It’s exam time for the country. The preparation has been a long drawn out peace and constitution process. As we wait for the birth certificate of the democratic republic to be delivered by the elected Constituent Assembly (CA), we expect it to be a common document of shared vision of the Nepali people, containing the principle of democratic pluralism and an inclusive, democratic, and progressive restructuring of the state aimed at addressing the grievances of the historically oppressed and minority communities.
There is both hope and fear regarding the current political course. Hope comes from the past commitments political leaders made to the people and the international community.
After signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on November 21, 2006, then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist Party Chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal claimed to have set an example on conflict resolution for the rest of the world. Koirala said, “We have shown to the world that conflict can never be settled at gunpoint, but only through dialogue and negotiation.” Dahal called the occasion the “beginning of a new beginning,” and assured, “we are not dogmatic communists, and we are prepared to change and debate our beliefs with anybody”. He described the Nepali campaign for peace and building of new Nepal a “miracle in the 21st century” and “a message to the human race”. Labeling CPA an exemplary document, Dahal termed the agreement “a result of people’s intuitive born of their desire to build a modern Nepal, a victory of our great people and a defeat of those reactionaries who wanted to see Nepal in a shambles.”
As the first elected Prime Minister of the republican Nepal, Dahal reiterated his commitment to democratic values and norms at the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 29, 2008. He described Nepal’s peace process as “unique in its characteristics” and “based on multiparty democracy, inclusiveness, accommodation, dialogue, and the recognition of the people as the ultimate arbiter. It is the outcome of our own creative disposition towards peace and we feel that it can also serve as a reference for peace elsewhere.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to PM Dahal’s desire to make Nepal a “model for peace” twice during his address to the CA on November 1, 2008, and called it a wonderful goal.
For his part, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai assured the international community from the 66th session of the UNGA on September 24, 2011, “The constitution will not only guarantee fundamental democratic norms and values. But it will also ensure that our multi-party democracy is inclusive, participatory and life-changing for all, especially the oppressed laboring masses and the marginalized ones.”
The message to the international community from Nepali leaders at national, regional, and international levels has been clear and consistent: that they will work to guarantee fundamental democratic norms and values to be embedded in the new constitution. This message has been repeated countless times by government ministers, political leaders, and government delegations at different forums across the globe along with an appeal to the international community for their goodwill and cooperation for a peaceful resolution of the protracted state of transition. Dahal, one of the two signatories of the CPA, assured the people, nation and the international community that in Girija Babu’s absence, “it becomes my moral responsibility to take the charge of constitution drafting and bring logical end to the peace process.”
Fear is manifested in leaders’ reneging on past agreements, and disconnect between their words and actions. Fear also lies in erosion of public trust and confidence in leaders and hopelessness about a democratic future for the country. Fear is intensified by a series of disruptive protest programs, more so by the ethnic dimensions to these protests. Further, the ramifications of these disruptive protests and strikes are hard to read in isolation, separate from the evolving geo-economic and strategic politics at the regional and global level. Our national strength has been tolerance, unity and harmony among ethnic groups living together adhering to a larger idea of Nepal. If this unique unity in our vast socio-cultural diversity is not nurtured carefully and managed wisely, the resulting destabilizing and destructive forces will be hard to control. In this connection, the call by the leader of the largest party that heads the government on ethnic groups to launch street campaign for ethnic cause is a matter of great concern.
Nepal has immense strategic significance in evolving global scenario. It is increasingly figuring in the foreign policy discussions of big and emerging powers. The reference comes more in the context of the global wealth and power shift to Asia on the back of the remarkable rise of China and India, which has been termed the most important event with global ramifications. For Nepal, it is a moment of huge opportunities just next door. But opportunities also bring challenges. To meet these challenges and make good use of unfolding opportunities, it is necessary that we learn to assess and manage the emerging developments.
There is a mixture of hope and fear regarding the political course in Nepal and its impact on the country’s image.
There could be several instructive lessons from the evolving power shift. Also as the Asian century unfolds, and power shift accelerates, we must not overlook the assertions of political pundits that Asia is likely to be “the cockpit” of strategic rivalries between great powers. Nepal’s location is of great significance. Peace, stability, democracy and development in Nepal will have a great bearing on a new international order in the making.
Nepal is a responsible member of the international community and remains constructively engaged at bilateral, regional, and multilateral forums, judging every issue on its merit. We are proud to have served for the cause of international peace, security, and development under the aegis of the UN in troubled parts of the world for decades with professionalism, dedication, courage and sacrifices. This has earned the country a vast reservoir of trust, goodwill and support in the international community. A peaceful, stable, democratic, and prosperous Nepal will be even better poised to play an even more important role in the comity of nations. Internal unity, national capacity and legitimacy derived from the new constitution will build up our strength and confidence.
The world looks to us to learn about how a country with geo-political prolife of Nepal manages relations with its mighty neighbors—emerging global powers and countries around the globe, and present our positions on various issues. Commitments made at national, regional, and global levels stand as yardsticks of nation’s credibility and their implementation goes a long way in further enhancing the international standing of the country. On May 27, we have to have a clear message to the people and international community in order to safeguard our national image and enhance the country’s dignity in the international arena.
It is time for us rise to the occasion and deliver on past commitments to produce a Nepali model of peace, democracy and development—indeed, a veritable ‘miracle in the 21st century’.
The author is former ambassador/permanent representative of Nepal to the United Nations