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The need for Peace

May 5, 2002

Nepal news


The reality of our situation is clear. Either the Government must win the civil war and finally crush the rebels or it must negotiate with them for peace. There is no 'middle path' in this issue. Serious negotiation cannot take place at gunpoint. And the chances of military success are always reduced if the Army believes the war will be settled at the conference table rather than the battlefield. Plainly the Prime Minister must act quickly and decisively if his administration, and indeed the nation, is to survive.

Tragically he is not only fighting rebels in the mountains. The Congress Party is still polluted with open schemes of intrigue and rebellion against him. Mr. Koirala may have reached retirement age before most citizens were born but that does not stop him from seeking power yet again. The veteran Prime Minister who refused to negotiate with the Maoists and led us into outright civil war last year is now calling for the resumption of peace talks. What a pity that he did not see the wisdom of peaceful negotiation before so many thousands died.

But Mr. Deuba has said that no peace negotiations are possible until the Maoists renounce terrorism, give up their weapons and accept the modern democratic system. This is an unreasonable demand. Thirty years ago the British Government gave the same conditions to the Irish Republican Army that was fighting a terrorist war in British controlled Northern Ireland. For more than 25 years afterwards the struggle continued and thousands of innocent people were killed. Eventually a more flexible British Government allowed the IRA to keep their weapons and attend a new regional Parliament. The process of peace began and Europe's longest running civil war quickly came to an end.

It is an impossible condition for any armed rebellion to surrender their weapons before negotiations can take place. It requires them to accept defeat and attend talks without any negotiating power. It opens the rebel leaders to the chance of immediate arrest and imprisonment. It is effectively a demand for unconditional surrender rather than a serious offer of peace. By setting this condition Mr. Dueba is clearly indicating his persistent belief in outright military victory and his complete lack of confidence in any political settlement. We therefore face the prospect of many more thousands of casualties before the struggle is finally decided.

Of course the Prime Minister can draw some hope to achieve military victory from the over heated international situation. America and Britain have still not destroyed the militant Islamic groups in Afghanistan. Their need for supply bases in the region is increasing as their army prepares for a long campaign. Consequently President Bush will probably help our government fight Maoism but such Western assistance will not be without its cost. Nothing in politics is free and Nepal will face the prospect of growing Western influence and control as the price of such vital military aid.

Some may argue that an American air base in Nepal would violate a Constitution that strictly demands international non-alignment. Others will argue that America is fighting a crusade against global terrorism and that every civilised nation must support that campaign. But whatever argument is justified, the establishment of any Western military base in Nepal is bound to divide the nation yet further. And if that base were used in offensive operations against Pakistan or Iran, as seems likely, the Maoists might receive considerable military aid from wealthy Arab nations as the conflict widens. Under these circumstances, Nepal would become an international battlefield.

But the biggest danger to Mr. Deuba's military policy is undoubtedly the time that is needed to achieve success by this route. By his own admission, the campaign against Maoism is expected to take between five and ten years. He is therefore asking the nation to suffer an extremely long war costing tens of thousands of lives and millions of dollars. It will affect everyone as more and more people find it difficult to survive. The economy is already on the edge of collapse after just one year of security operations. Tourism has virtually collapsed, our exports are no longer wanted and considerable parts of the national infrastructure have been destroyed.

According to Information Minister Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta, the Maoists have so far destroyed nearly 1,500 Village District Council offices, 17 districts are without telephones, five hydroelectric plants are out of action and 250 post offices have been destroyed. Many parts of the country are now without any power or communications. The total cost of repairing the infrastructure will run into many millions of dollars and the cost of security alone is running at more than $50,000 every day. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told reporters last week, "We cannot afford to suffer like this, we can't afford to be another Afghanistan"

In short, the Maoist strategy of targeting electricity, telephones and banking systems across the nation has been extremely successful. Although their spectacular attacks on armed police posts have so far killed 280 servicemen in 5 months, these are intended to hit army morale more than any serious attempt to achieve military victory. Comrade Prachandra does not need to storm Singha Durbar with an army of superbly trained rebels. He only needs to dismantle the national infrastructure brick by brick and simply wait until the economy collapses around us.

So Mr. Deuba does not have ten years to wage his war against the rebels. The economy is unlikely to survive another ten months of it and he will be lucky to keep office another ten weeks without some success in his campaign. Killing rebels every day isn't enough. The Prime Minister has to act immediately to stop the rapid dismantling of our economy and infrastructure. Foreign aid given freely without conditions or implications may sustain a continued military campaign. But heavy foreign debt and long term obligation will be a heavy price to pay for a war that could have been solved by simple negotiation.

The Prime Minister should accept the offer of new talks without delay. It is not a sign of weakness to discuss peace. It is the wish of the entire nation to end this nightmare and no chance should be turned away. But such talks should be more open than before so that every citizen is able to understand the demands of both sides. Eventually there has to be a peaceful democratic method of solving this nightmare. For otherwise the blood will flow for generations to come.

With my best wishes to you all,