Originally Published 2011-12-30 00:00:00 Published on Dec 30, 2011
Nepal's Prime Minister Bhattarai has difficult tasks ahead. His credibility has diminished following a heap of unpopular moves he resorted to. He has been criticised for seeking amnesty for rights violators and for his failure to deal with rampant corruption and worsening law and order situation.
ICG report on Nepal: Where it has gone wrong
A recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) on Nepal has claimed that the peace process in the Himalayan nation has moved into a phase of definitive progress. It concluded that despite sceptics, the peace process is finally moving forward in "substantial ways" and remains "relevant and essential."

The ICG's optimism is based solely on the November 1 seven-point deal that the political parties signed after five years of the ceasefire. As per the new agreement, the major political actors agreed to integrate 6500 former Maoist combatants into the security forces. This deal, the ICG claims, has paved the way for progress on the constitution making, which was stalled due to the presence of two armies in the country.

There is no arguing the point that the peace process initiated in Nepal in 2006 is important and it remains the topmost priority of the government of the day. It is also true that the constitution drafting process has been held hostage due to lack of consensus among parties over major issues of peace process ' integration of former PLA fighters being the first major point. But the political actors in Nepal have demonstrated neither the maturity nor the willingness to compromise on petty interests for the sake of national goals. On November 1, the parties merely agreed on the number of combatants to be integrated and once again left a hoard of other issues related to integration unaddressed and some absolutely vague.

If there was willingness to sort the integration matter once and for all, as claimed by the ICG report, the political leaders who signed the seven-point deal must be asked why they could not agree on rank harmonisation and qualification issues. Soon after the regrouping process began in all the seven cantonments after the agreement, the government was faced by fresh demands from the PLA commanders who want nothing less than ranks up to brigadier generals in Nepal Army and also demand that their present qualification be accepted as against 2007 standards when the United Nations Mission in Nepal carried out the verification.

The combatants are unhappy. Frustrations run rampant among them. A sense of fatigue and disappointment has come to stay among the PLA soldiers who have termed the new deal as a "complete surrender" by Maoist chairman Prachanda to the Nepali Congress. No wonder, just two months down the line, the agreement looks more of an eyewash -- something hurriedly done to pacify the Nepalis, whose patience seemed to be running out. Nepali Congress, on its part, has said that the party will not accept anymore changes as much flexibility has already been offered beyond the Army's standard norms for recruitment and promotions.

The new deal is completely silent on combatants with disabilities and women fighters. While 15 percent of them are disabled, at least half of the total 4000 women combatants are married and have children. The ICG report itself has said that they cannot be integrated. Of the 19, 600 verified combatants, 9000 have opted for integration, just over 7000 for retirement and a mere six for rehabilitation package which offers Nepali Rs 5,00,000 to Rs 8,00,000. About 2600 combatants did not appear for regrouping. The new challenges require new rounds of negotiations. It is thus doubtful whether a workable solution can be designed within five months before the expiry of the Constituent Assembly (CA) deadline.

The progress on the constitution writing front too has been illusive. The State Restructuring Commission, which was formed after much debate and difficulty, is losing significance as it is reduced to a tool at the hands of the political leaders. Dalit CA members had to lobby hard for inclusion of a Dalit representative in the commission. The mainstream media called the commission formation a "joke."

On federalism also, no meaningful debates have been initiated in the legislative Parliament. The ICG has reported progress on the form of governance, electoral system and judicial system. But the proposals made so far are mere compromises between the Communist block and the democratic block in Nepal's present polity led by the Maoists and the Nepali Congress respectively. In the absence of a clear agenda on federal restructuring, the compromise formula can be reversed anytime.

The ICG report, however, has rightly drawn attention to the weaknesses of the present government. The primary challenge before Prime Minister Bhattarai has emerged from the hardliners within his party, who have been consistently rejecting the new agreement. The Mohan Baidya Kiran faction of the party has labelled the present coalition of Maoist-Madhesi parties as 'anti-national' for their close proximity with India. But the most immediate threat to the peace process has emerged from the Madhesi front itself, which has demanded the integration of 10,000 Madhesi youth in the national army. This was also the basis of the four-point agreement signed between the front and the Maoists before Bhattarai was sworn in as the prime minister in August. The ICG report is totally silent on this matter. While it has detailed the emergence of identity-based struggles like the Limbuwan and Khumbuwan movements, the report does not incorporate their true aspiration ' equality and right share in governance. Soon after the Madhesi Morcha floated the idea of integration, various ethnic groups opposed it and some have demanded similar integration for their communities as well. The opening of Madhesi recruitment in army will open a Pandora's box in a country where ethnic minorities, Dalits and the disadvantaged communities have long been discriminated against. The dangers of factionalism and communal violence will emerge.

Bhattarai has difficult tasks ahead. His credibility has diminished following a heap of unpopular moves he resorted to. He put in place the biggest cabinet in Nepal's history at the most inappropriate time. Bhattarai has been criticised for seeking amnesty for rights violators and for his failure to deal with rampant corruption and worsening law and order situation. It is also unclear whether Bhattarai will lead the next national consensus government.

Finally, the ICG report has said that there has been a gradual shift in India's policy in 2011, reversing an often "hostile approach" to the Maoists in favour of "accommodation and cooperation." However, much will depend on the Maoist government's ability to deliver on the peace process front. India's neighbourhood policy is based on pragmatism as can be seen in its engagement with Myanmar and elsewhere in South Asia. Support to peace process is not an indication of blanket acceptance of any ideology. UCPN (Maoist) party's strong linkage with Indian Naxalite movement is a concern in India. It will move with caution in Nepal as elsewhere.

(Akanshya Shah is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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