The cease-fire between the Maoists and the government still holds, and it could be because it benefits the rebels. While the Royal Nepali Army has been confined to within 5 km of barracks, fully armed Maoist cadres roam the countryside unhindered.
The government has released almost all Maoist detainees, but the insurgents haven't stopped abducting and extorting ordinary citizens. Off the record, government ministers claim that they are footing the bill for feeding the Maoist militia. Yet, the Maoist fund raising through compulsory donations at fixed rates goes on.
Despite a relative calm in the mid-western mountains, the risk of resumption of violence by the Maoists still exists. Even though the second round of talks between the government and the insurgents has ended on an optimistic note, there is no guarantee that the Maoists will not go back to the jungles. When Maoists withdrew from negotiations in November 2001, the very first target was the Royal Nepali Army. It bears remembering that the army still hasn't recovered the bulk of the arms that was looted from its Dang barracks. The army uses its programs on state television as a deterrent to remind the public and the Maoists about its strength and battle readiness.
During the democratic transition of a post-conflict society, it is essential that a legitimate, civilian government keep its armed forces under control. Unfortunately, the government of king's nominees is neither representative nor accountable. For Lokendra Bahadur Chand, King Gyanendra's word is his command. That is his job description. The nominated government lacks the moral authority to keep the army and the police within constitutional limits.
Last week, the Royal Nepali Army went after the political parties with a thinly-veiled threat. The armed forces should not be dragged into day-to-day politics, but there was a hint of helplessness in the army's press statement. The Defence Ministry (whoever it takes its order from in the present context) must refrain from using the coercive forces of the state in settling political scores. The Royal Nepali Army can do with a little less controversy over its role and reliability.
Apart from the armed forces, the armed insurgents and the government, other important players on the national scene need to get their act together. The immediate challenge is to restore peace, but institutionalising peace is going to be much more complex than that. If some of the vexing social issues of common concern being voiced by Matrika Yadav and Deb Gurung aren't addressed satisfactorily, any pact between Baburam Bhattarai and Badri Prasad Mandal will be meaningless.
Mainstream political parties must begin by accepting that they have completely failed in creating the necessary condition for democratic evolution and social inclusion. Calling for another People's Movement is all very well, but how does "sovereignty of the people" ensure justice for the historically excluded? Neither the Nepali Congress nor UML, two large parties of the five-party coalition running the political struggle against October Fourth has enunciated its vision for the future.
King Gyanendra appears to want an enhanced role in the affairs of the state, if possible within the ambit of a constitutional monarchy. We also know what the Maoists want: a roundtable, an interim government, and a constituent assembly to lead to their ultimate goal of establishing a people's republic and the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what do Messrs Girija Koirala and Madhab Nepal want after either reinstatement of the house or the formation of an all-party government?
Do Girijababu and Comrade Madhab seriously think that their agenda of bringing the institution of monarchy, and its faithful instrument, the Royal Nepali Army, under parliamentary control is possible under the present highly-skewed balance of power? Perhaps they need a reality check. Mere tinkering with the constitution can't shake the hold of an entrenched power elite if the ground reality itself isn't fundamentally altered. Mainstream parties must incorporate the aspirations of the marginalised majority if they are to challenge the traditional ruling classes
The privilege of making the first move towards national reconciliation still rests with the king. Students throwing stones and breaking window panes may get more attention, but it is the other multitude quietly doing homework or playing in the streets that determine the future of society. Maoists have had their moment. King Gyanendra must trust the mainstreamers and inspire them to imagine a more inclusive, more just, and a truly democratic Nepal. Only such a society can continue to honour constitutional monarchy as its cultural icon and a symbol of