11-17 April 2014 #702

Healing the wounds of war

Rubeena Mahato
This week marks 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda. More than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 100 day period in 1994 by the Hutu-led Interahamwe militia as the international community hesitated to intervene. The killings continue to haunt the world, and weighs on its conscience.

UN’s inability to prevent the genocide prompted the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. Rwanda itself has undergone remarkable transformation under President Paul Kagame. It has seen some stability and normalisation of ethnic relations although his regime has restricted civil and political freedom. Reconciliation in a country like Rwanda is challenging, but the country has proved wrong predictions of a doomed future and relapse to war.

This week’s anniversary reminds us of the horrors that people are capable of inflicting on others in the name of ethnicity, race, and ideology. Commemorating also helps achieve another important function: establishing and reiterating the wrongfulness of those actions and of preventing a repetition. Without repentance and condemnation of past brutalities and rejection of violence and persecution as a means for political bargaining, war-torn societies cannot move forward.

This is a lesson we may want to consider as Nepal starts its own journey towards peace and rebuilding. Our conflict ended seven years ago, and the former rebels have successfully assimilated into the political mainstream. Amidst the political circus unfolding every day, we seemed to have forgotten that there was even a war here.

There may be hundreds and thousands of war victims and their families waiting for closure, but for the most part, Nepal seemed to have forgotten that 20 years ago a political party thought it was acceptable to raise arms against a young democratic government.

After all these years of brainwashing his cadres to be willing to kill and die to overthrow an elected government to achieve radical transformation, Baburam Bhattarai doesn’t seem to see the irony of now proposing a new force based on the fusion of socialism and capitalism.

The romanticism of rebellion, of simple peasant folks rising up against oppression has a certain appeal for the intellectual class. It allows arm-chair revolutionaries to unleash brutality without ever going to the battlefield.

While their grievances are exploited to justify violence, the poorest usually end up suffering the most in this power struggle. Whether it is the Senderistas in Peru, the New People’s Army in the Philippines, or the Maoists in Nepal, the rebel leadership is almost never from the underprivileged class they claim to represent.

They maintain similar control and domination over the oppressed to use them as cannon fodder. The disillusionment in the rank and file of the breakaway CPN-M today proves that even they don’t believe the war was waged to liberate them.

Forget the lost years, the resources diverted and the energy spent on dealing with the insurgency. The human cost of the war, the brutalisation of the society and the misery of the young Nepalis in Gulf who fled to escape the conflict should alone make us question if it was necessary to attain the grandstanding goals of the Maoist party.

In From Dictatorship to Democracy, Gene Sharp notes that guerilla warfare almost never benefits the oppressed and leads to a high rate of casualty amongst them. Even when insurgencies succeed, the new regime that comes to power, he argues, ends up becoming more dictatorial than the one it replaced. Independent groups and institutions that protect individual liberties and democratic freedom are destroyed during the upheaval.

It was not a dictatorship that the Maoist leadership was fighting against, but a six years old democracy which had only started to consolidate its institutions. True, it was somewhat dysfunctional but by targeting it at a time when the royal right was also trying its best to undermine it, reversed this country’s democratic evolution.

The top brass of the Maoists may well have realised that their way might have caused much more harm than good, but they will never admit it. It was not their armed struggle but a spontaneous uprising of? hundreds of thousands of ordinary, unarmed Nepalis on the streets of Kathmandu in April 2006 that forced the king to restore parliament. The progressive agenda that the Maoists now claim credit for, would have come in due course without the bloodshed. Lasting structural changes happen with institution building, good policies and participation of people, not through violence and coercion.

The peace we have now is so fragile, any reflection on the war and the years following it is considered grave-digging. But a generation or two from now, how will people remember the conflict? Will they know better not to go down the same path when a group of politically ambitious people decide to ‘finish the revolution’?

More importantly, is it possible to achieve stability at all when violence remains an acceptable alternative for politically unsatisfied forces? We can continue to pretend the worst is over or we can make an honest assessment of the last 20 years so the future won’t have to suffer. The choice is ours.


Read also:

Irreconcilable truths EDITORIAL

The tale of two Commissions BINITA DAHAL


Driven to insanity

How Maina was killed FROM THE NEPALI PRESS

Transitional injustice EDITORIAL

Storm over Doramba MANJUSHREE THAPA

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