Murari Sharma: Deuba’s India Visit that should not have happened

Your real friends are those who tell you the truth, good or bad. In Nepal’s political culture, you take those as friends who flatter you. But they are fake. I will talk about Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s just concluded 5-day India visit as his real friend, not fake.

His fake friends have lauded Deuba’s India visit as a grand success and, wrongly, of the same level of as Girija Prasad Koirala, whom his Indian counterpart Man Mohan Singh had welcomed and sent off. I understand their motivation and sympathize with them.

But my view, as a real friend of Deuba and as a non-partisan individual, Deuba would have been way better off if he had not made this visit. Why?

Deuba’s achievements from this visit were puny. But his mistakes were monumental.

The eight memoranda of understanding, which were signed to allocate the $100 million housing grant that India had committed after the 2015 earthquakes, were insignificant. The bureaucratic or ministerial level could have allocated those funds through mutual understanding.

For starters, four were related to the construction of buildings in the education, health, culture, and housing sectors. The fifth related to the construction of the Mechi Bridge, sharing the cost with the Asian Development Bank.

Other three understandings covered demand reduction and supply prevention of narcotics and precursor chemicals, uniform standardization of products and services, and cooperation between the Institutes of Chartered Accountants.

In other words, Prime Minister Deuba’s routine India visit produced commonplace positive results. At the same time, it resulted in monumental mistakes for Nepal.

Among several of such mistakes, let me cite the main two: The understanding on the Saptakoshi High Dam and the commitment to amend the Constitution.

First the High Dam. US President Donald Trump would have called the understanding a disaster. If the dam is built, districts from Sindhupalchok to Morang will sustain unspeakable damage in two ways.

First, the dam will raise the level of water in the seven Koshi Rivers and their tributaries, submerge millions of hectares of agricultural and forest land, and displace millions of people along the river basins all the way to Sunsari and Morang.

Second, landslides will be more widespread and common, as the water level in the Koshi Rivers and their tributaries will rise and make the already fragile hills even more vulnerable.

India had sought this project for the last 40 years. But all previous government had refused to compromise on this disastrous project until Deuba signed on it. If the old Koshi and Gandaki agreements were sellouts, as many believe they are, then the understanding on the Saptakoshi High Damthey will dwarf them in comparison.

Regarding the Constitution of Nepal, I found one major shortcoming and one major mistake. The shortcoming: Deuba could not win India’s support for the Constitution of Nepal despite doing everything to amend the statute and selling out his soul on the Saptakoshi High Dam.

The major mistake: Deuba allowed India to reflect its reservation on Nepal’s Constitution in the joint statement.

I heard or read some of my wise friends say that nowadays countries do take interest in each other’s affairs and that the November 2005 agreement, brokered by India, has given New Delhi the privilege to interfere in Nepal’s internal matters.

On the first point, Nepal has never raised the issues of Kashmir or Darjeeling and sought to include them in any joint statement. For that matter, Taiwan or Xinjiang. Why should it be OK for Nepal to accept the mention of a purely internal matter to be reflected in a bilateral statement?

On the second, by sending its troops, Nepal had helped India quell the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the riots after India’s partition. Can, therefore, Nepal claim that it has the privilege to speak on Kashmir or Darjeeling?

Deuba seems to have forgotten that he was visiting India as head of government and leader of the legislature. It was his duty and obligation to defend the government and the legislature. But he spoke and acted on the issue of the Constitution as the leader of his party, the Nepali Congress.

Both the UML leader KP Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal rightly criticized Deuba for raising an internal issue of Nepal in a foreign country and letting the neighbor call the shots so soon after the legislature had rejected the amendment.

I do not even need to talk about Deuba’s failure to sort out the differences between the two countries on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project.

Besides, the time of the visit was inappropriate both internally and externally. Internally, Prime Minister Deuba visited India without even appointing the full line of ministers and without adequate preparations. If the new state and assistant ministers had anything to contribute to enriching Nepal-India relations, they had no time to do it.

Externally, Deuba visited India at a time when the Dokhlam Dispute has been burning between India and China. He could have used the India visit to establish Nepal’s neutrality, but he ended up siding with India. It might have long-term negative consequences to Nepal.

In other words, Nepal would have been better off without Prime Minister Deuba’s recent visit to India. The visit produced insignificant benefits and monumental mistakes.

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Murari Sharma: Crime and Reward

The United States is a democratic country both in form and in substance, for no one, including its president, is above law. Its checks, balances, and institutions work effectively to keep the executive, legislative, and judicial branches within their limits and to protect citizens’ rights.

In contrast, Nepal looks democratic in form — some may call it an illiberal democracy — but not in substance.  Checks, balances, and institutions exist, but they do not work on political leaders, especially at the top. To sustain democracy, we must make them work on all.

Here is what I mean. In the US, courts have rejected Trump’s several executive orders, including the travel ban on the citizens of six Muslim countries, as unconstitutional. Trump was furious, but nobody has moved an impeachment motion against the justices. The president cannot initiate it, and the bar for Congress to it is much higher than in Nepal. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump-Russia collusion that might have tipped the presidential election in his favor. Furious, Trump asked its Director James Comey to terminate the investigation and fired him when he refused. It has only motivated the FBI to widen and deepen the investigation and the Congressional committees looking into the matter to do the same. 

Certainly, Trump will face impeachment if he himself or his campaign had colluded with Russia to benefit him, accepted money from Russia or promised undue favors if elected. Likewise, he will likely be impeached for the obstruction of justice for asking the FBI and the intelligence agencies (like CIA and NSA) to terminate the Russia investigation. 

Bear in mind that Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment for the obstruction of justice.  Nixon resigned and Clinton survived it.

Contrast this to the situation in Nepal. Our top leaders are not investigated and punished for committing any crime, including murder, or for obstructing the course of justice. They get rewards for their crime.

Dostoyevsky had given the title of Crime and Punishment to his most famous novel. But in Nepal, there are only crimes and rewards for influential political leaders.

Here are some examples of crimes and rewards.

Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had given a written commitment to a foreign country to protect its interests in exchange for its support to them to harm Nepal through their armed insurgency. They became prime ministers. No investigation, no punishment for this treasonable crime.

A few Maoist murderers have become ministers and other high officials. Balkrishna Dhungel, the Maoist murder of Ujjan Shrestha, is ‘absconding’ under the nose of the police, thanks to the protection of senior leaders.  

If they or their close supporters commit such heinous crimes as terrorism, murder, and rape, our top leaders treat such cases as political, so they are not filed with courts or withdrawn if they are already filed.

The latest example is the government’s decision to withdraw the cases against those who had killed several policemen and a child in cold blood in Tikapur. The perpetrators of such serious crimes will be further rewarded.

The leaders who had allegedly compromised Nepal’s interests in the Tanakpur Bund and the Mahakali Treaty retained their high posts; they were rewarded with repeated appointments to those posts. 

The leaders who have allegedly accepted from foreign governments money, scholarships, free medical treatment, and other expensive gifts for them and their relatives in return for advancing policies favorable to such countries have become prime ministers and ministers. Crime and reward. 

The leaders who have been shown in the media visiting foreign countries and asking publicly for their support to bread Nepal or change the constitution and law remain respected. Crime and reward. 

Our leaders are some of the most corrupt in the world, but they continue thriving by obstructing justice without facing justice.  Most of the current leaders who entered politics in poverty have become millionaires and billionaires within a decade without ever having a steady job or doing business.  Transparency International finds the political sector more corrupt in Nepal than any other sector. But our politicians continue to rake in corrupt money and to thrive. Crime and reward.  

Sure, some second-tier leaders have been jailed for corruption. It happened only because they had lost the blessings of their top leaders due to personal conflict. Sure, several leaders have corruption cases pending in courts, but they have used their supporters in the bar and in courts to defer their cases indefinitely, using all kinds of procedural obstructions.

When Chief Justice Sushila Karki began to demolish such artificial barriers and expedite such pending cases, our leaders struck back with an impeachment motion against her. This is a form of the obstruction of justice. I will come to it a little later.

Here is how our leaders thrive by obstructing justice. First, they appoint their loyalist to independent investigative bodies and courts, who would not poke their nose into their benefactor’s dirty closet. Such have been the recent appointments of Supreme Court justices, and heads and members of other constitutional bodies.

Second, they often appoint to such bodies people with a corrupt background who would have no moral standing to go after the top leaders’ corruption. For instance, Deep Basnyat, the recently appointed chief of Commission to Investigate Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has a corruption case in the Supreme Court. It does not mean Basnyat is guilty until proven, but it means he should not have been appointed at all until he was cleared.

Third, if some officials of such bodies begin to demonstrate their independence, as they should, our top leaders take no time to move the impeachment motion against them and get them suspended immediately.

I have already given the example of Chief Justice Sushila Karki. Our leaders had also moved an impeachment motion against the then chief of CIAA Lokman Karki when he began to look into the complaints and evidence about our top leaders’ corruption.

Our leaders have hung the Damocles sword of impeachment over the officials of independent constitutional bodies to protect themselves, so they can continue committing crimes with impunity. For instance, the constitution drafted by them says one-fourth members of parliament can move an impeachment motion against such officials, and as soon as a note to this effect is submitted to the Speaker of the House, the official in question is suspended.

Unlike in the US, the bar for it is very low in Nepal. The constitution has not laid down any provision for the preliminary examination of the charges against constitutional officials by an independent mechanism before triggering the impeachment motion. 

Do you think our leaders will ever face the kind of criminal investigation US President Trump and his team members are facing now? Probably, not in my lifetime.  

Prime ministers will come and go. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has resigned on 24 May 2017 to pave the way for another, under a secret agreement. But their secret and unwritten agreements to break or evade the law and protect each other from justice will stay with us. The crime and reward will continue. So Nepal will remain a democracy only in form if at all, not in substance. That is a pity. 

 

Murari Sharma: Maoists, a destructive force in Nepal

Nepal’s political leaders have tabled a proposal in the parliament to impeach Lokman Singh Karki, Chief Commissioner for Investigation of Abuse of Authority. Certainly, Karki has flaws, and the leaders knew it when they appointed him.

Then why the fuss now? Among many, the foremost reason is Karki was preparing to bring charges against several corrupt political leaders. According to one source, the Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is one of those against whom the charges have been prepared.

Anyone that must be brought to justice with priority is Prime Minister Dahal and his former and current lieutenants for their several crimes over the years.

Keeping the frequent disturbances caused by the Joint People’s Front aside, the Maoists have committed umpteen crimes. They have killed or helped kill more than 15,000 people, prevented development activities, and destroyed schools, roads, communication towers, water supply systems, etc. from 1996 to 2006.

Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai have committed treason by vowing to serve Indian interests in writing in exchange for Indian support for their armed insurgency. Do not take it from me. Read the book of SD Muni, an Indian Nepal expert and Bhattarai’s mentor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Muni had put Dahal and Bhattarai in touch with the prime minister’s office and Indian intelligence agencies of India and they committed in writing to protect Indian interest so they could freely harm Nepal.

Bhattarai has always proved his loyalty to India, including as prime minister through several controversial measures including the signing of the BIPPA. You may recall, his own colleague and Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha had opposed the agreement as anti-national.

But Dahal has been more volatile. In his first stint as prime minister, he wore a mask of nationalism, and India maneuvered to pull him down.

In his second stint, Dahal has vowed not to repeat the past mistakes and enslaved himself to the neighbor. In his endeavor to please New Delhi, Dahal has undermined Nepal’s dignity, sovereignty and independence and stifled Nepal’s growth.

His record speaks for itself. The joint press release issued during his visit to India, Dahal validated Indian interference in Nepal’s new constitution, agreed to equate the Nepali government with the Indian embassy, and concurred to coordinate foreign policy issues with India.

If you recall, Nepal had opposed the inclusion of India’s displeasure with Nepal’s new constitution in the India-EU and India-Britain joint statements. Strangely, Dahal agreed to include that point in the Nepal-India joint statement.

Some disagreements exist over the constitution, but they are an internal matter for the Nepali people to resolve. No other country has any business to poke its nose in this process.

Dahal has reduced the Nepal government to the level of the Indian embassy in Kathmandu in the joint statement. He agreed to create a joint mechanism of the Nepal government and the Indian embassy to monitor the implementation of Indian-assisted projects in Nepal.

It reminds us of the 1950 Treaty that was signed by the prime minister of Nepal and the Indian ambassador. This is humiliating for Nepal.

What is more, Dahal agreed to coordinate Nepal’s position on major international issues with India. Countries do so in international forums to increase their weight, only where and when appropriate or possible. The joint statement has no such qualifying provision, which makes it mandatory.

As if the damages done by the joint statement were not enough, new alarming developments have occurred after Dahal’s India visit recently.

For instance, the Indian Oil Corporation, a state enterprise, has demanded, once again, the monopoly to supply petroleum products to Nepal for next 15 years, as a precondition for laying out the pipeline from the Indian border to Amlekhgunj. Nepal had rejected this idea long time back.

According to the Annapurna Post, India has demanded national treatment in Nepal for Indian nationals. It is demanding the implementation of this provision under the 1950 Treaty, which has been flouted by both countries for so long.

This is extremely troubling. India can implement this provision without much impact. But Nepal will lose its identity and character and be destroyed.

For instance, if half of the Nepali population obtains national treatment in India, it will be only 14 million people. If only 10 percent Indians seek national treatment in Nepal, it will be 130 million.

Similarly, India downgraded the Nepali Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat during his recent visit to New Delhi for the joint ministerial commission meeting. Citing External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj’s illness, a state minister worked as Mahat’s counterpart.

If Swaraj was sick, I wish her a quick recovery. However, my googling did not return any information on her illness this time. The google shows she was ill in April and had gone to hospital. Not this time. New Delhi has shown Nepal its new place.

Otherwise, the Indian government would have designated another cabinet minister as Mahat’s counterpart. That is the widely accepted diplomatic practice.

Finally, Dahal’s cabinet has declared the day the Indian President Pranab Mukharjee — and the Chinese president as well — will arrive in Nepal for a visit as a public holiday. Neither India nor China has such a provision for a visiting heads of state and government.

Why has Dahal slavishly subordinated Nepal’s sovereignty and dignity to India to such unprecedented levels?

There might be several reasons for it, but three of them scream out: Dahal’s greed for power, erosion in Nepal’s standing in the world, and India’s growing confidence.

The legitimate way of obtaining power in a democracy is winning elections. But in Nepal, political parties often use dirty tricks, including Indian influence, to undermine the legitimate system. Dahal is only the latest and most egregious example.

Dahal’s party is the third in the house. He has acquired undeserved power by kowtowing to India and the Nepali Congress, who supported him to spite the CPN (UML) and its leader and former Prime Minister KP Oli, who had defied New Delhi.

Dahal is trying to retain power by selling the country’s soul to India and his own honor to NC.

Nepal has lost its international standing by becoming the sick man of South Asia politically, economically and socially. Since 1994, the government has changed 23 times. Political instability has bred corruption among politicians and bureaucrats.

Political fluidity, corruption and the resultant lack of rule of law have stifled Nepal’s growth. They have discouraged private investment, bled public resources, and undermined public investment.

The Maoists have shattered Nepal’s social cohesion and given room for external powers to play in its internal matters. They drove a wedge between races, ethnic groups and communities first to garner support for their insurgency and then to build their ethnic vote banks.

India’s confidence has increased over the last decades due to its accelerated economy, growing military strength, strengthening USA-India strategic relations and burgeoning international respect. India now feels more confident to humiliate and micro-manage its neighbors.

In brief, the Maoists have always been a destructive force in Nepal. They, more than any other force, have caused woes for Nepal and humiliated the country outside its borders after 1990.

Lokman Singh Karki’s impeachment drama is Prime Minister Dahal’s strategy to divert public attention from his, his party’s and his government’s wrongdoings.