Lawlessness in Madhes has long been a matter of concern but the stranglehold of illegal bands of militants over the capital is no less debilitating. Instances of abduction for ransom or random killings may be less frequent in Kathmandu but there is no mistaking the helplessness of the law enforcement agencies when almost all gangs operate as radical wings of the political parties.
Home Minister Bamdev Gautam, meanwhile, is too busy enforcing decency laws on massage parlours and dance bars to worry about the collapse of law and order, and Janardan Sharma, the Maoist Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, is basking in the glory of having informally engaged 15 armed groups creating mayhem in Madhes. He has neither the time nor the inclination to hold talks with the militant wing of his own party which is busy running a parallel government by intimidation.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal lacks the moral authority to rein in groups that challenge the authority of the state. After all, he owes his political ascendancy to those who defied prevailing laws by force of arms under his direction. Welcome to the world of the post-insurgency, moral-legal vacuum, where brute force is the only law.
After months of delay, the Constituent Assembly has finally established the rules and procedures for writing the new constitution. The deadline of May 2010 will be meaningless without a political consensus, but with all the main parties creating or revitalising their own militant groups to fill the law enforcement vacuum, confrontation rather than cooperation appears more likely.
There may not be a stated plan to prolong the tenure of the assembly but every political party seems to be working towards that end. Since the citizenry is unlikely to acquiesce meekly to a deadline extension, uncertainty looms on the horizon even as insecurity spreads on the ground.
It's easy to see that the cause of this lawlessness is the lack of governance. In the short term, the Maoists may feel that such a state is conducive to their rapid expansion. But it doesn't take long for a situation to change. With the formation of the UML's militant Youth Force, not to mention the armed groups in Madhes, the YCL's hoodlums are finding the boot is now often on the other foot.
There is an urgent need to strengthen local administrations. With most VDC secretaries operating either from district headquarters or the nearest urban centre, space is left for extortionists masquerading as politicians or rights activists. The government has wavered for far too long over proposals to form ad hoc local government units.
The Maoists, UML and MJF should resist the temptation to overhaul the entire civil service. Fragile coalitions have no moral right to bind future governments to hastily introduced reforms. That said, there is nothing to stop the government
from bringing in effective policing to deal with bandana-clad radicals in a way that local authorities deem fit.
The Maoist-led government's inability to prevent the attack at Himal Khabarpatrika sends out a message that media is not able to exercise their freedom. Unless the Maoists plan to go back to war, they need to understand that maintaining a peaceful society is their primary responsibility.