Nepali Times
No-win war


The past eight years have brought nothing but violence and ruin to the country. It is a no-win situation for both sides. Even the Maoists admit that there is no military solution to the war that they have set in motion.

Just as the insurgency was gathering intensity, the royal massacre in June 2001 brought another dimension to the crisis. Today, the Nepali people do not have full faith any more in the crown, they have lost their trust in parliamentary parties and the present royal-appointed government does not represent the people and doesn't have their mandate. This is an unprecedented national crisis of confidence in our institutions.

Despite the dire situation, there is still some expectations. The Nepali people overwhelmingly desire an immediate restoration of peace. Nepal's monarchy has seen ups and downs before, and it may get out of this difficulty too. Almost all parliamentary parties have, at some point in history, taken up arms against the state, so it is not inconceivable that the Maoists too will one day give up their arms.

Nepal's communist movement is 60 years old. After 1960, the Nepal Communist Party split and split again into many factions. Although they took part in the first general elections, a small group of comrades were not satisfied with the democratic gains of the 1990 Peoples' Movement. They had a good presence in parliament, but dissatisfaction with the lack of good governance and transparency, unemployment and corruption grew.

Their rationale for a Maoist-style armed struggle was rooted in the ultra-left thinking that there can be a shortcut to power when the state is fractious and weak. It was a conscious decision of the leadership to begin an armed movement. What allowed it to grow and spread so rapidly was the power struggle among political parties, and between the parties and the king. The traditional exclusion of Nepal's ethnic, caste and religious minorities from the political process was also a factor.

The first round of peace talks in 2001 was used by both the government and the Maoists as an experiment. For the Maoists, it was an opportunity to test the public mood. They were more serious about the second round of talks this year, and appear to have been hopeful that there would be a breakthrough. They deputed a higher level team with a balance of racial and geographical representation that could even lead a coalition government if need be. Overtly, the talks broke down because the government refused to budge on the issue of constituent assembly. But there were other factors:

.l The timing of both peace talks were wrong. During the first one, the mainstream Nepali Congress had been ousted by a rival faction. In the second round, the palace and the political parties were at loggerheads. The fact that the political parties were kept outside the peace process guaranteed its failure.
. Lack of political will. The first peace talks couldn't even come up with a code of conduct. The second round had guidelines, but neither side really adhered to its spirit.
. No significant role for the facilitators. In 2001, the Maoists proposed facilitators, but the government did not take them seriously. The second time, both sides nominated facilitators, but their roles were minimised.
. Lack of trust. In both rounds of negotiations, neither side tried to understand the other\'s fears and interests. All three forces (palace, parties and Maoists) had their own concerns about a post-peace scenario. The royalists fear the parties and Maoists would unite. The Maoists feared the parties and palace getting together. The parliamentary parties were afraid the palace and the Maoists would get together to quash them. It is now clear that future talks should be tripartite.
. No role for victims of the insurgency. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered bereavement and displacement because of the 'peoples\' war'. They were kept out of both peace talks.
. No role for civil society and grassroots people. The peace process lacked a foundation because civil society and local communities were excluded.
. No role for political parties. The parties always had misgivings about talks. They felt they had been deliberately sidelined. This undermined popular pressure for the
talks to succeed.
. Lack of faith in the peace process. The Maoists felt the real power was with the king and wanted to talk to him directly. The government negotiators were suspicious
all along that the Maoists were not really serious about talks, and were just buying time to restore military power.
. No timetable for the peace process. The ceasefire gave the government legitimacy, and it wanted to extend the process. Minutes about agreements were not taken, there was no political agenda. This made the Maoists suspicious that the government was not serious about implementing any agreements.
. Absence of a point of convergence. In this tripartite conflict, there was no agreement on what a consensus agreement could be. It required compromise and a fully constitutional multiparty system could have been a meeting point.
. Lack of political clarity. The government was unclear throughout about its political agenda. The Maoists insisted on a roundtable conference, an interim government
and a constituent assembly. The political parties never showed any interest in this issue and were sidetracked by their confrontation with the government.
. Negative role of some external forces. The Americans made it clear soon after the ceasefire that they would not accept a Maoist-led government. This affected the king's decision-making. Then the Americans threatened to put the Maoists on their terrorist list. The US-Nepal terrorism agreement and military assistance to the army raised hackles. As the peace talks were deadlocked, in late August, came news of the arrest of CP Gajurel in Chennai.

When negotiations resume, all parties must keep the above shortcomings in mind. A constituent assembly was not acceptable to the royalists who suspect it is a ploy to get rid of the monarchy. In addition, the ambition of the king to be active in politics has become a challenge to the democratisation process. This will complicate a future peace process. The first step should be to arrange a dialogue between the Maoists and political parties so that there will be popular pressure on the king to agree on their common agenda.

After the collapse of the ceasefire, some commentators have suggested that the king and the parties should make common cause to suppress the Maoists. They forget that this has been tried in the past, and it hasn't worked. Starting a constitutional process without the Maoists in the picture would be futile. A democratic practice cannot go hand-in-hand with armed struggle. The parliamentary democracy and the peace process must safeguard each other. The alternative to talks is talks.

Shanker Pokharel is a member of the UML Central Committee, and an ex-MP from Dang.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)