Kalikot has exposed any pretensions about an improving security situation in the country since February 1. The toll of the clash (as of Tuesday) between the Maoists and the security forces is 40 soldiers dead and 77 missing. The rebels have admitted 26 deaths on their side. This is one of the highest casualty figures the army has suffered in a single battle with the rebels. The Pili attack has further strengthened the view held by most people that there is no military solution and hence the need for dialogue. The past negotiations came to nothing as these lacked the necessary political will to reach a peaceful settlement. For the government, Sunday’s storming of the army camp constitutes a major setback, as it seriously weakens its sole justification for seizing power from the political parties more than six months ago—to defeat the Maoists militarily, a task which the political parties had failed to accomplish.
This setback is politically significant at a time when major democratic countries, including India, the US and Britain, are pushing for a return to democracy. The government could hardly expect a worse combination than a continued lack of improvement in the security environment and the failure to restore democracy, as it increasingly feels the heat both at home and abroad. Far more serious is the clear risk of Nepal sliding into further chaos and ultimate ruin in the absence of fresh peace efforts. The problem is that the distrust between the political forces is so deep that the rebels are unlikely to agree to talk without some credible international peacemaking role. These past ten years have proved, rather sadly, that the Nepalis are not capable of resolving the crisis by themselves. As long as there is promise of a negotiated settlement, there is no reason why Nepal should object to an international role, be it mediation, facilitation or something else. However, unfortunately, the government and some of its foreign friends remain rather unenthusiastic about it despite the fact that there is no dearth of impartial brokers such as the UN ready to offer their good offices. Besides, the government’s insistence on prior surrender of arms by the rebels rules out any possibility of talks at all, let alone international good offices.