February 22, 2020
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Irreconcilable Differences

The clarity that attends the Maoist approach to negotiations in the tactical peace process is in sharp contrast to the confusion that tends to guide other parties to the process, both the SPA and international players, including the UN.

Irreconcilable Differences

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has now declared that Parliament cannot be dissolved unless the Maoists have been fully disarmed. He has stated, further, that the King ‘should be given space in the new Constitution’ – both positions that are anathema to the Maoists. 

In turn, Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ Prachanda, the Maoist ‘supremo’, has accused the government of  "conspiring to make the King active again", and of  "functioning according to directions from foreign governments". He has warned that the peace process could break down, in which eventuality, "We will not return to the jungle if we had to face a revolt again. We will bring about a republic legally staying in the cities." Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoists’ ideologue and number two man, was more explicit: "The government is trying to push us back to war. If the dialogue fails we will start a third revolution and that will be centered in the city."

It is evident, to those who are willing to see, that both the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) are engaged in a tactical peace process, marked by wide divergences in fundamental positions. The process is, moreover, persistently jeopardized by Maoist threats, intimidation and coercion. Some efforts have, of course, been made to resolve ‘core issues’, and the ‘five-point agreement’ of August 9, 2006 – which builds on the Eight Point Agreement of June 16, 2006, which was an advance over the Twelve Point Agreement of November 22, 2005 . through which the parties agreed to seek the assistance of the United Nations gives the appearance of a ‘step forward’.

The five points agreed to are: 

  • the government and Maoists will continue human rights monitoring through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal; 

  • they will assist in the monitoring of the Code of Conduct during the cease-fire; 

  • on the basis of agreement to seek UN assistance in the "management of arms and armed personnel of both the sides", qualified civilian personnel will be deployed to monitor and verify the confinement of Maoist combatants and their weapons within the designated cantonment areas. Later, modalities for all arrangements, including of arms and
    munitions, will be worked out among the parties and the UN; 

  • monitor the Nepali Army to ensure that it remains in its barracks and its weapons are not used for or against any side. The modalities will be worked out among the parties and the UN, and 

  • election to the Constituent Assembly will be observed in consultation with the parties. 

Although, this development has brought cheer in the peace camps, the conduct of the Maoists over the past weeks has made their intentions suspect. In spite of being a party to the May 25 Ceasefire Code of Conduct, the Maoists have been blatant in their violations, and in their justifications of such violations.

Clause 10 of the Code of Conduct directs both parties "not to create hurdles in undertaking regular development works peacefully and other works aimed at people’s benefit." However, reports from several districts demonstrate systematic violation. In July 2006, Maoists obstructed the process of awarding contracts worth NPR 12.5 million by the district Development Committee (DDC), Siraha. The DDC had issued a notice asking prospective contractors to submit tenders for 32 contracts by July 16. According to DDC staffers, some dozens of Maoists forced the interested parties out of the DDC premises telling them not to submit tenders. According to the Local Development Officer, Gopi Krishna Khanal, Maoists forcibly took away tender files of 32 parties from the office. Due to the obstruction, collection of internal revenue for supporting expenses in the new fiscal year starting July 17 has become uncertain, he said, as the tenders are a major source of internal revenue for salary, electricity bills, drinking water bills, telephone bills, and stationery, among others.

Similarly, in Magdi district, the Maoists have banned construction works of all infrastructure development projects, including health, education, electricity and drinking water projects. A district government official pointed out that projects such as the blacktopping of roads in Beni Bazaar and gravelling of the Mangalghat Road, among others, have been halted for an indefinite period due to Maoist obstruction.

Clause 15 of the code of conduct further directs: "Donation or financial assistance in cash, kind or in the form of services will not be collected or mobilised against one’s will." Maoist extortion, however, remains endemic across the country. 

In Sankhuwasabha district, for instance, the Maoists have started collecting ‘donations’ from government and semi-government officials, visiting each office to demand an amount equal to 60 days’ salary of each employee as "tax for people's war", according to one government official. Maoist district Member Rajan claimed that collecting ‘donations’ and ‘tax’ was essential to meet the needs of 725 full time members of the Party in the district

In Sarlahi district, they have reportedly set up a check post at Ranigunj Chowk of Lalbandi-Phuljor Road section on Mahendra Highway, since July 23, to collect donations from vehicles plying on the highway. Maoist cadres in combat dress collect NPR 10 from every vehicle, including passenger buses and cargo trucks, issuing receipts for money received towards "security patrol help". 

Similarly, in Bardiya district, the local Maoist leadership announced, on August 2, that they would start collecting ‘donations’ from industrialists, businessmen, employees, teachers and others in the district. The ‘district secretary’ of the Party disclosed at a Press meeting, "At least 300,000 rupees is the monthly expenses just for a battalion of the People’s Liberation Army in Bardiya", adding further, "we are planning to launch a donation campaign which is voluntary and not forced donation."

Responding to these reports, Maoist leader Bhattarai, while interacting with the business community in Kathmandu on August 7, explained that his Party's ‘donation’ and ‘taxation’ drive was a ‘transitional arrangement’ to raise resources to take care of its militia, and urged the business community to bear with it ‘till the political problem is solved’. "In the absence of budgetary support from the government, we have no option but to raise money from donations. But this phase will pass off as soon as the interim government including the Maoists is formed," Bhattarai added. He further said that the Maoists were soon coming up with a centrally controlled donation collecting mechanism so that non-Maoists could not take advantage of the situation. "It will be a one-window system, as you businessmen prefer to say," he disclosed. 

One of the key elements of the Ceasefire code signed was, the "Return the properties of the leaders of political parties, activists and civilians, which were seized, locked up or prohibited from being used during the period of the conflict, to concerned persons or their families." However, the process of return of properties to displaced families has been rare and marred by ‘conditions’. In Dhangadhi district, for instance, the Maoists have asked persons whose lands and houses had been seized to submit an application to their Party. An "investigation committee" has been formed and is to be the ‘sole authority’ for giving the "final verdict" on whether and to whom seized properties are to be returned. Lekhraj Bhatta, Maoist in-charge of Seti and Mahakali declared, "We will first study whether our party seized the lands without sufficient reason or it was necessary to do so to punish those concerned." He added further that the lands and houses of ‘feudal’ class people, ‘direct or indirect supporters of regression’ and ‘spies’ who inflicted ‘great damage’ inside their Party, would not be returned at all. Similar reports of ’conditionalities’ are trickling in from Sankhuwasabha, Dang, Salyan and other districts. 

The Maoists have not spared Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) either. In Salyan district, Maoists have stalled all NGO activities, claiming that they were not complying with the ‘People's government’ and have started working on their own, ignoring Maoist policies, after the restoration of democracy in the country. Min Bahadur Wali, Chairman of Sharada Nepal, an NGO, states, "Maoists may have been offended because most of the NGOs, in recent times, have shown no interest in registering with the Maoists and paying tax to them." The Maoist moves are, however, clearly against the Ceasefire Code’s clause 7 that reads, "No hindrance will be made from either side for political activists and members of social organisations to move around the country and express their views, organise meetings or engage in their organisational works".

Of course, the question of disarming the Maoists remains the most intractable problem. Well versed in the wisdom of the ‘red book’, it is clear that Prachanda and the Maoists have no death wish and the People’s Liberation Army will not easily relinquish arms to squander away the ‘rewards’ that they have seized through the ‘barrel of the gun’. The retention of arms acquires greater urgency and significance as the Maoists come under increasing attack from splinter groups like the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM). Recently, the CPN (Maoist) declared war against this outfit, headed by Jai Krishna Goit, after its cadres killed two Maoists in Saptari district. Goit had left the Maoists to form the JTMM two years ago, demanding more autonomy for the Terai region .

Prime Minister Koirala has noted the contradiction at the heart of the present process: "While the Maoists depend on weapons as their source of power, the Parliament is the source of power for the government. The House of Representatives cannot be dissolved unless Maoists’ arms are managed." Unsurprisingly, the Maoist’ talks team member, Dina Nath Sharma responded, "The main issue is not arms management. It is how fast we can get rid of monarchy." He added further that separating arms from fighters would not affect their strength since they knew how to get arms again. "So it is wrong to assume that separating arms will in any way resolve the problem." 

For the Maoists, the peace process offers an economical tactical alternative to secure the goals that they were pursuing through violence in the past. These goals remain unaltered. In a joint statement released on August 8, 2006, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and the CPN (Maoist) stated: "The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) jointly re-assert their firm commitment to proletarian internationalism, mutual fraternal relations, on the basis of MLM (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism). All tactical questions being adopted in the respective countries are the sole concern of the parties operating there. Both parties will seek to learn from the positive experiences of the other party as also the experiences of the Maoists who comprise the International Communist Movement." 

The clarity that attends the Maoist approach to negotiations is in sharp contrast to the confusion that tends to guide other parties to the process, both the SPA and international players, including the UN. As in other theatres where governments and international intermediaries are engaged in processes of negotiation with powerful insurgent and terrorist groups, there is a radical asymmetry between the expectations and approach of importunate state and international agencies, and armed non-state actors who have mastered the art of manipulating the insecurities and fears of these agencies. Negotiations with the Maoists in Nepal will, consequently, continue to be cumbersome and frustrating for both the government and the UN representatives, since the Maoists continue to operate as they did before the ceasefire in all aspects except the suspension of attacks on the state’s armed forces. 

Saji Cherian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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