Conflict resolution King should act decisively

Ajit N S Thapa:

With the dawn of the New Year, while the world generally expects to see a brighter tomorrow, Southeast Asia and South Asia are reeling under the devastation caused by tsunami waves. Nepal too suffers from its own man-made conflict that shows no signs of abating. Our nation has been ravaged by a nine-year-old insurgency, which in its wake has killed thousands of people and left many more homeless as well as destroyed billions worth of developmental infrastructure and private property. The ongoing conflict has reached a kind of stalemate with the government forces controlling major towns, cities and district headquarters and the Maoists in virtual command of the rural areas. Of late, the Maoists have escalated the conflict by attacking many fronts simultaneously and also by blockading many highways. However, by all counts, it is not possible for any one side to achieve a decisive military victory.

The present coalition government, through the High-level Peace Committee (HPC), has made several appeals to the Maoists for peace talks, but the Maoist supremo has declined to accept the offer citing that this government does not have the full authority to engage in any meaningful dialogue. He has stated his preference to talk directly with the King — who wields real authority — under the aegis of the UN. A serious lacuna of the government is its inability to tackle serious national problems head on. The Maoists have stuck to their bottom line of round table conference, interim government and election to a constituent assembly. The HPC has evaded these issues by saying that it would be open to discuss any agenda and would also exhibit maximum flexibility during negotiations. At a time when there is a need to be as transparent as possible to evolve a national consensus on such grave issues, it is baffling to see the government holding its cards so close to its chest. Although nobody sympathises with the barbaric modus operandi adopted by the Maoists especially with the innocent civilians and children, it would, however, be utterly myopic to turn a blind eye to what their declared aims are — to usher in an era of real people’s power and to create a more just and equitable society.

The demand for a constituent assembly is certainly germane to giving people real power. Therefore, the real issue is not whether we should or should not have elections for the constituent assembly, it is clearly that of viability: Can we hold elections freely and fairly? Any serious government would spend more time on these issues rather than waste valuable time on such routine matters as the appointment of the governor of the central bank. The involvement of a third body like the UN or India would be crucial in building up the confidence level between the two warring factions. It is unfortunate that the present government has rejected the idea of mediation by either the UN or any other bilateral agency, in spite of the urgency of the need to restore peace at the earliest.

The Deuba government has stipulated January 13 as the deadline for the Maoists to begin peace dialogue and it has also fired the election salvo otherwise. If it is serious about it — as is seen by the conclusions of the NC (D) central committee marathon meet — then it is certain that national interest is being harmed for partisan or power considerations. Given the state of security in the country, bulldozing through an election agenda would be an act of pure brinkmanship leading the nation to deeper torment and deprivation. If the concern of the government is to reactivate the House of Representatives (HoR), which has remained dormant since Deuba dissolved it some two and half years ago, this would be a better alternative to the election hara-kiri. At least the reinstated HoR would be able to provide the government more capable of dealing squarely with the Maoist problem and would also provide a broad-based forum for open discussions on vital national issues.

It is evident that the insurgency cannot be resolved by the State bent on restoring the status quo or even worse — attempting to return to the Panchayat Raj. The nation must be able to embrace in its folds new paradigms of development and social justice which among others require a new constitution that addresses the needs of the women, Dalits, ethnic as well as indigenous groups and the Tarai people, and also ensures proportional representation in Parliament based on popular votes rather than the existing system of first-past-the-post.

Towards this end, it has become of utmost urgency for the King to act decisively. When the King dismissed PM Deuba on October 4, 2002, many had hoped that he would resolve the Maoist insurgency and restore peace, but the nation’s grief has grown. Thus, to save the nation from total collapse and to uphold the crown’s credibility, the King must adopt one of these measures without delay: Call for a broad-based national conference which would among others debate on the issue of the constituent assembly and chart out a roadmap for the future; take pro-active role to invite the Maoists for peace talks and to seek the assistance of the UN or India to mediate in the conflict, as required; take a political decision to reinstate the dissolved HoR and to give it the mandate to form an all-party government which would hold negotiations with the rebels and also conduct elections for either the HoR or the constituent assembly as per the terms of the truce.

Thapa is Mahasamiti member, NC (D)