It appears the peace process is currently mired in a one-step-forward-one-step back process and needs strong international impetus including addressing Nepali national security concerns.
Two recent political events best describe the current stalemate in Nepal’s prolonged peace process. One, about a fortnight ago, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as Prime Minister of the incumbent Nepal Government sat extra-ordinarily quiet in the corner of a meeting room at the office of Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) secretariat in Naya Baneshwor, patiently hearing out leaders of parties as each put forward their differing view on the obstacles to the peace and future CA Polls. Two, in the same week, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha sat with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at the UN headquarters in New York, briefing the UN chief on the latest steps taken by the Nepal Government on Nepali peace.
On the first event, namely the significant meeting held at the AISC secretariat, only former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba from Nepali Congress expressed support to for revival of the defunct Constituent Assembly ostensibly to pass the necessary legislation allowing a future democratic poll to be held. On the other hand, Bam Dev Gautam from the CPN-UML stated on behalf of the rest, i.e. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML that forgetting the past political grievances and focusing on a new CA poll might better ensure a safer conclusion of peace process, besides promoting democratic unity to reverse the current stalemate, on which President Ram Baran Yadav has expressed his grave concerns. However, the smaller fringe parties, seem to have differing views on peace. Some demand a referendum for revival of monarchy as a cure for everything while others hoot for revival of the 1990 Constitution of Nepal, which they insist no one can fault so easily.
Nonetheless, what has been the major achievement to Nepal’s peace process? The most significant one, it appears, is integration of 1,485 ex-Maoist combatants who recently went through an entrance examination to qualify. Initially, the Maoists claimed a membership of 30,000 ex-combatants in a brutal civil war that killed 17,000 Nepalis. Included in the round figure are a few hundred disappearance cases, according to various international human rights groups.
While the Nepal Army has fully positioned itself as an integral partner in the peace process, the political leaders are still meandering and not finding true space for peace. For instance, NA has already taken cognizance of the Comprehensive Peace Accord 2006 and dozens of other side agreements, despite being an apolitical institution. NA has also highlighted to various PMs in that period the deteriorating political and economic situation which has cast a dark shadow over peace vis-à-vis national security.
Political leaders do not realize this, but an absence of total national security is an absence of peace. NA’s new Chief of Army Staff Gaurav Shumsher Rana his first statement expressed the commitment of the disciplined forces’ unfledged and total support to the people’s democratic aspirations aiming for long term peace, stability and economic progress. This is a courageous statement on General Rana’s part since every political party, international development and donor partner representative knows that NA faces major budgetary, logistics, medical, technical and directorate restructuring related constraints in supporting the peace and security issues fully. NA has so far not been able to transform itself into a technologically endowed modern army. This often forgotten security component of Nepali peace must be understood by all, since the integration process directly concerns NA. One should also note, in comparison with modern armies in the immediate Himalayan superpower neighborhood, namely India and China, Nepal Army has to strive to meet its national security and peace challenges amidst huge political constraints. While other modern SAARC countries’ armies support their individual governance and civilian rule structures fully in maintaining daily national security and democratic rule, Nepal Army has had to rely additionally on the Nepal Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police to counter any untoward security situations. By the way, the latter two institutions also face similar overall problems in their daily activities.
Yet, it is the politicians who always call for NA, the Nepal Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police’s assistance when it comes to concluding the unfinished business of peace, such as discussing the security feasibility to hold future CA Polls. Nepal’s Election Commission is also fully aware of this constraint, despite Dr. Bhattarai’s recent bold challenge to the opposition parties to participate in unfettered, impartial and free CA elections on a stipulated date. Thus, understanding and fulfilling these national security pre-conditions is important to concluding Nepal’s peace process. Some top Nepali media hats have also stated, not understanding this has considerably inhibited NA from doing more in support of Nepali peace, not less. I hope Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai’s government will work with other political parties more seriously to address these dilemmas soon in conducting smooth, free and fair elections to the new CA.
To go back to the second event, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha might not have found time in mentioning these aforementioned talking points to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but Nepal’s peace is inconceivable without the right security doctrine and a new Nepali national security policy in place, geared to emergent geo-strategic and economic challenges faced by Nepal. A half decade ago, Nepali diplomacy was hinged to containing traditional Big Neighbors interests; now it is geared towards promoting itself as a transitional economy with the potential to be a thriving economic hub between two of the world’s fastest progressing super economies, China and India. Nepali industrialists, bankers and business houses have this Big Peace Question too: where is the industrial security, the societal peace, and the investment milieu to attract direct foreign investment when we have an absence of long term national security? This is a big challenge for the Bhattarai government to fulfill and why peace must move beyond political interests.
My younger generation strongly believes in peace and communal harmony. We all have the right to know some basic political truths about Nepal and the origins of the Maoist people’s war that occurred in the period, a small dent to our otherwise peaceful history. Perhaps it is also time the U.S. and G-8 involve Nepal’s two immediate neighbors India and China to organize a roundtable on Nepali peace, thus helping chart the country’s democratic future. Such a conference could also potentially strengthen Nepal’s national security concerns which have its implications on the entire Nepal Himalayas economic growth corridor. We now need a concrete timeline to conclude Nepali peace and everyone must contribute their best.