Nepali Times Asian Paints
From The Nepali Press
The Maoists must extend the ceasefire

The one-sided ceasefire period declared by the Maoists is now more than half over. During this time the entire nation breathed a sigh of relief. Before the ceasefire was declared, an average of five people lost their lives every day. This fell to one a day after the ceasefire was declared. The capital witnessed a long absent silence during Dasain because those who had not been able to return to their villages for many years happily did so this year. The ceasefire has also resulted in a revival of political activity and has rendered the government's propaganda about 'defeating terrorism' ineffective. It has also shown that the Maoist central leadership is still in command of its cadre. True, all is not rosy. Extortion and mass abductions of teachers and students for political indoctrination continue. However, during this period the government has violated people's rights more than the rebels have. It is also provoking the Maoists. Until now the Maoists have not lost their cool but it must be tough for them to refrain from reacting to the government's provocation. The Maoists have claimed that they declared the ceasefire in order to create an atmosphere in which they could hold talks with the seven political parties and then convert those discussions into a trustworthy partnership. This has been welcomed by the parties as well as civil society. Although formal talks may not happen, some discussions are underway at different levels. It is rumoured that the Maoists are miffed at the political parties for not creating a formal committee for talks.

Perhaps what is more important is what can be done to decrease the distance between the two sides. First, they need to agree on what should be included and what should be left out of the talks. The parties and civil society will not compromise on multiparty democracy, a healthy and competitive election system, rule of law and a guarantee of human rights. The Maoists must understand that until they officially accept these minimum clauses, talks will not make any sense. Then comes the question of the Maoists' armed force. Because Nepal's army is non-political, trying to add to it the rebel force's ideological soldiers would cause it great harm.

Therefore, the talks must include effective provisions for managing the rebels' weapons. The three-month one-sided ceasefire is not long enough to act on all these factors. It can only be taken as time to prepare for talks. The Maoists should realise that the ceasefire has harmed only the government, which has been using Maoist 'terrorism' as an excuse to enlarge its own military force, centralise power and deny the rights of the people. But laying down arms has made the government's line on 'the fight against Maoist terrorism' difficult to sell. The Maoists must carefully analyse this factor, look for options and continue the ceasefire. The rebels have three options:

a) Continue the strategy of armed rebellion started ten years ago, defeat the government forces and capture power
b) Join political parties under the current constitution to emerge as a political force working on the people's behalf
c) Enter mainstream politics only after declaring a constituent assembly and forming a political front.

To follow the first option the Maoists can ignore the political parties and civil society. Although the second option might not sound feasible, they should not stubbornly refuse it because the main achievement of the 1990 Peoples Movement, of which the Maoists were also a part, is "peoples rule". Until and unless it can be concluded that the present constitution will not permit what could be possible with a constituent assembly, this option must not discarded. The third option, a constituent assembly, will not be possible without complete political reconciliation.

The Maoists must carefully examine three facts when deciding their future course, including the fate of the ceasefire: the present regime is denying the people their rights and preparing to revoke even more of them under the pretexts of "curbing terrorism" and establishing peace, evaluate what they have gained and lost after a decade of war and whether the time has come to use the ground gained through armed uprising to enter mainstream politics

They must also evaluate what sort of role and influence international players will have in Nepal's geopolitical future. It remains for the political parties to trust or not to trust the Maoists. Hundreds of their workers have been killed by the rebels and thousands more displaced. But if the two sides want to create a bond of trust they must keep trying. Three months of ceasefire is not long enough to bridge this gap. If the Maoists want to win the confidence of the parties and civil society, they must extend the ceasefire despite government provocation. It remains to be seen if the rebel leadership has realised the need for restraint, patience and tolerance.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)