Its significance vis-à-vis Maoists: Carter visit

Former US president Jimmy Carter’s visit to Nepal evoked quite a widespread response. The response can be attributed to a variety of factors such as US continuing with the terrorist tag on the Maoists, misperception of the US government about the sincerity of the Maoists that they would join the democratic process by shunning violence and Maoist orthodoxy, and the effort to view the developments in Nepal through classical anti-communist prism. As Carter has his own distinct trait as a democratic leader who upholds the cause of freedom and peace for which he has earned the Nobel Prize, Nepalis were anxious to see him in Nepal in the context of constituent assembly (CA) polls. Although Carter lost his the presidential bid for the second term, his reputation continued to make him active in conflict resolution and peace endeavours.

Carter’s visit to Nepal and his meeting with the Maoist leaders was significant in two respects. First, Carter was free to take his independent line despite harsh public statements made by the representatives of the US government. Ambassador James F Moriarty’s active engagement in public debate that generally denounced Maoist atrocities across the country along with the occasional warnings that he dropped against the Maoists have either infuriated the public for his overindulgence in internal affairs, or, alternately, could have given solace to many who held that such open remarks against the Maoists were laudable, as the people still lacked the courage to openly speak against the latter. Many argued that it is none of Moriarty’s business as a diplomat whose activities could influence the course of Nepal’s politics at a time when all forces needed cooperation and coordination for a smooth transition to democracy.

Second, such official position notwithstanding, Carter’s visit is both symbolically and realistically important. Symbolically, the visit of a former US president of the stature of Carter and his meetings with all shades of public opinion-makers, including those still labelled terrorists, are significant. Despite its scant significance from US global and regional perspective, the visit matters for formulating a more accommodative policy towards the Maoists so that they could be engaged in the new politics of Nepal. Carter’s visit is also likely to create a sobering effect on the attitude of the Maoist leaders who seem to be anxious to find a new international legitimacy. Since the world is watching the new developments in Nepal, the actual transformation of insurgency launched with the élan of Maoist orthodoxy would be more substantive than the abolition of monarchy, though the election to CA and end of the monarchy were the two main objectives of the insurgency.

Interestingly, the US official position is not also hostile to the joining of the Maoists in the mainstream politics. The US government has not broken its links with the Eight Party Alliance and its government headed by G P Koirala despite its criticisms of the alleged Maoist atrocities across the country. It goes on reiterating that its formal recognition of the Maoist involvement in government is contingent upon the suspension of such activities that create adverse conditions for holding the CA polls, while continuing its cooperation to the Interim Government including the Maoists. So Carter’s opinion that the US administration should open communication with the Maoist leadership does not conflict with the de facto US recognition of ongoing developments.

Carter’s effort to reach out to as many groups as possible would indeed help reduce the differences existing between the marginalised communities and the government. His assessment of law and order situation and its impact on the CA and his call on the government to beef up the security agencies are also important. Nevertheless, creation of peaceful conditions is dependent on both the effective handling of the law and order situation and fulfilment of genuine demands put up by various marginalised/regional groups.

Some people also try to interpret the Carter visit as the direct US involvement instead of using India as a conduit for extension of American interests in Nepal vis-à-vis China. But this argument is farfetched that defies the emerging trends of power politics in South Asia. Since both India and China are developing closer ties in recent years, any Indian encouragement to US to offset the Chinese influence in Nepal is untenable. China’s emergence as a world power cannot be checked through Nepal, nor would India be inclined to do so when its own capability as an emerging power has of late earned it international recognition. What all powers want is that Nepal’s peace and democratic stability has to be maintained by all taking Nepal as a model for South Asian conflict resolution. Nepal’s case is simpler than meets the eye because of Maoist transition to pluralistic democracy to which all powers have reconciled. China’s unofficial contacts with the Maoists and its endorsement of the regime change in Nepal have also to be seen in this light.

Prof Baral is executive chairman, NCCS