Elusive Peace Process and Maoist Violence in Nepal

Paul Soren

Even as the nine-day long ceasefire called by Maoist extremists during the ‘Dashain’ festival has ended on October 28, civil society groups urged the Maoists to continue the truce till December this year when an international Buddhist convention to be held in Lumbini in southern Nepal. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has refused to extend the ceasefire unilaterally. The government started the offensive immediately where it has stopped just before the truce. At least ten extremists were gunned down in separate encounters in Taplejung and Siraha districts within 48 hours of truce elapsed. Now fears of a possible escalation in violence between the Government troops and Maoists have increased manifold in this restive Himalayan Kingdom.

In Nepal, violence has increased substantially since peace talks between the government and Maoists collapsed in 2003 over the demand for a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution for a Communist Republic, abolishing the existing constitutional Monarchy. The present government, in order to recommence the talks had formed a High Level Peace Committee (HLPC) in August 2004. During its first meeting on September 22, the committee invited Maoists for a constructive dialogue, which was outrightly rejected by the Maoists spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara questioning the sincerity of the government. Two days after, Maoist Chairman, Puspha Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda showed willingness to sit for negotiations. But prior to that, he volleyed a series of questions for the government. He expressed reservations on government competence to revert the Royal move of October 4, 2002 when the King appointed a Prime Minster suspending existing democracy. He also raised doubts on government’s reluctance to engage United Nations or international human rights organization for peace talks and government’s control over the Royal Nepal Army (RNA).

Emphasising the present government’s competence to resolve the crisis, HLPC responded by saying that Deuba’s re-appointment, as premier is the proof of returning to pre-October 2002 situation. The RNA and other security agencies and the entire constitutional and political bodies are absolutely under government control. On one hand the government has been untiringly asking Maoists to come forward for talks, but in reality have not shown any positive move. On the ground it has been intimidating the Maoists with the help of army. By adopting a twin track approach, it initiated large-scale army operations since October 13 in Maoists strongholds. The underlying purpose of this operation was to force the Maoists to the negotiating table by creating psychological pressure.

Maoists have been campaigning for UN and other rights group’s involvement in talks but never exhibited any positive leaning. In contrast, the guerilla leaders believe, offensive is the only key to establish a republican regime. At the recent party plenary meeting held in first week of September, Maoist leaders have vowed to continue further offensive. But in a tactical move to draw public support and partially due to public pressure, Maoists have declared unilateral ceasefire on the occasion of Dashain festival.

Presently, both the parties are busy accusing each other of not being serious and playing their own tactics. The government has aggressively initiated army operations to contain Maoists actions and force them to the negotiating table. Similarly, Maoists are endlessly involved in violence activities, even during the ceasefire period. They have been killing and abducting civilians, students, and security personnel. Although the government’s pressure tactic has worked and enforced the Maoists to announce truce, experts believed that Maoists must have exploited this truce period to regroup, rearm, and re-organize.

Evidently, there are certain issues of contention that obstruct peace talks to commence. The government wants Maoists to end violence and accept the multi-party political system and the present constitution. However, the Maoists are adamant on their earlier demands. They also want terrorist tag and red corner notice issued against them to be removed. Now it seems the atmosphere created by the temporary truce has lost. The government could have extended the ceasefire period reciprocating the Maoists’ unilateral offer and probably by not initiating the offensive immediately.

Maoist has already taken the initiative by declaring ceasefire but there are reports of violations too. Though the government has reciprocated lately, it has to facilitate things without any outright rejection of demands and offensive operations against Maoist cadres. Also it has to restrain its intimidating statements, which can further cause mistrust. Now the Deuba government in Nepal is quite adamant to initiate electoral process after two months whether the Maoists come for dialogue or not.

Conventional wisdom suggests further delay in establishing peace will invite more chaos and bloodshed in the country. The hindering issues can be discussed once negotiation starts. The talks should also be unconditional, with compliance from both sides to formulate reasonable cooperation and ready to find a lasting solution. Then again, the entire clamour for talks is not going to turn into veracity unless both the warring parties demonstrate willingness to sit across the table.

Author Note
Paul Soren , Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi