SOUTH ASIA: NEPAL News Briefs
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) cadres as well as insurgents of different groups operating in the Terai region. The major incidents (involving the deaths of three or more persons) included:
October 14: A woman and two minors died on the spot and four others were injured, when a bomb went off at Chandranigahapur Chowk in Rautahat District. Another two persons got injured when the Police opened fire to bring the situation under control after the market became tense following the explosion. Three Terai armed groups, the Terai Tigers, Terai Army and the Terai Sena, have separately claimed responsibility for the incident.
January 23: Cadres of the Young Communist League (YCL) killed three Nepali Congress activists, Satya Narayan Yadav, Neem Chandra Thakur, and Ram Ikbaal Yadav, who were abducted by them on January 20. Police found their dead bodies buried on the bank of Kamala River at Kichana Village Development Committee (VDC) in the Siraha District.
Fatalities in Nepal, 2005-2008
Source: Institute for Conflict Management
The formal announcement made on January 11, 2008, that the twice postponed election for the Constituent Assembly (CA) would be held on April 10, had given a perfect start to the year. Despite growing concern about the deteriorating law and order situation 61.7 per cent voters turned out at the polls. The 601 seat CA was filled by a combination of First Past The Post (FPTP) system (240 seats), Proportional Representation (PR) system (335 seats) and nomination (26 seats). After the election, the final standing of the parties was as follows:
Source: Institute for Conflict Management
Though the run-up to the elections was marred by sporadic violence, the polling was, by and large, peaceful. Every party accepted the verdict, even if some of them were shocked at their performances. In its very first meeting, on May 28, the CA declared the country a Federal Democratic Republic and formally announced the abolition of the monarchy. King Gyanendra quietly vacated the Narayanhiti Palace on June 11.
Unmistakeable roadblocks quickly emerged thereafter, in the path of the infant Republic. Though the Constitution drafting process finally started formally on December 16, 2008, there appeared to be little urgency to carry its work forward. The politics of consensus quickly gave way to the politics of confrontation. Growing anarchy through out the country, especially in the Terai region emerged as a major cause of concern. The frequent clashes between Young Communist League (YCL) and Youth Force (YF) cadres, youth wings of ruling CPN-Maoist and CPN-UML respectively, worsened the situation. The Maoists initiated a debate on whether they should push for the establishment of a ‘people’s republic’. To compound matters further, the integration of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army (NA) faced stiff resistance from the Nepali Congress (NC).
Before the election all parties had reached an understanding that they would work together irrespective of the election results. This understanding was bolstered by a provision in the Interim Constitution that politics of consensus should continue. After the election, however, on July 13, 2008, the CA meeting passed the Fifth Amendment to the Interim Constitution, clearing the way for Government formation on a majority basis – a major departure from the three-year-old practice of working on the basis of consensual politics. The amendment also permits election of the President on a majority basis, makes a provision for an Opposition party and makes the Opposition leader a member of the Constitutional Council. The new amendment states that the President, Vice President, CA chairman, Deputy Chairman and Prime Minister would be chosen on the basis of ‘political understanding’. And if such understanding is not forthcoming, they can be elected by simple majority.
Not surprisingly, the NC, MJF and CPN-UML made an alliance to corner the posts of President, Vice-President and Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, respectively. But when the time came for Government formation, these parties failed to muster the courage to keep the CPN-Maoist out. There was a brief attempt to form a national Government with NC, MJF, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist as majority stake holders, but this ended in failure. Finally, the CPN-Maoist managed to muster a Coalition Government under its leadership, with the MJF and CPN-UML as partners, keeping the NC out. The NC, in turn, chose to don the mantle of the Opposition party. In the process, the contours of a confrontational domestic politics progressively crystallized and political trust became the first casualty. The gulf between the NC and the Maoists widened, with the latter talking of transforming Nepal into a ‘people’s republic’. On the other hand, Nepali Congress (NC) President Girija Prasad Koirala proposed the creation of a broader democratic alliance to contain the Maoists. This was opposed, in turn, by the Maoists, and Party Chairman and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda came up with the idea of setting up an alliance of republicans. There were a multiplicity of confrontations through the year, though the two issues that dominated the national agenda remained law and order and the integration of PLA men with the Nepal Army.
The integration of PLA combatants, numbering 19,206 and presently located at UN-monitored camps, with the NA was the cornerstone of bringing the peace process to its logical conclusion. Ian Martin, the head of UN’s Special Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), noted that the ongoing peace process could not be completed as long as two separate armies exist. To take care of the integration process, a constitutionally mandated Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) was formed under Deputy Prime Minister and CPN-UML leader Bamdev Gautam, with provisions for the inclusion of one member each from NC, CPN-UML and MJF, while Maoists have two members. The NC did not join the Committee, demanding that it be given an equal number of seats with the Maoists. The Maoists have reportedly now conceded this demand and the AISC is to have two members each from the four parties.
The integration of Forces is not an NC worry alone. While the Maoists clearly want to push the maximum possible numbers of PLA combatants into the Nepal Army (NA) and other security agencies, the NC argues that the integration of indoctrinated PLA combatants with the NA will compromise the apolitical character of the Army. Unmistakeably, such integration would further consolidate the hold of Maoists on the politics of the nation. Further, an official resolution passed at the Maoist conclave at Kharipati from November 21 to November 26 declared:
Such a resolution was bound to intensify public anxieties, and apprehensions were further enlarged by Prime Minister Prachanda’s remarks glorifying the use of arms declaring that all major changes in Nepal’s history, from the 1950 struggle for democracy, the 1960 royal coup, and the people's war were the result of the use of force.
The atmosphere of political distrust could be gauged by the activities of the youth wings of the two ruling coalition partners. The YCL was formed to retain the Maoist capacity for violence at a time when PLA combatants were restricted to the UN monitored camps and the Maoists were not in full control of the Government. Despite Prachanda’s promise to bring their conduct within the purview of the laws of the state, the YCL has kept up its business of murder, abduction, intimidation of opponents, extortion, forcibly securing contracts, influencing government appointments, etc. Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam of the CPN-UML has done precious little to prevent the YCL from repeatedly taking the law into its own hands, beyond issuing periodic warning to the militant youth, stating that that he has the consent of the Prime Minister to act against them. Instead of using the state power vested in him, the Home Minister’s party has opted to unleash its own youth wing, the YF, to confront the YCL’s lawlessness with its own. Clashes between the YCL and the YF have occurred frequently within a culture of impunity, encouraging other parties to set up youth wings of their own. The state’s inability to maintain law and order has, in the process, been clearly demonstrated.
The manifest reality is that, apart from using the Government for consolidation of their own power, coalition partners have little stake in the present order. The Maoists, instead of fulfilling their promise to return seized properties, have gone on a fresh spree of illegal seizures, with more than ten major incidents of land grabbing attributed to them. In a much publicised case, when Policeman drove out squatters from an illegally occupied property in Siraha, the then Land Reform Minister Matrika Yadav went to the spot with PLA men, asked the Police to leave the location, and ‘recaptured’ the property. The high handed manner in which the Minister used the PLA to capture this property caused an uproar and the Minister had to resign. Crucially, however, the property was not vacated.
The lawlessness that prevails was dramatically demonstrated in attacks on prominent media houses. Himalmedia was attacked on December 21 at capital Kathmandu and the regional office of Kantipur at Biratnagar was shut down for four days from December 24 to December 27.
The situation is much worse in the Tarai region, where at least 14 armed groups continue with their armed struggle in the name of Madhesi aspirations, even after the Eight-Point Agreement signed on February 28, which conceded the demand for an autonomous Terai region subject to the approval of the Constituent Assembly. After the agreement, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Nepal Sadbhavana Party-Rajendra Mahato (NSP-RM) and Terai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP) joined the mainstream politics and participated in the elections. In an effort to bring the remaining armed groups into the mainstream, the Government has invited them for talks. So far, however, the first round of formal talks has been held with just two fringe groups, the Madhesi Virus Killers and Samyukta Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha. The Government is struggling to bring the major groups to the negotiating table. While the Jai Krishna Goit faction of the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM-G) has explicitly rejected the offer of talks, the Jwala Singh faction of the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM-J) has set out preconditions, which are yet to be met. In the meanwhile, violence continues in the region. Since the beginning of the talks process early in October 2008, there have been 21 killings for which responsibility has been claimed or perpetrators have been identified. There have also been at least 74 cases of bomb blasts, in which 11 persons were killed and another 206 were injured. Crucially, no local administrative bodies have been in place since 2002. Because of widespread fears of extortion and concern over personal security, many Village Development Committee secretaries and civil servants deputed to various Government offices in the Terai Districts fled their duty stations. As a result, most Government offices in the Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Parsa and Bara Districts are either shut down or grossly understaffed.
With little consensus or coherence among parties in the CA, the Constitution drafting process has suffered, and appears to have been relegated to the status of a secondary function. With all provisions of the new Constitution requiring validation by a two-third majority, progress appears impossible, given the prevailing distrust among political parties. The boycott of regular sessions of the CA by different parties over different issues has been frequent and increasing.
Within a broadly disturbing scenario, however, there is a nascent silver lining: apparently realising the futility of confrontational politics, the CPN-Maoist and CPN-UML, on December 25, agreed to enter into a new understanding with the Nepali Congress (NC) so as to take the peace process to a logical conclusion and expedite the statute-drafting process. While Nepal’s troubles are far from over, it is certainly the case that the pervasive violence of the past has halted, and the possibilities – if not the reality – of transformation are everywhere.
[South Asian Intelligence Review]
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