Nepal Maoists refuse to allow Koirala to attend SAARC summitJuly 29th, 2008 - 5:42 pm ICT by IANS
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 29 (IANS) A diplomatic squabble has erupted in Nepal with the Maoists, their former allies the Communists, and a former South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) secretary-general objecting to caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala taking part in the 15th SAARC summit in Colombo later this week. Though Nepal held its national election three months ago, a new government is yet to assume office as none of the parties, including the winning Maoists, were able to garner simple majority.
The impasse was further deepened by the first presidential election this month that saw the Maoists suffer a smarting defeat and announce in retaliation that they would sit in opposition instead of trying to cobble up a coalition government.
Nepal’s outgoing cabinet consequently decided Monday that Koirala, who had formally tendered his resignation to President Ram Baran Yadav, would head the 35-member Nepali delegation to the SAARC summit, accompanied by his daughter, minister without portfolio Sujata Koirala.
Angered by the decision, Maoist supremo Prachanda, who was poised to step into Koirala’s shoes and attend the summit himself, Monday summoned the Sri Lankan ambassador to Nepal, Sumith Nakanda, at the party office to voice his objections.
Prachanda has asked the Sri Lankan envoy to convey to Colombo the Maoist objection to a caretaker prime minister attending the meet and the Maoist perception that it was illegitimate.
Soon after the Maoist objection, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) - the third largest party in the republic and Koirala’s ally during the presidential election, Tuesday began calling for the president to attend the summit instead of Koirala.
UML chief Jhalanath Khanal said a caretaker government’s presence at the SAARC meet would destroy Nepal’s tradition of sending a consensus government to the regional platform.
In a bid to stem the dissent, Koirala Tuesday rushed to former UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal’s residence in an unprecedented move, seeking Nepal’s support for going to the Colombo meet. The communist leader, however, threw his weight behind the Maoists, saying the president should attend the summit.
As the debate grew, former SAARC secretary-general Yadav Kant Silwal jumped into the fray, saying that as the Colombo summit was not going to take any major decisions, it could be attended by the Nepali president instead of the caretaker premier.
Koirala’s Nepali Congress party sought to defend him, saying that since foreign policy was a matter of national interest and not limited to any particular party, the caretaker PM was within his rights to attend the 15th SAARC summit.
The SAARC summit has had important fallouts on Nepal’s politics in the past.
Assassinated Nepali king Birendra’s strained relations with late Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi resulted in India blocking landlocked Nepal’s road links to the world through India in 1989.
After him, his brother, Nepal’s last king Gyanendra, advocated China’s entry into SAARC and began his alienation from New Delhi that resulted in New Delhi bringing the Maoists and Nepal’s opposition parties together to end the monarchy in the Himalayan kingdom.
In retaliation, after Gyanendra seized absolute power with the support of the army in 2005, India declined to attend the SAARC summit, citing the unrest in Nepal and Pakistan as the reasons.
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