Executive Privilege

It's easy to get tunnel vision when the semester is in mid-swing. Life-changing events happening on the other side of the Earth can pass unnoticed here. Storms dumped more than 6 feet of snow in Tajikistan last Friday, but conversations in the UC didn't touch the subject. Tsunami relief fundraising on the tiny island nation of Tonga yielded $22,887 -- the per capita income is a mere $2000 there -- but I didn't overhear anyone mention it on the 61C.

For all practical purposes, there's really no reason for us to hear of these events. But every now and then, it?s good to get a taste of what?s happening in a place most people have never been and will never go.

A prime example right now is amid the Himalayas, in Nepal. On February 1, the king of Nepal called an end to the nation?s second attempt at democracy. In one bold move, King Gyanendra reclaimed absolute power when he sacked the elected prime minister and dissolved the parliament.

The Kingdom of Nepal is the world?s only Hindu state; it is home to Mount Everest and the Himalayas; and on a personal level, Nepal was my home for three months in 2003. Reading an article on February 2, I was worried for my friends.

For nine years, the Royal Nepal Army has been fighting a civil war against Maoist rebels. The leaders of the rebel group took part in the first parliamentary elections in 1990, but they were reportedly disillusioned by corruption and bickering. They claim to be fighting for the Nepali people's chance to freely determine their government but 11,000 people have died in the violence.

The conflict has decimated Nepal's economy, leaving many without a reliable income. The Maoists routinely call for and enforce nationwide strikes in protest of government actions. These bring the nation's economy to a halt as often as five days per month. Forty-three percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

When the Internet was finally restored in Nepal, Dr. Peter Moran, an American professor who has lived in Nepal for five years, sent an e-mail to his friends and former students. He reported that most Nepalis with whom he had spoken in Kathmandu supported the King's move. He wrote that, "Many people feel that the political parties have acted only selfishly during the whole long period of democracy, and have stolen from the people."

Two days later after, I heard from my friend Rejan, whose family I lived with in Kathmandu. "In my opinion, whatever the king did was good," he wrote. "He has announced that within three years he would establish peace in the country, and I do think this will yield a positive result."

Still, the king's motives are questionable. Some speculate that Gyanendra was behind the murder of his brother, the former king. Since February 1, Gyanendra has ordered the detainment of many politicians, journalists, and activists, has banned public gatherings, and cut off the Internet and international telephone lines.

The common sentiments among all the Nepali people I met while traveling in the country were exhaustion and helplessness. They are tired of the fighting. "All we can do is hope for good," a young Nepali mother told me as a military helicopter flew overhead.

Nepal needs to find its unity. While Nepal is home to Hindus and Buddhists, dozens of distinct ethnic groups, and even more political parties, there are strong connections among the people of Nepal. If those in power would set their greed aside and allow harmony to set in, this nation ? already so rich in culture and natural splendor -- could be a peaceful and prosperous.

As we turn back to our textbooks and problem sets, let's keep in mind that as small as it may seem, the world is big enough for us to let most of it slip by unnoticed.