On a marble cliff

The European Union and UN secretary general Kofi Annan have urged both the Maoists and the government to agree to a mutual ceasefire to avoid resumption of violence as the Maoists’ four-month-long ceasefire expires today. Annan has called upon the rebels to extend the ceasefire and the government to reciprocate it, repeating once again the UN’s readiness to help in the peace process if both sides so desired. The EU, supporting the UN call, urged a ceasefire as a means of building the confidence necessary to resolve the conflict politically, also noting its earlier calls on the King to work with the political parties and return to multiparty democracy. The EU appealed to the rebels for an ‘unconditional and permanent’ ceasefire. In Birgunj, home minister Kamal Thapa said that the King was ‘ready’ to talk with the political parties, adding, however, that the civic polls could not be stopped under any circumstances.

The EU and UN calls represent yet another in the series the international community has made, but such statements of goodwill alone are not enough to make peace. Bilateral ceasefire and necessary follow-up measures are essential for peace to have any chance. Moreover, this needs to be rooted in a willingness to make big compromises for peace and political settlement. So far, nothing of the kind has happened. The Maoists say they have already made a huge concession by making the constituent assembly the bottom line for a politically logical conclusion of their ‘people’s war’. The palace does not seem satisfied with the role the 1990 Constitution has granted to the King, whereas the political parties would want to give the King a ‘ceremonial role at most’ and the Maoists want a republic.

The King and the Maoists appear to be clear in their objectives. However, the members of the seven-party alliance are showing signs of differences, even after their 12-point agreement with the Maoists. For example, Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala has sounded more ‘conciliatory’ towards the palace than the CPN-UML, judging by his remarks such as those linking any civic poll postponement to talks with the King. And there is nothing new in Kamal Thapa’s statements as the King himself has said more than once that he is not against such a dialogue. However, the point of central importance is, what does such a dialogue seek to achieve? But one thing is absolutely clear: The Nepali people will not accept any deal that compromises their sovereign powers. Where do important countries stand? Some of them, at least, should make their positions clearer.