Nepali Times
State Of The State
The elusive formula


If you were not on the list of people the UN reconnaissance mission of Staffan de Mistura met this week you probably don't matter.

De Mistura avoided King Gyanendra, too. But whether it was an intentional affront or an act of oversight, disregarding the king was not well advised. No matter what we think of him, King Gyanendra's acquiescence is still necessary for the democratisation of the Nepal Army, a crucial element of the Nepal peace plan.

The government seems to think it has the army on a leash, but the generals continue to act as if nothing has changed. The generals ignore summons by the commission investigating the April excesses, its drunken officers abduct and torture policemen on duty and it doesn't answer to the Ministry of Defence.

The international community, too, seems to have given carte blanche to the Nepal Army on a simple promise they will take orders from the seven-party government. This premise remains to be tested, but gone are the government's calls for reforms in the army.

The UN team has been looking at 'arms management', but all the political parties seem to think it refers only to Maoist arms. In their eight-point agreement, the government and the Maoists unequivocally agreed to request the UN to assist in the management of the armies and arms of both sides and to monitor it for a free and fair election to the constituent assembly.

As we go to press on Thursday afternoon, an acceptable formula for managing arms is still elusive. Mission chief Mistura hid behind diplomatese but it's clear that a consensus isn't possible unless the militaries of both sides are simultaneously dealt with. The Nepal Army didn't succeed in crushing the insurgency. The People's Liberation Army failed to overthrow the regime through an armed revolution. Both were brought to their senses by a peaceful uprising. It's the agenda of peace that must prevail. What we have to do now is find a formula to neutralise weapons on both sides.

The Nepal Army's weapons will have to be quarantined in acceptable locations and monitored by mutually agreeable observers. Soldiers may be allowed to keep small arms inside barracks, but they can't come out because their very presence can sway voting patterns.

The strength of the Maoist army first needs to be verified before it can be monitored. They, too, have to be housed in designated areas until the constituent assembly makes a decision for their rehabilitation or reintegration.

During the uncertainties of transition it is tempting to overestimate one's power. Maoist commanders have been behaving as if they run a parallel government. Nothing of that sort. For a large section of Nepali society and the international community, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his cohorts are still on probation. Should they fail to respect the people's yearning for peace, they will have no peace.

The seven-party alliance must similarly get over the illusion that it has the people's mandate to rule with the help of royal remnants. The agenda that they have sworn to implement consists of establishing peace, bringing the agents of royal excesses to book, and institutionalising democracy by conducting the elections of constituent assembly as soon as possible.

A point of convergence isn't as difficult as it appears. Peace prospects, despite threatening setbacks, are still bright. But if this chance is once again missed, another generation of Nepalis will have to live through an all-consuming conflict. That's what Koirala and Dahal need to keep in the back of their minds when they meet next to expedite stalled negotiations.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)