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Nepal: Obstacles to Peace


Despite King Gyanendra’s appointment of a new prime minister in June 2003, Nepal remains in a deepening political crisis. By turns conciliatory and confrontational, its royalist government, the Maoist insurgents and the recently ousted political parties have all proven capable of derailing the peace process if their concerns are not addressed. With political parties shut out of peace talks and the palace continuing efforts to keep them off balance and marginalised, party activists have increasingly taken to the streets. This has left the king in an awkward position: wishing to retain control of the government without appearing to be doing so. Such an approach is ultimately untenable, as the controversial appointment of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa makes clear.

A large number of constitutional issues will have to be tackled if Nepal hopes to resolve either the war with the Maoists or its constitutional crisis. However, it will not be possible to forge a broad consensus on these issues if the king remains the supreme decision-maker and the peace talks remain solely a dialogue between palace representatives and the Maoists. Establishing an all-party government is an essential step in beginning the march back toward a genuine democratic process regardless of the Maoists’ relative sincerity about peace.

It is also incumbent upon the political parties to act more responsibly. They should forge an agreement on the composition of an all-party government and present this to the palace before an all-party government is formed. Only by curtailing their perpetual internal feuding can they demonstrate to the people of Nepal that they are serious about governance and to be trusted with a seat at the negotiating table.

With the broad range of issues that have been opened by the war and the constitutional crisis, a lasting solution demands the support and input of an array of social forces well beyond the king, the parties and the Maoists. Efforts to tackle the country’s deep economic and social disparities should be paramount in constitutional reform. Consensus must be developed on several broad issues: the need for substantial and well-structured decentralisation of power and budgetary authority; stronger civilian control over the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA); a more representative electoral system; and ensuring that no one, including the king, is deemed above the law. All these are areas where reasonable compromise can create a broad convergence of opinion not only between the Maoists, the parties and the palace, but across society as a whole.

It is also crucial that the peace process itself be managed more professionally. The unsteady pace of negotiations, changes in personnel, failures of communication and lack of adequately trained negotiators and facilitators all have the potential to unravel an already uncertain process. Yet another change of both government and negotiators in the middle of talks has only hardened suspicions and further slowed matters. The government and the international community should explore ways to provide negotiators with the tools they need to make talks successful. Small numbers of UN experts from neutral countries could be deployed to assist local groups observe the code of conduct signed by the government and the Maoists to go90vern their behaviour during the ceasefire, and trained facilitators could be brought behind the scenes to ensure that negotiations proceed in a more orderly and professional manner. Peace can only be made and secured by the Nepalese, but the international community can and should play an important supporting role.


To King Gyanendra, the palace and the royalist government:

    1. Make clear that as part of any negotiated peace settlement or constitutional revision the monarch and the royal family will no longer be considered above the law, and that specific actions by the king can be questioned by the parliament or the courts.

    1. Reconvene an all-party meeting and indicate that the king will accept the formation of an all-party government if the political parties represented in the last parliament reach an agreement on power-sharing within such a government.

    1. If progress is made on forming an all-party government, ensure that the composition of the delegation negotiating with the Maoists includes all the major political parties.

    1. Endorse the notion of small numbers of UN experts – drawn from neutral and non-controversial nations – assisting in monitoring the code of conduct, working directly with the National Human Rights Commission and providing that body the technical assistance it needs to carry out independent, impartial and credible monitoring in areas controlled by both the Maoists and the government.

    To the political parties represented in the former parliament:

    1. Build pressure to restore democracy by again forwarding a joint selection for the post of prime minister, and agree on a specific power-sharing proposal for an all-party government including a detailed plan identifying both party officials and skilled technocrats who would serve.

    1. Agree to assign the Home Ministry to a neutral technocrat.

    To the Maoists:

    1. Take firmer steps to ensure that extortion efforts – even under the guise of “donations” – are discontinued at the village level.

    1. Make clear efforts, including in their mass communications, to educate cadres about and otherwise demonstrate the seriousness of their new commitment to multi-party democracy and open markets.

    1. Continue with efforts to meet senior members of the Western diplomatic community as part of a process of mutual education.

    1. Articulate clearly to the public how they envision a national roundtable conference and constituent assembly would work in practice.

    1. Prepare cadres for the inevitable compromises that a serious peace negotiation must entail.

    To the royal palace, the Maoists, political parties and Nepalese civil society:

    1. To assist the peace process and eventual constitutional revisions, develop a basic minimum consensus on a program for constitutional change and institutional reform involving:

    1.     formula for the substantial devolution of power and financial authority (perhaps establishment of a federal system);

    1.     efforts to reduce the number of districts to a more manageable scale and to draw reconstituted districts along geographic and not ethnic lines; and

    1.     steps to remove the current ambiguity concerning the role of the monarchy with regard to “emergency” powers and oversight of the Royal Nepalese Army.

    To the International Community:

    1. Steadily increase pressure on the king and the royalist government to form an all-party government and set a clear timetable for a return to democracy.

    1. Make clear, quietly, but firmly, especially to the government, that international mediation or facilitation for the peace talks would be useful and made available, including a range of technical assistance such as the training of negotiators and help in establishing a more effective secretariat for talks

    1. Regional powers India and China should lift opposition to international technical assistance for Nepalese groups designated to monitor the “code of conduct” – the agreement between the Maoists and the RNA governing their behaviour during the cease fire.

    1. India, the United States and United Kingdom should make clear that the further provision of military assistance to the government of Nepal will remain contingent upon good faith efforts at the negotiating table and a clear timetable for restoring democratic order.
Kathmandu/Brussels, 17 June 2003


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