Nepali Times
The absence of war is not peace

The people did not greet the ceasefire announcement by the Maoists and the government on Wednesday night by spontaneously pouring out on the streets. We've all had our fingers burnt with premature euphoria in this country. We have learnt to be cautious.

But as a new day dawned, and with it the prospect of an end to violence, there was a palapable sense of relief in the bahals, in the sidewalks, the temples and markets. The sun came out after two days of rain, and you could sense the lighter step, see a renewed readiness to smile at strangers again, and almost smell a distant peace in the air.

On Martyr's Day, it is in memory of the nearly 8,000 Nepalis who have been killed in the past seven years that we have the responsibility to see this process through. To prove that they did not die in vain, to honour their memory by beginning to rebuild and to restore hope. It was mostly the innocent and good who died. Thousands of people like IGP Krishna Mohan Shrestha, a decent human being, a patriot, a man of integrity, and above all, a person who fervently believed in peace. It was when he and his wife and bodyguard were killed last Sunday that even those who did not know him lost hope. Luckily, negotiators who were already embarked on the peace process did not allow the murders to derail it. In fact, by all accounts the Shresthas' murders seems to have added a new sense of urgency to the behind-the-scenes negotiations.

What is different this time is that the Maoists don't seem to be using this as a ruse to buy time to regroup and rearm as they did last year. The political leadership appears to be reacting to internal pressures of a revolution that was going out of control and to the squeeze of regional geopolitics. The Maoists realised that with army's new weapons and logistics this war could drag on for another 25 years and they would be no closer to their goal. On the government side, there was realisation among the generals that not even taking the army's strength to 100,000, adding 25 more helicopters, and ordering new mortars and RPGs was going to bring them any closer to victory.

A ceasefire announcement is the beginning of a process. The hard part now begins. But as the Sri Lanka experience shows, if the ceasefire sticks, the Maoists' main demands for a roundtable meeting, constituent assembly and interim government can be thrashed out on the table.

To be sure, there will be obstacles. The political parties aren't helping any by sulking in the corner and muttering, "How dare they. They never told us." There are the shadowy hardliners in the Maoist movement who need to be reined in. Both sides could become unnecessarily rigid during negotiations. And worst of all, the sacrifices of the Nepali people over the past seven years will be wasted if coming governments and the bureaucracy go back to inefficiency, corruption, mismanagement, politicisation and exclusion that characterised the past. That would bring us back to square one, and to a point where the absence of war will not mean peace.

As we said in this space last week, the political parties now need to come out of their narrow cocoons to help the administration prepare for elections. And let not the media frenzy of the peace process eclipse all the other urgent matters that need attention-delivering basic services, rebuilding and rehabilitation. As Minister Pun told us, "We have to shed the language of the gun, and start addressing the peoples' real needs. We don't want to waste time."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)