Where the buck stops

The Cabinet on Tuesday appealed to all political parties to mobilise themselves to help restore law and order in the Tarai, working in concert with the security agencies. It also directed the home ministry to ‘mobilise the security agencies effectively from Parsa to Saptari’, telling it to ‘come out strongly to stop the incidents of abduction, murder and extortion going on there’. Indeed, the state of internal security has been the weakest point of the

post-Jana Andolan II government. Even after allowing for the difficult times of transition, one can hardly take solace. The law and order situation has been deteriorating in the Tarai particularly after the start of the ‘Madheshi’ agitation there nine months ago. Leaders of the ruling parties and the government, including the Prime Minister and the Home Minister themselves, have expressed concern over the government’s failure to keep the peace.

The eloquent current manifestation of the state of affairs in the Tarai is the action of the government employees seeking adequate state protection, as several employees have been abducted or killed, apart from frequent cases of intimidation and extortion from the various armed and ‘unarmed’ groups they have continually faced. For instance, they have started closing district offices of the government and public corporations in eastern Tarai to make their voice for security heard. At present, nearly two dozen armed groups are operating in the Tarai, and most of them have criminal intent. Their important sources of arms are reported to be some unscrupulous elements across the border bent on fomenting trouble. PM Girija Prasad Koirala during his visit to New Delhi had also taken up this issue with his Indian counterpart, seeking Indian help in stopping it. Indian leaders sounded positive. Admittedly, certain elements in Nepal have a vested interest too in creating instability in the Tarai. Sadly, even some of the responsible political parties saw in the Tarai unrest an opportunity to do down their political rivals.

Prime Minister Koirala told journalists in Biratnagar on November 9 that he knew well how to solve the problems seen in the Tarai. Referring to the 1,600km-long open border with India, he said the criminal activity in the Tarai could be stopped very soon if Nepal and India worked jointly. But a serious question also arises. What has been stopping him from doing this so long? Or, has he not been sensitive enough to the situation in the Tarai, while most people there continue to live in terror and face hardship? The people have given the government the benefit of the doubt so far but it has let them down. Undoubtedly, all should cooperate with the government in the task of keeping the peace and cracking down on criminal activity. But, first of all, the government should demonstrate the will and the courage to do its fundamental duty of ensuring the security of its citizens. It cannot have any excuse for non-performance. Within the country’s borders, it must do whatever is necessary to do its duty — foreign cooperation or not. Otherwise, it can hardly justify its stay in power.