The peace process so far has been built on wishful thinking, hope and trust. The induction of Maoists into the interim government is also no exception – they were inducted purely with the hope and trust built over the last year with the SPA.
However, by inducting the Maoist into the government without the completion of credible arms management and a total renunciation of violence, the government has embarked on a high risk gamble. Unfortunately, the most worrisome aspect is that Girija has played his last card by inducting the Maoists into government. Implicit in this action is the realization that all options to mainstream the Maoists have been exhausted – we can only now hope that the Maoists will "walk the talk." But what if the Maoist fail to relinquish the violence that has been the number element of their so-called "political" campaign?
Democracy is a process and elections a part of this process (not an end in itself). At present, 118 out of the 193 countries in the world have embraced a democratic setup (of some sort), encompassing 54.8 % of the world's population.
The real challenge however, remains the transition to sustainable constitutional liberalism. For instance Iran holds elections on regular intervals, but its constitution legalizes the muzzling of press freedom. Zimbabwe has elected Robert Mugabe who in return has eliminated political opponents. And Saddam Hussein held elections, and that in turn legitimized his audacious brutality. Even Gyanendra claimed his fifteen month rule as a democratic one. The question of course, is whether these are examples of democratic exercises of democratic elements used to forward undemocratic designs?
Examples of a democracy gone awry are aplenty; often the end result is a tyrannical (illiberal) democracy. Given the continuation of Maoist violence and the ideology it supports – a one party communist republic - what is the guarantee that elections to a Constituent Assembly will not result in an illiberal democracy?
The real challenge to Nepal's peace process is the institutionalization of an inclusive democracy through constitutional liberalism. There is truly no alternative to constitutional liberalism.
But like other countries that have undergone difficulties during their own transitional phases, Nepal too is faced with gargantuan challenges that are hindering the prospects of a permanent solution. The first of these challenges is extremism.
Over the years, Nepal has witnessed the most adverse political circumstances. Each is directly correlated to the lack of skilled, quality leadership. With the political leadership's failure to guarantee a functioning democratic platform, individuals collectively resorted to extremism to fulfil their aspirations. As a result, the notion of 'self-determination' gained prominence as a catalyst to muster individual rights.
Extremism, however; in any form, has no ethics. It is based upon completely destroying state infrastructure and cleansing all social associations. Plainly speaking, the focus of extremism is on rewriting history. For extremists, the end always justifies their means, regardless of the suffering, loss of life. Events, atrocities, body counts are all relegated to lifeless statistics, later to be showcased to "honour" the "scarifies" made for extremist visionaries to come to power.
Yet another challenge to Nepal's peace process is guaranteeing individualism that is the bedrock of constitutional liberalism. Individualism is a vital theme that contributed to the changing politics of Nepal. With the advent of the internet and the media boom, communication barriers have been broken, making people increasingly aware; and, as a result the expectations of the common people have soared.
Today, in this ever-increasingly transparent society, individual freedom is the hypothesis through which the future of Nepal will be charted. Where morality and ethics will be based on individual perception, essentially meaning that the 'goal' in life is the attainment of a sense of individualism, that distinguishes one human from the next.
On the political front, the another serious challenge (to Nepal's peace process) is that of containing the armed Maoist militia. The rebel militia which numbers anywhere between 10,000 – 25,000 possesses small arms.
The distinction between the PLA and the militia is critical. While the PLA has fought the security organs of the state, the militia has been responsible for staging kangaroo courts, patrolling villages, abducting, extorting and canvassing Maoist ideology through the country. If the government chooses to continue ignoring the importance of disarming the militia, the forthcoming Constituent Assembly election results will overwhelmingly tilt in the favour of the Maoists.
For the greater Nepali population to participate in the Constituent Assembly elections, it is essential that all legitimate voters are roped into the electoral process – not just those that favour a particular ideology or fear a particular group. Therefore it is extremely critical for the government and the Maoists to prioritize the issue of rehabilitating displaced people prior to the election of constituent assembly.
But the rehabilitation of displaced people may not be desirable to the Maoists. The majority of displaced people fled their homes due to pressure from the rebel militia. And during the early phase of the "people's war," the Maoist militia had specifically targeted members of opposition political parties. As most political opponents of the rebels fled in an exodus to Kathmandu and other safety nets, the void created by the abrupt exodus was filled by ardent rebel sympathizers and the militia in villages throughout rural Nepal - the returnees could upset the balance of Maoist hegemony throughout the countryside.
Given the volatile situation of the country, in is inevitable that the SPA-M leaders will mutually consent to postponing elections, leading to an era of 'eight party rule with unachievable bogeys (once more). Elections are an important facet of a functioning democracy but holding them does not guarantee democratic discourse.
Democracy can only work if it guarantees freedom and accommodates divergent views. If the elections to a constituent assembly do not progress in the direction of constitutional liberalism, the whole exercise will lead to yet another political collision. So instead of falling over each other, congratulating the ruling parties on the "progress" of the peace process, we would be doing ourselves an even larger favour by logically questioning (and working towards) what is more important - the sustenance of the peace process (for sure), but simultaneously, the envisioning of an achievable set of goals, associated timelines and ultimately, a process that yields not just "peace and democracy," but also authentic constitutional liberalism.