Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The last leg

In a nutshell, there is one fundamental disagreement on integration: whether or not the combatants should be allowed to retain a distinct identity. Nepali Congress fears that doing so, even after integration, will continue to ‘fan fire to smoulders’ of the conflict. The NC argument is that the Maoists could use their former fighters for ulterior motives if they are somehow allowed to cling on to old loyalties. NC leaders have recently cited examples of mutiny from Bangladesh in support of their argument. It is not yet clear if the Maoists leadership have given up their demand of retaining a separate identity for the combatants, but for sure, the hardliners want it more than anything. Some NC leaders however seem to think that the Maoist establishment is willing to let go of the demand.

Nepal’s peace process has shown surprising resilience over the years. It has survived the breakdown of the consensus prevalent after the Constituent Assembly election of 2008; it survived the sharp polarisation between parties from May 2009 to early 2011 that threatened to derail the peace framework; and it also survived the abrupt departure of UNMIN. Over the course of the peace process, both sides have reneged on their word, partly due to intra-party complications and partly for political expediency. But as the stalemate protracted, both sides have made a surprising turnaround to find common ground by starting where they left off in 2008. In many ways, smooth progress until the CA election and turbulence thereafter was natural. In the initial days of the peace process, the parties had to deal with the broader contours of the process and had a common enemy in the form of the monarchy. But as the enemy was eliminated and time progressed, agreement on specificities could no longer be deferred. Both

sides then took to differing interpretations of what those contours meant to appease their own constituencies.

Once again, parties have reached a broad understanding to expedite the integration process and neither side is deliberately using contentious issues to defer an agreement. The Maoists have shown greater flexibility on some of their demands. Equally, the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML are determined to see this through and have hence have shown flexibility of their own. The biggest catalyst has been the clarity shown by the Maoists on how far they are willing to go to resolve the issues, despite opposition from hardliners within them. In turn, NC leaders have increasingly begun to articulate, in clearer and amenable terms, where their core objections lie and where they are willing to cede ground. This has reduced the trust deficit among both sides. But a more instrumental role in nudging all parties has been played quietly by India. There is a growing sense that India, once again, is taking some ownership of the peace process that it originally facilitated.

India will have to be given a formal public role and Prime Minister Bhattarai rightly reiterated his official request in New Delhi, as he did in New York. So many other international actors with little contributions in facilitating the initial peace framework are actively contributing in various aspects of the process. It is only appropriate that New Delhi, whose behind the scene role has been instrumental from the get-go, be given a public role. But spreading the ownership of the peace process among other domestic constituents is equally critical in guaranteeing success as Nepal’s key actors embark on the last leg of this long and arduous peace journey.

Potential spoilers

There is a constituency in all three major parties that opposes further compromises. In the Maoists, it is quite obvious—the hardliners are more organised and influential than ever before as they vigorously pursue the formation of parallel structures. That gives them an enormous ability to undercut the support for a deal with the Maoists rank and file. Prachanda will have to work overtime on his persuasion skills, but more importantly, giving them an ownership in the decision-making process will go a long way. Only Dev Gurung has been continuously involved in the peace process from this camp. Despite his posturing, Gurung is the only one who understands the complications and the nuances of the peace process. Others have been largely shut out from engagement with other parties. Most of them were in jails in India when the process started, but later

the party headquarters deliberately gave them no role. That needs to change if Dahal wants to avoid an all out assault from the Baidya camp.

In the Nepali Congress, there is also a segment that is opposed to giving up on the party’s long-held stance. In fact, some leaders close to the party establishment are in favour of inking a deal and joining the current government. The opposition within Nepali Congress is partly opportunistic—jockeying for the party’s internal power-sharing—and partly fanned by the conservative element within it that has never accepted the 2005/06 peace framework. Sushil Koirala, like Prachanda, will have to reach out to his opponents.

Support or opposition to further compromises that could lead to a final resolution also depends on how far and

wide the ownership of the peae process is spread and on calculations of who stands to gain or lose in next elections. The three parties will have to keep up the tempo of current engagement, while addressing each other’s sensitivities.

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