NEPAL: State of emergency threatens US military aid
Francisco Quintanilla

M. Ashraf Haidari

On February 1, 2005 Nepal's King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency, assumed absolute power and dismissed the government. The primary justification given was that political leaders had been ineffective in combating the 9-year old communist insurgency and had not held elections as required. The king also jailed over 100 political opponents-most of whom have since been freed-and suspended many constitutional liberties.

King Gyanendra's political opponents accused him of a power grab, and key international allies of Nepal, including the United States, the United Kingdom and India have been highly critical of his action. Diplomatic Traffic had the opportunity to speak with Nepalese Ambassador to Washington Kedar Bhakta Shrestha to discuss events in Nepal and his nation's relationship with the United States in light of the state of emergency.

The ambassador reiterated that King Gyanendra took the decision to suspend the government because the Maoist insurgency was worsening. He was quick to point out that over the last nine years approximately 11,000 people have been killed and that the insurgency has caused much destruction of property and infrastructure.

The ambassador suggested that to find a solution the political impasse had to be resolved. He pointed out that, in spite of their efforts, governments over the last nine years had not come any closer to resolving the insurgency. "It seems that they were not serious enough, or capable enough to solve this problem," he said. "The political parties were mostly busy or interested in either getting into power, or . . . [remaining] in power."

The priority for the country is peace, he said. "For that we need to tackle the insurgency."

According to the ambassador, the king is still committed to democracy and upholding human rights. "[The king] has asked for three years' time," the ambassador said. "During that time he will try to solve this problem and bring back democratic institutions by holding elections."

The ambassador also pinned the insurgency itself on a series of ineffective governments that did not address the needs of the people, especially poverty alleviation and economic development. "No parliament so far has been able to complete its full 5-year term because of inter-party wrangling or intra-party dissention," he said. "This is why the common people . . . felt the parties did not deliver."

To address ineffective government the king has initiated several programs to implement good governance and curb corruption, the ambassador said. "[Corruption] was one of the main reasons that the Maoist insurgency took root," he explained. "Corruption was rampant and good governance was something everyone talked about but was never there," he said.

However, it will take some time to make the changes felt, the ambassador said.

In spite of justification, the state of emergency has damaged Nepal's international relations. The United Kingdom and India have suspended military aid. In the United States a November 2004 bill makes the release of military aid contingent on confirmation by the US secretary of state that Nepal is fulfilling its human rights commitments.

The ambassador said that he was busy explaining the situation, including the dangers of cutting aid, to the US administration, Capitol Hill, and academia. "Cutting down aid to Nepal . . . will result in strengthening and emboldening the insurgents," he said.

"We understand the concern of American society about democracy in Nepal," he said. "But at the same time we try to explain that fighting terrorism is more important at the moment."

The US state department is concerned about the insurgency in Nepal and the potential repercussions of the declared state of emergency. In a March 2, 2005 statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, Donald Camp, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary said, "Nepal confronts the real possibility that a brutal Maoist insurgency might seize power."

But Camp did not see the suspension of the political process as the solution. "Unity among Nepal's legitimate political forces is key to preventing that possibility," he said.

"Anything that would lead to an effective solution to the insurgecy problem should be explored and should be welcome. Nothing has been ruled out," the ambassador said when asked to comment. "If the political parties are serious and sincere about working together," he added as a caveat.

Although he acknowledged that improving the economy and the business climate is important to addressing the needs of the people, the ambassador expressed concern over the adverse effects of the insurgency. "It is very difficult, if not impossible, to attract investment in a situation like Nepal is in today," he said.

His initial portfolio to expand investment and promote Nepalese culture was derailed by the growing insurgency, the ambassador explained. "Out attention and focus has been diverted," he said.

Possible human rights violations by the military are an additional issue the embassy must now address to maintain healthy relations with Washington.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO, recently accused the Maoist rebels and government forces of "summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and abductions, and persecution based on political associations."

"There may have been some human rights violations by the armed forces," the ambassador said. "This is not an official policy and we have taken action against many of those officials who have violated human rights" he added.

The ambassador argued that the government was taking the necessary steps to address the problem. "Please do not stop the aid, including military aid, because we need American military aid to face the insurgency," the ambassador concluded. "Gradually we are relaxing the situation."

Curriculum Vitae of Ambassador Kedar Bhakta Shrestha

Born in Kathmandu on 18th January 1938
Married to Shanta Shrestha - has one son and two daughters
Education: Tri-Chandra College 1951-55
M.A. in Political Science and International Affairs from the University of Bombay 1959.

Service with His Majesty's Government:
1964 Joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1965-1969 Second Secretary, Royal Nepalese Embassy, Bonn
1969-1973 Ministry of Foreign Affairs promoted to Under Secretary in 1970
1973-1977 First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Nepal to the UN, New York
1977-1980 Under Secretary and later Deputy Chief of Protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1980-1984 Counselor and Deputy Chief of Mission, Royal Nepalese Embassy Washington, DC
1984-1987 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, promoted to Joint Secretary - in charge of Far East and South East Asia.
1987-1992 Director, SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu
1992-1994 Joint Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1994-1997 Foreign Secretary Superannuated in February 1997
1997-2002 Royal Nepalese Ambassador to the European Union, Brussels and also to the Benelux

International Conferences:
1967 ILO, Geneva
1972-1977 UN General Assemblies, New York Rapporteur, U.N. First Committee, 1976
1973 UN Law of the Sea Conference, Caracas
1975 UN Law of the Sea Conference, Geneva
1987-1992 Various SAARC Meetings in SAARC capitals
1999 Global Water Forum, The Hague
2001 UN Conference on LDCs, Brussels

Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (4th Class) --1967
Order of Orange Nassau (The Netherlands) --1967
Order of the Rising Sun (Japan) --1979
Prakhyat Trishakti Patta (4th Class) --1980
Suprabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (3rd Class) --1983
Vikhyat Trishakti Patta (3rd Class) --1984
Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand (2nd Class) --1985
Federal Merit Cross-Germany (2nd Class) --1994
Prasiddha Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (2nd Class) --1995
Legion of Honour (France) -(2nd Class) --1995