American Diplomatic Cable: How Indian Pressure on Girija Prasad Koirala Saved the Sher Bahadur Deuba Government in 2002

2002-04-18 10:39

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KATHMANDU 000768

Classified By: AMB. MICHAEL E. MALINOWSKI. REASON: 1.5 (B,D).

———-
SUMMARY
———–

¶1. (C) Ongoing attempts by former Prime Minister and Nepali
Congress Party President Girija Prasad Koirala to topple the
current Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, appear to be on
hold for the time being. According to the Indian Ambassador,
PM Vajpayee, Minister for External Affairs Singh, Home
Minister Advani, Defense Minister Fernandes and the BJP
President had each discouraged Koirala during his current
visit from pursuing a no-confidence motion. In an April 17
meeting with Nepali Congress Party General Secretary (and
Koirala cousin) Sushil Koirala, the Ambassador stressed the
importance of a united political front to face down the
threat from the Maoist insurgency. Sushil Koirala seemed to
take the message on board–albeit somewhat grudgingly–and
did not raise the subject of a change in government.
Although G.P. Koirala may be dissuaded for now, he can be
counted on to resume his machinations against Deuba the next
opportunity he sees. End summary.

—————————————-
NEW DELHI SAID TO NIX KOIRALA CAMPAIGN
—————————————-

¶2. (C) Indian Ambassador to Nepal Singh told Ambassador
Malinowski April 17 that Prime Minister Vajpayee, Minister
for External Affairs Singh, Defense Minister Fernandes, Home
Minister Advani, and the BJP President had each told former
Nepali Prime Minister and current Nepali Congress Party
President Girija Prasad Koirala, in New Delhi for a visit, to
desist from efforts to topple his long-time rival, current
Nepali PM Sher Bahadur Deuba. Ambassador Singh said G.P.
seemed to have got the unambiguous message that the Indians
would not support a change in government at the present and
expected him to stand down.

—————————————–
NC GENERAL SECRETARY CALL ON AMBASSADOR
—————————————–

¶3. (C) On April 17 Nepali Congress General Secretary (and
G.P. cousin) Sushil Koirala called on Ambassador Malinowski
at the Residence. Commending the April 15 all-party meeting
that resulted in a unanimous decision to oppose the April
23-27 Maoist general strike, the Ambassador stressed the
importance of party unity at this time of national crisis.
(Note: Party leaders–including leaders of the Nepali
Congress–had boycotted an earlier all-party meeting called
by Deuba on March 27. End note.) Of course all political
parties have differences and disagreements, the Ambassador
observed; thus it is especially heartening to see the parties
overcome these differences and stand united on this important
issue. The USG fully recognizes the challenges before Nepal
and wants to be helpful; the Embassy has asked for a package
of security and development assistance to help Nepal overcome
the threat from the insurgency. While we are pushing to get
this assistance in Washington, it is good to know the
political parties are doing what they can to help their own
country in its hour of need, the Ambassador concluded.

¶4. (C) Koirala said the Nepali Congress has been the main
target of Maoist aggression becaue it has always been the
champion of democracy. Only his party has organized all of
the district party chairmen to oppose the Maoists, Koirala
claimed. Why then should the Army Chief single out only
Deuba and “a few young ministers” as the only ones helping
the Army to stand up to the Maoists (Ref B). Koirala said he
viewed the Army Chief’s public comments as highly worrisome,
especially in light of the Army’s historical role in backing
the Palace against the Nepali Congress in its early struggle
to bring democracy to Nepal. Did the Army Chief’s comments
signal some darker intention? The Ambassador said both the
military leadership, including the Army Chief, and the King
had underscored to him on a number of occasions their respect
for the Constitution. The Army has no intention of staging a
coup, the Ambassador said; to do so would cost them not only
the support of the Nepali public but of foreign donors as
well. In the continuing series of conversations with the
Palace, government and security forces, the U.S. has always
stressed the need for all to abide by the Constitution and to
respect human rights.
¶5. (C) Why are foreign donors so supportive of Deuba?
Koirala asked, adding he could not recall any previous PM
receiving similar support. The Ambassador replied that
friends of Nepal are committed to helping the country through
this crisis. Nepal’s friends support the government’s effort
and commitment to overcome this crisis, rather than a
particular individual. He recalled during his previous
tenure as DCM and Charge in Nepal the USG working closely
with then-PM G.P. Koirala to give disaster relief assistance
in the wake of especially destructive and unprecedented
flooding. He also reminded Sushil Koirala of the help he and
other foreign emissaries had provided G.P. in countering a
series of violent bandhs in the early 1990s and in brokering
a rapprochement between G.P. and the major opposition party.
Neither the U.S. Embassy or the Ambassador himself is “for”
or “against” any particular political personality, he
emphasized; we support the democratically elected leader,
whoever it is, attempting to lead Nepal out of this crisis.
Koirala thanked the Ambassador for his views and left without
raising a possible change in government.

¶6. (C) The Ambassador went over the same ground he went
over with Sushil Koirala in an April 18 meeting with Nepali
Congress MP and former Minister of Commerce and Health Ram
Krishna Tamarakar, a long-time G.P. ally. Tamarakar, who
also is very close to Sushil Koirala, had sought a meeting
with the Ambassador, perhaps at the request of G.P.

———-
COMMENT
———-

¶7. (C) The message should be crystal clear to Koirala and
his cohorts by now that a move to change PMs would not be
welcomed by the Palace; the Army; the donors; Nepal’s
neighbor and largest trading partner, India; and, probably,
nearly half of the Nepali Congress Party. (Sushil Koirala’s
visit to the Ambassador was preceded immediately by a call on
the soon-to-be-departing British Ambassador, who, he told us,
delivered a similar message in rather forceful tones. This
may in part explain Sushil’s reticence during his
conversation with Amb. Malinowski.) India’s input, if as
reported, will likely prove critical in persuading G.P.
Koirala to hold off on his campaign for now. We don’t,
however, expect him to be dissuaded for long. National
crisis or not, at the earliest opportunity–and he always
finds one–we expect G.P. to resume his chronic scheming to
regain the post of prime minister.
MALINOWSKI

::::::::::::::::

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KATHMANDU 000768

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SA/INS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/17/2012
TAGS: PGOV PREL NP GON
SUBJECT: ATTEMPTS TO OUST PM APPARENTLY ON HOLD

REF: A. (A) KATHMANDU 731

¶B. (B) KATHMANDU 657

Classified By: AMB. MICHAEL E. MALINOWSKI. REASON: 1.5 (B,D).

Another cable on the same issue goes like this:

2002-04-09 11:50

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 KATHMANDU 000710

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SA/INS
NEW DELHI PLEASE PASS A/S ROCCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/09/2012
TAGS: PGOV PTER NP GON
SUBJECT: KOIRALA COMEBACK? IMPLICATIONS OF (YET ANOTHER)
CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT

REF: A. (A) KATHMANDU 0707 (NOTAL)

¶B. (B) KATHMANDU 0672
¶C. (C) STATE 67794
¶D. (D) 01 KATHMANDU 1603

Classified By: AMB. MICHAEL E. MALINOWSKI

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Refs A and B reported apparent efforts by
former Prime Minister and Nepali Congress Party President
Girija Prasad Koirala to oust current Prime Minister Sher
Bahadur Deuba and regain the post of prime minister–which he
has held five times in Nepal’s twelve years of democracy–yet
again. This message contains additional information on the
Koirala campaign and our assessment of what another Koirala
administration could mean for domestic political stability.
End summary.

—————-
SIEGE MENTALITY
—————-

¶2. (C) Supporters of former Prime Minister and Nepali
Congress (NC) Party President Girija Prasad Koirala, who is
stepping up his campaign to replace current Prime Minister
Sher Bahadur Deuba (Refs A and B), are indicating that the
five-time former PM may be planning a move to oust his rival
in the near future. In an April 9 meeting with poloffs,
Sujata Koirala, G.P.’s only child, hinted that a decision
would be made after her father and she return from an April
14-18 visit to India, where he expects to meet with (unnamed)
Indian officials. (Note: The Indian Ambassador to Nepal
confirmed the visit and told the British Ambassador the
Indian Government will tell Koirala to stand down.) While
emphasizing that the decision on who leads Nepal is for
Nepalis to decide, poloffs hinted back to Sujata Koirala that
a change of government at the present could only further
erode Nepal’s stability and undermine the GON’s ability to
address the insurgency and other pressing national issues.

¶3. (C) Sujata, a philanthropist and aspiring politician who
earned a reputation for corruption during her father’s
previous administration, charged that the Royal Nepal Army
(RNA) and the King are in league against her father, and are
propping up Deuba because he is more easily manipulated than
her father would be by “anti-democratic” forces. She
predicted the NC Central Committee will soon expel
Communications Minister Jaya Prakash Gupta for publicly
supporting Army Chief Rana’s controversial remarks about past
Nepali Congress leaders (Ref B). She accused the RNA of
harassing and even killing Koirala supporters in the field.
Deuba, on the other hand, has completely cut off dialogue
with the Koirala faction in his party. When a NC MP from
Kalikot turned to Deuba to ask for assistance for his
beleaguered, Maoist-affected district, she said Deuba
peremptorily “threw him out” of his office because of his
affiliation to the Koirala camp. To add to their woes,
Koirala supporters are also being targeted by Maoists, she
claimed, alleging the insurgents specifically ask Nepali
Congress cadres if they are Koirala men or Deuba men. If
they respond with the former, they are attacked. (Note:
This we strongly doubt and have not heard elsewhere. End
note.) Her father is not interested in regaining the prime
minister’s chair, she asserted, but what can he do when
democracy is so threatened and district party leaders and MPs
are “crying” for him to return to power? When poloff asked
about her father’s relationship with the RNA and Palace
during his last administration, she brushed off the question.

——————————
LIKELY PALACE, RNA REACTIONS
——————————

¶4. (S) Koirala has been chipping away at Deuba’s support
within his own faction-riven party since his term began in
July; it appears that by now Koirala might well have won over
enough MPs to win a vote of no confidence. Opposition party
leaders are unlikely to protest or interrupt their rivals’
self-destructiveness, discerning as always, in the NC’s
recurrent internal crises, potential opportunity to take the
prime ministership back from the Nepali Congress. The
general public, long inured to the self-absorbed infighting
of their political leaders and frequent flip-flops in
government, can probably be counted on to accept Koirala’s
re-emergence with relative indifference. Maoist reaction to
another Koirala administration is difficult to determine; it
seems unlikely, however, to produce an environment any more
conducive to dialogue than in his previous tenures. The
Maoists almost surely welcome continual infighting within the
NC Party and among the various parties in Parliament. We and
other donors have been quietly letting the Koirala camp know
that we regard a change in government at this crucial
juncture as ill advised (Ref A).

¶5. (S) The other two figures in the national equation,
however–the Palace and the RNA–do not favor a Koirala
comeback. Koirala enjoyed particularly stormy relations with
the RNA during his last term in office, and he has made no
secret since of his displeasure with the military. Chief of

SIPDIS
Army Staff Rana’s public comments criticizing the past 12
years of political leadership (Ref B) made pointed implicit
references to Koirala, who served as Prime Minister for more
than half of that time. Koirala, on the other hand, regards
the RNA’s refusal to engage the Maoists in Rolpa last July
(Ref D)–and King Gyanendra’s reported refusal to support his
request that the RNA do so–as evidence of a Palace-Army
conspiracy against him.

¶6. (S) The RNA, understandably, views the fiasco at Rolpa
differently and blames Koirala for having forced the military
into a no-win situation without the legal and Constitutional
cover of emergency powers. Our military contacts have made
it clear that they do not trust Koirala and would not like to
see him back in power again. While always taking care to
emphasize to us their respect for the Constitution and
democracy, our military interlocutors have also frequently
expressed frustration at what they view as the civilian
leadership’s mismanagement of the crisis. Should Koirala
re-insert himself as Prime Minister, we don’t anticipate a
coup, but the mutual mistrust between the former PM and the
military would surely complicate–and could undermine–RNA
efforts to counter the insurgency under the state of
emergency. The Maoists, of course, would welcome this
development.

¶7. (S) In private conversations with the Ambassador, King
Gyanendra has made the same points–respect for democracy but
impatience with its inept leadership–as Rana. But the King,
who has generally maintained a public posture of aloofness
from domestic politics, is letting it be known behind the
scenes that he is comfortable with Deuba but would not
welcome G.P.’s return. Many observers view Army Chief Rana’s
public remarks criticizing years of Koirala’s leadership (Ref
B)–which must surely have been vetted by the Palace
beforehand–as a not-so-veiled royal admonition to the former
PM. The King is obviously trying to head off what he sees as
a potential crisis before it happens. Koirala understands
the message–his supporters allude freely to his strained
relations with the Palace.

¶8. (S) We remain hopeful that Koirala will have the good
sense not to pursue his agenda at this time in the face of
obvious opposition from both the military and the Palace.
Advice from the one potential ally he apparently thinks he
has left–India–could prove critical in persuading him to
desist. But whether or not Koirala decides to follow
through, his constant conniving distracts Deuba and his
embattled Cabinet from devoting their full attention to the
other threat at hand–the Maoists.
MALINOWSKI

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