Not solely poverty

A research report produced by an NGO called National Development Network has claimed that poverty, gender inequality, caste-based discrimination, irregular distribution of resources and unemployment are major causes of the conflict in Nepal. That is nothing new to our planners or to students of economics or development or even to ordinary people. Myriad such projects have been undertaken by numerous institutions and most of them have come up with similar results. The decade-old Maoist insurgency has led to a mushroom growth of NGOs claiming to help reduce the conflict and many ‘experts’ on conflict management say the same thing. But the conflict continues to move from bad to worse.

For one thing, poverty may be one of the important factors in the rise and growth of the conflict in Nepal. But that is not the whole story. Even those who are running the insurgency have said that the problem is essentially political. There are a number of countries with at least as much abject poverty as in Nepal, but are not reeling under any major insurgency. How can one explain this? Besides, many conflicts in the world have had roots in things other than poverty and unemployment. The reasons are complex, some identifiable and others probably not. The ongoing conflict in Nepal, by the rebels’ own admission, will be resolved if the constituent assembly is granted.

Given the Maoists’ announcement of a three-month unilateral ceasefire, the government now needs to prove its commitment to resolve the conflict politically. The ball now lies in the government’s court. But one could always raise doubts about anything if one wanted to. But this can be self-defeating. Dialogue is the key to the eventual restoration of peace. One cannot justify doubts by refusing to talk. What one needs to do is to put the doubts to the test. Poverty reduction and conflict resolution are both important and, to some extent in the case of Nepal, are inter-related. But without an end to the conflict, the fight against poverty will hardly yield results, as has been clear during the past several years. So the foremost task now is to focus on conflict resolution so that the country can again direct its full attention towards addressing the socio-economic problems.