I interviewed Nancy Powell, US ambassador to Nepal, on July first week when she was preparing to wrap up her tenure. Here are the excerpts :
Originally posted on July 7, 2009 .
1. Nepal has gone through many upheavals, you also witness major political changes, how do you see all these things as a representative of a global democratic power ?
I think it has been my pleasure to be in Nepal at a time of great change.Clearly there are still many many problems to solve.But I think we all should have to recognize that there has been much progress.5 years ago there was a war going on, people’s lives were being been lost through extreme violence.During the time I have been here, you have been able to hold elections,write a new interim constitution,and to proceed to have a democratic change of a government.I think all of those are very positive. Certainly, as a part of the international community, with a desire to see here a full transition we continue to believe that there is a need to have more emphasis on the peace process, more progress on the peace process.
2. You know, we have been facing many crises now, we are going through predicament in peace process, in politics. What do you think, is the foundation laid for peace process was wrong ?
I think that is the question Nepali must answer.You do have series of agreements which all parties have agreed.Dating back to the 12 point agreement and series of agreement, you also have interim constitution that provides the legal basis for the government to function and those are the things that all parties have agreed too.I think they can still serve as the basis for continuing compromise, consensus building, and I would hope those wouldn’t be abrogated but would be further expanded upon.
3. As we all know that the foundation for the peace process was the 12 point agreement that opened the avenue for the political parties to join hands with Maoists.Your predecessor James F.Moriarty was also against that, that definitely might be US policy that time? Isnot that enough to conclude that US has certain reservation with the process going on ?
I think our position has been these are Nepali documents, they are supported by Nepali people, the agreements have all of the parties acquiesce to it, that, if you go forward you need to honor these agreements, if you have reservation you need to find way to change them but US recognize that this is a Nepali process. It needs it to be run by Nepali people, that is their future that is at stake.We hope that it will produce a transition that leads to much more good democracy, a much more stable country where your government can provide greater services to the people, but the outlines of that and the basis on which you do it really is a Nepali process.
4. What do you think , is the direction of peace process on right track ?
It seems to me right now that peace process is stalled. The attention over the last weeks has been on the fall of Maoist-UML government, the formation of a new coalition, the attempt to create a cabinet that brings in all the members of the coalition and in the process of doing that, the focus shifted from the constitution drafting and many of the key issues of peace process and I think it would be very useful to begin to do these simultaneously. Clearly you need to have an attention in the formation of the government and its ability to provide security, basic services, a budget for the country. The budget deadline is coming very soon, but at the same time you cannot ignore the basic issues of peace process, I know the constitution drafting is ongoing, the consultations are going on but that is a key task for the peace process. The Special committee now has not met, since before the fall of the government there is discussion that will have to be reconstituted, many members are changed or there is desire of parties to change. I think there is some urgency in getting that committee to function again and begin to deal with the issues of 4 thousands non verified in the camps, other 19 thousands verified combatants, that is the key element of the peace process. Legislation done by ordinances lasped because the parliament did not consider.The disappeared and the other ordinances that were adopted in the absence of the parliament, those issues need to looked at again by the new government, similar legislation and different legislation,but those are the key elements that have had no actions in last two months.
5. Anarchy prevails everywhere in the country, violent activities of youth wings of the political parties have become an endless phenomena. YCL, Youth Force are a few instances, are you concerned about these ?
I am very concerned and I think Nepali should be concerned. This is the prime function for the govt. provide security and ensure that the youth groups all of the parties are acting within the law, they are following the political norms. I would note that over the past few weeks, there are also incidents where public has taken action. In most countries, it wouldn’t be considered to be civilized or to be normal. The incident in a hospital in Pokhara was a very unusual one, the attacks on the printing press over a story that was inaccurate, all of those are worrisome trend in Nepal.I hope it is not a trend but rather isolated incidents, the fact the increasing numbers of them indicates that people have lost some confidence in the police, in the judicial system and the new govt ,political parties those in the parliament, I think have responsibility to those who elected them, and try to address the situation and look for ways to public to cooperate but to restore the confidence that police and the judicial system are the way to proceed against the criminals.
6. What repercussions may they result ?
I think we have seen in other countries that these conditions can lead to anarchy, they can lead to a declined respect for entire political situation and I don’t know whether it is now or not in Nepal and certainly I hope it doesn’t deteriorate to that .but I think it does require a consensus, a broad consensus of civil society groups, politicians and govt. officials really looking into how to reinstate in people’s mind that govt. is functioning and that it can provide for them basic security and health, education services that they need.
7. What are the outright challenges in peace process of Nepal ?
I think the first one is to go back and really look at the agreements, have rather a systematic look at them, and analyse what progress has been made and what is the outstanding, what action needs to be taken to implement them, not true that has been done in a systematic way and I would certainly encourage all of the participants to do that and then to have a type of mechanism of some kind which would assign a ministry or there a number of ways, which Nepali should have to decide how to do, but have a mechanism for looking at action plan that determines what priorities are there for the Nepali leaders and plan that says that 2 weeks from now we would accomplish this, 2 mths from now we will accomplish this benchmark, I realize that is a very American way but I think there is some need in Nepal to be more systematic, I think certainly need to have greater discussion among the parties, I am much impressed by Nepali parties to come together and it needs to happen in a more regular basis, the parliament needs to resume its activities particularly govt’s ability to present a budget, in my opinion that budget debate is one of the key elements of any democracy because where the money is going says where the priorities are and if you cannot have that debate, then you have a truncated democracy.you don’t have the govt’s ability to argue for the priorities, oppositions ability to say that priorities are misplaced. so this is a very very key debate in any democracy.We are having this discussion in the United States right now as we get ready for our budget season, you see it around the world.
8. Everbody accepts peace process has been a little longer.A few weeks back, US assistant Secretary Robert Blake said that international community has not unlimited patience.While the peace process hasnot come to a proper track, does this type of attitude from a responsible country like US, would be helpful ? How would you interpret it, as it seems like a warning ?
I think one of the things in terms of international responses that much of the technical expertise, outside technical expertise much of the funding for many of the developments has come from outside and I think assistant secretary Blake was reminding people that there are many priorities for those who are donating to Nepal, and we have to look at whether there is any impatience in Nepali side, a sense that there is a need of progress here, as we evaluate our own priorities, our foreign assistance budget, I ll speak only for America, this is not unlimited, we are constantly looking to make sure that if we put dollars by a taxpayers money into a country, is going to have results, and I think he was conveying the sense that, he will have to go as assistant secretary for south asia and he will have to defend that our money is well spent in Nepal, it is making progress, and trying to give Nepali a sense that they need to have some impatience as well, this is one of the things I am constantly trying to analyse that why Nepalis are not more impatient about the lack of progress and demanding that their leaders across the spectrum to make progress.
9. Talking about the Maoists, do you believe Maoists do have faith in multiparty democracy, as they frequently talk about establishing People’s Republic, control of the state power.Could they be believed ?
I have met many Maoist leaders, I have listen to them, I have read their statements, we are encouraged by the public commitment to multiparty democracy.As you have also said that the statements that came in the video tape, coming in their party meetings, the rallies they recently call question that dedication, I have been asking that we go back to President’s Reagan famous phrase, it calls Trust and Verify and what that means is that the words are very important and I don’t want to discount the words as I think, former PM Dahal has adopt to bring his party completely into a democratic framework and the words are important in doing that but equally important are the actions the party takes both at the leadership level and its grass root level and those donot, always match.We are still seeing the Maoists particularly in the district level , a great deal of violence against other party cadres, there is continuing extortion of businessmen and others, there is certainly increasing violence in the bandhs that have occurred over the past few weeks where vehicles from the press, diplomatic missions, ambulances have been obstructed particularly concerns that people who needs medical examination have not been able to get that,the press is not been able to report accurately and in a timely manner as a result of their disruptions and those actions donot match with the commitments of multiparty democracy that has been given by the Maoists.
10. If you are confident about Maoist words, then why do US continue to put Maoists in the Terrosist Exclusion List ?
Well as I said, it’s not just the words it count, it also the actions and many of the actions donot constitute the fore commitment for the renunciation of violence, a fore commitment to play a democratic game by a democratic rule, you donot attack your opponents physically and if you are committed to democracy you debate them, you try to prevail with very developed programs, services, priorities, proposals but what we are continuing to see and unfortunately it is spreaded to some other parties, youth groups and others enforce with physical violence rather than debate and discussion , the attempts to have their party prevail in democratic ways.
11. What has been the progress made in course of removing the name of Nepali Maoists from Terrorist Exclusion List ?
That progress has to be done by the Maoists, we have been very candid with them and saying the kind of things that result in consideration removing them from the list, these include the renunciation of violence in both words and actions, by all of their party members, it includes, certainly the participation in the elections which they did, it is very easy to accept when you are a major winner, they accepted the results and I think Nepal is to be congratulated on the elections that were held last year, these are the kinds of things but it has to been both word and action and it’s needs to be honored by all the cadres of party not only the Chairman and a small handful of leaders.
12. So, you still don’t believe Maoists ?
Trust and verify..
13. In India, Maoists are banned and are treated as terrorist organizationIn Nepal, Maoists are accepted as political force. Ultimately Maoists are Maoists whether they are Nepali or Indian. So don’t you think this is contradictory ?
I cannot speak to Indian policy.I donot accept the idea that every Maoist is the same.I think there are major differences and I think the fact that Maoists in Nepal have participated in the elections and they are continuing to participate in political discussions is a vey different situation, while you find many areas in which Maoists are very active in India but I won’t speak to Indian policy.
14. Maoists are talking about the next national government in their own leadership.On the other hand, as many newspapers reported Girija Prasad Koirala, in his meeting with you, told that Maoists will join this government , is it easy ?
I don’t think it’s going to be easy but I think there is great deal of interests I have done my farewell calls on political leaders, I have found each of them expressing a desire to overcome the current impasse, to get the parliament to function, to have a govt that can deliver to people get back on the track to the constitution drafting, each of then comes with the series of conditions, priorities, ideas, things have to be resolved among Nepalis, but it does seem to me that in the past this has been possible.I have been recalling them in particular, the period after the cancellation of November elections in 2007, the Maoists had left the government, no one was certain whether the elctions would be held , whether there would be continuation of peace process, I think all of us here thought that those were very the dark days, many of are saying that the current situation is not as dark as that.they also have reminded that they would be able to come to a consensus relatively quickly that reset the elections and remained committed to that agreements and hold up the elections and it is my hope that the optimism, that spirit, of being willing to sit together with each other, and take a look at their conditions, their various interests and to come together with a solution for Nepal.Whether it is a national government or whether it is a decision let the current govt proceed, the parliament resume, there are number of ways that could be configured.But I find that everyone is still willing to talk, there are discussions going on, and I think that is very very important for Nepal.
15. The tussle among the major political parties has reached a new height, frustration regarding the political parties has increased among the people.On this ground do you see any space for the monarchy to come back ?
That is the decision for Nepal and I don’t see any particular interest in that solution but that is certainly Nepal made the decision, I think that it has been respected, I don’t particularly, see them as one of the outcomes, but there are lots of things I couldnot predict in Nepal.
16. The row regarding the Chief of Army Staff has brought country to a deadlock, how do you see this ? Would you like to comment ?
This is something for Nepalis to work through, it clearly is a major issue, the United States in its own democracy has a bedrock principle, the idea that the military must be subservient to the civilian control, there is also a recognition that civilian control also must be responsible, it must be professional in its management and coordination with the army.This is something that we had 233 years to work out, we were very very fortunate in our early years that General Washington who became president Washington chose to separate those two roles..He resigned his commission at the end of our revolutionary war, went back to his farm, and stayed there for about 7, 8 years we had a new constitution which he participated a member of the delegation, as a Chairman of the Commission and then was elected by the people, but there are two very very separate roles, that’s not been true in every country, there are many countries in which Generals went into politics or believe that army had a political role, that wasnot America’s tradition, but we do think the separation and the civilian control of the military is the very important part of any successful democracy.
17. Nepal Army also has defied many government orders, so do you see democracy in Nepal to fail as you mentioned before ?
There are controversies about this.My understanding is that where there are people in Nepal who believe that the army exceeded its role or its mandate within the constitution, those cases are in the court and I think that is a very good solution, we have had a numerous cases as well, where this is how you resolve not involving the army but in other cases, again these are the democratic ways, for addressing issues you have differing opinions, but that Nepal has those options available too and Nepal seems to clearly look at those issues as a part of constitutional draft, these are the ways you do in a democracy.
18. Major differences prevail among the political parties regarding the integration of Maoist combatants, so, how easy it would be to complete this ?
I think Nepal has a good idea going forward, it has appointed a technical committee that has expertise in these issues, it has available to it on demand the help of United Nations through UNMIN, through anyone of the donor countries, we have all helped in other countries and UNDP has done some outstanding work in countries in Africa, that would allow Nepal to draw an expertise it is my hope that the technical committee can serve as a think tank, a place where options, can be discussed, written down and provide them for the policy makers who are representing the govt, the major political parties.Your special committee as was constituted after the time the govt fell had the responsibility to look at those options to make consensus decisions, that was not a majority vote but that was rather a consensus, and then make the recommendations to the Constituent Assembly on how to proceed.That’s a very orderly process that can be followed, it is obviously both technical and political issues, The process been selected has both elements in it but a vey thorough study by the technical committee and I see no reason why the technical committee cannot be working right now.It’s not involved in the political situation, it should be in my opinion be working on those options and then as the committee is reconstituted, which again I would hope the urgent issue for the political parties, they would have options available to them and they can then debate in political forum, but I think the process, as designed has a very good chance of success if you can follow the combination of both technical expertise and political sense of representing the people of Nepal.
19. How do you see UNMIN’s role here ?
I think the govt of Nepal has just made a decision to request an extension. certainly this is welcome that they have done it in advance so that we can study and each of the member of the SC Council UN has chance to review, I think there will be some concern on some part of the member of the SC including my own govt, that when the last request was made, there was great fanfare, that it would be the final one, there would be a great progress on the issues in which UNMIN is involved, I think the record is almost nothing, and this is a concern because, there are costs associated with UNMIN, there are other programs not funded because, the money that comes to Nepal, there is a growing urgency among the Security Council to see Nepalis take this seriously that as Assistant Secretary Blake has suggested there is no a blank cheque here.Particularly for US we pay a approximately a quarter of UNMIN’s cost as a part of UN obligation.There is expectation for me as a taxpayer and my fellow taxpayers that there would be Nepalis who are working on this that this is not an open ended commitment made by the UN.
20. As Nepali side has not made so much progress in peace process, would it be justified to ask a costly mission like UNMIN to extend futher ?
I think there is a belief that UNMIN is making a contribution to the peace process particularly through its continuation of arms monitoring through the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee which has provided the mechanism for the Nepal Army and the PLA leadership to talk and help to develop mechanism for discussions, I think we see those as very valuable contributions and there is no Nepali institution ready to take on those roles, our hope is that Nepalis can take on this and UNMIN would no longer to do it and the cantonments would be emptied and that the rehabilitation, integration, issues would be resolved in a very orderly fashion and you would no longer have the need for UNMIN on those duties.I would personally like to UNMIN being able to provide a better technical role provide expertise to the technical committee and others.
21. In South Asia many believe that US sees South Asia through the eyes of India.Is that the correct perception ? How are you going to explain that it is not the case ?
I think it is a very incorrect one.I have been trying to correct since I got here, I constantly get this question, I think while in many cases as democracy , very large democracy America and India see many many issues in the world with the same lens and with same concern for core democratic values, we each have our own independent foreign policy and we each have our own priorities.As we look at South Asia, I think it is a totally an incorrect perception.
21. Nepal shares border with China. Nepal has also been facing the Tibetan unrest . China has been frequently saying that US has encouraged Free Tibet activitists against China.How do you assure that US is not working for the containment of China from Nepal. As China has growing concern in this issue, Nepal is in awkard situation ?
I think enough attention is not paid to the fact that Nepal and the United States share support for one China policy.We have not advocated the independence, the govt has not advocated the independence of Tibet at the same time we are very very concerned about the human rights of Tibetan in any country.They have right to express themselves freely, they have the right to peacefully assemble and advocate for themselves, This is a major concern and it is the major difference in opinion with some people but this doesnot mean that United States is supporting Free Tibet and I think there is some lack of understanding in difference of that.Certainly we understand that Nepal is in awkward position but we would expect that the human rights of all individuals in Nepal would be respected.
22. What has been the progress made in effort to provide preferential entry for Nepali readymade garments ?
There was a delegation last year by the Chief Secretary and the others to the United States.There is a bill that has been presented by Senator Fienstein and others, that is in the Senate .I think there are any number of things that will perhaps make difficult for that bill to pass.The global turndown has affected the United States.Our own garment industry has been very very badly affected over past few years by the global competition and opening up of garment manufacturers few years ago.We have a domestic political issue as well, as international threat issue.There is not much domestic support in the United States, it will take a very active campaign I think from Nepal and Nepal’s friends in the US to make this a successful venture.It is also I think it has to be recognized by Nepalis that in the global market they need to look very carefully that how competitive they are and United States has found that it is not very competitive in garment manufacture despite the fact that we are very well developed manufacturing country.When you face 18 hours loadshedding, when you face major disruptions, bandhs and transport strikes, when you face major problems with labour unions, you competitiveness goes way way down and I think Nepal has to be realistic about how competitive is the garment industry.
23. How do you assess your tenure ?
This has been a fascinating tour for me.I have not ever served in a country that was in the middle or the initial stages of the transition from an insurgency to a more democratic. I have served in several parts of the world, there are further long in the process but Nepal is much earlier in the transition.
24. What is the most memorable event you are taking back ?
I think probably the elections would stand out.It was an incredibly heartening experience to see people turn out across Nepal, their enthusiasm for the elections.I think all of us had some skepticism on the very day whether they are going forward or not.But that was a heartening one,It is somehow disheartening to see the expectations on that day not have gone forward as fast as I would have hoped.I think much Nepalis have hoped but all of our hopes are still committed…certainly I could speak for US govt, we want to continue to support those expectations, those hopes for Nepal that it would complete this transition and it will continue down the path of democracy, the greater prosperity and inclusiveness for all Nepali.
25. You are returning to the US and you continue to be in the State department.Personally what would be your effort to help Nepal in that position ?
I am going to have a full time job looking after the policies that affect our personnel around the world whether it is our foreign or civil service and local staffs.But as I did when I left Nepal in 1982, I will continue to follow the developments here, I hope to come back, there are many things I could not have been able to do and see in Nepal and I look forward to those activities and trying to help Nepal where I can with its future.
26. Lastly, what is your message for Nepali people ?
Best wishes for your transition.