External affairs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2007, 12:00am

Recently, Nepalese journalists questioned China's ambassador to Nepal, cleverly quoting a statement from former foreign minister Chen Yi. Chen had warned not to tolerate third-country meddling in neighbouring states' internal affairs. The Nepalese journalists asked the ambassador whether Beijing still stood by Chen's policy? The ambassador said that it did.

Nepal is fast sliding back towards internal chaos. China's Foreign Ministry continues to adopt the 'ostrich' approach, with its head in the sand. Meanwhile, Beijing's materialism-infatuated leaders, who normally dismiss bordering nations as 'those poor little countries', need to learn that the word 'Kathmandu' is not another hotpot recipe made with exotic, endangered animal parts.

If there are more delays in holding elections in Nepal, it could undermine the coalition government of eight parties, including the Maoists, by autumn. Then, any one of three scenarios could occur: a royalist military coup; foreign intervention; or a civil war dividing the country between north and south.

Political analysts believe the first two scenarios could not happen without US involvement, covert or otherwise, while the third scenario may serve India's interests.

Sympathisers with these views see a direct connection between the US policy of wanting to isolate and eliminate the Maoists from democratic participation in Nepal's evolving political process, and recent internecine polarisation of the parties whose co-operation is necessary to make this process work.

The US ambassador to Nepal has blamed the Maoists for kidnappings, extortion and violence in India's border area. However, this area is no longer used as a Maoist base. So how could they be conducting operations there? Instead, cadre members from the Youth Communist League - a Maoist division - are being murdered by members of revolutionary organisations, who are involved in attacks on hill communities, extortion killings and looting.

So, while the US ambassador feeds the international media with stories of Maoist violence in the region, it is actually Maoist youth leaders who are the victims of killings. Maoist leaders claim that certain Hindu militant groups operating in the region receive moral support from the US government. If so, it is possible that a shadowy repeat of the conflict in Afghanistan is under way, which arose from US support of Islamic fundamentalist groups in the cold-war fight against Soviet communism. Are the Maoists' claims that Washington supports these Hindu fundamentalist movements true? Since a precedent for such an approach in US foreign policy exists, the Maoists' concerns should not be dismissed.

Without question, US foreign-policy thinking remains locked in a cold war time warp: officials refuse to communicate with the Maoists and oppose their participation in the coalition government, even though they have placed their arms in cantonments and expressed the desire to participate politically in supporting a transparent democratic system.

Meanwhile, Hindu militant groups have asked Nepal's prime minister to ban the Youth Communist League and exclude the Maoists from the coalition government, a position that is consistent with the Bush administration view.

Former US president Jimmy Carter visited Nepal early this summer and met Maoist leaders. It is possible that Mr Carter might have been serving as an intermediary for the Bush administration, which otherwise wishes to avoid direct contact.

Meanwhile, Beijing has made no effort to understand the crisis. Nor have any efforts been undertaken to communicate with key players. So much for Chen's policies.

It would seem that the US approach to Nepal does not differ greatly from the one it adopted in Afghanistan: supporting religious fundamentalist groups in a campaign against communism. Yet, Washington does not really understand that such conflict often arises in reaction to its own economic and political policies, which marginalise and condemn others. That is certainly a formula to breed extreme reactions.

Laurence Brahm is a political economist, author, filmmaker and founder of Shambhala Foundation