\'Tis the season for Delhi-based South Asian correspondents to parachute in and tell the world about how bad things are in Nepal.
It was during the Maoist 'blockade' of Kathmandu in August that the media feeding frenzy reached a crescendo, surpassing even the royal massacre. Nepal's suffering also inspires a lot of bleeding hearts in the west. Following the footsteps of Alex Perry of Time last year, its conservative soul-mate Economist in its 4 December issue urges the international community to save Nepal from imminent failure. Perhaps alarmed by the same doomsday scenario, Sir Jeffrey James is paying an unannounced visit to Kathmandu this week. The kingdom may not have grown much better since his last visit in August but it hasn't become any worse either.
Admittedly, things in Nepal aren't very encouraging. The conflict has intensified, democracy is in the doldrums, and semi-authoritarianism threatens to turn into something worse. But the state is not in danger of failing, as The Economist would have it. The leader ('A failing state') in the magazine, however, could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Failure is a process involving the weakening of a state's capacity to provide legitimate governance. Actually, Nepal's capacity to handle crises has improved and has reached a level of sophistication not found in the failed states of the sub-Sahara. At worst, we are in a gray zone where the state is flailing but still has the resilience to bounce back.
Edwin G Corr calls it the 'Gray Area Phenomenon' (GAP) where the stability of nation states is threatened by non-state actors and control has shifted from the legitimate government to 'new half-political, half-criminal powers'. To fix this, we have to go back to legitimate governance. Persistent calls by the international community (the euphemism for the power triad of the US, UK and India) for a unity of constitutional forces sounds hollow when the constitution is itself in intensive-care. A parliament is the soul of a constitutional monarchy and unless it is revived, the Nepali polity will continue to sink into the quagmire of militarism.
When the Maoist uprising started to strain the apparatus of the state in 1996, nation-building in Nepal was just beginning. The 1990 constitution was finding its footing, a hung parliament was struggling to come to terms with the remnants of a 30-year old regime. Democracy was yet to build a competent police force, an efficient civil service, an independent judicial system operating under the rule of law and a professional disciplined military under civilian command.
These are still some of the challenges and we can't wait to fix them after the fighting stops. In fact, they have to be done at the earliest to resolve issues of governance raised by Maoists.
The US, UK and India have been adding fuel to the fires of war by their one-point agenda of bolstering the Royal Nepali Army. The hardware has whetted the army's appetite, now it wants more of everything: more money, more men, more machines. As a result we are now regarded as a human rights hot spot. Any hasty parallels with Afghanistan may well turn out to be true if military aid to Nepal continues unchecked.
Nepal's economy is too primitive to fail. Unlike half-baked countries of colonial Africa, Nepal's territorial boundary is too old to disintegrate. Communal strife in the kingdom is still dormant, democratic exercise can easily give conflicting aspirations of competing communities a safe vent without seriously disrupting national unity.
The complexity of challenges facing us notwithstanding, we are a society that has come to terms with its past. We have realised that despotic rule-whether authoritarian or totalitarian-has no future. What we have failed to produce so far is a national consensus on our common future. That is a task we have to do ourselves, outsiders
Outside do-gooders only make matters worse by trying to meddle, just look at the proxy wars in the region. If it is our karma to become another Afghanistan, let us, but without daisy-cutters, helicopter gunships and landmines. At least with .303s and socket bombs we know we can bounce back when the fighters are exhausted. Peace will return to this land, but The Economist and Time will probably have left for another trouble spot by then.