Nepali Times
The peace prize

Everyone is talking about the rewards on the heads of the Maoists. But there is a greater reward no one talks about: the reward of peace. The Nepali peoples' prize for anyone who brings an end to the conflict.

But is it going to be the deathly peace of a ruined land, or a peace that salvages what is still left? Yes, talks. But talk about what? You can't really blame Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for flatly refusing to negotiate with the Maoists. Being a plain-speaking, straight forward guy, he takes betrayals personally. And he is not likely to forget how the Maoists used the three months of the last truce to upgrade their fighting machinery and set up a "Peoples' Liberation Army" to take on the Royal Nepal Army.

And even if only half of the people the security forces say they have killed are actual hardcore Maoists (as opposed to mercenaries, or those forcibly enlisted into the militia), then the comrades must be feeling the heat. The army did not need the Americans to tell them that they need a larger force, much better logistics and much more reliable intelligence to fight a guerrilla war in this terrain. But since the Americans are footing the bill for much of the new hardware, our generals dutifully nodded their heads. With the new equipment, the army is confident it can squeeze the Maoists tighter so that when talks do finally happen, the government can negotiate from a position of strength.

Unfortunately, that is also the Maoists' game plan: to improve their bargaining power by destroying, intimidating and spreading panic. They have been forced to go after soft targets: burning down Deuba's house in Dadeldhura, destroying hydropower plants, wrecking airport towers, and blowing up telecom stations one after another. These are sitting duck targets, but they give the psychological impression of a tightening noose.

In the short term, these tactics are aimed at forcing the government to agree to talks, thus buying time once more to regroup. The Maoists' military wing needs time to rearm, restore discipline to the fold, and weed out informers. If they get a six month respite, the senior comrades seem confident that they can launch another series of spectacular raids over military garrisons, and unleash the final stage of their urban guerrilla warfare to propel themselves into Kathmandu.

Our fractious parliamentary parties have finally agreed on an all-party campaign to counter the Maoists with a rally on May 10. About time. But the myopic infighting within the Congress still threatens to ruin all. If they can\'t unite when the country is in this state, then they really don\'t deserve to be in office.

All this bickering is, of course, useful to the Maoists who depend on the chaos and disunity to create the right conditions for revolution. It is even more helpful for the rebels that the parliamentary parties can\'t even agree on negotiations or the reward on the Maoist heads.

Those favouring talks are right about one thing, though. There is no point insisting that the Maoists disarm before talks: that is like asking them to surrender. Why should they? They thrive on this disaray. However, it is also true that if both sides are truly serious about peace, there can be secret talks even without a ceasefire. It is much more important for all political forces to be united and single-minded. The talks can't be the public circus we had the last time, they have to be serious, secret and sincere. This impasse needs to be broken with a dramatic new initiative that allows the government to look strong, and under a visionary leadership.

That\'s a tall order. We don't see any signs of a visionary leadership in the ranks of any of the parliamentary parties. But it is now readily apparent that the Nepali people are fed up with the deaths and devastation. They are ready to reward anyone who can restore peace.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)