Nepali Times
Guns and peace

Peacemaker Sher Bahadur Deuba, whose term in the peacemaking committee expired on 15 October, dramatically revealed that he had had a meeting with a Maoist, but did not say where, when or with whom. Maoist General Secretary Prachanda confirmed the meeting, and reiterated his demand: make public the whereabouts of Dinesh Sharma, a central Maoist leader and others, free them, end "state terrorism", and create an environment for the talks.

All political parties except the ruling Nepali Congress agree that the insurgency should be resolved through dialogue. The main opposition Communist Party of Nepal (UML) has even volunteered to mediate, while a faction within the ruling party advocates a two-pronged approach-beef up the police and rope in the army, but keep the door open for talks.

A series of "all-party" meetings held in the aftermath of the Maoist attack on Dunai in late September has led nowhere. Having failed to get the army to help in Dunai, the government managed to trigger a national debate and station troops in 16 district headquarters. The army went grudgingly, barely concealing its unhappiness.

Many of these districts now have strategic defence plans prepared by a 'security committee' convened by the chief district officers (CDOs). The head of the local army unit is an invited member of the committee. But confusion is rife. "It is not clear if the army will go into the jungles and/or patrol alongside police," a government source told us. The operational modality and the chain of command remain unclear.

"This is a case of the tail wagging the dog," one army officer told us. "The rules of engagement are unclear, and it could be a very messy situation if the army is attacked." It appears that the army is going along, getting the government to pay for deployment, while not promising anything. Meanwhile the army has still not handed over all semi-automatic rifles that the government has paid it to deliver to a paramilitary police force.

Caught between the Maoists, opposition parties and opponents within his own ruling party, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has been lurching from one crisis to another. He is now thinking of transferring peacemaking responsibilities from Deuba to the Human Rights Commission. He also added an extra head in the National Defence Council, Mahesh Acharya, by giving him the defence ministry portfolio in addition to his duties as finance minister. The NDC is made up of the prime minister, defence minister and army chief and can recommend decisions like army deployment to the king who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.
The army is learnt to have a list of demands in return for the partial deployment in the 16 districts. These reportedly include an unwillingness to acknowledge the CDO's command, and getting the government to restrict media reporting on Maoist activities.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)