The Maoists miscalculated. It was apparent from day one of their blockade: the middle-class decided to endure the hardship, the rich ignored it completely, the poor didn't seem unduly worried. Even the sensation-hungry Nepali media played it down. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was sufficiently unmoved to attend the Guara celebrations at Tundikhel.
What was abnormal was how normal everything was. For the spoilt citizens of the capital who used to queue for petrol as soon as landslides blocked the highways, the real story this week was the lack of panic. Try telling that to the parachuting international media.
The fallout of the transportation embargo was so negative that Comrade Prachanda didn't even have the courage to own up, and got his regional honcho to say that the blockade was being withdrawn at the request of 'civil society'. If civil society indeed played a role in making the insurgents realise their mistake, it must be top secret.
In Nepal, civil society has been even less effective than the government in cultivating a culture of peace. To have any role in conflict resolution, civil society needs to have the 4Cs of successful mediation: credibility, competence, consistency, and common sense. Unfortunately, Nepali civil society has generated quite a lot of heat about the necessity of negotiations without throwing any light on how to go about it.
A hodge-podge of retirees, out-of-job politicians, ex-bureaucrats, professionals past their prime, and socialites describe themselves as civil society and hog the limelight by alternating between inflammatory and conciliatory statements towards the insurgents. The fact that many of them share a common Panchayat past makes them complicit with the regime of oppression, and are therefore severely credibility-challenged.
Had civil society been competent or less-donor driven, we could overlook all that. As human rights guru Michael Ignatieff writes: international donors have created a climate of 'capacity sucking-out' by inundating poor countries with broad-spectrum experts from well-endowed NGOs who begin by importing duty-free SUVs and live deluxe lives with their First World salaries, and then blame local politicos for all the ills besetting their host country.
Consistency is not one of civil society's strong points. It was the first to fete the insurgents during the truce and began to call them 'terrorists' as soon as the government re-issued the Red Corner notice. We have lost count of the number of peace activists and conflict resolution experts doing the Colombo-Geneva-Belfast-New York circuit, but it doesn't seem to have resulted in any consistent vision for peace.
The most glaring deficiency has been a lack of common sense. Many in civil society believe that an exit from our Maoist-created mess can be found in the offer of the good offices of the UN secretary general. Politicians know better. Why else would they all be trooping off to New Delhi at the same time: Khum Bhadur Khadka, Shailaja Acharya, Pashupati Shamsher, Madhab Nepal have all done the trip and Deuba is off himself next week with perhaps King Gyanendra soon after. So, how come the conflict resolution circuit designed for our peace activists by concerned donors only overflies India?
If we ever succeed in establishing peace in this country, it will be inspite of civil society. Since the Maoists have shown themselves to be even more inept than the government and civil society, prospects of peace look marginally better than before the one week Valley blockade.