Can peace hold in Nepal? The answer to this question will draw mixed reactions from different quarters. But, whatever the reactions might be from different quarters there is a subtle consensus amongst Nepali politicians that the peace in Nepal is slowly but surely faltering towards a premature end. However, why is the peace process in Nepal heading towards a failure? First, the existing ideological divide between the parties and the Maoists is just too wide. Second, the recent Sino-India tension is real and Nepal is an issue that is prominent for both these countries. Third, the lack of leadership is clearly visible. And last, the role played by some external forces mainly the UNMIN and Norway is particularly questionable.
UNMIN’s bias for the Maoist Party is best explained by the relationship Samuel Tamrat shares with Maoist leaders. Tamrat, a former rogue rebel from Eritrea played a crucial role in establishing UNMIN’s mission in Kathmandu – he flew into Noida, New Delhi and met Dr.Bhatterai many times and his communist background came in handy to gain the trust of Maoist leaders. For the Maoist party, the presence of UNMIN served two strategic purposes to aide their strategy of eventual power capture. In plain and simple words, the Maoist party has used UNMIN as a tool to propel their tactical advancement in consolidating power in Nepal. First, UNMIN has in various reports to the Security Council equated both Nepal Army and PLA as equal entities. The obvious consequences of such reporting are beneficial to the Maoists as the PLA is seen as a national army en par with the Nepal Army – thus providing legitimacy and recognition for the PLA. What is without a doubt the most indigestible element of UNMIN’s presence in Nepal is that despite repeated warnings and suggestions it continued to accept thirty thousand militia as the total strength of the Maoist army – Prachanda declared to his cadres how the actual strength was only nine thousand and that he had foxed UNMIN.
Despicable as it may sound, UNMIN can serve no further purpose in our peace process – even with their use of sophisticated CCTV’s - murders happened in UN monitored camps and weapons continue to be removed from weapon containers which have UN stickers. It is without a doubt, a more structured indigenous surveillance can mitigate the complications arising in these UN cantonments. Next, UNMIN’s presence has also helped the Maoists to neutralize Indian hegemony in Nepal’s peace process. Fearing that they will be ultimately exposed and that India may intervene against their interests, Maoists have used UNMIN to checkmate India – UNMIN’s political mandate makes her the principal arbitrator of Nepal’s peace process and not India. The only difference between India and UNMIN is that for the UNMIN it just wants to conclude the peace process and leave, where as, for India nothing less than the establishment of a democratic polity will satisfy her investment in Nepal’s peace process.
Another prominent international player in Nepal’s peace process is Norway. The Norwegians have delivered consistent incantations to the Maoists leadership on the way to move forward. This juxtaposition can be explained by the role played by former Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal Tore Torang. Ambassador Torang was a key player in introducing Prachanda to numerous other Kathmandu based ambassadors. The most notable meeting that Ambassador Torang brokered between Prachanda was that with Ambassador Powell of the United States. Sri Lanka is a glaring example of how deceitfully the Norwegians took on the side of the outlawed Tamil Tigers – the same process is being emulated in Nepal. Why? Norway has the money to spend on development, and they have identified the Maoists as their partners to expand their base in the developmental process of Nepal, with issues such as human rights, inclusion and gender discriminations providing a perfect façade for their unity.
In a recent panel discussion in Washington titled, “China 2025”, organized by the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent expert on Asian studies, Aaron Friedberg from Princeton University warned of a “period of India-China tension". He further added that, "There are things that are ratcheting up on the border a little bit, but I think broadly tamped down within limits that are set by the political leaderships on both sides." However, the most interesting of Professor Friedberg’s observation was that Asia is a unipolar political entity and that India’s presence can help constitute a balancing force on Beijing. As Indo- US cooperation has increased, Asian politics has taken an interesting turn. China operated in Asia as a unipolar power with India in the distant as a balancer.
However, American-Indian cooperation has drawn Asian politics into a world of multipolarity which is discomforting to Beijing. It is in this context that Nepal cannot be ignored. In this jostling of diplomatic supremacy, Nepal has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Nepal is now as much a priority on the security policy paradigm of both China and India. As for China, it needs a leadership in Nepal that can assure them that Nepal will not be used against creating trouble in Tibet. Where as India, needs to maintain her interest in Nepal so that energy harnessed in Nepal can be used for her industries as India grows rapidly. Equally important is the growth of Naxalism in India and the possible ramification a rogue Nepal can have on the security of India. What would serve the Indian’s best is if they tried understanding the security complication of their country through the eyes of Nepal.
Last, the ideological divide between the Maoists and the political parties is just too wide – end goals are drastically different. Political parties remain week, unorganized and do not have the imagination to check mate the Maoists both politically and constitutionally. Equally deplorable is the leadership of the political parties. In such light, the Maoist has entangled politicians in useless political debates. While politicians remain locked in Kathmandu, Maoists roam around Nepal campaigning and organizing against the state. As political capacity to check mate the Maoists erodes, the use of force seems like a probable strategy to counter the violence unleashed by the Maoists. Capable political leadership would explore ways of uniting parties against a common threat and then fighting the Maoists politically and constitutionally in which the Maoists would have surely lost once defanged by the process of democracy.
As things stand the peace process has entered the last phase, it can either work from here or completely fail. India and China must exert their influence on political actors to build consensus so that Nepal can usher in a new era of peace, stability and democracy. However, UNMIN’s mission to Nepal needs to be further streamlined if not terminated for all the dishonesty that has been synonymous with her presence in Nepal. Her further participation in Nepal’s peace process is determined by her ability to resist being used by the Maoists – it is a fallacy to generalize that the UN is an impartial peace mediator – all conflict mediators take side and this is a historic phenomenon. Most important, political parties and Maoists need to reach a common ground to ease the persisting ideological divide that engulfs them – democratic process and constitutional liberalism are processes that can’t be traded for the sake of peace.