Anxious to preserve its position after the collapse of royal rule, China confronted the wariness displayed toward it by the new Nepalese political players. The mainstream parties had seen successive generations of the Chinese communist leadership maintain close ties with the palace during periods of both active royal rule and those when the kingdom had functioning elected governments. Fresh in the minds of the Maoist rebels was the fact that China had not only politically repudiated the Nepalese adherents of the Great Helmsman, but had also armed the royal regime against an insurgency they viewed as being in support of the poor and dispossessed. The day after King Gyanendra restored parliament Beijing sent a top Foreign Ministry official to meet Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and other senior political leaders.1 But the country’s attention was focused on the re-instated legislature where members moved swiftly to curtail the powers of the king, and more specifically the removal of his control of the army. Members also turned Nepal away from being the world’s only Hindu state, changing it instead into a secular one, a decision influenced as much by the rise of minority voices as by the parties’ disenchantment with what they considered the palace’s blatant use of Hinduism as a political tool. China found some of its apprehensions addressed early on, with the new government deciding to proceed with construction of a second Beijing-funded highway linking Nepal with Tibet.2 Instead, India, the prime mover of the political events, found itself at the center of a fresh controversy. As Prime Minister Koirala prepared for an official visit to New Delhi, both the CPN-UML and the Maoists grew suspicious at the haste with which he had announced his travel plans. The visit served to bolster fears that New Delhi, in a throwback to the 1950s, was seeking to micro-manage the peace process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, breaking with tradition, traveled to the airport to welcome Koirala, where he described the Nepalese premier as south Asia’s greatest leader. The enthusiastic reception Koirala received from across the political spectrum and the Indian government’s promises of a “Himalayan Marshall Plan” did little to quell Nepalese suspicions. The distrust did not stand in the way of the first high-level official talks between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists in mid-June. Flown in secretly

from the tourist resort of Pokhara, Maoist supremo Prachanda held talks with Koirala and the other leaders of the alliance. The two sides announced an eightpoint agreement on forming an interim government that would include the rebels. Making his first public appearance in the capital, Prachanda assured the country of his organization’s commitment to peace, adding that the people would decide whether Nepal would retain a titular monarchy or become a democratic republic. International reaction was mixed. India, along with the United Nations and Britain, enthusiastically welcomed the pact, while the United States insisted that the rebels disarm before joining the government. The Maoists refused to do so before the constituent assembly elections, apprehensive of the now-renamed Nepal Army’s traditional ties with the monarchy. But they agreed to place their weapons under United Nations supervision. China began expressing an old concern – U.S. plans to resettle more Tibetan refugees – with uncharacteristic candor. It virtually accused Nepal of issuing refugee identification cards to “illegal migrants,” and described the move as a serious bilateral issue.3 It would subsequently emerge that the royal regime had been negotiating in early 2006 with Washington on resettling 5,000 Tibetans from Nepal, a proposal the Bush administration had made the previous year. Although there was no official information on how the individuals would be chosen, word had spread that Tibetan veterans of the Mustang campaign would have priority for resettlement in the United States.4 Caught between pressure from China to reject the American plan and the suspension of critical U.S. military aid, the royal regime was still negotiating a tradeoff at the time of its collapse.5 Beijing was anxiously discouraging the new democratic government from approving the Bush administration’s program. Tensions flared when Chinese border troops opened fire on a group of 70 Tibetans trying to cross into Nepal, killing at least two.6 As the Maoists and the government agreed to confine arms to one set of camps and restrict government troops to their barracks, hopes for peace brightened. Shortly after midnight on November 8, the SPA and the Maoists signed a six-point agreement ending the decade-long conflict and committing them to restoring lasting peace. Later in the month Maoist leader Prachanda made his first public visit to New Delhi. The Indian government publicly distanced itself from the visit and no senior government official or ruling Congress party leader met the Maoist chairman. A recurrent theme of Prachanda’s public comments in New Delhi, on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s visit, was that the Maoists would never allow Nepal to become a part of a western plot to pit the Asian giants against each other.