Print Edition - 2014-12-14  |  Free the Words

Researching peace

  • Without explicit educational and empowerment functions, the state-building process cannot succeed
Researching peace

Dec 13, 2014-

Nepal’s peace process can be interpreted in positive and negative terms. The current absence of violence is short-term peace, but it is the outcome of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance. Real or durable peace is dependent on political activities that are conducted against injustice, inequality, exclusion, and violence.  However, in Nepal, the promulgation of new constitution is the first condition to durable peace. These variables cannot be obtained without a set of strategies, a comprehensive political deal between state and non-state actors, and institutions in place.

Contentious issues

Protracted debates around forms of government and federalism require explicit analysis. The so-called improved Westminster system of parliamentary democracy that the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML have jointly proposed to the Constituent Assembly’s Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC) is the wrong choice. A successful peace process requires a minimum level of security and a guarantee of rights for the people who fought for change in the past. Unless our political elites, which include the NC and UML, understand the basic truth that the Westminster system does not deliver real democracy in ethnically-divided societies, there will be no guarantee that violence will not recur.

Clearly, Westminster parliamentary democracy ignores inclusiveness in governance and creates majority and minority forms of authoritarian regimes. Thus, it is weak while handling domestic conflicts but works fine if a society is homogenous, like in Britain. Another default of the model is that it gives more access to outsiders. For foreigners, once you make the majority happy, you are done. There is no need to worry about the rest as the majority will come to you to satisfy your interests. This may be the reason why the West is in favour of this

model for Nepal. The US failed in Iraq because it installed a Westminster democracy and now it has recognised the mistake it made. The overthrow of the al-Maliki government is one example of this failure.  

Towards inclusive democracy

In order to satisfy the requirements of durable peace, a few attempts need to be considered. First, the balance of political power among democratic entities and the inclusion of minority communities in democratic entities is necessary. However, these are challenging, because democracy debates in transitional societies are, almost everywhere, dominated by small groups of powerful elites and Nepal is no exception. The NC-UML common proposal is a great example of this.

Second, inclusive democracy is the final condition for enduring peace in ethnically and politically divided society like Nepal. However, during transitions, elites always attempt to shape democracy along ‘political’ or ‘liberal’ lines, instead ‘inclusive’ ones. This is because political democracy advocates electoral competition and elites have more advantages in elections. They have the money and resources to help them win elections and thereby, enjoy political power. Today’s oligarchy in Nepal attempts to articulate ethnicity to be the same as the Hindu caste system and does not wish to give room for ethnicity debates in the CA.

Alternatively, ethnic communities, including the UCPN (Maoist) have also failed to educate people that identity-based federalism does not dehumanise and discriminate against minority populations; it is simply for recognition. Unless ethnic and indigenous groups are able to fully satisfy national elites and the people, the demand for identity-based federalism and inclusive governance is unlikely to be consolidated from this CA.  

Integrative peace

No matter what type, democracy is the alternative solution to problems. Theoretically, democracy does not rely simply on existing sets of legitimate structures. Participation is vital for legitimacy; therefore, wider participation (including the participation of parties that are currently outside the CA) in the constitution-making process will advance the legitimacy of any political move. Keeping this in mind, the state of peace is distinguished from techniques that could simply avoid conflicts or employ violence and coercive approaches to engage in, manage, or resolve them in a systematic way.

Ongoing debates and complexities over the constitution-writing process have again brought to the fore the urgency of power-sharing. Almost everywhere, successful transitional regimes have practiced power-sharing in each democratic branch as a key mechanism to foster national consensus and ensure the participation of a wide variety of parties. This process requires parties’ desire to learn from others and an analysis of the consequences of the poor management of a crucial transformation. Unfortunately, research and study have almost no place in Nepal’s politics whereas international observation tours for elites and politicians have become junkets for recreational activities.   

Debating state-building

Post-conflict state-building and post-conflict peace-building are not always the same. For Nepal, state-building is a comprehensive and inclusive process that guarantees the cultural, political, and economic rights of marginalised populations. The state-building process has faced ups and downs and changed conflict dynamics almost everywhere. For the state elites to honestly attempt to resolve conflicts and produce an inclusive federal constitution, they should be reaching for broader national consensus, resolving disputes through dialogue, and documenting the outcomes of consensus deals. This will preserve the legitimacy of the new constitution and give credits of its outcomes to all parties. Declaring no second winner or loser is the best approach, because it produces compromise and accommodative peace-building, and that can deliver integrative peace.   

Political dialogues and negotiations, whether in domestic political issues or international relations, recognises that the level of education, particularly in the political leadership, bureaucracy, and political society in general, leaves much to be desired while attempting to understand the theories and practices of peace, democracy, and development. Subsequently, these education variables have badly impacted state and non-state actors while dealing with peace-building and state-building. Without explicit educational and empowerment functions, the state-building process cannot succeed.

Civil society is one body that can bridge research and education gaps and undertake this function effectively. Nepali civil society’s advocacy and education functions, thus, must be resourced. Transformation through a transition is very stimulating and it requires countless consultations between state, non-state, and national and subnational elites. Civil society is the main institution that can bridge two or more elites, lend alternative ideas, and become an alternative political force. Thus, theorists of civil society and democracy argue that in transitions, civil society may arise as a new political force if existing political parties fail to produce peace. Unfortunately, in Nepal, civil society has not developed so far in such a direction; rather, it chooses to benefit from existing political parties and serves as their political campaigners.

The current transitional phase is focussed on restructuring the state and its political systems. Without this restructuring, the voice of the decade-long armed insurgency, Janaandolan II, the Madhes Movement and various indigenous rights movements will not be satisfied. Without placating them, violence can recur and destroy the dream of real peace.

Paneru is a faculty member at Strayer University, the US

Published: 14-12-2014 09:41

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