Will Peace and Democracy last in Nepal?

An historic accord was signed among parties in Nepal on November 1st.

The quiet beauty of a Himalayan vista or the vibrant excitement of a Bodhnath Stupa pilgrimage in Nepal can only be shared with the world if a lasting peace is achieved in the region through impartial political means. The land-locked country Nepal had been tainted and rocked by violence, extremists’ gun-running, forced ransoms, terrorization and political murders in the recent past. Distortions, lawlessness, and violence were rampant and the order of the day in this tiny land.

However, a flicker of hope pierced through the windows when, on November 1, 2011, the major political parties of Nepal signed the long-awaited Peace Agreement at the residence of the Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. That four different parties and groups signed the agreement bodes well for real stability in Nepal after more than 15 years of strife and unrest.

Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”, Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal Maoists, Mr.Sushil Kumar Koirala, President of the Nepali Congress, Mr. Jhala Nath Khanal, Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal Marxist-Leninists, and Mr. Bijay Kumar Gachchedar, Chairman of the Unified Madheshi Forum and Deputy Prime Minister, signed the truly historic document, which has paved the way for the new Constitution of Nepal and the upcoming general elections for a parliamentary democratic government.

The only group that abstained from the talks was the extremist Maoist group led by Mohan Vaidya “Kiran”, which termed the agreements “anti-people”.

In fact, the agreements signed at the Prime Minister’s residence are surprising given the stalemate that had been the hallmark of Nepali politics even after the first general elections were held in April 2008. A series of governments were formed that followed parliamentary democracy norms, and the deadline for framing the new Constitution was extended several times without showing any signs of a return to violence except by the group led by Mohan Vaidya “Kiran” of the Maoist Party.

It is difficult to describe which of the achievements in that meeting was a landmark, but both the decision to publish first draft of the new Constitution for review and the decision to rehabilitate the combatants who had taken part in the Maoist revolution from February 1996 to 2006 could easily claim the best prize for the beleaguered people of Nepal, now no longer a kingdom.

However, the question of rehabilitating the 19,000 odd combatants who took part in the Maoist insurgency might claim the highest prize. A total of 6,500 of these people will be kept as retainers in the Nepal Army and the remaining given pensions ranging from the equivalent of $480 to $960 yearly according to the ranks they had held in the Maoist army. Pensions will be given to those who prefer it.

The agreements will satisfy most groups, and the most vexing question, about the future of the Maoists combatants, has been satisfactorily resolved, it appears.

For the people of Nepal and their well-wishers in other democratic countries, this agreement is unique in the recent history of the country and reminds one of the agreement signed by King Birendra with the democratic forces on April 6,1990, which restored parliamentary democracy in Nepal after the late king Mahendra had unfairly and dictatorially dismissed the B.P. Koirala-led Nepali Congress government on Decemebr 15, 1960.

Shortly after the Peace Agreement was signed, the duration of the Constituent Assembly was extended for six months for the last time in order to establish the first draft of the Constitution, which lays the groundwork for the general elections for a new parliamentary system. Prior to the upcoming elections, hopefully in the spring of this year, the Nepali Congress Party will have the power of government according to the agreement signed on November 1, 2011.

From the perspective of other democratic countries, this development could not be a better gift for all democracies, particularly those prevailing in South Asia. The specter of another violent movement in Nepal appears to have finally receded. Democratic countries worldwide are now in a position to offer more assistance to enable Nepal to revert back to a parliamentary system. Neighboring democracies, such as India, will likely extend all necessary assistance for the holding of elections in Nepal and any other assistance sought by the Baburam Bhattarai Government.

 

An interesting outcome of the peace process is that women combatants—who had once wielded guns against the erstwhile Royal Army—are eligible for the pensions. They number about 800, many with children. Many among them are not in fact eligible to join the army, but all those settling down will be offered the pension based on their previous ranking.

There was jubilation in Kathmandu and elsewhere in the country as the developments of the Peace Agreement were announced.

While everyone in attendance was satisfied with these agreements, one subsection of the Maoist forces is quite unhappy with the peace process. It has been claimed that as ardent Maoists, they are not interested in peace until their avowed goal of “revolution” is achieved. Mohand Vaidya “Kiran” who stayed away from the peace talks is one of the leaders among them.

Unless this group begins to assert themselves against the Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and the vice chairman Baburam Bhattarai who is now the Prime Minister, Nepal is on the path of peace and parliamentary democracy. If the elections are successful, it will be an historic development in that a Maoist party is accepting Parliamentary Democracy after having won a near victory in its revolution in 2006.

The term of the House has been extended by a period of six months until April 28, 2012, which will lead up to the elections. This extension, one hopes, will enable the Constituent Assembly to produce the final draft of the new Constitution. By then, the absorption of 6,500 former combatants into the Nepal Army will be complete, and with a new Parliamentary Constitution, Nepal will be back on the path to peace and democracy.

 

The story of the Maoist revolution is coming to an end, if it can be called that, however, with the whiff of a scandal. The upcoming allowances to be paid to combatants is based on a count of 19,000 Maoist fighters who had been stationed in military camps after peace had returned to Nepal following ten years of fighting between 1996 and 2006.

Under the United Nations Mission in Nepal, the Maoist combatants were lodged and paid the equivalent of $100 per month in rations and salaries. The count of combatants was offered by Prachanda, the Maoist chairman. However, it appears that only 16,000 combatants are found to have been residing in these camps. Where have the remaining 3,000 gone?

The higher number may have been deliberately falsified by Prachanda, who is alleged to have drawn the remaining funds from the banks. This mystery will need to be unravelled by the government and the United Nations Mission in Nepal, the latter of which has already been disbanded.

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