Nepal's Grief, A World of Indifference
Candide's Notebooks/January 22, 2006
While most of the world’s attention has locked on Iraq, a conflict of choice, several nations are degrading into chaos, civil war, and in one case ( Sudan), outright genocide: the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Nepal. When referred to at all, Nepal is to Westerners the country of Himalayan climbs and Buddhist lyricism. Few know that since 1996, between 12,000 and 15,000 Nepalis have been killed in a brutal civil war between the Communist Party of Nepal (they call themselves Maoists but have been disowned by China) and government forces. Just today, Reuters reported the killing of 16 Nepalis in renewed violence. Both sides in the conflict have dismal human rights records. Both sides intimidate and massacre civilians. Both sides refuse to compromise. Neither side has a strategy for peace. Yet the United States, Britain and India continue, at least nominally, to support the Nepalese king, a crude, clueless despot. We present three recent pieces on Nepal — from the New York Times, from Foreign Affairs and one piece written for Candide’s Notebooks by Brian Cobb, a Professor of Medicine at Tribhuvan University and Consultant in internal Medicine and Psychiatry at Shechen Monastery Clinic in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A Peace Proposal
By Brian Cobb, MD/Candide's Notebooks, January 22, 2006
KATHMANDU--The political landscape of Nepal looks extremely bleak these days. The three factions, Monarch-Military, Maoists and Parties, are seemingly inalterably wedded to incompatible demands. The Army and Maoists are gearing up for intensified conflict. The Parties and Maoists have reached an agreement of sorts, but it papers over some very wide chasms and is totally at odds with the Monarch-Military roadmap. But all three factions say they want peace and multiparty democracy. As Bill Clinton has said, in politics you have to take the facts as they are, not as you wish they were. There are some hard realities here, but some opportunities as well. No faction is going to get its way 100 percent, but I believe there is a way that all can achieve their major stated goals with a little compromise and creativity. The status quo is unsustainable: killing, hatred, civil disorder, economic decline, displaced people, and large scale human rights violations. Too much blood has been shed, too many have suffered anguish, grief, and injury. The rhetoric to date has been largely polarizing, factional and intransigent. However, I believe there is a solution if all factions will place principles and long term goals ahead of strategy and a win/lose mentality. It is time to think win/win and reunification.
Let’s take the easy part first; to each faction I address one question. If all three factions answer yes, there can be a constitutional solution. If any faction answers no, the deal is off. To the King: Will you agree to an earlier, negotiated date for a full, free and fair parliamentary election under international supervision and a bilateral cease fire? To the Maoists: Will you forswear violence and intimidation, permit the elections, join the democratic process as candidates under the 1990 Constitution, and disarm with UN assistance? To the Parties: Will you participate in such an election and serve in
a democratically elected government?
If we have 3 yeses, Nepal can reestablish democratic governance and, if desired, amend the constitution. It is clear that His Majesty is not going to accept a constituent assembly, but amendments could be negotiated and accomplish the same things. To the voices of negativity and obstructionism I ask, why not? Do you have a feasible, specific plan that is better?
Now for the hard part. To end the military stalemate and establish an enduring peace, we are going to have to be a bit creative, but rigorously logical. We have to put the interests and well being of the Nepali people first. The air is full of talk about putting the Army under the control of the elected government, and perhaps combining the Maoist and Royal Armies into one force. This will not solve the nation’s problems. To imagine that two of the world’s worst human rights violating militaries will somehow meld into a coherent, harmonious whole is like mixing highly corrosive alkalis and acids to produce neutral salts. It is nonsense, a recipe for an exothermic reaction, violent and hot. Such an army would be a breeding ground of intrigues, power struggles, coups d’état and waste.
Nepal’s only two neighboring countries are India and China. Both have huge militaries and nuclear arms. To imagine that the RNA could ever repel any attack, which seems most unlikely in any case, is pure fantasy. And, as the American President and former Army General Dwight D Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Instead of such an army, I propose a three step transformation. First, the RNA commanders, who have disgraced themselves and the nation, should be relieved of their command and the Army placed under UN supervision to act as a peacekeeping force, charged with overseeing the disarmament of the Maoists and the elections. Second, the RNA itself is disarmed and all lawful arms bearing authority reposed in the police. Third,
the RNA is transformed into the Royal Peace Corps, to remain under His Majesty’s supervision with parliamentary accountability. Instead of 150,000-some idle, potentially dangerous soldiers, the nation could use their energies to build roads and other infrastructure, teach school, care for the sick and otherwise contribute to the national reconciliation and reconstruction. This would be active monarchy at its best, in the
tradition of the great King Ashoka.
As Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, reminded us: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
Of course, as with any compromise, no faction is going to get its way on all points. However, this plan is reasonable, straightforward, and accomplishes the stated major goals of all factions. It is in everyone’s best interest to show some flexibility, good will and integrity for the sake of the nation. It’s time to become statesmen instead of
politicians, principled and transforming leaders instead of self-serving ideologues, and humane advocates of peace, justice and development instead of perpetrators of conflict. Principles come before goals, goals before means, and means before results.
Let us hope and pray that Nepal fulfills the words of Isaiah, “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not rise up against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”