With the future of the Maoist combatants finally settled, Nepal’s peace process has gained momentum after a long stalemate, but challenges remain, particularly the design of a new federal state and evolving coalition and factional dynamics of the parties.
Nepal’s Peace Process: The Endgame Nears, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the new alliances and compulsions that enabled the 1 November agreement which restarted the stalled peace process. The Maoist combatants have finally been surveyed to see how many want to enter the Nepal Army and how many want civilian life. Further negotiations will have to take place on ranks and standards for entry into the army. Combatants with disabilities and women who do not qualify for the army will also push for more appropriate retirement packages. Not all combatants are happy with the Maoist leadership. These issues need thoughtful solutions, but are unlikely to result in another prolonged stalemate.
The parties now have to deliver on their major promise of restructuring the state to acknowledge different identities and become more representative and decentralised. The Constituent Assembly (CA), which was renewed for six months until the end of May 2012, will have to balance maximalist demands from both pro- and anti-federalism constituencies. Beyond the capital, identity-based groups have been mobilising for some time. As the future landscape becomes clearer, resistance could also come from traditionally powerful constituencies that are outside the CA and see the proposed changes as a zero-sum game. Kathmandu’s political class will have to ensure the buy-in of these diverse groups, as elite-driven, top-down decisions are unlikely to go down well.
“Although complex negotiations lie ahead, this is still the best chance the parties have had in the peace process to institute some fundamental changes”, says Anagha Neelakantan, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Nepal. “Federalism goes to the heart of ordinary Nepalis’ expectations and anxieties, and as discussions proceed, groups within and outside the Constituent Assembly will see their options narrow. Political leaders and civil society of all hues will have to resist the urge to sharpen the social polarisation as a way of influencing the debate or gaining points.”
The other major challenge is power-sharing, the most tangible dividend political actors expect from the peace process. The Maoists are ruling in coalition with the Samykuta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, an alliance of five Madhes-based parties, while the second and third largest parties, the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), are in opposition. All parties will have to work toward a government of national unity to adopt the constitution. Traditionally conservative parliamentary parties are also re-organising and could play a greater role.
The parties have been slow to meet other major peace process commitments beyond federalism. The disappearance and truth and reconciliation commissions must be formed urgently, before ad hoc decisions on war-era abuses become the norm. The promised land reform commission is not being discussed widely. The commitment to democratise the Nepal Army appears to have been dropped entirely.
“Despite naysayers and sceptics, the peace process is finally moving forward in substantial ways and remains relevant and essential”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Politicians must now be alert to the dangers of abandoning the promises they made to the Nepali people of a deep transformation of the state”.