The issue of Non-Alignment

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai will represent Nepal in the 16th NAM (Non Aligned Movement) summit, in Tehran.

The logical question would be: For What? Especially at a time when calls for his resignation is reaching crescendo, and opposition are venting their anger at any opportune moment, as much as he is spewing venom for them in mass media.

The answer is not-so-difficult to find.

Past few weeks, the relations between the parties (the major ones) have been at their worst, since the peace process began. The ‘blame game’ has been headlines on TV channels, almost every day, and mass media hype has had effect on the relationships of the parties which are ‘strained’ ever since the dissolution (or expiry) of the Constituent Assembly in May.

Not facing each other: With increase in alliance making politics and posturing, what virtue is left in non alignment, esp the Non Aligned Movement?

The demise of the Constituent Assembly started a phase of posturing in Nepali politics like never before. With the parties-in-power forming Federal Democratic Republican Alliance, things have only got worse. The parties-out-of-power (for some time now) – Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) – have not taken it easily. For, despite showing signs of being otherwise, they do not want to be termed as anti-federal.

The UCPN (Maoist) leaders have tried to defend the logic of the alliance, but it has not been able to get down well with the opposition. Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has gone to the extent of saying that the alliance was not formed to promote confrontation but was created to ‘politically’ defend the government.

Defend? Against whom? Now try to explain that.

At such time of posturing and alliance building, the PM is to represent Nepal at the NAM summit. Nothing wrong in that, as such. After all, as head of the government he is expected to represent Nepal at international fora. But the question is NOT why he is going. But why go at all?

It is a common knowledge that the Non-Aligned Movement is a group of states considering themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc. The movement at present has 120 members and 17 observer countries.

The Non-Aligned movement was never established as a formal organization, but became the name to refer to the participants of the Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries first held in 1961.

It was founded in Belgrade in 1961, and is considered to be the brainchild of Yugoslavia’s president, Josip Broz Tito; India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru; Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser; Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah; and Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. All five leaders advocated – a middle path for states in the Developing World (who were not directly affiliated to American or Russian bloc) – during the height of Cold War, so that their development did not fall victim to the anger of the other block. The phrase ‘Non-aligned’ was first used to represent the doctrine by Indian diplomat and statesman V.K. Krishna Menon in 1953, at the United Nations.

Primarily, its objective was to put a stop to effects of Cold War on the Third World. Now that the Cold war has ended, its relevance is being questioned. It is struggling to prove its relevance and position itself in the New World Order. The movement’s principles of multilateralism, equality, and mutual non-aggression to become a strong voice for the underdeveloped remain as it is. However, the political leverage it used to have when negotiating with developed nations is fast diminishing, as its member nations find it easier dealing through other regional blocs that they are a part of. The regional blocs like SAARC make sense because of common goals due to shared geography.

In such a situation, Nepal’s membership to NAM itself should be questioned. Due to geography, we cannot but take sides between India and China – the new economic powers. Neither can we question the relevance of European Union in Nepal, because of amount that pours in through INGOs in social sector.

In such a situation, it would only be fair to say we need to sort our house in order and try to garner international support in rebuilding Nepal. It should be noted that, like in India, the middle class is growing more and more disenchanted with the politics, thanks to the ever raising caste-dominated politics that we’re getting used to. Unlike in India, the middle class is not growing financially, and they are subjected to effects of inflation. But the dissent for politics is growing, as most youngsters from this class want to go abroad and we don’t know when we will be able to reverse the trend of ‘brain drain’.

As far as getting the house in order is concerned, a few developments are the key. In the latest development, top leaders of three major parties committed to end blaming each other and work towards harmonizing their relationship. They also committed to avoid political polarization, fearing it could lead to confrontation between the major parties. The top leaders are to start point-wise discussions on disputed issues of the constitution, and clear the way for the promulgation of a new constitution and the formation of a national unity government. In some ways it is a sign of realization that polarization will not help end the current stalemate.

If that happens, it will lead to complete the army integration process, which is long overdue. It is not fair that the former fighters have been kept in limbo after promising them a lot. It is time to restore faith that promises can be kept. And that can only happen if current alliance-making spree is stopped, even if it is for posturing.

After all, Non-alignment – in theory – is not all that bad.

PS: The write-up appeared in a fortnightly published from Australia – The Kantipur Times – on 29th August 2012

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