Nepali Times
Guest Column
Preventing Peoples’ War II


Once more, we have an opportunity to find a peaceful resolution to the senseless killing and anarchy that has brought the country to its knees. We have no choice this time, the ceasefire must be converted to lasting peace. The big question is: how?

It has now been five weeks since the guns fell silent. Extortion, intimidation and threats are still going on in the districts, and although there is a general relaxation in the national mood, things are still far from normal. At the national level, the public has the impression of disunity among leaders and the political powers that be are working at cross-purposes in trying to destroy the chances of lasting peace.

The king's emissary is talking secretly with the Maoists, the cabinet cannot speak in one voice, the political parties are united only in their opposition to the royal move of 4 October, but hold completely divergent views on what to do about it. Let's try to untangle this knot.

Firstly, it is clear the ball is in the king's court. He has the prime responsibility to bang political heads together to get them to pull in the same direction. It will be no mean feat, and for this he needs to start cobbling together a new all-party cabinet that commands mass support. This wouldn't be too difficult to do if everyone kept themselves above their individual egos and illusions of glory.

The captain has the responsibility to maintain harmony, give enlightened leadership and cajole a team to victory. The Nepali people know who the captain is for this critical match, and hope he will take us to victory.

The political parties, for their part, must give the benefit of doubt to the king, and presume he means what he says: uphold constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. There is really no other option for the parties than to forge a strong alliance with the monarchy and defend democracy. But for this, they must first look beyond short-term power play.

It is secondary who will be prime minister or hold the home ministry portfolio. The primary aim should be to stand united so we can restore the main achievements of the 1990 Peoples' Movement. They can then all get back to the naughty political games they play, but hopefully this time they will have realised that it was their selfishness and greed over the past 12 years that has besmirched democracy and brought the country to this state.

Multiparty democracy is not just about freedom, it is also about political responsibility: taking responsibility for our actions, as well as our inaction. It is about sharing power and jointly carrying the burden of governance. Politics is just the mechanism with which we choose the best leaders to govern, the ultimate aim is to govern well so that the Nepali people get to live more decent lives.

Here, the media and the "intellectuals" who pontificate in it must hold a moratorium on cynicism and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. Please hold your poison pens until this situation is resolved, then you can go back to the careless cheering and biased banter of your lazy opinions.

It has been said many times before, and there is no harm in repeating it: we will not resolve the insurgency just by stopping the violence. In the long term we have to address the root causes buried in political, social and economic inequities in society. Until we begin to take these problems more seriously, there is no surety that Peoples' War II will not begin as soon as we resolve Peoples' War I.

We may not be able to have socio-economic equality overnight, but it is the state's responsibility to begin to create equal opportunities. The result of development efforts take time to manifest itself, and we have wasted too much time and money in ad hoc trial-and-error.

In the last 12 years we had hit upon one fundamental truth: it is grassroots democracy that will ensure development. Giving people the political opportunity at the local level is the surest way to ensure that the people are guaranteed basic services. True economic decentralisation, political devolution and self-governance are the answers, and the mechanism to get there is multiparty democracy all the way from the ward level to municipality to national parliament, where all communities, marginalised geographical and social gropings have their say. All it needs is a sense of integrity, accountability and good management skills among elected leaders.

We don't have to wait for full peace to be restored to start working on education, land reform, tourism, taxation, domestic and international investment, employment and income generation. And let's not hear complaints about "lack of resources". A nation can put itself on the correct path by enacting pro-poor, pro-development and pro-progress laws and be serious about implementing them. A leadership so addicted to donor aid, and so lacking in self-esteem will never be able to pull itself (and the people it rules over) out of the morass.

For the Maoists, this is just about the last opportunity they will get to make a safe landing and lead this country out of the ruin of conflict. We Nepalis have a forgiving nature, and if the Maoists truly give up their armed struggle, shun the brutal campaign of assassinations, stop extortion and intimidation, and join the mainstream of democratic politics, the people will still accept them as the parliamentary entity they once were.

But the patience of this brave, peace-loving nation is wearing thin. And the sooner the Maoists realise this, the better it will be for them. If they decide to break the ceasefire and sabotage the peace process like they did in November 2001, then the consequences will be too horrendous to contemplate. There is no victory at the end of that road. There is only more ruin.

A code of conduct that is currently being negotiated needs to go into force immediately so it doesn't derail the truce. The Maoist leadership must steer its cadre away from the culture of arms to one of competitive politics, where power is gained by winning the hearts and minds of the people, not by killing them. And as the peace process begins, there will be bargaining about disarmament, induction of the Maoist militia into the state's security apparatus and a redesign of the political process under a reformed constitution.

We can understand that the initial contacts between the government and the Maoists needed to be discreet. But the peace process must necessarily be transparent. The people must have a say, or at least be informed, about what is being negotiated on their behalf. They need to know the compromises being made since they will be the ones most directly affected.

It does not matter to the people who is negotiating with whom, or who is getting the credit and who is losing out. We, the people, demand that our leaders stand united, remain above petty personal and party interest and for once rise to the occasion in the interest of the nation.

(Dhawal SJB Rana is the former UML mayor of Nepalganj.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)