Thursday, September 20, 2007

Has Nepal's Peace Process Come to an End?

Has Nepal's Peace Process Come to an End?

Yesterday i।e. on 18 September 2007, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) quit the interim government headed by Prime Minister G P Koirala for not meeting their 22 points demands including declaration of Nepal as a republic. The Maoist supremo Prachanda was absent in the rally where the announcement to quit the government was made but he participated in the eight party discussions held today.

India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee described it as “internal issues of Nepal to be resolved by Nepal itself.” But, it also immediately increased its vigil across Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim.

The India-engineered Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nepal appears to have come to an end. The withdrawal of the Maoists is a symptom of the failure to conduct reform in the security sector. The Comprehensive Peace Accord provided little mechanisms to make the Royal Nepal Army and the Maoists cadres accountable. The architect of the Royal coup, General Rookmangud Katwal, has been appointed as the Chief of Army Staff. The Maoists in their technical language never surrendered the arms. Their cadres virtually run Nepal as Prime Minister Koirala's writ runs only in the Kathmandu valley.

India can't shirk its responsibility as it opposes involvement of international community for resolution of the crisis in Nepal. There are uncanny similarities between the Memorandum of Understandings signed by International Committee of the Red Cross with the governments of India and Nepal. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been reduced to conducting “documentation” – essentially doing the jobs of the NGOs with the imprimatur of the UN. The UN Political Mission in Nepal has also been virtually playing a technical role among others for "the management of arms and armed personnel".

It remains to be seen whether the Maoists can be persuaded to return to the Koirala led government. Irrespective of whether the Maoists return to the government or not and whether elections to the constituent assembly could be held or not, Nepal appears to be heading for war.

I. Nepal is not ready for elections

On 19 August 2007, the Election Commission of Nepal publicised the programme of Constituent Assembly elections to be held on 22 November 2007. The Election Code of Conduct, rejected by the Maoists, also came into force. As the eight political parties hold dialogue, the Election Commission of Nepal has been completely sidelined.

Nonetheless, according to the election programme, candidates must file their nominations on 5 October 2007 and the final list of the eligible candidates will be published on 10 October 2007. Election symbols will be allotted on 11 October 2007. On 6 September 2007, the Election Commission stated that it had completed appointment of the chief election officers and the election officers for all of the 240 constituencies.

But Nepal is simply not ready for elections. No political party has proper preparedness to face the mandate of the people. The Maoists went a step further and announced the following programmes to disrupt the elections: conduct door-to-door public awareness campaign from 19-21 September 2007; rallies and campaigns from 22-29 September 2007; expose the corrupt people and those named as guilty in the report by Rayamajhi Commission from 29 September-3 October 2007; gherao all the District Administration Offices on 30 September 2007; and launch nationwide general strike from 4-6 October 2007 to prevent filing of nominations by the candidates.

II. Why is Nepal not ready for elections?

The description of the key actors involved for the prevailing anarchy in Nepal might help to explain as to why Nepal is not ready for elections

a. Rule of the Maoists and absence of police

On 17 September 2007, the Chief Election Commissioner and the commissioners of the Election Commission met Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and urged him to ensure security for the elections.

The fact remains that the Maoists have not even allowed the government to restore or establish new police stations in the villages where the Maoists continued to run their writs. The Maoists are the law unto themselves and they continue to carry out abductions, extortion, torture, and intimidation. With the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) cadres registered in the UN managed camps, the Maoists have been carrying out atrocities through their youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL). On 9 June 2007, Prachanda declared that the YCL activists would continue to take actions against the “corrupt” people. The YCL has reportedly prepared a list of “corrupt persons” and threatened to take action against them from 18 September 2007.

The Nepal police have been helpless while dealing with the Maoist cadres. The law enforcement agencies or the civil administration cannot take action against the Maoist cadres even if they commit crimes and disturb the law and order. On 29 August 2007, Young Communist League activists attacked the police team at Choharwa area in Siraha district, looted their arms and vandalised a police van in protest against the arrest of seven Maoist cadres including former chief of the Maoist ‘district people's government', Bishnu Bidhyadhar by the Armed Police Force. The APF personnel had reportedly seized three pistols and a homemade gun from the arrested Maoists. Earlier on 2 August 2007, Maoist cadres thrashed policemen including a Sub-Inspector at a police post in remote Piplang village of Humla district for arresting a Maoist cadre identified as Nanda in connection with the murder of Nepali Congress- Democratic leader Netra Bahadur Shahi. The Maoists released the policemen only after they signed a document stating that the arrested Maoist cadre would be released.

If police personnel are not secure, can the voters be?

b. The Madhesi armed groups

The Terai region inhabited by the Madhesis has been considered crucial to keep the Maoists at bay. The Nepal Police have declared eight districts of the Terai region - Bara, Parsa, Rautahat, Mahottari, Dhanusha, Sarlahi, Siraha and Saptari as “highly sensitive” and 13 other districts of Terai - Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Makwanpur, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Kapilbastu, Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts as “sensitive” areas.

In recent days, many violent incidents took place to disturb peace ahead of the elections. On 16 September 2007, one person was killed when a crude bomb was lobbed at a passenger bus near Parwanipur in Bara district. On the same day, a bomb also went off near the Gandak region police post in Birgunj. Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Jwala Singh faction) has reportedly claimed responsibility for the blasts. Earlier, on 15 September 2007, an explosion took place at Town hall in Birgunj.

On 7 September 2007, Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Jwala Singh) allegedly exploded a bomb in front of Suresh Oil, a petrol pump, in Shripur area in Birgunj.

On the night of 30 August 2007, two children identified as Upendra (8) and Madhav Yadav (7) were killed when unidentified persons hurled a bomb at their house in Ramnagar Mirchaiya Ward number 4 of Siraha district.

Both the Goit faction and the Jwala Singh faction of the Jantantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) have vowed not to allow the Constituent Assembly elections to take place in Terai. On 12 September 2007, the Jantantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Goit faction)'s Chairman Jaya Krishna Goit issued a public statement saying, “the Nepali rulers have no right to hold constituent assembly election in Terai”. On 14 September 2007, the Jwala Singh faction warned that it would take “physical action” against those taking part in the election campaigning in Terai.

In many of the areas inhabited by the Madhesis, the Maoists themselves cannot visit. Yet, the Nepal Police claimed to have arranged special security around the voting centres of these “highly sensitive” districts for the Constituent Assembly elections!

It is another cruel joke on the people of Nepal.

c. The Royal Nepal Army and cry for a republic

No reform has taken place to bring the RNA under civilian control. The RNA is presently headed by the architect of the Royal coup, General Rookmangud Katwal.

The RNA is not neutral and it will not remain neutral during the elections either. The Palace is infamous for its dirty role to create instability and it will continue to use RNA for its benefits. None of the RNA personnel has been held accountable for human rights violations.

The Maoists' strategy is simple: abolish the monarchy to abolish loyalty of the RNA to the Palace.

III. Koirala's game plan

If the Maoists are apprehensive about the role of the RNA, the political parties too remain fearful of the Maoists and therefore, unwillingness to give in to the demands of the Maoists. It is not that the Maoists have public support but with its armed cadres acting as law unto themselves they can easily threaten other political party activists or rig the elections. Therefore, the Maoists seek to abolish the monarchy to bring the RNA under its (read as government) control. In essence there can no free and fair elections in Nepal unless the armed groups – both the RNA and Maoists cadres are fully disarmed.

This in essence suits Koirala's game plan to cling on to power. Koirala is not known for giving up power and caused the split in the Nepali Congress. With no other acceptable alternative from the Seven Party Alliance to head the government, international community and in particular India will continue to support Koirala. But at the age of 82, Koirala cannot be the long term solution.

If talks with seven parties fail, the Maoists would like Prime Minister Koirala to use the army to break their forthcoming protests. This would allow them to make a call for total revolution, and Nepal will be caught in an unending civil war. But this time, there is more than the Maoists.

There is indeed no peace in sight in Nepal. However, international community still has the time to intervene to redefine the terms of the peace process and ensure at least the following for peace in Nepal: (1) undertake security sector reforms with the agreement of the parties to establish accountability over the RNA, the Maoist cadres and other armed opposition groups; (2) deployment of adequate international security forces and election observers (given the lack of capacity, independence and credibility of Election Commission of Nepal) for holding constituent assembly elections by broadening the mandate of the UN Political Mission in Nepal; and (3) hold phase-wise (instead of country-wide) elections in Nepal to facilitate the movement of the security forces which is indispensable for providing adequate security to the voters.

These measures will still be cheaper than managing conflicts (by other international actors) through a government whose writ runs only in the Kathmandu valley and managing borders (by India)।

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