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Political and Internal Developments
Madhesi Youths Get More Seats in Nepal Army: The Defence Minister Bishnu Poudel revealed on July 6, 2011 that the Army Regulations 2010 has been placed before the Cabinet, which reserves 45 percent of openings in the army for under-represented groups. The Defence Minister also informed that 28 percent of the reservation will be allocated for Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits and backward communities of Tarai-Madhes.
A provision is being made to address the long-standing demand of Madhesis and other communities to make Nepal Army more inclusive. The Minister also informed the lawmakers that the Army has already created a new Sabuj Battalion for the Madhesi community. “Making the Nepal Army inclusive along with upholding past agreements made with Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha” is one of the commitments made by the three major political parties in the five-point deal. It is said that there are altogether 6,196 members of the Madhesi community in the Army out of a total strength of 92,753 personnel.
It seems worthwhile to mention that the political parties and other civil society groups, after the successful Janaandolan-II, have been putting pressure to bring more people from the marginalized section of the society on board in various government bodies. Also, the police service regulations which were amended on November 8, 2007, included reservations similar to those in the ordinance discussed above. Again, the Maoist-led government on January 12, 2009 issued an ordinance called “Ordinance to Amend some Nepal Acts to make Public Service Inclusive, 2065”. The ordinance combined inclusion provisions in seven earlier laws or regulations and set down the provisions for distributing reserved openings – a total of 45 per cent – in selected government services for competition within specified social groups – specifically “women, Adivasis Janajatis, Madhesis and Dalits”— and people coming from “backward regions”.
In the meantime, the government has promoted Gaurab Shumsher Rana to the rank of Lieutenant General on July 6, 2011. The cabinet made this decision despite the army headquarters’ recommendation for the promotion of two Major Generals – Rana and Nepal Bhusan Chand on July 5, 2011 for the post of Chief of General Staff and Chief of Staff respectively. The position of two Lieutenant Generals had fallen vacant after the retirement of Pawan Jung Thapa and Toran Jung Bahadur Singh. While Thapa retired some two months ago, Singh retired only on July 4, 2011. Along with this decision, it has been ensured that Rana will be the next Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) when incumbent CoAS Chhatraman Singh Gurung retires after one year, as per the military tradition in Nepal. It is said that there would have been controversy at the time of appointing the next CoAS based on the seniority of the two candidates, if the decision was taken as the recommendation of the army headquarters and, both the Major Generals had been promoted together. According to media reports, the cabinet meeting also appointed former Brigadier General Shyam Bahadur Thapa as Chief Adviser to Rastriya Sewa Dal.
Ex-King Gyanendra Shah Breaks His Silence on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday: Former Nepali King Gyanendra Shah on July 7, 2011 expressed his sadness over what he said 'a worsening situation of the country' after he quit the throne five years back. Addressing the media persons at a function organised to celebrate his 65th birthday, ex-monarch of Nepal said the country has edged towards further crisis after the abolishment of the monarchy. “I had not thought that a situation like this would prevail following the abolishment of monarchy, but I pray for the peace and prosperity of Nepali people,” he stated. He described the present political developments as being unfortunate and said, “I did not give up the throne to see this situation.”
Responding to the queries raised by the media persons regarding the five-point deal, peace process, and constitution, he referred to a 7-point press statement that he released at the same program, and said, “I have written all my views about the country in the statement. Please let the people know about it.” According to media reports, Nirmal Niwas was alive with royalists, cadres of Rastriya Prajatantra Party – Nepal, a pro-Monarchy party, and other relatives of the former King Gyanendra during the function. This is the first time the former King issued a statement on the occasion of his birthday after the country became a republic following the abolishment of monarchy.
Co-incidentally, the ex-monarch broke his silence just after a day when the first ever President of Nepal Dr. Ram Baran Yadav also expressed concern over the delay in implementation of the five-point deal. Talking to the media persons at his official residence at Shital Niwas, Kathmandu on July 6, 2011, the President opined that the political parties should prioritise peace, and said that failure to find common grounds among the political parties on the crucial issues concerning peace process would invite a critical situation. He also expressed his dissatisfaction about some of the issues mentioned in the government policies and programmes saying that they “were conflicting”. It was the programmes and policies of the government which were presented by the President at a meeting of the Legislature Parliament on July 03, 2011.
So far as the ongoing peace process and statute writing is concerned, no progress has been achieved as yet. Rather, major political parties are busy in settling their internal rifts when there are only 52 days left for the extended three-month period of the Constituent Assembly to expire. The intensifying internal conflict within the Maoist party remains to be the main reason behind the deadlock in the constitution writing process. It is said that the Dispute Resolution Sub-Committee, which was formed under the coordination of the Maoist Chairman Dahal, has become almost non-functional due to Dahl’s busy schedule. Also, the Prime Minister-led high level Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of the Maoist Combatants could not take up the agenda as the Maoist nominated members of the committee were absent in the 5th July meeting. In the meantime, the Maoist leaders are busy in internal meetings to settle the differences over the party’s course of action regarding the peace process and sharing of power among the factions. According to the latest schedule, the Standing Committee meeting of the Maoist party will be held on July 12, 2011. Also, the party decided to hold the party's long stalled Central Committee meeting from July 13, 2011.
Another High-level Chinese Delegation in Kathmandu: A six-member Chinese delegation led by Vice-Minister of Supervision and Vice-Director of National Bureau of Corruption Prevention of China, Qu Wanxing, arrived in the Capital on July 04, 2011 on a three-day visit. Other members of the delegation are Deputy Director General of China's Ministry of Supervision - Lid Rongqui, Deputy Director General and Commissioner of National Bureau of Corruption Prevention - Go Song Jinag, Deputy Director General of Department of Malpractice - Jhou Kexi, and two Chinese officials Liu Rupeng, and Shi Yang. It is said that the delegation has arrived as per the invitation of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). In that case it can be said that it is a non-political visit of the Chinese delegation to share common experiences on corruption control.
The delegation has arrived in the midst when the Chinese government seems to have put the issue of tackling widespread corruption on priority. On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party in Power, the Chinese President Hu Jintao on July 01, 2011 warned that there is no guarantee of retaining people's support unless the Communist Party of China tackles the issue of rising corruption. "If not effectively curbed, corruption will cost the party the trust and support of the people...doing so would require a complicated and arduous battle", media quotes the President Hu. He also said that the biggest risk the Chinese Communist Party faced today was 'alienation from the people’. Therefore, “we must always place the people's interests before everything else"…"It has thus become even more important and urgent than ever before for the party to police itself and impose strict discipline on its members" media quotes the President Hu.
However, the Chinese delegation’s visit to Nepal seems to have political objectives too as they met the Speaker of Legislative Parliament of Nepal Subash Chandra Nembang, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav during the visit. For instance, the CIAA Spokesman Ishwori Paudyal justifies the visit’s political objective saying that the delegation also “discusses bilateral issues.” Also, the Constituent Assembly secretariat states that the meeting of the Speaker Nembang with the Chinese delegation “dwelled upon the peace process, new constitution in the making and the friendly relations between the two countries”. The frequency of visits of Chinese delegations has increased lately with China’s growing political interests in Nepal. So far as the Nepal visit of high level Chinese delegation is concerned, the following are the major visits after December 2007, as part of “multiple exchanges of engagements at various levels”.
It is said that other two separate Chinese delegations including a high-level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) team is arriving here in July. These visits seem to be a reciprocal political visit of a Maoist-UML joint team which visited China last month. A total of 12 leaders of Maoist and the UML were in Beijing for an 11-day visit from June 20, 2011 at the invitation of the CPC. Also, a Chinese youth delegation, comprising 30 members from various sectors, will be arriving here on July 16. “They will hold interactions with youth groups in Nepal. Nepal and China had agreed on youth exchange programmes during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in December 2008”, media reports.
In the meantime, it is reported that the Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader Dalai Lama's 76th birthday on July 6, 2011 as a precaution to avoid the gatherings from turning anti-Chinese. Before that, the Chief District Officer of Kathmandu District Laxmi Prasad Dhakal had issued a warning saying that all public celebrations were banned and police would not tolerate anti-Chinese protests. Authorities earlier said that they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China. According to media sources, hundreds of riot police blocked the Tibetans from entering a school on the northern part of Kathmandu where the celebrations were planned. It is also reported that three Tibetans were detained by the police when the former tried to hold a prayer meeting on the street. Also, Nepal government mobilised its police to guard the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Kathmandu to avoid any protests. Also, the areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
It is said that the Tibetan exiles had some sort of freedom to move freely in Nepal after 1990 when the democracy was restored in the country. However, Nepal has changed its course, abandoning the Tibetan activities in favour of closer relations with China, following the abolition of the monarchy in 2006 and the rise of the Maoist party. As everybody knows, there are more than 20,000 Tibetan who exiles have been living in Nepal for the past few decades after fleeing Tibet.
Relations with India
Work in Progress: Amidst the growing concerns on the slow progress of the construction of check posts on the Nepal-India border, the fifth meeting of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) projects steering committee involving the two countries was held in Kathmandu on July 7, 2011, and decided to carry out construction work. It is said that the ICP projects being constructed on the Nepal-India border points are running behind schedule due to issues related to land acquisition, protests by locals and inundation. It is said that the Raxaul-Birgunj check point is six months behind schedule, while that of Jogbani-Biratnagar is ten months behind schedule. According to reports, the works has been stopped on the Nepali side; it is being carried out as per schedule on the Indian side of the border. And, the project is expected to cost more due to the delay.
According to reports, India is constructing 13 ICPs along borders with Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and the Raxaul-Birganj ICP was the second (the first being in Attari-Wagah along the border with Pakistan). The ICPs are much like airports which will have separate facilities for customs, security, immigration and quarantine. And the objective of constructing it is to provide congestion free movement of persons, goods and transport between the two nations. It will also help in checking illegal activities such as fake currency, illegal trade and criminal activities. Nepal is the only neighbour where constructions of four ICPs (in Birganj, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa) are being undertaken with financial aid from India. Indian External Affairs Minister - S.M. Krishna laid the foundation of the Birgunj ICP in April 2011. According to Nepali officials, with the construction of an ICP at Raxaul, Birgunj, the priority goes to the Jogbani point following the land acquisition process for two more ICPs at Sunauli, Bhairahawa, and Rupaidia, Nepalgunj.
Agreement to Control Land Erosion on the Embankment of the Koshi River: Officials of Nepal and India have agreed to take immediate measures to control land erosion at Prakashpur region along the east embankment of the Koshi river. The meeting held at Bhedetar in Dhankuta on July 8, 2011 also decided to form a high-level team, comprising technicians from both the countries to recommend measures to be carried out to control the erosion. It was agreed that the Indian side will start working in a week as per the recommendation of the high-level team. As per the agreement, the Nepali side has not only to manage the security arrangements for workers mobilised for the embankment repair at the Koshi Barrage Control Office, but also to ban activities like fishing and driftwood collecting at the barrage. According to reports, the perennial fluctuation of water flow in the river has been eroding the land, exposing the eastern embankment and weakening other structures, leading to the threat of floods.
By Uddhab Pyakurel, VIF