Political impasse: Need to break it this time

Nepalis have welcomed the summit meeting between the SPA and the Maoists that kicked off on October 8 and the masses have wished it success. There is a surge of optimism, particularly after the PM’s statement that the talks will continue until the desired result is obtained.

However, those watching from the nearest corridors, experts on conflict resolution and members of the civil society engaged in nourishing peace initiatives have shown cautious optimism. The reason: the PM’s repeated statements on the need for arms management as the core issue and the deputy PM and foreign minister’s statement in the UN general assembly that the Maoists would not be allowed to enter an interim government until they “surrender” arms.

One wonders why the arms issue remains so ambiguous though the five-point agreement and the letters to the UN Secretary General sent by the SPA and the Maoists have clearly specified that “they (armed forces) remain in barracks and their weapons not be used for or against any side.” Has the ambiguity sprung from the UN General Assembly statement of the foreign minister, who has prescribed the “surrender” of arms by the Maoists? The SPA leaders have to distinguish between “management” and “surrender” of arms. They must realise that rebels have nowhere surrendered arms without reaching a settlement.

One should not forget the genesis of Maoist insurgency. The very reason behind the armed struggle was the inability of the rulers to address the Maoists’ demands, which aimed at a restructuring of the state machinery and providing adequate participation of ethnic groups, Dalits and women in all organs of governance. Although the majority have supported this idea, the SPA leaders are yet to accept it. However, if some of them seem to be targeting cosmetic changes in the state machinery and have come to the conclusion that the Maoists, having been tired of living in jungles, are ready to share power if certain reforms are instituted to save their face. This is a gross ignorance of the Maoists’ objectives and reflects upon their own psychosis.

After losing over 12,000 Nepalis, it would be insensitive to undermine the insurgency’s impact on politics. Even if the Maoists confirm the guesswork of such politicians they will be swept away by a stronger conflict as the whole nation is awake to the people’s aspirations. So the talks cannot just focus on arms management but have to deal with questions of state structure — federalism versus unitarianism, status quo or cosmetic changes in the administration, creation of administrative units on ethno-linguistic basis, electoral procedure to allow proportional representation to all ethnic groups, Dalits and women or maintaining Westminster practice. Without addressing these issues negotiations can’t succeed.

A newspaper has identified the issue of monarchy, arms management, interim parliament and state restructuring as hurdles to agreement. The issue of monarchy should not create any obstacle if its fate is to be decided through a referendum. The question of interim parliament is a little iffy. If an election to the Constituent Assembly (CA) is scheduled for next summer, is there any need for a parliament? The present parliamentary session can be suspended for some time and a widely participated political conference could be convened to determine all important issues and a short session of the parliament could be held to adopt necessary legislation to elect a CA. The nature of necessary legislation could be determined by the political conference itself.

The issue of arms management should pose no threat if both the SPA and Maoists continue to adhere to the five-point accord. But management should not be confused with surrender of arms. The moment surrender of arms is demanded the negotiation shall grind to a halt. Consequently, any type of agitation will push the country into anarchy. State restructuring needs bold decisions. Politicians must realise that public opinion has been in favour of an inclusive democracy. Creation of such a society demands drastic changes. The feudal attitude of dominance of a few has to be done away with. Equality of all has to be accepted as the new generation’s need.

The Nepalis have found a ray of hope in the leadership after the April revolution. Nepal has demolished autocracy on a strategy supported by the international community. The present negotiations are also unique. Nowhere have the top leaders of conflicting parties faced each other so frequently and earnestly. It shows the calibre of our leadership to develop its own strategy for negotiations. It is hoped that successful negotiations will once again be appreciated by the international community and our leaders will continue to listen to the advice of foreigners, but rely on their own wisdom and the peoples’ advice. It is hoped that the leadership will give the Nepalis their best Tihar gift.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister