Nepali Times
Lessons from Lanka


Sithadthan is the leader of PLOTE, one of the smaller former militant Tamil separatist groups that has now given up the armed struggle. He told a group of visiting Nepali journalists here this week: "Sri Lanka is a mess. No one knows what is going to happen. Not even the president and the prime minister."

That statement had a familiar ring. He went on: "Unless the president and the prime minister patch up, there will be no solution to the insurgency." Replace 'president' with 'king' and 'prime minister' with 'political parties, and he could well be talking about Nepal.

One can go too far in drawing parallels between this island nation and landlocked Nepal. Theirs is an ethnic separatist war, while ours is a Maoist insurrection. And despite a stalled peace process their two-year ceasefire has held. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government have the political commitment to adhere to the agreement. True, conflict between the executive and legislative powers in Colombo and the Norwegian government's withdrawal as mediator, have for the moment, put the brakes on the peace talks.

The recent pact between the president's Sri Lanka Freedom Party and radical left Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) has also cast doubts over the outcome of ongoing efforts. However, even though the momentum seems to have gone down several notches, the peace process is still on.

Are there lessons for Nepal here? Can Sri Lanka's experience with peacemaking be applicable in Nepal's context? Actually, the Nepali Maoists seem to have more in common with the former militant JVP than the LTTE. The Maoists could take a leaf out of the JVP's entry into mainstream politics from the fringes of extremism and terror.

Federalism, a judicious mix of self-rule and shared rule is seen as a solution in Sri Lanka, and the LTTE has agreed to drop its demand for a separate state. In Nepal, the Maoists have also indicated previously that they may consider giving up their agenda for a republican state if elections to a constituent assembly are held.
The stalemate in Sri Lanka is a result of a power struggle between a cohabiting prime minister and president from rival parties. There is similar tussle between the king and political parties and among parties themselves in Nepal. The solution to the crises in both countries is seen as devolution and genuine constitutional reform.

Although the international community has taken an active interest in mediating in the Sri Lankan crisis, the role of the donors is critical in both Nepal and Sri Lanka. There is a familiar rift between the United States and the Europeans in both countries, as well as some tension between New Delhi and Washington, with the Indians wary of US moves in its backyard in both cases.

If there are so many similarities then why has an equally fragile ceasefire not held in Nepal, while in Sri Lanka the country has not gone back to war despite the peace process being on hold?

Warring sides in Sri Lanka have realised the futility of seeking a military solution. They are responding to the population's overwhelming war weariness, and most politicians have understood the benefits of the peace dividend. There is a great deal of effort and money going into rehabilitation, whereas in Nepal not much happened between January and August last year to restore the peoples' faith in government.

Relief, reconstruction and reform are the main priorities of the day for the government in Colombo as well as the Tigers' political office in Kilinochhi. Donors have promised $4.5 billion and it will be released as soon as the power struggle in the south is overcome. In Nepal, it has not yet dawned on our movers and shakers that it is essential to build confidence through relief, reconstruction and reforms. And for this we may not even have to wait for a ceasefire.

In Sri Lanka, the debate is centred on the issue of federalism versus decentralisation. We too need to have a certain mechanism in place that can ensure a place for the marginalised if we are to prevent our conflict from taking on an ethnic or separatist hue. The government and political parties must come to a consensus on a longterm devolution strategy.

Maybe Nepal also needs to consider foreign mediation. Our warring sides have failed to resolve the crisis on their own. Foreign mediation does have implications, especially because of New Delhi's opposition to it. The Norwegians were seen to be biased in Sri lanka's south. Conflict resolution is technical business, it calls for facilitation and monitoring. If we don't have the expertise, we may need to import it from a non-partisan source.

Sajag Rana is with Channel Nepal Television.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)