Nepali Times
Guest Column
Untangling the knot


The 'mood of doom' surrounding Nepal's peace process is not only affecting Nepalis. The UN Secretary-General is 'disappointed' by limited progress here. He told the Security Council last week of his particular concern about the parties' failure to convene the Special Committee on army integration, and about tensions between political actors which 'imperil completion of the peace process.'

The Secretary-General is well aware that peace agreements often come unstuck when parties begin to implement them. Between 1945 and 1999, 40 per cent of agreements to end civil wars broke down within two years. One scholar, Elizabeth Cousens (who also held a senior position in UNMIN) has set out several reasons for the risk of a relapse into violence in the post-agreement phase: tough issues that were deliberately avoided in the initial search for consensus (like army integration) re-emerge; differing interpretations of what was agreed must be accom-modated; and parties must often deal with eruption of localised conflicts.

Political conditions also tend to change when the euphoria of a peace agreement wears off. People become frustrated that economic and security conditions do not improve.

Nepal's leaders must implement divisive elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement at a time when they may be facing diminishing control over their own constituencies. According to Jean Arnault, who led UN missions in Guatemala, Burundi and Afghanistan, the weakening of previously powerful leaders is common as societies move from war to peace: while the 'bipolar' atmosphere of war forces people to chose one side over the other, in peacetime this atmosphere changes. Leaders' authority over their more radical followers often declines.

Nepal's leaders face an additional hurdle: difficult negotiations on security arrangements. The parties must convince their armies either to demobilise, or to work with former enemies in a common security framework. Mediators often seek agreement on security arrangements as one of the terms of the ceasefire. In Nepal, this negotiation has yet to take place.

Party leaders and Special Committee members have substantial challenges ahead of them in agreeing on how to integrate and rehabilitate Maoist combatants and reform the Nepal Army. Since 1945, military integration has been a component of 34 peace agreements. While Nepal's situation is unique, the questions it needs to consider (numbers to be integrated, training, civilian rehabilitation) have been addressed many times elsewhere.

Nepal's Special Committee will have no shortage of advice in developing a plan. The US and UK have already offered support, and a UN team which visited recently found that the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Chief of Army Staff and Maoist army commanders all sought UN support for the Special Committee. The UN has extensive experience in helping former adversaries to agree on the process, timetable and outcome for army integration, and has succeeded in several circumstances that were initially less promising than Nepal's.

In other peace processes, negotiations on military reform have stalled for months. In El Salvador, where FMLN guerrillas and government forces fought for a decade, a huge gulf divided the parties. The FMLN wanted to abolish the national army, while the government sought to restrict discussion to 'restructuring'. After nine months of deadlock, UN mediator Alvaro de Soto presented the parties with a UN-drafted working proposal on the future of the armed forces, which drew on both parties' demands. It took a further 14 months of negotiations to persuade the parties to agree on the most sensitive issues.

Nepal's leaders will also need to clarify the line between political and military, and build trust between military commanders. Jean Arnault argues that peace agreements cannot be implemented without establishing trust between belligerents' force commanders, because the 'capability of the armed wings of the belligerents, and particularly the governmental Army, to harm their former adversary will not go away, even in the case when both armed forces are merged ? one could add: particularly in the latter case.' In light of this observation, reported exchanges between the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Army Staff are worrying.

Concerted international support can help Nepali leaders to understand their options and reach agreement on army integration. Pressure from civil society might push Maoists and the NC towards realising that although agreeing on security arrangements and other unfulfilled will be difficult, it is time to get on with it.

Elizabeth Sellwood has worked for the United Nations, the UK parliament and NGOs. She lives in Kathmandu.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)