The differences between Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, also the President of the Nepali Congress - Democratic (NC-D), and Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikary, who represents the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) on whether to continue waiting for the Maoists to come to the negotiating table or to go ahead with elections to Parliament, have pushed Nepal into yet another phase of political uncertainty.
The prospects of peaceful negotiations with the Maoists now appear more
elusive than ever. The Prime Minister had declared a 'deadline' of January 13
for the Maoists to come to the negotiation table, but this date has come and
gone, without any signs of a positive response from the rebels.
Prime Minister Deuba now clearly wants to go ahead with the election process, but the UML remains unsure. Complicating the matter further, most political parties believe that circumstances are not conducive for elections, and will remain so unless the Maoists are, in some way or the other, taken into confidence.
During the seven months of its tenure, the four-party coalition government led by Deuba has also failed to bring other agitating parties led by Nepali Congress (NC, to which he formerly belonged) that are engaged in a protracted and peaceful agitation demanding the reinstatement of the dissolved house of representatives.
With the recent announcement of a hike in petroleum prices, the four NC-affiliated agitating parties have intensified their demonstrations, pushing the government further into a corner, and have utilized the episode to press the government to accept their demand for the reinstatement of the House.
Trapped in an unenviable position, the government announced on January 13, 2005, that it will wait for another two weeks before recommending a date for elections. Beginning the election process for the house of representatives by April 12, 2005, was one of the two mandates (the other one being the start of political negotiations with the Maoists) imposed by King Gyanendra when he appointed the present government in June 2004.
The Prime Minister has clearly expressed his dilemma: "I don't have any options other than to go for polls. We are still attaching the number one priority for talks. We will sit for talks even if they come just five days before the elections," he said, adding, "If they will not come to the negotiations table, I will be compelled to strengthen the security operation."
In the meantime, Nepal's election commission has revealed that it is not in a position to hold the parliamentary elections before October. Keshab Raj Rajbhandari, chief election commissioner, has stated, "We need at least six months time to make the necessary arrangements before we can hold the polls. The polls cannot be held during the monsoon and festival session".
Although the Nepalese security agencies have asserted that they have weakened the Maoist capability in recent months through their operations destroying their bases, seizing their arsenal and arresting some key figures, political parties still appear hesitant to accept the election proposal.
On January 5, 2005, the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) had launched a major attack against the Maoists in the Bankhet area of Kailali district - 500 miles west of capital - and claimed to have killed some 200 Maoists who had gathered in the area, reportedly in preparation to launch an attack against the security base camp nearby. Forty-one dead bodies of the Maoists were later retrieved from the site, while security sources claimed that many other bodies had been taken away by their fleeing comrades.
RNA spokesperson, Brigadier General Deepak Gurung, declared: "We have
the upper hand over the Maoists… Security forces have had significant
achievements in the last few months against the Maoists. We have confiscated
numbers of items including big and small guns, ammunition, bombs, explosives,
modern communication equipments and logistics."
On January 8, 2005, the RNA claimed that they had destroyed a major Maoist weapons factory located in Sirsi jungle in Doti District - 550 miles west of the capital. Security sources stated that this may have been the biggest arms and ammunitions manufacturing factory operated by the Maoists in the country. On January 6, Police nabbed the Maoist 'Kathmandu Valley coordinator' along with two regional leaders and six others.
Despite their failure to control any area permanently, however, the Maoists have been able to put enough psychological pressure on people through their hit and run tactics. With this psychological pressure, the Maoists have successfully paralyzed the day-to-day lives of common people, imposing frequent blockades in different parts of the country, including the Kathmandu Valley.
Following the withdrawal of the indefinite blockade in Kathmandu on December
29, 2004, the Maoists again imposed a blockade in the Parsa, Bara and Rautahat
districts on January 9, 2005, paralyzing all transport operations and commercial
activities in the eastern and central region. This region is traditionally a
main commercial entry point and more than 70 percent of the country's export
trade and import is conducted through these points. The Maoists have clearly and
repeatedly demonstrated their capacities to prevent the movement of people and
vehicles in any part of the country.
After written threat from the Maoists, more than 70 percent of the secretaries of Village Development Committee working in various parts of the country have already submitted their resignations to the government, thus vacating the rural areas of the last vestiges of civil governance. Again, as a result of Maoist pressure, almost all leaders of other political parties have left the villages to live in the district headquarters.
There have, of course, been feeble efforts of resistance against the Maoist juggernaut, and in some parts of the country, including Dailekha, 350 miles west of the capital, and Nawalparasi, 200 miles south west of capital, the local people retaliated against the Maoists. Such resistance did not last long, since the people were largely unorganized.
Over the past months, the United People's Front (UPF) - a radical communist outfit and former faction of the Maoist - has launched the 'Expose the Maoists' campaign in the rural areas, challenging Maoist cadres who have been threatening its workers. The UPF is now the only political party trying to defend its workers. Navaraj Subedi, member of the UPF said, "The Maoists should accept our presence in villages and our supporters will defy any atrocities by the Maoists."
Within this context of tension and violence, signs of the much-awaited 'peace process' appear nowhere. Nor, indeed, are the possibilities of a peaceful and credible election process significant. Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikary argues, "There is no sense in talking about the elections as long as the Maoists are not brought to the negotiation table… There must be peace first to hold general elections for the parliament."
Despite the coalition government's determination to discuss all issues raised by the Maoists, including the demands for a constituent assembly, all party government and round table meeting, the Maoists continue to decline the peace offer, saying that they will not talk to the present 'nominated government that has no power'. The Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, in a recent statement, reiterated that they wanted to talk with the king directly.
The government has reacted with hurt bewilderment. "I don't understand
why the Maoists are not responding to us since we have displayed so much
flexibility. Announcing the elections date does not mean that the government
closes the door for peaceful negotiations for good. Our door is always open to
them and we will hold the negotiations at any time," said the government
spokesperson and information minister Dr. Mohamad Mohsin.
Not all hopes have, however, been abandoned, though the dispute over the commencement of the election process continues in the ruling coalition. "We need to wait for the Maoists till the last minute," the general secretary of CPN-UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal, said, "If we announce elections date preempting the Maoists, it will kill the environment for the resumption of peaceful negotiations."
The CPN-UML, however, formed a four-member committee to talk with Nepali
Congress leader, Girija Prasad Koirala, about the reinstatement of the house of
representatives. The CPN-UML holds the view that it is better to reinstate the
House rather than go for immediate elections. Pradeep Nepal, standing committee
member of the CPN-UML threatens, "If Prime Minister Deuba will not withdraw
his decision to hold the elections, we will pull out from the Cabinet."
Meanwhile, the agitating parties continue to demand the restoration of the dissolved Parliament, claiming that it would act as a meeting point for all constitutional forces in the country. "At a time one cannot hold the elections and bring the Maoists to the negotiating table, so the revival of the house of representatives is necessary, where all legitimate political forces can discuss all matters," asserts Nepali Congress President and former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. "I don't think Maoist will come to negotiate with this government which does not have any legitimacy."
Since the launching of the Maoist insurgency back in 1996, more than 10,000 Nepalese have already lost their lives. According to the Police, 261 persons were killed in the last one month alone. "The government must open the negotiations with the Maoists. If it is necessary, the government should not hesitate to seek mediation from UN agencies as demanded by the Maoists," said Damannath Dhungana, former speaker of the house of representatives and a mediator in past government-Maoist talks. "There is nothing wrong in accepting the demand for a constituent assembly if peace prevails. If government says yes to the constitutional assembly, Maoists will definitely come to the negotiation table."
For the moment, however, peaceful negotiations remain altogether elusive in the Himalayan Kingdom, while anarchy and lawlessness continues to dominate the political horizon.
Keshab Poudel is Managing Editor, Spotlight Weekly Magazine, Kathmandu. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal