Nepal’s Peace Agreement: Making it Work
Nepal’s Peace Agreement: Making it Work
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Nepal Conflict Alert
Nepal Conflict Alert
Report 126 / Asia 3 minutes

Nepal’s Peace Agreement: Making it Work

Nepal’s government and Maoist rebels have signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) declaring an end to the ten-year civil war, paving the way for inclusion of the rebels in mainstream politics and June 2007 elections to an assembly that is to write a new constitution.

Executive Summary

Nepal’s government and Maoist rebels have signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) declaring an end to the ten-year civil war, paving the way for inclusion of the rebels in mainstream politics and June 2007 elections to an assembly that is to write a new constitution. The deal has been welcomed by an optimistic public but implementation will not be straightforward: some central questions remain, and there is a serious risk the elections could be delayed, putting strain on the whole process. The UN has very high credibility but it will not last indefinitely, especially if there are delays. International support for its monitoring of both the two armies and the elections will be critical.

The peace agreement charts a course towards elections for a constituent assembly (CA) following formation of an interim legislature and government including the Maoists. In a detailed agreement on arms management, the Maoists have committed to cantonment of their fighters and locking up their weapons under UN supervision; the Nepalese Army (NA) will be largely confined to barracks. The constituent assembly, to be elected through a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional system, will also decide the future of the monarchy.

The CPA was signed on 21 November 2006 after months of slow progress following the success of the April 2006 mass movement that overturned King Gyanendra’s direct rule. The talks were sporadic and at one point came close to collapse. The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) government was criticised for a lack of urgency and clarity; the Maoists pursued negotiations with more coherence but paid less attention to democratic methods. The process has now delivered significant results but some of the problems that characterised it since April – primarily a lack of solid dialogue mechanisms, poor facilitation, little attention to confidence-building and an opaque, elite-driven approach – may continue to dog the next stages.

The deal has its origins in the November 2005 SPA-Maoist agreement signed in New Delhi, which provided a basis for the April movement and a guiding framework for subsequent compromises. However, it represents a temporary convergence of interests more than a permanent shift in the underlying outlooks and interests of the sides. The SPA and the Maoists retain different visions for Nepal’s future institutions, and individual parties’ electoral interests will come increasingly to the fore. The peace accord will not in itself alter the exclusionary characteristics of public life or deliver urgently needed economic progress.

The significant remaining hurdles will all be exacerbated if elections are postponed:

Weak governance. Post-April confusion turned into a worrying power vacuum across the country, which the Maoists were quick to exploit. The government has failed to re-establish law and order and democratic governance. Control over the civil service, election commission and distribution of local posts – always key bones of contention for mainstream parties – may be particularly intense in the run-up to CA elections.

No deal on security structures. The Maoists want their fighters to be half of a new, downsized national force while the NA still wants them entirely disarmed. Neither army sees itself as defeated, so compromise will be difficult, and lack of progress may cause unrest among cantoned Maoist soldiers. With the NA suspicious of the peace process and yet to embrace democratic control, the Maoist demand for more solid guarantees is understandable.

Maoist behaviour. At least until November, the Maoists continued extortions and abductions while showing little sign they are ready for meaningful power sharing and opening up of democratic space. Demilitarising their politics will require more than just laying down weapons; without this, chances for free and fair elections are limited.

International involvement in the peace process has been mostly low-profile and supportive. The government and Maoists have asked the UN to take on new tasks and provide immediate assistance, and public expectations are high. But getting an effective monitoring force on the ground quickly will be a challenge: questions of mandate, funding, logistics and staffing need to be resolved quickly.

Nevertheless, the peace process has some momentum, which gives good grounds for Nepalis’ optimism. With continued compromise, political will and solid international support, a lasting peace is possible. Apart from shaping future institutional arrangements, the talks have agreed proposals for social and economic transformation – topics of immense public concern. However, only free and fair elections can give a government the necessary decisive mandate. Nothing should be allowed to put them off.

Kathmandu/Brussels, 15 December 2006

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