Print Edition - 2016-12-29  |  Yearender 2016

Half-hearted Peace

  • Absence of transformative change, even a decade after the peace process, threatens to prolong social unrest
- John Narayan Parajuli
Most designs have built-in failsafe buttons; our federal design increasingly looks like it is designed to fail

Dec 29, 2016-Nepal’s political actors take pride in the ‘home-grown’ nature of the peace process that ended the decade-long Maoist insurgency, overthrew the centuries-old monarchy and pushed Nepal on a trajectory towards federalism. But in reality, the process has remained overtly focused on fears and desires of a handful of leaders—offering at best a sense of tokenism to the public at large.

If the absence of violence alone is a yardstick of success, then the Nepali peace process has been one; but if one were to take the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) as the yardstick to measure the success, there is nothing comprehensive or transformative about the milestones that have been achieved. Let’s deconstruct the major milestones one by one:

1)    Management of Arms and Armies: It is true that the rebel army was managed during the peace process; yet it left a large section of the former Maoist combatants deeply dissatisfied and disillusioned—leaving open the risk of them banding together to start of another conflict. It also failed to introduce reform to the security sector—an issue that was expected to tackle structural issues around security and justice in Nepal—to bring in improved democratic oversight of the security institutions, as well as improving the capacity of law enforcement agencies. This is also critical in the light of Nepal adopting a federal model of governance. But the agenda was quickly abandoned, including any debate on ‘right-sizing’ the national Army after the end of the conflict. While symbolic steps were taken to bring the Army under civilian control, much of the necessary reforms have not been put in place yet.  Absence of definite steps towards the inclusion of marginalised groups into the ranks of the security agencies in sizeable numbers will be continually looked upon with suspicion by certain sections of the society. This can also create the impression that security forces systematically target particular groups during protests and unrest. Take for instance the unfortunate deaths of protesters and bystanders during the protests against the constitution in the Tarai last year. A large number of those killed (over 50) were Tharus and Madhesis—more than the number of protesters killed by security forces in April 2006, during the uprising against king Gyanendra’s rule.  The aggregate impact of merely introducing cosmetic changes in this thematic area is that it will continue to fester disenchantment with the state—which in turn could even fuel secessionist ideas.

2)    Constitution: The constitution was expected to become a rallying point for all Nepalis, instead it has become a source of division—causing wide-spread protests, effectively shutting down the country and leading India to imposing an unofficial border blockade last year. While the groups that typically have resisted federal system got the most out of the demarcation, the Tharus and Janajatis got very little. The constitution has put the country in a gridlock from where it can neither move forward nor backward. It isn’t an impossible situation entirely, provided there are capable statesmen, but unfortunately Nepal only has “gang leaders”, not even full-fledged politicians.

3)    Inclusion: The issue of inclusion cuts across all milestones set by the CPA and while there has been progress in at least guaranteeing it in the constitution, it is its implementation that will be the true yardstick. Again, the fear here is that the parties will go for more expedient interpretation of the provisions. Women representation in both the Constituent Assemblies has been exemplary, but the gross impact of their numbers has not been felt. They have been handpicked from among family circles of leaders to rubberstamp any decision the top brass makes, not only on general issues but also on issues that affect women directly. Many female CA members were seen opposing equal citizenship provisions for women tabled this year. 

4)    Federalism: It’s a fact that without the Madhes Uprising, federalism would not have been on the current political agenda. By the time of the writing of the Interim Constitution, the Maoists had abandoned the idea. None of the other major parties wanted it either. But they reluctantly went ahead in order to fend off any further protest from the Madhes-based parties and activists. And that reluctance shows in the way the current seven-province model has been carved out. Most designs have built-in failsafe buttons; our federal design increasingly looks like it is designed to fail. That shows in the way Local Level Restructuring Committee (LLRC) was forced to revisit its original criteria on restructuring at the local level. There has been a general reluctance to give autonomy to local level governments. Madhesi parties want to keep the power in the province; the major parties want to keep it in the centre. The province-level government design is not yet final but the problem is that neither the government can change it to satisfy all groups, nor can it be implemented in the present condition. 

5)    Transitional Justice: Given the gravity of the issue, it was a surprise that the parties chose to put it on the backburner for a long time. The promise of forming a commission within six months stipulated in the CPA, in reality took almost eight years to fulfil. Even now, the two commissions remain toothless in the absence of laws criminalising crimes committed during the conflict. 

Based on their assessment of Nepal’s CPA in Peace Accord Matrix, as a part of comparative study of peace processes initiated by professor John Darby , John Paul Lederach, a professor of International Peace building at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, suggested that Nepal’s Peace Process had been 75 percent implemented in 10 years. “.... wherein the challenge is that remaining 25 percent still holds some of the deepest root causes of social unrest and grievances,” he wrote in the foreword to Nepal Transition to Peace Institute’s publication ‘Nepal Transition to Peace: A decade of Comprehensive Peace Accord (2006-2016)’ that took stock of CPA implementation. 

Even so our politicians continue to put a spin on as to how successful the peace process has been. With key actors of the peace process remaining highly insulated, there is risk of the underlying conflict manifesting again in a violent way. 


Published: 29-12-2016 10:08

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