Monday, April 27, 2009

Strategic Intent

Annie Lowrey of Foreign Policy, the award-winning magazine of global politics, economics, and ideas founded by Samuel Huntington and Warren Demian Manshel lists Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s government as one of the five governments worldwide that deserves to fail. One of the major charges against him is that he has been unable to maintain political stability and contain violence. Lowrey asserts, “Prachanda must maintain political stability and avoid any violence at all costs – or Nepal risks catastrophe.”

Lowrey correctly identifies what needs to be done in order to avert catastrophe, which in my view is not that difficult, but whether or not Prime Minister Dahal is doing enough to maintain political stability and contain violence is the most important question. Is Lowrey overreacting? No! Somalia and Afghanistan are excellent examples that showcase what political instability and violence can do to a nation.

Some of us think that political instability and violence are part of a package that a nation trying to take a giant leap has to live with for a while. But how long should that period be allowed to exist? The shorter, the better. And, it really depends upon the ability of the political leadership of the country in question to understand what political instability and violence can do to the overall economy and social fabric. For example, in poor landlocked Botswana, a unique form of democracy combining British parliamentary ideas with African traditions has been functioning well since the 1960s. A free press and a lively political system have developed. One of the many reasons why Botswana is a functional democracy in a largely dysfunctional continent is because the statesmen that took over were mindful of the importance of political stability and law and order in the country. On the contrary, seemingly endless ethnic conflicts in Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Chad, Angola, Ethiopia, and the Congo have cost many millions and made these countries highly unstable. One of the major reasons behind political instability in these countries is that the politicians deliberately invoke "ethnic action and nationalism", for ulterior motives, to achieve political and economic objectives. When that happens conflict takes shape of a vicious circle with no end in sight making political instability a norm rather than an exception.

We have started to see similar signs in Nepal too. While lawlessness continues, politicians talk as if a peaceful democratic transition can be taken for granted. But it cannot. Failure to combat lawlessness and instability undermines a country´s stock of ´social´ capital - that is, the relations of inter-group solidarity and cohesion which allow negotiation, compromise, and agreement between opposing factions. In Nepal, the consequence of the failure to stem the vortex of violence and lawlessness is that the country is fragmenting into an archipelago of competing power factions. Unless these centrifugal forces are contained, the country will drift further and further from a social compact.

The question, however, in the case of Nepal is whether or not Dahal is interested in maintaining political stability and containing violence? If the answer is yes, why is political instability and violence increasing with each passing day?Anyone following Nepali politics closely knows very well that the Maoists want more political violence and chaos—not less. If you look at the Maoists movement, it becomes evident that as the frequency and magnitude of their violent activities increased, so did their level of recognition and their domination over the existing political parties and the state got greater. For the Maoists, violence pays and as long as they benefit politically from it, they are not going to abandon violence. It’s a no-brainer. The chief ideologue of the Maoist movement, Baburam Bhattarai, has openly admitted that violence and chaos benefits his party politically. If violence did not matter and benefit them politically, they would not have formed the Young Communist League (YCL).

Unlike visionary statesmen such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Nelson Mandela, who followed acts of destruction with greater acts of construction, Nepali Maoists ideologues’ quench for destruction seems to have no boundary. Nehru and Mandela fought tirelessly against oppression and injustices, but after coming to power, they spent many years preserving the systems that their predecessors had put in place. Once in power, Mandela, who had approved radical and violent resistance to apartheid, reached out to White’s to create a multicultural South Africa. Maybe, it is absurd to compare Bhattarai – who thinks destruction alone will pave the way for construction – with Nehru, who preserved existing institutions, which he rightly thought was necessary to build a modern democratic state. The point I am trying to make here is that people without violent streaks have proved to be more constructive in world history. If destruction was the only way towards construction, Somalia and Afghanistan by now would have been the most prosperous state on the face of this earth.It is time that we, Nepalis, realize that putting too much faith on politicians will only result in disappointment.

The moderates within the society need to come out before it is too late. We need to force the state to address the genuine grievances of ethnic minorities and maintain law and order. It is not the ordinary Nepali citizens who are blocking the emancipation of ethnic groups. It is the ruling coalition’s largest partner which is not able to fulfill the promises that it made on its way to get where they are today. Why should an ordinary Nepali struggling to remain afloat pay the price for someone else’s wayward political ambitions?


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