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IRIN Asia | Asia | NEPAL | NEPAL: Interview with the editor of the Nepali Times, Kunda Dixit | Democracy, Peace Security | Interview
Tuesday 21 February 2006
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NEPAL: Interview with the editor of the Nepali Times, Kunda Dixit

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  Naresh Newar/IRIN

Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times

KATHMANDU, 2 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - The accord signed in New Delhi in late November between Nepalís opposition parties and Maoist insurgents, sets out an agenda to end absolute rule by King Gyanendra. Maoists have pledged to forego violence and accept a constitutional monarchy, if progress towards a new constituent assembly can be made.

Nepali Times Editor Kunda Dixit spoke to IRIN about the circumstances surrounding the accord. Dixit said he felt the conflict was not intractable and that it could be resolved with vision and statesmanship on the part of the king, and with some understanding on the part of the rebels that military conflict was unlikely to lead to them taking over the country.

QUESTION: What has been the consequence of the ceasefire for both sides?

ANSWER: It [the unilateral Maoist ceasefire] has been a big relief to the army. It means they do not have to fight and go out on patrols, although they have [issued] press releases saying that they have been out trying to work on intelligence to chase the Maoists and raid their training camps. And that looks like what the Maoists have been doing, a lot of training; not just military training but also political training. The Maoists are worried by the fact that many of their guerillas came in raw and really didnít know what the cause was all about, and degenerated into criminality. So theyíve been worried by that and theyíve been working on the political side as well...

Q: Whatís the current situation regarding the conflict?

A: Nepal has the kind of terrain that is ideal for military warfare. This is a country where you can fight a guerilla war forever and neither side will win. And thatís been the problem for the army. Itís not just the terrain but they are so ill-equipped logistically, with not enough transport helicopters and lorries to get around. So the Maoists have been using the terrain to their advantage, actually quite brilliantly. Therefore what you have in the field is the army confined to the district headquarters inside their barracks. Whenever they do go out, they often canít go without helicopter escorts because of the threat of landmines and ambushes along the highways. What this does is that it leaves large areas of the countryside and districts as a "no manís land". Of course, the Maoists themselves donít have the numbers to be everywhere, but effectively those areas are under their control just because the army is not there.

Q: Politically, the government didnít respond to the [Maoist] ceasefire. Are they still intent on pursuing a military solution?

A: Well they are. We say there is a military stalemate in the field. In Kathmandu there is a political deadlock. This deadlock is three-way: between the king and the political parties; between the parties and the Maoists; and between the Maoists and the king. So where do you start untying this knot? Because itís pretty badly stuck. By his 1 February move, the king has basically cut off all ties with the political parties. He said when he took over that he needed to declare a state of emergency and take over power in order to crush the Maoists and restore peace. But all we have seen for the last eight months has been a crackdown on the democratic institutions, a crackdown on the press and basically emasculating the activities of the parties. This has sidelined them and this sidelining has in fact cost the king very dearly in terms of popular support. And it has removed the buffer that he always had between himself and insurgents. Now heís responsible for everything that goes wrong and after the ceasefire...what that did was paint the king even more into the corner with the army. They couldnít respond.

The only legitimacy the king had for his 1 February move was if he could have restored peace. But when the Maoists declared a unilateral ceasefire, he basically had the rug pulled from under him. So there is no way he could have come out and said "ok, we reciprocate with the ceasefire" because that would have made him look very defensive. The army and palace have come out looking like warmongers, whereas the Maoists look like they are the ones that want compromise and a peace process.

Q: There are people in the UN and the humanitarian field who feel that Nepal is on the edge of a humanitarian abyss, and any number of different factors might conspire to push it over. Youíve travelled extensively across the country; whatís your impression and can you imagine a situation whereby there would have to be a major type of humanitarian intervention?

A: Well I can understand why the UN is trying to pre-empt a big humanitarian disaster here because theyíve been accused elsewhere of not doing things soon enough, whereas here the UN is actually ahead of the curve. There are things the UN could do now that would prevent a disaster in the future. But having said that, I think Nepal has always been on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, even before this war started. Look at our maternal mortality rate, the number of children who die. Weíve always had a huge humanitarian crisis and the insurgency has just made matters worse. And the lack of governance. For centuries the neglect of the countryside by the capital and its political elite has led to this situation. And now if the world wants to help, really the help is needed to tackle the first problem, which is to end the insurgency and then maybe look at the background humanitarian crisis that was always there in Nepal.

Q: When you say the world could help by tackling the insurgency, what realistically could you see undertaken?

A: I think India is the critical factor here. What weíve seen after 1 February is Britain, the US and the Europeans coordinating their policies towards Nepal through India. This has been a direct result of the kingís takeover. I think a more engaged approach by all of them to pressure the rebels as well as the king and the army towards a negotiated solution is the way forward. If you talk to moderates on both sides, among the Maoists and the army, they tell you there is no military solution. We could be fighting for another 30 years and no one will win. So whatís the point? Letís fix it up now and get it over with and have peace so that the Nepali people donít have to suffer another 30 years.

Actually, the real bone of contention, the things that theyíre fighting over, is not really that intractable. Itís not yet an ethnic war, itís not communal strife, itís not a huge conflagration or genocide. It can be resolved. And at the bottom of it is how much power the king should have. I think that can easily be solved with a bit of vision and statesmanship on the part of the King, and perhaps some understanding on the rebel side that violence and conflict is not going to get them anywhere...

Q: To what extent do you think the economy has become a war economy? If so, to what extent has that helped to perpetuate the conflict?

A: Itís a chicken and egg situation. There was always a shortage of resources here to tackle the problems that we have. Money, even when available, was not being spent because of bad governance. So when the military machine took away an even larger proportion of the money that was supposed to be there for education, health, transportation and infrastructure Ė all that was diverted to buy more weapons to keep the war machine going. That made it even more difficult to provide development. Thatís the crux of the problem now because how are you going to find the resources to deal with the problems that used to be there even before the war started? And then of course the embargo on aid by various donors is also beginning to be felt.
The military budget has grown two and half times in the last five years and the army says it wants more. We canít afford it. The country could never afford it, even to start with, now even less so.

Q: Where is Nepal going to be in six monthsí time?

A: If you look at the best case scenario, that is, how it should go, then this should be that the constitutional forces should be on one side. These are the people who believe that the 1990 constitution is still the framework in which the country can go forward: constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy and a grassroots decentralised system of governance. Perhaps the constitution will need tinkering with and will need reforms, but that would be the basis on which it would work and once these two are put in place Ė the political parties and a constitutional monarch Ė then that would put pressure on the Maoists to come in.

However, the problem has been, especially after 1 February, that the kingís move has made this alliance of the constitutional forces highly improbable, and the parties, out of sheer desperation, have tried to shake hands with the Maoists. Despite the last 10 years of bad blood between the Maoists and political parties, they are willing to go and shake hands. The head of the UML [the Communist Party of Nepal, Unified Marxist-Leninist faction] [has talked to] the Maoists and said that they have come to some sort of compromise agreement.

Ultimately I think that the party leadership is still trying to scare the king with these tactics, and ultimately it would still be in their own best interest and in the monarchyís best interest for the parties and the king to unite. But the longer this stalemate drags on and the king perpetuates the perception that heís out to grab power and take the country back to pre-1990 absolute monarchy days, then Iím afraid itís going to push the parties into the Maoist fold with some kind of anti-monarchy alliance resulting. And the parties are also responding to a huge wave of republicanism especially among the younger cadre. They really canít be seen to be close to a king who is out to grab power. So they are caught in a bind.

Q: What is the perspective of most people in Nepal?

A: Ninety-nine percent of Nepali people donít want this war. They donít want to have anything to do with it and yet they are victims. The people realise that this is just a power struggle between the revolutionaries who are outdated in their ideologies, and a monarchy that wants to take the country back three decades. They are just caught in the middle. Remember these are long-suffering people who suffered before the conflict. They are just suffering more. The conflict is just another crisis they are facing. But they are taking it in their stride. Itís the rulers here in the capital who need to understand that they canít take on this fight in the name of the people for much longer, because in the end they will be the ones who will be thrown out.


 Theme(s) Democracy
Other recent NEPAL reports:

Grave danger for civilians due to the conflict,  21/Feb/06

Terrorism or liberation? Life in a rebel-held village,  20/Feb/06

Overview analysis: A peopleís war?,  20/Feb/06

The political context of the crisis in Nepal,  20/Feb/06

Escaping rural violence and hardship Ė the reality of displacement,  17/Feb/06

Other recent Democracy & Governance reports:

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe delivers broadside to neighbours, 21/Feb/06

SYRIA: US funding offer for NGOs draws mixed reactions, 21/Feb/06

UGANDA: Official campaigns end two days before polls, 21/Feb/06

SOUTH AFRICA: Govt adopts more focused approach to help orphans, 21/Feb/06

ANGOLA: Ready to play larger security role in Africa, 21/Feb/06

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