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Saturday, February 27, 2010

नेपालको शांति प्रक्रियाकाचुनौतीहरु

Nepal's Peace Teeters of Edge

Published by Asia Times on www.atimes.net/speakingfreely/ on Feb 26, 2010

The peace process in Nepal has seen enough turbulence over the last four years. But recent threats to it may be costlier than in the past. The petty self-interest of parties only worsens the scenario and leads to deadlock. Only vigilance and a concerted push from civil society can prevent derailment of constitution making and democracy.

THE UN-mediated peace process in Nepal was supposed to be one among few of such ‘successful’ ventures of the world body to help pull the troubled states out of the armed conflicts. During the successful people's revolt of 2006, the parliamentary political parties collaborated with the Maoists then underground actively fighting the state security forces, in a revolt against the Monarchy. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was then subsequently signed by the government led by Nepali Congress and the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in which the broad agreement to a permanent ceasefire was announced along with a plan to manage the fighters and the arms of the Maoists under the supervision of UN.

Norms to be followed by the armies on the both sides were laid down with a pledge to bring an acceptable integration-rehabilitation plan for the former rebels. Before that the arms of the Maoists were to be placed inside the UN-monitored containers and the combatants were to be placed inside different camps across the country overseen by the United Nations Mission In Nepal (UNMIN). Even more significant milestone in the recent history of Nepal was the relatively peaceful conduction of the CA polls though after a painful delay of 2 years since the successful people's revolt. The CPN (Maoist), despite a grim pre-election prediction, emerged clearly the largest political party with number of seats more than that combined of the other two largest parties. After few months of reluctance, the Maoists were finally allowed to form a coalition government. The Institution of Monarchy was then formally abolished with near-consensus in the CA evacuating the royal palace in a historic show of the might of the people power.

Indeed robust achievements were made with different milestones of the process achieved over a period of more than three years despite some obvious reluctance, jitters from both sides and delay. Even as the Maoist combatants, supposed to be confined in the cantonments, occasionally ventured outside with weapons drawing the ire of the state, that was well short of threatening the overall process. The armed forces were, in their part, reluctant to oblige fully to the mandate of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). A huge debate erupted when the army went forward to recruit about 3000 personnel in different posts despite vehement opposition by the civilian government then led by the Maoists.

Currently the peace process has been facing a grave threat as all sides have placed their stakes on the integration-rehabilitation process of the former rebels as the deadline to issue the new constitution is approaching fast. The latest crisis has erupted with the claim of the Maoists that the government imported the arms and weaponry for the army inside the vehicles owned by the Armed Police Force and their subsequent protest. The event in which the police liberally used its might to drive the vehicles containing the weaponry past the hurdles created by the unarmed Maoist cadres needs to be seen in conjunction with the series of past events that bruised the peace process.

The combative attitude of the national army during the tenure of Maoist-led government led to the downfall of the government itself as almost all other parties in the Constituent Assembly (CA) rallied behind the army chief who was hastily sacked by the Prachanda-government but immediately reinstated by the President. The sole agenda as well as the unifying factor in the new coalition was the intense animosity towards the Maoist party that had surprisingly emerged the winner in the CA polls held in 2008. Given the expressed determination of the armed forces, primarily the army, to refuse the dictates of the civilian government that supposedly ‘undermined’ their interest, it was far easier practically to follow the clue of the army that it was ready to give.

The strong perception of the formerly leading political parties, most of the leaders of which lost in the direct election from their constituencies, was that the victory of the Maoists in the polls was largely the result of their ‘scare tactics’ and literally it was ‘illegitimate’ to let them lead the government so long as they possess the army. They were thus too eager to isolate the Maoists while vilification of the rivals is the established norm from long ago and both sides competed in that front. Moreover, since the Maoists did not hesitate to coax or threaten the media houses in their turn for their rightward bias, the big media houses in Nepal have been retaliating by moving further against the Maoists in both positive and negative coverage. This factor has helped the ruling 22-party coalition immensely amid the increasing frustration and the apprehension among the public that the conflict between the two sides which had collaborated in weeding out the monarchy and putting an end to the brutal insurgency, may bring the ‘dark days’ back.

Adding insult to the injury is the increasing strain in the relationship between the Maoists and the Indian establishment that had helped the then rebels to reconcile with the political parties with the formulation of the famous ’12-points Agreement’. The worsening of the relationship was partially because of the change in the Indian establishment after the 2009 national elections in India when the pre-election conflict between the Congress and the leftist allies brought an end to the Congress-left coalition. The leaders of the Indian Communist Party had played crucial role in bringing the two sides in Nepal together. The unexpected victory of the Maoist in the CA polls was now far less favorable for the new Indian establishment moving further right without any pressure from the leftist parties. The perception that the Maoist-led government in Nepal was moving closer to the northern rival China produced a frankly anti-Maoist sentiment in India, particularly in the saffron camp of rightist Hindu political parties though the ruling Congress was also equally apprehensive.

The matter came to head when India openly batted against the Maoists in the struggle that ensued between the Maoists on one side and the President along with the sacked army chief and almost all the other parties on the other. The Maoist-led government had then sacked the COAS for his refusal to abide by the orders of the government. With firm backing of India, even the erstwhile allies of the coalition government abandoned the Maoists to collaborate with the opposition Nepali Congress to make a new coalition and the 9-month stint of the former rebels in power came to a premature end. Further aggravation in the relations between the Maoists and the Indian establishment occurred following the inflammatory remarks of the Maoist leaders against India after their exit from the government. The rhetoric of the Maoist chief Prachanda was particularly shrill and visibly opportunistic given his poor credentials in the issue of ‘nationality’ during his term as prime minister. Now with the allegation that India has colluded with the government in providing lethal weaponry for the army against the mandate of CPA, any repair in the relationship between the two sides remains further distant.

The hidden implications of the turmoil are still more ominous. Now with less than a hundred days out of the scheduled two years remaining for the deadline for new constitution with optional 6-month extension of the term, many rumors are widely circulated: that President rule is imminent in case of missed target to issue the constitution, that the military will take over the government in case the chaos persist and deteriorate, etc. One rumor famous during the period when the Maoists were leading the government was that the Maoist party was about to capture the whole power apparatus by force and impose an archaic authoritarian administration. One of the leaders of the UML party, that now leads the government, who had suffered a humiliating defeat against a little-known candidate of the Maoists was frank enough to state that a new election was essential just in case the CA misses the two-year target to issue the constitution.

To be precise, the devotion and seriousness needed for an enormous task like drafting the constitution has been simply replaced by the petty self-interest of the political parties and their leaders. The attempts of both the Maoists as well as the other parties are now directed more towards laying the blame of failure to draft a constitution on time to their rivals than to actually hurry up working harder to complete the task timely. The thorny issue of integration-rehabilitation of the combatants is perpetuating the crisis as it means two different things for the two sides. The non-Maoist parties want dissolution of the army affiliated to the Maoists because they intend to make the Maoist party pang-less and toothless by the process. Simultaneously, their other intention to keep the army pleased makes them frown at the thought of integrating some of the combatants in army, something vaguely agreed upon in the CPA. The regional parties based on Madhesh, the political hot potato in the south of the country, have their own interest in forcing the group entry of the Madheshi youths in the national army. As a part of the current government, they are equally distasteful of integrating the Maoist combatants in the national army.

The Maoists also face a not so different controversy in the issue. They want integration of as many combatants as possible in the national army mainly because they have pledged to do so while recruiting the fighters in the past. They know clearly the poor feasibility of that option as their credibility to transform according to the changed circumstances was challenged by the ‘CD scandal’ in which Prachanda was seen in a Video coaching the cadres, during some past date, how they would undermine the national army through integration, publicized just prior to the collapse of his government. Moreover, an amicable management of the former combatants will strip the Maoists the privilege of having a ‘standby’ armed force, just in case something goes awry in the future. The dilemma is further compounded by the sharp conflict between the 'hardliner' and 'liberal' factions inside the party which have been batting for a revolt to capture the state and acclimatizing to the competitive politics respectively. Lack of clarity in the views expressed by the Maoist chief Prachanda shows this dilemma clearly and the confusion among the cadres generated by the ambiguity in position of the leadership was expressed in the recent 'Central Training' of the party cadres.

Not everything has gone awry, however. The exit of those combatants in the cantonments who were deemed 'disqualified' by the UNMIN was completed few weeks back though the issue of how they will be absorbed by the society remains unsolved. With exit of the hawkish former army chief who became instrumental in toppling the Maoist-led government, the current COAS has reassured that the army is ready to cooperate the government in the issue of integration of the former combatants. Seen in the context when the Defense Minister is frankly speaking against any potential integration, that gesture of the army chief is significant.

Amid the rising apprehension among the public about the potential failure of the CA and the resulting turmoil, few among the politicians have the gut to speak or act visibly against the mandate of the CPA and the peace process that are linked inseparably with the process of drafting the constitution. But the blatant remark of one of the loser leaders in the CA polls from the coalition leader that a new election be held soon points to something more ominous. Now that the initial euphoria of the two successful events, the People's revolt of 2006 and the CA polls held in 2008 has been eaten away by the inherent fatigue, the once profane ideas of dissolving the CA or reviving the Monarchy are being expressed even though sporadically.

IT is in this tumultuous background that the recent incident of frank clashes between the police and the Maoist cadres and the disputed import of the arms from India needs to be understood. Having tasted the privileges of being in power, the leaders of the current coalition appear intending to continue in power keeping the Maoists isolated with blessings of the southern benefactor. IF the legitimacy that the Maoists gained with the victory in CA polls can be somehow erased by making the CA dysfunctional, then the old days when they ruled with little resistance can return. The factor that it will be too costly if not impossible for the Maoists to go back to the jungles for a guerilla warfare after 4 years of erosion and attrition in fighting capability has come to the aid of the politicians who were once thoroughly discredited for their opportunistic servility towards the then king Gyanendra. This tendency is what poses a major threat to the peace process contrary to the trivial incidents often led responsible for the colossal threat.

At the moment the pressure from the civil society and the ordinary public, irrespective of their political affiliation, is sufficient to block any major move against the peace process and the process of drafting the constitution. Same can not be. however, stated for some future date when any new incident can change the course of events distracting the people or forcing them to silence amid the pervasive chaos enough of which is already there. A careful vigil and timely and organized warning to the leadership by the people is the only thing that can now place the things back in track with timely formulation of the constitution and amicable conclusion of the peace process. Otherwise, a disaster with huge political, economic as well as social implications looms large ahead for Nepal and the Nepali people.

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