The deadline set by the government for the Maoists to come for peace talks is no more than a week away. Despite repeated government calls for talks, the Maoists have indicated more than once that they are not going to talk to the Deuba government which they think is powerless and therefore unable to make far-reaching deals. So they have sought assurances from the palace, which they think is the real power today, on certain things, particularly constituent assembly and international mediation. The government has hinted that it is not going to renew the date if the rebels pass the January 13 deadline. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and some of his ministers have said that in such a case the government will announce a poll date. How feasible free and fair polls will be is another matter, but the rebels’ refusal will mean not only a continuation of violence but also a higher toll of death and destruction, touching, none can tell, what horrible height.

Such a situation will be unfortunate for the country. The State will not surrender even if the rebels spread and intensify their activities. The State enjoys the support of powerful countries such as America and India, which have declared the rebels terrorists. Even those influential and powerful blocs such as the European Union which have adopted a less aggressive stance towards the rebels than, for example, the US, may suspect the rebels’ bona fides if they miss the present opportunity. The government has promised the lifting of terrorist tag and red corner notice if the rebels agree to talk, also making it clear that any issue, including constituent assembly, could be discussed. Whether it has the authority to grant the Maoists’ demands will then be known.

The Maoists should give the government the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, there can be no chance of political solution. Even to retain their image as a political force, they should agree to talk. Failure to do so might even bring in an authoritarian regime or a situation fraught with uncertainties where foreign intervention could not be ruled out. This would not benefit the rebels, either. If they come with good intentions, keeping uppermost in their minds the people’s right to decide their destiny, they will emerge morally victorious even if the government refuses to grant all their demands. This means any solution has to be built on democratic foundations. The domestic and international audiences will closely observe the demands and motives of both sides and come to their own conclusions. If this war continues, the Nepali people will be the losers and neither the State nor the rebels will triumph. This calls for an immediate halt to the present madness of Nepalis killing Nepalis.