By Ajit Kumar Singh
Amidst continuing intra- and inter-party friction, Nepal moved ahead with the process of peace building through 2011. Despite continuing hiccups, several of the most contentious issues were resolved, or have moved closer to resolution. Yet, these gains have riders too.
In a landmark achievement, the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) initiated the process of integration following a November 1, 2011, seven-point deal signed by three major parties – Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Nepali Congress (NC) – and United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF). The UMDF is a grouping of five Madhesh based parties. The deal provided three options to fojrmer People’s Liberation Army (PLA) combatants – integration, voluntary retirement and rehabilitation. A total of 16,982 former PLA combatants were subsequently ‘regrouped’. While 9,690 combatants opted for integration, 7,286 chose voluntary discharge, and six combatants registered their names for rehabilitation packages. According to the deal, the combatants will be inducted into a separate Directorate of the Nepal Army (NA), which will look after development projects, industrial and forest security, and rescue works during disasters. The Directorate will have 65 per cent of the workforce from different security agencies, while the integrated PLA combatants will make up for 35 per cent of the force.
However, even before the process began to move forward, numerous complications came to the fore. First, questions were raised about the number of regrouped combatants (16,982). Indeed, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) had registered 19,602 combatants in the second verification conducted on May 26, 2007. Second, the number of combatants who opted for integration (9,690) far exceeded the maximum number stipulated for integration (6,500) in the deal. Third, NA and PLA combatants continue to remain at odds over the very basics of Army integration. While, the Army is saying that the combatants should meet its physical criteria, pass its selection process and attend training specified for each rank, before serving in the New Directorate, the PLA disagrees. Suk Bahadur Rokka, the ‘commander’ of the Second Division of the PLA, thus stressed, “None of our friends will opt for integration if they have to go through each and every test and training like that of the regular recruits.” Given these objections, the path ahead is likely to remain tricky.
Another significant achievement was the submission of the keys of arms containers to the AISC by all the seven divisions of the PLA, on September 1-2, 2011. Earlier, on August 31, UCPN-M had agreed to hand over the keys. Till then, PLA ‘commanders’ controlled the keys of the containers that stored 3,475 Maoist weapons, registered by UNMIN in 2007.
The peace process also survived the withdrawal of the international monitoring agencies that had imposed a degree of restraint on the fractious processes and parties through the troubled early phases of negotiations at Kathmandu. UNMIN formally left Nepal on January 15, 2011. UNMIN, a special political mission in support of the peace process in Nepal, had been established on January 23, 2007, by UNSC Resolution 1740. The term and mandate of another international agency, the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights – Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) also expired on December 8, 2011. The mandate of the OHCHR-Nepal was set out in April 2005.
In another positive development, the practice of dual security provided to the UCPN-M leaders, both by the State and the PLA, was ended on August 27, 2011. Earlier, on June 1, 2011, UCPN-M had agreed to end the dual security system. 112 PLA combatants had been deployed for the security of UCPN-M leaders.
Significant developments were also recorded in the drafting of the Constitution, though the process has already gone beyond successive deadline extensions. The Dispute Resolution Subcommittee under the Constitutional Committee (CC) formed in February 2011 and headed by Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, has now narrowed down the disputed issues in Constitution drafting to 20, from the earlier 83. In total, a significant 250 issues had originally been placed in the ‘disputed’ category. The meeting of the Subcommittee on December 13, 2011, decided to include the provision for a mixed electoral system in the new Constitution. However, leaders are yet to arrive at a consensus on whether 40 or 50 per cent of seats are to be under the proportional representation quota in the mixed electoral system. Earlier, on May 19, 2011, the Subcommittee had decided to name the statute the ‘Constitution of Nepal’. There were six prior disputes regarding nomenclature.
In the meantime, a meeting of the CC decided, on December 4, 2011, to promulgate the first integrated draft of the Constitution between February 13 and 27, 2012, and to complete the statute between May 21 and 27, 2012. However, issues such as the system of governance and the restructuring of States, continue to rankle. On November 23, 2011, the Government formed an eight-member State Restructuring Commission (SRC) to work out the federal model for the country. Worryingly, however, the dispute over the method of promulgation of the new Constitution continues unabated. While the Left parties want the Constitution to be endorsed by a two-third majority in the Constituent Assembly (CA), the NC and Madheshi parties vehemently oppose this, demanding a consensus.
Meanwhile, the CA received three extensions during the year. While the first extension (for three months) was declared on May 29, 2011, the second (for another three months) was approved on August 29, 2011. The CA tenure got its third extension (by six months) on November 29, 2011. The first extension to the CA, by one year, had been given on May 28, 2010. Initially elected for a period of two years in 2008, the CA’s term has, thus, been extended four times so far. While, the political parties, on each of these occasions, have come together to thwart the danger of a collapse of the process, the CAs failure to abide by the time frame has provoked widespread resentment. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court, on November 25, 2011, issued a directive giving the Government and the CA “a last chance’ to extend the term by a maximum of six months. It suggested that a referendum or a fresh mandate or any other constitutional method were alternatives to the CA, if it failed to deliver the Constitution within the final deadline.
If the gains that have been made are to be consolidated, political stability and credibility is very much needed. Regrettably, these qualities have been conspicuous in their absence on the political front.
The country has seen two Prime Ministers (PM) during the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, on February 3, 2011, CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal was elected Prime Minister by the Constituent Assembly (CA) with the support of the UCPN-M. Khanal’s election ended a seven-month long deadlock, during which the country was run by a caretaker Government, after erstwhile PM Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in June 2010. Inter- and intra-party feuding forced PM Khanal to step down on August 14, 2011, and the search for an elusive National Consensus Government (NCG) begun. Failing to elect an NCG, the Parliament, eventually elected Baburam Bhattarai, the vice chairman of UCPN-M, as the country’s 35th PM, on August 28, 2011, by simple majority with the support of UMDF. Shortly after taking charge, Bhattarai committed himself to the effort of establishing an NCG. However, since its formation, the present Government has been under the same constant threat of being pulled down, which has undermined every Government since the successful revolution against King Gynandra Shah.
The lack of political stability has more to do with intra-party rivalries than any other factor. While NC and CPN-UML leaders continue to differ among themselves on the peace process, it is the intra-party rivalry among the Maoists which has been the cause for the greatest alarm. The party witnessed several violent clashes among its own cadres. In one such recent incident, two Young Communist League (YCL) cadres were injured in a clash at the Prithvi Chowk-based YCL camp in Pokhara, the Headquarters of the Kaski District, in the night of October 29, 2011. The clash erupted between two YCL factions, one close to Dahal, and the other to vice chairman Mohan Baidya. Summing up the state of affairs, Maoist general secretary C. P. Gajurel, on December 13, 2011, stated that the party had already split internally, and that only a formal announcement was yet to be made. He also claimed that Baidya would head the ‘new party’. However, in what has now become the trend to show of dissent and subsequently execute u-turn, Baidya dismissing the remark on December 14, 2011, declared, “I don’t know where he (Gajurel) made that remark, but the party is not on the verge of split as the rift and dispute seen inside is gradually getting settled.” It is, however, evident that divisions within the UCPN-M go deeper than what is visible on the surface.
The inter-party rivalry adds to the general instability. Significantly, then Defence Minister Sarat Singh Bhandari of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik (MJF-L), an ally of the ruling party, on September 26, 2011, warned that the 22 Terai Districts could ‘disintegrate’ if Madheshi demands were not taken into consideration, adding further, that no one could save the nation if the Terai Districts decide to secede. He was later sacked on October 19, 2011.
Relations between political parties also remain far from ideal. At least 10 inter-party clashes were recorded through the year. In the latest among such incidents, Chandra Bahadur Lama, a local leader of Tarun Dal, the youth wing of the NC, was arrested from Nawalparasi on September 20, 2011, on charges of the murder of CPN-UML cadre Sanjaya Lama on August 27, 2011. Chandra Bahadur had opened fire at Sanjaya in the middle of an argument over money they were trying to extract from timber dealers in the Kabilas area in Chitwan District.
The failure to implement a series of agreements signed by the political parties during the course of the year, as well as those signed earlier, has also diluted the credibility of political parties. Indeed, most major developments have been preceded by the signing of agreements between the parties. The year saw at least six major agreements between different political parties, including the six point deal between the UCPN-M, NC and CPN-UML and UDMF on November 29, 2011; the seven-point agreement signed on November 1, 2011; the four-point agreement signed between UDMF and UCPN on August 28, 2011; the five-point agreement signed between the UCPN-M, NC and CPN-UML on May 29, 2011; the four point-deal between the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist on March 27, 2011; and the seven-point agreement between CPN-UML and UCPN-M on February 3, 2011. The continuing confusion and instability in Nepal has, in fact, much to do with these often contradictory, opportunistic and unrealistic agreements.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MoHA) claimed, on June 16, 2011, that the number of armed outfits operating across the country has significantly declined, from 108 groups earlier to only 26 currently operational, and that fatalities in extremist violence had almost halved, from 37 in 2010 to 19 in 2011 (all data till December 18), the threat of extremist violence persists. The country witnessed at least 21 explosions in 2011, as against 13 in 2010, and another 22 such attempts were thwarted by the Security Forces (SFs). The Terai region continued to simmer, and in the latest incident of violence in the region, five persons, including the Sunsari District Superintendent of Police, Raju Manandhar, were injured when a bomb went off in Itahari on December 3, 2011. The capital, Kathmandu has also been experiencing a persistent threat. For instance, on April 10, 2011, Police arrested Ashakaji Subal, a central committee member of the Communist Party of Nepal – Revolutionary Maoist (CPN-RM), an underground armed outfit, while he was planning to plant explosives at 15 different places across Kathmandu. The country also witnessed at least eight reported bandhs (shut downs) called by different groups.
However, in a significant demilitarization initiative, the NA cleared its land minefields located at Phulchowki in Lalitpur District on June 14, 2011, marking the conclusion of its de-mining works. The NA had started clearing landmines as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2006. With the clearance of the last minefield, Nepal has become the second country in Asia, after China, to become landmine-free.
In an unrelated development, the United States (US) said that the Maoists needed to do more to be removed from its terrorism blacklist. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated, on August 30, 2011, “The [UCPN-M] is not included on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, but remains a designated Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 and is included on the Terrorism Exclusion List, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act. While the Party has taken some positive steps, we continue to have areas of concern which must be addressed before the Party could be de-listed.” Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) in its latest report on April 23, 2011, included UCPN-M “as a party to conflict using child soldiers”. This is the sixth annual report that has put the Maoists on a watch list for using minors. That the Maoists still have not given up violence in toto is reflected in the fact that they have been involved in at least 17 incidents of violence in 2011.
Significantly, on December 3, 2011, Dahal declared that his party had not given up the strategy of ‘people’s revolt’, and that the party was prepared to ‘capture power’, either through elections or through a armed revolt. Indeed, concerns are being articulated about the current Maoist-led Government’s approach towards Maoist cadres behind bars. The Government has, for instance, decided to recommend to President Ram Baran Yadav the grant of amnesty to Maoist lawmaker Bal Krishna Dhungel, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life by the Supreme Court. Dhungel was awarded a life sentence by the Supreme Court in 2010 for his involvement in the murder of Ujjan Shrestha of Okhaldhunga, but has, so far, avoided arrest. Shrestha was shot dead by the Maoists at Tarkerabari-7 in Okhaldhunga District on June 24, 1998, allegedly for spying on the Maoists.
Irreversible gains have, no doubt, been registered over 2011, and a process of further consolidation appears to be underway. If peace is to overwhelm the surviving undercurrents of conflict and violence in Nepal, however, the time frames of the resolution of surviving disputes, as well as of the completion of major institutional processes initiated – crucially including the Constitution drafting process – will be critical. The peace process in Nepal has survived by deferring many of the more fractious decisions, at least some of which have become more amenable to resolution through the simple passage of time. There are, however, deeper political rifts that may not be resolved through simple temporal attrition, and will require settlement through a substantially consensual political process.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management