A new Nepal

April 26, 2006

The Kingdom of Nepal is a small, isolated and impoverished nation that occupies critical geopolitical space, wedged between the world's two emerging global powers, China and India. What happens there, on the roof of the world, may seem obscure but resonates widely. Peace, stability and democracy in Nepal are in America's interest.

Thus the Nepalese king's announcement Monday that he would restore the nation's parliament - after the last several weeks of people-power demonstrations in Katmandu - is a very welcome development for Southeast Asia and beyond.

Celebrating the return to constitutional monarchy is one thing, however. Then there is the problem of whether a new political system for Nepal truly emerges.

That cannot happen unless King Gyanendra turns his throne into a ceremonial position with no power to topple the country's political structure, as he had done. Even as the king was ending the recent political crisis - turning the weeks of street demonstrations into celebrations - the United States on Monday stepped forward to call for just that.

A ceremonial monarchy is likely the only way that Nepal's Maoist insurgents, who have come to control much of its countryside after a decade of armed attacks, can be encouraged to lay down their weapons and join the political process.

And that is the only way that peace can return to Nepal.

Years of deadly guerrilla actions by Nepal's Maoists could not accomplish what weeks of peaceful protests in Katmandu have brought: hope for real democracy. King Gyanendra now has a choice: hold on to his political power and continue his country's political crisis or give way to a new Nepal.

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