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India Doesn't Believe Nepal King's Promises

by Surendra Phuyal

to March 2005 coverage of Nepal's royal coup

(IPS) NEW DELHI Nepal's royally appointed Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey certainly had a tough time making anyone believe him in meetings this week with top Indian leaders here.

For one, according to analysts, nobody was convinced that King Gyanendra is serious about lifting the state of emergency in the neighboring Himalayan nation and restoring multi-party democracy. The palace staged a royal coup on Feb. 1 and suspended most civil liberties, including press freedom.

"We don't think Pandey was very much influential in convincing the Indian leadership and the international community to roll back their respective positions," Prof. S D Muni, at Jawaharlal Nehru University's School of International Studies told IPS.

"The best step for Kathmandu to garner international support would be to roll back its recent steps and immediately start accommodating the political parties," said Muni a leading expert on South Asian affairs.

Pandey, named by Gyanendra in his governing council soon after he seized power, held talks with his Indian counterpart and assured New Delhi -- Nepal's largest trading partner and arms supplier -- that the king planned to revoke some of the tough emergency measures he has imposed.

"The temporary suspension of certain rights of the people, applicable to emergency situations elsewhere in the world, will be restored sooner than later," he told reporters.

King Gyanendra assumed absolute powers on Feb. 1, after he sacked the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in order to step up the fight against a nine-year-old Maoist insurgency that has claimed over 11,000 lives.

Moments after his televised address to the nation, the king declared a state of emergency, cut off all land and mobile phone lines and sent army officers to newspaper offices and radio stations to censor news. Days later, Gyanendra swore in his own handpicked cabinet after placing all political party leaders under house arrest.

This prompted strong condemnation from the international donor community.

On March 9 the World Bank announced that it would suspend fresh development assistance to Nepal including funds under a second phased of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Credit worth $70 million. In a carefully worded statement, the World Bank said it was monitoring events in Nepal closely and could take further action in two months.

Earlier, three major donors -- India, United States and Britain -- suspended military assistance to the royal regime.

"India has already said that it has been gravely concerned by the recent developments in Nepal and it wants Kathmandu to rollback the Feb. 1 move," political analyst and retired Indian Army Gen. Ashok Kumar Mehta said.

"I don't think it is going to be business as usual after this visit, even though Delhi has recently articulated that it is ready to do business with whichever government is in power in its neighborhood," added Metha.

Officially, India's External Affairs Ministry released a stiff statement after Pandey's 'working lunch' with his Indian counterpart K Natwar Singh which said: "Efforts are needed to create an environment in which all the political forces in Nepal can join together on a national platform."

But Singh had also expressed concern that the continuing stalemate in Nepal would only serve to deepen the crisis in the Himalayan nation.

Just two days prior to Pandey's visit, the Indian foreign minister reiterated New Delhi's commitment to ensure an "early restoration of democracy" in Nepal. A call was also made for the immediate release of political leaders and lifting of press censorship.

"Thus the stage was set for the 'dialogue of the deaf' and the Nepali foreign minister must be returning to Kathmandu as a disappointed person," said S Chandrasekharan, an analyst with the private think-tank the South Asia Analysis Group.

The king's action in banning Indian cable networks while at the same time allowing other international cable networks to function has also angered New Delhi. Another defiant gesture of Gyanendra has been the extension of jail terms of top political leaders for another two months.

Arguing that his visit has worked to thaw the chill in Indo-Nepal relations and also Nepal's relations with the international community, Pandey claimed that his self-invited trip to New Delhi was "successful."

"Not just India, the entire international community is going to extend its support for us to fight terrorism, restore peace and democracy," he said.

Gyanendra has called the Maoists "terrorists" and vowed to strengthen the Royal Nepal Army to quell the rebellion. He added that though the government had utmost respect for human rights, "the terrorists and state cannot be weighed on the same balance."

The king also asked the foreign press "when we have chosen to uphold democracy and fight against terrorism, why are the donors shying away from helping us?"

But analyst Chandrasekharan was skeptical. "The reaction of the king on suspension of aid was typical. The problem is, no one believes him."

There is a view, however, that New Delhi and the international community have not been tough enough.

The 'Indian Express' newspaper in an editorial on Thursday said that "although the international community has asked the king to restore democracy it is fair to say that it has not acted decisively enough to compel the king to do so."

"If India had made it clear that if the Maoists did not get the king, the international community would, perhaps it would have concentrated the king's mind a little better," the editorial said.

Meanwhile, exiled political party leaders and Nepali dissidents based in India also seem desperate. "Time is running out for all the political parties in Nepal to agree on a common minimum program so that we can take on the twin challenges of battling the repeated regressive steps emanating from the palace and the left wing extremism perpetrated by the Maoists," exiled Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal-Unity Center) leader K C Chitra Bahadur told IPS.

"How can we restore democracy and establish a lasting peace in our country, if we continue to indulge in factionalism?" asked Bahadur.

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Albion Monitor March 18, 2005 (

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