The International Crisis Group’s (ICG) report of December 15, 2006, is a MUST READ for anyone even remotely interested in assessing the undercurrents that currently drive Nepal’s peace process.
Click on the text below to access the full report:
Nepal's Peace Process: Making it Work
This 29 page document, titled “Nepal’s Peace Agreement: Making it Work,” includes a detailed account of all major events that have transpired in Nepal, post-April 2006. The report also offers a holistic perspective on the challenges faced by individual constituents to Nepal’s political conflict and recommends various instruments that may be used to hedge against the risk of a failed peace process.
In the true spirit of independent, impartial analysis, this ICG report accurately documents numerous trends in Nepal’s political dynamics. The authors of this report take great pains to subvert any hint of pessimism; they allude to components of a number of “what if” scenarios, but intentionally fall short of discussing discrete ramifications. Sufficient, background information is provided, but the task of formulating conclusions is left to the report’s audience.
Outlined below are highlights of this ICG report, along with inferences that the information provided, may be used to substantiate.
Timetable for CA Elections – Way too aggressive and almost certainly unrealistic
- The ICG correctly recommends that “only free and fair elections can give a government the necessary decisive mandate” and that “nothing should be allowed to put them off.” Having outlined this reality at the forefront of the report, the rest of the document includes a myriad of recommendations that are close to impossible to fulfill in a 6-month time frame.
- There are 10 thematic (and approximately 34 supporting) recommendations outlined in this report. Of these, not one is relatively more important than another and it is apparent that only if implemented in tandem, can the desired outcome of “free and fair” elections be achieved.
- In other words, the 10 recommendations together, depict a best-case scenario for the up-coming CA elections – a scenario that is completely out of synch given the timeframe available in which to implement the ICG’s recommendations.
- Ironically, the correct assertion that “a gap (in the intended versus actual CA elections) could prompt disillusionment of misbehavior from disgruntled parties,” is included under a section entitled “Overambitious timetable.”
- Ideally, “restored rule of law and an open environment of campaigning and public education months in advance of the polls” and a “solid agreement on basic issues such as policing” are cited as elements necessary to make the June, 2007 CA timetable, viable.
- Endogenous factors aside, the number one exogenous factor that could send the entire peace process into a tailspin is astutely identified as follows: “The ed of his (Girija Prasad Koirala) active political life will spark power struggles with the NC, the SPA and the SPA-Maoist combine.”
Should CA elections be postponed, the postponement would not be because of “regressive forces at play” (although postponement would certainly permit additional time for non-republican forces to forward their agenda). It would be because the outcome of “free and fair” elections cannot be guaranteed given the ground reality of Nepal’s current political atmosphere.
Agreements of the past have to be implemented in full, public expectations have to be re-calibrated. Elections for the sake of having them (same argument used during last year’s municipal polls) may serve the Maoist agenda in the short term but they will certainly not serve Nepal’s long term interest – elections must be irrefutably “free and fair.”
UN role in Nepal – Constructive, but slow and inadequate given ground realities
- Other factors such as “whether enough (UN) monitors can be in place quickly enough to build confidence in the run-up to elections,” that “the arms management deal has boosted the UN’s credibility while adding to already exaggerated expectations” and the observation that “the UN’s task of registering Maoist fighters will be far from straightforward,” stop shy of highlighting the beaurecratic (organizational) risks that accompany the UN’s role in Nepal’s peace process.
- The UN has already been victim to Baburam Bhattarai’s suggestion that the UN should not be retained as an obstacle to the momentum of the peace process – even though inviting the UN to moderate peace has been a Maoist demand for years. Momentum is key to the achievement of Maoist goals whereas speed is certainly not an attribute of the UN as an organization. This dynamic is hinted at throughout the ICG report but is not outlined directly as a risk to Nepal’s peace process.
- The establishment of a UN human rights monitoring mission (during the King’s rule) is cited as an example that demonstrated “the utility of well-defined UN assistance” that allayed “Indian concerns of a possible erosion of its regional hegemony. In acknowledging geo-strategic realities, the ICG report inadvertently amounts to an endorsement of Indian hegemony over Nepal, by the UN.
- In due course of time, this acknowledgement may become more a liability than a strength to UN activities in Nepal for resentment of Indian influence is almost certain to re-surface with the passage of time.
There is a distinct possibility that the UN may be overextending itself in Nepal. The resource gap between what is required to conduct even the limited mandate the UN currently has, is becoming increasingly apparent. No UN mission (in situations of conflict) to date, has employed citizens of the country in question in any peace keeping/monitoring capacity.
By hiring ex-Gurkhas in Nepal, the UN has exacerbated its exposure to criticism by undermining that which makes the UN what it is – a body that has the world’s mandate to deliver unquestioningly INDEPENDENT and IMPARTIAL services. The employment of ex-Gurkha personnel under the pretext of technical proficiency (what proficiency does one need to be a gatekeeper of a storage depot?) is certain to give the UN a “black eye,” should unexpected events occur.
Parliamentary Parties – Same faces, same games, nothing new to report
- The ICG report cites the success of a “popular protest movement” without the use of force, by the Parliamentary Parties. While this claim is somewhat true, it sidelines historical context that fuelled the protest, that fuelled the insurgency and fails to acknowledge the very violent methods that were used to invalidate municipal polls held during 2006.
- Methods included threats to life and personal property and the targeted assassination of numerous electoral candidates. The SPA condoned Maoist enforcement methods and no investigations have been launched to punish Parliamentary Party endorsed, murders. The fact being, implicit force was very much a factor leveraged by the SPA throughout the movement.
- Koirala’s political bet that “the country is probably still more conservative than feverent republicans would like to believe,” is a brilliant observation. Whether this bet pays off or not is yet to be seen. But the pointed identification of the underlying premise of Koirala’s reluctance to advocate openly for a republican set-up, is commendable.
- Yet another apparent (but not openly discussed) dynamic is documented as follows: “Congress’ internal politics are as murky as ever. Despite public professions of contrition at past corruption and poor governance, party machinery has quietly been put back in the hands of some of the worst offenders.” This reference is made in relation to senior NC leaders Khum Bahadur Khadka and Govinda Raj Joshi who were cleared of corruption charges on "technical grounds."
- Yet another excellent observation is as follows: "Second rank officers in the regular and armed police appeared to be judged by their connections rather than their actions: The deputy chief of the armed force, Ravi Raj Thapa, was suspended despite the fact that he was in charge of human resources and not part of the command chain. Basudev Oli, who was responsible for operations, was promoted to become the new chief." Nepotism, favoritism and anything but merit-based, professional progression - biting examples of the traditional SPA mentality that has crept into the post-Feb. 1 period.
- Naturally, this report acknowledges the obvious that “jostling for control of the mainstream left has begun.” Invalidating Madhab Kumar Nepal’s past rhetoric (that the UML had infiltrated the Maoists to mainstream them) as hogwash, this ICG report correctly points out that “each (of the leftist parties) is a threat to the other’s long-term future, and there is little basis for a shared vision.”
- Perhaps the strongest (and most controversial language employed in the entire report) depicts a reality that is often sidelined owing to feudal, caste-based loyalties: "Control over the peace process has not increased confidence; that all decisions were made behind closed doors by a handful of Brahman men leaves sceptics wondering if ten years of conflict has done anything to change underlying structures."
The segment of the ICG report on the Parliamentary Parties is akin to a de-ja-vu. The new generation of leaders are still being held at bay, the practice of continued impunity for crimes committed while in power (corruption, murder, bribery, etc.) persists and the general state of disillusionment (Koirala with his insistence on retaining a ceremonial monarchy and Madhab Nepal with his dream of leading a republican front) is completely at odds with reality.
With the inevitable collapse of converged interests (namely anti-monarchist) inevitable, the Parliamentary parties (especially members of the SPA) are overdue for a rude awakening - courtesty, the Maoists.
The Maoists - Same strategic goals, different methods
- The ICG report says precisely that which Nepal’s disillusioned intellectuals and mainstream media refuse to admit: that they were wrong about the Maoists being desperate to enter the democratic mainstream when in fact, everything the Maoist have done (are doing), suggests that the Maoists are in the process of defining their own version of the mainstream.
- Two very accurate depictions of where the Maoists intend to take Nepalese polity are as follows: “The Maoists’ strategic goal remains a communist republic (janabadi ganatantra), although they have accepted the concept of a democratic republic (loktantrik ganatantra) as an interim objective” and “a central committee member explained that the hope remains of establishing their own government in an unspecified time.”
- Yet a third quote sums up that which no one dares speak (for fear of being labeled anti-peace), but increasingly understands with each passing day: "They (the Maoists) are still an organized force with a known capacity for violence."
A question back to the analysts at the ICG would be: "how exactly does the stipulated Maoist goal of a communist republic reconciles with the notion of lasting peace and freedom for Nepal’s population?" And, a related question to advocates of “reformed Maoists” is: "precisely how have the Maoists transformed or how has their agenda changed from what it was before February-1?"
Obviously, the use of armed violence has converted to the continued threat (of various forms) of violence but could it be that nothing has fundamentally altered within the Maoist psyche? When during the run up to constituent assembly elections, Maoist leaders continue to state in various public fora, that their end-goal remains a communist republic of Nepal, does it make sense for anyone to claim otherwise?
The Palace - No big deal unless one chooses to make it so
- There is no commentary to make here, aside from the obvious – the role of the monarchy will be decided during the first seating of the constituent assembly. Time is better spent thinking about “conspiracies” that are hatching in plain sight for the world to witness, than about “conspiracies” that the palace is supposedly in the process of hatching somewhere down the road.