A history of negotiation

  • There are lessons in Girija Koirala’s pursuit of a high level committee (HLPC) to work for consensus among divided parties
A history of negotiation

Sep 2, 2014-

In retrospect, Girija Prasad Koirala seemingly felt an urgent need to establish a high level political mechanism after the Maoists made their presence felt as the largest political force in the Constituent Assembly (CA) after the 2008 elections and subsequently formed a government. Koirala recognised the necessity of such a body after he noticed the frantic and unsporting behaviour of the government. He knew that the Maoists were inexperienced in running a government and also understood their predilection to superciliousness, owing to their lofty percentage in the CA.

But it was a startling matter of concern for Koirala when the Maoists began to systematically hurt democratic institutions, primarily the judiciary and the fourth organ of the state—the media. Apparently, these acts were aimed at embarrassing the coalition constituents, namely, the CPN-UML and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal, which occupied the third and fourth largest positions in the CA respectively, but were helpless to stop the former as they were part of the government. Another conundrum was that constituents of the government organised more lockouts than the opposition. On some occasions, coalition partners even violently clashed with each other in different parts of the country! More importantly, the UCPN (Maoist) could neither make headway on concerted efforts to take coalition partners into confidence nor could it bring the opposition on board for consensus politics. Consequently, constitution drafting and the process of managing combatants and their arms were consigned to the doldrums.

Koirala takes the initiative

In such a situation, GP Koirala, leader of the main opposition party in the CA, not only had to create awareness among the people and the international community about the Maoists’ bewildering moves against the vital organs of the state, but also had to cautiously provide impetus to the ongoing peace process. Though, it was a difficult responsibility to should, octogenarian Koirala, who had initiated the peace process by ignoring the admonition of some nations that the Maoists were untrustworthy, truthfully wanted to see his roadmap move on. Koirala eventually explored a high level political committee as a tool to cement the fractured ties among conflicting forces. In his original document envisioning the objective of such a mechanism, Koirala had stipulated that a High Level Political Committee (HLPC), as a non-governmental entity, was to sincerely work for the political culture of cooperation, unity and national consensus among parties to give proper direction to the ongoing peace and constitution promulgation process. In view of the precarious socio-political situation, Koirala proposed confidence-building mechanisms down to the VDC level.

In connection with forming the HLPC, Koirala held a series of meetings and confabulations with a cross-section of society. Strategically, these meetings were brought to the attention of media as well. Koirala recognised well that a media campaign in favour of a HLPC was crucial to gain the acquiescence of stakeholders. When he detected a positive response, he proceeded with his mission of concluding peace process logically.

Maoist obstructions

But, the problem was that neither the largest party in government nor its coalition partners were enthusiastic about the HLPC. In the meantime, while there was a growing realisation among domestic and foreign stakeholders—including the Security Council of United Nations as its Resolution 1879 (2009) encouraged a ‘high-level consultative mechanism as a forum for discussion on critical peace process issues’—to form a confidence-building forum, the UCPN (Maoist)-led government abruptly resigned, following its controversial decision to sack the then Chief of Army Staff. As a result of the changed political equation, although the Nepali Congress was the second largest force in the CA, it lent critical support to the third force, the UML, to form the government.

During the process of the election of the PM in the Assembly, while the Maoists were protesting the army issue and staying away, Koirala formally proposed his HLPC brainchild. He said, in the CA, “The high level political mechanism will be the key to mend the broken unity, consensus, and cooperation of the past. I am trying for a way to move forward with consensus.” He also had said, indicating the Maoists, “Now you are boycotting the session, but I am going to suggest a way out of this to move ahead with consensus and that is possible through High Level Political Mechanism. I will also be a member and Prachanda should also be a member.”

Koirala relentlessly persuaded Prachanda and others to agree to be part of the HLPC, since he was scrupulously convinced that without cooperation, unity and consensus, at least among major political forces, the task of management of arms and combatants and constitution promulgation was next to impossible. Finally on July 27, after a serious discussion with Koirala, the Maoist chief agreed to be part of the body. The development was applauded by the international community. Since the UN’s Security Council had already encouraged the establishment of a HLPC, one diplomatic mission wished to convene a meeting of three leaders—Koirala, Dahal and Khanal—at her residence. She effectively persuaded, on her own and also with the help of other diplomats in the Capital, the leadership of the UCPN (Maoist) and the UML but could not work it out with Koirala, who preferred a Nepali venue for a Nepali cause.

Despite the favourable situation nationally and internationally, it took another five months to get the HLPC set-up. The Committee finally came into being on January 8, 2010. All the top leaders of major political forces were involved and Koirala headed it as chairperson. As it was a non-governmental body and its decisions were not binding on the government, then Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was invited as an observer to the committee. The main objective of its formation was to institutionalise peace and stability in the country through the management of Maoist arms and combatants and the timely promulgation of the new constitution.

A relevant look back

More than four years have been passed since the establishment of the HLPC. Over these years, in spite of various challenges, many positive developments have taken place in peace process. We must offer our kudos to leaders for their courage and political acumen in successfully accomplishing the integration of former combatants without bloodshed and that too, in the absence of UNMIN. The success of this thorny issue can be attributed to unrelenting dialogue and compromise between and among political forces, besides, of course, the goodwill of the international community.

But, another aspect of Nepal’s peace process—the promulgation of a new constitution—which is not less exigent from any perspective, remains outstanding. One must not forget that any derailment of constitution writing will have untold effects on the overall peace process.

Chalise was foreign affairs advisor to GP Koirala and has served as Nepal’s Ambassador to the UK and US

Published: 03-09-2014 09:10

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