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Friday, March 12, 2010

Media Murders Rock Fragile Nepal

published by Asia Times on atimes.net/speakingfreely on March 10

Recent assassinations of prominent media personalities in Nepal with alleged complicity of the country's politicized police have furthered the rising sense of insecurity among ordinary people. The impunity with which suspected 'anti-Idia' Muslims in Nepal are being bumped off compounds the crisis of constitutional stalemate and protrends total anarchy.

Nepal's security has been in a dilapidated state ever since the armed rebellion by the leftist guerillas started in 1996. A decade of fierce armed conflict followed by a highly volatile transitional period both have shaken and demoralized the security apparatus thoroughly. What is shocking everyone at the moment is the phenomenon in which the incidents that used to be sporadic have now become endemic with increasing institutionalization of crime. The clandestine involvement of the former and possibly the serving police officers in the high-profile killing of Media entrepreneur Jamim Shah has drawn the ire from media community as well as public. To add insult to injury, another media entrepreneur in south-eastern town of Janakpur, Arun Singhaniya was subsequently shot dead.

The security lapses that made it possible to kill Shah in broad daylight in one of the most 'secure' and busy area in Kathmandu are flabbergasting. But what dwarfs the inexcusable negligence by police personnel is the shoddy role played by the leadership of the police and the politicians, particularly the minister of Home affairs in the aftermath. The pervading feeling of hopelessness in all quarters after it became clear that the mastermind was the notorious international gangster Chhota Rajan, was easily visible. Even the prime minister could only regret and admit that his government was incapable of providing the required security but there was no unambiguous assurance that the similar further incidents would be avoided.

That is not the only misery of the Nepali people, however, as the dilemma about the timely drafting of the constitution has been the first preoccupation at the national level. The political parties which are at loggerheads with each other in the important issues like managing the former combatants and leading the government have pushed the task of drafting the constitution in the second priority by shying away from seeking the consensus in important policy issues to be inserted in the upcoming constitution. The historic Constituent Assembly has been passing the crucial final days of stipulated time frame idly with abstention of a majority of the members.

Few facts were known for long in Nepal but have come to be highlighted with the string of recent high-profile assaults by the criminals. First is the institutional rot within the security apparatus that has been long plagued by the nepotism and blatant interference from the politicians. Every party that reaches the government has got its own 'preferred candidate' within the armed forces who would serve its interest the best as the leader of the institution. The chief of the institution has then a range of 'preferred candidates' to be either promoted or transferred to the favorable position in different ranks. Professional merit is counted seldom if ever as the sycophants of politicians or those with connection or the influence get promoted. While those serving the institution with the ideal of serving the people remain low in the hierarchy, those with ambiguous stances shift to the opportunistic camp to compete with those already there. Due to the inherent political instability in Nepal, no one's job is thus secure and the constant appeasing of the politicians consumes the bulk of the effort of the police officers.

This has created a huge intra-institution rift or rivalry so divisive among the officers that they can pay little attention to the real situation of security outside their office. As people keep being kidnapped or being hacked in broad daylight, the police team reaches the spot well after the miscreants escape to safety. The formality of pursuing the case is acknowledged for a few days till the other more sinister crime takes place over-shadowing what had happened in the earlier case.

The second fact is the targeting of the Muslims inside Nepal, whether Nepali or not, who allegedly carry about the so called 'anti-Indian' activities. This was not the first time Jamim Shah had been targeted on that regard. Indeed the issue of Anti-India activities from Nepali soil has been one among the thorny issues between India and Nepal, occasionally precipitating to bring about the crises in the relationship as after the hijack of the Indian aircraft bound to Delhi from Kathmandu in 1998. The vitriolic campaign of the Indian media against the alleged pliancy of Nepal towards the terrorists in the aftermath of that incident did a lot to shape the attitude of the Indian politicians and public towards Nepal making it very difficult to bring about a thaw in the relationship for years to come. Given almost the parasitic status of Nepal in her relation to India, it was nearly impossible to ignore the apprehensions of India, whether founded on reality or myth or the sheer 'hyper-reality' created by the Indian Media.

Though the murder of Shah occurred apparently in the hands of a criminal gang and not the Indian establishment, other low-profile incidents of targeting the innocent Muslims inside Nepal on behalf of a suspicious India are not uncommon. And the significance of the statement of the alleged mastermind of the crime that Shah was killed for his involvement in anti-India activities is difficult to miss. And that is what has been particularly agonizing the Muslim community in Nepal that is feeling increasingly unsafe now that the executive head of the state has plainly acknowledged to have failed to provide security instead of reassuring verbally as in the past.

The threat to the Indian interests from Nepal can not be ruled out and there may be some validity in repeated Indian claims about the use of Nepali territory by those who smuggle the fake Indian currency and drugs to India. That, however, does not legitimize an indiscriminate use of violence against whoever happens to be a Muslim residing inside Nepal and is 'suspected' to be indulging in loathsomely vague deed named 'anti-Indian activities'. And given the mess that the politicians in Nepal have created for themselves, no responsible person in Nepal can now afford to ponder over these serious things that are bound to resonate in Nepali society for decades to come as persistent ignorance of their plight is likely to radicalize the moderate and non-extremist body of the Muslim population in Nepal.

This is how the murder of a media entrepreneur in Nepal has assumed an enormous significance. The media industry was further outraged by the follow-up threats to the publishers of major newspapers in Nepal not to publish anything related to the murder of Shah. With pervasive insecurity throughout the country, those threats could no way be assumed to be hollow ones and the alarming efficiency of the criminals was demonstrated beyond doubt by the murder of Shah himself along with the uselessness of the security apparatus in preventing any crime. The criminal deed of those in the police force was proved beyond doubt when some of them helped Jagdish Chand, the former Deputy Superintendent of Police whose collusion with the killers in the operation was clear, to escape just before he was to be arrested. The message to the public was blunt: not even the assistants of the leading criminals were to be brought to book.

If the intractable political stagnation has forced Nepal to limp forward, the superimposed failure of security apparatus has crippled her. And the wrangling of the politicians only worsens the scenario as the bewildered populace places the faith on no one for their survival and betterment. The only thing that has helped them sail past the troubled waters is the sheer endurance that they have developed over the past few decades that saw a brutal armed conflict that harmed them much more than this. The fact that those dark days ended with constructive attempt of the population is the indelible lesson that has been learnt at a price. The pressure is indeed building up on the politicians to assume their proper responsibility by reconciling to draft a constitution in time that would then set the order at home.

The apocalypse predicted for Nepal may well be averted with the timely efforts. A legitimate and cohesive government backed by the people is the only institution that can face the challenges of this magnitude. The issue of reinvigorating the security forces ravaged by nepotism and sycophancy should come next though it will be extremely difficult now that the attitude has now reached the bottom of the institutions. The non-hindering if not supportive role of the Indian establishment is the other essential constituent of the new process, that if started on time, has ability to change the fate of the Nepali populace for the better. Murder of Jamim Shah has thus brought the status quo in Nepal to a point from where it has to make a choice: either make a definite progress with accelerated consensus-making to write the constitution and revitalize the country and institutions or let the country regress further down the path of anarchy and conflict. Either way, coming few months are crucial for Nepal.

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