An uncertain futureNepal’s recent history has been marred by violence and conflict that has stalled the consolidation of democracy.
Nepal’s recent history has been marred by violence and conflict that has stalled the consolidation of democracy. A decade-long armed conflict took the lives of almost 15,000 Nepalis before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in November 2006. The accord had raised hopes that there would be sustainable peace, complete democracy and development.
Obviously, Nepal’s peace process was not going to be easy. There were major challenges such as integration of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army, holding the Constituent Assembly (CA) election and transitional justice, among others. The key issue was fulfilling the varied expectations of the country’s diverse population. But the political panorama remains unstable, and violence continues to occur. It is most important to understand that another dispute may be around the corner as the constitution has not been institutionalised.
Amending the constitution to bring social order and the Nepali Army’s (NA) role in making the peace process a success by integrating former Maoist combatants are important topics for discussion. There is dissatisfaction with the constitution, particularly among the Madhesis that inhabit the Tarai plains. The displeasure that has sometimes been expressed in protests and violence is related to citizenship rights, principles of equality, delineation of electoral constituencies and demarcation of provincial boundaries. The government recently registered a bill to amend the constitution. But the main problem is that the Madhes-based parties may reject the proposal, and the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, has declared that it will oppose the proposed changes to the basic law of the land.
Volatile, complex, ambigious
It is very important to note that the run-up to the CPA is as important as the peace process itself. A series of essential events laid the foundation of this historic agreement with the NA in the backdrop. The Maoists resorted to violence to get their way, and there was not going to be any significant change until they were mainstreamed into the democratic process along with the legitimate political parties. Nepal was able to show that even though a civil conflict did exert tremendous pressure, fighting was not the solution to bringing about changes in a democratic landscape. How would it be if the NA had not supported the CPA and other peace agreements under the pretext of protecting the country’s sovereignty and integrity and preventing a possible security disaster? What would the political and security scenario have been like if the former Maoist combatants had not been integrated into the NA?
A Division Commander conference held at Army Headquarters a few days ago concluded that the political and security environment was volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Readers can visualise the consequences and the state of affairs even after exercising resilience and constant pressure for a secure Nepal. The NA provided a way for the seven parties and the Maoists to go through the democratic process while the Maoist leaders were desperately asking party leaders, especially the Nepali Congress and the UML, for support and a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Another major topic of discussion is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP).
There is reason to expect that conflict and potential violence may escalate. Constitutionally mandated national provincial and local elections need to be held in the next 14 months. If they do not happen, politically brokered constitutional amendments will need to be made to extend the deadline by up to 24 months. Discontent with governance, post-earthquake reconstruction assistance, federal arrangements, transitional justice and other issues are likely to be mobilised politically in ways that could lead to violence.
A hypothetical question
Quite a number of Maoist combatants were not reintegrated into society with the compensation package they had been promised. Therefore, it may not be wise to rule out the emergence of new threats. The future is uncertain even though we have come a long way since the signing of the CPA, as insecurity and the potential for violence in the future exist due to demographic diversity, social inequality and stagnant economy. Unfolding events in the country make one doubt that there will be lasting peace.
The alliance formed between the Maoists and seven political parties in 2006 has been controversial because of some key issues that may make the Himalayan country vulnerable to violence and conflict.The 10-year conflict and the alliance it created have not guaranteed any form of economic viability, especially for youths. The constitution that took nine years and two Constituent Assemblies to prepare is engulfed in controversies, which triggered a revolt in the south resulting in the deaths of more than 50 persons. Reconstruction after the earthquake is not being implemented effectively. The structure of governance from the central to the local level does not facilitate good governance. Issues of inclusion and equality may not have been effectively implemented.
Let me conclude with a hypothetical question. How would you envision Nepal economically, politically and socially if transformation had taken an evolutionary stride with the democratic system that existed under the 1990 constitution?
- Basnyat is a retired Nepal Army Major General and holds an MPhil in defence and strategic studies