Shadow of a doubt

The issue of arms management seems to be creating confusion in the minds of the public in relation to the formation of an interim government that will include the Maoists, too. Krishna Prasad Sitaula, the home minister and coordinator of the government talks team, has said that interim government will not be formed until the question of the Maoists’ arms management is settled. He was addressing Nepali Congress cadres after some central members of the Congress expressed discontent over the 8-point agreement, at least certain provisions of it, because the idea, allegedly, had not been discussed in the party. Some diplomatic circles are unhappy over the lack of detailed modalities for the management of Maoist arms. Sitaula’s statement appears to be directed towards assuaging these quarters’ doubts. On the other hand, CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal has made it clear that though there may be dissensions in the Congress over the accord, there is none in the CPN-UML.

It is necessary to draw up all modalities for arms management and other important transitional issues; the clearer they are, the better, and the sooner they are sorted out, the shorter the road to peace and final political settlement. Both the SPA government and the Maoists have agreed to send a letter to the United Nations, requesting it to help manage and monitor the armies and weapons of both sides to ensure free and fair constituent assembly (CA) polls. But the government has failed to write it even a week after the Friday pact. However, according to Sitaula, it is being delayed for ‘technical reasons’. The draft interim constitution is supposed to be ready in two weeks, but given the government’s tardiness in recognising the drafting committee as its own, the latter seems to be in a limbo. An interim government is supposed to be in place in one month’s time. But, again, given the procrastination and the home minister’s statement, government formation and the fixing of a poll date may be pushed back further.

But a protracted delay is likely to prove costly to peace and political settlement. So while immediate efforts should be made to weed out any doubts, the arms issue alone cannot be made a pre-condition for government formation. The Maoists, the SPA and the SPA government are bound by the 12- and 8-point agreements. If, for example, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the coordinator of the Maoist talks team, had made a statement similar to Sitaula’s, one wonders what the SPA (government)’s reaction would be. To be fair, the Maoists and a sizable chunk of the population are no less worried about the management of the weapons held by the government forces. Mutual trust is of utmost importance. And further confide-nce-building measures should be considered. While some sort of a fairly elaborate deal on arms management is a highly desired one, an interim statute and government cannot be postponed for too long on this issue alone after having signed the Friday pact.