Peace is still possible, give it another try

Ram Pradhan

Violence has escalated proving once again that there is no military solution to the on-going political crisis, and to look for an escape route beyond the normal parameters of peace by those in the fray amounts to committing a collective suicide. The battle of Beni in the wee hours of March 21 has smashed the myth claiming that the military offensive particularly since the launch of the unified command last October had considerably eroded the striking power of the Maoists. Who can tell the rebels haven’t actually used the post-Hapure interregnum to regroup and revise their strategic outlook as a response to the Singha Durbar’s decision to hold the parliamentary and the local body elections?

Myagdi and other incidents in the last few weeks should leave no doubt in anybody’s mind that Maoists are anything but “demoralised and on the verge of defeat” as the establishment would have the public believe. If one were to go by the assessment of the civic society representatives visiting the “liberated areas” recently, the picture is of course quite different than what the State and occasionally even supremo Prachanda present for public consumption. HURON chief Sudip Pathak, for example, sounds somewhat optimistic about the peace finally arriving in Nepal. Based on his fairly long conversation with two top Maoist functionaries in Rolpa between February 18 and 27, Pathak is of the view that if the process of negotiation is handled with care and discretion something can emerge. “The Maoists are looking for what they call a just outlet. They say they aren’t going to obstruct any initiative towards peace.” Apparently, one of the Maoists’ chief concerns is what happens to our people who are under official custody. Pathak has been told that of about 4,000 rebels being held by the security forces, only 1,000 have been formally charged. As a matter of a confidence-building exercise, the government just may wish to make a statement to clarify the actual status of the detainees. Clearly, the government stands to gain in terms of credibility if it comes up with a need-based agenda to facilitate confidence-building.

One distinctly advisable way to deal with the current crisis can be the realisation by the stakeholders, including the Maoists, that the politics of brinkmanship will land them nowhere. The fig leaf is down. “One foot wrong, and you’re gone,” predicts NHRC member Kapil Shrestha who too travelled to the Maoland with the Peace Movement contingent led by HURON’s Pathak last month. He recalls having asked a CPN-M politburo member in Rolpa as to why they have raked up the issue of republic despite the general impression they are not necessarily opposed to a constitutional monarchy if that is what the people want. Pat came the reply: “How are we supposed to think when the five agitating parties themselves are demanding a republic?

Among those recently talking to top Maoist hierarchy is Dr Mathura Shrestha, the rebel with a cause in the interim government headed by K P Bhatttarai. “I have found in them a new realisation that the battle for supremacy is not winnable but that should not mean they are not ready to kill or be killed until certain core issues are addressed.” The fact that the Maoist, according to Shrestha, appears to have found the CPN-UML’s road map that does not talk about a republic in Nepal “quite positive,” there is some room to trust that a negotiated settlement of the apocalyptic dispute, despite Myagdi, is still not beyond Nepal’s reach.