Options before India and the International Community on Nepal

The international community is keeping a close watch on developments in Nepal these days. Following an assurance from King Gyanendra that he needed at least 100 days to overcome the difficult period to restore the democratic process, India, the United States, European Union and Britain have adopted a ‘wait and watch’ policy now.

The latest developments relating to US ambassador to Nepal J F Moriarty not being allowed to meet Nepali Congress leader and former Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, are likely to send wrong signals to the international community. This was the second time when the US envoy prevented from meeting Koirala who is under house arrest ever since King seized power and imposed emergency on 1 February.

Though Kathmandu has begun serious efforts to win confidence of the international community to avoid any punitive action, it has yet to succeed in the mission. While India has put on hold weapons supplies to Nepal, Britain too has suspended a planned $2.5 million (non-lethal) military aid package to Nepal. Even the World Bank has suspended aid to Nepal until King reverses the emergency and suspension of political parties.

This is the first time when the international community got its act together on the Nepal issue. India, the US, the European Union and Britain have been acting in concert on Nepal since 1 February. In fact, all of them made a synchronised withdrawal of ambassadors from Kathmandu in the wake of royal coup.

Now, the key question is what can India and the International community really do in the current disturbed conditions in Nepal? Should they intervene directly or not? These are questions being debated in diplomatic circles in India, the United States and the United Kingdom in particular.

Expressing fear that Nepal might become a ‘failed’ state if immediate steps are not taken, experts in India on Nepal opine that India and the international community have a greater role to play in Nepal now, but opposed the involvement of United Nations. Maintaining that it is an internal matter of Nepal and people of Nepal have the ability to resolve the crisis on their own, they however suggested that the international community should put pressure on the King to follow the democratic process under all circumstances.

Rejecting the appointment of a royal government, experts said that it would further isolate King Gyanendra and push the political parties into the same camp as the insurgents and even unite them. They also said the international community must tell King Gyanendra in clear terms that he should facilitate the return of democratic process and hold elections in the country at the earliest.

According to them, Nepal can be handled in two ways in the face of King Gyanendra’s revanchism. One way can be a soft approach. According to this approach, the international community should politely tell King that his actions would adversely affect his own position in the country. According to Major General (Retd) Ashok Mehta, international community should make him understand the adverse impact of his latest actions on the overall development of the country because Nepal is largely dependent on financial aid and military assistance from India, other countries and donor agencies. The normal life in Nepal and Kathmandu valley was badly affected last month due to Maoists’s 14-day nation-wide transport blockade following the royal coup, as it had sent market prices of vegetables, fruits and other foods soaring.

According to veteran journalist, Arbinda Ghosh, the international community should use Track-II diplomacy or ‘quite diplomacy’ to pressurize King to not only hold elections in the country and release political leaders but also lift a ban on the media. Ghosh opine that people of Nepal have voted thrice in the past 15 years to elect democratic governments and hence they should be allowed to do so even now.

Another expert says that King should install a national government comprising representatives from major political parties and then hold peace talks with the rebels. However, he says efforts should be made to bring together major political parties and motivate them to work for the restoration of democracy in the country.

The other way can be a hard approach under which economic sanctions should be imposed on Nepal and financial aid and arms supply is suspended on permanent basis. But Major General Mehta cautioned that international economic sanctions could hit people of Nepal. The 1989 blockade by India had caused a lot of inconvenience to ordinary Nepali and served no purpose other than allowing the Palace to rally nationalists’ support around itself.

Should the international community adopt a soft or hard approach towards Nepal ? It is up to the governments to decide but experts stressed that a time has come to evaluate these options and decide the course of action.