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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nepal: Political Developments and Bilateral Relations with the United States

Bruce Vaughn
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Nepal has undergone a radical political transformation since 2006, when a 10-year armed struggle by Maoist insurgents, which claimed at least 13,000 lives, officially came to an end. The country’s king stepped down in 2006, and two years later Nepal declared itself a republic, electing a Constituent Assembly in 2008 to write a new constitution, which is currently being drafted. Though the process of democratization has had setbacks and been marked by violence at times, Nepal has conducted reasonably peaceful elections, brought former insurgents into the political system, and in a broad sense, taken several large steps towards entrenching a functioning democracy.

This still-unfolding democratization process makes Nepal of interest to Congress and to U.S. foreign policymakers. A Congressional Nepal caucus has been newly formed, which should help further strengthen relations between the two countries, which have traditionally been friendly. U.S. policy objectives toward Nepal include supporting democratic institutions and economic liberalization, promoting peace and stability in South Asia, supporting Nepalese territorial integrity, and alleviating poverty and promoting development.

Nepal’s status as a small, landlocked state situated between India and China also makes it important to foreign policymakers. Nepal’s reliance on these two giant neighbors leads it to seek amicable relations with both, though ties with India have historically been closer. Some believe India is concerned a Maoist regime in Nepal could lend support to Maoist rebels in India. China, meanwhile, has taken several steps to pressure Nepal to repatriate, or at least constrain the activities of, refugees crossing the border from Tibet.

The place of Nepal’s Maoists remains a delicate question that will do much to determine the fate of the nation’s democracy. The group surprised many by peacefully challenging, and winning, the April 10, 2008, Constituent Assembly elections. During the civil war, the Maoists’ stated aim had been to establish a peasant-led revolutionary communist regime, but once part of the political process, their objectives appear to have moderated. They have since lost control over government, and then returned as part of a coalition led by the Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).

Two key challenges presently face Nepal. The first is to complete the peace process, which would require a resolution of the difficult issue of how to integrate former Maoist fighters into the army, or into society. The second key challenge is completing the drafting of a constitution. This raises the question of establishing a new federal structure that would address grievances of groups that feel they have been underrepresented in the key institutions of the state, particularly in the Terai region bordering India.

Date of Report: April 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL34731
Price: $29.95

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