The Maoist conflict, lead by Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias "Prachanda" started in February 1996 with an agenda of political change, restructuring of the state and socio-economic transformation. The conflict has amazingly expanded almost throughout the country starting from Rolpa district in the inaccessible north western mountain region. Wide spread poverty and longstanding inequalities among geographic areas, ethnic and linguistic groups and gender constitutes among the root-causes fuelling the conflict. A largely centralized state, a lack of adequately inclusive polity, disparities in socio-economic development, and a sluggish economy have hardly helped to assuage the rising aspirations of the disadvantaged and the young, who constitute a majority of the population.
A key political aim of the Maoist insurgency is to overthrow the 238 year old monarchy and to establish a republic. Monarchy is viewed as the continuing symbol of feudalism and the root of disparities, backwardness and injustices prevailing in the country by the Maoists. The democratic polity that was introduced in the country as a result of popular movement in 1990 failed to gauge the building conflict. The political leaders turned out to be largely inept, corrupt and without broad national vision to tackle the conflict and produce the socio-economic transformations expected by the masses. The dissolution of the parliament in May 2002 and ensuing political instability (that culminated in the royal take over on 1 February 2005), complicated the political environment. The king took a strong military approach to eliminate the Maoist insurgency and attempted to isolate the political parties maintaining any semblance of multiparty democracy. The international community was against the king's direct rule and so were the mainstream political parties, the Maoist insurgents and a large majority of the populace.
In view of the king's attitude, the fractured political parties cobbled together a Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The Maoists reassessed their strategies in view of domestic and international ground realities and their inability to topple the state militarily. They proclaimed to commit to competitive politics and work with the SPA to fight against the "autocratic monarchy" and move towards a forward-looking and inclusive Nepal. Keeping in mind these thoughts, the SPA and Maoists signed a 12-point agreement on 22 November 2005. An intensified nationwide peaceful movement was launched by the SPA with active support from civil society, professional organizations and the Maoist insurgents in April 2006 which toppled the king's rule and lead to the reinstatement of the dissolved House of Representative (HoR) after 19 days of continuous popular unrest.
A summit level meeting between the Maoist supremo Prachanda and the SPA leaders, including the Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala resulted in an 8-point agreement on 16 June 2006 that commits to draft an interim constitution, announce the dates of CA elections, dissolve the House of Representative (HoR) through consensus (after making alternative arrangements) and also to dissolve the People's Government established by the Maoist insurgents. It also recommits to place the Maoist's and the Government armies under UN monitoring and management and to invite international observers to ensure free and fearless elections of CA. The agreement aims to bring about forward-looking state restructuring and an end to autocratic monarchy. The intent is to resolve ethnic, class-based, geographic and gender-based inequalities through CA elections and transform the mutual ceasefire into a lasting peace that focuses on full democracy, prosperity, progressive reform, national independence, pride and sovereignty.
The government and the Maoist negotiating teams have been in talks since 26 May 2006. However, only a 25-point code of conduct has been put in place so far. Instead of a strong truce monitoring mechanism managed by neutral and qualified persons, a politicized hotchpotch Monitoring Committee has been cobbled together. The Ceasefire, Peace and Human Rights Agreements have not yet been signed. The Interim constitution, interim legislature, interim government and date of CA elections are yet to see the light of day. The Prime Minister is emphasizing on "Ceremonial Monarchy" but the Maoists want to accord no space to the monarchy in the interim constitution.
After 5-day long Central Committee Meeting, the Maoists declared on 2 September 2006 that there was no possibility of arms management, including confinement of their army in camps, before "completely" resolving political issues based on an "Overall political package." This package is supposed to include an interim statute, interim parliament, interim government and arms management. Abolition of the monarchy and a restructured army were declared pre-conditions for laying down arms and ensuring a "lasting democracy." Maoist offices are to be opened in district headquarters to facilitate the return of "seized properties" and the internally displaced persons. The Maoists threatened to unleash a powerful "uprising" if the political package fails to materialize.
With offices in district headquarters, existing village units, “people's court,” “people's army” and taxation (or donation) system in place, a "soft" parallel government (administered by the Maoists) appears virtually in sight. The government and the SPA have vocally criticized the Maoists for continued abductions, forced taxation, for not returning seized properties and for intimidations against the spirit of agreements and the code of conduct. The threat to unleash an urban uprising has been termed "hollow" by government minister. However, independent observers do not think it wise to either underestimate or overestimate the Maoists capacity for an "urban uprising".
The SPA government has largely failed to inspire people's confidence due to poor delivery and partisan interests pursued by ministers and SPA leaders. Politics is fast polarizing. The far left lead by Prachanda is pushing for a radical restructuring and republican setup. The liberal democrats lead by the Nepali Congress President and PM Girija Prasad Koirala is for softer reform and a ceremonial monarchy. The United Marxists Leninist (UML) Party lead by General Secretary Madhav Nepal and the Nepali Congress (Democratic} lead by Sher Bahadur Deuba are troubled to find adequate space for themselves as the former feels threatened by Prachand's outfit and the later by Girijababu's party. The SPA is a House divided and there is a serious worry that it may collapse given their parochial past behavior and continuing pursuit of partisan interests rather than merit-based and people-centered politics.
The last two rounds of peace talks started on 30 August 2001 and 27 April 2003 failed. In the current round, the peace talks started off well. The peace process and politics appear to be confused or crumbling lately. Breaches of trust, inadequate implementation of agreements, violations of code of conduct and foreign interference are blamed for widening misunderstandings.
Clarity in power-sharing arrangements during the interim period, role of monarchy and differences in the political reform agenda are important issues to be addressed, also. The high level meeting between the Prime Minister and SPA leaders and the Maoist Supremo Prachanda, planned to be held in early October 2006, will have to address all of the aforementioned issues boldly and honestly to expedite the peace process and streamline politics. Otherwise, we may be headed towards more "blood and tears".
Dr. Pudasaini has served with UN in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Yemen and is Coordinator of the International Relations, Human Rights and Peace Committee of the Nepal Council of World Affairs. Feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org http://politicnepal.blogspot.com
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