchists and republicans prepare for a showdown, human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have recorded human rights abuses by the Royal Nepali Army, are pressing the United Nations not to use the RNA in peacekeeping operations. They have also called for international sanctions against the royal regime.

Analysts say Gyanendra’s refusal to make peace with his own people has not only undermined the prestige of the monarchy but also pushed Nepal to the brink of disaster. They add that the graceful exit the rebels had offered him for several years may not be available in the future as the Maoists and the seven-party alliance prepare a coordinated political and military offensive against the backward-looking monarchy.

Chitra Tiwari can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]verizon.net.

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