Conflict resolution Can the King do it alone?

It has been over six months since the King dismissed the four-party government led by NC(D) leader S B Deuba and took direct control of the state machinery. Although a highly controversial move from the constitutional point of view, many, however, could have condoned it if the King’s move had really brought about lasting peace, provided security and good governance and handed over power to a duly elected government within a three-year time-frame, as promised by the King.

But the King has to do a lot of catching up to be able to fulfil his promises. Although there are claims that security has improved, it is only limited to the cities and district headquarters. The countryside, where more than 80 per cent of people live, is largely under the control of the Maoists. The recent massacre in Kalikot proved that the Maoists can strike at will and also exposed the vulnerability of our security forces. Apparently, the army, in a hurry to carry out the orders to complete the Surkhet-Jumla road within a year, had deployed a construction team of combatants and non-combatants without due consideration to safety and security. This is another evidence that there can’t be a military solution to the ongoing conflict, which is sapping our national vitality and psyche.

The nation is currently engulfed in a triangular power tussle. We are also engaged in ideological debate over the structure of constitution — constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy; active monarchy; republican democracy or republican totalitarianism. A loose consensus is also building up that the resolution of the debate could be achieved through the formulation of a new constitution drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly. The King has not, strangely, shown much interest in talking with either the Maoists or the parties. The Maoists may have their own agenda of coming to power by force and to establish a totalitarian regime and hence may not yet be interested in a dialogue, but the parties should be interested in talking to the King about bringing democracy and the Constitution back on track.

The seven-party alliance is taking to the streets demanding the restoration of the dissolved House. None the less, it would be wise to settle for a national government under the leadership of one of their constituents. Although the alliance is also discussing the idea of talking to the Maoists in order to launch a common agitation programme to force the King to yield power back to the people, it is not comprehensible that the parties will work hand in glove with an outfit whose ideology does not include multi-party democracy.

It is equally important that international goodwill and co-operation is sought to tackle the insurgency militarily and also to open a dialogue with the Maoists, when and if necessary. Should the Maoists not respond to the peace initiatives made by the King and parties, the international community should immediately resume military supplies to Nepal so that the security forces are able to launch effective offensive against them to make them negotiate. The war has caused immense damage to the nation. The Maoists may have a cause but their means are wrong thwarting all international norms of war conduct. They would do well to come to the negotiating table and work out a durable peace and be part of the national mainstream.

Presently, the King calls the shots and it has fallen on his shoulders to implement the promises he made on February 1. From an analysis of the performance of this government, it is clear that the King cannot undertake this monumental task alone and he needs to cooperate with all the other power actors, the civil society and the international community. The King’s rhetoric on peace and democracy is not sufficient. He must open a dialogue with the political parties and, with their consensus, constitute a national government headed by the leader of a party, that would negotiate with the Maoists and hold elections.

Our experiment with democracy, so far, has shown that in spite of the lacklustre performance of various governments in the recent past and in spite of leadership failures, the country, by and large, has gained extensively in this period. This democratic exercise was able to bring about people’s participation and initiative at the grassroots level for socio-economic development. Therefore, any move that would lead the nation to an authoritarian mode of governance would be against the national interest. It is thus not prudent for the King to head a lame-duck government. The institution of monarchy is precious for our country and its sanctity should not be eroded through unnecessary acts of adventurism. The King could also hold a broad national conference to chart out a road map for the future. As time is running out, the King must immediately seek cooperation and support from the parties to achieve national reconciliation and peace and thus save the nation from impending catastrophe.

Thapa is a Mahasamiti member, NC(D)