Nepali Times
Guest Column
Moving the peace forward


The first impression of the midnight accord is that the guns will fall silent and those brandishing them without legal authority will be treated as criminals. Pushpa Kamal Dahal's stature has increased vastly-committing to peace was the only way to earn the people's respect.

But the accord just formalises the long process to come. It was the first phase of what should be a prolonged, well thought-out process to ensure enduring peace and a functioning democracy in Nepal.

Now, the attitude and actions of the parties and leaders who signed it must echo the spirit and intent of the accord.

Past failures, indifference, or oversight are legion in the career of 85-year-old GP Koirala. Prachanda, in his 50s, is hardly immune. Koirala was hated by the Maoist rank and file until four years ago. But he took the peace process, once half-heartedly initiated by Sher Bahadur Deuba, to its logical next step. Dahal flirted with the king to defeat the parties, but corrected his mistake, as his actions show.

That new approach should be reflected in the peace process in its entirety. Human rights and the ceasefire agreement must remain an integral part of the proposed peace accord, and all sides must be fully accountable for lapses or violations.

The code of conduct clauses on threats and intimidation, unlawful taxation, recruitment into the 'People's Liberation Army', and arms procurement need to be strictly observed. If the accord is to have credibility, the first issue that must be addressed proactively is the return of internally displaced people.

And today's planned rally should be the last under the shadow of terror. Hospitality is a courtesy Nepali society has adopted as a tradition. But this time it was given grudgingly and attempts to extort it resisted. Prachanda's cadre wielded arms when they approached citizens for free room and board and made threats when met with refusal. Things might be different in a few months if the Maoists display more acceptable conduct.

'Prachandapath' needs to be redefined as a way to peacefully bring about political, social, economic, and structural changes. The Maoists will have to work for the people's endorsement, and for recognition of their politics outside Nepal.

Even before the accord was signed, they could effectively stall the signing of the new extradition treaty with India, a decision approved at the Home Secretary level by both countries long ago.

No doubt the way the government rushed the Home Minister to Delhi to sign it without consulting the coalition partners or the Speaker raised questions, but it was also that the Maoists would have been accused of 'selling out to the South' if the treaty had been signed as it was.

One lesson for Nepali politicians is that nationalism shouldn't be narrowly defined as anti-Indianism. Like any sovereign country, Nepal should not 'negotiate out of fear, but neither should it fear to negotiate'. In the interim parliament and the proposed cabinet, the Maoists will perhaps have the occasion to practice this.

No constitution in the world can be foolproof or complete. It is a progressive document that must be enlarged and amended if it doesn't fulfil the people's aspirations on vital issues, such as, for now, citizenship, devolution, and empowerment of dalits, women, and janajatis, in addition to ensuring the safe growth of children, physically, mentally, and in terms of education.

But lest this assessment of the coming phase sound like a one-sided sermon to the Maoists, the government and Prime Minister Koirala will have to ensure the safety of the Maoist leaders, and prevent reprisals from those affected by the insurgents' violence in the past.

The authority of the state will have to be renewed. If the corruption, nepotism, and demoralisation of the police wrought in the last five months go unchecked, the constitutional machinery could break down completely. Strict enforcement of law and order will be a balancing act that bolsters the positive impact of the peace process, especially in terms of instilling a sense of justice and security among the people.

Profoundly important is how both sides address the past violence, so impunity does not become an integral part of the future Nepal. No conflict can be resolved by condoning such acts. Perhaps Nepal will see a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will keep record of crimes and criminals. This is an essential part of the solid foundation of a democratic government guided by the rule of law.

With all that, what should the head of state be like? We'll see a spirited debate on the composition of the constituent assembly that is to decide the future of monarchy. But the fundamental question isn't necessarily whether the head is the king or a president. Crucial is that the head of state be strictly ceremonial, and without impunity. Equally important, parliament should have the right to impeach the incumbent in cases of proven misconduct or misdemeanour.

Yubaraj Ghimire is editor of Samaya.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)