Two conflicting letters from the government and the insurgents means the UN team led by Staffan de Mistura that arrived in Kathmandu this week has an unenviable task at hand. Contestations are fierce as the 100 day honeymoon period of the restored house nears.
To establish its credibility, the UN team must succeed in convincing parties to the conflict that a just peace will have adequate space for everyone. The state, however, has a natural advantage over the insurgents. The legality of the eight-point agreement signed on 16 June is no different from the 12-point understanding reached between the Maoists and the seven party alliance in November 2005. Both are promises to act together. Their political significance is obvious, but neither documents have official sanction. While it would be prudent for the government to honour all commitments made by its leaders in their political capacity, they aren't bound by its provisions in any way.
In legal terms, Pushpa Kamal Dahal's letter of 24 July to Kofi Annan is ultra vires-it's beyond Dahal's power or authority to write to any international body without the concurrence or endorsement of the government. What the letter does, however, is draw the attention of the world towards the fragility of the peace process in Nepal. The deceptive calm in the country barely hides the simmering discontent. The seven party bigwigs have appropriated all the gains of the April Uprising while the others are left with nothing.
When King Gyanendra capitulated and restored parliament on 24 April it was assumed that the obsolete parliament would make way for a new compact of the people. The house confirmed the premise with a voice vote when it adopted a resolution on 30 April to conduct the constituent assembly polls as soon as possible. The Magna Carta declaration of 18 May was ridiculed by the Maoists, but the people at large accepted it in a positive spirit. Parliamentarians were hailed for their courage. But it didn't take long for them to lose public esteem. Now they are being seen as blockers rather than facilitators of the peace process.
Newly-empowered MPs have slowly begun to vacillate as parliament becomes a forum to undermine the importance of the constituent assembly, the main objective of its resurrection. Its rejuvenated members seem to believe that there is no law that can check them anymore. Such an attitude is sure to invite an equal and opposite reaction from a group that has never acquiesced to parliamentary supremacy: the Maoists.
Despite the fresh oath of the Commander-in-Chief on the floor of the house, it's quite unlikely that the army will easily accept the invincibility of a legislature that has already lost its constitutional basis and is on the verge of throwing away its political utility. In their hurry to make heads of constitutional bodies bow, parliamentarians chose to ignore the fundamental premise of all promises: oaths taken under duress are legally untenable and morally abhorrent. Violating clear instructions of the government, Nepal Army celebrated the birthday of the king in traditional manner.
Unlike the eight-point agreement, the 25-point Ceasefire Code of Conduct of 26 May has some official standing as it has been signed by both the Maoists and the government. This documents needs to be the basis of the UN Mission's exploratory works. Effective implementation of the Code of Conduct will at least secure the fundamental rights of all citizens, an important precondition for future peace negotiations.
The peace train has made halting progress since anti-king protests began to gather steam from 6 April 2006. The challenge now is to keep it on track and maintain confidence among its co-passengers. This is where the UN can use its clout to make parliamentarians and insurgents see reason.