Negotiation process: Does it have any place in Nepali politics?

With more reliance placed on its process, negotiation has become an accepted tool to resolve any crisis. The greater the society is democratised and enlightened, the more importance is attached to it. However, if society remains feudalistic and underdeveloped, bigger difficulties stand in its way. At present, Nepali society is passing through uncertainty, as it has not yet reached a democratic stage of development.

A steady progress of the history of negotiation process shows how it has evolved into an important aspect of study and practice. Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Negotiating”, published in 1597, presents negotiation as a subject of utility. However, the subject did not make much headway as a more systematic area of deliberation until the publications of Fred Ikle’s “How Nations Negotiate” in 1967 and Gerard Nierenberg’s “The Art of Negotiating” in 1968. Ikle has made a greater impact on the approach to diplomatic negotiation and Nierenberg has explained the negotiating process in an organised way.

Negotiation is an art stuffed with subtleties and tinged with nuances. It is rated as a rare asset a human can acquire and possess in due course of life and experience. Experts believe that the philosophy and nature of negotiation has to be well understood. It is intricately connected with the element of psychology with human behaviour involved.

Equally important is the advance preparation required to make any negotiation highly effective and result-oriented. The preparation done by Kennedy before his scheduled meeting with Khruschev in Vienna in August 1961 is noted as an example of high precaution. Kennedy studied all speeches and public statements of Khruschev and collected each piece of information related to the former Soviet premier, including his food and taste in music.

Negotiation demands wisely crafted strategies to be employed with care and caution. Negotiation is looked upon as a highly desired instrument to keep the other side linked with problem-solving. Nepal has yet to reach the level of sophistication and depth of articulation on the complexity of negotiation.

Analysed in the context of negotiations between the then governments and the Maoists in 2001 and 2003, incompetence of negotiators and negligence toward the reality of the intricate power sharing and security situation coupled with an unreliability of the required power the government negotiators held and a deficiency of trust in them brought the negotiation to a complete halt. Inadequacy of well-founded preparation and a greater lack of persuasive capability and good skills to convince on the part of negotiators also worked as great hurdles and contributed to the failure of talks. In the conflict in Nepal, the hardened postures of the two armed protagonists have have appeared irreconcilable at this critical juncture.

The conflict demonstrates that neither of the principal rivals has suffered heavy losses except some damage done to both sides in sporadic fighting. No irreparable loss has been inflicted on either side. However, much uncertainty is hanging over the fate of the people with the country’s natural progress stunted. Any hope of convergence could hardly be noticed given the stiff stances adopted by both sides. But sadly, divergence is widening.

The 12-point understanding reached between the seven-party alliance and the insurgents last November has demonstratively strengthened these two people-based political forces, whereas farcical demonstration of civic polls and other related events have greatly weakened the standing of the incumbent government in the eyes of the international community. These developments have provided a greater impetus to the combine of the legitimate political forces and the insurgents.

Most recently, the re-emphasised expressions of the intent of the US, now also voiced by the UK to reconcile the parties and the palace by jettisoning the Maoists will have its effects on the existing political landscape. If reconciliation turns into a reality, will it consolidate democratic forces leading them to negotiate with the Maoists or to continue military confrontation?

At this moment, there appears a faint hint of hope for negotiation to begin. However, some signal may emerge only if both the armed protagonists feel a much severer pain of loss of life and property or if either of them finds its position greatly weakened vis-a-vis the other.

Viewed in the current scenario such an exigency is not likely to come up. Nor is an ambience conducive for negotiation likely to emerge given the uproarious situation prevalent in the country. Observers, however, note with parallels shown from other Afro-Asian countries that a persuasive pressure of the international community, along with countries with their immediate interests and concerns at stake, may nudge all major political actors to a negotiating table.

Shrestha is an ex-foreign ministry official