By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
The absence of sustained armed violence – despite the persistence of intimidation and sporadic incidents of bloodshed – has itself transformed both politics and the character of political parties in Nepal, including, most significantly, the Maoists. Despite intra- and inter-party friction, there is no reason to believe that this process will not deepen, or that there will be an abrupt regression to the more atavistic politics of the past. — Mixed Relief, SAIR, September 5, 2011
With a further deadline for the tenure of the Constituent Assembly (CA) approaching at the end of November, and the Constitution Drafting process deadlocked, a crisis appeared imminent in Kathmandu. Political observers felt that a further extension to the CA may have attracted a judicial challenge, since no progress had been registered in its activities for months. Such a crisis, however, now appears to have been averted by an uncharacteristic display of extraordinary flexibility and accommodation by the major political formations in Nepal, expressed through a seven-point agreement signed on November 1, 2011. The signatories to the agreement – Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda; Nepali Congress (NC) President Sushil Koirala; Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal; and Bijay Gachchhadar, as representative of the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF), a grouping of five Madhesh-based parties – demonstrated tremendous sense of purpose, to open a new window of opportunity for the peace process that had stagnated since the CA election in 2008.
The latest deal prepares the basis for the conclusion of the peace process, bringing divergent positions on some of the most contentious issue to a workable closeness. The most significant agreement in this context has been on the the fractious issue of the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. Out of up to 19,000 Maoist combatants in cantonments (the exact number is to be determined after field verification), a maximum of 6,500, willing combatants are to be integrated with the Nepal Army as per standard norms of the Army, though with some relaxation in age and educational qualifications. Ranks of the enlisted soldiers will also be determined based on the standards of the security body.
The Maoists joining the Army will be brought under a separate directorate within the Army, where their strength will be a maximum of 35 per cent of the total strength of the directorate, the remaining number being drawn from regular Army personnel. This directorate is to be exclusively committed to development related activities, forest conservation, industrial security and crisis management, and will not be part of the armed Force of the military establishment.
The remaining combatants in the cantonments are to be rehabilitated into civilian life, either through a voluntary retirement programme or through a rehabilitation package that includes education, training and vocational opportunities. The cost of these packages varies between NPR 600,000 to NPR 900,000. Those opting for voluntary retirement would receive between NPR 500,000 and NPR 800,000, depending on their seniority within the Maoist organisation.
All the weapons stored in the cantonments are to automatically come under the Government’s ownership once the process of integration begins.
The deal has fixed a deadline for completion of the task of dividing the combatants opting for integration and rehabilitation, respectively, for November 23, 2011.
Two other significant issues of contention that appear to have been settled were the dismantling of the Maoist’s Young Communist League (YCL) and the return of seized properties by the UCPN-M. The Maoists have agreed that “the paramilitary structure of the YCL would be dismantled, while all the public and private properties seized by the YCL would be returned to the rightful organizations and individuals by November 23.” Further, the UCPN-M has also agreed to take an official decision to return the private and public properties seized by the party during the armed conflict to the rightful owners for their use, again, by November 23. Due compensation would be paid to the owners for the loss caused by the seizure of properties. The rights of the peasants would be guaranteed in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006, the Interim Constitution of 2007, and “scientific land reforms”.
The November 1 deal also provides for a Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission and a Commission to Investigate Forced Disappearances, which are to be formed “within a month”. The Agreement further provides that relief packages would be made available for the victims of conflict.
In order to take the ongoing peace process to its logical culmination, and to complete the task of the drafting of the Constitution, the political parties have also agreed to set up a high level political mechanism that will facilitate dialogue among the political parties. Further, a team of experts will be formed immediately, on the basis of consensus in the CA, to make recommendations on state restructuring, and to initiate the process of formulating a draft of the new Constitution within one month.
The Agreement sees these processes as a prelude to the establishment of a national consensus government (NCG). A NCG has been the objective of Nepali politics since the CA election in 2008. Indeed, media reports suggest that an informal understanding between the parties has already been hammered out, paving the way for the present Maoist-led Government to make way for an NC-lead NCG, which would oversee the next elections, once Constitution drafting has been completed.
While the latest deal has been hailed as ‘historic’ in various quarters, the hardliner faction of the UCPN-M, led by vice-chairman Mohan Baidya aka Kiran, has opposed the Agreement, terming it a ‘betrayal of the people and the country’. Threatening to “revolt” against the Agreement, Baidya and Maoist General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa have demanded that the deal be scrapped. There is, however, growing evidence that the hardliner faction is getting marginalised within the party. Party Chairman Dahal has, moreover, allayed apprehensions, arguing that such opposition can exist within the party, and that such voices can be accommodated within the party discourse.
Significantly, after the conclusion of the two-day meeting of the General Staff of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on November 3, 2011, PLA chief Nanda Kishor Pun declared that the PLA fighters were ‘fully committed’ to the ‘historic’ deal and would support the Government in its prompt implementation. The meeting directed all the commanders of the seven divisions of the PLA to help implement the agreement.
Nepal Politics has, of course, seen many agreements before this foundering against the challenges of implementation. This time around, however, there is greater optimism and a surprising consensus across parties that have inclined to stubbornness and confrontation in the past. Indeed, during the debate in the CA on November 3, 2011, leaders of the major political parties regretted ‘wasting three years’ in political wrangling. The three fractious years following the election of the CA in 2008 have seen four Prime Ministers and highly unstable Governments. A sense of urgency appears, now, to have gripped all major political formations in the country, and the UCPN-M, NC and CPN-UML, on November 5, 2011, formed a task force comprising Barshaman Pun from the Maoist party, Krishna Prasad Sitaula from the NC and Bhim Rawal from the CPN-UML, to monitor the peace and Constitution drafting processes, even in the absence of Prachanda, who was travelling to New York.
The past three years of a fractious competitive politics had established a hurting stalemate, with none of the political parties able to gain significant ground. With major issues remaining undecided, and a turnstile for Governments established at Kathmandu, the prevailing situation was clearly becoming untenable. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to keep restive PLA combatants indefinitely in the cantonments, and an increasing loss of public faith was eroding support across party lines. Nepal’s political parties appear, now, to have realized the necessity of living with one another, if the country is not to fall into an uncontrollable downward spiral. The present agreement does create the grounds to bring years of fruitless wrangling to an end. There are, nevertheless, a number of sticking points in the peace process that could stall or jeopardize implementation again, and it remains to be seen how long the newly discovered sagacity persists among the country’s principal political players.
Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management