Despite all the lip-service, negotiations are not on the priority list of either the government or the insurgents. Both are quite happy with a stalemate that is hurting everyone else, as long as they can blame the other side for intransigence.
And it's not that there is a shortage of conflict resolution experts or negotiators. Conflict resolution is a thriving cottage industry that keeps an influential section of local intelligentsia gainfully employed.
Accompanied by laptop warriors from donor countries, they are busy capacity-building for peace. And all the peace seminars have been a life-saver for the ailing hospitality industry.
Urban dwellers, yearning to organise against war, are expressing it through prayer vigils, music concerts, art exhibitions, street theatre, rallies and even beauty contests. But the silent majority is begging for peace the only way it knows how: by keeping silent. Silence, it seems, is the only way to express dissent. Paradoxically, this overwhelming majority seems too feeble to influence a tiny minority of warmongers. The change-makers can only be brought together by creating a strong public demand in favour of peace. In the past six years, the Maoists devised and implemented a five-step action plan to create public opinion in favour of their war.
First, they concentrated on select intellectuals who could create legitimacy for their ruthless campaign in the mid-west mountains.
Personalities like Rishikesh Shah (alleged this week by UML ideologue Modnath Prashrit to have been a bridge between the Narayanhiti and the Maoists), Daman Nath Dhungana (one of the biggest beneficiaries of post-1990 order, and speaker of the first parliament) and Padma Ratna Tuladhar (an 'independent' communist and a minister in the short-lived UML minority government) conferred political legitimacy on the Maoists. Shah is dead, but the Dhungana-Tuladhar duet continues to champion the Maoist cause from every pulpit.
Second, the Maoists enlisted the support of the urban intelligentsia to oppose every counter-insurgency campaign of successive governments. Fighting with antiquated weapons to save the state from annihilation, the police got no support from the comfortable classes in Kathmandu Valley even as they were slaughtered.
Third, influential sections of Nepali media were lead down the garden path to report nice things the Maoists were up to in their influence area: parading in fatigues with red-star bandanas, smashing liquor bottles, or punishing violators in kangaroo courts. Reports of journalists embedded with Maoist militia were even more alarming: they openly glorified atrocities.
Fourth, the Maoists succeeded in summoning vocal support of influential professionals to publicly oppose the mobilisation of the army to fight the fast-spreading inferno. The reason: 'one Nepali shouldn't kill another', as if those being killed by the rebels were somehow less Nepali. But many of us bought this argument without bothering to question its premises.
Finally, the insurgents played one political group against another. With friendly winks from powerful quarters, the UML paralysed the third parliament by boycotting the entire winter session. Sher Bahadur Deuba became premier for a second time in 2000 with the good wishes of Courageous Leader Prachanda. The mainstreaming of the war ideology was thus complete.
All that was needed was to force the Royal Nepal Army into the battlefield, and the Maoists extended an armed invitation by ransacking the Dang barracks in November 2001. After that the military didn't need any 'all party consensus', a condition it had been putting to the government to get into action. It simply got the Deuba government to issue a state of internal emergency and began to manipulate the situation to its advantage. Allowing the term of the local government units to lapse, getting parliament dissolved, and having the premier dismissed when he refused to resign signified the relentless march of the war ideology.
To rebuild an effective peace ideology, this entire process needs to be reversed. If we don't allow politicians to shout slogans and disrupt traffic, gunmen will control our lives and there will be no traffic to disrupt. It's not much of a choice: Girija Prasad Koirala's street agitators, or leaving the country in the hands of the military or militia.