The less talk there is about talks with the Maoists, the more chance there is of talks. Peace talks need political will and discreteness to succeed. In Nepal, both seem to be in short supply.
The lesson from Sri Lanka is that both sides wanted peace, there was an honest broker and they worked out of the media glare till they were ready to announce progress.
The third round of peace negotiations between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended on an optimistic note. No doubt, the warring parties of the teardrop island have come a lot closer to peace, but the chasm is still too wide to be bridged with simplistic political arrangements.
Despite the handshakes and hesitant smiles, neither Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe nor the LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham budged an inch from their publicly declared positions. Premier Wickremasinghe is ready for devolution of power within a federal structure, but it's a confederation that Balasingham is insisting on behalf of his boss, Prabhakaran.
Instead of goodwill, there is bad blood between the Sinhalas and Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Norwegians need to work harder the closer they get to the final goal. That there has been an effective ceasefire for more than a year is itself an achievement. The Sri Lankans and friends of Sri Lanka here hope that the peace lasts, and peace in Serendib will presage peace in Shangri La.
Hope is infectious. Buoyed by the Sri Lankan peace process, a section of Kathmandu has started talking about replicating the experience here in Nepal, complete with Norwegian facilitators. Had it not been for the influence that these people have on public opinion, it would have been possible to ignore such noises as wishful thinking. But to prevent another false start in the name of talks between the government and the Maoists, it's necessary to emphasise the self-evident: the very nature of struggle for territorial self-determination is different from class-war being fought for social justice.
In Jaffna, it's a war of love-love for a homeland. People are ready to die when their sense of self is at risk. But the insurgency in Jumla and Jajarkot is a class-war. The Maoists are fighting their government to get a better deal for themselves, their goal is nothing more or less than appropriating state power to create a utopian society within the existing territorial boundary.
In plain terms, the "people's war" is a political struggle, in which pressure-cooker bombs have edged out ballot boxes. But the Maoists know more than anyone else that they can't ever claim political legitimacy because: a. peaceful avenues of political protest are still available, b. the state is neither colonial, nor dictatorial, even though it has started on the latter course after October the Four, and c. judicial redress is not denied for instances of state repression. In fact, the only similarity that Maoists share with the LTTE is their common strategy of what
is called "propaganda of the deed" in terror discourse.
And unlike the Tamils of Sri Lanka, Nepali Maoists can't count on the loyalty of an influential diaspora. Quite the contrary, the "long distance nationalism" of many overseas Nepalis make them quite right-wing. Even the few non-resident Nepalis that support Comrade Prachanda (like the audience at the pro-Maoist meeting in Antwerp who applauded every time the video screen showed scenes of Mangalsen) do so as a matter of convenience rather than any commitment to the revolution.
It is extremely unlikely that people like the Washington-based Dr Chitra Tiwari will be willing to lay down their lives for the dictatorship of the proletariat in a base area somewhere in the mid-western sector. More likely, they will readily denounce the revolution once their livelihoods are even slightly threatened in their adopted land.
Come to think of it, most people didn't even know what it was that Maoists were fighting for till 21 November 2002, the day Agni Sapkota, Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Company unilaterally walked away from the third round of talks with the government. We now have their three main demands-a roundtable of all political forces, formation of an interim government, and elections for a constituent assembly. All very well, Comrade Prachanda, but please tell us-what is in it that couldn't have been achieved through a normal political process?
Perhaps finding an answer to that question itself requires another round of talks. Oslo offers some useful lessons in the technicalities of high-stakes negotiations mediated by impartial facilitators. But more than the public stance of the Maoist leadership, it's the cross-border angle of their rebellion that is more worrying. And there is no way that straight negotiations between two stakeholders can address the concerns of an invisible third party.
There isn't anything in the Maoist insurgency that a political leadership with will and determination can't handle. Even after seven years and 7,000 deaths, hope still lives in the hearts of common Nepalis.