Trouble Is Brewing on Roof of the World

A year after Crown Prince Dipendra killed nine members of the royal family — including his father, King Birendra — before shooting himself, Nepal's political woes have been steadily multiplying.

More than 2,000 people have been brutally killed in the past six months in the remote western region of Nepal, in a ratcheting up of a six-year rebellion that has claimed more than 4,000 lives and received scant international attention.

Meanwhile, in the hotly contested Kashmir region, more than 60,000 people — militants, soldiers, civilians, men, women and children — have been killed in a seemingly intractable 13-year insurgency that has seen a daily routine of shootings, bombings, kidnappings, threats and an all-pervasive fear.

And across the unconquerable ranges that divide Nepal from the Himalayan tablelands, Tibet has seen a simmering of tensions, the full extent of which is not known to a world caught between a New Age admiration of Tibetan culture and a diplomatic cowering to China, the communist country currently controlling the Buddhist heartland.

Two years ago, the Karmapa Lama, the third most important Tibetan leader who was being groomed by Beijing as a key element in its control over Tibet, fled to neighboring India. This year, after a series of mysterious explosions across Tibet, Chinese authorities arrested a senior Tibetan monk in connection with the attacks.

A Failure of Democracy

The nature, scale and manifestations of these troubles vary widely. But according to Sumantra Bose, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics, the one thing common about the conflicts in Kashmir and Nepal is that "they result from a failure of democratic institutions in South Asia."

"Nepal has been undergoing a troubled and gradual transition to multiparty democracy [from absolute monarchy] since 1990," says Bose. "And while Kashmir is a story unto itself with an international dispute over its status raging since 1947, what led to the [current] disruption was the failure of the Indian state to extend democratic rights to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir."

Although the genesis of the Kashmir problem lies with the British partitioning of the subcontinent into Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan in 1947, with both countries laying claim to Kashmir, it was not until the 1989 that the current uprising, with its particular brand of bloodshed and brutality began.

Many experts say the cause of the uprising was the 1987 elections, which were widely said to have been rigged by the Indian federal administration in New Delhi.

Outraged Kashmiris took to the streets following the elections in what has in some circles been called a spontaneous showing of discontent. "In the 1980s, it began by disaffected youth railing against New Delhi," says Bose. "It was only later that the ideology [of the uprising] turned into a transnational Islamic uprising."

Democracy’s Teething Pains

Democracy only came to Nepal — a country where the king is believed to be a living reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu — in 1990, when King Birendra replaced an absolute monarchy with a constitutional one.

But Nepal's democracy has been a troubled one, with successive administrations rarely holding onto power for more than a couple of years and its democratic institutions currently in a state of near paralysis after Parliament was dissolved by acting Prime Minister Bahadur Deuba earlier this year.

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