Nepali Times
"Cross-party approach to conflict a must."

Nepali Times: The last support group meeting in Kathmandu of Nepal's donors coincided with the royal move to set up an interim government. What is your assessment of the past two months?
Sir Michael Jay:
The Kathmandu meeting reaffirmed the international community's support for a comprehensive strategy to deal with the Maoist insurgency, encompassing real reforms to tackle the root causes of the problem such as social injustice, exclusion and poor delivery of government services, as well as action against corruption and human rights abuses, and reinforcement of the security sector. On the political level, the meeting called for a cross-party approach to the conflict, a negotiated solution and the early fixing of a date for elections. A good start has been made on the first part of this agenda and I hope the government will now be able to rapidly implement the policies it has announced, or is drawing up in consultation with donors. On the political agenda, we have yet to see real progress. The three key issues are clearly inter-linked. Without a cross-party approach, genuine negotiations are less likely, and without a negotiated settlement national elections would be difficult. Until everybody concerned realises this, the prospects for peace are dim.

What are the main concerns vis-a-vis the insurgency that you will be raising with government leaders you meet here?
The dramatic surge in violence since last November has taken Nepal by surprise. The armed forces are ill-equipped, under-resourced and under-trained to deal with this type of problem. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from similar conflicts elsewhere, and instinctive solutions are not always those that work best.

Can you elaborate?
Well, for example, it is an illusion to think that military solutions can work on their own. When fighting a foreign enemy, armies tend to measure success by body counts, land won or lost, whether armies are advancing or retreating and so forth. When the enemy is composed of fellow citizens, motivated not by a desire to expand borders but by a dream, the only useful target is the support of the communities from which the insurgents are drawn. You cannot seek out and kill a dream with bullets. You have to demonstrate instead that the state can deliver what the people aspire to, and that violence can only deliver insecurity and economic ruin.

There is concern in Europe and the US that military support for the Royal Nepalese Army will prolong the conflict. How do you look at this issue?
What will prolong the conflict is to allow the Maoists to believe they can win by violence. Armed insurrections usually fail, but where they win they win because of a collapse of will at the centre, often brought about by military pressure. It is the job of the security forces to prevent that from happening, and they cannot do that job without proper equipment and training. The assistance we are providing is not designed to increase body counts or win territory, but to save lives by helping the security forces defend themselves and ordinary people against often brutal attacks and to convince the communities that they, and only they, can deliver lasting security.

Do you see a role for negotiations?
A negotiated solution is the only way to avoid a long and bloody conflict, and the sooner the better. Experience has shown that the longer a conflict persists, the more polarised positions become and the more difficult it is for either side to envisage the necessary concessions. Of course, at the beginning of any negotiation demands look impossible, positions irreconcilable. Each side always has deep suspicions about the motives and intentions of the other, and often wrongly believes that delaying negotiations by a few months more will strengthen its own position. Skilled mediation can win the trust of both sides, help overcome these suspicions and suggest ways of removing blockages. It is not just a question of facilitating contacts-that is the easy bit. Nor should mediation be seen as outside interference or, in the case of international mediation, a blow to national pride. Political positions become rigid through constant public repetition and only a mediator can test what really lies behind those positions and identify how best to meet each sides concerns while still enlarging the area of agreement.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)