Interview with Krishna Bahadur Mahara, member of the Maoist negotiation team.
Why have the Maoists agreed to a ceasefire with the Chand government when all the other political parties denounced the latter as invalid and not legal?
The validity of the Chand government is not something for us to question. We'll leave that to the political parties who still function within the present constitution. As a force on the outside we don't recognise the present state authority. All political activities that take place within the parameters of the present state authority do not apply to us because we do not consider them legal. We are here to discuss how a true power of the people can be established. At present the king is in power and he put together the Chand government. The ceasefire was negotiated with the old regime that predates the governments of both Deuba and Chand. It is misleading to say we validated something we don't even acknowledge.
How do you respond to allegations from political parties that the ceasefire is an alliance between reactionary forces and the Maoists?
We are at war. If you analyse the ceasefire from that perspective you cannot call recent developments sudden. As far as "reactionary forces" are concerned, we have not agreed to any deals with the old regime nor do we have a secret pact with the monarchy. We put forward four demands-annulling the red corner notice, removing the terrorist tag, cancelling bounties from our heads and a dialogue on our political agendas. The state agreed to those and the ceasefire was eventually declared. Nothing has been agreed upon behind the curtains. People who don't stand to gain from the peace process are spreading these rumours.
We were willing to begin talks two months ago. We had also already chosen our negotiation team back then. During that time, we worked at establishing contact within the old regime. This progress may not have been possible had it taken place in the public eye. Furthermore, as a party waging an underground war, it wasn't necessary for our moves to be open and transparent.
Can you justify a ceasefire agreement that some factions are calling hurried at a time when the political parties were attempting to unite against the king's move?
This merely highlights contradictions within their arguments. If they paused to think, they would realise the ceasefire brought one more political force to their side. We have always been against the king's attempts to centralise power within the monarchy. We have repeatedly offered to join the other political parties to present a united front. The ceasefire is not a sign that we will follow the king blindly. It is up to the Nepali people to decide if they want the monarchy or not. This is why we put forward the agenda for a constituent assembly.
The proposed roundtable talk is mired in technicalities. Do the Maoists have a position on the nitty-gritty details that are taking so long to sort out?
At present the political parties, the Maoists and the monarchy are on different sides. We agree that the king has mishandled some things but we have no qualms about negotiating across a table called by the parties with the king's representatives or vice-versa. The important issue is sorting out the nation's agenda. Everyone should agree on this one point if we are to begin discussions. The question of who summons whom is trivial. Proving yourself on the battlefield is far more important.
The political parties allege that peace talks will be conducted solely between you and the current state authorities, relegating them to the role of witnesses.
We would not dream of sidelining the political parties from this process. GP Koirala and Madhav Kumar Nepal were among the first people with whom we discussed our political agenda. The fear that we will bypass the parties and conduct secret talks with the king worries those who focus on statecraft and not the state.
No singular power can run the state exclusively. Twelve years of democracy proved that the political parties alone cannot fulfill this task. And it would be foolishness on the king's part to imagine that he solely can govern the nation. We don't think we can do so single-handedly either. We are firm in our belief that unity is needed and this is something we are now ready for.
It seems like the peace process has stalled.
At present the old regime has not created a conducive environment for the peace talks to progress. We have not stalled anything, that accusation rests on the other side. We are the ones who not only have our negotiation team ready but also have publicly announced it to the people of Nepal. We have taken the first step.
We would like the talks to begin as soon as possible. We have made our intentions clear to the government but they don't seem serious. The nation will continue to flounder in this morass if a resolution is not reached. There have been no changes in military movement and the state seems insensitive and insincere about the peace talks. If the establishment conspires against us, we will be forced to use the people's action against them.