Monday, May 11, 2009

Sponsored Coalition

Never-ending speculation about the fate of army chief Rookmangud Katawal came to an end following the Maoists’ unilateral decision to sack him (only to be reinstated by the president). The Maoists went ahead and did what they had decided to do anyways, despite stern warnings from all quarters – coalition partners, the main opposition party Nepali Congress, and most importantly, India that had provided the Maoists leaders safe haven during the decade-long insurgency.The NC, which not a very long ago, along with the Maoists chided the army for being a feudal institution, came out openly against the sacking of the army chief. All of a sudden, the NC, which had once agreed with the Maoists for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) integration, is rooting for the man that is against the PLA merger. Why change of heart and why now?

With the Maoists’ increasing dominance in Nepali politics and their reluctance to abandon violence, the NC clearly saw doomsday coming. Unable to stand the Maoists’ wrath on its own, it found a perfect shield in Katawal. But the question that baffles many is: why did India decide to back the army to which it had once refused to supply arms? How does it look on the part of the world´s largest democracy when it has to covertly back an army general of a neighboring country to correct its foreign policy failures?India likes to blame the victims – Nepalis – for the current mess in Nepal and call it Nepal’s internal affair. But for Nepalis, who very well know where the top-rung Maoists leaders were during the decade-long insurgency (the Maoist leaders have themselves time and again acknowledged the Indian hospitality) and who catapulted insurgents from jungle to the corridors of Singha Durbar, sharing the burden of someone else’s faults has not been fun.

It is not the increasing dominance of the Maoist party in Nepali politics but its willingness to become the mentee of China that forced India to back Katawal. India had no option but to back Katawal because the political parties of yesteryears neither have the motivation, nor the muscle power to wrestle with the Maoists at this point in time. The backing of Katawal is another addition to the list of foreign policy failures of India but the cost of remaining a lame spectator would be even greater in terms of India’s national security interests.While the political parties of yesteryears are looking up to India to rescue them, for India, it is all about “safe landing” in Nepal. So, in the days ahead, the real confrontation will be between the Maoists and India, obviously through the Nepal Army and the coalition that India has put together. Will India be able to beat the Maoists on their home turf? It is an uphill battle.

How long will the Indian-sponsored coalition last? Not very long. The need for coalition has to come from within the parties for it to last. There has to be a shared goal.This is precisely why the SPAM alliance did not last long. The Maoists were clear about why they wanted to be a part of the current framework and what they wanted out of it, whereas the other political parties were clueless about what they would do if they failed to defeat the Maoists in the CA election. Basically, they had no clue about what they would do after the country was declared a republic. They were all convinced that the Maoist party will stick to the multi-party democratic framework and will not dare to act against India’s dictate. The coalition fell apart simply because there was disconnect between the end goal of the Maoists and other parties. For the Maoists, it was always about capturing the state, which should be clear to all those deniers out there. It was never about reintegration, because that simply means accepting the existing order against which the Maoists wedged the People’s War.

India, for its national security interest, will try to maintain political stability in Nepal through this coalition, but the costs of doing that will be several times higher than what it would have taken for Indians to contain the Maoists insurgency. What will it take for this coalition to work for a decent period? Basically, three things: (1) huge amount of money on the table that will produce visible changes in terms of both immediate needs (solving energy crisis – electricity and fuel shortages) and long-term development (this will act as the proverbial carrot and help change peoples’ perception about the dubious game that India plays in Nepal) (2) Logistical support to security forces and heavy security presence on the southern side of the border (will act as the proverbial stick and force Maoists to renegotiate terms and condition of the peace process) (3) Full-time mentoring to the politicians. A detailed short-term plan to contain the Maoists and long-term plan to weaken them should be crafted and handed over to the politicians and security forces.

In the meantime, another framework should be developed and force the Maoists to agree to it. The current peace process is not working. It is producing everything but peace and stability. Hence, salvaging the process is not the issue at hand. The process needs to be re-engineered from the word go. Why? Because it is now evident beyond any refute that the strategic end goals for the negotiating parties are diametrically opposite. One wants a single-party communist republic; the others want a vibrant democratic polity. We need to decide here what each of us wants Nepal to become. If we want a liberal multi-party set up, then there´s a huge problem. If we want a single party communist republic, then there´s the Maoist path.The twelve-point agreement has outlived its utility. It has been producing everything but peace and political stability. Now we need to formulate a completely new agreement where the vision, the strategic end-state, is common to all parties. This is the starting point – agreement on an end-goal – from which all tactical steps and processes must evolve.


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