BEPPU, Oita Prefecture — Be it the Nepali Congress Rebellion in 1950-51 and 1961-62 or the movement for democracy in the 1990s, such events have had profound impacts on the political and socio-economic condition of the country.
Thanks to these struggles, political awareness has greatly risen among civilians. In the early ’90s when disparity in the name of class, caste and region was rampant in every ward and village of the nation, one of the communist factions of the country — commonly known as the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) — found the perfect opportunity to challenge the ruling system. It started a political struggle to express people’s dissatisfaction with the government. Since then, their “peoples’ war” has become the longest and most devastating battle in the modern political history of Nepal.
“The nine-year-old Maoist insurgency and counterinsurgency operations by the state in Nepal have weakened the authority of the state and eroded the space for democratic politics,” writes Dev Raj Dahal in his working paper.
Some social reforms like equal representation of minorities at the national level were observable in Nepalese society within a decade but at the cost of immense human suffering. According to Dinesh Tripathi, author of “The New Dynamics of Conflict in Nepal” (2009), the war cost 13,000 lives. Approximately 500,000 people were disabled, and property and infrastructure worth billions of dollars were destroyed.
During this Maoist upsurge, kidnappings, murders and extortion became daily occurrences in Nepal at the local and national levels. The decade-long conflict not only stimulated people’s desire for peace but also encouraged the creation of a “New Nepal” in the minds of political leaders. Eventually, the civilian uprising made possible the unity of various political parties with the CPN-M despite differences over ideologies, priorities and strategies.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed Nov. 21, 2006, by the Maoists and the government’s seven-party alliance. The historical pact formally declared the end of violent conflict in Nepal. People assumed that improvements in national security would restore peace. They also expected that a coordinated political mechanism would revive the economy.
Parliament, which had been dysfunctional since 1999, was reinstated on April 24, 2006. The Constituent Assembly (CA) elections proved successful on April 10, 2008, and the Maoists became the leading party with 220 of 601 seats. The Maoists’ journey, which had been initiated with bullets, was finally able to lead in democratic competition directly associated with ballots at the national level. With this triumph, the Maoist-led government was charged with the responsibility of taking serious peace-building initiatives in Nepal.
Peace building was not as easy as it seemed at first because the understanding of peace differed among the various stakeholders in the process. The other reason why peace building remained a challenge was that it had to deal with one of the most sensitive issues — the integration and rehabilitation of former fighters. Four years have passed, and 19,602 verified Maoist combatants remain in seven main cantonments across the country.
The Maoist-led government constituted a high-level special committee for army integration on Oct. 28, 2008. Supervision, reintegration and rehabilitation of ex-Maoist combatants remained the primary mission of the committee. Parallel to this, another committee was formed to address the democratization of the Nepalese army. These committees have made little headway in their action plans. The overemphasis on priorities and the addition of conditions after an agreement between the political parties had been reached brought about the failure to forge a national consensus.
In postconflict Nepal, two governments formed after the CA elections have already taken office and the third one is on trial. But the trend shows that unless and until the parties agree to compromise, the integration of Maoist ex-combatants is unlikely. No matter how many governments may topple, the integration process will be successful only after responsible stakeholders learn to coordinate their political moves.
There is no doubt that the process of army integration remains a major challenge to the peace-building process in Nepal. But this is all due to the lack of action on the part of Nepal’s big three parliamentary parties. They should perceive the increasing number of verified combatants who ditch their cantonments as a threat to social order.
At first, they should be able to convince the fringe parties that the integration issue is a common problem for all. Then they should come forward to resolve their differences, inviting the army and Maoist representatives to a single table to discuss the number and modality of integration.
Because of the present political volatility and lack of a common framework for integration, Maoist fighters face an uncertain future. And the people face another long and painful wait for a prosperous Nepal.
Joshi Ratala Dinesh Prasad is a fourth-year student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in international strategic studies.
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