Thursday, July 30, 2009

NEPAL: Controversy over Indian Military Aid

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

It looks that Nepal, instead of focussing on the twin issues of PLA integration/rehabilitation and writing the new constitution, is opening up new issues that would further delay the peace process. The latest is the controversy over the resumption of Indian arms aid that had been suspended since February 1, 2005 when King Gyanendra intervened and took over direct rule.

The Maoists who were only waiting to take out their frustration on India, were up in arms again and disrupted the parliament proceedings. Prime Minister Madhav Nepal had to repeatedly assure the opposition that the government was not preparing to purchase arms from India. He should have accepted that he was looking for renewal of Indian aid and that it would be done at the proper time depending on the pace of the peace process. But the damage has been done.

But the Maoists were not complaining when their Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa (Badal) accepted the offer of supplies of Rs 115 million as military aid by the Chinese government in September last year.

On 20th July, Defence Minister Bidya Bhandari made a four day visit to Delhi. Though her visit was primarily to have a medical check up, she included some business- to discuss bilateral military assistance that had been suspended. She called on the Defence Minister of India and the resumption of military aid according to Bidya Bhandari was accepted in principle.

It is not clear what exactly was the response of GOI, but if it had been accepted "in principle," it would be wrong as any such arms transfers at this juncture would attract the provisions of comprehensive peace accord concluded between the Government of Nepal and the Maoists on November 21, 2006.

It may be recalled that the Nepal court had already declared that the fresh recruitment made by the Chief of Army Staff to fill up the vacancies was a violation of the peace agreement. In line with this judgement, import of arms until the peace process is formally declared as completed will be violative of the agreement - particularly of article 5.1.2 of the agreement. The article is rather badly worded as it only says that "both sides shall not recruit additional military forces or shall not transport arms and ammunition and explosives . . . "

Here there is only an agreement in principle and that too, it is still not clear whether the GOI had really agreed even in principle. Also, actual transfers are not taking place now and may even be only after the end of the peace process.

On the other hand, one should see how the US has tackled the issue. The US Congress Bill S 1434 approved by the Senate said that " military aid to Nepal is contingent on Nepal Army's cooperation with civilian judicial authorities into investigation of human rights violations, progress made by Nepal Army in redefining its mission, undergoing reforms to strengthen civilian control and facilitating the integration of the Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army."

Two fresh controversies have arisen and both relate to Madheshi Groups- one related to the oath taken by Vice President Paramananda Jha in Hindi and the other related to the Election Commission's verdict declaring that Upendra Jha's group could retain the identity of the MJF.

The Supreme Court on 24th July, in its judgement over the Vice President taking the oath in Hindi said that it was unconstitutional and against legal provisions. It also directed the Vice President to take the oath once again in Nepali.

The Vice President is defiant and is unwilling to take the oath in Nepali. He asked- " where does the Constitution of Nepal say that you have to know Nepali to be the President or the Vice president of Nepal?". He also said that he does not speak Nepali and cannot write also in Nepali. He speaks Maithili, Avadhi and Bhojpuri and if compelled, would take the oath in English.

This is a very sensitive issue to the Madhesis and they will be problems once again. The Prime Minister is consulting the Attorney general and other constitutional lawyers and may perhaps file a review petition to the Supreme Court once again.

On 26th , the Election Commission declared that MJF led by Upendra Yadav is the legitimate party of MJF and that his rival, now in government Gacchadar who is also the Deputy Prime Minister if he so wishes could register his group as a new party. This again may create law and order problems in Terai with each group trying to acquire the assets of the original party. While Upendra Yadav has the majority of his party's central committee members, Gacchadar on the other hand has most of the parliamentary members with him.

No comments: