Nepal celebrates a decade of its transition to a secular federal republic. This is the time to introspect on the peace process. It is also the time to ask how these two issues are linked and if they can transform Nepal into a prosperous and stable democracy.
A decade ago — on November 21, 2006 — Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda on behalf of the Maoists and Prime Minister G.P. Koirala on behalf of the government signed a peace agreement ending the decade-long insurgency in which more than 17,000 people died. But very few of the major provisions of the accord have been honoured.
Maoists came overground and were coopted to the House of Representatives after King Gyanendra, under pressure from Nepal’s political parties and mediation by the Indian government, revived the dissolved house to explore democracy and peace in the country. But in the days that followed, a handful of political leaders — belonging to three political forces, the Maoists, Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist — got to monopolise the peace process. They worked mostly with the external forces led by India, which were seen as patrons and guides of the peace process and political change. This explains the lack of ownership of the constitution, a by-product of the peace and political process, among the citizens. Citizens were involved just twice, both times to elect constituent assemblies, first time in 2008 and then in 2013, in the making of the constitution. Political parties conducted constitution-writing in a centralised and partisan manner, with no proper debate allowed. There were no referendums or effective public discourse to shape or gauge public opinion.
In a seminar held recently to commemorate a decade of the peace process, Prime Minister Dahal, arguably the biggest beneficiary of the past decade’s politics of transition, said taking the peace process to its logical conclusion was the biggest challenge before him, along with having to implement the constitution. But apart from resettling Maoist arms and combatants and having the CA elected, no other major provisions of the peace accord have been fulfilled. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Commission on Disappeared (during the conflict) that were formed nine years after the deadline mentioned in the Comprehensive Peace Accord, have not been able to pursue their investigation and fix accountability because of the conflict between the government and the Supreme Court over granting sweeping amnesty. Property, mainly the land and houses seized by the Maoists from politicians and ordinary citizens perceived to be “class enemies” are yet to be returned. Victims of state and rebel violence have been lobbying with the international human rights groups and making representations to the chief justice of the SC.
A common feature of Nepal’s politics and governance in the past decade has been the total control and exercise of power and purse by political parties. Politicians disburse large sums of money to their followers using discretionary powers. It has become a routine event to find a dead cadre or supporter of the ruling alliance declared a martyr and one million rupees doled out to their nearest kin. No one is accountable to parliament or the people. This is why the international custodian of peace and political transition, Dahal, and the average Nepali citizen disagree in their assessment of the past decade.
Dahal claims that “nowhere in the world has peace replaced conflict, and republic replaced monarchy so peacefully”. The fact is more people now give the credit to King Gyanendra for the peaceful transition as he not only decided to honour what many constitutional experts still call an unconstitutional resolution of the first Constituent Assembly, which abolished the monarchy. He also stayed back despite the Maoists’ threat to execute him.
Two weeks prior to his official visit to China, and the first after his deposition, Gyanendra asked Nepali leaders, mostly those monopolising power and the peace process, to take the discontent among the Nepali people regarding the prevailing state of affairs and the country’s “diminished status” in the international arena seriously.
The ongoing tussle between three main party leaders and Lokman Singh Karki, the chief of the anti-graft constitutional body, with each side accusing the other of corruption, has discredited the political system and raised doubts about the state’s ability to be fair in its conduct. The Supreme Court is increasingly perceived by the public as an extension of the political parties, especially in the light of appointment of judges with political affiliations.
Leaders believe that they could rule without accountability and impose any political agenda convenient to them on the public. However, with the victims of the conflict getting restive over denial of justice and the peace process increasingly being seen as a failure on that count, there is a question mark over Nepal’s political transformation. The perception is gaining that the leaders of the “peace process” have failed Nepal’s young democracy.