By Richard A. Boucher
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Nepal Sarkar! Within an hour of Parliament passing a historical resolution that renamed His Majesty’s Government to Nepal Government, the Land Reform Office of the Ministry of Land Reform and Management quickly erased the signboard and replaced the HMG with appealing one: Nepal Government or Nepal Sarkar!
Nepal is at a juncture both hopeful and uncertain, with the potential for a dramatic move toward democracy and peace. Demonstrations in April against the King’s autocratic rule and in favor of the restoration of democracy finally forced the King on April 24 to retreat from his stubborn attempt to assert autocratic rule. Parliament convened for the first time since 2002 with G.P. Koirala of the Nepali Congress Party at the helm of a new government of national unity. The new government and the Maoists declared a cease-fire.
The people of Nepal have shown they are not prepared to live under an autocratic monarch. Their success in forcing a return to democracy has created a broad spirit of optimism for the future. We are looking at ways in which we can further strengthen democracy and, through greater public participation in the political process, strengthen the momentum for peace.
I traveled to Nepal earlier this month with my National Security Council counterpart to assess the situation firsthand and to emphasize U.S. support for the new government. We found normally fractious party leaders of the 7-party coalition ready to cooperate. The army, which had largely stood apart from Nepal’s recent chaotic transition, is ready to follow a civilian leadership in the new democratic setup.
[T]he dramatic recent developments in Nepal, the people of that country have again demonstrated their widespread support for democracy in recent weeks. Both the Congress and American people recognize their determination and success in creating the conditions that led the King to hand over the reigns of power and reinstate Parliament. We look forward to working closely with the Executive Branch to provide appropriate assistance to the Nepalese Parliament and the democratic political parties as they begin the hard work of turning the people’s demands for democracy and good governance into reality. Likewise, it is incumbent on the Maoists to permanently renounce violence and join a peaceful political process.
-from the opening statement of
Representative James A. Leach
Chairman, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
The U.S. and South Asia: An Expanding Agenda
May 17, 2006
The Administration stands ready to support the aspirations of the Nepali people for democracy. We laid the foundations for this support before the recent unrest when USAID refocused its assistance programs on democracy, governance and conflict mitigation. In FY 2006 alone, we are using U.S. assistance to strengthen the Election Commission, Peace Secretariat, National Human Rights Commission, and corruption ombudsman. We have sought to broaden participation in political parties and make them internally more democratic.
Areas in which we feel we can make a positive difference include technical assistance and equipment to the Parliament and to a constitutional reform process, assisting reintegration of internally displaced persons, and funding election monitors. In addition, we want to assist the Nepali people with projects that can promote economic recovery, especially in rural areas.
The U.S. supports the new government’s efforts to bring peace to Nepal. The cease-fire is holding and the new government has made clear its readiness for peace. I told Prime Minister Koirala on May 2 that we stand ready to provide assistance to security forces if his government were to make a request. This offer includes our ongoing commitment to improve the human rights record of Nepal’s security forces.
The alliance between the political parties and the Maoists, based on their mutual antagonism to the King and his autocratic ambitions, is based on a “12 Point Understanding.” According to this agreement the government will support elections to a constituent assembly, a long-standing Maoist demand. In exchange, the Maoists have accepted a commitment to support multi-party democracy. In keeping with the high hopes and expectations of the people of Nepal, the government is moving forward to implement this agreement with the Maoists — but we remain wary.
The Maoists have been an exceptionally brutal insurgency, and their forces have become accustomed to control over the countryside exercised through terror. They must renounce violence and the instruments of control, such as extortion, that have terrorized Nepal. Should they lay down their weapons, end their use of violence and intimidation and accept the rule of law, and accept the will of the Nepali people through the democratic process, there will be a place for them in Nepal’s political arena. Until the Maoists take steps to change their character, we will not be convinced that they have abandoned their stated goal of establishing a one-party, authoritarian state.
We stand ready to work with other governments to ensure the realization of Nepal’s democratic gains, and the benefits of peace. The international community has an important role to play. During the period of royal misrule and usurpation of power a number of donor governments withdrew or reduced their assistance. We hope that these governments will join us in supporting democracy, good governance and human rights as they evaluate how best to support Nepal over the longer term.
Those of us who watched images of Nepalese from all sections of society, young and old, demanding democracy in their largely non-violent demonstrations last month can only be inspired by the faith and hope they have placed in their future. We have no interest in prescribing the shape of Nepal’s democracy; it is for Nepal to decide. We stand behind the people’s right to make their own choices through a free, fair and open process.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A. Boucher testified on U.S. policy in South Asia before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on May 17.