Time’s encomiums

The surprise declaration of a three-month unilateral ceasefire by the Maoists starting Sept. 3 has come as a refreshing breeze on an otherwise bleak political and security landscape. This is not just an almost-routine Dashain ceasefire by the Maoists, as its length suggests. It has evoked wide positive response, including that from the seven political parties; the government and the international community are yet (time of writing) to react. But the virtual blackout of the ceasefire news by the state-owned media may send a wrong signal to many. In a statement issued on Saturday, Prachanda, the Maoists’ top leader, said the parliament-restoration demand could not address the real problems but would only give the palace space ‘for conspiracy,’ and he reiterated his party’s four-year-old demand by calling upon the seven political parties to opt straight away for an interim government and constituent assembly elections. The one-sided ceasefire, according to him, aims to pave the way for “a democratic political solution and peace” as well as to “dispel the doubts remaining in some quarters about our movement”. During the ceasefire, the Maoists would not go on the offensive, Prachanda said, warning that they could withdraw it at any time if the government forces indulged in activities such as increasing military operations or expanding military bases. Prachanda hopes the ceasefire will create “a congenial atmosphere from the domestic political forces to the United Nations to resolve the problem.”

Now, the time has come to test the intentions and sincerity of each of the key domestic political forces—the Maoists, the palace and the political parties—as well as of those of the powerful countries with stakes in Nepal. Recognising that there is no military solution to the Maoist insurgency, there is no alternative to finding a political solution sooner or later. Obviously, the sooner the better, as delay means more death and destruction and the country being set back by additional years. Moreover, without doubt, no settlement can take place outside a democratic framework. At the same time, it appears clear that the country will not be coming anywhere near a solution by insisting that any settlement must be found within the limits of the 1990 Constitution. The past negotiations foundered, apparently, just because of this insistence on the part of the constitutional forces. The rebels have put the ball in the government’s court; now it is time for the latter to call their bluff. If the government cannot rise to the occasion by taking a bold initiative, it will find it even harder to justify the moves that have compromised the 1990 Constitution as well as its ‘war on terrorism’.