Government and Maoist negotiators are meeting again on Friday, but this touch-and-go talks don't seem to be getting anywhere. During the first round, Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai did all the talking, while all poor Badri Prasad Mandal could do was shake his head in bewilderment.
Former-pancha Mandal has reason to be. Items on the Maoist wish list cannot be met without substantially limiting the role of the king. There is no way a government of the king's nominees would dare discuss such a possibility.
For all his pomp, Comrade Baburam didn't enter Kathmandu at the head of a victorious army. Voters of Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot haven't sent him to the capital to frame a new constitution. He has no mandate other than the support of a group of armed insurgents calling themselves Maoists. While it's imprudent to undermine the power of any rebellion, it's also a fact that a partially successful insurgency often fails to confer either legitimacy or authority on its leaders.
While entering into any negotiations, the rebels have no option other than to depend on the support of national and international public opinion. Maoists have antagonised both in the past.
It's not that the Maoists aren't aware of this hard reality-Krishna Bahadur Mahara's reaction against the decision of US government of keeping the Maoists on a 'watch list' of international terrorists betrays the nervousness of all his comrades. Maoists cadre are probably readying themselves for the next phase of their 'people's war' even as some of their leaders are busy assuaging the fears of the international community in the capital city.
Parties to an armed conflict seldom enter into negotiations unless they can do so from a position of strength. Politicians who believe that the Maoists are sincere for the talks this time need to ask themselves: has anything changed in the rhetoric of Krishna Bahadur Mahara from the time he walked out of negotiations in November 2001?
If Lokendra Bahadur Chand's address to the nation last week is anything to go by, it's clear that he has neither the authority nor the motivation to take talks with the Maoists to its logical conclusion. In all probability, Chand isn't even aware of what's happening behind the scenes between the insurgents and the spokesperson of the government negotiating team. It's unlikely that Col Narayan Singh Pun takes the trouble to inform his prime minister about what he discusses with Mahara. Indeed, why should he? Like the prime minister, each member of the cabinet has been appointed directly by the king, and holds office at his pleasure. After the ignominious exit of three powerful ministers from the cabinet last month, the remaining ones have begun to feel the rug moving under their feet.
It's not just the prime minister, every one else enjoying the perks of executive power these days has a vested interest in keeping the issue of Maoist insurgency festering. If it weren't for the Maoists, none of the present set of ministers would be eligible for the positions that they currently hold. Should the insurgency end today, the Royal Nepali Army would lose its only justification of having the first claim on the state treasury.
In Machiavellian politics, it is said that the most improbable explanation is often closest to reality. On the face of it, a 'tactical unity' between the Maoists (ostensibly fighting to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat) and Monarchists (clearly aspiring to prolong autocracy for as long as they can) appears highly unlikely. But both parties to the armed conflict probably find it expedient to undermine the role of major political parties at this moment. That's understandable, because any such campaign will reassert the power of conviction and weaken the forces of coercion.
The argument that People's Movement II will hamper the peace process is absurd. It's the mainstream political parties who have launched the real struggle for durable peace in the country. If the movement succeeds in making the Maoists and Monarchists understand each other's games, that will be its biggest achievement. After all, imparting education in statecraft is one of the main functions of political parties in any democracy.
It's true that, above all else, Nepalis have been yearning for peace for quite some time. Now they seem to have woken up to the hard reality that no one is going to deliver it to them on a silver platter. It's this awakening that will ultimately help establish a just and durable peace in the country.