Bold, not beautiful

The outcome of Sunday’s Maoist attack on the Royal Nepalese Army’s temporary base camp at Pili, Danda VDC in the remote Kalikot district, is not entirely clear as yet. Some deaths on both sides have been reported, but heavy casualties are feared; scores of armymen are reported missing. There are conflicting claims. Whatever the actual figures, the clearest casualty has already been the claims by government leaders and present and past army officials that the security situation in the country has improved considerably and that the rebels have lost much of their striking power, particularly after February 1. Coincidentally, Pili tends to confirm Indian defence minister Pranab Mukherjee’s recent claim that the RNA has been ineffective at controlling the Maoists.

Each side wants to get the upper hand. But, for the people, any loss of life on either side is sad, as it is the Nepali blood that is being shed, and its impact on the society is damaging in multiple ways. This is so because the people are above the narrow interests of the rival forces. Besides, the unwinnable nature of the conflict has been recognised by most people and institutions at home and abroad that count in the matter. That means the pursuit of military means is futile and therefore unwise. But signals from those in power and the rebels so far do not provide any hope for the peace process to begin anytime soon. Last Friday’s statement by Kirtinidhi Bista, a vice chairman in the Cabinet, had raised a flickering hope. But it was soon dashed by Tanka Dhakal, the minister for information and communication and also the spokesman for the government, who reasserted the hardline position that for any talks to take place, the Maoists should first surrender arms and recognise ‘constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy.’ For anybody who favours a fair political solution, this stance probably constitutes the main stumbling block to peace. But if no initiative is taken soon for a negotiated settlement, things may well spiral out of everybody’s control. Then any initiative would mean little. Therefore, as the de facto holder of power, it is the King, and nobody else, who could take steps that would make sense and mean much. Otherwise, history might be a severe judge.