Take the offer

The Maoists are still pushing for a major role of some international body, preferably the UN, in any peace talks between them and the government. But oddly enough, the government has ruled it out, though Nepal has never tired of reiterating its faith in the UN system. It sounds significant too that India and the US, the two key countries aiding the government in its anti-insurgency military campaign, have diplomatically shown their lack of enthusiasm about any external role by stating that the Nepalis themselves are “capable” of resolving their problems. When UN secretary general Kofi Annan had made an offer of the world body’s good offices in Nepal’s conflict resolution, the then Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa and foreign minister Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa had justified the government’s rejection of the idea on grounds that Nepal had to take into active account the “sensitivities” of its neighbours.

Now the offer has been renewed by Samuel Tamrat, a senior political adviser to UN chief Annan, during his fourth and current visit to Nepal. And Nepal, once again, is reproted to have been cool to this offer. Unlike the claim by Nepal’s Indian and American friends, the Nepalis have failed to negotiate peace. While the constitutional political forces have failed to form even an all-party government in the past two years, it is hard to believe that the Nepalis can by themselves tackle the Maoist problem, which is a much harder nut to crack. The elections are in limbo, with the security forces being mainly limited to guarding the district headquarters and urban areas. Despite three years of army mobilisation, the insurgency shows no signs of abating. Everybody is talking of peace, but there has not been any credible move in that direction.

Naturally, the initiative must come from the State. It is generally agreed that permanent peace is possible only through a political settlement of the Maoist problem. However, peace is unlikely if there is mere insistence on finding a solution within the present Constitution. This approach failed during Sher Bahadur Deuba’s last innings as Prime Minister. And once again, during the governments headed by Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa. A similar approach now appears bound to meet with the same fate again. Therefore, a bold new initiative is required. This means all democratic options will have to be kept open. A UN role could promise much, but it would be foolhardy to believe that it is an automatic guarantee of success. But a UN role cannot be equated with any other foreign role; Nepal is part of the UN just as India and the US are. Anyway, the Maoists are unlikely to surrender arms, except maybe to an acceptable third party such as the UN.