US approach Nepal has been wronged

Is it disturbing to find the US ‘disturbed’ by Nepal for imprisoning former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on charges of corruption? Being the superpower, the US does not get ordinarily disturbed. But when it gets disturbed for right or wrong reasons, we know what it could do, even like it did in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the Deuba incarceration is not likely to anger the White House to treat Nepal at par with these Muslim countries. An American action comparable to those in Afghanistan and Iraq calls for personal attention of President Bush. The Deuba episode is surely not big enough to provoke a big retaliation.

The only way to draw serious attention of President Bush is to raise the spectre of ‘terrorism’ in Nepal because terrorism is his most hated word. That is what the then Prime Minister Deuba did in 2002 during his visit to Washington DC even though he failed to establish a link between Al Qaeda and the Maoists. That is what King Gyanendra is expected to do in September when he visits the US. Millions of dollars worth of weapons flowed into Nepal following the Deuba persuasion. A repeat of the military assistance is difficult this time because the issue of terrorism got mixed up with the equally important issue of democracy, rather its demise.

The first term of President Bush marked his fight against terrorism and he found rapport with those standing by him. There, Deuba had an easy time. However President Bush laid stress, for his second term, on promotion of democracy the world over. The latest version of Bush doctrine is explained as “anti-terrorism but pro-democracy”. That American policy fitted well in the Afghan and Iraq situations and the process of translating it into practice is still continuing. But Nepal is different. Americans are finding themselves in a big quandary when they tried to apply the same theory here but it did not work.

Despite all the important American visitors right from Christina Rocca down to Tom Daschle reiterating the need for the King and the political parties to come together, they are falling increasingly apart. Americans feel flustered to find the King of Nepal speaking the way President Bush did following the 9/11 incident, “You are with us or against us.” King Gyanendra has accordingly granted only two choices at home and abroad “either support me or the terrorists.” That is a completely different paradigm from the Bush doctrine of ‘supporting democracy and opposing terrorism’. Will these doctrines be reconciled if at all? And, if so, how will it be done is yet to be seen.

At a time when the Americans were in a position to pressurise both the rebels and the state to settle their disputes, they pleased the army and displeased the Maoists. Did not the outgoing US envoy, Mike Malinovsky go out of his way to pamper the Nepali army by visiting the military barracks to boost up their morale not only by verbal support but also by hardware supplies for war? When the army, following the royal takeover, is claiming victory over the rebel forces, should not it feel let down by the Americans stopping all lethal supplies?

The Americans are finding fault with the royal action of suspending or destroying democracy. But, when US ambassador James Moriarty said the Maoists would never be allowed to occupy Kathmandu, would the King not have a reason to be assured of American support in suppressing the insurgency? Why would he not try to run the country single-handedly when he has his capital secured under the declared American protection against any rebel invasion? The assurance resembles his colleague’s nod to Saddam on the planned 1991 Kuwait invasion. In relation to the parties, the Americans are adopting an equally wrong attitude of ‘blow cold and blow hot’. At a time when agitation was picking up following Oct. 4, 2002, the American envoys intervened and tried their best to cool it down with an assurance of striking an understanding with the King. But it did not happen. When the political agitation got really cold after direct royal takeover in February, the Americans are trying to heat it up.

Even the Maoists have reason to have grudges against the American attitude. Many Americans described the Maoists as a political force and a product of poverty, deprivation and exploitation. They admit the Maoists are not a part of Al Qaeda network. When they tried to cultivate an understanding with the American officials in Kathmandu during the peace talks in 2002 and 2003, they let the rebels down by refusing to talk to them. It was the turn of the Maoists, when called upon for a ceasefire and peace talks, to let the Americans down.

Where the Nepalis feel badly let down is the way Americans revived their old culture of looking at Nepal through Indian eyes. It is painful to find Americans not appreciating Nepal’s painstaking exercise over the last 50 years to extricate it from any foreign sphere of influence. The US is seen doing nothing but wrong to Nepal except pouring in a few millions of dollars of which a major portion travels back to the US banks.

Shrestha is a freelance journalist