Rajan Bhattarai, Nepal
Though, Nepal has had experiences of occasional armed rebellion against the despotic regimes in the past (in pre-1950s and post 1960s and 70s) and all those revolts were the temporary phenomenon, and had minimum casualties and did not have countrywide impacts. However, the ‘People’s War’ launched under the banner of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) since the mid l990s has become the most destructive revolt both in terms of losing human lives and properties and causing huge national security concerns.
On 13 February 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) declared a “People’s War in Nepal”, issuing a leaflet that called on the people of Nepal to ‘March along the Path of the “People’s War” to Smash the Reactionary State and Establish a New Democratic State’. Elaborating the objectives of launching of the protracted “people’s war”, it said ‘to uproot semi—feudalism and to drive out imperialism, in order to establish a new democratic republic with a view to building a new socialist society’. To achieve these objectives, CPN (Maoists) adopted the strategy and tactics of a ‘protracted People’s War’ with aim of establishing base areas in the rural areas, so as, eventually, to surround urban areas and seize State power. Earlier in January, the United People’s Front of Nepal (UPFN), frontal organization of CPN (Maoist) presented a 40 point’ demand on behalf of their mother party to the Nepali Congress government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba. The 10 years (1996 to 2006) of protracted armed conflict has shaken the very foundation of the country and it has faced a serious crisis after the infamous Sugauli Treaty with the British India colonial regime in 1 816.
Nepal had long been known as a peaceful nation. Being the birth place of Lord Buddha, symbol of peace and harmony and one of the major troops contributing country in the UN Peacekeeping operations around the globe, she has been playing important role in peace building and also peacemaking in many parts of the world. However, the country’s peaceful image was shattered after 10 years long violent conflict and loss of 16,800 people’s lives, disappearance of hundreds of them, destruction of many vital infrastructures including schools, hospitals and other public service delivery institutions and newly emerging armed groups and their violent activities. Therefore, restoring peaceful environment, maintaining law and order situation and strengthening the security agencies and improving morale of the security personnel are the most urgent issue today than any time before.
Analyzing the causes of Maoists conflict, many writers argued that inequality in its different manifestations (relative poverty, landlessness and employment) was the primary cause of the Maoist movement in the country. Moreover, they say it was because of the failure of successive regimes in addressing the most vital social and economic issues and providing good governance in the post 1990s multi-party democratic era. As Bishnu Raj Upreti (2004) argues that the conflict began as an ideological clash between a monarchial system and a socialist egalitarian ideology influenced by the writings of the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. Moreover, the main aim of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) of the time was to destroy the multi-party democratic system and established a new people’s democracy based on one party authoritarian state by launching guerrilla warfare. According to the Maoist party’s official publications as well as their state policies, the party’s decision to launch a guerrilla war against the liberal democratic state was not only to create egalitarian society but also to establish one party system known as ‘new democracy’ under the leadership of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and prevent the activities of all the other political parties and their organizations. Various factors including their ultra-left ideological belief, the Chinese revolution’s influence including the ideological influence of Mao Zedong and also mainstream democratic parties’ weaknesses and short comings during the post-1990 period could be cited as some of the reasons besides their decisions to launch war and expansion.
The 12 point understanding was reached between the mainstream parties alliance known as Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and CPN (Maoist) on 22 November 2005. It has been regarded as a historic agreement between the two forces for the establishment of a complete democracy and restoring sustainable peace in the country. It was an effort from both sides to launch a struggle to end the King’s unconstitutional move. Similarly, it was also an agreement between the two major forces of the country achieving peace by resolving the 10-year old armed conflict through a forward-looking political outlet. The understanding also addresses the problems related to class, caste, gender, region etc. of all sections of people including political, economic, social and cultural. Among the agreed agendas between the SPA and CPN (Maoists) were to bring back the sovereignty in the hands of the people, transferred state power to the people, restore dissolved parliament, hold elections of the constituent assembly elections to draft a new constitution, end the 10 years long armed conflict through dialogue, bring the Royal Nepal Army under the elected parliament etc. Both the SPA and CPN (Maoist) have expressed their public commitment to the democratic norms and values like the competitive multiparty system of governance, civil liberties, universal human rights, the concept of the rule of law, fundamental rights. They have also committed not to repeat their past mistakes. It has been agreed upon that the popular people’s peaceful movement(s) is the only way to achieve those goals.
On the basis of 6 points agreement among the Seven Party Alliance and 12 points understanding between the SPA and the CPN (Maoist), series of nationwide protest programs were launched in December 2005 and January, February, March of 2006. The series of protest programmes culminated into a popular people’s revolt in April 2006 which forced the King to surrender power to the political parties and restore earlier dissolved parliament and an interim coalition government of Seven Party Alliance was formed.
On 21 November 2006, the Government of Nepal and CPN (Maoist) reached a 25 points agreement known as Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). Under which the CPN (Maoists) agrees to cease armed struggle, follows rule of law, and honors universal human rights principles and democratic norms and values. Furthermore, they have agreed to put their armed combatants into the 28 different cantonments and store weapons in the containers under the supervision of United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). The agreement had created conducive environment to further enhance the peace process. Basic understanding was reached even on the contentious issues such as army and arms management under the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of the Arms and Armies (AMMAA).
On 15 January 2007, agreement on interim constitution was reached and the constitution was promulgated. It had paved the way to form a joint interim parliament and coalition government with the inclusion of CPN (Maoists). The institutionalization of democratic movements of April 2006 was further enhanced by holding of a 601 members of Constituent Assembly (CA) election on 8 April 2008 for the draft of a new constitution. The composition of CA is probably the most inclusive in the region. Out of the total number, women representation in the CA is one third. The representation of ethnic community and dalits in CA is almost at par with their size of the population. After successfully holding the election of Constituent Assembly, the newly elected body of CA declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic. As a consequence of this, almost two and half century old institution of monarchy was abolished. With the declaration of Nepal as a Federal Democratic Republic, the CA elected new President of the country in July 2008. The first meeting of CA decided to draft a new constitution within two years time. Likewise, a new coalition government was formed under the leadership of CPN (Maoist) Chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dhal ‘Prachanda’. However, it lasted just for nine months and the post CA political situation has also been marred by instability and uncertainties. There have already been four Prime Ministers within three and a half years time.
To oversight, monitor and successfully conclude the ongoing peace process, a Special Committee under the provision of Articles 146 and 147 of the Interim Constitution 2007 was formed under the leadership of the Prime Minister comprising representatives from all the major political parties.
Madhesi people organized protests in 2007 and reached an understanding with the State on various issues including making state more Madhes community friendly. Likewise, the successive governments initiated dialogues with various armed splinter groups active particularly in Terai and reached understandings with them. The parties in the CA have agreed to incorporate in the new constitution some fundamental rights of the people in the areas of education, health, shelter, food sovereignty, drinking water and employment. They have also agreed to take number of initiatives towards progressive socio-economic transformation of Nepali society. All those initiatives were directed towards establishing lasting peace with an inclusive, participatory democratic system based on social justice.
Although, the CPA, Interim Constitution and subsequently signed other agreements provide frameworks for concluding the peace process and manage the political transition that was envisaged by the popular people’s movement of 2006. However, the lack of political commitments to implement the agreements among the party leadership, lack of trust between the parties, lack of effective non-partition institutional mechanism to supervise the agreements, failure to implement the agreed upon agreements within stipulated time poses serious challenges to the peace process.
In a post-conflict political settlement, agreeing on power sharing arrangement between the establishment and insurgency group is one of the main tasks for smoothening the peace process. However, in Nepal, there have been the flaws from the beginning. Although in the pre-CA period both sides had agreed on this issue and manage the power sharing arrangements however, after CA election and particularly after CPN (Maoist)’s emergence as a single largest party in the CA, the issue of political settlement over power sharing between CPN (Maoist) and other parties began to receive setback. Particularly, differences started to emerge among the major three parties; UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) over number of issues including sharing the ministerial portfolios. This has been the main hurdle in making progress on both peace and constitution drafting process.
Another challenge in the peace process is lack of confidence among and within the political parties’ leaders. Party leaders’ betrayal of honoring the past agreements and their self-centeredness and power centered politics has created serious problems. This has further deepened the cleavages on number of political issues including issues related with peace process, constitution making issues and other related with structural reforms.
Lack of effective and non-partition monitoring mechanism to supervise and monitor the agreements and its implementation processes in the post-conflict transition period is another challenge. As National Human Rights Commission was assigned to do this task earlier but its low level of institutional capacity and lack of experiences, it was not able to function effectively and efficiently. Furthermore, the prevailing conflict between the Commissioners of the institution has eroded its capacity and become virtually ineffective to fulfill the assigned tasks.
Another challenge in restoring peace is deteriorating security environment in the post-conflict situation in the country. The weak transitional security arrangement and low level of morale of the security forces negatively affected in maintaining law and order in most parts of the country. In addition to that, the politicization of security agencies, growing impunity and creation of paramilitary groups by the parties have contributed for the deterioration of security environment.
Failure to setting up of the transitional justice mechanism poses another challenge in the peace process. Under the provisions of CPA, two commissions; Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission to Investigate Forced Disappearances were supposed to be formed. Both of these commissions supposed to hear victims concerns, address the issues of atrocities and human rights violations during the period and also bring perpetrators into the ambit of justice. Furthermore, these commissions would carry out the prosecution, issues related with forced disappearances, forced migrations and the issue of their repatriation. The successive governments’ failure to institutionalize these two commissions, none of those issues were addressed and not a single perpetrator was brought into the justice during this period. Though, the recent seven point agreement, the parties repeated their commitment towards forming up these two commissions again, but there is ample room of doubt for its implementation.
In the post conflict environment, the successive governments failed to deliver peace dividend to the general public. Despite many institutional and policy initiatives taken by those regimes, they still fail to provide peaceful environment in the country. The proliferation of armed groups in many parts of the country particularly in Terai region further deteriorated people’s lives and they still do not feel safe and there has not been any significant changes in their living condition. Rather it has been deteriorated to some extent. This has generated frustration and disappointment among the general public. Political leaderships are still less interested in addressing these issues.
Lack of agreement among the major parties particularly between UCPN (Maoist) and other democratic parties on number of core issues such as state restructuring including modality of federalism, form of governance system (parliamentary or presidential), electoral system, role of judiciary, parliament and executive etc. have also created several problems in concluding the peace process and drafting the constitution.
Analyzing the current peace process and the challenges it faces, noted political scientists Dev Raj Dahal states that “CPA is marred by many contradictions: between conflict management and conflict transformation, social change and social transformation, abolition of feudal land ownership system versus recognition to property rights, provision of increased social security versus weak tax base of the state to support welfare benefits, commitment to universal value of democracy versus old political culture of patronage, rights based dialogue on democratization versus increasing militarization of society, constitutionalism versus popular sovereignty, equality of opportunity versus prior use rights etc”.
As we have still been passing through a transitional period and building national level consensus and maintaining it among the major political parties on main political and socio-economic issues is the need of the hour. Now, more than any time before, there is a hope that the ongoing peace process would reach into a logical conclusion, draft and promulgate a new democratic constitution within short period of time by encompassing people from various walks of life and transform Nepal into a prosperous, sovereign, democratic federal republic.
Based on the 12 points understanding, interim Constitution and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the ongoing peace process has to be concluded, new constitution has to be drafted and a Federal Democratic Republic be established. The issues of inclusive governance system, human rights, secular state, press freedom have to be made as fundamental issues in the new draft constitution. This will pave the way to establish a true democratic society and also help in achieving much needed political stability for the country. This will help us to address on to the long pending issue of economic development and social transformation.
Signing of 7 points agreement among four major political forces of the country on November 1, 2011 has been regarded as a breakthrough in the long stalled peace process. Although, various agreements were signed in the past five years transition period however, the current one has been regarded as second to the 12 point understanding of 2005 and 25 point CPA of 2006 for a number of reasons. First, it is the most comprehensive document ever signed particularly on peace process. It contains all the major issues that impeded the process in the past including finalization of modality of integration (setting up a directorate general division within the Nepal Army, individual entry, recruitment policy etc.), fixing the numbers of ex-combatants to be integrated into the security agencies, the issue of rank harmonization, bridging course and training issue, time bound working calendar etc. and management of weapons. It also finalizes comprehensive package for rehabilitation including the amount of money to be paid. Second, the seven point deal also agrees to the formation of two long pending commissions i.e. Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission to Investigate Forced Disappearances. Third, it also resolves some of the most controversial issues also the time bound working plans such as returning seized private properties, dismantling paramilitary structures of Young Communist League. The deal also includes the mechanism to implement and monitor the agreements. Fourth, it also agrees to speed up the constitution drafting process and agrees to the formation of a high level political mechanism to resolve some of the contentious issues on constitution drafting process. The agreement also includes the future power sharing arrangement among the major political parties. It has been hailed as a genuine effort to open door for tangible progress on peace, constitution drafting process and also power sharing arrangement which were the main obstacles in managing the political transition of the country.
Although, the seven point agreement has generated a new hope and optimism towards concluding the ongoing peace and constitution drafting processes after a long period of silence, there are still immense challenges particularly on its time bound implementations. The faction led by Kiran Baidya within UCPN (Maoist) has been vehemently opposing the understanding and blaming the current leadership deviating from the revolutionary political line and surrendering with the reactionaries after signing the seven point deal on 1st November, they have registered their opposition and demanded for its cancellation. They have planned to organize nationwide protest programmes. How the Baidya faction within UCPN (Maoist) would come in future and also how the leadership responds on increasing rift within their party, will rely on the future course of peace process.
In conclusion, peace building, state building and nation building are a long process for a state. All of these processes area are also related with each other. Nepal has been passing through in its peace building process since last five years. Concluding the ongoing peace process with a positive conclusion and drafting a new constitution by incorporating the universal values of human rights, democracy, and fundamental freedom. For this, each stakeholder particularly the major political parties have to play active and positive role.
Working paper presented by the author at a conference, “Towards a More Cooperative South Asia” organized by Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS) in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), held in Kathmandu, Nov. 7, 2011:ed. Published with the permission of CSAS. Thanks.