On Dec. 28, 2009, the leader of the Nepal Maoists, Puspa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, began discussions with the parties who still comprise the Nepal government. Hopefully, the discussions will end the standoff and protest campaign, led by the Maoists, which started in May.
Over 10 years of civil war in the country — known as “the people’s war” — which claimed the lives of 16,000 people, was ended by the Comprehensive Peace Accord in November 2006 — a peace accord which has not been entirely successful.
After the Maoists joined the other Nepali parties to form a multi-party democratic government, Prachanda became the prime minister of Nepal. His party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, won the largest number of seats (40 per cent) in a parliamentary election held in August 2008.
However, things did not go so smoothly after the election. Currently, there is a standoff between the rest of the Nepali government and the Maoists that clearly threatens the country’s stability. The Maoists resigned from parliament and are involved in protests that have paralysed the country’s capital, Kathmandu. The protests are intended to demand civilian supremacy and stand against the unconstitutional actions of Nepal’s president, Ram Baran Yadav, such as numerous violations of the peace accord.
One condition of the Comprehensive Peace Accord was that the Maoist militia be integrated into the Nepali army, which has close ties with India. Army leader Rookmand Katawal blocked the integration, because he believed that the Maoist fighters were imbued with politically biased ideas. Due to Katawal’s refusal to follow the Peace Accord, Prachanda terminated him. This decision was overruled by president Yadav, prompting Prachanda to precipitously leave parliament in May 2009.
Another central feature of the peace accord was that all parties would strive to maintain law, order and peace. Until recently this has absolutely failed to happen. Rather, by supporting a violation of the terms that brought peace to his country after a decade of war, President Yadav is undermining the peace process.
Unfortunately, these two decisions have led to strong protests, which are presently having a negative effect on the country. They are hurting the economy, which has already suffered from a decade of civil war, and they are also damaging parliament. The protest campaign causes the parliament to be unable to legislate and is also resulting in a backlog of around 60 bills.
Some of the protests turned violent on Dec. 4, 2009, when national security forces opened fire on groups of Maoist settlers who had taken tracts of government-owned forest. Some of the settlers beat a police officer to death. A member of the Nepali congress, Ram Saran Mahat, accused the Maoists of not being sincere in the peace process. Contrary to this, the Maoist vice chairman, Baburam Bhattarai stated, “When we signed the peace agreement, we made total commitment to multi-party democracy. [ . . . ] Nepal’s political parties all say they are committed to democracy and to the writing of the new constitution.” This writing of the new constitution is scheduled to happen in May 2010.
However, the failure of opposing parties to commit to a multi-party democracy, as well as the occurrence of violations of the peace treaty, suggests that peace might not be their primary goal. It seems that both the Maoists and the Nepali government also have additional issues, when it comes to the country’s relationship with India. Failing to integrate the Maoist fighters into the Nepali army may reflect the army’s connections to India.
According to the Telegraph Nepal, the chief of the Indian army, Deepak Kapoor, informed the Nepal army chief that “indoctrinated Maoist militias” should not be a part of the main Nepali army. This might be what Bhattarai was referring to when he accused India of supporting unconstitutional activities opposing the Maoists. Apparently India, although previously supporting the peace accord, distrusts the Maoists.
The presence of a Maoist government in Nepal could lend powerful support to the Indian Maoists, which is seen as a severe risk from sections of the Indian establishment. India may also be wary of the Maoists, because, as they have grown in power, Nepal’s relationship with China has strengthened. If the current Nepali government wants to keep the strong support of India, working with the Maoists might not be in their best interests, even if a multi-party democratic government would lead to peace.
Prachanda will also discuss Nepal’s relationship with India in his discussions with the other Nepali parties. Another declared goal of the Maoists is to regain independent power and fight India’s superior influence over their country. If this is more important to them than achieving stability in their country, then they may not genuinely want a multi- party democracy.
It is in Nepal’s best interest for the opposing parties to return to the peace accord and bring stability to their people. A standoff will do nothing to improve their drowning economy or reduce their severe poverty. It is a government’s responsibility to act for its people first. Maintaining peace is the best way to do this and should be everyone’s foremost priority.
Joanna Graham is a second-year arts student at the U of M.