Nepali Times
Nepal's peace roadmap

The king goes on a pilgrimage and the country grinds to a halt. The political parties play brinkmanship. The Maoists are trying to overcome internal vulnerability to make a lunge for power. The people, as before, are nowhere in the picture.

At least the ceasefire has brought respite from Maoist safaya and the heavy hand of the state. But the people are still traumatised by past violence, and fearful of the future. They need quick rehabilitation, and the service infrastructure needs immediate reconstruction nationwide.

These immediate needs are not being addressed. Politicians exhibit no tension about leaving their constituents without protection or support, and the Maoists are too busy protecting their flanks. Parliament is a distant memory, but it is the lack of a local government that has left the people to fend for themselves.

Government and bureaucracy is nowhere to be seen. Gun-toting Maoists continue to walk the trails, rural party activists continue to live in roadhead towns and district headquarters. Two months after the ceasefire, one would have expected a groundswell movement to deliver the peace dividend to the population, but there is only deathly silence.

Kathmandu is too busy following the tripolar jousting at the top to demand a rural Nepali Marshall Plan. Donor agencies are unable to deliver support to the grassroots. They have tried to fight the apathy by making direct appeals to Singha Darbar, whereas the buck now stops at Narayanhiti.

The royal palace is supposed to be above the fray, but that is where power is now centralised. The government will not countenance any Maoist involvement in delivery of services at the grassroots, and the rebels who still retain the power to intimidate and defy will not allow the government to function. This has put national recovery in limbo.

Rather than confront this immediate deadlock in delivery, would-be interlocuters, one special representative and donor agency heads have decided to focus on sorting out the long term ills of the Nepali polity. It is easier to talk about transparency and corruption, criticise the political parties, and propose tinkering with the political structure. But someone has to give the people immediate hope.

Nepal doesn't need a regime change. Democracy hasn't failed here, the politicians have. Those who believe that the political parties cannot be trusted with democracy will have to tell us who it can can be trusted with. For all their faults, as we have often argued in this space, the political parties present the only credible interface between the king and people.

What the donors can do is something that tragically our own institutions, exalted or plebian, have shown themselves incapable of: devote themselves to a immediate mass-scale reconstruction package for the country, a campaign so dramatic that it should make up for the neglect of the past decades. For this it may be time to appoint an international coordinator, preferably from the UN system, to ensure that all donors, aid agencies and NGOs are rowing in the same direction.

The work is vast: psychological rehabilitation, rebuilding of government infrastructure, arrangement for those returning to their villages, a plan of action to publicise peace so that the tourists return, rehabilitating Maoists cadre so they are not tempted to take up the gun again, rebuilding VDCs, compensating families of those killed by state forces and the Maoists. A human rights monitoring capability must be 'embedded' in any rehabilitation package so that it becomes difficult for Maoists and the security forces to act again with impunity.

And all this should be done while we wait for a political opening to be found between the party leaderships and King Gyanendra which will open the way for a long-term resolution with the Maoists. The longer we sit on our hands, the less likely will be the prospect of long-term peace.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)