Nepal: Light at the End of the Tunnel
2010 has begun on an auspicious note for Nepal and after a long time there are some signs of hope in a country wracked by political instability for many months now. On 07 January the first batch of more than 200 former child soldiers with the Maoists' People's Liberation Army (PLA) were released from the second division camp in Sindhuli, the discharge process continued through the month. In what appeared to be a major political breakthrough, the big three parties - Unified CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and UML - announced formation of much talked about High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM). Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh may visit Nepal in the month of March, obviously he would only go if there is some sign of political continuity in the country.
The Unified CPN (Maoist) appeared positive on the government action plan of rehabilitating and integrating the Maoist combatants within 112 days during a meeting of the Special Committee on Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. The rehabilitation process would have to be properly monitored. The government’s announcement of completing the process of integration of PLA cadres within the given time frame is welcome though how far this will be successful remains to be seen. The defense minister Bidhya Bhandari and the Army have been vocal in opposing integration of the PLA cadres but have been over ruled for now. They would intensify the opposition once the process starts.
The HLPM endorsed its Terms of Reference (ToR) prepared by the three-party committee for ending political impasse. The mechanism has agreed to keep Prime Minister as the invitee-member. Other agreements reached include ending verbal accusation of each other and clashes at cadres' level, formation of sub-committees under HLPM to support peace process and constitution writing and a weekly meeting. Investigation into disappeared citizens, return all the seized land and properties and implement all agreements reached in the past are some of the issues agreed upon.
The parliament passed the seventh amendment bill to the interim constitution by a two-third majority that includes a provision to allow president, vice president, prime minister and ministers to take oath of office and secrecy in respective mother tongues. This will pave the way for reinstating the Vice President who had been disqualified for taking his oath in Hindi. This is also a sign of a rapprochement between the political parties and this build up has to be sustained to form a national reconciliation government which seems to be in the offing in Nepal. This may come about in a few months or even lesser time the key problem being debated is who will be the Prime Minister as the contest for the post hots up.
The Unified CPN (Maoist) called off its indefinite general strike for 'civilian supremacy', which was scheduled to start from Sunday (Jan 24) citing positive discussion during meeting of the high-level political mechanism (HLPM) towards resolving the political impasse. This is again an encouraging development.
With the Vice President also brought into the main stream there is hope that the stalled peace process would gain momentum. If this trend continues, then the next conflict may arise over Constitution drafting as there are major differences on the subject. The HLPM has raised hopes of early breaking of deadlock with the Maoists, it is apparent that internal politics of parties may come into play. It now remains to be seen if party leaders, such as the Nepal Congress chief G P Koirala who wants to foster his daughter possibly in the high chair of the Prime Minister and the Maoist Chief Prachanda who himself has the ambition of taking on the Prime Minister’s chair a second time and is also in conflict with his deputy Mr Bhattarai on the issue are able to work out a compromise that would be agreeable to all sides.
All however may not be well in Nepal. The internal divisions within the Unified CPM N or the Maoists are evident with generally three lobbies emerging, the one is inclined towards India led by Mr Bhattarai with affiliation towards New Delhi for long now but who is equally acerbic in his attacks from time to time. At another level are the centrist and inclined towards China led by Chairman Prachanda while the group headed by Mr Mohan Vaidya is rabidly anti India and also anti electoral democracy and wants to establish a People’s Republic. The last group has been resisting Prachanda and Bhattarai groups who are advocating full fledged participation in the parliamentary system. These differences are naturally causing divisions and therefore delays in reconciliation.
That the Maoist leader Prachanda is aiming to once again occupy the chair of the Prime Minister and possibly unless the same is offered to him the deadlock in Nepal is likely to continue was evident with his statement that the present Prime Minister Mr M K Nepal should not be included in the HLPM as he is the cause or the government is the cause of all the problems. This is a clear indication of intent apart from earlier raising the issue of his deputy’s candidature being sponsored by India thereby effectively scuttling his chances. So what is apparent is that the Maoists are once again gunning for a government led by them and that is possibly the bottom line for a compromise.
The contestation between the Unified CPN M and the Nepal Army is also a cause for concern. The induction of logistics vehicles and other non lethal aid from India for the Nepal Army was obviously a good will gesture even as the Indian Army Chief was in the country on an official visit to be anointed with the Honorary Rank of General as per normal tradition. The logistics aid raised hackles of the Unified CPN M.
The anti India tirade launched by the Maoists from time to time is also a cause for concern. The protests and the black flags that the visit of the Indian Army chief raised in Nepal is an indication of the level of antipathy. Dragging the Army into internal politics in Nepal may have grave consequences for the future and both the Indian and the Nepal governments would have to tread with caution for the Nepal Army is emerging as a key stake holder in Kathmandu. It is important that it remains a positive one rather than a spoiler.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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