Conflict resolution: No alternative to talks with Maoists

It is an irony of fate that the armed conflict that was started a decade ago still remains unabated in spite of the fact that it has taken a toll of more than 12,000 lives with countless people tortured and displaced. During the last ten years, the armed conflict has turned tri-polar from bi-polar, as the seven-party alliance has emerged as the third party in conflict. This has further complicated the conflict. Unless the triangular conflict is reduced to a bi-polar one, it is very difficult to negotiate any settlement. Of late, there have been reports that the leaders of the seven-party alliance are having direct or indirect negotiations with the Maoists to bring them back into the mainstream. As a result of their persuasion, as they claimed, the insurgents announced the current ceasefire, because of which people have succeeded in celebrating Dashain and Tihar after a gap of several years by meeting their near and dear ones living in far-flung corners of the kingdom.

Interestingly, last week the US embassy expressed a sense of alarm through a press release on the reported emergence of an alliance between one or more of the major parties and the Maoists. The embassy is apprehensive about the reported cooperation between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance contrary to their previous stand that they would not enter into any formal relationship with the Maoists, unless they put down their weapons, and commited support to the democratic process. It clarifies that the US will not recognise the Maoists as a political force unless they come with good faith for peaceful solution. Similarly, a few days back, the British envoy, as reported from Nepalgunj, suggested that the Maoists, parties and the state should sit together to resolve the crisis.

As a matter of fact, the US, the UK, the EU and even India have accepted the Maoist insurgency as a political problem which is to be solved through negotiation as they hold that neither the army can annihilate the Maoists nor the insurgents can capture the capital. In such a situation, all these foreign powers are suggesting reconciliation between the King and the parties as a prelude to resolution. This has been confirmed again by the recent chat US ambassador James Moriarty had with journalists. It is really a suggestion that cannot be implemented at this juncture.

In this connection, a question comes up: On whose terms and at what cost the King and the political parties should reach an agreement? Should the parties forgo their demand for democracy when the King is in no mood to give up powers which he has acquired forcefully? Curiously, the temporary suspension of arms supply by these countries has proved ineffective. What is the course of action left for pressurising the King to mend fences with the political parties and the Maoists? Obviously, the only alternative left is to make the triangular conflict a bi-polar one by starting a dialogue with the Maoists to convince them to come to terms with the parties.

The issue is complex, which can be judged by the conflicting stands of the parties on the regressive actions taken by the King. Some parties treat February 1 as a crucial point of departure as, on that day, the King formed the government under his own chairmanship to rule the country single-handedly.

Some parties hold October 4, 2002, as a point of regression as for the first time an elected government was dismissed on that day. Before this, it was really a bi-polar conflict as it was localised to the most undeveloped areas of the mid-Western region in the beginning. Taking it as a law and order problem, the government had mobilised the police force to suppress it. To find the police force ineffective to control the armed insurgency and the army not taking an active role, the government had to raise an exclusive armed police force to tackle the menace. The conflict took a triangular shape after the dismissal of the elected government. No doubt, there were two rounds of peace-dialogue between the government, formed by the King, and the Maoists. But peace remained elusive.

There are parties who recognise the date of dissolution of the Lower House as the point of regression. To some, the process of regression had already started during the regime of the late King who not only refused to approve the bill passed by the parliament, but also started nominating members to the Upper House without recommendation of the cabinet. Even in the interim period, he had appointed ambassadors without consulting the cabinet.

Hence, it is very difficult to solve the constitutional crisis between the King and the parties on the one hand, and the armed crisis between the Maoists and the parties on the other. Therefore, there is no alternative but to have dialogue with the Maoists for bringing them back into the political mainstream. It will make the conflict bi-polar from tri-polar, serving as the first step towards conflict-resolution.

Mishra is a former election commissioner