Peace talks : Learning lessons from the past
The promptness shown by the government and immediate response by the Maoists to hold dialogue has given hope to the people for better days ahead. The seven party alliance (SPA) and the Maoists have been talking for months generating mutual trust, which augurs well for the success of the negotiations. However, a review of the past talks and causes of their failure is necessary to avoid any misunderstandings, which may create unhealthy atmosphere. The parties need to be cautious not to let any mistrust creep between them.
The adoption of the code of conduct during the ceasefire is a good beginning. The code is definitely an improved one than in the past, which shows seriousness of the negotiators. However, monitoring of the adherence to the code is essential. The monitoring mechanism ought to be agreed upon by both the parties and must start its work immediately. Such a mechanism should not be limited to a central body; it has to be created as widely as possible so that any violation of the code by any party could be reviewed and prompt action be taken to avoid repetition.
The first negotiation during the Deuba government failed mainly on the most vital issue of the Maoist insistence on a constituent assembly (CA) to frame a new constitution. The government did not only show reluctance, but also refused to discuss the question of CA. The second time the issue could have been addressed, though reluctantly, but because of increasing mistrust between the government and the Maoists, topped by the Doramba incident, it led to the failure of the talks. Now, the SPA as well as the House have unanimously accepted the need for a CA. This is a big leap forward to generate mutual confidence and appreciation.
The initial talks at Shanker Hotel created an atmosphere of mistrust over the issue of RNA’s movement. An agreement was reached in Godavari earlier that the Army would not be moved beyond five km from the barracks. The government pleaded to increase the limit to 10 km, which was not accepted by the Maoists. Some ministers later denied that any such agreement had been reached. This shows that transparency is necessary but any statement made by either party has to be agreed upon between them before making it public.
The other cause of mistrust was the movement of army health service to the Maoist-controlled areas. The Maoists said that in the name of providing healthcare, the army engaged in obtaining information about their whereabouts. The then prime minister promised the Maoist facilitating team that the matter would be taken care of, but he could not fulfil the promise.
In Nepalgunj, the government’s commitments were outrightly rejected by the Maoists who insisted on the need to scrap the existing constitution and declare the need for the formation of an elected CA.
Amidst such an environment of mistrust, the Hapure negotiation was inching ahead, but the killing of unarmed Maoists in Doramba, Ramechhap, fuelled their anger. The party then submitted a note of protest the next morning to the negotiating government ministers. The ministers could not even assure them to seriously look into the matter and punish those who might have perpetuated the act. This incident disrupted the negotiation and the country again witnessed another period of terror and uncertainty.
It is thus not enough to have good intention to make negotiations successful. Every moment during the negotiation has to be watched carefully not to let suspicion rise in the mind of the other party. The negotiations are now held with a view to arrive at certain mutual agreements. The most important aspect is the safeguarding of human rights. Though the code of conduct has well amplified the areas that could grow mutual trust and understanding, a human rights agreement should also be signed by both the parties. During the war, innocent humans have been the main victims and worst sufferers. During the ceasefire, care should be taken to uphold human rights.
There is hope for the success of the negotiations mainly due to the long contact of the negotiating parties, which culminated into a coalition during the mass upsurge. The participation by the Maoists in the peaceful revolution must have convinced them in the invincibility of peaceful uprising of the people. The success of the peaceful revolution must have raised the confidence of the SPA to deal with the agenda put forth by the Maoists to advance the cause of the downtrodden and marginalised. Yet, the government has to be cautious in admonishing the Maoists against forced donations and must find a way to feed the rebel army, which is ready to lay down arms. Their day-to-day problems cannot be ignored in the name of solving the other national problems of greater magnitude. For the success of the negotiations, even small issues must be paid attention to and the issue of maintaining the rebel armed forces is not a small issue.
Upadhyay is a former foreign minister