By Kamal Raj SigdelKa Leo Contributing Writer
Posted on Kaleo.org: 9/29/08
Nepal's democracy faces two major challenges: the Maoists' continued enchantment with the communist ideals and their reluctance to fully democratize themselves, even after entering into the multi-party democracy, and China and India's increased interest in Nepal's politics.
Indeed, the new Maoist Prime Minister, Prachanda is having a hard time. The illusive rebel leader, who did not even exist to many Nepalis' until recently, is now busy making the rounds garnering support to rebuild the war-torn country.
However, to everyone's surprise, Prachanda began as a true communist; he chose to begin his visit with China, and not with India. He went against the Nepali tradition, and reportedly offended India. Many democrats took it as an alarm-a communist with a history of a bloody war that killed more than 13,000 civilians preferred to break bread with communist neighbor China, ignoring the invitation of India.
Prachanda's visit to China was meaningful in that it was not limited to the Olympic Closing ceremony. Prachanda met both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao and discussed issues ranging from bilateral cooperation on security and Tibet to development assistance and trade. He also went one step further, paying a symbolic visit to Mao's ancestral village that inspired Maoist guerillas in Nepal. This raised eyebrows in India.
In fact, Prachanda seems to be more worried about gaining support from China than in striking a balance and, of course, in correcting his cadres' undemocratic practices, returning the occupied land of innocent civilians, stopping abductions and intimidation, or reigning in the Young Communist League (YCL), a Maoist sister paramilitary organization, and in teaching democratic values and norms.
Ever since the day he won the election, Prachanda has been saying that he wanted to review the India-Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950, because it was "unequal." In the face of his desire to redefine Nepal-India relations (albeit a good thing in itself), it was a clear message to India that the new red leader wanted to ignore them and side with a fellow communist nation.
Just when Prachanda was breaking bread with Chinese leaders in Beijing, one of the India's largest selling dailies, The Times of India, splashed a news headline that read, "Nepal PM Prachanda chooses China over India."
Prachanda faces both challenges and opportunities of being sandwiched between two of the world's fastest growing economies. The first king PN Shah had a good understanding of Nepalese geopolitical locus when he described it as a "yam between two boulders."
Accordingly, one of the major challenges is to strike a balance in foreign policy in the face of the growing interests of the two giant neighbors so that it won't be crushed as would a yam between two giant boulders. In a bid to balance his relation, Prachanda visited India subsequently but he still fails to allay the Indian fear that the new leader is playing what they call the "China card."
As the Maoists have not articulated their terms of engagement with foreign powers, there is always a room for them to play, or for themselves to be carried away. In fact, both the neighboring giants have increased concerns in Nepal. Increasing Chinese pressure in suppressing Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu and Indian role in shaping many domestic policies and political parties are some of the examples of interventions. Given the Maoists' wavering faith in democracy and perceived likelihood of being carried away by external influences, it is feared that the peace process will be derailed.
Under these circumstances, the Maoists would do better if they completely gave up their faith in arms, fully democratized themselves and institutionalized democracy. It is too decent of the Maoists not to think of China as an alternative, be it in supplies or in finding a back up for a red takeover.
Prachanda has to realize the country's critical geopolitical location. Only a balanced foreign policy could garner a wide support so that the peace process can be taken to a logical end. There are also risks of the peace process falling apart, particularly in the two big powers not acting wisely. Nepal, therefore, needs warm and open support from both of its powerful, but competing, neighbors. (The writer can be reached at kamal.sigdel [at] gmail.com)
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