Peace process: No more ifs & buts

Peace process: No more ifs & buts

Though it came late and is imperfect, the Five-Point Agreement formally endorsed by the legislature-parliament as part of its approval of the three-month extension of the Constituent Assembly (CA), offers one more opportunity to re-energize the peace process and the writing of the new constitution.

It also poses a challenge for all political parties to show a new level of seriousness, maturity and accountability which can help them regain the trust and respect of the Nepali people, who have felt badly mistreated in recent years.

The very short period of extension has spared the CA and the parties from the people’s wrath and cynicism. Had the extension been for a longer period, public cynicism and opposition would have been much stronger. With a longer time-frame, the natural tendency for the parties would also have been to focus on the change of government rather than on concluding the peace process, and tackling some of the contentious constitutional issues.

It is to be hoped that, given the tight three-month deadline, the parties will focus first and foremost on making headway on the peace process, as leaving that issue unresolved is a recipe for further delay if not derailment on the road to completing the constitution. Accordingly, while all five points of the agreement are important and need to be pursued faithfully, Point No 1 is of primordial priority. This point deals with the completion of the peace process, and it is an essential pre-condition for building an atmosphere of trust for Point No 2, which is completion of a draft constitution.

Past experience shows that formation of a new government is always a time-consuming affair, and tends to detract attention from all other issues. Hence Point No 5, formation of a consensus government, needs to be pursued in a manner that does not overshadow or assume greater prominence than the completion of the peace process and drafting of the new constitution. Indeed, all other points of the agreement should be pursued in a manner that do not undermine or delay progress on Point No 1.

All parties must act responsibly for implementing the entire commitments under the Five-Point Agreement approved by the legislature-parliament, but the key for progress or lack of it is the peace process. And the principal party to take the peace process in a direction of success is the UCPN (Maoist).

In the past, the Maoists have invoked many excuses to delay the peace process. Although they signed an agreement to complete integration and rehabilitation of their combatants within six months of Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) being prime minister and chair of the Special Committee back in the summer of 2008, they prevaricated constantly citing one excuse after another and changing already agreed goal-posts.

The agreement to complete the peace process was unconditional, and requires the Maoists to become an unarmed civilian party. It is under this understanding that the Maoists contested elections for the CA, became the largest political party and led the government, which gave it charge of the entire national security apparatus.

It is unthinkable in a democracy for a responsible political party that is part of the government – even when it is in the opposition bench – to want to keep its own private army, under one pretext or the other. But to this day, five full years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006 ended the decade-long conflict, the UCPN (Maoist) has not effectively ended its command and control over its combatants. Even though it has mischievously announced and even organized ceremonies saying the cantonments and combatants have been handed over to the Special Committee, the party has not stayed true to its word.

From time to time, the UCPN (Maoist) has disingenuously linked the completion of the peace process to many other provisions of the CPA, such as democratization of Nepal Army, security sector reform, drafting of a progressive, inclusive constitution, and so on. Yes, these commitments are valid and need to be honored. But these are not preconditions for ending the highly unusual situation of one country having two armies, one of them belonging to one political party, even long after that party has participated in elections, become part of the government, and remains the largest party in the parliament.

There should be no “ifs” and “buts’ on completing expeditiously the integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants, disbanding the cantonments, ending dual security system for leaders of one political party, and eliminating any remnants of there being two armies in one country. However, at least a segment of the UCPN (Maoist) leadership keeps citing different kinds of conditionalities, and wants to keep all options open until its political objectives are met. For example, it is said that completion of the peace process and drafting of the new constitution must proceed simultaneously. This completely ignores the fact that from the very beginning it was explicitly agreed that the peace process would be completed in six months after the elections and formation of government, whereas drafting of the constitution would take two years.

At times in the past, the UCPN (Maoist) has even linked the completion of the peace process to resignation of an earlier prime minister, or the “restoration of civilian supremacy”, or the guarantee of a “people’s constitution”, as defined by itself.

Even before the ink has dried on the Five-Point Agreement of May 29 morning, a segment of the Maoist leadership is disowning it by saying that Point No 1 was just a tactical concession to keep the CA alive, and not an institutional commitment of the party´s Central Committee. Since when did a formal decision approved by the nation’s legislature-parliament become subject to approval by the Central Committee of one political party – all of whose legislators actually voted for the parliamentary decision?

Unfortunately, this kind of obfuscation and distortion has been consistent with the Maoists’ declared position of “tactical flexibility” and “strategic rigidity”, and such opportunist behavior as assuring other parties and international community that it is committed to peace, while telling its own cadres that its official chosen path is to capture the state through people’s revolt.

For the sake of a peaceful and democratic Nepal, and for its own credibility and well-being as a responsible political party, the UCPN (Maoist) must abandon such ambiguous and duplicitous positions. The next three months offer a perfect opportunity for it to do so.

As proposed by Subhas Chandra Nembang, speaker of the CA, it is important to have a detailed, time-bound work-plan for completing the major elements of the peace process in the next months, with measurable milestones to be monitored by a high-powered parliamentary committee. The national civil society and friends of Nepal in the international community must play a watchdog role to ensure that there is no back-tracking, changing of goal-posts or introduction of new conditionalities.
Other political parties too need to act responsibly and with greater maturity. For example, the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and Madheshi parties must come up with creative but viable alternative proposals on the contentious issues of state-restructuring, electoral system and forms of government rather than just criticizing the Maoist proposals. They must be prepared to negotiate in good faith on all alternatives, without compromising on fundamental democratic principles.

A recent public opinion poll by the Himal Media Group shows how ordinary people take very different views on many issues from those that political parties champion in their name. The test of enlightened leadership in a democracy is found in the courage and creativity of leaders to respond to the people’s genuine sentiments and aspirations. Let us hope that our leaders too will rise to the occasion to seek and find compromises on issues on which their parties may have taken certain positions in the past but which subsequent events have shown are no longer feasible or desirable or in the best long-term national interest.

Published on Republica, 2011-06-02