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Nepal: Precarious Peace Process

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • May 14, 2009

    Ever since the peace agreement signed between the Maoists and Nepal government in 2006, Nepal has been in the middle of political crisis delaying the constitution making process. The recent row between the Nepal Army and the government leading to the resignation of Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal protesting the President’s intervention in the decision, has aggravated the situation further. The fact is that UCPN-Maoist is not only the largest political party in the Parliament but also important to the success of peace process. The House needs two-third’s majority to pass the bills. Although President Ram Baran Yadav has asked the political parties to forge a national consensus and form the government, Maoists may not be willing to join the government due to their bitter experience during the past nine months.

    The recent political crisis was precipitated by the Maoist led coalition government decision to ask for clarification from the CoAS on April 20, 2009 on three controversial issues related to recruitment of 3010 personnel to the Nepal Army, retirement of eight brigadier generals and the boycott of National Games. [Click for Chronology of political crisis in Nepal, 2009] The government was forced to take this decision because the Nepal Army (NA) repeatedly undermined civilian supremacy creating problems in important programmes relating to integrating personnel.

    The main opposition party, the Nepali Congress criticized the government’s decision. In fact, the President cautioned against any unnecessary intervention and urged that Parliament be consulted before taking any decision. Earlier, three coalition partners i.e. CPN-UML, CPN (United) and Sadbhawana Party boycotted the Council of Ministers meeting while the Maoist leaders presented the proposal of sacking the Army Chief. Apart from political parties, envoys from eight countries including India, met Mr Dahal to discuss the issue collectively. They expressed dissatisfaction on the government’s decision because it would adversely affect the peace process.

    The prevailing crisis in Nepal is more constitutional than civil-military. The Interim Constitution (IC) is not clear enough how to deal the situation like this. The IC does not clearly define the role and power of the President. But constitutionally, the President may exercise some prerogative because the 36 (A) of the 4th amendment of IC gives power to the President to “protect and ensure compliance with the Constitution”. Second, although the government has the power to sack the Army Chief according to the Army Act 2007, the decision in this regard needs consensus of among the Council of Ministers, which was lacking in this case due to the UML and Sadhbhabana opposing the move. Thirdly, in Parliamentary democracry the President can advise, suggest and send recommendations of the Council of Minister’s decision for re-consideration. In this case, the Council of Ministers was already dissolved and there was no opportunity for reconsideration.

    In fact, Mr Dahal resigned because Maoists lost a majority in the house when the UML and other political parties withdrew support. For the last six months Mr Dahal was challenged by hardliners for not implementing the party policy and was criticized for non-compliance with the ‘integration’ of Maoist combatants into the NA. Both the issues affected his supremacy and popularity within the party. As a result, to prove his credibility, it appears that he might have been forced to take action against the CoAS. Moreover, the NA was considered a major obstacle to the integration programme. There was also an impression amongst the Maoists that Katawal’s presence may affect the Defence Ministry’s proposal of introducing compulsory retirement after 30-years in service in the NA.

    Since January 2008, the integration of Maoist combatants into the NA has been a major controversy in Nepal. The divergence of opinion of the Nepali Congress, Nepal Army and Maoists on the integration issue led to mistrust on the issue. While the various peace agreements including the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies suggests “only those Maoists army combatants who have been properly registered at cantonment sites will be eligible for possible integration into the security forces fulfilling the standard norms”, the demand by Maoist leaders to integrate all the combatants into the NA has prompted other stake holders to criticize each other’s policy on PLA integration.

    Maoist hardliners demand group integration leading to suspicions about their intentions and political parties including Nepali Congress felt that Maoists may be trying to set up a ‘people’s republic’ by integrating their cadres into the NA. They felt that the NA could be a saviour of multiparty democracy and challenge evil designs of the Maoists. The NA, is yet to shed its allegiance to the monarchy. The army believes the Maoists are taking advantage of the situation by forcing the integration of Maoist cadres. In fact, the CoAS said “the Nepali Army does not believe in any political ‘isms’. Integrating politically indoctrinated Maoist cadres might disrupt discipline and pose risk of revolt.

    Maoist accusations on India’s role in the internal matters of Nepal are not new. They have been using these tactics since the declaration of people’s war in 1996 on matters such as ‘unequal treaties’, border problems, Gorkha recruitment into the Indian Army and the imbalance in trade. These issues have fetched huge public support to the Maoists. Despite that the Maoist leaders took shelter in India during the civil war period and India played a major role in bringing the 12 point agreement between the Maoists and seven political parties in November 2005 in New Delhi to fight against the absolute Monarchy in Nepal. In fact, India has been supporting democratic forces in Nepal since 1950. India always prefers a stable and peaceful Nepal and its concern is over democratic rule.

    Considering India’s geographic, historical, socio-economic and cultural relationship with Nepal, any effort made by India for resolving the political crisis should not be treated as ‘intervention in internal affairs’. Not only India, but representatives from eight other countries expressed concern over action against the CoAS while the peace process is underway. At the moment, political forces of Nepal need cooperation and consensus to mitigate the crisis. It is time to keep aside personal and party level rivalry and listen to ordinary citizens’ plight due to frequent strikes and street fighting between youth organizations associated with major political parties. The delay in the constitution making process and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants may trigger a fresh a round of violence in Nepal. India has been successful in bringing political parties in Nepal together during periods of crisis. Now it is imperative for India to organize parleys between parties to form a national consensus on contentious issues.

    Chronology of political crisis in Nepal, 2009

    • May 04: Prime Minister resigned after President disapproved government’s decision and asked the CoAS, Rookmangud Katawal, to stay in position.
    • May 04: the CPN-UML and the Sadbhawana pulled out from the Government after the Maoist-led government sacked CoAS.
    • May 03: President Ram Baran Yadav disapproved government's decision by saying ‘procedural mistake’.
    • May 03: The Government sacked Mr Katawal and appointed Gen Kul Bahadur Khadka as CoAS.
    • May 03: CPN-UML, CPN (United) and Sadbhawana Party boycotted the cabinet meeting while Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum wrote a note of dissent on the CoAS issue.
    • May 01: The CPN-UML threatened to pull out of the government if the Maoists sack CoAS by a unilateral decision.
    • April 20: The government asked clarification within 24 hours from CoAS Katawal on issues related to recruitment in Nepal Army, retirement of generals and boycotting of National Games.