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Inching closer to sustainable peace in Nepal November 4, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dowler, Amy, Nepal , trackback

Amy Dowler

On the evening of Tuesday 1 November 2011, leaders from each of Nepal’s major political parties reached agreement on the integration of former Maoist combatants into the country’s military. The agreement resolves the chief outstanding issue in the country’s protracted peace process, and should allow the Constituent Assembly to turn its full attention to the task of constitution drafting.

The seven-point agreement, designed to provide a “detailed blueprint for the completion of the peace process”, comes five years after the original peace agreement ending the decade-long People’s War, and three and a half years after Constituent Assembly elections, held in April 2008 (The Kathmandu Post). Since those elections – in which the Maoists received the highest share of votes but not an outright majority – Nepal has seen the back of four Prime Ministers, three of them arguably casualties of the former combatant integration issue.

Singha Durbar, Kathmandu

Current Prime Minister and Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) Baburam Bhattarai is widely respected in a country where there is deep cynicism about politicians and political parties. His ascension to the post of Prime Minister in late August this year was accordingly greeted with a mixture of guarded optimism and defeatist fatalism: if anyone could overcome the impasse it was Bhattarai, but if he failed, the country was in serious trouble.

The new agreement will see 6,500 former Maoist combatants integrated into the Nepal Army, with ranks to be decided by a Special Committee. The remaining combatants – roughly 12,000 – will be offered rehabilitation packages of between NRS 500,000 and NRS 900,000 (A$6,200-11,200). The former combatants have been housed in UN-monitored camps since the original peace pact in 2006.

In addition the Maoists have agreed that their former combatants’ weapons will be handed over to the state, to return land confiscated during the People’s War and to disband its youth wing, the Youth Communist League. Parties have also agreed to the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The signatories to this agreement are the big three political parties – the CPN(M) and the two main opposition parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Part of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) (CPN(UML)) – and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM), a group of parties from the southern Terai plains.

It does not have the support of all. The so-called “hardline” CPN(M) faction, led by Vice Chairman Mohan Baidya, has registered its dissent, characterising the agreement as a surrender to the NC and CPN(UML) (The Kathmandu Post). Baidya’s actions since the four-point deal between the SLMM and CPN(M) installing Bhattarai as Prime Minister have been increasingly oppositional, although this is not unusual in Nepal where political parties are notoriously faction-ridden and prone to splits. Although Baidya no doubt has his constituents, he risks rendering himself irrelevant in the face of widespread relief that progress is finally being made.

Although not stated explicitly in the agreement, it is reported that there is a “tacit understanding” that the current CPM(M)-led government will stand aside for a Nepali Congress-led government to take the helm in the period between the finalisation of the new constitution and general elections (The Kathmandu Post).

Should the seven-point agreement be implemented by 23 November as the politicians pledge, and after a collective sigh of relief now that that is finally over, all eyes will turn to constitutional issues. While many of the fundamentals (such as a federal system being adopted) are already agreed to in principle, there are some sticky issues (like the form and shape of political divisions) that are highly sensitive and will continue to tax the skills of Nepal’s political class and the patience of its populace.

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