18 March 2006

Crucial deal in Nepal hits roadblock

Leaders of the seven-party alliance are wary of the hostility of the United States and the Palace to any further agreement with the Maoists. And India's official indifference is not helping matters either.

18 March 2006
The Hindu

Key deal in Nepal hits roadblock

Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI: A crucial agreement that would involve Nepal's Maoists joining the seven-party alliance of parliamentary parties in a "peaceful non-violent agitation" against the monarchy has hit an eleventh hour roadblock. Party leaders are under intense pressure from King Gyanendra and Washington not to take their partnership with the rebels any further.

After many days of talks at an undisclosed location in the vicinity of the Indian capital, negotiators from the two sides agreed on the language of a draft "7-plus-one communiqué." This would take last November's 12-point agreement forward by launching a Nepal-wide campaign of demonstrations against the "autocratic monarchy."

Joint appeal

The joint appeal has to be approved by leaders of the seven-party alliance, but in the face of threats from Narayanhiti Palace and dire warnings from the United States against having any truck with the Maoists, the parties' leadership decided to withhold their endorsement.

Meeting in Kathmandu on Friday to discuss the possibility of a joint appeal or two "parallel" appeals to be issued separately by the parties and Maoists, senior alliance leaders like Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba failed to reach an agreement on a course of action and postponed a final decision to Sunday.


As matters stand, there is no deal between the Maoists, and the parties and sources familiar with the course of the negotiations say there is considerable bitterness in the rebels' camp as a result. The Maoists, said one source, were looking for a "respectable exit from the present national stalemate" and felt the draft communiqué offered a balanced way forward for themselves and the parties.

"That the seven-party alliance leadership had now developed cold feet is purely a result of pressure from the King and [the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal] James Moriarty," the source said.

Mr. Moriarty's criticism last month of the 12-point agreement between the parties and the Maoists has been reiterated recently by Donald Camp, U.S. State Department's pointman for Nepal.

"We are concerned that Maoists, who have refused to renounce violence, have gained a greater degree of legitimacy from their engagement with the political parties," Mr. Camp told a Congressional committee in Washington on Wednesday. The 12-point understanding, he said, "has further consolidated [the Maoists'] power and strengthened their position against the king."

With the U.S. administration ranged openly against any further deepening of political relations between the Maoists and the parties, India has been reluctant publicly to articulate its view that there is still plenty of scope for the two to work in tandem.

Moriarty's attack

Within days of Mr. Moriarty's attack on the 12-point understanding, the Indian side informed the leadership of the Nepali Congress, the UML and other parties that the U.S. Ambassador's negative assessment of the understanding was not shared by New Delhi. But with Washington keen for the parties to sever their ties with the Maoists, India appears to have gone back to sitting on the fence.

The apparent Indian indifference to the outcome of the last few days of negotiations, say sources, has led the alliance leaders to wonder whether New Delhi would provide them with the necessary cover should King Gyanendra respond with a heavy hand to the formal initiation of a joint agitation with the Maoists.

Poll dates

With the King likely to announce dates for fresh parliamentary elections, the party leaders are increasingly finding themselves in a difficult position. There is pressure from their cadres for a more sustained and widespread agitation and the proposed agreement with the Maoists was intended to galvanise public protests in the Kathmandu valley.

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