Nepali Times interviewed Norwegian Minister for Development Cooperation, Erik Solhem who was also the architect of the Sri Lanka peace process during his visit to Kathmandu last week. Excerpts:
Nepali Times: The new government has announced a ceasefire and the Maoists have said they want to start negotiations. What are the pitfalls we should be on the lookout for?
The sun is shining over Nepal now, from skies without any clouds. Anything seems possible. It's terribly important to keep up that momentum and that optimism and to move forward rapidly. However, there is also a cynical point of view from my experience with other peace processes we should all be patient because it usually takes a longer time than people hope for. There is a need to sustain a process which will take some time.
From your experience in Sri Lanka where do those difficulties come from?
Number one is intentions. If the government and the Maoists very clearly want this to be a success, then the chances of it being successful is very high. But even when that is a starting point it is always easier to make a general agreement, it is much more difficult to resolve all the nitty-gritties and the details which will have to be addressed. There will be a lot of unfulfilled expectations. At this time Nepalis naturally demand democracy but they also demand tangible benefits in their lives and a better future for their children from all this. But this can't happen all of a sudden and they may blame political leaders or the Maoists and this may create many obstacles down the road. But one mustn't always take a pessimistic view, just being cautious that that there may be difficulties ahead would be a realistic approach.
Did you make any offers for facilitation or mediation while here?
No, we made no offers of facilitation or mediation but we did offer to help them in anyway in anything they decide to do. Of course it must be a two-side approach whatever the government and the Maoists agree to we will be ready to support with the rest of the international community.
You have been involved in the Sri Lankan peace process what has been India's geopolitical role there?
I think everyone understands that India is in a very different position than anyone else in the international community. If anything goes wrong in Sri Lanka, of course Norway can go home we will be sad we may even be in tears but it won't affect Norway as such. The same in Nepal, if things go wrong and Nepal become a failed state, all the outsiders would go home. But India will be around because it is a neighbour and it may have to deal with an influx of refugees, whatever happens in Sri Lanka or Nepal will have a major impact on that country. So we should respect that India is in a different position than any other foreign country and that they have legitimate national interest in what happens in let's say Sri Lanka or Nepal which Norway and for that matter the United States don't have.