Monday, August 3, 2009

Dealing with the nightmare

In Nepal, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As a matter of fact, one can argue, and argue pretty convincingly, that the more things change, the more they get worse. The general public would be happy if they stayed the same, as things have lately been deteriorating beyond one’s belief. Here is an example. The culture of gun-totting progressive politics initiated by the Maoists and glorified by the civil society pundits is being replicated in every nook and corner of the country. According to the home ministry’s latest report, there are 109 armed groups operating within Nepal. Soon every household in the country will have weapons like in North Western frontier province of Pakistan. All peasants empowered. Progressive politics cannot get better than that, can it?

The rise of criminal outfits in the name of ethnic resistance is a distinctive form of organized crime and reflects more than just the temporary dislocations and uncertainties of the country’s transition to a free-market democracy. When killings of innocent civilians are rationalized in the name of progress, what you end up getting is more killings, not less. It is common sense. Forming a criminal group that operates under the guise of ethnic resistance is the easiest part. What is hard, however, is shielding such outfits from possible crackdown by security forces. For that, you have to have the backing of political parties and support of the elites within the ethnic minorities who can blow tons of hot air when one of these criminals gets killed or trapped into the security force’s net.

People wonder why the law and order situation is not improving with the change of government. The simple answer is that except for the general public, who has to work hard to make ends meet, everyone else is benefiting from it, especially the political parties. Let’s take an example of criminal groups that have infested the Tarai. India wants them because it can use them at key moments; the regional Madhesi parties want them because they provide a solid back-up; the NC and UML use them at key moments and think they are useful because they provide competition to the Madhesi parties. Why would you go after people that might be of some use to further your agenda down the road?

Recently, Superintendent of Police Ramesh Kharel was transferred from Siraha, where he had been undertaking a special initiative to deal with criminal activities. The elites, blinded with ethnic vendetta, hated him because he was really getting good at containing criminal activities taking place in the name of politics. But instead of praising him for his hard work, he is being accused of human rights violations by elites within the ethnic minorities in the Tarai. What about the human rights violations these criminals are engaged in? They are actively engaged in everything from fleecing local businessmen and relatively well-to-do citizens to abductions and killings of innocent civilians. Think about the overall socioeconomic costs of their antisocial activities.

I am not surprised by the condemnation coming from the supporters of these criminals who see the work of our men in uniform through ethnic lenses but what surprises me the most is the transfer of an officer, who was pretty successful in curbing criminal activities, by the home minister who says he is all for maintaining law and order. Madhav Kumar Nepal’s government, which was born because of Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s miscalculations, appears bewildered and directionless. It is a classical case of not knowing what to do with an unexpected and under deserved bounty.

Kharel is one of the thousands of brave men and women in the security sector that put their lives in harms way so that, we, the general public, feel safe. But these men and women get repeatedly betrayed by the politicians who send them to political landmines. It happened with the Nepali Army during the insurgency and now it is being repeated with the Nepal Police. The professionals from the police and army are never applauded for their hard work. Especially, the army is always at the crosshair of leftist politicians and left-leaning civil society pundits and human rights defenders. Despite being confined to the barracks and adhering to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the army has not been left out of the political games being played out in the country’s highly-politicized media landscape. And, particularly the political pundits, depending on which side of the political divide they identify with, have often found political angles for stories demonizing the army.

It is not very hard to understand why they want to constantly drag the security forces into the political debate. The threat of military intervention in politics increases when civilian leaders fail to provide “good government” and earn their legitimacy by solving the problems plaguing the country. When politicians cannot deliver, what they typically do –and this is true to all failing nations like ours – is blame the military for hatching conspiracies. As political legitimacy dwindles, the game of preempting military intervention into politics increases. The talk about civilian supremacy over the army that the Maoists regurgitated endlessly after Dahal’s government collapsed was nothing but a move towards what Samuel P. Huntington called subjective control of the military. It entails ideological indoctrination of the armed forces as well as promoting rivalries between the various branches of the military. It is right out of the “red book” of the former Soviet Union’s communists.

The politicians, irrespective of their position in the political spectrum, will continue to suffer from the nightmare of army intervention till they successfully create a state structure to promote a national identity aimed at enticing diverse groups to identify with the new order, determine the level of popular participation in political processes suitable to multi-party democratic framework, and organize the fair distribution of wealth. It is not too late to work on these fronts. Instead of trying to remain relevant in politics by attacking the last functioning institution, do the right thing. The best way to preempt possible military intervention in politics is by ensuring good governance. This will leave military elites with no options to develop such an inclination nor the opportunity to intervene in politics.

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