Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Historic Breakthrough in Nepal: Beginning of New Era

Nepal's main political parties have signed a historic seven-point peace deal that includes an agreement on integrating former Maoist combatants into the security forces, to take a major step toward concluding the stalled peace process.
The four major political forces which represent more than 85 per cent strength of the 601 member Constituent Assembly reached an agreement to conclude the stalled peace process within a month and to prepare a draft constitution. Those who signed the deal at the end of a crucial meeting held at prime minister’s residence at Baluwatar include UCPN-Maoist chief Prachanda, Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala, Jhala Nath Khanal, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist [CPN-UML]), and leader of Joint Democratic Madhesi Front and Deputy Prime Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar.
The agreement removes the single biggest obstacle in the process of constitution writing, as non-Maoist parties had refused to resolve the constitutional issues until what they saw as a Maoist instrument of coercion was not disbanded.
An agreement on the contentious issue of integrating the former combatants was a major part of the deal which decided to integrate a maximum of 6,500 Maoist combatants into security forces and returning properties sezied during the civil conflict to their rightful owners.
Ending Political Quagmire
Now, Nepal has the opportunity to inaugurate a new era for itself. The country needs every encouragement and support as it tries to give the peace process substantive meaning by following through with the drafting of a post-monarchy constitution. Nepal’s neighbors might do well to avoid the temptation of seeking to interfere with the new systems being sought to be put in place.
The end of the monarchy and the 2008 national election failed to bring peace to Nepal. The Maoists, accustomed to authoritarian ways of running a guerrilla army, emerged as the largest party in Parliament, but found it difficult to conduct a dialogue with other parties aimed at bolstering a multi-party structure. They sought to dictate terms and take over institutions, particularly the Army, without considering their responsibility as the largest party in Parliament to forge the constitution in discussion with other parties. The November 2 agreement ends this disastrous three-year stalemate.
Road to Peace and Progress
Nepal has been finding it difficult to move ahead on the road to peace and progress. The political parties that have their members in the Constituent Assembly had to make a number of attempts to elect a leader to head the interim government. The Maoists who constitute the largest group in the assembly have been the main stumbling block.
However, their attitude may now change with the seven-point historic accord reached between Nepal’s principal political parties — the ruling groups led by the United CPN-Maoist and those in the opposition — on 1 November. Among the issues that have been sorted out is the one relating to the Maoist combatants, members of the militia that fought against the Royal Nepal Army for nearly a decade.
The agreement settles the future of combatants of the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA), who have been in cantonments across the country for over four years.
It seems both sides — the Maoists and the non-Maoists — have yielded substantial ground. Only 6,500 of the total 19,000 Maoist combatants will be inducted into the Nepal Army. The rest have been offered financial compensation — between Rs 600,000 and Rs 900,000 — under a rehabilitation deal. The other issues like completing the constitution by November-end when the term of the Constituent Assembly will end were not as tricky as the one concerning the Maoist armed fighters.
Advantage Political Forces
Undoubtedly, other parties deserve some credit too for staying the course and not letting themselves be rolled over by the Maoists in the early phase. After the rejection of maximalist positions proposed by the Maoists, the tricky question of integration of the guerrillas into the Nepal Army was resolved through a formula accepted to all in Parliament.
The Maoists also agreed to hand over all the arms in their possession, and return the lands confiscated from the people in an earlier phase. It is important that the other parties in the system — particularly the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML, and the Madhesi Front — now reciprocate and make the system work, and proceed to be reasonable in constitution-making deliberations.
Major Challenges Ahead
There are two key challenges now. The first is implementing the agreement within the tight timelines that have been laid out. The parties have committed themselves to completing the regrouping of combatants into those to be integrated and rehabilitated by the third week of November, and preparing a draft constitution by November 30. This would enable another extension of the Constituent Assembly. The second is resolving constitutional issues, particularly the nature and shape of federalism. A longer term challenge is the democratization of the Nepal Army, meaning institutionalizing both civilian control and the respect for human rights.

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