February 28, 2006
By Dana Robert Dillon
will be in South Asia soon and one of the burning issues he'll
confront will be the crisis in Nepal that has claimed 13,000
If he wants to make the most of his visit, President Bush needs to
work with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to craft a policy toward
Nepal that is grounded in the president's promise to expand
It doesn't seem as if an easy choice exists when it comes to Indian
and American policy toward Nepal. It's either support democracy,
which allies Washington and New Delhi with communist insurgents who
have shown no regard for the rule of law or human rights, or
support a demonstrably unpopular king and his brutal army, which
undermines democracy and indirectly supports China's policy of
Fortunately, there is a third way. Washington and New Delhi should
push for inclusion of all the indigenous political interests,
giving all factions a seat at the table and working out elections
in which all sides can take part and share in the victory of
The current crisis began when King Gyanendra dissolved parliament
and seized absolute power last February. This set off intense
diplomatic activity to resolve the country's decade-long crisis
that began when Maoist insurgents gave up on the political process
and declared a state of revolution.
Initially, the Indians and Americans opposed the Maoists' efforts
to topple the king and asked that the other seven major political
parties join with the monarchy to form a government, but the king
refused to cooperate. So instead of an agreement with a tyrannical
king, the democratic opposition parties signed a "12-point
understanding" with the Maoists in which they agreed to fight
jointly for a constituent assembly and a new "democratic"
After intense American and Indian pressure, Nepal's royalist
government held the country's first elections in seven years on
Feb. 8, 2006. These municipal elections were supposed to lead to
national elections in 2007, but instead the Maoists and the
democratic parties announced boycotts of the elections.
Even before the polling started, 55 percent of the seats had no
candidates running and another 30 percent had only one candidate.
Voter turnout in Katmandu was estimated at only 15 percent, while
polling stations outside the capitol attracted half that
In comparison, the voter turnout in the previous election in 1999
was estimated at 66 percent. The elections were an embarrassment
for the Monarchy and capsized Washington and New Delhi's policy of
a reconciliation of the king with his parliament.
As if things weren't difficult enough, Beijing has stepped into the
Nepal crisis firmly on the side of the king against the Maoist
insurgents and democratic parties. After the royal power grab,
China's Foreign Minister, Li Zaoxing, visited Nepal to declare that
the king's seizure of power was "an internal matter for Nepal,"
meaning China refused to intervene.
King Gyanendra in turn announced that China is a "reliable friend
of Nepal," that Nepal supports Beijing's one-China policy, and that
Nepal would "never allow any anti-China activities" in its
territory. It carried through on this promise by promptly shutting
down Tibet's government-in-exile, which had operated in Nepal for
53 years, and persecuting the thousands of Tibetan refugees
residing in Nepal, including forced repatriations.
Not surprisingly, China also is assisting the king's Royal Nepalese
Army. No one knows how much military assistance has flowed into
Nepal. But before the elections, seven political parties announced
they would defy a ban on demonstrations. In response, the RNA
announced a curfew and enforced it on the streets of the capital by
patrolling in Chinese-supplied armored vehicles.
India was quick to label the Maoists as "terrorists," but it has
allowed insurgent leaders to spend considerable time in India. In
fact, the meeting between Nepali opposition parties and the Maoists
leaders took place in New Delhi. India denies having known about
the meeting beforehand.
Indian and American policy toward Nepal is on the horns of a
dilemma. At the moment it appears that they must choose to side
with either the Maoists or with Beijing's puppet King. To avoid
this, President Bush and Prime Minister Singh should craft a humane
policy toward Nepal that comes down on the side of democracy - open
to all indigenous political forces, even if most of them may not be
to our tastes.
Dillon is a senior policy analyst in the Asian
Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in FOXNews.com
President Bush will be in South Asia soon and one of the burning issues he'll confront will be the crisis in Nepal that has claimed 13,000 lives. If he wants to make the most of his visit, President Bush needs to work with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to craft a policy toward Nepal that is grounded in the president's promise to expand democracy worldwide.
Dana Robert Dillon
Senior Policy Analyst
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