|US on Nepal's case
By Ramtanu Maitra
Fresh from its perceived success in Kyrgyzstan, the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED), an American non-governmental organization, has a new mission
in Nepal, where King Gyanendra has assumed autocratic powers.
According to reports from South Asia, this was disclosed to Nepalese
politicians by US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca
during her recent visit to Nepal. Although the entry of the Washington-based
NED is officially to help stabilize and promote democracy in Nepal, its past
record makes some in India wonder what the consequences will be for India's
turbulent northeast and for India's relations with China.
Beijing has even more reason to concern itself with the NED's presence in
Nepal, next door to sensitive Tibet. The NED makes no bones of its concerns
about Uighur Chinese, and is known to have earlier funded anti-China forces in
India is by no means wholly ill-disposed toward the NED. In fact, the American
outfit has some strong promoters there. During the 2000 visit to India by
president Bill Clinton, a proposal was made to jointly set up an Asian center
for democracy. The Asian Center for Democratic Governance is to be based in New
Delhi, and jointly set up by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the
The pointman for the new center is one Gautam Adhikari, a former Washington
correspondent of the Times of India and a member of the NED. Work on setting up
the center has already started. When completed, according to CII in New Delhi,
the center will aim at benefiting new and developing democracies of the region
through the shared experiences of the two largest democracies in the world.
Still, India's security and military officers are worried by the NED's entry on
the scene. It is no secret that despite openly receiving special appropriations
from the US Congress, the NED has been accused of being a Central Intelligence
Agency front at various times in the two decades it has been in existence. And
there is no question of the organization's clout, because King Gyanendra had to
accept its operations and agree to restore democracy in order to restore
development aid flows.
The significant aspect of the NED, however, is its recent role in the
"color-coded" revolutions in Central Asia - in the backwaters of Russia. Those
"democratic revolutions" were designed to help Washington and antagonize Moscow
and Beijing. It is too early to tell whether these "revolutions" will have the
necessary staying power - but what is certain is that the NED was an active
player. The arrival of such a potent force in volatile areas like Nepal and
around unstable areas like India's northeast, is enough to worry the Indians,
and the Chinese as well.
The recent record
The most notable of NED's "conquests" in recent months took place in
Kyrgyzstan. In his March 30 article, "US Helped to Prepare the Way for
Kyrgyzstan's Uprising", New York Times correspondent Craig S Smith pointed out
that the US maintained the largest bilateral pro-democracy program in
Kyrgyzstan because of the Freedom Support Act, passed by Congress in 1992, to
help the former Soviet republics in their economic and democratic transitions.
Money earmarked for democracy programs in Kyrgyzstan totaled about $12 million
last year. Hundreds of thousands more filtered into pro-democracy programs in
the country from other US government-financed institutions like the National
Endowment for Democracy, Smith added. "That does not include the money for the
Freedom House printing press or the Kyrgyz-language service of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty, a pro-democracy broadcaster," he states.
Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip" revolution - though it seems far from being complete and
has in fact shown signs of withering under the summer sun - was orchestrated
through one of the major non-government organizations (NGOs) working with the
opposition to Askar Akayev's government, the Coalition for Democracy and Civil
Society (CDCS). CDCS received the bulk of its funding from the National
Democratic Institute in Washington, which is financed by the US government.
Until recently, another Kyrgyz NGO, Civil Society Against Corruption (CSAC),
received funding from the NED. The NED has extensive ties to the AFL-CIO trade
union bureaucracy that was identified during the 1960s and 1970s for its
efforts to topple governments deemed unfriendly to Washington.
The head of CSAC, Tolekan Ismailova, recently translated a pamphlet on the
"revolutionary" methods used to bring down governments in Serbia, Georgia and
Ukraine. This pamphlet was printed on a press in Kyrgyzstan owned by Freedom
House, another American NGO. On one occasion, the day after the power went out,
the American Embassy in Bishkek sent Freedom House two generators to keep the
anti-Akayev materials rolling off the press, Smith reported.
Why Nepal now?
Many in India point out that the NED is particularly rough with countries that
are undemocratic by nature or unfriendly to the US. But, they add, no
government, unless it is an occupied country, can remain friendly on all
occasions and all the time.
Take for instance Akayev, the ousted president of Kyrgyzstan. No doubt, Akayev
was deeply unpopular in Kyrgyzstan. But Akayev was once hailed by the West as
one of the few "democrats" to emerge out of the wreckage of the Soviet Union.
Subsequently, he fell out of favor with Washington, and was later targeted for
removal. In this friend-to-foe episode, Akayev joins the ranks of a long list
of former US assets, including such figures as Manuel Noriega of Panama,
Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
It is interesting to note that the NED's attention was not drawn toward Nepal
following King Gyanendra's unilateral assumption of power on February 1, when
he dismissed the government and assumed control, and intensified military
action against Nepalese Maoist insurgents.
Gyanendra had been targeted for almost two years before this. On November 21,
2003, Peter M Manikas, director of Asia programs at the National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs, a NED affiliate, testified before the US
Congressional Human Rights Caucus, pointedly criticizing the Nepalese king for
In his testimony, Manikas noted that the political situation in Nepal had
continued to worsen. He recounted that in May 2002 parliament was dissolved,
but new elections (required within six months of the dissolution of parliament)
did not take place because of growing Maoist violence. He also noted that when
the term of local government officials expired the following July, no new
elections were held.
Instead, over 200,000 elected local officials were replaced by civil servants.
In October 2002, the king suspended the democratic process by appointing a
"non-party" cabinet which operated the government without any elected
representatives, Manikas testified.While critical in passing of Maoist
brutalities, Manikas offered no balanced analysis of the Maoist insurgency that
has gripped Nepal for the past five to six years and the complex dynamics
underlying it. His target was King Gyanendra. Manikas accused the king of
consolidating the power of the monarchy over the government and the army. He
insisted that it was the failure of the government to deal effectively with
Maoist violence that had led to a growing skepticism within the country that
progress could be made without restoring the democratic process.
India's worries concerning the NED are broad and indirect; they are not linked
to any particular capability of the organization. India's northeast has long
been in turmoil. During the past five decades a number of guerrilla groups have
emerged there. New Delhi has been less than successful in politically settling
matters in northeast India. From time to time, the Indian army has been called
in to control the violent guerrilla groups, and India has been accused of
human-rights violations in the northeast on more than one occasion.
But, more importantly, India just does not want any more foreign tampering in
this unstable region. A number of NGOs have sought security clearance for
projects on subjects unheard of in areas where such studies neither appear
relevant or feasible, according to sources in New Delhi. The flow of foreign
funds to carry out such studies has made New Delhi sit up and take notice.
According to one estimate, more than 200 NGOs are operating in some of the
major states of northeastern India.
Over the years, several of India's northeastern states have been heavily
evangelized by Baptist and other missionaries. Census figures indicate that
more than 85% of the residents in Mizoram are Christians. The troubled state of
Nagaland also has an overwhelming majority of Christians. In the post-Cold War
period, Dutch missionaries have been found active in the northeastern state of
Tripura. These missionaries came in without seeking formal permission from the
government of India. It has also been reported that guerrilla leaders in
conflict with New Delhi go to the Netherlands to meet Dutch NGO officials prior
to or after their meetings with officials in New Delhi. At least one Dutch NGO
involved in the northeastern region is being funded by the Dutch government.
New Delhi is watching these developments carefully.
In addition, New Delhi is deeply concerned about northeast India's on-going
demographic change as a result of large-scale illegal immigration of
Muslim-Bangladeshis into Assam and other areas. There are several districts in
West Bengal and Assam where Muslims have become a predominant majority because
of such illegal infiltration. This is worrisome because there is little doubt
that Bangladesh is fast becoming a center of orthodox, if not violent, Islamic
activities. Many reports suggest that a large number of al-Qaeda and Taliban
have been settled in Bangladesh, possibly with the help of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence. New Delhi has no idea how to deal with this
problem. The attempt at this time is to contain the Bangladeshi infiltration
and prevent the growth of anti-India elements in and around the northeastern
Bad memories evoked
Moreover, any American interest in India's northeast will raise suspicions in
the minds of those Indians who remember a study prepared by the Special
Operation Research Office of the Washington-based George Washington University.
The objective was to conduct sociological research in the northeastern states,
including the kingdoms of Bhutan and Sikkim. (At the time an independent
kingdom, Sikkim merged with India in 1975.) That study was seen as a precursor
to "Project Brahmaputra". As reportedly envisioned by the US State Department
at the time, Project Brahmaputra was to initiate a movement for a "United
States of Assam", bringing together the northeastern insurgent groups under a
"Seven Units Liberation Army".
These schemes never got very far on the ground. But the presence of a powerful
American NGO in an area that is far from stable understandably raises red flags
for Indian officials involved in the nation's security matters, who have no
intention of entertaining new versions of such schemes.
The NED doles out over 300 grants per year, with the average grant amount
topping $50,000. Writing for Slate online magazine, Brendan Koerner pointed on
January 22, 2004, that the endowment had four principal initial recipients of
funds: the International Republican Institute; the National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs; an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, such as the
American Center for International Labor Solidarity and an affiliate of the
Chamber of Commerce, such as the Center for International Private Enterprise.
According to a recent NED tax return, these four groups each received
$4,606,250 in 2001, which they in turn handed out to pro-democracy groups as
they saw fit. The idea behind funneling equal amounts to these four groups is
to stress the non-partisan nature of the NED. Along the same lines, the NED's
board consists of bigwigs from both parties, including Democratic presidential
hopeful General Wesley Clark and Republican Senator Jon Kyl.
Formed during the Ronald Reagan era in the 1980s, the NED is a favorite of the
Bush administration. In fact, on the issue of spreading democracy around the
globe, the Bush administration and the NED are in total sync. Not for nothing,
President George W Bush, in his January 22, 2004, state of the union message,
vowed to double the NED budget.
China is a more direct target of the NED. Reports have confirmed the
identification, looting and arson of Chinese and Turkish properties in Bishkek
on the evening the "Tulip" revolution" took to the streets and drove out
This should not come as a surprise. The NED has promoted the anti-Beijing
Uighur rebels' cause for a long time. They hold regular meetings with the
Uighur American Association in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The doyen of the
Uighurs is one Rebiya Kadeer, who was released from a Chinese prison just prior
to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Beijing in March.
China wants Bishkek to continue to clamp down on the Uighur diaspora inside
Kyrgyzstan, so that it cannot support opposition to Beijing at home. Hitherto,
China had been very successful in persuading Akayev, using Chinese investment,
foreign aid and military-political support as leverage. In the NED-driven new
regime, which professes to be more "democratic", Beijing fears Bishkek might be
inclined to support Uighurs across the border.
Chinese concern is not abstract. Already, Nury Turkel, president of the Uighur
American Association, in a statement issued recently, has said: "... There are
a few glimmers of hope for Uighurs. In early 2004, the National Endowment for
Democracy, the American lifeline for dissidents worldwide, gave my
organization, the Uighur American Association, a grant to begin human-rights
research to document human-rights abuses against Uighurs."
In November 2004, Rebiya Kadeer was awarded the Rafto prize, a prestigious
human-rights award. Kadeer was arrested in 1997 while on her way to brief a US
congressional delegation on Uighur human rights. She was finally released by
the Chinese authorities on March 17, on "medical parole", but it was the
continued pressure exerted on the Chinese government by the US and
international human-rights organizations - culminating in Rice's visit to
Beijing - that truly led to Kadeer's release.
Nury Turkel also pointed out that Bush knows about the plight of Uighur Muslims
in East Turkistan (Xinjiang province, that is) and Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet.
"Bush's own religious beliefs lead us to believe that he is particularly
sensitive to religious repression everywhere," Turkel added. "It was
significant that in October 2001, just a month after 9/11, he specifically
warned China not to use the fight against terrorism as an excuse to persecute
According to Beijing, the presence of the NED, backed by the Bush
administration, in Nepal raises the specter of an aggressive US involvement on
the Tibet issue. Over the past 10 years, Nepal has rounded up nearly 6,000
Tibetans entering Nepal without proper travel documents, but none could be
prosecuted because of the country's flexible immigration laws. The age-old
traditions valid in Nepal as well as in Tibet do not allow Buddhists to be
prosecuted for petty offences.
China has asked Nepal to cancel the residential permits of Tibetans and make
Tibetan tourists register with the authorities each time they visit the
country, especially when they are coming from bordering India and Bhutan. The
pressure on the Tibetan issue came to the fore when Chinese Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao reportedly cancelled his Nepal visit during a recent South Asia tour
because King Gyanendra could not satisfy the Chinese demands.
One of the reasons why China is particularly anxious about the Tibetans in
Nepal is the British government's reaction in January when Nepal closed down
the Tibetan Welfare Center and Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office that have worked
for the welfare of Tibetan refugees for nearly five decades. "We regret the
government action," said Mitra Pariyar, spokesman of the British Embassy in
Kathmandu. The embassy made a representation to the Nepalese Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. Sudip Pathak, who heads the Human Rights Organization of
Nepal, and NGO, said his organization supported the right of the Tibetans to
practice their religion and traditional culture in a peaceful manner in Nepal.
Pathak had met Nepal's home secretary, Chandi Prasad Shrestha, to advocate the
reopening of the two centers.
Obviously, London saw the closure as a move by the Nepal government to placate
China. Subsequently, Brad Adams, Asia director for the New York-based Human
Rights Watch (HRW)group issued a statement: "The Refugee Welfare Office has
been a critical safety net for tens of thousands of persecuted Tibetans.
Closing the office leaves thousands of Tibetan refugees without crucial
support." Although the official channels of the US remained quiet, the HRW, a
prominent NGO, said what had been interpreted in Beijing was Washington's voice
on the subject.
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