International Papers

Mao Are You, Kathmandu?

The predominant image of Nepal is shifting from mountainous Shangri-La to nation at war. This week, as the violence escalated, Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visited Washington to plead for help in the government’s battle against Maoist rebels. As expected, President Bush offered moral support and asked Congress to approve $20 million of extra aid to supplement Nepal’s annual $33 million grant. The Kathmandu Post explained why Kathmandu was becoming more significant to Washington: “First since Sept 11 US has been at the forefront in the global war against terrorism; second, assisting young democracies has been an enduring foreign policy priority for the super power.” (I guess they didn’t hear about Venezuela!)

In Britain, both the Times and the Guardian published background Q and A’s on the Nepalese civil war, ahead of Deuba’s visit to London next week. According to the Guardian, the conflict started in 1996 when the Maoists withdrew from Nepal’s official multiparty democratic system. Strong in the rural west of the country and modeled on Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas, the Maoists want to abolish the monarchy and set up a “people’s republic.” The conflict worsened after the palace massacre of June 2001, because, according to the Times, “The Maoists have been able to take advantage of disillusionment with the monarchy following those events, and especially of the unpopularity of the new King.” Last November, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency, which gives the army sweeping powers. More than 3,500 have been killed in the six years of conflict, about half of them since November. This week the government rejected the rebels’ offer of a one-month cease-fire, saying the insurgents must first disarm. The violence has scared away tourists, who are key to the nation’s economy.

The Times of India said Deuba’s meeting with Bush was a sign that several major powers were fighting for influence in Nepal:

China, Nepal’s neighbor to the north, has long shadowboxed India, which has historical stakes in the world’s only Hindu kingdom. And more recently, Pakistan has troubled India by ramping up its own operations in Nepal. … US officials say Washington’s interest … stems only from its concern that the kingdom should not become another hotbed of insurgency and terrorism … and has nothing to do with the US getting a toehold there to snoop against or interpose itself between China or India.

The Daily Telegraph said that Britain should “respond generously” to Deuba’s requests for aid to improve education, health care, and infrastructure, as well as to his appeal for military assistance. However, it added, donors can reasonably make reciprocal demands of Nepal’s political class: “First, greater constitutional checks and balances are required to counter rampant corruption; a scandalous proportion of government revenue is unaccounted for. Second, what authority the government possesses is being undermined by in-fighting within the ruling Nepali congress. … It is now up to members of parliament to root out venality and factionalism.”