Nepal: The End of the War - But What Next?

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On Tuesday 21 November 2006, at 8.30 pm, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda signed a Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) bringing an official end to the decade-long "People's War" launched by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in February 1996.

The CPA declares the current ceasefire permanent, thereby ending the Maoists' armed insurgency. From now on the use of guns, explosives and other military material, as well as abductions, attacks on persons or places by ground or air, raids or ambushes are declared illegal. There is also a commitment that within 30 days both parties to the conflict (the Maoist PLA and the government forces - the Nepal Army) will share information regarding the placement of mines and that within 60 days they will all be disabled.

There is provision guaranteeing free passage to government employees as well as to United Nations (UN) and I/NGO workers across the country. The accord has separate provisions dealing with civil and political rights, and the rights of women and children. There is reference to the rehabilitation of victims of conflict and to the establishment of a high-level Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses.

The agreement states that the UN will be enabled to continue its monitoring of human rights. The UN team will also be asked to verify and monitor the process of arms decommissioning and the management of the military forces of both parties to the conflict, according to the agreement of 8 November 2006. The CPA also declares that henceforth no parallel institutions will have jurisdiction - which means that the Maoists' People's Courts, People's Government, tax collection and other parallel structures and processes will cease to function. This effectively ends the existence of two regimes, that has prevailed for many years.

The agreement reiterates the commitment of all parties to hold elections for a constituent assembly (CA) by mid-June 2007. The UN will be asked to observe and monitor the CA polls as well. The CPA further states that after the formation of an interim parliament and promulgation of an interim constitution, the "two parties" will cease to exist and the sole responsibility for implementing any agreements, including the CPA, will fall to the interim cabinet.

Talk of a "New Era"

Both Koirala and Prachanda claimed that the CPA was "a historic document heralding a new era of peace and democracy in Nepal" and a model for other countries of how to resolve internal conflict successfully. But the language used retained much that is familiar. Koirala explained that he had taken a political gamble in "dealing with terrorists" because he thought it was the duty of democrats to bring non-democrats into the framework of democracy. But he emphasised that "all Nepalis must come together to build a new Nepal". Prachanda stated that, "A 238 year old tradition has been broken now. This is the victory of Nepalese people and the defeat of 'regressive elements'." He promised that his party would work with equal zeal to implement the peace accord as they had in waging the People's War. "We want to make it clear to everyone", he said, "that we are neither conservative nor dogmatic in our thinking."

The CPA has been welcomed by the leaders of all Nepal's political parties. They have all emphasised, however, that the CPA provisions now need to be fully implemented in reality. Hours after the CPA was signed, the governments of India and the US welcomed it; as did the UN, stating their hopes that Nepal would now move steadily along on the path of peace.

A statement by the embassy of India in Kathmandu expressed the "hope that this Agreement brings to an end the politics and culture of violence, and heralds the beginning of a lasting peace in order to let the people of Nepal exercise their right to decide their destiny through free and fair elections, without intimidation". It added, however, that, "The critical test of this Agreement will be its implementation on the ground. We call upon all sides and all stakeholders in Nepal to strictly abide by their commitments under this Agreement. Violations must be dealt with under the laws of the land, and full cooperation extended to those empowered to supervise the steps ahead, such as the police, the Election Commission, and the UN. The people's mandate, and their trust, must not be betrayed." India expressed its readiness "to continue to help in every way, to ensure that this historic opportunity is not lost".

A statement from the US embassy welcomed the announcement of the CPA: "We hope this step will place Nepal on the path of lasting peace and democracy. We want the peace process to work and we pledge our full support. We support an agreement that safeguards the aspirations of the Nepali people." The statement adds that, "This means violence, intimidation, and criminal acts - such as forced recruitment of cadre and extortion - must end. The Nepali people, who have lived in fear for 11 years, deserve a chance to live without fear and choose their form of government in fair elections. The US is committed to help Nepal build a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future for its people."

Ian Martin, personal representative of the UN secretary general in Nepal said, "It is a privilege to have been present at the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, marking another key step forward in the peace process. When Secretary-General Kofi Annan heartily welcomed the agreement of 8 November between the Seven Party Alliance and the CPN-M, he called it a historic opportunity for the people of Nepal to end the armed conflict and to build sustainable peace within an inclusive and democratic state. Now today's Agreement promises to convert the ceasefire into long-term peace. Those involved on both sides are to be congratulated for their hard work in finalising an Agreement which is entirely a Nepali achievement."

Significantly, Martin added, "The secretary-general has said that he intends to move promptly to respond to the request to the United Nations to help in key areas of the peace process. I am pleased to say that my Office is working in an excellent spirit of collaboration with the Government and the CPN-M on these areas, and today we have completed agreement on the locations of seven divisional PLA cantonment sites. With the CPA now signed, I hope that we will quickly be able to reach tripartite agreement on the full modalities for the management of arms and armies, clarifying essential details regarding confinement to cantonments and restriction to barracks, weapons storage, permitted and prohibited activities, and monitoring arrangements. The United Nations will then be able to move forward with its planning to deploy monitors and other personnel."

He also looked forward to discussing how the UN role in the other areas requested-human rights monitoring, assisting independent national monitoring, and electoral assistance and monitoring-could help to create the climate of multiparty democracy and pluralism throughout the districts and villages of Nepal "which is essential for the free and fair Constituent Assembly election to which the parties have committed themselves".

The proof of the pudding...

To have reached this point is, indeed a major achievement on the part of the various parties involved. Despite persistent efforts by those who would have preferred a "conservative democracy", including the Palace and the more conservative political parties, to the current broad "seven party alliance" with the Maoists, the democratic forces (political parties and civil society organisations) have managed "to keep their own show on the road".

There remains much to be done, not only with regard to the immediate process of demilitarisation and political re-construction, but also with respect to the underlying causes of conflict - Nepal's grim profile as regards economic development, social justice and human rights. This will require a concerted and comprehensive effort of the kind that has not been seen in Nepal so far, but will depend, eventually, on enabling the majority of poor and socially disadvantaged Nepali men and women to exercise their full democratic rights and thereby find effective channels to demand their economic and social rights.


David is author or co-author of several books on Nepal, most recently The People's War in Nepal: Left Perspectives (Adroit Press, Delhi). He is currently editing a collection of essays on People's Lives, the People's War and the People's Movement in Nepal to be published early in 2007.