Event ReportsPublished on Nov 23, 2009
Eminent Nepalese journalist Mr. Yubaraj Ghimire visited ORF and shared his insights on the situation in Nepal.
What's the current situation in Nepal?

Opening Remarks by Chair:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have great pleasure in welcoming Mr. Yuvaraj Ghimire, an eminent journalist from Nepal.  It is said of him that if he doesn’t know anything that is happening in Nepal it is not worth knowing.  He has also been taking up causes for those that deserved to be taken up.  He has spent a life time in Nepali newspapers like the Kathmandu Post, Kantipur, and edits and publishes his own newspapers.  Today he is with us to tell us about what is happening inside Nepal.  I am sure, we all of us read with great interest developments in Nepal, it is an important country for us. So, to tell us what is happening there and how it impinges on our relations we have Mr. Ghimire with us.

Talk by Mr Yuvaraj Ghimire:

I really feel honoured to be here speaking before you on a very important subject.  But it is really difficult where to begin from.  I have been here for the past three days and when I speak today about happenings in Nepal may be there are some good news in the sense that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) which is the biggest party in the constituent assembly and that constituent assembly is also the parliament there, it was under seize or blockade for the past three months and Maoists have suddenly decided, not perhaps suddenly, but may be good sense prevail, and they have decided to lift that blockade for three days beginning 23rd November, that is to enable the government to have the budget passed, because there has been a political crisis of course but there has also been a constitutional deadlock.  Government not being able to pass the budget, development projects are stalled and even salaries to the government employees including security agencies are not being paid, I think for the past one month that includes ministers and parliamentarians not getting their allowances.  So this was the situation that the country was going through and they have decided to lift the blockade for three days so hopefully between 23rd of November and 25th the budget will be passed.  But this is only a small relief to the country which has taken up the task of formulating the new Constitution, a progressive Constitution, a democratic Constitution with a common position taken by all the political parties that we have learnt enough from our past mistakes, we will establish a democracy that will never be interfered with by any authority that was obviously a reference to the King when he took over power in 2005. Because of the movement that followed restoration of democracy, the monarchy has been history in Nepal’s context now.

The Maoists are agitating for the past four months saying that they want to have civilian supremacy restored.  When they say civilian supremacy restored, the issue that what constitutes the civilian supremacy has not been debated but Maoists mean that between August 2008 for nine months when the Maoists ruled, towards the end of their rule the Prime Minister Prachanda sacked the Army Chief saying that he is disobeying the order of the civilian authorities.  He asked him to resign.  He refused to comply and when Prime Minister had asked him to resign there were other coalition partners who had warned the Prime Minister not to do that because they would not be supporting that move.  He had also consulted the President, who is the Supreme Commander of the Army and the President had said that doing this would be against the law. But then, on May 3rd the Prime Minister asked the Army Chief to resign and he refused to comply and then the President asked Army Chief to continue working in the same capacity.  Now this is being debated now.  Did the President acted well within his authority or was it within the right of the Prime Minister to have Army Chief sacked?

Nepal’s interim constitution says that the Army Chief would be there for a certain fixed tenure but the cabinet can remove him at any time.  But this would be applicable after this constitution comes into effect.  Because Gen. Katwal was already there during the previous Constitution, it is a matter of interpretation and Supreme Court could have been the best place to decide.  But what Prachanda did was one went against the advise of the coalition partners, second he simply informed the President that I have sacked this person and I have nominate other person as the officiating chief.  He in a way appropriated the authority of the President.  I think there was a deliberate flaw on the part of the Cabinet.  And it is very mysterious why nobody had asked Prachanda to resign after the President reinstated Gen. Katwal as the Army Chief. He could have gone to Parliament saying I seek a vote of confidence, that would have been a very very appropriate forum to have this issue debated including the issue of civilian supremacy which they are raising now that did not happen.  But he quietly resigned the next day, on the 4th of May, this still remains mysterious.  Although the Maoists explanation is that we resigned because there would be two Army Chiefs, one appointed by the Prime Minister, another appointed by the President and there will be two authorities there, was a chance of bloodshed taking place, we didn’t want to be responsible for that kind of situation. That was the explanation he gave to the media outside and also when he spoke in the mass meetings.  That is not very convincing.

The relation between the Nepal Army and the Maoists has not been very cordial.  On 2nd of June, 2005 that was the first day Prachanda appeared over ground and he addressed a Press Conference in the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, G.P. Koirala was the Prime Minister then, it is understandable because if Nepal Army or security agencies were not as strong they may have taken over, that probably was the reason why he made very uncharitable remarks, why do we need Nepal Army for?  After all it is an institution full of corrupt people and rapists, these are the words he used.  Three days after that he withdrew.  The tragedy is when the transition took place when King handed over the power to the political parties G.P. Koirala backed by other coalition partners formed the government, obviously there was much reforms needed in the Nepal Army but the political parties refused to act as political patrons of the army.  They started vilifying the army like the Maoists.  Although army had been deployed against the Maoists after unanimous resolution of the Parliament, everyone had supported the Maoists.  So I think the political leadership tried to abdicate its role and responsibility for any kind of human rights violation during the years of conflict and they tried to put the entire blame on the army which would amount to creating a dangerous situation.  So we are in a position where army not having a political patronage or ownership would lead to a dangerous situation.  So Prachanda also took advantage of that situation when he tried to single out the army for human rights violation ignoring the fact that, yes, individual human rights violation cases have to be dealt with severely but here he ignored those violation cases are also committed by the regime of the day or the political leadership.

Then after the peace process we had the 12 point agreement signed in Delhi between the Maoists who were one party and the seven pro democracy parties on the other side when the King had taken over the power.  Then Maoists decided to call off their insurgency, they went back to Nepal and signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  In fact, this has just been three years when they signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  But after the comprehensive peace agreement was signed, one, there was no provision of if there is any dispute in the comprehensive peace agreement who will settle it.  Two, UN was to be invited for limited role and purpose.  Three, there were certain provisions which both sides obliged to fulfill.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Yes, Election to the constituent assembly has taken place, but what didn’t happen was certain major pledges made in the comprehensive peace agreement one is formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was to go into major human rights violation cases by both sides but here Maoists played a very smart game putting the blame on the army but not going into that like other general violation cases.  And the other political parties also ignored that smartness.  Two, not forming the high powered commission, as promised, on the disappeared because there are people disappeared by both sides.  Third, Maoists under the comprehensive peace agreement were obliged to return the property of the individuals they had, forcibly captured or confiscated during the years of insurgency. This they haven’t done.  So, in absence of these three major things, the necessary confidence building steps were lacking.  So all that both sides showed the interest about was sticking to the power and not sticking to the provisions of the comprehensive peace agreement which was very very binding on both sides.

When Maoists came to power what they did was unitarily withdrew 349 cases, which involved human right violation by the Maoist leaders.  So that is basically going against the spirit of forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission when you are unilaterally withdrawing these cases.  This issue was challenged before the Supreme Court and Supreme Court stayed it, although those cases I think stand withdrawn after that. It is not being pursued by any investigating agencies.

I will come to the President’s action. The Constituent Assembly has two faces, one is legislature, one, is Constituent Assembly.  The work of the constituent assembly has not been hampered yet.  But Maoists are saying that not a letter of the constitution can be written without our agreeing to this.  But at the same time they have stalling parliamentary business for three months as I told you and what has happened there is now Maoists have put forward a condition that if the President’s action of reinstating the army chief is reviewed or he says that I committed a constitutional mistake or if the House says that was a mistake on the part of the President then we will move forward.  That is the condition.

Unfortunately, in Nepal’s case it will be very very difficult to correct one constitutional aberration and not address others because there have been series of lapses. Because there was so much euphoria when political parties came to power, they probably tried to give a message that Nepal would never face any major problems. We do occasionally write about Obama’s speech on January 20, when he says that America faces problems and the problems are serious but we can solve it together.  But here it was just the case, now we have come to power, Nepal will never ever face any major problems.  That was the message our leaders tried to give.  So when the House was reinstated, it was reinstated with a very positive intentions because in absence of the House they realized that in the absence of institutions, parliamentary and constitutional institutions, may be extra constitutional authorities can play role like the King did.  That was the reason why House was reinstated. But then House had to act as a rubber stamp of two or three leaders.  It was Prime Minister G.P. Koirala, it was Prachanda they would consult and say that we have decided so the House has got to adopt.  There was not a serious debate in the House on any major issue after its revival.

We have very well laid down constitution about how constitutional amendment can take place.  The substitute of a calling attention motion in Nepal Parliament would be moved by any member and say that now the constitution stands amended.  The speaker of the revived parliament which was not an elected parliament, it was for a limited purpose of not allowing this constitutional vacuum to remain for long, so in that house the speaker of that house given instructions to the yet to be elected Constituent Assembly that you on the first meeting shall remove the monarchy.  So that was still months away from that date but then that was one.  When a constituent assembly’s first meeting took place, the entire House, for reasons still not known to the country, sat for an hour at 11.30 p.m. at night, at 11.31 p.m. the resolution is moved that the monarchy be removed, at 11.32 p.m. the motion is declared passed and the debate begins after that.  And the second, still far more important, is the constituent assembly election took place on April 30 which was also to function as a legislative parliament.  It was decided that once a new parliament comes into existence and the House is constituted, the Maoists will form the government.  That government will transacts the business.  Here they did not do that.  G.P. Koirala government transacted the business.  Four months, I think May, June, July, for three months that government transacted the entire business. So we can say that it all happened in good faith but you are also setting conventions and precedents.  And what is the convention and precedents we are going to follow in new Nepal, a progressive Nepal.  That is one.  So what I am saying is you cannot just revisit one constitutional aberration and say that we will not revisit the others because that will open a flood gate.  All that the actors can do is move forward from this point, yes this was an experience we learnt, it was a bitter experience, President did that, Prime Minister did that, but we have a commitment towards civilian supremacy.  We will have a government where the army chief would be appointed henceforth on recommendation of the Council of Ministers.  So you can always move from this point but you cannot review the past aberrations.  If that happens there will be lot of flood gates.

And another problem in Nepal was a unitary system. Now we are committed to move towards federalism, a model we have not yet decided.  Maoists have come forward with a proposal that the Federal Nepal would have about 15 provinces 8 of them formed on ethnic lines.  There are very very serious issues in that proposal.  One is, say for instance, Limbus is a dominant ethic group.  The Limbu province would be called Limbuvan. The provision which they have raised is that no other community or ethic group other than Limbus can be the Chief Executive of that province.  And a very progressive, the most catchy slogan in Nepal during the past three and a half years, Agragaman and Prathigaman. Prathigaman is regressive, King represented that trend, the other is Agragaman, very progressive, these are Maoists and all the other parties pitted against the King.  So you are trying to form provinces on the basis of ethnicity, if that happens the natural consequence would be the No.2 ethnic community in that province would have a sense of loss of identity and they will want their own province carved out of that.  This will be a never ending process.  Nepal would be fragmented because, it is a small country but it the social and cultural and ethnic composition is very diverse, there are 102 ethnic groups and more than 65 languages spoken there.  So where is the end going to be there. It is a dangerous proposition and now I see only four days ago even the UML has said that it supports ethic basis as one of its seven issues.

Obviously when the country is in such a shape when there is so much confusion and we are missing deadlines one after another, we have only 6 months for the new constitution to come up. I will just cite one more example which is about what kind of judiciary will the new Nepal have, the thematic committee on judiciary has said it will be accountable to legislature, judges will be appointed by the legislature from outside and if there is any dispute over the interpretation of the constitution it will be the legislature which will be doing that.  So we are going to do away with, if that is accepted by the whole House but this thematic committee is more or less reflect the composition of the House, so if that happens we will be doing away with the principle of  separation of justice.  Now because we are missing deadlines there is so much uncertainty. Only thing we can predict is the unpredictable and uncertain situation to come.  There is larger play of the outside international forces in Nepal – the forces that were invisible till yesterday is now a big player in Nepal.

The other big issue would be integration. There are so many things to say so I might be switching from one irrelevant aspect perhaps but other issue is integration of the Maoists combatants.  What happened was Maoists estimated combatant strength was 7000 to 8000 when UNMIN was invited. UNMIN was given the role to register and verify the combatants.  They came out with the figure 31000.  There were certain ways of disqualifying, one, those recruited after a point of time, those below 18, and so on.  After that, at the time of verification, UNMIN said that now you are 23000 and between the time of registration and verification 8000 didn’t show up.  Probably they are the hard core combatants who joined YCL, Young Communist League and other militant wings of the legal political outfits.  23000 are in the camp.  Out of those 23000, 4000 are minors.  So they are in the process of being discharged. Another 19000 are people who have to be rehabilitated, who have to be in maybe security agencies, maybe others but they need to be rehabilitated.  It was a kind of deceit in the sense that the whole idea of engaging UNMIN to verify the Maoists combatants was to ensure that nobody poses any threat to the future peace process or peace and tranquility of the country.  They haven’t told us who these 8000 are.  It is the duty of the UNMIN and nobody asked them, we don’t know who those 8000 are.  Maoists talks about civilian supremacy but at the same time it is a party with private army what to do with that.  Maoists are the party whose manifesto says that all the Nepalese above 18 will have to take compulsory military training.  But what I am saying is if there is enough confidence between the two sides it can be sorted out. But even that mutual confidence is a casualty because of poor performance, because of the two sides non adherence to the code of conduct and comprehensive peace agreement.  I think the beginning point could still be implementation of three major points that I said of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  This is all I want to say. I have taken my time that was allotted to me, I will be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.

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