The peace process is one of the most talked about subjects in Nepal, especially since it has taken much longer than previously anticipated. Integration of the former combatants into the Nepal Army is now in its final stage and it seems the integration process will get completed in a couple of weeks. However, that should not be considered as the end of the story. The peace process involves various aspects, including institutionalization of peace, strengthening democratic values and creation of an environment conducive for socio-economic and political transformation. Against this backdrop, Nepal’s peace process still has a long path to traverse.
About six and half years ago, under the banner of the peace process, we had embarked on a journey with clear objectives of ushering in peace, democracy, a new constitution to be drafted by the people’s representatives and a progressive transformation of the state. But where are we now? Unfortunately, the country has plunged into a vicious cycle of uncertainty, anarchy and chaos. Experts claim that we are heading towards becoming a ‘failed state’, while some have already labeled us as one.
The most important part of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the government and the Maoists still remains unexecuted. There are several questions that come up. Out of the nearly 34,000 supposed former combatants that entered the cantonments after the signing of the CPA, only about 1500 are currently in cantonments awaiting integration into the Nepal Army, while a few former combatants have opted for rehabilitation. Where have the rest gone? To put it bluntly, they have all gone back to the Maoist party with the added bonus of significant cash in hand and four years of military training and opting for voluntary retirement, a concept that didn’t exist in the original CPA.
The dream of Nepal’s people to have a constitution drafted by their representatives has been shattered. The Constituent Assembly, despite repeated extensions, failed to come out with a democratic constitution and died a natural death.
The socio-political and economic transformation here has turned into a mirage. Poverty, inflation, unemployment and load shedding have increased exponentially. Transparency International ranks Nepal 154th on the list of the least corrupt countries. Significantly, the Transparency International report suggests that political parties are the most corrupt sector in Nepal.
Naturally, the question that arises is what made us reach this completely opposite point? It is obvious by now that the road map was wrong. In the name of creating a New Nepal, attempts have been made to enforce vested party agendas. Without having explicit popular mandates and following due constitutional process, the ambiguous concept of federalism was imposed and traditional Hindu identity and the institution of monarchy was abolished even before the election to the Constituent Assembly took place. Taking advantage of the transitional period, a handful of political parties concentrated their efforts only on securing their political turf and advance petty partisan interests.
The primary and a mandatory pre-requisite for any peace process is the total and unconditional renunciation of violence, but in our case the culture of violence has flourished. Impunity has become a part of our national character. Our peace process began by glorifying violence. The CPA was signed between the government and the rebels, the two sides of the conflict, and, due to the flawed peace process, the former rebels were integrated into the political mainstream without giving up their guns. They were instead greeted as war heroes by the erstwhile government and the media. The former rebels have already been in the hot seat twice, although the CPA is yet to be fully implemented. The Maoist party, even today, claims publicly that they haven’t joined mainstream politics to get transformed into one of the other parties. Their goal is, and always has been, to ‘capture power’. They genuinely believe that peace process and revolt are the two sides of the same coin and they are free to employ either option, depending upon the existing empirical situation.
Democracy and the democratic forces have fallen into the trap of extreme left totalitarianism. The rule of law has become a rare commodity.
Accountability, supposed to be the life-line of a democracy is almost non-existent. We earlier had fairly strong and effective local authorities but now, people have been denied the opportunity to elect their local representatives for the last sixteen years. The Constituent Assembly elected by the people in 2008 was rendered a ‘rubber stamp’ throughout its entire tenure by a handful of political masters.
Besides, there have been some fundamental errors since the beginning of the peace process. The then supreme commander of the rebel forces has gone on record to say that they had about 7000-8000 combatants at the end of their People’s War. Through fresh recruitment, under tacit understanding with the then prime minister, the number was increased to nearly 34,000 when they first entered the cantonment, the new home for the ex-combatants. However, only 3400 weapons of various kinds were handed over to the UNMIN. Instead of resolving the combatant’s problem within six months as stipulated in the CPA, an attempt has been made to institutionalize the concept of two guns and two armies by incorporating that in the Interim Constitution. Election to the Constituent Assembly was held without resolving the combatant’s problem and the CPA has been manipulated as a means of peaceful transfer of power to the former rebels.
Currently, we are passing through the most difficult phase in the recent history of Nepal. The Interim Constitution had not visualized its death without drafting a new constitution and we are facing an unprecedented constitutional void.
In this context, to keep the peace process moving forward in a positive and effective manner, we have to first consider the multi-dimensional character of the peace process. Priority should be given to, peace and stability, strengthening democracy and constitutionality, and socio-economic reforms. This is what can give legitimacy to the peace process. There are a few steps all political parties and other major stakeholders need to take in order to further the peace process keeping in mind the points mentioned above.
One, building an environment of peace and stability. There has to be a firm and explicit commitment towards the renunciation of violence. We need to resolve the integration issue at the earliest possible. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission for Disappeared should be created without any further delay.
Two, towards strengthening democracy. There should be a consensus among major stakeholders that the constitution will be only drafted by elected representatives. There should also be a minimum understanding among major political actors that the constitution will be drafted within a liberal democratic framework. A referendum should be held on critical issues like federalism, secularism and republic. Elections, under a neutral government, should be held to secure a fresh mandate for a new CA, which will serve as the Parliament after completion of constitution drafting for five years. Along with CA or Parliament elections, local elections should also be held in order to strengthen local administrative bodies.
Three, accelerate socio-economic development. There should be some affirmative action towards equality for all ethnic communities, women and other minorities according to the integrated human development index in the four major sectors, namely health, education, employment and representation. In today’s changed context, the economy should be given priority, and, irrespective of changes in the government, major economic policies should remain consistent, and any type of trade union activity that proves to be a hindrance to the development process should be halted.
Taking lessons from our past six-year experience, we must have the courage and determination to rectify the mistakes committed. After all, without honesty and sincerity, we cannot ensure the success of peace process.
The author is the president of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal