Nepali Times
Guest Column
Unilateral multilateralism


One month of the three-month ceasefire announced by the Maoists has already transpired.

The ceasefire decision came after many informal and official meetings between the rebels and the UML and NC leadership. In those talks, the Maoists had said they would announce a unilateral ceasefire if the seven-party alliance requested them to do so. But because of the residual distrust between the two sides, the parties couldn't muster the courage. Had they done so, the parties would have earned the gratitude of the public.

To be sure, the ceasefire didn't just happen because of contacts between the Maoists and the parties. There were many factors: international pressure, domestic public pressure to prove they weren't the obstacle to peace and to take the wind out of the king's sails. The rebels rightly calculated that after the ceasefire announcement, the pressure would be on the king to respond positively. It also further isolated the regime, which is seen to have used the excuse of the insurgency to crack down on the political parties, undermine democratic institutions and finish off the 1990 constitution once and for all. But the people now know that seven months after the takeover, the country is nowhere nearer to peace and the regime is on a path to further militarisation.

The Maoists may also have called for a ceasefire because they needed military and organisational breathing space. Many of the young recruits are not politically indoctrinated and this would give them the opportunity for ideological training. In statements, meetings and interviews the Maoist leadership has now accepted that they will never achieve state capture and even if they reach such a stage, geopolitics won't allow it. Furthermore, they may have reasoned that a people who oppose the king's autocracy would never accept Maoist totalitarianism.

The Maoists have also started speaking in favour of multiparty democracy, the concept of sovereignty and pluralism. In fact, the ideological gap between them and the political mainstream has narrowed considerably. The seven parties should encourage the Maoists to commit themselves more clearly to this path.

The Maoists have always said that as long as the king controls the army there will be no genuine democracy in Nepal and that the king has repeatedly used military force to snatch liberty. That is why the rebels say they seek a democratic republic to revamp the country's military command structure. There is now a distinct possibility that if the political parties agree to a democratic republic, the Maoists will give up armed struggle. They have put forth elections for a constituent assembly as their minimum demand.

But there is still a hurdle. The legacy of past violence has left a lot of bad blood between the parties and the Maoists. And unless the rebels completely halt their harassment and intimidation of party workers in the districts, this distrust will remain. Both sides think the other is just using them for political ends. But if both sides were committed to the long-term well-being of Nepalis and showed sincerity in finding a resolution there could not just be agreement but even cooperation.

In fact, the possibility of a minimum agreement already exists: the parties agreeing to a constituent assembly in exchange for the Maoists giving up violence and joining the political mainstream. The two sides should use the remaining two months of the ceasefire for confidence-building measures and there is a lot for them to talk about. The mainstream parties must work resolutely towards irreversible transformation of the Maoists.

The time has now passed to sit and wait for the king. We tried joining hands with him, it didn't work.

Raghu Pant, journalist and former MP from Lalitpur, served as minister in the Deuba-led government that was dissolved on 1 February

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)