There are only two plausible outcomes to acute confrontation: the utter annihilation of one side and its point of view, or compromise. This is the situation in which Nepal finds itself right now. It's time to admit that those are the stark choices before the nation. The latest images of fierce fighting should only serve to hurry the ultimate decision that must be made by Nepalis. And by that I mean all Nepalis, not just secret cabals sitting in ornate rooms or jungle glades. The next step to be taken must be with the consent of the people, who are, after all, sovereign.
Choose the first of those two courses of action, and it's more than obvious that even more violence, degradation and despair will follow-a time that makes the previous seven years seem tranquil by comparison. Choose the second and you enter into fearfully unknown territory with the risk of failure ever present. Look around at the world's other violence-prone hot spots and marvel at how long it's taken them to come to their personal fork in the road, their choice between a misty but somehow hopeful trail over a high pass to the unknown world of compromise, or a descent along all too familiar paths into a valley of fear and death.
Sri Lanka took nearly 25 years before bold steps, truly bold steps, were taken for peace. The high trail, if you like, taken by Ranil Wickramesinghe's government earlier this year, was chosen through concessus-an election pitted his demand for peace and compromise with the Tamil Tigers against the stance of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party in favour of more war, more weapons deals, more destruction. So far, Wickramesinghe has obviously made the right choice. Tourism is booming, so is foreign investment. South Asia's most advanced country is on the road to recovery and the somewhat longer journey towards ethnic harmony and peace.
How about South Africa? For years the privileged, white elite resisted calls for racial and economic justice from the black majority. Anyone who was aware of international events in the 1980s will remember the obstinacy and arrogance of successive governments who used brute force against the will of the majority. The apartheid regime, hugely efficient because it was so undemocratic, was able to use cynical divide and rule tactics against its non-white opponents as well, luring Zulu and Xhosa tribes in conflicts awash with blood, wrecked homes and livelihoods. Then one day, FW De Klerk seemed to see the light, the valley of fear and violence was too crowded with corpses and it was time to take a chance on the heights. He released the saintly Nelson Mandela, and the rest is history. The high road again.
Some places managed to succeed, by their own definition, with the first and bloodier option. Peru and the Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, fought fiercely for 20 years. The government of Alberto Fujimoro gave extraordinary powers to the army and riddled their Maoist opponents with double agents and informers, turning the tide sometime around 1992 when the security forces captured and ritually humiliated the mysterious and charismatic leader of the Sendero, Abimael Guzman. Until then, the guerrillas ruled Andes, using ferocity and skilful logistics to run parallel administrations in their own versions of Rukum, Rolpa and Jajarkot. Clearly, Nepal's security chiefs would dearly love to emulate the successes of their Peruvian counterparts but there are immense dissimilarities between the two countries and their access to resources and intelligence information. So yes, force and guile did defeat the guerrilla tactics of the Shining Path. But the cost in lives was immense and the damage to the Peruvian body politic is probably irreparable in our lifetime.
And then there are countries that resist choosing either path but fight on in a horrid dynamic of perpetual bloodshed. This, conceivably, could be our fate here in Nepal but it's not a choice made willingly or sensibly. It comes from ignoring reality and from the mistaken perception that the status quo can somehow suffice. It comes from underestimating the gravity of the crisis or the abilities of opposing forces. Sudan, Africa's largest country, with its long running civil war that has left 2 million people dead; Liberia in West Africa, home of the child militia who have chopped hands off 50,000 people so far; Colombia, Latin America's first democracy, now it's cocaine-fuelled killing field. Does anyone seriously want to add Nepal to this list?
Perhaps I should stop looking for inspiration and choices for this country from around the world, perhaps the globalisation of ideas is spurious, only amoral money matters and we get precious little of that.
Perhaps our situation and everything about this place is, as many insist, unique. But as a resident of this land of sorrows, I can only continue to plead for open minds, realistic points of view, and, ultimately peace.
Let's take the high road.