Nepal walks in Pakistan?s steps

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By BHARAT BHUSHAN in Kathmandu
  • Published 15.04.05
(Top) Gyanendra and Musharraf: Two of a kind

Kathmandu, April 15: Sitting at the famous Rum Doodle Bar in Thamel, Laxman Basnet, president of the Nepal Trade Union Congress, had said to this correspondent on a particularly balmy evening in 2003 that to understand the Nepali state, India must first understand Pakistan.

Basnet?s thesis was that there are far too many similarities in the way the Pakistanis and the Nepalese construct their nationhood in opposition to India. The ruling cliques in both countries are given to abusing or blaming India to legitimise themselves.

Both the countries, he took the analogy further, are donor dependent and western powers want a role in the functioning of their polity. Both are avowedly communal states and while extremist Hindus of India look wistfully towards Nepal as the only Hindu kingdom, Indian Muslims are often accused of looking towards Pakistan.

Both Pakistan and Nepal, Basnet argued, face problems arising from the exclusion of large communities and regions from power and the armed forces are a constant factor in their political life. Particular communities and ethnicities monopolise the top jobs in the armed forces in both countries. They constitute a small feudal elite whose writ runs in virtually all spheres of public life.

However, King Gyanendra, it would seem, has now taken the analogy with Pakistan to a higher level. After the royal coup of February 1, he has been following the footsteps of General Pervez Musharraf. Eminent Nepali political commentator C.K. Lal brought this point home when he claimed: ?King Gyanendra?s blueprint for Nepal is the same as Musharraf?s for Pakistan.?

Lal pointed out: ?Both seized power forcibly claiming that the political class was incompetent and corrupt. Both asked for three years to restore democracy. Musharraf set up his National Accountability Bureau to fix the politicians, King Gyanendra set up the Royal Commission for Corruption Control. Musharraf promulgated the Legal Framework Order to govern, Gyanendra rules by ordinances. Musharraf manipulated the Supreme Court, in Kathmandu, too, the Supreme Court is being manipulated. Musharraf talked of his fighting a war on terrorism and the king is also making similar claims.?

Lal went on to draw further similarities: ?Musharraf talked of ?enlightened moderation?, King Gyanendra is talking of ?twenty-first century society and idealism?, Musharraf promised democracy with the adjective ?real?; the king talks of ?sarthak prajatantra? or ?constructive democracy?. In short, Pakistan seems to have the manual for the authoritarian take-overs and Nepal consults it.?

Had Nepal done so before? Lal argued that King Gyanendra?s father King Mahendra copied Ayub Khan. ?In 1960, using Ayub Khan?s notion of ?grassroots democracy?, King Mahendra brought in the panchayat system after subverting democracy. Pakistan has changed the blueprint now and the king of Nepal is following suit.?

In the last one week, King Gyanendra appears to have taken yet another leaf out of Musharraf?s manual. Musharraf created a parallel structure of administration through district nazims elected on a non-party basis who reported directly to Islamabad. King Gyanendra has decided that he, too, does not trust the existing bureaucratic and administrative institutions. He has decided to nominate zonal and district commissioners and members of the village development committees.

Meanwhile, he has announced plans to hold elections within a year for 28 municipalities. The political parties have said they would boycott them. Unlike Musharraf, however, Gyanendra has not as yet announced pre-qualification norms for these elections, for example, that the elections would be without party affiliations or that only those with some minimum qualification can contest.

When these similarities between a ?Hindu? king and a ?Muslim? dictator, were put to Major General (retd) Bharat Keshar Simha, a staunch royalist and president of the World Hindu Federation, he said: ?It seems uncanny that this should happen in parallel. But necessity is the mother of invention. What was the alternative? The political parties forced the king?s hand.?

However, the king could run into some unforeseen trouble. Lal pointed out: ?There are three major shortcomings of copying Musharraf. While Musharraf was fighting religious fundamentalism, there is a class war going on in Nepal. International support for fighting religious fanaticism is easier than for class war.

Jingoism in Pakistan based on ?Islam is in danger? is effective but is not comparable to saying ?Nepal is in danger?.

?The unflinching support that the US gives to Pakistan is not possible for King Gyanendra ? in US foreign policy Pakistan is a counterpoise to India but the US sees Nepal as being in India?s sphere of influence.?

The Pakistanis say that their dictatorships have always had a tragic ending with the incumbent leaving office horizontally. King Gyanendra may need to do some original thinking to avoid the denouement of Pakistan?s authoritarian regimes.