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Keeping doors open for peace

December 2, 2001

Nepal news


It has been another terrible week in the history of Nepal. Exactly six months after the royal massacre the entire nation is now engaged in open civil war. Both Maoist leader Prachandra and the Prime Minister have assured their supporters of military victory after peace negotiations broke down. And more than 500 Nepali brothers and sisters have been killed in the subsequent bitter fighting. It is the very nightmare that all of us feared so much.

In the past it was often said that a week is a long time in politics. Now it seems that a single day is like an eternity. Events across the whole world are happening so fast that they can quickly overtake any written article. And unfortunately my column last week was no exception. But the various reasons for this tragic outbreak of violence were confirmed by several senior figures to me this week.

After four months of cease-fire had drained financial resources and dented the efficiency of their army, there was clear division amongst Maoist ranks. And those extremists who demanded a return to direct action gained the upper hand. Any armed rebellion cannot stagnate in prolonged idleness. All revolutionary movements feed from the desire and struggle for rapid change. They cannot sustain themselves through the endless process of negotiated development. That is the nature of armed revolution. That is the vital reason why peace negotiations always need to be processed quickly. And the terrible consequence of their failure in Nepal is the vital reason why they need to be resumed.

Neither side can win this struggle through military force. Both may convince themselves of the possibility but eventually the cold chill of reality will blow on both of them. The Maoists are entirely deluded to believe they can ever win control of the nation through armed confrontation. The Government has already negotiated Indian assistance with arms and supplies. And if the Maoists were to threaten Kathmandu I am certain that other international assistance would quickly drive them back into the mountains. Perhaps even the British Gurkha regiments may eventually become involved.

But the Government will find military victory equally difficult to achieve. The RNA might kill thousands of Maoist cadres and soldiers with attack helicopters and automatic weapons. But in doing so they will certainly kill many innocent civilians as well. Family blood runs deep in Nepal and every victim will leave many vengeful friends and relatives. Moreover the root cause of Maoism remains strong everywhere. Millions of citizens are still struggling with injustice, unemployment, exploitation and malnourishment. As long as that situation continues, the spirit of rebellion will always remain strong in Nepal and our army will eventually find itself embedded in relentless guerrilla warfare exactly as the Americans experienced in Vietnam.

So the need for continued efforts to find a peaceful political solution is paramount. I was very alarmed to hear Home Minister Khadka announce that peace negotiations are suspended until the Maoists lay down their arms. And I was very disappointed that Premier Dueba made no mention of any possibility to resume talks in his address to the nation. More Nepalese died last week than all the victims of the last six months of fighting in Palestine. But without the prospect of a political solution in the Middle East thousands more would have died. Continued diplomatic efforts in that conflict have directly served to moderate events. And without the hope of a negotiated peace in Nepal, thousands of our people are likely to die quite unnecessarily in our particular war. Indeed, their numbers are already mounting.

Of course after so many deaths in such a bitter struggle neither side is likely to welcome negotiation. It is the role of peacemakers and mediators to encourage them but ultimately both camps must realise that negotiation and compromise is the only sensible course ahead. Each may applaud their respective successes but there cannot be a real victory when the bodies of Nepali dead are strewn across our nation. All of them were our brothers and sisters whatever uniform they were wearing. Therefore none of us can take any joy from the result of any battle in a civil war.

But I am confident that the Government was entirely justified to mobilise the RNA and take Emergency powers. After the Maoists withdrew from talks and launched their savage attacks last week there was no alternative but to accept a state of war. Nepali servicemen have every right to defend society and themselves against murder and terrorism. And all Maoist supporters must be prepared for detention or death as long as this terrible conflict continues.

It is therefore in our common interest to relentlessly search for peace. There cannot be a lasting victory until the wish to rebel against democracy and the Constitution is dissolved in all districts of Nepal. No degree of killing can achieve that goal. It cannot be the responsibility of army commanders to achieve the social and economic development needed for lasting peace. That is the role of politicians and local administrators and negotiation and compromise is a normal process in their work. Obviously all trust and co-operation has currently broken down between two diverse political groups in our nation. But if they ignore the chance of a political settlement many ordinary citizens may feel that their motivation is more personal than humanitarian. And then both of them will eventually be swept aside.

The failure of talks so far does not prove that negotiation is impossible. Of course there is a huge gulf of understanding between the antagonists but diverse elements can often find ways of working together. The Government is obliged to uphold the Constitution and insist that all political changes be achieved within it. The Maoists feel that the multi-party system is undemocratic and that their lack of business support will always disadvantage them.

But perhaps there are certain incentives that might encourage them to join the existing system and pursue their social revolution with more conventional methods. Perhaps there are ways in which the Government might assist the Maoists in making that transformation. Some financial assistance should not be too difficult when the alternative is a massive annual security bill. Various media channels can be encouraged to help promote the Maoist message. And there are plenty of Government facilities that might be loaned to the New Democratic Maoist Party during their initial years. These and many other potential areas for discussion have yet to be fully explored.

Eventually the situation will certainly require flexibility and creative thinking rather than brute force and political rigidity. The resumption of peace talks through any method will not be easy but the potential rewards are considerable. And the price of failure is too terrible to contemplate.

As a footnote I would like to confirm that my fellow peacemaker, Padma Ratna Tuladhar, has journeyed to New Delhi for serious medical treatment. Some newspapers have cruelly suggested otherwise but I have personally seen evidence of his honesty in this matter.

With my best wishes to you all,