Originally Published 2004-03-31 05:09:01 Published on Mar 31, 2004
Noises of peace are once again emanating in Maoist insurgency hit-Nepal. The Maoists have expressed their desire to sit at the negotiating table, while, at the same time, creating a blood bath in different parts of the Himalayan Kingdom.
Noises of peace in Nepal
Noises of peace are once again emanating in Maoist insurgency hit-Nepal. The Maoists have expressed their desire to sit at the negotiating table, while, at the same time, creating a blood bath in different parts of the Himalayan Kingdom. 

A debate ensued within the country and on the world stage after the Maoist's Chairman, Puspha Kamal Dahal ' Prachanda', called for mediation by the United Nations to find a solution to the over eight-year old insurgency. In February 2004, Prachanda said if the international community and the UN were willing to mediate, the Maoists were ready for peace talks. However, Prachanda's sincerity in bringing in peace has come under scrutiny. 

On March 2 and 8, 2004 the Maoist insurgents created havoc in the country by attacking the Bhojpur district headquarters, destroying a tower of Nepal Telecommunication Corporation (NTC) and a radio station. These acts of wanton destruction brought under doubt the possibility of talks being held between the insurgents and the government. In the Bhojpur attack, the guerrillas killed at least 32 security force personnel and injured many more. Besides, they took captive two employees of the NTC. At the same time, a few affiliates of the Maoists--the Tamuwan National Liberation Front, Magarat National Liberation Front and Madhesi National Liberation Front--in a joint statement issued on March 7, declared blockade in the headquarters of all the districts in the Western development region, which is considered top be a Maoist stronghold. Routinely, the insurgents have been indulging in killings, abductions, looting, torching vehicles and destroying infrastructure. 

Amidst these incidents of blockade, abductions and killings, the Maoists, once again, on March 11, gave some indication of their inclination for peace talks to resume when some human rights activists visited the insurgency affected areas, while on a nationwide peace campaign. A few Maoist insurgents spoke to the human right activists and said they were not against resuming peace talks with the government; but the government would have to guarantee peace.

Thereafter, in the wake of a call to the Maoists from various international and national human rights groups to end the current impasse in Nepal, Prachanda expressed his willingness to hold talks with the government under United Nations aegis. He announced this through a statement issued on March 18, in which he said the Maoists are ready to hold a dialogue with the government under UN mediation, even in the midst of the Peoples War. 

But, suddenly, to make matters worse, on March 20, an estimated 5,000 Maoist cadres armed with sophisticated weapons swooped down on Beni Bazaar in Myagdi district and launched a bloody attack. They set-off a series of explosions in the hills as well as in the plain areas located south of the Bazaar. Also, they attacked the local prison, the district police office and the Kali Prasad Battalion of the Royal Nepalese Army that is situated on the banks of Myagdi River. Preceding the attack, the Maoists blocked all the approach roads at more than 20 places along the Pokhara-Myagdi highway, destroyed the Ghatte Khola Bridge and had cut telephone lines. Although the security forces had prior information of the attack, they could not avoid a large number of causalities because they were vastly outnumbered. Till date, in all 195 causalities have been confirmed--30 civilians, 53 security force personnel and 112 insurgents and reports continue to pour in on continuing skirmishes in the surrounding area.

Thereafter, Prachanda's statement has evoked sharp reactions from different sections of the polity. Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa said the government was ready to hold peace talks but ruled out any foreign involvement. Also, the Maoists have to stop violence if talks were to resume. Home Minister Kamal Thapa said the Maoists have always used peace talks to regroup and enhance their military strength. In Thapa's opinion, participating in peace talks was a tactic the insurgents always employed when they were in troubles with the security forces mounting pressure through intense operations. Therefore, Thapa said, the next--third--round of peace talks would be possible only after the Maoists put an end to violence and create conducive environment for talks. He, too, ruled out foreign involvement or UN mediation. 

In the governments opinion, inviting a third party or the UN would add to the problems of Nepal, given its geo-strategic location, sandwiched as it is between China and India. These two countries had expressed concern at the unending spate of violence in Nepal and have called for early restoration of peace. The turn of events in Nepal indicates that pressure from the international community might prompt the government to make a fresh peace initiative. Seen in this light, the Prime Minister's March 25 statement indicates there could some positive signals for peace from the government. In his statement, Thapa said his government was considering the appeal of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asking the two warring sides to resume the peace process. 

During the second round of the aborted peace talks, in 2003, the King had actively propagated peace and emphasized his commitment. But at the present moment his silence is astonishing. The King has not reacted to the Maoist proposal of UN mediation. Perhaps, his intentions could be culled out from his silence. Presently, the King has been paying visits to insurgency prone areas of western Nepal. The King is being seen but not heard these days. During his interview with the Time Magazine in January 2004, the King had clearly spelt out his intention. He wants to exercise full control over the kingdom. The agitation since December 2003 of the five political parties, the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), Jan Morcha (JM), Nepal Mazdoor Kishan Party (NMKP), and the Nepali Sadhavana Party (Ananadi Devi), and the student wings of all these political parties, is being dealt with firmly. By suppressing any sort of movement which is against the Monarchy, the King is trying to strengthen his position. In fact, the ongoing insurgency and the political chaos are helping the King indirectly to stay in power. 

On the other hand, all the major political parties in Nepal are positive about what Prachanda has said, but have expressed doubt if the Maoists would practice what they say. The General Secretary of the CPN (UML), Madhav Kumar Nepal said, on March 23, that his party is not against a UN mediated settlement of the current crisis. It has been advocating the same since long and is positive that the Maoists too have accepted UN mediation. It, however, wants the reinstallation of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government that was ousted in 2002 to precede negotiations. 

Since the Nepali Congress is entangled in the unification bid between the Nepali Congress led by Girija Prashad Koirala and the splinter Nepali Congress (Democratic) led by Deuba, it is seemingly less concerned about peace talks. In the past, Koirala had strongly objected to the Maoists calling for UN mediation and had said it was a gambit being played by the ultras. 

On its part, the Army has been strongly critical of UN mediation proposal. Army Spokesperson Col. Deepak Gurung flayed Prachanda's call for UN mediation and was of the opinion that this was a clever move by the insurgents to secure international support to their cause. 

If the government intends to militarily crush the insurgency, or is exercising the belief that the Army has the capability to do so, its views are misplaced. The two battles of Bhojpur and Beni in March 2004 have shattered the myth of the government's claim that military offensives, particularly after the launch of the unified security command that has placed the army firmly in charge of all counter-insurgency operations, have been successful in diminishing the strength of the guerrillas. In those two attacks alone, more than 85 security force personnel have been killed. Besides, there have been allegations of gross human rights violations both by the Maoist insurgents and security force personnel. 

The economy of the country has gone from bad to worse. In the over eight years of the insurgency, Nepal's economy has been ruined. There has been a lot of damage to infrastructure. The people are fleeing their homes to avoid being tortured or killed by the Maoists. Therefore, the government, as well as the Maoists should realize that the war is going to take them nowhere. Instead, the country is on the verge of turning into a failed state. 

It is time the Nepalese government moved decisively and announced immediately whether it would negotiate with the insurgents bilaterally or through international mediation. The government should stop from keeping everyone in a dilemma regarding peace talks. It is true that the government's peace efforts had failed twice. But, given the stalemate and the difficult situation the country is in, the government should not shy away from talking to the Maoists. 

In the past, the government has not exhibited the required skills to resolve the crisis through bilateral negotiations. Therefore, it might not be altogether wrong to invite international mediation. Even a large section of the Nepalese public and leaders of political organizations also seem to be in favour of international meditation to end the political deadlock. The government could explain its compulsions and then follow an enlightened course of action. In the meantime, the government could initiate some confidence-building measures, which are acceptable to itself and the Maoists, and, thus, create conducive environment to resume peace talks. To suggest some of the confidence building measures: announce a mutual ceasefire, prepare a code of conduct to be implemented under a monitoring group and agree not to violate human rights. 

The government and the insurgents should then clearly define the issues to be discussed, and define their agenda. They should also set goals for the peace process, while, importantly, identifying their limits. Both the sides should develop supporting arguments to handle the issues to be discussed. It will also be useful to decide who all would participate in the peace talks--whether they should include the King, leaders of all political parties, members from human rights groups, intellectuals, academicians and representatives of the civil society. 

Lastly, all the political parties in the country should play a constructive role to bring back the Maoists to the negotiating table, instead of creating one hurdle after the other. The political parties should desist from pursuing a narrow political agenda that has been damaging the prospects of initiating peace. This is in the larger interest of the country. 

If the government, political parties and the King continue to dither on initiating the peace process, the killing fields of Nepal will turn further red.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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