Chairman of the UCPN (Maoist) Pushpa Kamal Dahal wants to utilise the announced trip by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in late April 2012 to ‘cleanse’ himself of the blood of thousands, without having to express remorse. He took our society into a physically cruel and economically devastating ‘people’s war’ that has pauperised our society for 15 years running. Since coming above ground in 2006, he has prevaricated and cheated on the peace process, going against the promises made to the Nepali people and the international community. On BBC Radio Nepali Service, he openly stated that the directive of his party during the war years had been “to eliminate, but without torture”. He enthusiastically employed child soldiers during the conflict, as demonstrated by Special Rapporteur Chandrika Kumaraswamy in the Security Council chamber itself.
Chairman Dahal lied to the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and revelled in the deceit, as when he gleefully conceded, in the ‘Shaktikhor videotape’, that the Maoists had had no more than 7-8000 fighters while underground but had managed to bamboozle the UN to count 19,000-plus. There are few who doubt that UNMIN and its Department of Political Affairs (DPA) headquarters served to appease the Maoists through acts and omissions, and through the prejudiced reports to the Security Council which privileged the Maoist party while under-appreciating the position of the democratic, parliamentary parties. As things stand, with the unrepentant and unreformed Maoist party ready to advantage of Ban Ki-moon’s visit, the United Nations will only be compounding the mistakes of the late and unlamented UNMIN if the Secretary-General arrives unaware of Nepal’s ground reality.
Trial Baloon. After criticism of the planned Lumbini tryst between Secretary-General Ban and the Maoist chairman erupted, there seems to have been some backtracking from New York. Some news items in the Kathmandu press have reported that SG Ban may now come on a mission related more to peace and constitution-building, rather than on an exclusive Lumbini visit. Even that may not be such a good idea, given the UN apparatchiks’ proven inability to understand the levels to which the Maoists are able to take propaganda advantage of a possible Ban visit. Chairman Dahal visited the UN Secretariat in New York in November 2011, and according to the Nepali Permanent Mission to the UN, SG Ban “accepted the invitation to visit Lumbini and play a proactive role on Lumbini” as suggested by the Maoist Chairman.
Perhaps the announcement in Kathmandu of the impending visit was treated by the SG’s Office as a trial balloon, with its own deniability intact. The declaration by the Maoist Chairman and other members of the delegation (including Minendra Risal of the Nepali Congress) that the Secretary-General would co-chair the Lumbini meeting with Dahal was never denied by New York. This must be said: the SG should never have met Chairman Dahal in the first place given the latter’s unreformed position against peace and democracy despite a half-decade ‘grace period’, and his record since 2006 which is out there for all to see.
Whodunit? It is unclear exactly who has been advising the Secretary-General on the proposed April trip, but given the tilt of the DPA (as evidenced in the brash statements of the Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe when he came to Nepal in March 2010), it may well be functionaries in that office. It was the Maoists who continuously violated provisions of the peace process, whereas many in the international community, led by UNMIN, sought to lay blame with misplaced proportionality “on all parties”.
Incidentally, it has come out in the last month that what was reported back then was indeed true: the Maoists cheated on UNMIN not only by inflating the figures of fighters, but by keeping at least 3000 hardcore fighters out of the cantonments and using them to establish the Young Communist League (YCL). This has come out over the spring of 2012 only because the ‘fake fighters’ received golden handshakes as part of the rehabilitation package, and so the YCL members remonstrated by going public about what had happened back in 2007. With such chicanery played out against the Nepali public and the UN, and the trend continuing, why would the Secretary-General’s advisors want him to come to Nepal in what would in all likelihood become a trip to legitimise all the misdeeds of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, past and present.
It is also possible that, rather than the UN officials, it was a certain Mr. Kwak (old friend of Ban Ki-moon) and his spouse, a member of the South Korean Parliament, who played a role in skirting official channels to get the Secretary-General to agree to this Lumbini sojourn.
Nepal and North Korea. A trip by SG Ban to Nepal at a time when the Maoists continue to brazenly commit fraud on the peace process would needlessly give the Maoist chieftain a laurel he does not deserve. The test for the UN is to try and understand where the suffering people are at this point, and Dahal’s role in getting them there. The Maoist chairman has continued to speak in multiple tongues to multiple constituencies, while looting the exchequer, threatening all independent thinkers and delaying the peace process as a means to blackmail the Nepali public and the other political parties to signing on to an undemocratic constitution. Secretary-General Ban should know that the Maoist’s own draft constitution, unveiled by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai a couple of years ago, would leave Nepal uncomfortably similar to North Korea. Meanwhile, while PKD speaks sweetly of having ‘reformed’ when with the diplomats, to the party faithful he insists that the radical communist goal of ‘state capture’ is still on, only that it will now be achieved through a combination of “street action and control of legislature and state mechanisms” (“sadak, satta ra sadan”).
The Luxury of Distance. Only those who live in other countries and continents (or plan to retire there) have the luxury of making reassuring noises that the Maoists of Nepali will not fulfil their bluster in terms of state capture, an undemocratic constitution, absolute unaccountability and general amnesty for atrocities. We have seen what Chairman Dahal is capable of – in his push for ethnic federalism, which could bring the house down in communitarian tensions; his amassing of wealth; his willingness to steal the paychecks of his own ex-combatants in the cantonments; his penchant for personal glorification; his triplespeak. He is a demagogue of the first order, and when it is a matter of the future of our society, there should be no embarrassment in making these charges and repeating them.
What we seek is a UCPN (Maoist-Democratic) if at all possible, but not the party that we know till today as UCPN (Maoist). Similarly, we want a democratic constitution, not just any constitution written under duress during a period when one party (the largest) has retained its private force. The parliamentary parties and democratic civil society extended their hand towards the Maoists in 2005-06 to bring them above ground only to stop the bloodshed, but many in the international community make the mistake of thinking that there was agreement that the Maoists represented a ‘transformative force’ and that the ‘people’s war’ was somehow justified.
Writing the Constitution. A trip by Secretary-General Ban would legitimise the Maoist prevarication of the last three-and-half years on the peace process. It would also reward the Maoist Chairman in a way that will embolden him to push through his own version of the new constitution. Why would the Secretary-General want to be thus supportive of Dahal, when the chairman’s intentions are so clear? He is desperate for the imprimatur of legitimacy which the Ban Ki-moon visit would provide, and he seeks to use Lumbini as the lure. We would have hoped that the SG would not have fallen for the gambit, rather than for him to have to backtrack after the extent of disquiet in Nepal was/is revealed. We are at a critical point in the constitution-writing process, and the Maoists have the propaganda tools to turn the SG’s trip to their advantage, whatever the pre-conditions attached to the trip. Those who have lived in Eastern Europe or under some other radical dictatorial regime would perhaps understand what we are talking about. Does the SG’s Office have enough of a handle on the ‘vernacular’ political discourse in Nepal to have the confidence about what is going on?
Maoist Underdog?! The quintessential error made by many international observers is to believe that the Maoists are the underdogs in Nepal, as indeed they happen to be everywhere else in the world, including in neighbouring India. In the particular evolution of the Nepali polity after the People’s Movement of 2006, however, the Maoists have been part of the state establishment whether in government (as now) or in the opposition. The Nepali Maobaadi are not underdogs, but topdogs, as the largest party in Parliament, with full control of the government machinery, besides being the richest political party around. Take, as an example, the fact that the party has more SUV vehicles at its command than all the other political parties combined, multiplied by 50 or more. How the Maoists became the largest party in the Parliament is a story of its own which will be written up by political historians when the dust settles, and it is the greatness of the Nepali public and the parliamentary parties that they accepted both the elections and the results as part of the ‘peace process’.
Remorse. On violence, Dahal remains personally unrepentant, or remorseless, to this day. The same goes for his party, which has not taken the high road to democratic transformation, nor done what the trust and goodwill extended by Nepali society demanded – i.e., a formal, public renunciation of political violence as a tool of politics which remain enshrined in the party’s documents. Political violence remains the party’s guiding principle as the leadership calls for ‘revolt’ and ‘state capture’. The Secretary-General’s office needs to be reminded of the atrocities meted out under Dahal’s orders during the conflict – the gouging of eyes, crushing of kneecaps, public floggings and the public killings. These were meant to cow down the populace in order to be able to claim ‘people’s support’, and the trick was to make an example of any local leader, schoolteacher or village head by a public declaration of the victim as a ‘people’s enemy’ and a subsequent, ‘physical action’ (bhautik karbahi) or ‘elimination’ (safaya).
Has the Maoist Chairman done anything to distance himself from this past, in word and deed? No. The proof is seen in how he works tirelessly on the agenda of general amnesty for atrocities committed, to the extent that the future of the entire rank-and-file is being dragged down by the perpetrators in its midst who are being protected by the leadership. The murderers, torturers, abductors and extortionists are very much part of Dahal’s entourage, and because he does not have the courage to confront them, the chairman is leading the Maoist push for a general amnesty – against all international norms of which the United Nations is the repository.
The conflict era perpetrators from state-side (the former Royal Nepal Army, the Armed Police and Nepal Police) must be investigated and prosecuted as required, the same as with perpetrators who are members of the Maoist party, who committed war crimes against combatants, killed innocents, or utilised child soldiers. All perpetrators must be brought to justice after the excavation of truth, unless the victims or victims’ families are willing to forgive the perpetrators. Instead, the Maoist leader is intent today on mandating ‘general amnesty’ under the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As things stand, the party is also bound to pad the Commission with prejudicial political appointees to render it ineffective. While the perpetrators from the security forces must be dragged out of service and retirement for prosecution, we must recognise the danger posed by Maoist perpetrators who are on the loose, because they are the ones who plan to rule society as politicians for decades to come.
Victims. The victims of wartime atrocities and their families, meanwhile, are very much in evident in their distress. Today, even the Maoist supporters who are victims of state atrocities are beginning to question the party’s stance, and its campaign for general amnesty which would let all perpetrators off the hook. Under such circumstances, it would be advisable for the SG’s Office to be careful as it designs the proposed Nepal trip, to ensure that it does not hurt the sensibility of victims in a country where the UCPN (Maoist) has kept the peace process from coming to a successful conclusion, and where it seeks no justice for victims. Surely SG Ban’s advisors would not want conditions where the victims protest a visit by the Secretary-General himself. This would be a sad state of affairs in a country where the UN enjoys such high regard for its six decades of development work, with the only hiccup being the short UNMIN interlude.
The Murderer. Do the Secretary-General’s advisors keep track of events in Nepal as they occur? They should, if they would like to plan an official visit to a country in transition. For example, do they know that Bal Krishna Dhungel, a murderer convicted by the Supreme Court of Nepal in an ‘honour killing’, has been put forward by the prime minister for presidential pardon as a political victim? This man is a member of the Constituent Assembly and walks about threatening all and sundry, including the press. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai himself provides cover to the murderer, once even driving him in his official car to the Assembly.
Last week, Dhungel was taken by Chairman Dahal in his own helicopter to attend a Maoist mass meeting in Okhaldhunga, the very place where the murder happened. Sharing the platform and helicopter with a convicted murderer was the Maoist Chairman’s answer to the United Nations, the international community at large and the Nepali people. He took Dhungel to Okhaldhunga even as the Secretary-General’s April visit was announced in the press. The Parliament is presently engaged in drafting regulations which would suspend those being investigated for criminal offenses, but a week ago Dahal made a suggestion to other leaders in so many words, “Let us draft the regulations in such a way that Shyam Sundar Gupta [a leader from the plains under investigation for abduction] is suspended but not Bal Krishna Dhungel.” There you have it, the base level of a leader who has no sensitivity to murder.
Dahal’s Tirades. The Secretary-General’s office may not have sought information on what all Chairman Dahal has said in public over the years that he has been above ground. The extremes would be remarkable if they were not so manipulative. He has claimed to be a capitalist in his first meeting with Indian businessmen, that he is for mega projects supported by India to the New Delhi bureaucrats, that he remains a revolutionary to his cadre, and, to Western diplomats, that he is a social democrat who occasionally has to make radical speeches to keep the flock together. At a May Day mass rally in 2010, he sought to distinguish between the people at large who supported the Maoists and those few ‘well heeled’ and the privileged (sukila mukila) – adding that the people would remember who spoke against the party (the blatant implication being that they would be targeted).
It is under the party chairman’s egging that the Maoist-owned media and commentators engage in easy labelling of anyone who opposes Maoist policies as ‘feudal’, ‘royalist’, ‘reactionary’, and ‘peoples’ enemy’. For two long years, Dahal went on an anti-India rant, meant only to consolidate his own position within his party by exploiting ultra-nationalism, and during this period he had no qualms about laying all blame for his own misdemeanours on President Ram Baran Yadav. In 2008, as prime minister, Dahal nearly had the polity crashing to the ground when he tried to meddle with the chain of command in the national army. (Only a few weeks ago, he claimed to journalists that he had been put to it by Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Vaidya.) SG Ban’s advisors may not be aware, but the attempt to compromise the national army continues, with Chairman Dahal reneging on the ‘seven point deal’ which would have made the peace process end on a successful note. Instead, the Maoist boss has sought to create an ‘army within an army’ with Maoist ex-combatants essentially retaining their identity and loyalty, going so far as to infiltrate the army top brass.
Nepali Democracy. We all know that Dahal wants a directly elected executive (either a presidency or prime ministership) to be written into the new constitution. Of course he has every right to have such an ambition, but he insists on a link between ending the peace process and an agreement on a directly elected executive. This is of course blackmail, an attempt to have a constitution written with a gun pointed at the people’s representatives. The SG’s Office at the 38th Floor of the UN Secretariat must recognise blackmail when it is applied? Unless, that is, Nepal is considered too remote and the Nepalis too inscrutable to be able gauge their level of political development.
The citizens of Nepal may not have experienced full-fledged democracy for long (only in the 1959-60 and 1990-96 interludes), but they understand the contours of pluralism for having fought for it since the darkest hours of the Rana regime in the 1940s, the three decades of the Panchayat, and the 15-year attempt by the Maoist party to force through a rule by commissars rather than by elected representatives. Perhaps the international community does not appreciate this democratic yearning enough because our discourse is not adequately reflected in the English language, but there was the glorious People’s Movement of 2006 for anyone who sought to understand our society. The Nepali people will certainly not succumb to a demagogue who is backed with money, guns, the Young Communist League, and control of state machinery. However, a better understanding of the political reality by the diplomats and donors would help the people in their fight for open society, pluralism, inclusive development and social justice.
Attempt at Cleansing. Lumbini is nothing but a tool as far as the utilitarian Pushpa Kamal Dahal is concerned. The sacred birthplace of the Sakyamuni, the Light of Asia, is now to be sullied for the mock cleansing of an insurgency commander who has brutalised Nepali society. Dahal sees Lumbini as an opportunity to hit several birds with a single stone. He can buttress his politics by being the man who is seen to bring great investments to Lumbini (they would come anyway, as long as there is democracy and peace). He can help destabilise regional geopolitics (given the Chinese interest in developing Lumbini and Kapilvastu, fast by the border with India) and stand by to reap the benefits as the ‘geopolitics of Buddhism’ is turned on its head. Most importantly, he can continue to control his party if he can get international recognition as a man of peace without actually having to give up violence. He believes that the world would accept him even as he throttles the Nepali citizenry into submission. What would history say to the Secretary-General of the United Nations being used by a guerrilla leader to buy legitimacy sans remorse or conversion? We are not talking of Emperor Ashoka or the sage Balmiki here!
Beneath the Surface. Chairman Dahal and his party have managed to silence whole swathes of Kathmandu’s civil society and intelligentsia, which is one reason that the international community remains so unaware of the ground realities of the stalled peace process, which has in turn blocked the writing of a democratic constitution. However, the fact that the Kathmandu polity is largely cowed into submission does not release the Secretary-General’s advisors from the obligation of studying what is really going on beneath the Maoist-defined surface layer.
Scratch the veneer, and you will notice that Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Maoist Chairman: a) seeks a one-party regime through ‘state capture’; b) does not want separation of powers; c) wants the press muzzled; d) stands against judicial supremacy; e) wants the peace process to linger; f) seeks federalism based on identity/ethnicity rather than economic geography; g) is willing to weaken Nepal vis-a-vis its neighbours as long as he gets to be (and remain) top dog; h) would give his most cherished possession to compromise the national army; and, g) will happily spend his amassed fortune to get what he wants, whether buying supporters or buying the forthcoming elections for the UCPN (Maoist) when they happen.
None of which means that Dahal will get what he wants, of course, because the people of Nepal are more resilient and clear-headed than the Maoist chairman gives them credit for. However, a little bit of understanding among the international community and the United Nations would give the Nepali people strength at this difficult time.
Plan of Action. What should the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon do? This can be answered rhetorically: what is to be lost if the Secretary-General were to come after 28 May 2012, which is the constitution-writing deadline? As a pilgrim, Nepalis would welcome Secretary-General Ban at any time. But he should not come to co-chair a meeting on the development of Lumbini with Chairman Dahal, who has been made head of a so-called ‘Greater Lumbini National Development Directive Committee’ as a sop by Prime Minister Bhattarai. There are already empowered institutions in place, most centrally the Lumbini Development Trust which is entrusted with implementing the Lumbini Master Plan developed by Japanese planner Kenzo Tange in the 1970s. Secretary-General Ban should communicate to Chairman Dahal that the billions of dollars will flow to Lumbini only if there is lasting peace and genuine, practiced democracy in Nepal. There is no need for a manipulative meeting called by an ad-hoc committee meant only to serve the ambitions of one remorseless man.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General himself would do a world of service to Lumbini if he were to take the initiative to revive the International Committee for the Development of Lumbini, the unique body attached to the UN Secretariat which has been allowed to go moribund these last two decades. The most important way to protect and project Lumbini, and ensure great income for the Nepali economy, lies within Ban Ki-moon’s authority without his ever having to leave New York City. Just get the International Committee on Lumbini restarted – there is no other committee like it for a world heritage site in the entire United Nations system.
If Secretaryy-General Ban is now being told (after the barrage of objections emanating from Kathmandu) that the trip to Nepal is not for Lumbini but for promoting peace and constitution-writing, he should be even more careful. The waters are indeed murky, and refuse to settle. The UCPN (Maoist), still a politico-military outfit, is capable of taking propaganda advantage on both counts of peace and constitution. Why should the Secretary-General be used by the Maoist Chairman and his party to claim a conversion to peace and legitimacy through the sheer proximity to the Secretary-General, and get browny points on a peace process they have blocked since September 2008? Let that conversion be evident through facts on the ground rather than mere declaratory actions, of which we have seen enough (such as the Shaktikhor flag-lowering a year ago, in the presence of the entire Kathmandu diplomatic corps and visitors from the UN/DPA in New York). The public declaration of renouncement of violence should be made formally through party decision, and not through an ad-hoc remark or speech by the chairman standing beside the Secretary-General.
The SG’s Office has to be additionally careful because the Nepali public has great respect for the United Nations and would read Ban Ki-moon’s hand shake with Chairman Dahal as international support for the Maoist position on peace and its preferences with regard to constitutional provisions. Chairman Dahal would use his perceived proximity to the Secretary-General not only to claim a conversion to peace, he would also exploit this ‘legitimacy’ to push through prejudicial elements into the new constitution. The Secretary-General of the UN should have enough werewithal not to be entrapped in a web spun in Kathmandu!
If any recommendations were to be heard, they would be that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
a)Do come on a private pilgrimage to Lumbini at any time, to the welcoming embrace of the Nepali people.
b)Postpone the visit to Lumbini till after May 2012 if he wants to work for the development of the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
c)Come to promote peace and constitution-writing only if he is convinced that his advisors do understand the opportunities and pitfalls posed to the people of Nepal by such a visit