If there was less talk about talk and more talk, maybe we would be getting somewhere. But for the moment, wires are crossed, there is duplication of effort, and too much political grandstanding and rhetoric.
But no one seems to know for sure whether the Maoists genuinely want a negotiated solution, or they are just pretending. The government for its part, feels it is losing the war and unless it can wield a big stick the Maoists cannot be persuaded to talk. Deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel who took part in the first abortive talks in November is not optimistic. He told us: "There has been .no progress on the possibility of talks." (see p. 2) What's more, Poudel doesn't even trust the mediators who are trying to get the Maoists to the table.
A five-member group (all men) representing 11 human rights groups has spent the past two months trying to lay the groundwork. A 15-point "concept paper" has been prepared.
The government has read the paper and the Maoists will get their copy when Padma Ratna Tuladhar, one of the five facilitators returns from a junket in Geneva. "The process is being publicised as needed because that will also contribute to peacemaking," says Sudip Pathak, of the Human Rights Organisation of Nepal. The Tuladhar initiative would first require both sides to put it in writing that they are committed to dialogue.
There are others. A loose alliance of professionals, politicians and human rights activists is trying to organise an all-party conference to find a way out of the bloodshed. The immediate goal is to stop army and armed police mobilisation, which they believe will trigger a civil war. This group has been doing quiet behind-the-scenes spadework since 8 April. It met senior Maoist leaders, and upon receiving their commitment to attend, met the prime minister who issued a statement saying the government was ready for direct talks with the Maoists. Members of the group say he also okayed the all-party meet, but the government has since backtracked, saying he had agreed to all parties except the Maoists. The group has also met the UML who think conferencing is a good idea. The group is now ready to announce a date. Secretary of the group, leftist journalist Shyam Shrestha says: "We can organise this conference if the government does not pull back. It will have to trust us."
The only trouble with all this is that peace seems to have become politics. And one group is racing to outdo the other. "I'll believe in talks only when the state and the Maoists do it directly, and the interlocutors have no other political agenda," says a constitutional expert. The preparations for talks should also be done in secret to prevent grandstanding by people who have a declared position on the nature and type of polity after the talks take place, he says. The allusion seems to be towards Padma Ratna Tuladhar and Daman Nath Dhungana. But for those who genuinely seek peace, it seems some talk of talks is better than no talk of talks.