Nepali Times
What next?


Five days have passed since the Maoists declared a unilateral ceasefire and now everyone is asking 'what next'?

Given the fate of previous ceasefires and how they were used for tactical advantage, there is also scepticism about the motives behind the Maoist move. Many pundits believe that the rebels have effectively cornered the king, while ordinary Nepalis who seek only peace are worried that the government and army haven't yet reciprocated.

"In similar conflicts elsewhere, when one side calls for a ceasefire the other side usually responds positively," says former peace negotiator Padma Ratna Tuladhar. Other activists also believe this is a great opportunity for the government to match the Maoist offer.

In a statement Wednesday, Maoist leader Prachanda said the rebels would be willing to talk to the king if he agreed to halt the fighting. The seven political parties are keen to talk as soon as possible with the Maoists although they don't have a clear plan. They hope that the unilateral truce will translate into an ability to function in the rural areas and the Maoists seem to be making appeasing noise on that front.

Meanwhile, there is some division in the all-party alliance, with some insisting that the rebels give up arms before talks and other are calling for talks right away. "We will also move a step ahead and work for a permanent ceasefire," UML leader Bamdeb Gautam told us vaguely, without bothering to explain how a party that is not in government can do that. In fact, a ceasefire is a matter between two warring sides, and this effectively keeps the parties out of the picture.

Although there is a lot of bad blood between the armed rebels and the parties' rank and file-who have bore the brunt of Maoist brutality over the past decade- differences between the parties and the rebels are narrowing. The Maoists have said they will accept a multiparty system while the parties have agreed to their constituent assembly demand.

"The only way for a lasting ceasefire is for the king to give up his powers and return the government to the people and then a final truce can be made through the multiparty government," argues Gautam. However, the rebel leadership is said to be taken aback by the lukewarm response of the international community to the ceasefire call.

Only the Swiss gave what could be considered an enthusiastic response. "We hope that His Majesty's Government of Nepal will reciprocate and look for a constructive dialogue with the democratic forces as well as with the insurgents," said Genevi?ve Federspiel, deputy country director of Swiss aid agency SDC. Although other players said they welcomed the move, their statements were ambivalent and there was no direct and open appreciation. Even the message from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was read as being carefully worded and not appreciative enough. The Europeans went for a consolidated message that even-handedly targeted the rebels and the government. The EU's stand favoured assistance from an independent and credible external partner for facilitating the peace process.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)