'Wonder' was the oft-repeated word at the signing ceremony of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Tuesday evening. Everyone seemed surprised. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala claimed he had stunned the international community with a peace deal with former-terrorists. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal boasted that his was the miraculous deed-achieving change with continuity in a stagnant society and sterile polity.
Koirala has reasons to be smug. His earlier premiership was sabotaged by the Maoists, now he's put them in their place. The octogenarian had also been at the receiving end of UML barbs, but Madhab Nepal had to accept a peripheral role in what promises to be a path-breaking deal. The NC boss has never been a favourite of the Nepal Army. At the signing ceremony, Chief of Army Staff Rukmangat Katuwal humbly sat at the back as the decade-old civil war was declared over. The Nepali Congress had reasons to celebrate on Wednesday.
But ground realities have to change significantly if the rest of us are to feel free again.
Dahal thinks the deal he has made with Koirala is a 'miracle'. Communists never tire of repeating Lenin's clich? that Marxism is a scientific ideology with no room for miracles. Two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen never produce milk. So should we swallow the Chairman's concoction? It will do no harm, but let there be no illusions that it's milk and honey from here on.
The first test will be changing in the behaviour of guerrilla commanders in the countryside. Most never had direct access to their leadership and accepted directives issued from safe houses in Siliguri, Lucknow, and Noida because Prachanda and his sponsors promised more than individual commanders could achieve on their own. Now Maoist nominees in the interim legislature and government will have to deliver, as their secretaries in the districts face the wrath of sympathisers, supporters, followers, part-timers, and full-time cadres. Comrade Chairman's organisational ability will need to kick into high gear.
The Rayamajhi Commission has diverted attention by pointing at the king as the primary agent of dictatorial experiments. But Maoists and mainstreamers alike will have to answer the vital question: didn't they encourage the king to take over by insisting that they would deal only with the master, rather than his slaves? Sher Bahadur Deuba and Madhab Nepal timidly accepted this by joining the royal government. King Gyanendra has given de facto approval to the peace deal, but his public approval is also a not-so-veiled warning to the dealmakers: beware, big brother in the palace is watching.
The third, most important test of the peace deal will be its implementation. The government will have to guarantee the safety of unarmed Maoist cadres returning home to face those they had until recently coerced, abducted, fleeced, and oppressed. The anger of people whose near and dear have been tortured, maimed, or killed by the military or militants will require more than platitudes. The Nepali Congress is sending its leaders back to the villages, but whether they will actually follow the central directives is yet to be seen. The Maoist leadership will also need to travel, meeting the aggrieved, instead of congregating for free lunches at state-sponsored secure centres.
At best, the peace-deal is an opportunity to begin building the bridges of reconciliation. This is a process, a journey, and its impact will be measured by the distance travelled from the podium of the Birendra International Convention Centre in New Baneswor on 21 November, 2006. Whether it turns out to be a red-letter day or yet another false start will depend largely upon how Dahal and his cohorts conduct themselves in the coming days. For now, the Koirala-Dahal duo deserves the kudos they are receiving left, right, and centre.