Thursday, December 10, 2009
Nepal's floundering peace Back to the brink
The spread of violence in Nepal is not just the Maoists’ fault
THOSE who have never trusted the commitment of Nepal’s Maoists to pluralist politics are feeling vindicated. As vicious insurgents, they came close to turning a country of 30m into a failed state. As supposedly mainstream politicians, they have been boycotting parliament since May and fomenting violent unrest. This month a Maoist-backed land-grab by thousands of poor people in the far west of the country led to a bloody clash with the security forces . Some Maoists mutter grimly about ditching the peace deal that in 2006 ended their ten-year insurgency.
For now, there is little immediate danger that the Maoists will go back to the jungle. But the peace process has ground to a halt. The Maoists are partly responsible. They have been doing their best to justify fears that they are totalitarian fighters masquerading as democrats. But the other political parties have been doing their best to justify Maoist suspicions that the Nepali elite will never cede power to them. Nepal’s overbearing neighbour, India, has encouraged this, seemingly intent on unpicking a peace settlement it helped knit together. It is not just the Maoists who have a problem with democracy. The other parties find it hard to come to terms with last year’s election. The Maoists emerged as the largest party, with nearly 40% of the seats. This shocked many, including Nepal’s army, which had never liked a provision in the peace deal under which Maoist guerrillas would be merged with its own ranks. The army’s failure to implement this, and the refusal of its commander to go when the Maoists tried to sack him, led the party to quit government. The coalition it headed has been replaced by a ragbag of 22 parties. Hence the present stand-off.
Ending it is becoming urgent. There is the danger of more violence as grievances are left to fester: ethnic resentments, poverty, the lack of redress for those abused during the war. Meanwhile, uncertainty looms in May, by which time the assembly elected last year has to draft a new constitution.
The best way to avert chaos, continued stalemate or a coup is to return to the peace agreement. It may not be ideal for any of the parties. But it is the only one they have. That means that the Maoists, who are now fundamentally a peaceful party, have to reaffirm their commitment to democracy, rein in and punish the thugs of their Young Communist League, and return property they have seized. The other parties, too, have to show that they respect both the peace process and the outcome of the election: the Maoists must be enticed back into the fold, even if that means taking on the army.
Realistically, the other parties and the army are not going to compromise so long as they have India’s support for squeezing the Maoists out. There seems little sign of that support waning. India was perturbed by the Maoists’ tentative moves to cosy up to China, threatening its overweening influence in Nepal. India is also poised to mount a big offensive against its own spreading rebellion of Naxalite Maoists. In fact, the Naxalites view their Nepali comrades as wimpish traitors for forsaking armed struggle. But one day, a Maoist-run Nepal might be both inspiration and haven.
Finally, India also seems worried about the interests of its most faithful ally in the Nepali polity: the army. As one observer puts it, India faces a choice between a democratic Nepal where the Maoists have a big role and a militarised Nepal where, ultimately, the army calls the shots. For all its pride in its own democratic traditions, India might plump for the soldiers. If it wants stability and peace on its borders, that would be the wrong choice. Economist Opinion.