'It is an ideal type of emergency'

Print edition : January 05, 2002

Interview with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The Maoist rebels launched their first "people's war" during Sher Bahadur Deuba's first term as Prime Minister. In his second term in office, he hoped to go down in history as the man who delivered peace to the country. Instead he has ushered in a state of emergency to tackle the second phase of the "people's war", which now threatens to undermine Nepal's multi-party democracy. In this interview to Rita Manchanda, Deuba justifies the declaration of the state of emergency, which he says is in accordance with the Constitution. Excerpts:

DEVENDRA M. SINGH/AFP

It is nearly a month since a state of emergency was imposed, and the Opposition has raised questions about the need for such a measure and also expressed fears about its misuse.

The Opposition is not opposing the emergency. They just want me to justify it. Before it was invoked I consulted them and they said it must be within the Constitution. I have acted strictly in accordance with the Constitution. And Parliament has to approve it by a two-thirds majority for its extension beyond three months. The members of the Opposition have warned against its misuse.

The Left parties have questioned the need for an emergency when there is the Security Ordinance.

Yes, rights have been curtailed; it is a fact; my civil rights have been curtailed. But it is not meant for the general public; it is meant only for the terrorists. Our emergency is not like the Emergency in India. It is an ideal type of emergency. Only a few arrests. Political parties are functioning and have criticised me in the press. The press is reporting it all, despite the constraints.

Many people fear that the longer the emergency lasts, the weaker democracy and democratic institutions will become.

It is all in accordance with the Constitution. It is all being done transparently. You in India have had emergency many times - in 1962 in West Bengal, in 1965, in 1971 and of course in 1975. Did it undermine your democracy? Only terrorists are being targeted.

But there are reports of innocent civilians being targeted as in the case of the 11 peasants in Dang district who quarrelled with a landlord and were killed by the Army.

They were not innocent. They were armed terrorists. They went to the landlord's house to take away his grain by force.

There are allegations by human rights organisations both in Nepal and abroad of human rights violations by the Army. How much information do you actually have on what is happening?

No single innocent person has been killed since the RNA's (Royal Nepal Army) mobilisation. Our army is a national army, it has a worldwide reputation - in the United Nations peacekeepers' role. They are trained to be careful regarding the use of force. As for information, every day the Defence Ministry is giving out information on the situation.

But the problem is verification.

Of course it is authentic. The Defence Ministry is giving details of all incidents. They were shown the evidence on television. It is not possible for the media to go out there on their own (where operations are taking place) as we cannot provide them security.

After the Holeri incident of July and the manipulation of the media by 'official sources' about the non-existent Army operations against the Maoists, how can we have confidence in the authenticity of the statements by the Defence Ministry ?

The Defence Ministry didn't say anything on Holeri.

Is there the concern that with Nepalis fighting Nepalis there is the danger of a civil war situation developing?

They are not Nepalis, they are terrorists. Therefore there is no question of a civil war.

Only a few weeks ago you saw them as a political force and dealt with them as such. Today you are calling them terrorists, and tomorrow you may be ready to return to talks with them.

I regard them as terrorists because they deceived Nepal. We entered into a dialogue with them in good faith. I was criticised for being too lenient with the Maoists. We kept asking them, 'Tell us what you want.' On their demand for a Constituent Assembly, I cannot scrap the Constitution. I proposed that they go to the people, contest elections and seek the people's verdict. See if they got a majority.

All that was on offer then was, as the media described it, 'a safe landing to enable them to contest elections'. Evidently, that was not what they wanted.

I cannot allow the Maoists or anyone else to impose their ideology on the people through the barrel of the gun. Maoism is a failed ideology. China has rejected this ideology. We cannot allow Maoists to experiment with this ideology on the poverty-stricken people of Nepal.

Yet, as is evident by the spread of their influence in practically all the districts of Nepal and the thousands of 'Maoists' surrendering, they were able to win over many people.

After expectations were raised with multi-party democracy, we have not been able to make much difference to the problem of poverty. Then there is corruption. The Maoists made use of this to sell the people a dream. After this they tried to control the people through force. In the open electoral contest (in 1991) they got only a few seats.

India has offered material support for the military operations against the Maoist rebels. What kind of cooperation are you looking for?

No foreign troops are necessary. The Army is capable of tackling the Maoist terrorists on its own. On equipment, it is for the Army to decide, but I don't think they need any fighting equipment right now, only logistics support.

In Nepal you repeatedly hear that Maoist leaders are in India and that India is doing nothing to apprehend them. Indian officials quoted in the Nepali press claim that they have not been asked to hunt them out.

I am not aware of this.

Despite the state of emergency and the war against the Maoists, you are going ahead with the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. Have the security agencies of the SAARC countries expressed concern about security?

No, not at all. And you can see for yourself Kathmandu is quiet and stable.

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