Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Chauvinist Nationalism: External Influence in Peace Building in Nepal

Safal Ghimire
Nepal cannot afford to rid itself of external actors
but it can fortify itself diplomatically
Two extremities dominate views on sovereignty and nationalism in the Nepali political bazaar. Type one features temerity towards external actors and type two represents the timidity to deal with them. While neither deserves deification, external interests were inevitable during the war and are inevitable in the post-war period.
Graphics: The Kathmandu Post
The principle of state building under international auspices assumes that crisis-ridden countries remain incapable of recovering on their own. Countries beset with war expend bulky budgets for defence and security. When war concludes, they lack the financial resources for reconstruction and recovery.
The ‘peace-building expertise’ of external actors does a favour to them. Peace building needs expertise and specialised human resources to address problems in a sustainable way so that conflict does not recur. The lack of peacebuilding experts within the population of a specific country opens doors to expats. In these situations, international actors such as the United Nations (UN) are favoured partners, as they are considered academically and practically ‘sound’ in their knowledge and experience of peacebuilding. External actors offer support proactively also because post-war countries serve as global laboratories for humanitarianism, development and peacebuilding.

Role of host countries
For host countries, rejecting the offer of others who are lending their hand may exacerbate international relations. Such rejections also put peace processes at the risk of (intended) de-legitimisation by the international community. For example, Uganda and Sri Lanka rejected Multi-Donor Trust Funds for post-war recovery. Since then, Sri Lanka—let alone Uganda—has been suffering from salvos of criticism from the Western bloc for the peacebuilding approach it follows.

During conflicts, the need for third-party mediators to kick-off negotiations creates an environment conducive to the engagement of international actors. If a war ends with the extermination of either of the belligerents, the winner’s agenda is likely to overshadow the loser’s agenda. Sri Lanka is a perfect example of how the Tamil agenda was eclipsed after Mahinda Rajapaksa won. Nepal’s peace agreement was a win-win solution but still, the belligerents realised the need of a third-party to ensure that the game would be just.


War divides society psychologically, ideologically and politically. So the domestic capacity and impartiality of the mediators remains under question. Be it disarmament, repatriation, integration or election, the Nepali political parties have sought constant international observation at every milestone that has followed the peace agreement. Even when international actors are unwanted, their observation remains crucial to give the process international recognition. Hence, from the commencement of the peace process to the end of the transition, a number of gates will remain open for international actors to engage or intervene.
Role of international actors
The other side of the coin is the external actors’ self-interest to be involved in the affairs of war-ridden or post-war countries. Overtly, they have a good argument to justify their involvement: it is a ‘humanitarian’ act. This school of thought has been the sole excuse for US military actions in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Covertly, they engage in
internal matters of weaker countries to check and balance strategic rivals. Political tensions between Russia and the US in the Middle East, China and Western powers in Africa and India and China in Asia are examples of such strategic rivalries. The rest of the international assistance is meant to fulfil global moral obligations.
After 9/11, the international security response of the Western powers has gone beyond the sheer stabilisation of crisis-ridden countries. They are proactively engaged in dealing with terrorist threats from foreign lands. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)—with major military giants led by the US—is focusing on countries where security is weak to keep political extremists and religious fundamentalists from gaining power. NATO has zeroed in on countries which could potentially become safe havens for international terrorism and which could eventually threaten Western interests. Some other forces, including but not limited to the EU, are engaged in assuring the ‘democratisation’ and the restructuring of security in unstable countries. Through all these efforts, global political powers—on the one hand—fulfil their ‘moral obligation to democratise’ unstable countries. On the other hand, they repaint security systems in weaker countries in their own favourite colours.
Reliance and independence
The merits and demerits of the engagement of international actors in peacebuilding is a separate topic that needs to be discus-sed in further articles. But keeping in mind the arguments presented above, the next question now is: can Nepal afford to wave goodbye to all external actors currently involved in the country? Of course not. Denying external involvement in its peacebuilding process would be a harsh solution for Nepal—as it would be for any other post-war country. Nepal has received unpr-ecedented attention from donors and international organisations for security and peacebuilding.
Data made available by the Ministry of Finance shows that Nepal has been highly dependent on foreign aid since 2006, the year that marked the peace agreement. Foreign loans and grants financed more than one third of the country’s development expenditures during the first three years of the peace process. In the fiscal year 2010/11, loans and grants constituted almost 50 percent of the expenditures. Even more interestingly, the share of grants has been consistently higher than that of loans. Expats, donors and INGOs prevail in every nook and cranny. Despite its immense potential in tourism, forestry and the hydro sector, Nepal is still far from being self-reliant and from being able to finance state building alone.
Nepal not only experiences post-war complications but also resides in an important geo-strategic location. It shares a 1,414 km border with China’s contested territory, Tibet and an 1880 km open border with India. The location of Nepal is comfortable also for the US and Western powers to keep a vigil on India and China. Because of these factors, security in Nepal is more than a monochromatic issue.
And when it is time for Nepal to restructure state and political institutions, foreign giants may pretend to lend a deaf ear but cannot completely close their eyes. The only way to deal with external interference is to diplomatically fortify ourselves rather than perpetually ranting about videshi prabhus (the lords abroad). Political analyst Michael Ignatieff once wrote, “Imperialism does not cease to exist only because it is politically incorrect”.
First published in The Kathmandu Post on 2013-11-13 09:00 

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