Nepali Times
After the siege


It looks like they're taking turns to paralyse Kathmandu. Even before the Maoists lifted their blockade on Tuesday, the four-party opposition announced a new phase of anti-king street agitations beginning Friday.

There is despair among those who say a political consensus is a prerequisite to future negotiations with the Maoists.

"If only the constitutional forces were on one side, it would have been much easier to deal with the Maoists," says one political insider. But whichever party joins a royal appointed government, it seems there will always be a rival trying to prevent it from restoring peace and earning the peace dividend.

So the party in power is too busy trying to prevent itself from being toppled to get down to the main agenda: ceasefire and negotiations. Indeed, the vultures are already circling Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's coalition, saying he hasn't made progress on talks.

"How can the government do anything when they keep trying to destabilise it?" asks one exasperated UML member of the government.

Meanwhile, Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala seems to have suddenly developed an interest in the prime ministership. Although he has said he will not accept the office under Article 127, it is hard to see how else he could become prime minister.

Even some of his counterparts in the four-party alliance have begun to raise eyebrows. "Girijaji rejected prime ministership under Article 127, but it looks like his followers are trying to convince him to take it," confided Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party President, Narayan Man Bijukchhe. Some of Koirala's colleagues are already rubbing their hands in glee.

"It is now or never for the Deuba government," NC's Narhari Acharya told us. "It will have to make progress on peace. If it doesn't, it will have failed in its mandate."

For optimists, this means that the Deuba government will at least be forced to send feelers to the Maoists. And there were some silver linings this week: the blockade was lifted, the Maoist student wing formed a negotiating committee and the rebels have privately told the industrialists whose businesses they closed to persuade the government to agree to talks in exchange for lifting the closure threat.

Deuba's spokesman Minendra Rijal says the government is still trying to ascertain whether the Maoists are serious about talks.

"We have been cross checking with various sources because we don't want the rebels to use the ceasefire for reconsolidating and regrouping like they did last time," he says. The army is said to be concerned that the Maoists used the blockade as a diversion and will also use a future ceasefire to amass forces in the Valley.

Information Minister Mohmmad Mohsin says the government is moving systematically to form a Peace Secretariat that will forge an all-party consensus for talks. "We are trying to figure out exactly what the Maoists have up their sleeves," he told us. As long as he is at it, he may also want to find out what Koirala's plans are.

Media bark worse than Maoist bite?

Government officials and the travel trade have reacted angrily to what they say was a "massive exaggeration" of the situation in Nepal during the Maoist Valley blockade last week. They said it distorted the reality and spread false and harmful news about Nepal across the world. "The reporting made it sound like there was a castastrophe here, as if the state was collapsing. This was false and that is what hurt us," government spokesman Mohammad Mohsin said during a press briefing on Thursday. One travel entrepreneur summed it up: "It was a case of the media's bark being worse than the Maoists' bite."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)