Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
The seduction of process


There is a deep reluctance among governments and interlocutors, including international mediators, to acknowledge persistent and pervasive patterns of deception that mark the engagement of terrorist and insurgent organisations in peace processes.

Daily details and 'expert' interpretation of each new statement, agreement or act consume all attention, while the essential equation of power between the conflicting parties shifts subtly and steadily in favour of violent non-state actors.

This seduction of process explains why the new 'peace deal' is being celebrated despite reports of continuous and systematic violation of the preceding three agreements pouring in from across the country.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who seems to making an Arafat-esque move from terrorist to statesman, assures us that "once the peace accord is signed, we will honour every word of it." But as with other terrorist and insurgent groups in South Asia who have engaged in peace processes with governments (the LTTE in Sri Lanka and the Taliban 'elders' in Waziristan in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas), there isn't much reason to believe they will honour the letter and spirit of their deal. Rather, there is evidence that they will keep up their campaigns of extortion and intimidation while simultaneously furthering their project of social and political engineering to secure the desired outcome, the seizure of power.

Through the peace process they capture space and, importantly, legitimacy.

Current Maoist postures and the peace process should be assessed not just in terms of daily violations of prior agreements and the code of conduct, but also in terms of manifest intent and the prevailing equation of power.

The Maoists were not forced to the negotiating table. They forced the government, external powers, and international organisations. The Maoists retain in full their capacity for the violence that underlies their engagement with the state and external interlocutors.

Much in the present agreement, particularly the clauses relating to confinement of 'combatants' to camps and weapons under the single lock deal, reinforces the asymmetry between the insurgent and state forces.

It is na?ve to believe the Maoists would surrender the bulk of their weaponry and declare the entire strength of their armed cadres. The distinction between the 'armed' and the 'political' cadres is inchoate at best. Though a token quantum of arms and cadres will be put under the restraints of the camps and lockdown, the bulk of their forces will be kept out of the camps, and much of their arsenal secreted in caches across the country. Meanwhile, the Nepal Army's forces and weaponry, far more easily verifiable, will effectively be locked away.

There is no sign the Maoist mass line is being abandoned or diluted. These ideologies are not easily relinquished, and they unleash dynamics difficult to disrupt, and with a momentum of their own. Engagement in the peace process is not an act of accommodation or abnegation on the part of the Maoists; it is integral to their strategy for seizing power, which remains the objective of their manoeuvring.

There is slippage between what the Maoists say in public and what they are projecting within the organisation. Sources suggest to us that the top leadership has told members of the core group that their engagement in the process is tactical, and represents a change of strategy, not intent.

This is the backdrop against which Dahal, Baburam Bhattarai, and Ram Bahadur Thapa have said they will not join the interim government, and continue to seek to form their 'own government' to implement their 'progressive and revolutionary' agenda.

The UN monitors have no capacity to ensure compliance with the agreement. As with the Norwegians, the most they could do is maintain continuously inflating lists of violations, and deliver homilies on peace.

The Maoists have manoeuvred themselves to the centre of Nepal's democratic and political processes, paralysed the army, neutralised the king. They've done this without the slightest dilution in their own capacities for violence, and with a significant expansion in their abilities for mass mobilisation, as in Kathmandu earlier this month.

Ajai Sahni is executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)