Nepal’s Crisis: Mobilising International Influence
Asia Briefing N°49
19 Apr 2006
Pro-democracy demonstrations and a general strike across Nepal in recent weeks mark a decisive shift in the country’s political equations and probably signal the approaching end of King Gyanendra’s direct rule. A successful popular movement could advance the search for peace but will depend on strong political party leadership in dealing with the Maoists; a messy transition would bring its own risks. Although domestic events will determine the speed and direction of political change, international players should use their influence to establish practical plans to help stabilise the situation and build a more lasting foundation for peace. This briefing argues for the early formation of a Contact Group (consisting of India, the U.S. and UK, working with the UN) and a complementary Peace Support Group (other key donors and international financial institutions) to form a common front on strategy and tactics to maximise international influence in assisting Nepal’s escape from its worsening conflict.
The conflict remains soluble and a genuine democratic mass movement increases the chances of a sustainable and principled settlement. However, the urgent need to defuse the current political confrontation could lead to a hasty and unsustainable deal. Political leaders lack the necessary public confidence to conclude a backroom agreement with the king, while a simple return to a pre-royal coup arrangement of a palace-appointed prime minister would be inherently unstable. In particular, even an interim settlement must take account of the Maoists and be designed to continue the process of drawing them into mainstream politics. The alternative would be to drive them into increased militancy and tempt them to exploit to the full their capacity for violence.
While the international community has taken some welcome steps, these need to be better coordinated, and far more remains to be done. No single player is capable of a decisive intervention, apart from India, which does not want to take heavy-handed unilateral action. However, as in other conflicts, a group of friends or Contact Group could make a critical difference.
Nepal meets most of the criteria for a successful initiative of this kind. The conflict is increasingly ripe for resolution. There is international willingness to commit time and resources to support a viable peace plan if one can be constructed. All major international players share a fundamental interest in seeing a more stable and prosperous Nepal. All sides of the conflict, albeit at different points and to different degrees, have suggested that international assistance would be useful in a peace process.
The priorities include deciding on shared principles, which would force the major external players to confront the differences in their approaches; agreeing on a level of coordination, including an initial assessment of areas where there could be a united policy and where further discussion would be needed; initiating talks on parallel approaches to assist the political effort – for example, using human rights and development assistance to build confidence and ensure donors’ democracy and governance initiatives are in line with the overall goals; and developing far more detailed plans to help move a peace agreement and post-conflict settlement forward.
A Contact Group should focus on:
immediate practical planning, including on the contingency of a sudden change in government; preparations for a small international ceasefire monitoring mission; and establishment of a channel of communication with the Maoists;
maintaining pressure for a peace process, including by introducing targeted sanctions on the royal government (a visa ban, investigation of overseas assets in preparation for freezing them and restriction of army participation in UN peacekeeping operations);
supporting the democratic mainstream politically and practically, in particular by assisting parties to prepare for negotiations and interim arrangements; and
keeping pressure on the Maoists to move towards peace and give tangible proof of their willingness to abandon violence by warning them that if they obstruct progress towards a peace process or fail to respect the understandings they have entered into with OHCHR, donors and the mainstream political parties, Contact Group members will coordinate efforts to apprehend senior leaders and interdict any cross-border movements.
A broader Peace Support Group, bringing together major bilateral and multilateral donors, should work in parallel to:
review development assistance;
prepare to support transitional processes such as constitutional reform and viable elections; and
start planning for how to deal with a possible “peace dividend”.
A follow-up to the 2002 London conference, which first brought donors together to discuss the implications of Nepal’s conflict, might facilitate consideration of these matters. In any event, work on transitional arrangements should start immediately. Recent events suggest a precipitous collapse of the inherently unstable royal government is a distinct possibility. The international community has offered considerable moral support to Nepal in its search for peace and democracy. It must now get ready to translate that support into practical, coordinated and complementary efforts to deliver a viable peace process.
Kathmandu/Brussels, 19 April 2006