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09KATHMANDU872 2009-09-21 13:05:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Kathmandu
Cable title:  

NEPAL: NGOS BRIEF DAS SCHER ON GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY

Tags:   PGOV PHUM KDEM NP 
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1. (SBU) Summary. Representatives of democracy and
peace-building organizations working in Nepal told visiting
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Scher that the Nepali
population is increasingly frustrated with the ongoing
political stalemate. "Backbench" Constituent Assembly (CA)
members are pressuring political leaders to resolve their
differences and begin to deal with "bread-and-butter" issues.
The Maoists remain the strongest political party and would
likely win an election held today, but their support is
slipping among allies from Nepal's ethnic communities. Much
of rural Terai remains essentially a lawless region, with
some signs of increasing non-Nepali Muslim activity. End
Summary.

"Cautious Optimism"


--------------------------




2. (SBU) Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Scher
met September 16 with four Kathmandu-based representatives of
organizations working on democracy and peace. Several of the
participants were "cautiously optimistic" that the political
parties would soon break the current deadlock, at least on
Maoist demands to deal with the issue of "civilian supremacy"
over the military. One participant suggested that the party
leaders feel under increasing pressure from "backbench" CA
members, civil society activists, and "even the public" to
resolve their disputes. The escalating Maoist violence
surrounding protests against the Prime Minister and President
also concerns the parties, even the Maoists who fear losing
control over their more radical members.

Bread-and-Butter Concerns -- Not Constitution


--------------------------




4. (SBU) During a recent round of public meetings in rural
Nepal, one democracy organization representative reported
that none of the communities wanted to discuss the peace
process or constitution. Instead, communities focused on
bread-and-butter issues that affect their daily lives, such
as employment, domestic violence, flooding, and even how to
increase tourism. The Nepali population is increasingly
frustrated with the constant strikes and "selfish politics,"
the representative reported.

Maoists Fading or Gaining Strength?


--------------------------




5. (SBU) The participants agreed that the Maoists remain
better organized than the other parties. They are the only
party with a consistent presence in villages and are "much
more in tune" with local concerns than the others, one
representative of an organization working in the Terai
reported. However, the election-era alliances between the
Maoists and the ethnically-based organizations, such as the
Tharu groups, have frayed, since the Maoists "did not
deliver" anything for their ethnic allies during their tenure
in government.



6. (SBU) Asked who would win an election held today, the
participants generally agreed that the Maoists would likely
win the most seats again, but perhaps with a smaller margin.
The UML -- despite its internal divisions -- has made some
effort to understand why it performed so poorly in the last
election and has tried to reform itself. The UML would be
particularly competitive against the Maoists in the urban
areas, especially if Maoist intimidation could be minimized.
The Nepali Congress, on the other hand, has done little to
rethink its election strategy, and would likely come in
third.

Terrorists in Terai?


--------------------------




7. (SBU) Asked about the possibility of terrorists using the
Terai as a base of operations, the representative from an
organization working in the Terai said he had seen no
evidence of terrorist groups, but noted that the conditions
are conducive to illegal activities. In many parts of rural
Terai there is "virtually no state" -- no police presence and
no state services. The borders with India are essentially
open, and the black market thrives. Corruption is

KATHMANDU 00000872 002 OF 002


institutionalized at the highest levels in the local and
district governments and among border and customs personnel.



8. (SBU) One participant observed that the political rhetoric
in Nepali mosques has changed markedly in recent years, with
an increasing number of non-Nepali mullahs preaching in
mosques. While Nepal's Muslim population remains relatively
low, approximately 4 percent of the population, the number of
madrases is increasing. In very poor Terai villages, it is
increasingly common to see well-funded mosques provided by
the "people of Saudi Arabia" or some Pakistani charitable
organization.

India's Role Critical, Complicated


--------------------------




9. (SBU) One participant argued that the Indian role in
Nepali politics remains critical. The September 13-15 visit
of Indian Foreign Secretary Rao to Kathmandu was a positive
sign that India is "taking seriously" the Nepali political
crisis. However, Rao reportedly met with each of the
factions of the various parties separately, an unhelpful
tactic since it could sharpen intra-party divisions, not heal
them. India's overriding interest in Nepal, is preventing a
terrorist attack emanating from Nepal.

View of Nepali Military


--------------------------




10. (SBU) The Nepali public's perception of the army has
changed significantly in recent years -- from a monolithic
"instrument of the monarchy" to an organization with diverse
viewpoints, one participant reported. His organization is
putting on a workshop to discuss with political parties how
"civilian control" of the military -- a key Maoist demand --
would work in practice. The current Ministry of Defense has
only 38 employees and little concept of how to exercise
appropriate authority over the large and better organized
Nepal Army.



11. (SBU) Comment: The increasing grassroots pressure on
party leaders to resolve their differences is an encouraging
and new development, although we fear that the politicians
will -- instead of actually resolving the issues -- simply
discuss another procedure to discuss the problems. We agree
that the Maoists remain the best organized party by far, but
see some hints of slippage in their support, especially in
urban areas. End Comment.
MOON