Nepali Times
Here And There
Pre-empt failure


Tne thing that isn't in short supply in Nepal these days is hope. We want peace and we see the current ceasefire as the last best hope. But there's a real danger of the whole process falling into a familiar pattern where the political intrigue of Kathmandu overwhelms what goodwill and flexibility there may be. There are ways around this and perhaps they're all best expressed in two words: pre-empt failure.
In other words, don't allow the talks to fail. Take action that entrenches peace and development and take it now. I'm not sure who I'm writing this to, but it's the summary of many conversations over the past two weeks since the truce was announced. The rumbling and grumbling of political parties, the to and fro statements of ministers, the mysterious movements-later denied-of senior rebels and government negotiators. These are not a peace process. They are a harbinger of failure.

What we need are concrete steps to end rural alienation and they must be taken on a war footing. The security forces are already widely deployed all over the countryside. Let them now start winning hearts and minds by delivering food, repairing trails and making friends in the villages. Spend money-foreign development money that currently just moulders or gets wasted in the capital-creating jobs for stood-down rebel fighters. Form local committees in the districts and VDCs to build confidence. Soldiers, police, civilian officials, local people and rebels should all meet regularly to talk about problems and flash points where a little pre-emptive action might avoid tensions. People who've left the countryside should be encouraged to come back.

One place to start might be Jumla where the dozens of buildings destroyed in last November's Maoist attack are not yet being repaired, or cleared away so a new structure can go up. Why not set up work crews, paid in food or money, whichever people want, and start the reconstruction now? Don't wait for Kathmandu's elite to take the lead, do it locally. MPs from the dismissed parliament, VDC and DDC members could all reach out to local Maoists and get agreement on this. Then a combination of former fighters, local unemployed and the security forces could get going. It doesn't need to be donor-led or government-sponsored. Presented with a project well under way, no one could fail to support it.

What about setting up a Nepali version of the American Peace Corps to fan out into rural areas, assess local needs and meet them? Unemployed youth from the capital might just be the best source of personpower. People could work for minimal expenses and the promise of a lump sum at the end. Work would be co-ordinated through those defacto local confidence building committees. Town hall and village square meetings could decide what to do first. Again, rebuilding seems an obvious place to start. Those 3,000 or so local government offices destroyed in the seven years of fighting need to be rebuilt sometime.

Schools, businesses, NGOs, political parties, and other aspects of civil society need to be engaged and involved in a mass effort to make sure that peace is entrenched, and not at the expense of anyone. Surely the rebels won't object if they see that reconstruction and employment are the two aims of such a movement: there could be local agreement on not establishing new military positions, concentrating instead on housing and job creation. Who could find fault with that? Rebel fighters relaxing after years of war need work to do, they need to earn money.

Meanwhile, a phalanx of well-meaning Nepalis of all social classes and regions need to be made aware of all the peace processes that have gone on around the world, not just Northern Ireland or Sri Lanka, but all of them. There needs to be talk about a local model of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation commission to address issues of killings and human rights abuses. There are countless "experts" here from abroad who claim to know all about conflict resolution-let them demonstrate their expertise by passing it on to Nepalis.

These are random thoughts, fuelled by hope. Seeking peace means broadening the process beyond secret negotiations in third countries. Let the bargaining teams get on with their work, and give as many Nepalis as possible a role in rebuilding and entrenching peace.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)