India moves in to engage new Nepal PM
NEW DELHI: Election of Communist Party leader Jhalanath Khanal as the new prime minister of Nepal on Thursday will not usher in an era of political stability in the Himalayan country, thanks to last moment support from the Maoists.
Without many options, India has moved quickly to engage the newly-elected premier, with PM Manmohan Singh calling him within hours of the election. Foreign minister S M Krishna will
be travelling to Nepal by March and Khanal is expected in India in the near future as the two sides intensify their engagements.
As New Delhi fine-tunes its response to the latest turn of events in Kathmandu, when Maoist leader Prachanda withdrew his candidature to support The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) (CPN-UML) leader Khanal, it is clear Nepal's political uncertainties will continue.
Since Madhav Kumar Nepal, who too is from CPN-UML, resigned as PM in June 2010, the former Hindu kingdom has been without a government. In a sense, it is a relief that Nepal finally has a prime minister. End of the political logjam could mean that other important tasks of the Constituent Assembly and political establishment including drafting of the new Constitution can begin. But the more difficult task is demilitarising the armed Maoist cadres.
However, given Maoists' power behind the new PM there is little hope of any great movement on most crucial issues, especially regarding the cadres.
Serious differences exist, like on the Maoists' demand that the armed cadres be taken in as whole battalions and their cadres be given the same rank, even at senior levels, as they hold in the insurgency movement. The Nepali army and other political forces are opposed to the suggestion. There are also issues of return of properties seized by the Maoists.
For some time now, observers have been saying that Maoists would like to see to it that they continue with the combatants for as long as possible.
Last week, both the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML had suggested a formula for disarming the Maoist cadres as a precondition for letting Prachanda be the next PM. But he turned it down, so there is very little hope in New Delhi that Maoists would give into any effort by government to ensure Nepal's biggest political party sheds its armed wing.