Nepali Times
Hurry up

Now that the holidays are over, it is time for the seven-party alliance and the Maoists to inject some momentum into the peace process. To recap: the army has sworn allegiance to civilian command, the king has said he will obey the will of the people, the Maoists have said they are committed to seeking a negotiated solution and the seven parties are all agreed on a more just and inclusive democracy.

So, what's holding things up? After all, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Girija Prasad Koirala have managed to build some trust in the past months, and perhaps even some grudging admiration for each other as politicians. The seven parties and the Maoists may not see eye-to-eye on the nature of state restructuring, but they are unanimous on the mechanism: that it should be done through the setting up of an interim government under an interim constitution to organise constituent assembly elections. They have even agreed on the date of those polls. An agreement on an interim constitution should therefore just be a formality, right? Um, not quite.

There are a couple of roadblocks on the roadmap. Leaving aside ever-changing Maoist demands, which at one point during the talks even included the immediate abolition of monarchy (isn't that supposed to be decided by the constituent assembly?), it does look like the Maoists are shifting goalposts all the time. They are also flagrantly violating the code of conduct on the ceasefire with extortion which they don't even bother to hide anymore.

Even if the delay is deliberate posturing to pacify hotheads within their party, it has gone on for too long. The comrades wouldn't want the negotiation to seem too easy, and don't want to give the cadre the impression that they agreed to everything put on the table by the parties.

What we saw in the hemming-and-hawing at Baluwatar last month was the Maoists setting the stage for an agreement on an interim set-up which will now look like it was hard-won. Details of 'arms management', which is essentially a question of trust between the two sides, appear to have been ironed out.

We suggest that future negotiations not be held at Baluwatar with the ensuing circus that we witnessed during the last round. Sensitive talks such as these can't be held in the glare of the media spotlight and sloganeering on the streets outside.

At a certain point, posturing and time-buying are counterproductive. The Maoists may think they have time on their side, but they don't. Neither does the government. The people have been waiting and they don't like this suspense.

There is the added danger that delays in the peace process will tempt renegade royals, sectarian radicals, fundamentalists, and assorted criminal gangs to take advantage of the murky transition. Some of this is already happening. Maoist extortion during this extended interregnum has also undermined their future political base. The people have come to regard them as plain criminals and not the revolutionaries they are supposed to be. And for every week that drags by without a deal, the people also blame the seven parties for being selfish and disregarding the welfare of the people.

So, for everyone's sake (including their own) the 7+1 parties should look beyond immediate power gains to real progress towards peace in the coming weeks.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)