Nepali Times
Guest Column
Talks? What talks?


As unlikely as it may seem, Maoist supremo Prachanda and Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala seem to have the same speech-writer. Both are now demanding that the Royal Nepal Army be under control of a popularly elected government.

Statements like these and the gradual drift of the parliamentary parties away from the palace, has increased the prospects of some kind of common platform between the Maoists and the parties. To be sure, there is just too much bad blood between the two-the Maoists have murdered, threatened or chased away the grassroots cadre of all parliamentary parties. But as the gap between the parties and the king grows, so it seems to narrow between the Maoists and the parties.

Most independent analysts now believe that Nepal's monarchy is on an autocratic path despite protestations to the contrary by the king himself and by members of his nominated cabinet. Smelling blood, the Maoists have hardened their anti-monarchist stance. They are therefore pushing their three-point agenda for an all-party roundtable conference, the formation of an interim government and constituent assembly elections. They also want to show the outside world an image of a reasonable outfit to bolster those abroad who oppose military aid to Nepal. The aim here is to either stop or delay western financial and military help.

But the feckless parliamentary parties haven't been able to present a united front. They can't seem to come up with a common alternative to present to the king. Their public meetings have failed to deliver any meaningful message to supporters. Aside from blowing their own trumpets, and calling on the king to correct his "mistakes", reinstate the dissolved parliament, all they have managed to do is prove to the people one more time that all they are interested is to use a "democracy" fa?ade to climb back on the saddle.

The task of finding a common democratic solution may therefore fall upon the king. Though the parliamentary forces failed to conclude successful negotiations with the Maoists for the last seven years, they have the power to disrupt it by operating from behind a thick fa?ade of democracy.

And lurking in the background, as always, is the India factor. When asked about perceived Indian high-handedness vis-a-vis Nepal, senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said cryptically in his interview with a US paper that there was "no need to talk about each and every leaf and bush when you have described the whole forest".

The Maoists have remained enigmatically silent on every major contentious issue between India and Nepal in the past two years. Many Nepalis have started to notice that the Maoists have mostly spared Indian-owned industries, business establishments, and tarai-based smuggling rings from "peoples' actions". Although all other political parties have been targetted at one time or other, the Nepal Sadbhavana Party has emerged largely unscathed.

The Maoist leadership abuses the monarchy in every statement, but spares New Delhi's pressure tactics from criticism. The up-shot is to create the impression that peace cannot be restored without India's meaningful support. In other words, if India is not a part of the equation then the war will drag on-despite Indian ambassador Shyam Sharan protestations last week that Nepal is capable of solving its own problems and there was no role for India.

Whatever the Maoists may say tactically, they never lose sight of their strategic objectives. The so-called indirect "unity-in-action" of the Maoists with the late King Birendra, their suspicious silence towards India, their recent peace overtures, and their call for a constituent assembly are all stepping stones towards their strategic objectives. And since they are not loath to change tactics to suit the times, they often appear to contradict themselves.

In their obsession with analysing every Maoist tactic, western observers as well as Nepali rights activists seem to fall into the trap of losing sight of their long-term objectives.

Having skilfully driven a wedge between the king and parliamentary parties, the Maoists are now working to widen the gap between the Nepali state and the international donor community. This so they can concentrate on military planning, and buying time so that foreign military support for the security forces is delayed.

No one really gives much weight to the present cabinet. It has neither the political drive nor the standing to initiate negotiations with the Maoists. So, unless King Gyanendra himself can unveil a dramatic surprise breakthrough we cannot expect much from the government side. And since the Maoists see the post-October 4 developments going in their favour, there is really no compulsion for them to sit down with the king. That is why the four-point precondition laid out by Prachanda this week were just sweeteners intended to show flexibility, paint the government side as war-mongers in an effort to delay western military help.

Baburam Bhattarai in his interview says his group is "ready to hold talks with the new leadership of the old establishment"-words that hark back to the ancien regime of the French Revolution. Talks can't realisitically take place until one or both of the warring parties gets weary of war. The bloodshed and misery, it seems, hasn't reached the critical mass that is needed for a genuine desire for peace.

It took 65,000 deaths for the peace constituency to cross the threshold in Sri Lanka. As many lost their lives in the Sendero Luminoso revolution in Peru, the Philippines has the longest-running insurgency in the world. Wars inevitably wind down. The only question is: How can we accelerate that process?

It seems now that neither Prachanda nor King Gyanendra can put brake on the conflict. War has its own momentum. Peace-building needs vision, statesmanship and a political will. When positions are so far apart, and so rigid it is hard to see where the meeting point could be. But there are two: Nepal's sovereignty and democracy. This is where, in the final analysis, the king and the Maoists on one hand and the king and the parties on the other, all have to agree.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)