How India, America and China Influenced Nepali Peace
How India, the US and China influenced political events during the recent crisis in Nepal? JAYA RAJ ACHARYA explains.
Nepal today is in a very critical phase of its history. The country is planning to hold Constituent Assembly elections which will decide upon important things including the institution of monarchy which has been there for the past 250 years or so.
The series of events were caused by a Maoist insurgency beside many other things. And of course, Nepal being very susceptible to international pressures throughout its history also experienced a lot of diplomatic pressures as in past. When I arrived at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) as a senior fellow, with the study topic “Nepal’s Maoist Insurgency: Diplomatic Approaches for Resolution,” the first question I was asked was this: Do the Nepali Maoists get help from China or where does the support to them come from? Where do they get their arms and money from?
Some of the friends also asked me how come the greatest fighters of the world— the Gurkha soldiers in the royal Nepal army (now Nepal Army)-- could not quell the insurgency? The third set of question they asked was: Do the Maoists really mean peace? What makes them come to the peace negotiations? Was there some internal or external diplomatic pressures?
I would like to focus here on the third question. I will focus on the diplomatic approaches of India, United States and China—three most important and influential countries as far as Nepal’s foreign relations are concerned. Of course, there are other sources of diplomatic pressures and countries, such as the United Kingdom which has the longest diplomatic relations with Nepal beginning in 1816. And the United Nations, the very important world body, the European Union, Switzerland—another land-locked country in Europe and World Bank and Japan, which is the largest donor in Nepal, but they are outside the scope of this article.
First, I will identify what the three countries used as their diplomatic strategies and then I will elaborate a little bit afterwards.
The main point of this paper is that King Gyanendra, who is the 11th generation King, after his ancestors unified Nepal in the second half of the eighteenth century, lost power particularly because by means of his Februay 1, 2005 takeover he forced the political parties to align with the Maoists ignoring the advice given to him by the Indian, the American and other friends of Nepal. The second point of this paper is that the Indian diplomatic efforts to bring about the Seven Party alliance and Maoists’ understanding opened the peace process and began the restoration of democracy.
The third point to remember is that the American diplomatic approach of coordinating efforts with the regional power that is India worked better this time than a unilateral approach. Before the February takeover, the international pressure was on the Maoists. After the king’s takeover, the international pressure was on him, because every friend of Nepal thought that the king’s takeover was a politically wrong step. And everybody urged him as much as they could to correct it as soon as possible. But the king did not listen and eventually what happened was the parliamentary political parties who were struggling to restore multiparty democracy were forced to join in an alliance with the Maoists. So before the November 2006 agreement and then the April 2006 agreement there were huge rallies and public protests in Kathmandu and other important cities. So the king had to accept the demands of the political parties and restore the parliament.
Indian diplomatic approach was seen to be five-pronged. I could call it even a pentagonal approach. First, India tried to reconcile constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy with each other as the two pillars of peace and stability. At the same time, India also put pressure on king by demanding the restoration of democracy, human rights, freedom of the press, civil liberty and establish normalcy in the country. Third, India being the largest and the almost sole military hardware and training supplier to Nepal, continued having relations with the army, because India was also concerned that Nepal Army was also receiving military assistance from other countries, such as US, UK, Belgium, and nominally China. India was bit concerned about that and they needed to keep a balance in their favor. Fourth, India put the pressure on Maoists themselves. Fifth, when the king did not listen to their advice, they started facilitating meetings and dialogues between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists.
In contrast, American approach was four-pronged. First, America provided military assistance to Nepal Army. Second, they put pressure on king to restore democracy. Third, they indirectly put pressure on the Maoists by putting them on Terrorist Watch List. Incidentally, the State Department has not taken off the terrorist tag from the Maoists. Fourth, the American ambassadors and other US friends tried to bring the King and other political parties to reconciliation, which unfortunately did not work.
The Chinese diplomatic approach was also four-pronged. Traditionally, the Chinese have been supporting the king for their own reason which I will explain later. It may sound paradoxical to many that even during the Cold War (during the 60s, 70s, and 80s), China was supporting the king. Second, China was also providing assistance to Nepal Army although it seemed recently that it did so not without consulting India. Third, the Chinese called for reconciliation between the King and the political parties, which other powers also did. Finally, China really expressed a clear message for reconciliation between the king and the political parties. So China moved from its sole dependence on the King to his ability to restore peace and democracy in Nepal to the King reconciling with the political parties. So it was a gradual move from the king to the political parties.
Let me go back to the Indian approach and explain it a little bit. As I said earlier, India’s policy in Nepal was to support the twin pillars of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. Even before the King took over, there was a conference supposedly funded by the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was addressed by the Indian foreign secretary Shyam Sharan who said the Maoists want to abolish monarchy, they want to abolish multi-party democracy, so you have to make sure that the system survives—the system of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. These overtures, in deed, messages were probably not heeded. The king took over (Feb. 2005) after this conference which was held sometimes in December 2004. India responded promptly. It refused to participate in SAARC summit that was to be held just about one week after that. Because of India’s refusal, the summit was postponed. One month after takeover, the king’s foreign minister visited New Delhi and met with the Indian external minister Natwar Singh who told the king, according the press release issued by the Indian embassy in Kathmandu on March 7, 2005 that India was disappointed with his step, which had deepened the crisis and could endanger monarchy itself. Despite the need for being diplomatic, the foreign secretary could not be clearer or stronger than this. As the unfolding events showed, the king lost all the powers.
Now the king is not regarded even as the head of the state. That position has been given to the interim prime minister. The foreign diplomats now present their credentials to the PM, not the king. After a month or two, following the restoration of parliament, India resumed the supply of certain military supplies. As part of their third strategy, India put pressure on Maoists, arrested them and put them in jails in India and extradited some of them to the authorities in Nepal. Before, the Maoists had been moving freely in India because Nepal and India have an open border, more open than US-Canada border.
The final and the most important component was the facilitation of reconciliation between the political parties and the Maoists. There were newspaper reports that Maoist leaders were visiting India daily, particularly striking was the meeting between the second top Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Prakash Karat, a communist party member in the Indian parliament. They were classmates in Jawaharlal University in New Delhi in the 70s. That was a controversial meeting, and there were press confirmations in India and Nepal and then there were denials and again confirmations. The Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh clarified that India would not meddle into Nepal’s affairs but it supported the cause of democracy there. Then there were visits to India by Madhav Nepal and Bamdev Gautam, leaders of Nepal’s largest communist party, the United Marxist Leninist (UML). The present PM GP Koirala, who was then the President of Nepali Congress (NC), also visited. The modern pervasive media spotlight is such that those behind-the-screen meetings did not remain secret.
As a result of those meetings, the SPA and the Maoists reached an agreement which is a watershed agreement in Nepal’s history. And I think Nepal is not going to be the same old Nepal anymore.
American approach was different in that the US sought an alliance between the King and the political parties, not between the parties and the Maoists. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his January 2002 visit to Nepal (first visit to Nepal by any US State secretary), met with the king, premier and army chief. In May that same year, Nepal’s PM visited the US president in the White House (first Nepali PM to visit the White House). Subsequently, I think the US government promised to supply 20,000 M16 rifles and two cobra helicopters as military aid to Nepal. However, after the king’s takeover and in consultation with the Indian security establishment, the US reduced the number to only 3,500 guns.
The US also put pressure on the king. After the royal takeover, ambassador Moriarty met King Gyanendra almost every month, he said in a newspaper interview that he met the king 12 or 13 times to persuade him to restore democracy and to reach out to the political parties. Unusual in Nepal-US relations— very senior senators— Senator Richard Lugar, Joseph Biden, Chuck Hagel, Patrick Leahy wrote to Conda Lisa-Rice and they followed on. They wrote to the king himself. There were a series of meetings between high ranking officials and press statements. Christina Rocca, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, visited many times. Donald Camp, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia, visited many times. They issued statements which the king should have read very carefully. And the reconciliation requested by all diplomats did not come.
As I said before, the US government also put the Maoists on Terrorist Watch List and they are still on the List. However, they have come to power, although they are a small component in the coalition government. But they have a very strong, popular basis, whether it is true or whether it is based on intimidation, terror or whatever.
In the beginning the Chinese were very confident that the king would be able to bring peace and order in the country. However, even after the king’s takeover, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman suggested that Nepal was a friendly country and whatever had happened in Nepal was an internal affair and that China hoped that the Nepalese people would be able to forge ahead in the path of peace and prosperity. That was very non-committal of them.
China did provide some military aid in 1989, although it caused concern in India. Following that, India had imposed blockade against Nepal as a punitive measure and that had resulted in the king’s direct rule. But China again did provide military aid, this time in 2005. Nepal Army chief went to Beijing and had a meeting with General Liang Guanglie, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army of China. About a million-dollar worth weapons were given to Nepal.
But then it looked as if the Chinese were gradually realizing the need for the king to reach out to the political parties. A statement of the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson indicated that. The spokesperson said that there was the need for the king and the political parties to reconcile. As the final stroke of this realization, in mid-March 2006, just about a moth before the April uprisings, the State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China Tang Jiaxuan, visited Kathmandu and met with a wide range of opposition party leaders. The Chinese leaders were careful not to met with opposition party leaders ever before. Addressing a large audience of party leaders and diplomats in Kathmandu Jiaxuan emphasized the need for all the constitutional forces to work through dialogue in the interest of the country and the people. One month after that there were the uprisings and that was the final act.
Recently the Nepali government has decided to hold the Constituent Assembly elections in November. It will all depend on the law and order situation of the country.
Dr. Jaya Raj Acharya, who served as Nepal’s permanent representative to the UN during the early 1990s, is a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow (October 2006-July 2007) at the Washington D.C.-based United States Institute of Peace. This article is slightly edited by Nepal Monitor and is based on his presentation of June 26 at USIP.
Posted by Editor on July 18, 2007 3:08 AM