Nepali Times
State Of The State
A hiccup in the peace process


In marked contrast to the air of optimism in the countryside, Kathmandu's bourgeoisie is wallowing in doom and gloom. It is deeply suspicious of the deal between the seven party alliance and the Maoists last Friday.

Taking its cue from the gossip of worried professionals, the privileged elite has begun to see red. At parlour parleys, the social acceptability index of scare-mongering about an imminent Maoist takeover is at an all-time high.

If distrust of the rebels and ridicule of the government continues at this rate there is a risk the peace process will be derailed. In conflict situations. perceptions often turn into reality and become self-fulfilling prophecies. The parties and the Maoist commanders are trying their best to emerge out of stereotypes. They shouldn't be forced back to their past roles.

Weapons management of the Maoists is a real issue of concern, but so is the position of the recently-renamed Nepali Army during the period leading towards elections of the constituent assembly. The The Maoists haven't renounced violence, but then neither has the army accepted its excesses including disappearances.

During these initial phases an air of mistrust is natural. Leaders need to persuade sceptics that just as exceptions can't be generalised into rules, rules shouldn't be minimised into exceptions.

The Maoists haven't backtracked from any of their commitments in the 12-point understanding. Despite intense pressure from right-wingers, the parties have refused to dump the rebels from the democratisation process. A legal framework is necessary to institutionalise the pact, and perhaps that is the reason the committee to draft an interim constitution has attracted the attention of all malefactors. Once the provisional statute is enacted, it will be extremely difficult to spoil the peace process.

Pulls and pressures on transitional regimes are often inversely proportional to their strength. The weaker a government, the more it is asked to deliver. Various interests groups have been pestering the government to address all inequalities. Having decided to share power with Maoists, the government is understandably wary of doing anything that can be construed as violation of trust.

The eight point agreement signed last Friday is a death certificate for the Maoist rebellion. It's quite unlikely that those who negotiated and finalised such a momentous deal were unaware of the hurdles that its implementation was likely to face. And it's natural for the elite to fear for their priviledges.

The MPs are also understandably peeved by the decision to dissolve parliament, but they have already played their role by passing our own 'Magna Carta' on 10 June. Some self-important cabinet members leaders are miffed that they weren't consulted during the finalisation of the historic agreement. But they forget that powerful interests are still not comfortable with the possibility of an eight-party alliance that includes the Maoists ruling the country.

The preparation of an interim constitution is not as complex as it is being made out to be. An interim constitution by definition isn't a set of directives, it's a document of descriptions to codify existing practices. The drafting committee can complete the compilation of a workable statute within the prescribed period of 15 days if it is allowed to function.

Laxman Prasad Aryal and his team have enough guiding principles to work on: the initial 12-point understanding of last November that gave impetus to the April Uprising, the royal proclamations of 24 May, the 25-point ceasefire agreement of 26 May, the 'Magna Carta' itself and finally the eight-point agreement between the eight parties. Everything in the constitution of 1990 that doesn't directly contradict any of these documents of trust remains valid until the completion and promulgation of a completely new statute by the constituent assembly.

From what we have seen of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he sounds na?ve and dogmatic. Underground leaders become extremely prickly and self-righteous and Dahal has been out of public glare for 25 years. But he has a valid point when he says Nepal can achieve development and prosperity in next decade "if the peace process becomes successful".

The power to transform that 'if' into 'when' lies in our hands. We must not squander it by magnifying innate mistrust between unlikely partners taking halting steps towards reconciliation.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)