Bridging the divide

By taking Maoists off the terrorist blacklist,the US may be stepping towards a new alliance

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published:September 11, 2012 3:50 am

By taking Maoists off the terrorist blacklist,the US may be stepping towards a new alliance

A development that brings the biggest cheer to the Maoists is the US government’s decision to take them off the terrorist blacklist. Thursday’s unconditional decision came as a surprise and triumph for the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M). There was a visible attitudinal change,especially from the US embassy in Kathmandu. But there was no inkling that such a major decision was in the pipeline. The man who actually worked for this was former US Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi,recalled and sent to Uganda a few months ago.

DeLisi did not miss public opportunities to be seen in friendly exchanges with the Maoists,something his predecessors avoided. From Michael Malinowski (2001-2007) to DeLisi,the US approach to Maoists has undergone a sea change,although the UCPN-M continued to be on the terrorist list. The US said it needed to be convinced of Maoists’ adherence to peace and democracy. Thursday’s decision is an admission that the US is now convinced the Maoists have either changed totally,or they are going to be a more useful ally in Nepal.

As ambassador,Malinowski once refused to shake hands with noted human rights activist Padma Ratna Tuladhar at a public event,accusing him of being pro-Maoist. Malinowski’s successor,James Moriarty,clearly took a hardline against the Maoists. Moriarty,as a WikiLeaks cable suggests,was opposed to the 12-point agreement — the basis of the Maoist and pro-democracy parties working together — under Indian initiative. Even after the Maoists joined the peace process,Moriarty’s was the lone diplomatic voice against human rights violations,breach of the code of conduct under the peace agreement,and Maoist violence.

But his successor,Nancy Powell,hopped from shunning the Maoists initially to meeting them quietly,and finally to not saying anything against them in public. The US,despite Moriarty’s opposition to the 12-point programme,came to support India’s lead role in Nepal eventually,which meant accepting the Maoists’ leading role in politics. But Moriarty went home with reservations about the Maoist leadership’s trustworthiness.

There are many who remember Powell avoiding a handshake with Maoist commander Nanda Kishore Pun Pasang. But subsequently,Powell had no problem joining other diplomats at the Bhainsepati residence of Norwegian Ambassador Tore Toreng where Bhattarai used to be a regular face. For Powell,public handshakes with Maoist leaders subsequently became routine.

Former US President George W. Bush,who had advised visiting PM Sher Bahadur Deuba in 2002 not to show leniency towards the “terrorists”,was different when Prachanda met him as prime minister in September 2008. “His body language was very positive,” was what Prachanda felt. No one knows whether Prachanda’s impression was correct,but the recent US decision shows Prachanda could read Washington was a friend in the offing.

DeLisi had been vocally in favour of the Maoists ever since his arrival. He always referred to Bhattarai as a different Maoist leader and “Nepal’s only hope”. Not surprisingly,the decision to take Maoists off the list has come during Bhattarai’s tenure. The UCPN-M has now split,and the breakaway group,the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M),has already taken a more radical posture. The US has invested a lot in rights movements,especially ethnic movements,the Women’s Caucus and other agendas for change in Nepal,and the only political party adopting such agenda is the UCPN-M. In a strange turn of events,“imperialist US” and Maoist “terrorists” are inching towards becoming the most mutually dependable allies in Nepal.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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