Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Veering off course


The current stalemate is distressing. Are the present negotiations meant only to work out a power-sharing deal? Or are they the basis for the next phase in the peace process? Are they a bit of both?

The NC publicly comes up with seven preconditions, demanding the Maoists change their attitude and actions. Privately, Congress leaders admit that all points are bargaining chips to make Koirala president. The UML demands a new peace agreement, but drops that as soon as the names of Madhab Nepal or Subash Nembang are floated for the presidency. The party's flip-flop is just another symptom of its severe existential crisis.

While confusion reigns in the other parties, the Maoists remain focussed. This peace agreement has served them well and they would be happy to make similar commitments again, knowing there is no mechanism to hold them to account. They are also relaxed about a degree of top-level power sharing-if necessary-because it would have little impact on their control on the ground.

Throughout the negotiations, critical aspects of the peace process have been used by one side or another for tactical purposes or else completely ignored.

For instance, the NC has insisted on an immediate agreement on the integration of the PLA soldiers into the Nepal Army. They have a point, for the Maoists cannot head two armies. (In fact, all parties should have paid attention to security sector reform before allowing the Maoists to go into the elections as a politico-military structure.)

The integration issue is not intractable. The Maoists know all their soldiers will never be taken into the NA-and they don't particularly want to get everyone in anyway. Likewise, the army knows it will have to take in a segment of the PLA.

Whether this happens en masse or on an individual basis; whether they will constitute a battalion or be fragmented; whether there will be places for top-level PLA generals; and what will be the fate of the the remainder: these are the contentious issues needing preparatory work. This should have been done by the committee set up under Article 146 of the interim constitution, but it has not met since July.

Integration is ultimately a political decision, but one with far-reaching consequences. NC is playing a dangerous game if it thinks it can use the issue to ensure Girija's position as head of state. Linked to it is the new military-civilian relationship: the army has a right to express its opinion, but only in private when asked by the government. General Katuwal has no business making public statements, nor should he have a veto on the issue.

Notable by its absence from the present discussions is talk of Madhesis' integration into the army, as promised by the eight-point agreement. Katuwal, openly opposed to the clause, has claimed the army is already inclusive. But with just 800 Madhesis-in low-level positions-out of almost 100,000 soldiers, that is an outright lie.

Madhesi parties know this could strike a chord with the unemployed youth in the Tarai and help broaden their political support while provoking a confrontation with Kathmandu and giving them grounds to work with the armed groups. Ideally, they want to arouse popular passions by the year's end.

The fair inclusion of Madhesis into the state security apparatus is essential in preventing further conflict.

The third issue-and the one of greatest concern-is the statelessness and rampant impunity that exists across the Tarai, where even a fringe group can engineer killings at will. There is a real danger of anarchy or hegemony at the local level.

The Maoists had a vested interest in weakening the state until now. But now that they are the state, they will try to build a partisan institutional framework to do their bidding. In many Tarai districts they have already started putting pressure on the police to release activists from armed groups who promise to defect.

The negotiations should have been about how to share power at the local level, how to encourage effective peace-building initiatives in VDCs, and how to strengthen an inclusive, independent bureaucracy and judiciary.

Unfortunately, we have just missed out on carving a new peace deal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)