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SOUTH ASIA - Nepal |
April 2008

 


______________________________________________________________________________

 

News Briefs

*Uncertain Respite in the Terai   *Whither the Maoists?

 *End Attacks, Arrests and Harassment of Tibetans

 



 (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
  map are not members of SAARC)

India as a Poll Issue in Nepal  


BY J Sri Raman  *

India figures prominently as an issue in Nepal's forthcoming elections. The Himalayan nation has always figured in India's politics, too, and is likely to do so in a larger manner over the next few months.

The issue, which has showed varying degrees of visibility, has been particularly important for the far right. To the Bharatiya Janata Party and the parivar (the far right family), Nepal has not been a mere neighbor to the north. To them, it was the only "Hindu state," so long as it was a mountain kingdom under an unpopular monarchy, and it remains the only other Hindu-majority nation.

Consequently, the BJP and the parivar have been strongly opposed to the anti-monarchy or democratic movement in Nepal and its constituents, particularly the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). In the current context, they are staunchly opposed to the major section of the movement that does not trust the deposed king enough even to retain him as a figurehead in a constitutional monarchy.

The Nepal policy of India's far right is tied to its national politics aimed at making the BJP and the parivar the representative of the country's religious majority. The policy has an international prop as well. In terms of the US-India "strategic partnership," inaugurated by the BJP while in power during 1998-2004, Nepal is not only a "buffer state" between India and China, but a bulwark against the latter for South and South-East Asia.

The BJP and its band, in any case, cannot remain benign observers of the Nepal scene after the CPN(M) came out with its manifesto for the elections to a proposed Constituent Assembly (CA) to be held on April 10 (if the polls are not put off for a third time). The manifesto does make a major issue of India, especially the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed on July 31, 1950.

The manifesto says: "The non-reciprocal relations existing between Nepal and India since the days of British India must be re-evaluated in order to make the existing relations reciprocal. For this, mainly, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950, signed between India and Nepal must be annulled...."

What the Maoists and many other sections of Nepal's political spectrum oppose more than anything else is the part of the treaty that makes India-Nepal relations sound like another strategic partnership. The objection, above all, is to two of the ten articles of the pact.

Under Article II of the treaty, the "two governments hereby undertake to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments." Article V lays down: "The Government of Nepal shall be free to import, from or through the territory of India, arms, ammunition or warlike material and equipment necessary for the security of Nepal. The procedure for giving effect to this arrangement shall be worked out by the two Governments acting in consultation."

The pact was, in these respects, a reworking of the Treaty of 1923 between British India and Nepal. By that treaty, too, the two sides agreed to inform each other of any misunderstanding with the neighbouring states whose territories adjoined their common frontiers.

According to Article V of the treaty, the British government agreed that the Nepal government would be free to import arms, ammunition, machinery, war-like material, and stores as may be required or desired for the strength and welfare of Nepal, and that the arrangement would continue so long as the British government was satisfied of the intentions of the Nepal government that there was no immediate danger to India from such importations.

India has always insisted on the treaty being read together with "letters exchanged" between New Delhi and Kathmandu in 1959 and 1965. These included Nepal in India's security zone and precluded arms purchases without India's approval.

At the height of the Maoists' armed struggle, their supporters claimed that the treaty also contained some secret annexures, covering mutual assistance in case of an emergency such as their rebellion. Sections of Nepal's media reported in February 2005 that General Pyar Jung Thapa, chief of the Royal Nepal Army, had hinted at King Gyanandra invoking the provisions of the treaty and seeking Indian military support against the Maoists.

The treaty came under considerable strain even during the period of monarchy, particularly on two occasions. The first instance followed the end of another unpopular monarchy in another Himalayan kingdom - Sikkim, adjoining Nepal on the east - in 1975, leading to what New Delhi described as its "integration" with India and what its critics denounced as an "annexation." An anxious King Birendra Bir Bikram Dev Shah reacted by calling for international recognition of Nepal as a "zone of peace," with India treating the idea backed by China and Pakistan as an attack on the treaty and the "special relationship" envisaged. The proposal was pursued, but with declining vigor and, finally, in vain.

The second time, matters threatened to take a more serious turn in 1988, when Nepal acquired some Chinese weaponry. New Delhi saw this as a flagrant violation of the treaty. The close economic relations between the two countries, governed by equally controversial treaties of transit and trade, however, gave New Delhi the clout to penalize Nepal through what even pro-India analysts have called a "blockade." The pact did not face any substantial opposition from the palace in Kathmandu after that.

As for popular opinion on the issue, the Maoists can claim to articulate it to a significant extent when they declare that Nepal should cease to be branded a "buffer state" between India and China but should be regarded as a "dynamic link" between the two. The call to replace the present India-Nepal pact with a more "equal treaty" can also safely be presumed to enjoy majority support in the mountain state.

On the Indian side, there is talk - even in circles that regard as an encomium India's description by the Maoists and others as an "expansionist power" - of bringing the treaty in better tune with the times. The treaty, however, provides for no revision, upgrading or updating. Article X of the document says, "The Treaty shall remain in force until it is terminated by either party by giving one year's notice" and no more.

This may well lead to a piquant situation in the aftermath of elections. Whichever party or group of parties comes to power in Kathmandu, a long round of tough negotiations - and worse - appears unavoidable.

* The writer is a journalist and a peace activist based in Chennai (formerly Madras), India. He is the Convener of the India-based Movement Against Nuclear Weapons (MANW), in Chennai, and of Journalists Against Nuclear Weapons (JANW). He is also a leading activist of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India. Sri Raman has written a sheaf of poems titled ‘At Gunpoint’. This article was first published in the Daily Times. E-Mail: sriraman_j@yahoo.com .


End Attacks, Arbitrary Arrests, and Harassment of Tibetans
Nepali Government Should Stop Doing Beijing’s Bidding

The government of Nepal should cease arbitrary arrests and detentions, harassment, and the use of excessive force to silence Tibetan protesters, activists and journalists, Human Rights Watch said in a press release from New York on March 20, 2008. Nepal’s government, which came to power after protests against the rule of King Gyanendra, should reaffirm its commitment to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.

Nepal, which borders Tibet and is home to large numbers of Tibetan exiles and asylum seekers, has seen protests since March 10, “Tibetan National Uprising Day,” the anniversary of the Tibetan rebellion against Beijing’s rule in Tibet in 1959. Protests in Kathmandu have mounted in reaction to the violent suppression of protests in Tibet and neighboring provinces in China by the Chinese government.  
 
“The police are violently dispersing peaceful Tibetan protestors in Nepal’s capital and arbitrarily detaining increasing numbers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “How can a government that came to power on a wave of public protests against an authoritarian regime justify crushing peaceful protests by Tibetans?”  
 
When questioned about the reason for arrests of protesters, a district superintendent of police informed Human Rights Watch that it is government policy that there cannot be protests against China in Nepal.  
 
Police Brutality  
 
Human Rights Watch has witnessed the excessive use of force by the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force against peaceful Tibetan protesters on March 10, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 19. Nepal Police and Armed Police have charged crowds with lathis (heavy sticks) and used tear gas as well as hitting, kicking and dragging to disperse protesters and to make arrests. Several protesters have been injured as a result, including head injuries from beatings with lathis.  
 
Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about ill-treatment of Tibetan detainees at Boudha Police Station. On March 10, the 14 individuals detained were kicked, punched, slapped and verbally abused for approximately 15-20 minutes. Their names were registered and they were threatened that they would be deported to China, where Human Rights Watch believes they could expect to be imprisoned and possibly tortured.  
 
On the evening of March 14, police beat three detainees at Boudha Police Station continuously for approximately one hour. Police hit them with such force that the lathis used to assault them snapped. Human Rights Watch observed the three were visibly injured as they left the police station and were taken to hospital by friends. During attempted arrests at the same demonstration, one man was beaten on the head with a lathi, forcing him to fall to the ground where he was then beaten so hard by three police officers that he now has serious fractures in the bones of both feet. Protesters reported that the police were shouting “we have to hit them” as they chased the protesters.  
 
Human Rights Watch urged the Nepali government to ensure that members of the police and armed police do not use force against peaceful protestors.  
 
“Nepal’s security forces must understand that they can be held criminally accountable for physical violence against Tibetans,” said Adams.  
 
Arbitrary Arrests  
 
Human Rights Watch said that while in many cases the Nepali authorities have allowed peaceful protests, at other times it has arbitrarily arrested protesters. For example, on March 10, more than 150 Tibetans were detained after a peaceful protest in Boudha for around seven hours at three separate police stations. On March 14, three individuals were detained and released after approximately two hours at Boudha Police Station after another peaceful protest. On March 15, 12 protesters were detained for approximately three hours at Jawalakel Police Station after a demonstration at the United Nations complex. On March 17, 49 demonstrators, including two with injuries, were detained at the Mahendra Police Club for approximately eight hours after demonstrating at the UN complex. On March 18, 58 people were arrested again at the UN complex; 54 were taken to the Mahendra Police Club, where they were held for approximately seven hours, and four were held at Jawalakel Police Station. On March 19, 21 people were arrested at a demonstration at the UN complex at around noon, detained at Jawalakel Police Station and released six hours later.  
 
A particular case of concern is the March 18 arrests by police of Tenzin Jamphel (Thupten) and Gyalbo Lama Tamang, a Tibetan and a Nepali monk respectively, at 9:30 a.m. from Sarswati monastery. They were questioned at the Swayambu Ward Police for one hour, then taken to the Naxal police headquarters, where they were questioned for 30 minutes. Finally, they were taken to the office of the Kathmandu chief district officer and held there until 2 p.m. Both were forced to sign a document saying they would not participate in further protests. The Tibetan monk was threatened to be sent back to China if he participated in further protests and told that he had been added to the list of “wanted people.”  
 
Human Rights Watch is concerned about reports that the Kathmandu chief district officer has prepared a list of 11 Tibetan leaders to be arrested simply for being political opponents of the Chinese government.  
 
“The threat of detention and deportation to China is being used to silence peaceful dissent in Nepal,” said Adams. “Arbitrary arrests of Tibetans should cease immediately.”  
 
Attacks on Journalists  
 
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about attacks on journalists attempting to report on the Tibetan protests and developments along Nepal’s border with China. On March 16, a Nepali press photographer working with a foreign journalist was stopped 200 meters inside the Nepal border by 10 Chinese police who took him to an official building, and, in the presence of Nepali police, searched his bag and erased his photos. On March 17, a foreign journalist who was attempting to photograph arrests of protesters was punched in the face by a Nepali police officer. Journalists are also reporting a significant increase in the number of Chinese security officials along the border and plainclothes Chinese officials operating on the Nepali side of the border.  
 
Asylum in Nepal  
 
As many Tibetans seek to escape the crackdown in Tibet and make their way to safety in Nepal, Human Rights Watch reminded Nepal of its international obligations to allow those at risk of persecution to seek asylum in Nepal.  
 
Many Tibetans who arrived in Nepal before December 31, 1989 are officially regarded as refugees. But the Nepali government has refused to register Tibetan asylum seekers arriving after that time as refugees. As a result, new arrivals are at risk of summary repatriation and encounter great difficulty integrating into Nepali society and accessing education, health care, and employment. It is also impossible for them to leave the country unless granted an exit permit. In January 2005, under pressure from the Chinese government, the Nepali government closed the Office of the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 2007, it took the unprecedented step of deregistering the Bhota Welfare Office, a local organization assisting Tibetans living in Nepal.  
 
“Now is the time for the Nepali government to protect Tibetans – not to do the bidding of Beijing,” said Adams.

[Source: Human Right Watch]

Whither the Maoists?


Guest Writer: Thomas A. Marks
Political risk consultant based in Hawaii and author, Maoist People’s War in Post-Vietnam Asia

 

In Nepal, as the 10 April date of the Constituent Assembly (CA) polls approaches, it is unclear just what will be held. Leading Maoist figures have stated publicly that if the vote does not favor them, they will launch a "people’s rebellion." The situation engendered by Young Communist League (YCL) intimidation, extortion, physical violence, and even murder has been bad enough. Evidence now indicates Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M) agents in the Tarai have been meeting secretly with Indian arms dealers in the black market.

 

Regardless of outcome, the Maoists intend that there will be a reckoning.

 

Even before most recent events, the security situation was tenuous. The continued internal deterioration – and inability or unwillingness of the state to provide a secure environment (or even regular basic services) – has demoralized the citizenry and increasingly led to ‘no go’ areas being created by YCL terror. Inhabitants have been warned that retribution will come if the vote does not favor the Maoists. Election fever runs high in urban areas, but few expect the polls to come off as planned. One Madheshi candidate stated that his party had instructed him not to commit his funds until April 2.

 

Ironically, the longer ‘peace’ prevails, the more chaotic the situation becomes and the more dangerous for those who oppose terror. In their approach, the Maoists are not using even the same vocabulary, much less the same game plan, as supporters of parliamentary democracy. They are not looking for re-incorporation or reconciliation, as democrats understand the words. To the contrary, they are on the offensive. They simply are proceeding along an avenue of approach complementary to armed actions. To them, violence and non-violence are just two facets of a unified struggle, very much as, in boxing, feints and movement of the body are as necessary as punches thrown.

 

Thus the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a struggle for liberation, and use of violence is just one line of operation. The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has proved so fearful of a return to general violence that it is willing to accept the lower level of menace and targeted violence that is ongoing. Extortion (and even armed robbery in broad daylight in the capital) has become so common that there is an increasing outflow of businessmen, who are simply shutting down establishments and taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. The quality of life for the bulk of the population has deteriorated dramatically; ironically, this, too, though it is a result of continued thuggish actions by the Maoists, helps them in their propaganda against ‘the old feudal order’.

 

All CPN-M actions currently being undertaken are designed simply to bring the Maoists to power. When called to account by their CCOMPOSA (Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia) compatriots for having abandoned the revolutionary struggle, the Nepali Maoists succeeded in placating their critics by outlining just what they planned. Put in so many words: our way will deliver power by emphasizing the ‘non-violent’ aspects of people’s war – and using violence to give them salience. As the CPN-M put this explicitly, in its report to the June 2007 CCOMPOSA meeting held in India:

The enemy who is attacking our party especially its youth wing the ‘Young Communist League’ with whatever they find in their hands, has generated resentment against the enemies. And our mass line, discipline of our PLA [People’s Liberation Army] and political line has gathered momentum to prepare the ground for the final insurrection. We are utilizing this transitional phase to spread our mass base and consolidate it, to get rid of our own shortcomings and bring disintegration in the enemy’s camp so that we can give a final blow and usher into the country a new democracy.

Prachanda explained this further to a Central Committee meeting held at the end of July 2007 before the 5th Plenum of the CPN-M, itself held in early August 2007, using an ‘expanded meeting’ format that brought together 2,174 delegates. In his working paper, he maintained that the present transition period has seen ‘republic democracy’ seized by reactionaries within the SPA, who are trying to ‘change it’ to ‘parliamentary democracy’. In contrast, the will of the Party and the people is ‘new republic democracy’, Maoist shorthand for ‘people’s republic’. The correct manner to achieve this is by burrowing into the system, gaining experience, preserving revolutionary power, and developing further the counter-state (party infrastructure).

 

Such an approach is necessary in a global situation where socialism has not prevailed anywhere, continued Prachanda. The reinforcement of the Nepali reactionaries by the USA, India, and Hindu extremists has forced the revolutionaries onto the defensive in some areas, but overall their strength is swelling. Thus the correct course of action is to stay the protracted war course using low-level terror as the form of violence, united front building, and political warfare.

 

This ‘reaffirmist' line was attacked by the ‘rejectionists’, led by Maoist combatant leader, Ram Bahadur Thapa aka Badal. Ironically, he was joined by key figures Vaidya and Biplav, both of whom had been in Indian custody, but had been released for reasons that remain under discussion. Optimists claim the release was to facilitate incorporation of the Maoists into the political mainstream. Cynics claim it was to cause division within the Party. Regardless, the rejectionist faction saw no point to the ‘go slow’ approach of the reaffirmists and advocated violent street actions in the only strongholds remaining to the state, the urban areas. Though they found themselves overruled, they remain a powerful voice fueling the present spiral of violence.

 

This leaves the key external player, India, in a quandary. Jettisoning the ‘two pillars’ approach to Nepal – backing parliamentary forces and the monarchy – which had long informed Indian strategy, has backfired badly. Bringing the Maoists into the parliamentary mainstream has proved impossible for the simplest of reasons: the Maoists never had any intention of following this script. Only the hubris of South Block could have missed this fact, stated by the Maoists repeatedly both publicly and in their inner circles.

 

Now, with the monarchy sidelined and Maoist-induced chaos endangering even the parliamentary forces, New Delhi is displaying growing anxiety at the possibility of a huge radical safe-haven emerging at the very moment that India’s own indigenous Maoists are expanding. All sources in Nepal cite direct Indian intervention in the Tarai as decisive in pulling the Madheshi into the CA vote. Yet New Delhi’s influence has proved of much less consequence in Kathmandu and the hill areas. This creates a nail-biting geostrategic situation.

 

A second irony, sources indicate, is that the Maoists themselves would prefer this, the third attempt at holding CA elections, to be scuttled, since they, too, are unclear as to the outcome. Numbers alone place them at a disadvantage, with the hostile Tarai holding more than half the Nepali population.

 

Further, though they speak of inevitable victory, the Maoists are unsure just how far YCL threats and violence will carry the Party in an election monitored by outsiders (such as the Carter Center), which has developed an unpredictable momentum of its own. Where, previously, the Maoists saw their ability to exclude SPA campaigning from the rural areas as decisive, particularly as sympathetic figures in some NGOs and embassies continued to attack the state in the urban centers, the CPN-M now faces a more problematic reality.

 

What the Maoists – and SPA – seek to avoid at all costs is being blamed for a third CA postponement. Yet the Maoists hold the cards. Despite the efforts of some sources (notably left-wing NGOs) to strike a pose of moral equivalence, blaming both the state and the Maoists for ‘violations’, it is the Maoists and their YCL who are driving the violence that endangers the polls.

 

Nepali vernacular media quote Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to the effect that if the run-up to the CA election has not been completely disrupted by the Maoists as of March 28, the process will go forward as scheduled. Odds are a vote of sorts will indeed occur – but that it will be an ‘election’ only in the same sense that the Maoists have renounced ‘violence’ to ‘join the system’.

Uncertain Respite in the Terai


Prasanta Kumar Pradhan
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

 

On February 28, 2008, the Government and the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) signed an eight-point agreement, bringing an end to the indefinite strike in the Terai region on its 16th day. The shutdown had led to the closure of markets, major industries, transportation, academic institutions and Government offices. The continuous disruption of transport routes and closure of markets led to severe shortage of food supplies and fuel. Prithvi Highway, the main route to capital Kathmandu, was nearly deserted for two weeks during the strike. The Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Siraha, Saptari, Dhanusha, Bara, Parsa, Rautahat and Nawalparasi Districts were reportedly the worst affected. The indefinite strike had brought the whole country to a virtual standstill. While five persons were killed and hundreds injured during the strike, incalculable losses and difficulties were caused to the general public in many parts of the country. The supply of essential commodities from India – the principal source – was disturbed and the country witnessed an acute fuel shortage, deficits in daily household commodities and decreased industrial production.

 

A glance at the final agreement makes it clear that the Government has conceded all the major demands of the UDMF, including the most significant, for an autonomous Terai region within a federal system of governance. Complying with the UDMF’s demands, the agreement states that Nepal will be a federal democratic republican state with distinct power sharing between the Centre and the Terai region, conferring complete autonomy and authority on the Terai. The deal also promises to carry out appointment, promotion and nomination of Madheshis, indigenous communities, women, Dalits (lower caste Hindus), and to backward areas and minority communities, to ensure proportional participation in security bodies and all organs of the State. The entry of Madheshis and other groups into the Nepal Army will be ensured in order to give the Army a national and inclusive structure. The eight-point agreement also includes:

  • declaring those killed in the Madhesh agitation in 2007 as martyrs;

  • providing treatment to the injured and immediate release of those in police detention, and providing NR one million to each fatality victim’s family;

  • the deal also pledges to abide by the previous 22-point agreement signed between the Government and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) in August 2007 and to release all the MJF leaders and cadres from custody and also withdraw lawsuits filed against them.

  • a constitutional provision requiring political parties to become inclusive while fielding more than 20 per cent candidates for the election has been amended. The new limit is 30 per cent – implying that any party contesting the election has the freedom to field up to 30 per cent candidates without being inclusive.

The signing of the agreement is an indication of the fact that the Terai movement has evolved from a rebellion by small armed ethnic groups into a fast-growing political movement, with political leaders across the party-lines joining hands to make the movement successful. Since senior leaders such as Mahanta Thakur from the Nepali Congress (NC), Hridayesh Tripathy from the Nepal Sadbhavana Party–Anandi Devi (NSP-AD), Mahendra Yadav from the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Ram Chandra Rai from the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), along with many others, left their respective parties in December 2007 and joined the Madheshi movement, it has gained greater strength, legitimacy and popular support. The movement gained further impetus when three regional political parties of the Terai – the Terai-Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP) led by Mahanta Thakur, the Rajendra Mahato faction of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP-RH) and the MJF came together to form the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) on February 9, 2008.

 

The UMDF had put forward a list of six demands before the Government:

  • An autonomous Madhesh State with a republican order and right to self determination.

  • A provision that allows the parties, which have filed less than 50 per cent of candidacy for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections (scheduled for April 10, 2008), not to field candidates for the proportional representation system.

  • Proportional representation of the Madheshis, Janjatis, Dalits, women and all marginalised groups in all organs of the state.

  • Proportional representation of Madheshi youths in the Nepali Army on the proportion of their population.

  • Martyr status to 45 persons who were killed in the Madhesh movement in 2007.

  • Adequate compensation and free medical treatment to those injured and/or physically disabled in the course of the agitation.

Similarly, the Terai-Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP) had submitted an 11-point charter of demands to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on January 3, 2008, including, among others:

  • Constitutional guarantee of autonomy with a right to self determination for the Terai region;

  • Declaring those killed during the Madhesh agitation in 2007 as martyrs and providing relief and compensation to those injured.

  • Formation of a new independent commission to probe alleged atrocities during the Madhesh agitation.

  • Recruitment of Madheshi people in the Nepali Army proportional to their population.

  • Allocation of budget based on population.

The TMDP asked the Government to fulfil the demands within two weeks or face a protest agitation. Mahanta Thakur threatened that the polls would not be possible unless the Terai region was transformed into an autonomous state: "We want autonomy for the Madhesh just like the American States. The Centre can't interfere in matters relating to the government and administration." He added, further, "We want this to be incorporated into the Interim Constitution… The state is treating the Terai as a colony." He also said that time was running out for the Government that had already lost control over many areas in the Terai.

 

On the same day, Rajendra Mahato declared that the rights of the Madheshis had to be ensured first, before his party could participate in the polls to elect the CA. Mahato alleged that the interests of the Madheshis had not been protected under the current electoral system and demanded 50 per cent Madheshi representation in the CA. He also insisted that 10,000 Madheshis be recruited immediately in the civil service, Police and Army. On February 17, the chief of the MJF, Upendra Yadav, had also vowed to continue the agitation "Till the fulfilment of the demand for the right to self determination and a single autonomous province in Madhesh."

 

Finally, after repeated appeals and threats to the Government, on February 13, the UMDF announced an indefinite strike in the Terai region and demanded that its six-point charter be met before the CA elections. While the Prime Minister wanted the Terai groups to participate in the elections and said that all the problems would be solved through democratic means after the elections, the Madheshi groups were adamant that their demands should be fulfilled before the elections. A cornered Government, on February 14, formally invited the UMDF for talks. The talks eventually ended successfully with the signing of the eight-point agreement on February 28.

 

The deal is certainly an achievement for the political parties of Terai region, through it offers no more than a breather for the Koirala regime, which continues to face the challenging task of conducting a peaceful election in the country. The implementation of the deal will be an "important contribution to the election of an inclusive constituent assembly in a conducive climate", Ian Martin, chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal noted. While the Terai groups are ecstatic over their success, Prime Minister Koirala, who had earlier rejected autonomy demands from the region, sought to save face by assuring immediate implementation of the agreement. The deal and Koirala’s revised position are unambiguous indications of a weak State – the Government quietly surrendering before the demands of a group that threatened to disrupt the polling process.

 

The agreement does not, moreover, resolve the ‘Terai problem’ in its entirety. There remain other disgruntled armed groups, who continue to threaten to disrupt the CA elections. The Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha led by Jay Krishna Goit (JTMM-G) threatened, on February 28, that it would take "physical action" against those filing their candidacy for the Constituent Assembly polls. Goit rejected talks with the Government or taking part in the CA elections, stating that his outfit would continue its movement till Terai seceded from Nepal. "Terai is a separate, independent country… Nepal has no control over it. If Nepalis want to stay there, they have to take the permission of the Terai Government. If Indians want to work there, they have to get a work permit from the Government… Till Terai is freed, our struggle will continue," Goit told Avenues Television. Other groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Terai Ilam and Samyukta Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha have also issued similar warnings to the candidates.

 

Further, the Federal Republican National Front (FRNF), an alliance of Madheshi and six other ethnic groups, continues with its agitation in the eastern Terai and Hill Districts, at the time of writing. Normal life, consequently, remains disturbed in the areas where the Front is active. A dialogue between the Government and the FRNF is reportedly underway. The FRNF’s key demands include:

  • Immediate implementation of a Republic by the Interim Parliament, subject to endorsement by the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly;

  • All-out proportional system of elections for the CA polls.

  • Guarantee of full autonomy to the Federal States.

Thus, even after several rounds of talks, negotiations and agreements with numerous political and armed ethnic groups, holding elections in Nepal, especially in the volatile Terai, remains as difficult as before. Earlier, the Maoists had been the most visible obstruction to the electoral process; now it is the Madheshis and other armed ethnic groups who continue to challenge the feeble Government’s efforts to hold elections. Though all the major political parties appear to demonstrate a keen interest in holding the elections this time, without further postponement, there still remains significant disaffected elements with the potential to disrupt the process. Unless all these groups, small or big, come around to support the electoral process, the conduct and character of the polls would remain in doubt.

[Source: South Asian Intelligence Review]

News Briefs

Maoists unveil manifesto for Constituent Assembly elections: On March 7, 2008, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) made public its election manifesto for the Constituent Assembly polls. Maoist chairman Prachanda unveiled the manifesto with the theme "New Ideology and New Leadership for a New Nepal." The manifesto proposes a three-tier political structure – Centre, Autonomous Federal States and local bodies – with specific rights and responsibilities among them. The party has proposed 11 autonomous federal states and two other sub-states within them keeping in mind the country’s ethnic composition, geographical contiguity, linguistic base and economic viability. Within the Madhesh autonomous state, three sub-states – Mithila, Bhojpura and Awadh – have also been proposed on a linguistic basis. There shall be a bicameral legislature at the centre and unicameral legislature in federal states. The President shall act as head of state, Commander-in-Chief of the National Army and the Chief Executive. The Prime Minister shall bear the responsibility of the Government and its daily administration. There shall be a Governor and a Chief Minister in each of the Federal Autonomous States. Nepal News, March 8, 2008.

Government and UMDF sign eight-point agreement to end strike in Terai: The Government and the agitating United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) signed an eight-point agreement on February 28, 2008, bringing an end to the indefinite strike in the Terai region. The agreement states that Nepal will be a federal democratic republican State, complying to the demands of regional autonomy and a federal system of governance, including the demand for an autonomous Terai region. There will be distinct power sharing between the Centre and the Terai region and the region will have complete autonomy and authority. The deal also promises to carry out appointment, promotion and nomination of Madheshi, indigenous communities, women, Dalit (lower caste Hindus), backward areas and minority communities to ensure proportional participation in security bodies and all organs of the State. The entry of Madheshis and other groups into the Nepal Army will be ensured to give the Army a national and inclusive structure. The eight-point agreement also includes the declaration of those killed in the Madhesh agitation in 2007 as martyrs, providing treatment to the injured and immediate release of those in Police detention, and providing NR one million to each fatality victim’s family. Nepal News, February 29, 2008.

[Source: South Asian Intelligence Review]


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