Nepal’s ship of state is adrift, rudderless on the political high seas, even as the rocky shorelines it is set to crash into loom ahead in ominous silhouette. Meanwhile those on the cabinet and Constituent Assembly decks are fighting over chairs and spoils as is their wont, but those antics will hardly have any impact on the drift to impending doom. What matters are the deep undercurrents that are roiling the ship on the surface. What are these dark upwelling forces from the deep? Some recent incidents give enough indications, even as the political adventurism of 2006 plays out its tragedy to its logical farcical end.
Sometime back the Chinese PLA chief came to Nepal, completely ignored the Nepali Maoists PLA and signed billions worth of support to its nemesis, the Nepal Army – and not a squeak of protest was heard from the parties, their civil society mouthpieces, Maoist or otherwise, and even from the nosybody UNMIN’s failed EuroAmerican lefties that equated a national army with the insurgents. A few weeks ago, when the political leadership failed to end the deadlock over the future of Maoist combatants, the Nepal Army proposed its own modality – and all the leading lights of the 2006 movement against the King and his army, including the Maoists, lined up in the race to praise the army.
The Nepal Army has just these past weeks completed the one-year staff training course it runs in Shivapuri for its new crop of senior officers – and among the graduating officers were foreigners from China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The graduating Indian Sardarji officer even received the best thesis award for his research on Indian Naxalites and their threat to India’s security! It is said that the upcoming new batch will include Americans, Canadians and Malaysians. What makes Shivapuri so attractive to super and regional powers who have their own West Points, Dehra Duns, Abbotabads and Sandhursts? Nepal’s peace-keeping expertise abroad and counterinsurgency experience at home, said the army chief in his commencement speech.
There were news reports indicating that the Americans proposed a SOFA agreement with Nepal, essentially a treaty that allows extraterritorial right to members of the American armed forces in Nepal similar to the ones the US has with the allies it provides its security blanket to such as Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Instead of the Nepal government and the parties leading it deciding on such a momentous foreign policy issue, the draft was sent to the Nepal Army – who said, Nepal is too politically unstable currently and now is not the right time to sign such agreements. And that was that!
It is clear that a ceremonial army under the King has emerged in these five years to become a political army under Loktantra, and not just national political forces but also foreign ones are de facto recognizing it as such. What will this oldest, most disciplined Nepali institution do in August 28 as the self-perpetuating CA fails again, as widely believed it will, to deliver anything meaningful?
Another bit of forensic news was the Maoist leadership finally dispensing with the dual security they enjoyed, and sending their combatant-bodyguards and their weapons to the cantonments. What accounts for this unasked for alacrity when other even more critical issues of demobilization and constitution-making are deadlocked? The answer probably lies in the four rival factions that have emerged among the Maoists (five if you count the previous breakaways such as Matrika Yadav and others). Their hatred towards each other is more than what they feel about other parties including the monarchists. That they promise physical threats to rivals and deliver them effectively is something everyone in the politburo and central committee is only too aware of. Even a senior leader such as Baburam Bhattarai was threatened with liquidation at his very party headquarters recently, not that he is without previous experience in surviving such dangers. This intolerance of opposing views and the urge to destroy rivals before they destroy you is something that Leninist-Stalinist parties have genetically encoded in them as part of their historical upbringing. Could it be that the Maoist leadership that lived by the sword feels more threatened by its own sword-wielders than by its erstwhile foe, the disciplined and rule-abiding Nepal Army?
Against the backdrop of these undercurrents, the CA extended its own life, mercifully by only three months instead of the proposed twelve thanks to the Supreme Court’s intervention. It pledged itself to a 5-point agreement re-agreeing to do what the parties agreed to do three, even six years ago with the 12-point Delhi deal. The prime minister, who put his signature to the deal promising to resign to clear the way for a consensus government, is now a lame duck. But consensus is an impossible mirage: even the interim constitution did away with the consensus provision to allow for the political reality of a majority government. What unseemly circus will we see in the days ahead as this lame duck government proposes the budget for the coming year?