Nepal’s Faltering Peace Process
Nepal’s Faltering Peace Process
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Nepal Conflict Alert
Nepal Conflict Alert
Report 163 / Asia

Nepal’s Faltering Peace Process

Despite successful elections and a lasting military ceasefire, Nepal’s peace process is facing its most severe tests yet.

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Executive Summary

Despite successful elections and a lasting military ceasefire, Nepal’s peace process is facing its most severe tests yet. Major issues remain unresolved: there is no agreement on the future of the two armies, very little of the land seized during the conflict has been returned, and little progress has been made writing a new constitution. Challenges to the basic architecture of the 2006 peace deal are growing from all sides. Key political players, particularly the governing Maoists and the opposition Nepali Congress (NC), need to rebuild consensus on the way forward or face a public backlash. International supporters of Nepal must target assistance and political pressure to encourage the parties to face the threats to peace.

The April 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections delivered a convincing victory for the Maoists but left them short of an outright majority. The major parties promised to continue working together but the NC, which came second, refused to join the government that was eventually installed in August 2008. For all its weaknesses, this government is Nepal’s best hope but it is not living up to its promise and there are no viable alternatives. There can be no functional government without the Maoists on board, let alone any hope of proceeding with a constitution-writing process in which they can wield a blocking vote.

Yet the Maoists have not fully adjusted to democratic politics, nor has mainstream politics adjusted to their arrival. There is little unity of effort or intent among the governing coalition partners. Opponents of the Maoists talk up the prospects of a government collapse. Conservative wings of both the NC and the moderate Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the largest coalition partner, have been reinvigorated. In the face of continued instability, armed protest and burgeoning identity-based movements, the immediate threat to Nepal is not Maoist totalitarianism but a dangerous weakening of the state’s authority and capacity to govern.

Maoist commitment to political pluralism is still highly questionable. Debate within the party – renamed the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), UCPN(M), following its merger with a smaller group – shows the goal of a communist “people’s republic” is still in place. Although leading the government, Maoist leaders continue to threaten renewed revolutionary struggle and the “capture of state power”. Such threats have been underlined by cadres’ continued violent behaviour and an apparent drive to consolidate alternative power bases through affiliated organisations like trade unions.

However, the essence of the peace process, from the November 2005 agreement between the CPN(M) and the mainstream seven-party alliance onwards, was a double transformation. The Maoists were to renounce violence and accept multiparty democracy and international human rights norms. The mainstream parties were to develop more inclusive and democratic internal structures and renounce the bad behaviour that had weakened the post-1990 exercise of democracy. The old politics was discredited and still faces the challenge of renewing itself – with the established parties needing to earn legitimacy.

The Maoists have made a greater effort to change than other parties but their democratic transformation is far from complete. They should take the lead to rebuild confidence by unambiguously renouncing violence and reaffirming their commitment to political pluralism. The Nepali Congress is in a state of organisational and political disarray. The Maoists’ coalition partners also face internal power struggles and tough policy decisions. In short, the democratic alternatives to the Maoists are alarmingly weak: the other parties suffer from exclusiveness and weakened support and offer no fresh options to complete the peace process.

The state of public security and law and order is worrying. Although the incidents that draw most attention – killings, explosions and shutdowns – have all decreased since peaks in the first half of 2008, there is little sense of stability. Districts across the Tarai, from the eastern and central heartland of the Madhesi movement to the far west, continue to be plagued by insecurity and, in many areas, a near collapse of governance and policing. While the police are demoralised, the Nepalese Army (NA) remains a law unto itself, resisting both democratic control and investigation of alleged war crimes during the conflict.

International actors, India, the UN and Nepal’s longstanding donors, have played important roles in promoting peace and now need to maintain consistent pressure on all parties to live up to their commitments. Allowing parts of the peace agreements to drift into abeyance will put the entire process at risk. The common struggle against the monarchy was not the sole foundation for the original negotiations, nor were the initial talks based solely on parties’ self-interest. The search for peace was a powerful, and popularly backed, rationale. All sides knew that the deal deferred some important, difficult topics but they were right in opting to tackle them within a peace process, however contentious, rather than allowing the pursuit of a perfect deal to threaten a return to war. Despite significant political differences, this spirit of consensus underpinned a remarkable peaceful transition. Nepal’s political leaders must urgently rebuild this collaborative spirit and recommit themselves to seeing through the process.

Kathmandu/Brussels, 19 February 2009

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