|24 April 2005|
JAKARTA: India has decided to reverse its decision to suspend the supply of lethal weapons to the Royal Nepal Army. The decision was conveyed by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to King Gyanendra of Nepal during a 45-minute meeting here on Saturday on the sidelines of the ongoing Asian-African Summit.
Although the Prime Minister side-stepped a direct question from journalists on this issue at a press conference later in the day, a senior Indian official told The Hindu that a consignment of arms which had been in the pipeline when King Gyanendra seized direct control of the Government on February 1 would be delivered "very soon." On his part, the King assured the Prime Minister that democracy in Nepal would be restored "sooner rather than later" and that he would be sensitive to Indian concerns that there be a "road map" for restarting the political process.
At his press conference, Dr. Singh said he told the King that India's concerns about recent developments in Nepal were prompted by its belief that the "twin pillars" of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy must work in harmony. On King Gyanendra's statement that Indian military supplies would now be forthcoming, all Dr. Singh was prepared to say was: "His Majesty raised that issue with me and I said we will look at these things in the proper perspective."
The bilateral meeting was sought by King Gyanendra and attended only by the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, from the Indian side. Whatever was said — and understood — at that meeting, Indian officials were caught off guard by the Nepalese monarch's statement to NDTV soon after.
Asked about military supplies from India, he said: "We have agreed on certain things ... we have got assurances that they will continue." He claimed the task of "re-energising the political process" had begun, and cited his controversial decision to hold municipal elections as the first step.
In an official briefing to the Indian media soon after the meeting, Rajiv Sikri, Secretary (East) in the MEA, refused to comment on the question of arms supplies.
He said only that the two leaders had deliberated on the situation in Nepal and had agreed that it was necessary to restart the political process without delay as this would allow Kathmandu to deal with the Maoist insurgency. New Delhi had suspended arms supplies to Nepal in the wake of the royal coup in which a state of emergency was imposed, a large number of politicians and leaders was arrested, and the media were subjected to censorship.
Decision not clear
It is not clear whether the decision to send the one pending consignment of arms to Nepal will be followed up soon with other deliveries. Officials told The Hindu there was no clear timeframe and that much will depend on what kind of roadmap for the restoration of democracy the King comes up with. But the Indian decision will come as a big boost to King Gyanendra, who continues to defy calls made by people in Nepal — and the international community — for a speedy return to democratic rule. With the United States refusing to join India and Britain in suspending arms supplies to Nepal and the defence establishment in New Delhi increasingly worried by the prospects of the Nepal Maoists gaining the upper hand, a rethink of the Indian policy has been on the cards for a while.
One month after India put on hold all weapons consignments, Mr. Natwar Singh made a suo motu statement in Parliament on developments in Nepal where he hinted that New Delhi's tough policy might be reversed. "In view of the current disturbed conditions in Nepal," the External Affairs Minister told the Rajya Sabha on March 4, "the question of military supplies to Nepal is under constant review."
In his speech to the Jakarta summit, the King was unapologetic about his seizure of power and claimed that the security situation in Nepal and the international war on terrorism had been strengthened as a result. "Terrorism and the self-induced inability of the political parties and various governments to rise to the challenge of ever-emboldening terrorists were driving the country to the edge of a precipice," he said.
"The nation, left with little choice, was compelled to take a decisive course. The decision we took on the first of February this year was in response to the call of our Constitutional duty to prevent the nation from further sliding down to chaos and anarchy."
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