Faces of Eve

US president George W Bush has completed his South Asian visit during which India and the US signed a ‘historic’ civilian nuclear deal. At a joint press conference in New Delhi with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, Bush also underlined the need for King Gyanendra to open a dialogue with the political parties to restore democracy and for the Maoists to stop violence, calling it a line on which both Washington and New Delhi agree. Going by what they have said, both these powers, crucially important to Nepal, follow the two-pillar policy for Nepal — ‘constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy’. Though Bush’s comment on Nepal is a mere repetition of a line his officials have often articulated, it is significant in that it comes from the US chief executive himself, leading one also to believe that there probably has not been a significant change in the earlier ‘coordinated’ Indo-American way of looking at the crisis in Nepal.

Stopping violence brings up the question of the handover of the rebels’ arms and ammunition. To whom will they surrender and how? Perhaps then, they will be granted a general amnesty and allowed to compete in the politics of the day. If Bush means this, it virtually amounts to calling for a Maoist surrender, a line stressed by the government. The Maoists know that this will be their political death. And this certainly is not a realistic formula for political solution. At least on the Maoist issue, the thinking of the US and of the palace seems to be close.

The US and the Nepali establishment differ mainly over the royal treatment of the 1990 Constitution and hence the political parties. The Maoists think that while the King is not comfortable with the status and powers given to him under the 1990 Constitution, he is highly unlikely to agree to their more radical demand for constituent assembly. Hence they justify their continuation of violence. They have also said that their four-month-long ceasefire was taken by the state as a weakness of theirs rather than as an opportunity for a political settlement. The present reality in Nepal is that the mainline political parties, the civil society and the general public mean a political settlement when they talk of handling the Maoist demand. Military suppression, generally thought to be unfeasible, is not a realistic goal. Those who claim they are doing their best to find an amicable settlement of the conflict in Nepal should also come up with practical ideas for a possible solution, not just general statements, and use their clout to end the conflict rather than intensify it.