As violence escalates across the country, the prospects for peace talks
appear increasingly uncertain. At a time when the government's High Level Peace
Committee members are discussing fresh initiatives to invite the Communist Party
of Nepal - Maoist (CPN-M) for talks, the Maoists have already called a number of
general strikes aimed at disrupting Nepal's main east-west highway. Immediately
after the Dashain festival between October 20 and 28, the Maoists
launched a new phase of violence, indicating that there would be more bloodshed
in coming months.
Amid the escalation of violence, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has set a final deadline for peace talks. In his press meeting on November 25, Deuba asked the Maoists to come to the negotiation table by January13, 2005, or face 'severe action'. "After I was appointed prime minister, I have already appealed twice to the Maoist to come for talks," Deuba said, "Now I am going to formally appeal to them for the third and final time. If they don't accept, the government will have to go for elections to give continuity to the democratic process."
The Maoists, however, rejected his offer and trashed the talk of polls. "Parliamentary elections would not address our demands. If at all elections are to take place, it should be for the constituent assembly," said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, 'spokesman' of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). "There will be a blood bath in case of elections. We want result-oriented talks. Past experiences have shown that holding dialogues with governments that do not have full authority does not bear fruit."
Maoist leaders continue to press for their demands, including elections for a Constituent Assembly, a Round Table political meeting, and credible international mediators like the United Nations, as the essential bases for resumption of peace negotiations.
Conflict experts hold the view that neither of the warring side is convinced of the urgency of resuming the peace process just yet. "I don't see any possibility of holding peace talks in the near future," said Bishnu Raj Upreti, President of Friends of Peace and a conflict management expert. "Both sides appear aggressive. The government is talking about peace talks only as rhetoric, because they cannot afford to be seen as opposing talks."
Others are still optimistic about the resumption of peace talks. "Prime Minister's fixing of date is not being seen as a deadline." said Padma Ratna Tuladhar, human rights activist and former mediator in government-Maoist talks. "The time has come for the government to decide whether it accepts the Maoist demand for a constituent assembly or not. Maoist leaders have not categorically said that they are not interested in peaceful talks. Since they are rebels dying for their cause, it is not easy for them to accept the offer without analyzing it."
Widening political differences between the Deuba government and four agitating parties is also disturbing the prospects of negotiations. Knowing the weakness of the government, and its lack of a strong backing from the country's major political parties, the Maoists have repeatedly rejected Prime Minister Deuba's calls. Following a ten-day suspension of hostilities (from both sides) during the Dashain festival in October, the government has been repeatedly calling for peace talks. However, Girija Prasad Koirala, the Nepali Congress (NC) President and former Prime Minister who is leading the four agitating parties, contends, "How can this government fulfill Maoist demands as it does not have a legitimate mandate? Only after the reinstatement of the dissolved House of Representatives will it have legitimate right to negotiate with the Maoists. "
The government, on the other hand, claims that it is 'broad based' and consequently able to hold enter the peace process. "We want to settle the Maoist problem through peace talks and negotiations. This is a first-of-its-kind All Party government, which has the mandate to decide on any political issue," asserts Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikary. "If they agree to come to the negotiation table, we will guarantee their safety and security."
The Maoists, however, remain adamant. A week ago, Deuba indicated he could discuss 'any issue', including the constituent assembly, if the Maoists came to the table. Deuba made his call in the presence of King Gyanendra at the inaugural ceremony of the World Buddhist Summit held recently at Lumbini, 400 kilometers west of Kathmandu. Using the occasion, Deuba added, "I would like to formally request Maoist leaders to come to the negotiation table from the land of the birthplace of Lord Buddha. The government is ready to talk on every issue and it will guarantee safety and security of Maoist leaders." Deuba had held the first unsuccessful peace talks with the Maoists back in 2001.
In response, the Maoists have questioned the credibility of the government. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka 'Prachanda' recently released a statement in response to the government's call for negotiations, clarifying that the Maoists were ready for negotiations with the real masters of authority and not servants - a clear indication that he is not keen to talk with the King's puppet government.
After the festival season ended, the Maoists have stepped up their activities throughout the country. A Royal Nepalese Army convoy was attacked at Dhading on the Prithivi highway 40 miles west of the capital, killing half-a-dozen Army personnel. In another significant attack, they targeted the armed police force at Bardiya, 700 kilometers west of Kathmandu near the east-west highway. They also blockaded sections of the east-west highway for a week in far western region. A succession of sudden attacks has come amid reports that Maoists were preparing a final assault against the government forces.
However, the Maoists have also received several setbacks in recent weeks. People living in 12 village development committee areas in the Dullu region - a heavily Maoist affected villages 600 kilometers west of capital - revolted against the rebels. The uprising began after the Maoists started forcibly recruiting full-time cadres. More than 20,000 people spontaneously organized a rally in the areas denouncing Maoist atrocities. The United Peoples Front (UPF), another radical communist outfit, has also been organizing rallies against Maoist atrocities in the western districts, following a series of physical assaults against their workers.
Security forces have recently claimed that they have seized full control over the Maoist strategic centre in the far-west, in the Pandaun areas of Kailali District, 700 kilometer west of Kathmandu. Officials stated that ten security force (SF) personnel were killed in the clash and another 18 injured. The Divisional Commander Royal Nepalese Army in the far-western region, Brigadier General Rajendra Bahadur Thapa estimated that some 300 Maoists could have been killed in the incident. According to security forces, about 2,000 armed Maoists were present at the time of the assault.
These setbacks notwithstanding, the Maoists continue to terrorize large populations and roam freely in the remote areas of the country, where there is no SF presence. Since they continue to maintain a formidable presence in rural areas, the Maoist still seem to be in no mood to resume the negotiations.
The impact of their activities is reverberating beyond Nepal's borders. Since any violence and disturbance in Nepal is certain to have spillover effects in Indian States, Nepalese and Indian security officials, over the past months, seem to be increasingly worried about growing contacts between Nepalese and Indian Maoists. Indian Maoists are said to share military and organizational experience with their Nepalese comrades.
Nepal and India share a 1,600 kilometer long porous border along four Indian States: Utter Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim and Uttaranchal. Border Security Force (BSF) Inspector General (North Bengal) S.K. Dutta disclosed recently that other (non-Marxist) militant groups such as the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) were trying to set up training camps in Jhapa close to the India-Nepal border. The BSF claimed that the number of training camps in Nepal was around 100, with each camp training some 50 Indian militants along with Nepalese Maoist cadres.
The devastations that the conflict has already wrought is incalculable. Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) - a human rights NGO - claims that more than 10,000 people have already lost their lives due to the Maoist conflict in last nine year. Thousands of others have been injured and billions of rupees worth of property has been destroyed by the Maoists.
According to the Public Relations Directorate of the Royal Nepalese Army, around 2,700 Maoists and 163 army personnel have already been killed since the breakdown of the second truce on August 27, 2003. In addition, an unconfirmed 500 Maoists are also suspected to have been killed in the same period. 1,147 Maoists have already surrendered since the government introduced an amnesty package. According to Home Ministry spokesman Gopendra Bahadur Pandey, over 6,500 Maoists have been killed in encounters with the SFs since the start of their 'people's war'. 1,500 police personnel lost their lives during the same period. Likewise, over 200 personnel of the Armed Police Force have also lost their lives. The Royal Nepalese Army now has a presence in some 2,000 villages out of the country's 4,000. The military presence was increased after the declaration of a state of emergency in 2001.
With no visible indication of an early resumption of the peace process, secret moves and countermoves persist on both sides with the aim of securing an advantage in the conflict.
Keshab Poudel is Managing Editor, Spotlight Weekly Magazine, Kathmandu, Nepal. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal