State of conflict King must rise to the occasion

Ajit N S Thapa

In the civic reception at Pokhara two weeks ago, the King declared that general elections would begin by the end of 2061BS. He also appealed to all concerned to uphold national interest and cooperate to create a conducive atmosphere for holding free and fair elections. This address was in sharp contrast to the earlier one in Nepalgunj where the King had stated that a 21st century monarch was not to be seen only but also to be heard and that he could not be a silent spectator when people suffered and shed painful tears. Thus the Pokhara address clearly indicates his willingness to return to the role of a constitutional monarch as envisioned in the constitution of 1990. Parties do not seem to be impressed. They feel that the king did not address the core issues of the present conflict and was silent on the restitution of the currently derailed constitution. As free and fair elections cannot be held without ensuring peace and security, which is not possible without addressing the problem of Maoist insurgency, parties have deemed this announcement as more of a ploy to lengthen the present status quo. The protest of the five party alliance against regression continued with greater vigour.

Why have the parties not responded positively to the promise of holding elections? It is now over 18 months since the King dismissed the elected government of S B Deuba on grounds of failure to hold elections and took state authority in his own hands. Since then his appointed Prime Ministers, Lokendra Chand and S B Thapa, have done precious little to justify his move. They have both failed to provide good governance, control corruption, provide peace and security, form an all-party government and hold free and fair elections by resolving the Maoist conflict. Accepting failure, Chand resigned paving the way for a new government but Thapa still hangs on with a lame duck government that has no clue on how to address this deepening national crisis.

Even the military engagement with the Maoists since December 2001 has been restricted to a damage control affair rather than a move towards decisive military victory. The army has launched limited pre-emptive strikes and has not been able to choke off the Maoist supplies. The recent vicious attacks launched by the Maoists in Bhojpur and Beni have caused havoc to human lives and property. It looks as if the Maoists could be down. Given our difficult topography (ideal for guerrilla warfare), the inadequate size of our security apparatus and the paucity of resources, a decisive military victory (in spite of the laudable effort of the security forces so far), seems a forlorn hope. Under these circumstances, no responsible government would lose any time to adopt pro-active measures, such as using the good offices of the UN, to bring the Maoists to negotiation.

Why have the negotiations failed in the past? It is common knowledge that the Maoists are insistent on three minimum conditions: round table conference, interim government and constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Neither the government that negotiates with the rebels nor the parties have come up with a minimum common understanding regarding these core issues. The rebels may be using these demands as a ploy to buy time but they have an excuse to withdraw from negotiations when the government or political parties fail to respond adequately to their vital concerns. One fails to understand what is so complicated about a round table conference?

The call for a constituent assembly may be seen as a move that could possibly infringe upon the so-called fundamentals of the present derailed constitution: Constitutional monarchy, multi-party democracy and parliamentary system. Why not let the people decide whether these should be preserved or a new set of tenets introduced especially when the nation is passing through such an excruciating period? The real concern for the constituent assembly election would be the possibility of the Maoists using their military muscle to affect the outcome of the election. The use of the UN for disarming the Maoists and supervising such elections would greatly reduce threats. The urgency to restore peace and provide security is the greatest need of the hour and this is the message that the King receives as he tirelessly tours various districts to feel the pulse of the people.

The nation is currently engaged in a triangular conflict, which is tearing the nation apart. Continuation of this state of affairs would completely devastate an economy that is on the brink of collapse and add additional hardship and deprivation to the people tormented by Maoist mayhem and the cordon and search operation of the security forces. The King must rise to the occasion and in the glorious tradition of his ancestors, reach out to the political parties to co-operate in salvaging this nation from complete collapse and potential foreign intervention. Towards this end, he must immediately consult political parties for withdrawal of their agitation and the formation of an all-party government whose first task would be to convene a national conference of political parties, including the Maoists, women, Jana-Jatis, Dalits, religious leaders, professionals, civic society and the media to chart a road map for national peace and prosperity. The road map would also provide the basis for settling the Maoist insurgency and to hold free and fair elections. Thapa is Mahasamiti member, NC(D)