KATHMANDU, SEP 12 – Nepali Maoists have a reputation of successfully pitting one party against another to achieve their goals, but did they also adopt a similar strategy in dealing with the international community during the height of their ‘people’s war’–thereby successfully isolating the world’s remaining superpower?
It sounds implausible, but US officials have admitted that the Maoist ‘propaganda campaign’ was partly responsible their diplomatic ‘isolation’ in Kathmandu. In a cable sent on December 11, 2003 and released by WikiLeaks on August 30, 2011, US officials offer a candid assessment of the American diplomatic standing in Kathmandu and how Maoists played a role in dividing the international community. Though the cable doesn’t specify how long the ‘isolation’ lasted, other public records suggest that the relationship could have been strained between the years 2002-2006–a period characterised by Washington seeing the Maoist problem through the lens of ‘war on terror’ and presence of two controversial ambassadors in Kathmandu: Michael E Malinowski and James F Moriarty.
After the increased US assistance to the then Royal Nepal Army in 2002, “the Maoist insurgents embarked on an anti-American propaganda campaign intended, in part, to isolate the US diplomatically, discourage other donors from collaborating with us, and to incite Chinese and Indian concerns at US “activism” in the region,” said the cable classified by Malinowski.
It blamed “some Western donors” for playing into the Maoist strategy by being too critical of the US policy and “purposely” excluding the US from signing on to several recent joint statements “espousing a peaceful resolution to the conflict and respect for human rights.”
Malinowski also said the Maoists unfavourably compared US approach with other countries–bashing Washington for its “hostile demeanour” and praising EU for being “accommodative.”
“In practical terms, this has translated into the Maoists’ singling out US-sponsored aid programs for “non-cooperation,” the top US official in Nepal wrote.
He also accused other Western donors of giving anonymous quotes to UK’s The Guardian newspaper and Australia’s Time Asia Magazine depicting US policy in Nepal as “overextended” and “antagonistic” towards the Maoists. Such an attitude among other donors led to difficulty in finding NGOs ‘willing’ to receive US funding or being publicly identified with the US–and the isolation of US–based NGOs from the larger development community in Nepal, Malinowski concluded.
“On November 7, the local press carried a notice of ‘Basic Operating Guidelines’ for development and humanitarian assistance signed by 10 bilateral donors (Germans, Swiss, Canadians, British, Danes, EU, Japanese, Norwegians, Dutch, and Finns)–every bilateral donor except the US,” the cable said. “There was no apparent effort to contact the US Embassy…”
On other occasions, the cable noted that DFID officials only made half-hearted attempts to contact US officials and never actually followed up.
US officials saw most Western donors as ‘naive’ and not seeing through the Maoist modus operandi.
“The Maoists obviously are trying to apply this [divide and rule] tried-and-true method to split the international community’s potential opposition to their movement. Some of our colleagues in Kathmandu, unfortunately, seem all too willing to be taken in,” Malinowski wrote.
In the cable, the US ambassador goes on to analyse why the Maoist efforts paid off–arguing that most embassies, staffed with development workers instead of “seasoned diplomats, “were incapable of seeing the bigger picture. He also suspected some of his counterparts may be “venting their ire at US policy in other parts of the world, perhaps particularly on Iraq.”
“Whatever their motivation, these colleagues’ willingness to accept the insurgents’ propaganda–and thereby isolate us further–is helping perpetuate Maoist myths about our policy,” Malinowski wrote.
The embassy had intended to counter these “misperceptions publicly–through an augmented PR campaign” reiterating and re-emphasising on “US leadership in supporting free and fair elections, multi-party democracy, human rights, and a negotiated end to the conflict.”
“Privately, we will increase and regularize our policy exchanges with counterparts in other embassies and with multilateral and bilateral donors.”
Malinowski’s successor, Moriarty, also wrote similar cables lamenting naiveté of other countries. The situation seemed to have changed only after the arrival of US Ambassador Nancy J Powell in August, 2007. After Powell’s arrival, the United States gradually began a policy of engagement with the Maoists, without removing the terrorist tag.
Another confidential cable from February 16, 2006 highlights continuing split among the international community in dealing with the Maoist question. The cable said Moriarty reported that the British Foreign Office was sceptical of US position on the Maoists.
“Her Majesty’s Government [British government] continues to believe that beginning a process of negotiations with the Maoists would resolve Nepal’s constitutional and security issues,” wrote Moriarty after his conversation with Anthony Stokes, the head of the South Asia Group of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office on February 15.
“We are not so sanguine and to date have seen nothing to indicate that the Maoists are ready to abandon their quest for absolute power.”
Even after the strained relations between the EU and US missions normalised, the two sides continue to take different approaches–with the EU countries willing to deal with the Maoists in parallel with the Government of Nepal, subsequent US embassy cables reported. John narayan parajuli,ekantipur