Correct priority

The consistency with which Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been pursuing the goal of quelling Maoist terrorism has been remarkable. This is one area where his mentor and predecessor Girija Prasad Koirala had failed miserably mainly because he was not quite sure whether Maoism was a political problem or an act of terrorism. Often times Koirala said it was both. His other declaration that he would fight corruption and provide good governance fared even worse after he unceremoniously shunted his own colleague K P Bhattarai out of power. The problems went from bad to worse under Koirala, who said he would hold talks with the Maoists, then changed his mind to mobilisation of the army to crush the rebellion. He ended up doing nothing. Koirala’s indecision was in fact a boon in disguise to the Maoists who needed to organise and expand. Deuba took over when Koirala abruptly resigned, blaming his failure on the army’s refusal to cooperate with him, thus dragging the army and, by implication, the royal palace into political controversy. Then came Deuba, who even before he was officially sworn in as the prime minister, offered the Maoists an olive branch that resulted in a ceasefire followed by three rounds of talks. While the fourth round of talk was about to begin, the Maoists sprang up a surprise by attacking the army camp at Dang. All prospects of a negotiated end to the problem thus went down the drain.

Deuba was forced into taking a number of unpleasant but correct decisions relating to the Maoist terrorism – clamping a state of emergency, outlawing the Communist party of Nepal (Maoists) and its affiliated organisations and mobilising the army. While the military campaign continues, Deuba visiting three important capitals, namely, New Delhi, Washington and London to seek increased military and development assistance. The strongest support has come from US President George W Bush, who is seeking Congressional approval for a US$ 20 million in military aid in addition to the development assistance of US$ 38 million to Nepal. On card is a trip to Beijing and some other countries for their strong support to the government in its fight against Maoist terrorism. The security forces, fighting the terrorists under adverse weather conditions in hostile geographical terrain with poor logistics and other supplies, are confident that they would force the rebels to surrender as soon as military hardware starts arriving. It is strange that while the security forces are achieving progress on this front, Koirala suddenly jerks to dislodge Deuba, who in a slight the other day likened the ruling party headquarters at Teku as a place where terrorists are sheltered. The outburst is understandable, especially in view of the fact that until recently Koirala was blaming the extension of emergency on “activities of the extraneous forces.” His loyalists have even gone to the extent of calling it a “conspiracy hatched by Deuba and the royal palace to sabotage democracy.” Such quixotic thoughts are likely to cause more harm to Koirala’s image, if not to the ruling party. November 13 parliamentary polls are not so far away.

Let it be an example

Another first-in-Asia conservation project is in the offing. This initiative also has many stakeholders converging in for the conservation of Nepal’s three priority areas. These are Kanchanjunga and its neighbourhoods, Makalu-Barun National Park and its buffer zones – both in northeast Nepal – while the third area comprises the contiguous districts of Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur in west Nepal’s lowlands beneath the Churia Range. The partners supporting the project, Nepal Biodiversity Landscape Project, a brainchild of the ministry of forest and soil conservation (MOSFC) are UNDP, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), and SNV. The eight-year-cycle project areas – included in the Global 200 eco-regions – will cost nearly nine million US dollars and will be proportionately shared by the players.

The project approach is to strengthen the links between the protected areas and their surrounding productive landscapes and to enable community-based sustainable development simultaneously with biodiversity conservation. This is an exemplary replication in the Kanchanjunga and Makalu-Barun regions of the internationally-acclaimed people-and-parks-oriented Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and Sagarmatha National Park, while the Bardia-Kailali-Kancharpur flank will see the proven results of the Royal Chitwan National Park and Parsa Wildlife Reserve. The project encompasses 40 village development committees, and will benefit over half a million people.

The selected conservation areas also encourage and allow Nepal to play an important geo-political role in Asia. For the conservation projects in Makalu-Barun and Kanchanjunga reguions, Tibet in China must also be made aware of the effort and be invited to participate as an active player in the southern extensions of their nature basins. India’s role is equally crucial in the biodiversity of the Kanchanjunga triangle between Nepal, Tibet in China and Sikkim in India. The Bardia-Kailali-Kanchanpur segment should be purely in the joint interests of both Nepal and India as these three districts form the western borderline between the two countries.

In all the three project areas, the Himalayan and its foothill fauna and flora and peoples-and-parks regimes are paramount because these are the home of such rare species as the Royal Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinoceros, wild elephants, swamp deer, black bucks, four-horned antelopes, hispid hares and Gangetic dolphins. While considering the region’s other exotic fauna and flora, the biodiversity projects should also be equally mindful of the minority and backward aboriginal and indigenous tribes and groups living there, practicing their traditional ways and cultural habits. All these sensitive and fragile issues must be handled carefully by the stakeholders while planning, coordinating and managing the tasks at all levels. The sensitisation also includes strengthening institutional capacities for scientific and participatory management of the delicate natural resources of the target areas. The success of this first-in-Asia biodiversity conservation effort will be fit for world replication, in which case it will be an example of fruitful partnership among like-minded players.