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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Postcard From Nepal

August 7, 2010

The Maoists and Their Neighbors
Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)
July 28, 2010

Nepal is a tiny Himalayan nation sandwiched
between two mighty Asian rivals: India and China.
New Delhi and Beijing are using Nepal’s territory
to wage a proxy war against each other. This
interference in Nepal’s internal affairs has
contributed to a political crisis that has
already claimed one prime minister and threatens
to undermine the peace process begun four years ago.

After a short stint as Nepal's prime minister
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as
Prachanda, resigned a year ago. He disagreed with
the president over the sacking of an army chief
who vehemently opposed the integration of Maoist
combatants into the national army. Since then the
Maoist party, the largest political force and one
that openly tilts toward China, has sat in the
opposition. Meanwhile, the coalition that
replaced the Maoists until its resignation two
weeks ago was cobbled together at the behest of the Indian government.

Nepal has long been in the Indian sphere of
influence. But Maoists, with their overtures to
China, made New Delhi uneasy. New Delhi openly
displayed its concern when Prachanda chose China
during the Beijing Olympics for his maiden
foreign tour. Back home, he had to downplay the
visit in order to pacify the critics who accused
him of playing the “China card.” His resignation
not coincidentally came just a few days ahead of his proposed China visit.

The success of the 2006 peace process brought the
Maoists and New Delhi closer. But the change in
guard in the top echelon of India's Foreign
Ministry, and the Maoist insurgency raging in its
countryside, hardened India’s stance towards
Nepal's Maoists. India places security issues in
Nepal as its main concern. The countries share a
porous, 1,800-kilometer border that runs along
the restive southern plains in Nepal. On Nepal’s
side of the border, a motley group of insurgents
clamor for attention, so India’s concerns are not without justification.

China is chiefly worried about the pro-Tibet
activities in Nepal and the Free Tibet protests
that often erupt in Kathmandu. The Nepalese
government feels compelled to offer repeated
assurances to Beijing that it won’t allow
anti-China activities on its soil. Though Nepal
stopped granting asylum to Tibetan refugees since
1990, they still use it as a transit point to
enter India. Recently, to stem the tide of
Tibetan refugees, China asked Nepal to beef up
security along its northern border stretching
along the rugged and treacherous Himalayan terrain.

Closer to home, the ruling parties accuse the
Maoists of breaching the Comprehensive Peace
Accord of November 2006 and urge them to renounce
violence, speed up the rehabilitation and
integration of the combatants still sequestered
in UN-overseen cantonments, and return property
seized during the decade-long civil war. "Maoists
are neither willing to detach themselves from
violence nor do they want the rehabilitation of
their combatants," says Pradeep Gyawali, a senior
leader of the moderate Unified Marxist Leninist
party, "They think that as soon as the combatants
are disarmed, they will lose their power."

Dr. Lokraj Baral, a prominent Kathmandu-based
political analyst with the Nepal Center for
Contemporary Studies disagrees. "Without bringing
the Maoists on board, neither the peace process
will conclude nor will it be possible to draft
the constitution." Indeed, disagreement persists
among the Maoists and other parties vis-à-vis the
modality of integration and rehabilitation of the
combatants. A consensus government that would
reflect the spirit of the peace accord seems very
unlikely. The key to Nepal’s future lies in the
hands of the Maoists. But given the geopolitical
complexities, Nepal's powerful neighbors are likely to determine its course.

Deepak Adhikari is a Kathmandu-based journalist
and contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, where
this column originally appeared. You can read more of his work on his blog.
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