KATHMANDU: Girija Prasad Koirala will be remembered as a peacemaker who played a leading role in bringing the rebel Maoists for talks and ending the decade-old People’s War that began on February 12, 1996.
He was the only person whom the Maoists had full confidence on in 2005. Although he could not see the peace process succeed, he definitely laid the foundation for the same.
History will also remember him as a towering politician, who not only brought the Maoists into mainstream politics but also successfully held the historic Constituent Assembly election on April 10, 2008 to write a new constitution of a federal democratic republic of Nepal. Sad to say that the veteran Nepali Congress leader Koirala could not see successful conclusion of the nation’s twin goals: lasting peace and adoption of the new constitution.
Koirala was the main target of Maoist criticism for what they said hobnobbing with then King Gyanendra until the latter took over and imposed a direct rule in February 1, 2005, ignoring international calls for reconciliation with the then Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) of the parliamentary parties.
After the royal takeover, Koirala made contacts with the rebel Maoists through his aides and proposed launching a joint Jana Andolan II. He signed the famous 12-Point Understanding between the then SPA the rebel Maoists on November 22, 2005, which was instrumental to make the Jana Andolan II a success and it forced Gyanendra to bow out of power, once and for all.
Koirala, accompanied by leaders of the SPA, travelled to India, where he had an intensive meeting with Prachanda and Dr Baburam Bhattarai to prepare the ground for the 12-Point Understanding.
This was the turning point in Nepal’s history that was instrumental not only to revive the already dissolved House of Representatives but also to overthrow the institution of monarchy, which ruled the country for over 240 years.
Despite his old age and fragile health, Koirala took charge of the coalition government before and after the Maoists returned for talks to initiate the peace process and to conduct the Constituent Assembly election, which he did successfully and the international community appreciated him for completing such a complex task.
When he visited India last time as Prime Minister of the post-Jana Andoalan II Nepal, Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh went to the Indira Gandhi International Airport to receive him and said, “GP Koirala is the tallest politician of South Asia.” This statement spoke volumes of Singh’s and India’s highest regard on Koirala. Koirala was the first PM of Nepal to be received by any Indian PM at the airport.
Former US President Jimmy Carter, who visited Nepal twice during the period of peace process, appreciated Koirala, saying, “He is my hero”. Also, B Lyan Pascoe, UN Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, who visited Nepal last week, commented on Koirala saying that he is “the peace maker” in Nepal.
Maoist supremo Prachanda also had high regards for Koirala though his relations with the latter turned sour after the CA election. In an interview with a national daily, Prachanda said Koirala never “betrayed” him “politically” and, he was a man of his words, which he always tried to fulfill.
Despite being appreciated as a peace maker at home and abroad, Koirala has also received flak from his own party leaders, then SPA leaders and the intelligentia for unnecessarily cozying up with the Maoists after they returned for peace talks.
One of the mistakes, according to CPN-UML leaders, Koirala made in the peace process was to give equal seats (83) in the 330-member interim Legislature-Parliament with that of the CPN-UML, which was the second largest party in the last House of Representatives. They said it was unwise to offer the Maoists an equal number of seats in Parliament on par with UML when it was yet to be tested by the people through elections.
A UML leader claimed that had Koirala not agreed to give the Maoists an equal number of seats in the interim Parlaiment, the Maoists would not have emerged as the largest party in the CA polls.
Maybe, Koirala wanted to downsize the UML by giving the Maoists an equal number of seats in the interim Parliament. But his decision boomeranged in the CA polls.
The second mistake, perhaps the biggest one, Koirala made as the former PM was to go for Constituent Assembly without managing the Maoist army and its arms.
“He did everything on good faith without giving a second thought on the psychological effect the Maoist army and arms would have on the electorates,” an NC leader said. The Maoists had warned that they would not accept the election results if they came just opposite to their expectations.
The third mistake he made on the peace front was to ignore the internationally-practiced “one man, one weapon” principle while sending the Maoist fighters in cantonments to be monitored by UNMIN.
Had this principle been strictly followed, security experts say, the integration process of the Maoist combatants would have become much easier than it is now.
Koirala also did not share the understanding made with the Maoist supremo with leaders of other parties on time about the number of combatants to be integrated into the national security forces. Now, Prachanda appears to be reluctant to accept what had actually transpired with Koirala in the early days of peace talks.
Another drawback of the Koirala-led peace process is the lack of institutional memory of all the parleys among the leaders. He should have set up a separate secretariat to keep records of all discussions. Only a handful of official agreements are on records, which do not give a clear and complete picture of the peace process that took place behind the scenes.
With his demise, what can be said, at this moment, is that he initiated the complex, home-grown peace process but left it to his successors to complete. Only time will tell whether Koirala’s decision to initiate the peace process was right. His successors have to prove that he was right by shouldering the responsibility of his incomplete job.