The Elusive Peace: Nepal
Author: Bhagirath Yogi
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 11/16/2004
Nepalis heaved a sigh of relief during the nine-day truce observed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the government forces early November this year. But the temporary peace was shattered as soon as the rebels attacked Gamgadhi, headquarters of remote northern district of Mugu, only a couple of days after the `truce was over.
Though only two people reportedly died including an insurgent and a former police constable during the overnight raid, the assault was enough to send message that hostilities had resumed between the warring sides.
In June this year, King Gyanendra– a Hindu monarch appointed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with a mandate to form a broad-based government, hold peace negotiations with the rebels, and initiate the process of elections by April next year. Premier Deuba succeeded in forming a four-party coalition by roping in Communist Party of Nepal (UML) a moderate left party— among others, into his administration but he seems to be far from fulfilling his other two mandates.
It seems, however, that the government will never tire of gimmicks as long as the issue of peace talks is concerned. The government has already formed a High Level Peace Committee (HPC), headed by the premier himself, and a couple of sub-committees comprising ruling party cadres who enjoy perks and benefits equivalent to a cabinet minister.
The Prime Minister often spends hours listening to the experience of former government negotiators and non-government mediators at the HPC s office at Singha Durbar the seat of power in the country– who narrate their version of why the peace talks with the rebels failed twice in the past.
The government and rebels sat for peace negotiations, for the first time, in August 2001, which lasted for only four months. Both the sides were face to face once again for peace negotiations in January 2003 but the negotiations again broke off after five months with each side accusing the other of not being serious towards negotiated settlement to the crisis.
Over 10,000 Nepalis have lost their lives in the nine-year old Maoist insurgency since a little known ultra-left outfit, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), launched its people s war in February 1996. The rebels now have their influence over most part of the country and have raised their own guerrilla force, militia and parallel government units in their strongholds. They also operate parallel people s courts and are said to be preparing to implement a new curriculum in the schools in their strongholds so as to train students on Maoist ideology and military science, among others.
The rebels say they want to replace the country s constitutional monarchy with a communist republic. But for the time being, their major agenda has been (convening a) Round Table Conference involving all major political forces in the country, formation of an interim government (probably under their own leadership) and holding elections to the constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that will decide the fate of the monarchy.
But the government has refused to oblige the rebels and says it is ready to discuss anything except constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The government has already declared Maoists as terrorists and have got Red Corner notices issued against top Maoist leadership with the help of the Interpol.
How can you expect the Maoists to join the table of negotiations when they have terrorist tag attached to them? asked Shyam Shrestha, editor of pro-left Mulyankan monthly and a member of the Citizen s Commission for Peace (CCP) a civil society initiative.
Senior government officials, however, insist that they are ready to discuss these issues once the Maoists agree to sit for peace talks. The government is quite sincere towards finding a peaceful solution to the crisis through peace talks. So, the rebels should not have any suspicion regarding our intention, said Bharat Mohan Adhikary, a CPN (UML) leader who is deputy prime minister in the Deuba administration.
The Nepali conflict has turned more complicated with the growing interest of international players. While US and UK have provided arms, training and financial assistance to the Nepal government (UK says it has provided only non-lethal weapons to the Royal Nepalese Army– RNA) to combat the insurgency, India is the biggest supplier of arms, ammunition and counter-insurgency training to RNA.
Because Nepal is sandwiched between India and China, analysts say India deals with Nepal basically from its own security considerations. China, on the other hand, has always stood in favour of political stability and economic progress of the country, though it has got interests in stopping pro-Tibet activities within Nepal.
The US sees its assistance to Nepal government as part of its global war against terror. The rebels, too, saw the `US imperialism as their main enemy until recently. Of late, the rebels have also started accusing India of stopping the Nepal government from entering into negotiations with the rebels.
Officials say Nepali Maoists have been smuggling in arms and ammunition from the illegal weapons market of India by taking benefit of the common, open border between the two countries. The cross-border linkages of Nepali Maoists with their Indian counterparts like Maoist Communist Center (MCC) and People s War Group (PWG) has been a major concern for Indian authorities. They have taken seriously the recent merger of MCC and PWG and formation of CCOMPOSA, a network of Maoist parties and organizations in the region, a couple of years back.
Addressing the annual Conference of top police officers in New Delhi (on Nov. 5, this year), newly elected Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said cross-border linkages of the Maoists had posed an even greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.
This is more so now that Maoists in Nepal have become a major force and are trying to link up with left wing extremist groups across the border, posing an even graver threat than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East,’ Dr. Singh said.
Indian authorities say Maoist groups in the country (also known as Naxalites) are reported to have spread to 155 districts or almost 25 per cent of the country. Indian Intelligence sources also point out that the idea of a Compact Revolutionary Zone or a continuous red corridor, crystallized in August 2001, would run through six Indian states and extend from Nepal through Bihar in the north to Dandakaranya region, the forest areas of Central India and Andhra Pradesh.
Analysts say the Maoist strategy now seems to pose itself as a potential threat to Indian interests in Nepal while at the same time trying to maintaining line of communications with certain agencies in India.
A former Maoist commander-turned-political analyst, Puskar Gautam, says that the Nepali Maoists have identified India as a major obstacle towards holding peace talks and even inviting the United Nations as the mediator (in the proposed peace process). They seem to be trying to launch offensive against the Nepali and Indian governments at the same level, he said.
In the domestic front, the Maoists seem to be waiting for the downfall of the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government thereby elevating themselves in a position to hold direct negotiations with the King. They have declared that after completing classic initial phases of maoist war, viz. strategic balance, they are now in the phase of strategic offensive.
Chairman Mao had said if this phase is allowed to stretch longer, the enemy is likely to strengthen itself putting the revolutionary force into defensive. This means that Maoists would like to seize every possible opportunity to attract international attention, exert pressure upon the government and try to bring divisions within the security forces, if possible.
In mid-August this year, the Maoists announced an `indefinite blockade of the capital, Kathmandu. Amid unprecedented publicity of their move without losing a single cadre, they withdrew their call keeping everybody guessing. They later called month-long closure of 12 major industries including a leading five-star hotel said to be owned by royalties, among others. They later ordered dozens of more industries to close down but withdrew their move later amid intense public pressure.
So, the next Maoist tactic is likely to be launching major offensive against government forces in order to force it to accept its key demand (of holding elections to the constituent assembly). Both the government and rebels are preparing for an intense battle while talking about peace talks, says Gautam.
What next: Efforts for Peace
So, in such a backdrop, how could Nepali people as well as international community extend pressure upon both the warring sides in the country to give fighting and start negotiations?
Recent opinion polls show there is an overwhelming public support towards peace. That is why, both the government and rebels blame each other of not being serious towards peace negotiations. In his latest statement issued on November 15 (this year), Maoist chairman alleged the government of preparing for war under the disguise of talks. Officials level similar charges against the rebels.
While the rhetoric would continue, civil society must continue and coordinate its efforts to pressurize both the parties in the conflict to stop this senseless war and start negotiations. The country is now witness to escalating human rights violations and the socio-economic costs of the conflict are enormous.
As such, any possible peace building efforts would comprise three main components including peace building: strengthening political institutions, reforming internal and external security arrangements, and revitalizing the economy and the nation’s social fabric.
With the country devoid of any representative, elected institutions for more than last two years and absence of government s security institutions in large parts of the country, Nepal really presents a text-book scenario.
To come out of this quagmire, the first step would be rapprochement and reconciliation among the constitutional forces that is the King, political parties and the government. Then they unitedly could ask the rebels to join peace negotiations and also propose significant constitutional/legal/ administrative reforms in the state structure and governance.
A successfully negotiated peace agreement can be achieved only through an accountable and transparent process. Not surprisingly, the government still doesn t have a common strategy to undertake peace initiative, says Shobhakar Budhathoki, a peace activist and a post graduate scholar from the University of San Diego.
Citing Norwegian efforts in Sri Lanka as an example, Budhathoki argues that it is essential to have a neutral, trained and trustworthy third party guarantor at this stage of conflict to achieve a negotiated peace agreement and its enforcement. They could also assist the conflicting parties to modify their positions and increase confidence by establishing direct communications during the peace process, he added.
But the `crisis of confidence between the warring parties in the Himalayan kingdom seems so wide that no meaningful peace overtures are seen to be taking place at present. But when there is pall of gloom everywhere, people continue to light candles praying for the restoration of peace in the country at major landmarks of the capital, Kathmandu, every month.
War can’t be an alternative to peace. Of course, we all should be longing for a democratic peace, said a senior Nepali citizen. Let’s hope, wisdom prevails on leadership of both the government and rebels as the year 2004 draws to a close within a few weeks.