Nepali Times
Guest Column
A ceaseless ceasefire


There are rampant rumours that the king is contemplating finishing off on 1 February 2006 what he started out a year before. Two weeks later, on 14 February the Maoists are expected to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their war with a big bang, possibly in Kathmandu. As we go into a new year, Nepal's three political corners are making their own calculations.

The king doesn't really want municipal elections slated for 7 February: it's just a sop for foreigners who keep pressuring him to restore democracy. But if there is violence, he can use it to keep the war going and remain at the helm.

The seven-party alliance is hoping low turnout in municipal elections will be a referendum against active monarchy, it will fire up their street agitation and entrench the king's international isolation.

The Maoists have vowed not to let the elections happen and threatened anyone supporting it. Since the polls are mostly in urban areas, the rebels want to use it to launch the next phase of their revolution which is to 'rise up from the villages to enter the cities'.

The municipal polls will also be an important test of the 12-point agreement and whether the parties and the Maoists really mean it. If they do, they will use it to create the atmosphere for an urban uprising that both hope will put pressure on the king.

There is intense debate within the Maoists and outside about whether or not to extend the four-month unilateral ceasefire. Radical republicans are trying to instigate the Maoists not to extend the ceasefire so it will be easier to prevent municipal polls, a move that ironically sections of the army that want the war also want.

If the ceasefire is not extended, the biggest beneficiaries will be the king and army who can turn around and tell the Americans, Indians and the British: "We told you so." This will help hawks in those countries who want to lift the arms embargo. A return to war will also allow the army to lump the political parties in the same 'terrorist' category as the Maoists. The rebels may then be pushed to protect party cadre from being targeted by the army.

ut the Maoists also stand to lose the limited political recognition they got during the ceasefire from the international community. The comrades have replied to Ian Martin's query clarifying that 'people's action should by no means imply that our cadres have been instructed to abduct or kill those participating in elections'.

The Maoist leaders openly admit that the revolution has alienated the people. Unless there is better political indoctrination, it will be difficult for the Maoists to ensure that the rank and file abide by the MoU with the parties. To bring the people to their side and to strengthen their alliance with the parties, the Maoists need to prolong the ceasefire. The Maoist-party front then has a tight-rope walk: it must prevent a return to war at all cost while also keeping up the pressure on the king.

But reports that the Maoists have adopted the doctrine of 'climbing on the shoulder to hit the head' has shaken the political parties and raised doubts about whether the Maoists are really committed to a peaceful struggle. The parties are also worried about the Maoists increasing the number of military divisions to seven from three, and implying that they will kill anyone who supports municipal polls.

The Maoists can't regard the 12-point agreement just as a tactic, its aim is to forge a common people's movement as an alternative to violence. The Maoists themselves call it 'Fusion'-the transformation of their armed struggle into a peaceful urban-based people's movement. The seven-party alliance is not a tool the Maoists can use and discard when they don't have use for it. After all, the goal is not just to end this drift towards dictatorship it is also to help steer the Maoists back to pluralism.

To stay on that peaceful path is a long, hard struggle towards a people's movement. If the king is thinking of another February First, it will be people's non-violent power that will inevitably counter it.

Translated from a longer article in this fortnight's Himal Khabarpatrika.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)