28 April, 2009

Securing the Nation

Kathmandu Post, 4/28/09
Sushma Joshi
The idea of an interlinked world whose security rests on each other is clearly a new idea for most

The United States government recently put out a call for help to the most unlikely group -- computer hackers. Hackers, normally hounded for their ability to enter computer systems, were now recruited for one reason -- cyberattacks on government networks were occurring persistently, but the government was not prepared to deal with all these attacks. Hence the hackers, who could “think like the bad guy” but also had a sense of ethics, would help to create security systems that will protect valuable national information, including data on the stock market, taxes, airline flight system, and nuclear launch codes. The US had no plans for a digital disaster, David Powner, director of technology issues for the Government Accountability Office, told Congress last month, according to an AP report. The US government promptly promised $60 million to raise the number of cyberexperts from 80 to 250 by 2011.

The US has the foresight to move forward with this hole in their security and patch it instantly because their government has an extremely strong policy on national security which deals with both external and internal threats. You might think that each country in the world has a national security policy akin to the USA. So one would have thought. Imagine his surprise when advocate Govinda Bandi, who is giving feedback to the new Constituent Assembly's group on national security, went to do some research and found out that Nepal had none!

This is what he found -- the antiquated Rastriya Surakshya Parishad forms all the security policies, but it works only with questions regarding the Army. Unlike other countries, we have no comprehensive National Security Council, made up of security experts from all sectors, and which can address security issues that range not just from external military threats (the traditional model) but also address internal social harmony as well as human and environmental security.

India's NSC is supported by a 22 member security board, and the advisory board is comprised of people from outside the government, drawn from various fields such as foreign affairs, external security, defence, economics, science and technology, internal security and the armed forces.

Besides the missing NSC, Nepal also lacks a good intelligence gathering agency. We have plenty of ISI and RAW and CIA professionals wandering around the country but no members of a professional Nepal Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, say observers, the Nepal Guptachar Bibhag kept better track of the whereabouts of political leaders in the Panchayat times than the agency keeps track of big name security threats today.

“Why did the forestry administration ride the biggest Pajeros? What's the reason?” Asks Govinda Sharma Bandi to a group of young journalists at a lecture which I recently attended. The group of young Nepali faces look back at him blankly.

“Because our jungles are full of precious herbs?” ventures a journalist.

“No! Who's giving the money? Scandinavia. Okay, good. What do you think is their motivation?” Nobody knows.

“As the world warms, the glaciers are starting to melt. Soon there are countries in Europe that will be underwater. European countries are thinking of their national security longterm -- they see global climate change as affecting the security of all their citizens. They are giving money to preserve Nepali forests so that their people in their own country will be safe from harm. See that?”

The idea of an interlinked world whose security rests on each other is clearly a new idea for most. We tend to think of national security in terms of keeping our borders clearly demarcated from India and China, but that's about the extent of Nepal's traditional security policy. Clearly, the time had come to think of new things.

Nepal's comprehensive security policy will not only have to deal with internal natural disasters -- think Kosi barrage breakage and the human misery that has come out of it, leading to the blockades of key highways and the disruption of civil and political life -- but also the prospect of ethnic and minority conflicts.

Nepal's traditional security challenges -- India's expansionist moves, armed revolts in the Tarai, a potential reoccurrence of Maoist armed conflict, militant armed youth wings of political parties, and the law and order breakdown, must now be understood through new human security challenges, like persistent violence against women, environmental degradation, global warming, etc.

“Our challenge is internal, not external,” says Mr. Bandi. “Our biggest internal security threat is a society based on discrimination. The new Security Council must not only address floods and famines, but also issues of language, ethnicity and minority rights.” What is not known and identified can't be addressed. Therefore, says Mr. Bandi, the state must make every attempt to identify social discrimination as a security challenge which can lead to large scale violence if left unchecked. Think Gujarat.

Closer to home, think Kalli Kumari BK. Accused of witchcraft and fed human excreta, the case exploded when neighbouring villages started to take for and against stances. Kalli Kumari, an impoverished Dalit woman living in a Tamang village, was accused and tortured by a Tamang woman -- rather strangely, the perpetrator was the local school's headmistress. “Don't do this. It's wrong to feed human feces to another human being,” her grandmother reportedly implored her granddaughter, but the headmistress went ahead with her witchhunt anyways. (What does this tell us about the troubling discrepancy between traditional values and the modern educational system?) The perpetrator is at large, but the Tamang village soon found itself at war with a Brahmin/Chettri neighbouring village that supported Kalli Kumari. According to journalists who visited the site, security forces have been stationed to fend off intra-village violence.

In “Nepal's National Security Agency: Critical Issues Facing the CA”, Madhukar SJB Rana, former finance minister and professor of South Asian Institute of Management, writes:

In attempting to define 'national security' we must learn from Japan, who in the mid-1950's developed the visionary concept of 'comprehensive security' to grapple with the trauma, humiliation and horror of the loss of national sovereignty to the Americans and the psychological sufferings from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki stranded without any natural resources -- other than human resources. So they defined 'national security' in the broader, more comprehensive concept of 'human security'.

Fundamentally, the Japanese doctrine of human security rests on the premise that for national security there must not only be 'military security' to defend the nation from outside threats but also 'human security' to 'defend' nations from inside threats as national stability depends on each individual having sufficient food security, employment security, social security (education, health and old age pension), energy security, information security (access to transport and communications). We might now add 'water security', 'environmental security' and 'pandemic health security' ( HIV AIDS, TB, bird flu ) to the Japanese definition to bring it up to date in its comprehensiveness.

Lets hope the chain of command squabble between the Army and the government will be resolved soon, civilian control of the Army will become institutionalized, and there will be a progressive and harmonious relationship between the Army, police, armed forces and any newly formed NSC to solve Nepal's most pressing internal security challenges.

19 April, 2009

The United Federation of Nepal

Sushma Joshi
Published in the Kathmandu Post, April 19, 2009
What does the United States of America have in common with St. Kitts (68 square miles wide), a small island in the Eastern Caribbean? Both countries, it appears, follow the federal system. Despite the naysayers who have been saying federalism won't work for Nepal due to its small size and multicultural and multiethnic nature, there is evidence that multicultural countries perform quite well within a federal system. The United States is federated. So is Switzerland, another European country that Nepalis often use as a model of what Nepal should be like. So is India, the world's biggest democracy. None of them are falling apart at the seams, as we are. So why do Nepalis fear the idea of federalism?

After listening to a lecture by advocate Dinesh Tripathi, it appears to me that people are afraid of federalism because they don't quite understand what it is or how it's going to work out. Federalism is not the country splitting off into various ethnic states, as it may appear from current events. Federalism is also not just decentralization, which was practiced in Nepal before and is shown to have failed. In decentralization, the center can withdraw the power, whereas in federated states the power is inherent in the Constitution. Federalism is the actual devolution of power to the local level, which would allow those areas the right to self-government.

“Conflict,” says Mr. Tripathi, “is caused by the inability to recognize diversity. Conflict cannot be solved by bullets, but by developing a democracy which is “of the people, for the people, by the people”” (Original quote from Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln and not Mr. Tripathi.) Periodic elections is not enough, this just leads to a “procedural democracy.” The solution, it appears, is to achieve a substantive democracy by devolving the power from a centralized and unitarian government, as we have at present, to active local self-rule. Federalism is a contract between people and the state, and will be based on voluntary will.

Current models floated by Maoists envision 11 states, with many of them based on ethnic lines. Neighbouring India has been more prudent, splitting its states along the basis of geography (Madhya Pradhesh, Uttar Pradesh), language (Tamilnadu, West Bengal), and ethnicity (Gujarat, Andhra Pradhesh) and combinations of above. In Nepal, we need to take into natural resources and level of development as well when we federate the country.

Setting up a federal system should be mapped out by not just the demands of the grassroots (surely we cannot have one federated state for each 100 languages and 58 ethnicities) but a federalism board composed of linguists, anthropologists, demographers, geographers, lawyers and other professionals with the expertise and stakes in creating a functioning nation-state, goes the common consensus. It is encouraging the government has finally decided to start a Commission on restructuring, according to news reports.

People fear that large chunks of Nepal are just going to float off into the ether, or possibly into India. Others fear Balkanization -- dozens of little states quarreling and killing each other. This shouldn't be the case if we do our homework carefully, and teach and learn on how a federated system will function. In particular, the need to protect minority rights within a federal state would have to be made very clear. A strong Bill of Rights would ensure that anybody can live inside any state with equal political rights, and that minorities will be protected even if they happen to be inside a state based on ethnic lines.

The Constitution, of course, remains the supreme law of the land. The beauty of federalism is that absolute power is checked by different levels of government. The executive, the legislative and the judiciary would be found at all three levels of central, provincial and local levels. The provinces and the center would share power and both will not dominate.

The central government would deal with national security and defense, immigration, currency, foreign relations, custom taxes, and other national level issues. Most other functions would be devolved to the provincial and local government, effectively ending Kathmandu hegemony.

Brahmin, Chettri and Dalits, whose population is scattered all over Nepal and who do not have a majority in any geographical area, could be the “Superglue” to hold the population together. Even the states which advocate division along ethnic lines do not have more than thirty percent majority of their ethnic groups --Nepal is an inexhaustibly multicultural country. According to Subash Darnal of Jagaran Media, 50 lakh Dalits are scattered across the country, and he envisions a model in which an extra-territorial federal state, with two elected Dalit representatives (one male, one female) from each state, would protect the rights and represent the concerns of the Dalit population at the central level.

In the USA, the world's oldest federated country, each state has its own court system. Although the USA has the busiest litigation industry in the world, the national Supreme Court of the USA only sees around 70 cases per year -- a remarkable testimony to the efficiency of provincial and local courts. Localizing courts in this manner would end the present crisis of access to justice, in which overwhelmed appellate courts try to take on too many cases and end up delivering justice to very few.

The federal system can only function when there's respect for law, and that may be the biggest challenge in Nepal. All parties, from central to the local, must obey the law, especially the Constitution which has the final authority.

There have historically been two models of federalism -- the first in which smaller states have come together to form a union, otherwise known as “coming together” federalism. The second model, in which a state about to fall apart adopts federalism, is known as “holding together” federalism. Nepal needs to hold together -- and perhaps federalism may be the best solution for how to go about doing this.

Federalism, Nepal's biggest challenge, may also be its biggest opportunity. The key is to keep an open mind and gather as much consensus on this issues as possible before the window of opportunity closes. Nepal's federated form will probably have some states based on ethnicity (the irrepressible Limbuwan who've already welcomed their neighbours from the neighbouring country of Nepal and who need to understand the rules of federalism -- ie; secession is out of the question, and self-rule comes with the obligation to protect the Constitutional rights of all citizens) while others will be based on geography and language, or combinations. Karnali's natural resources will flow to Nepalgunj, and Nepalgunj have custom duties from the border that will be redistributed by the center to Karnali, balancing out unequal resources. All things considered, federalism might create a wealthier, more equitable country -- and might not be so bad for Nepal after all.
Posted on: 2009-04-17 20:15:11 (Server Time)

10 April, 2009


By Sushma Joshi
It is sad that Nepal is unable, when it comes to its own internal borders, to recognize the vulnerability and concerns of other victims

The government of Nepal has no doubt signed every piece of legislation and international law there is in existence to fight trafficking. All the big political leaders have at one point or another pledged to help end trafficking. Activist networks and institutions receive millions of dollars in the name of anti-trafficking. And yet, when it comes to practice, we fail shamefully.

The case is illustrated starkly by 72 Somalis who have been stranded in Nepal by traffickers who promised to take them to Naples, Italy, and who brought them to Nepal instead. They have been in Nepal for five years. And yet the Nepali government insists they are “illegal immigrants”, and requires them to pay an exit visa for overstaying their visit. At $6 a day, some of these folks owe more than $6000-$7000 to the Nepali government. They are now stuck in limbo in no-man's land.

“We are not educated,” says Rooble Jama of Mogadishu.

“We don't have money,” says Hanad Aralle, from the same city, and also 27 years old.

Sounds familiar? With dozens of similar cases of Nepalis stranded in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Oman on similar grounds, you would think the Nepali government would have more empathy with people who may find themselves within the borders of another country through no fault or desire of their own. In Qatar, unknown numbers of Nepalis wait to leave, ticket and passport in hand, but are unable to do so because employers refuse to release them through an official document known as a “khruj.” Sadly, like the absurd requirement in Qatar, Nepal has held an exorbitant exit fee over the heads of Somalis, all of who fled conflict and a dangerous country, and won't let them go.

The Somalis, from the Parawani minority group, were oppressed by the Hawiye majority group. Rooble says his father was killed, his thriving shoe business destroyed, his shoe-shop seized, and he was forced to leave Mogadishu. “Nobody can live in Mogadishu now,” he says. “You are in danger all the time,” adds Mahad Abdullah Hasan, also 27. The group of 72 includes three disabled people, including two whose legs were shot by bullets. There are fifteen women, and thirty-five children.

“We have three choices. We can stay here, and integrate. We can go back home. Or we can resettle in a third country,” says Mahad. Clearly, the first two is not an option. But given the choice, they would rather go back home. “It's better to stay in Somalia. We can't work here, we are not educated, we are illegal. We'd rather die in Somalia than die here.” But even to return to Somalia, the group would have to pay an exorbitant exit fee. And for these refugees of conflict, that's simply not possible.

UNHCR recognizes them as refugees, and gives them a meager living allowance. The Rs. 4250 given to each man hardly covers basic needs. Children get an additional Rs. 1850. The Somalis live in groups of 5 or 6 to share expenses. Life in Nepal is not easy. They cannot work because the Nepali government views them as illegal, and they are afraid they might get imprisoned. And their color marks them out, unlike Pakistani or Burmese refugees who can pass as Nepali citizens. “We are not like them. They can work here, they look like Nepalis. We have a problem. When they see our color, they think we are smugglers. They won't rent to us. Kalo manchay hundaina, they say,” says Mahad.

UNHCR helped to get 52 visas from the American embassy for urban refugees. But only those who could pay the exit fee were allowed to leave by the Nepali authorities, so some people couldn't leave, even when they'd received an American refugee visa. Since this fiasco, UNHCR has suspended all negotiations for further resettlement with the embassy.

“The government says: Go back, we will discuss with UNHCR. UNHCR says nothing will happen till the government lifts the illegal immigrant tag. They point to each other. We are dying between them,” says Jama.

The frustration of being caught in this situation has finally brought the Somalis to their own public protest. Camped out outside UNHCR, the men are sleeping out under a roof of blue tarpaulin, and vow they won't stop till their case is resolved. On April 7, they plan to demonstrate outside the Home Ministry. If nothing happens in two weeks time, they will go on a hunger strike, including the women and children.

It's not as if the Home Ministry doesn't know about them. In 2008, they went and talked to the spokesperson of the Home Ministry, who assured them their case would be resolved. But nothing happened. Since then, the group has talked to other people, including the Madeshi Janaadhikar Forum. But five years have passed, and nothing has happened.

Surely the Nepali government understands that its obligations to end trafficking go both ways? Surely if it wants its own nationals to be released from inside borders in which they may unwittingly find themselves, it is required to do the same for other nationals?

The Somalis, it is clear, are not illegal immigrants. They have no desire to live in Nepal long-term, preferring to return to a homeland in which they could face death rather than remain here. In that case, surely it's the obligation of the Nepali state to waive the visa fees (these people didn't come here as tourists, after all) and give them permission to leave? If the Nepali government is afraid the country is going to get swamped with refugees -- which is hardly likely, looking at the state of our economy -- perhaps they could lift the tag “illegal immigrant” and instead apply “victim of trafficking” to this vulnerable group? Since UNHCR already recognizes them as refugees, this would mean the government effectively releases them from their current state of desperation and imprisonment, and they would be free to follow third country resettlement options.

“We are not getting any solutions. We don't know anything. We have no idea,” says Mahad in frustration. “We are in prison,” adds Rooble. These words echo the state of mind of the prisoners who must have found themselves in Bhairavnath Battalion, located only a block away.

It is sad that Nepal, which has made such an international uproar about trafficking of its own people stranded in far-off lands, is unable, when it comes to its own internal borders, to recognize the vulnerability and concerns of other victims. It is hypocritical of us as a nation-state to expect trafficking to end till we deal with the victims in our own land. The Nepali government must deal with this promptly if it is to retain its credibility when negotiating with other countries over its own stranded nationals.


This article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, Nepal's leading English daily.

Posted on: 2009-04-04 00:23:23
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