Ian Martin asks: Is Peace Process in Nepal Failing?

Ian MartinFIVE Fundamentals of Nepali Peace Process, according to Ian Martin:

The first fundamental is the commitment to power-sharing and consensus. The second fundamental is the commitment of the Maoists to the transformation of their movement, to conform to democratic multi-party norms and to respect the rule of law. The third, the commitment to transformation in the security sector: to the “integration and rehabilitation” of former Maoist combatants, and to an action plan for “democratisation” of the Nepali Army. The fourth, the commitment to political, economic and social transformation, where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement set out a radical and ambitious agenda. The fifth and last fundamental is the commitment to address the needs of victims of the conflict, and to build the rule of law by ending impunity.

By Ian Martin
[Martin is former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal for the United Nations Mission in Nepal]

In recent days there have been calls for the revision of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, accusations and counter-accusations that it is being broken by Maoist agitation or threats of mobilisation of the Army, and calling into question even of the 12-point Understanding which was the very foundation of the peace process. It is thus timely to ask whether the peace process is failing; if so, why; and what is required to save it.

I no longer speak for the UN on Nepal, and I want to make very clear that I am speaking only for myself. I do so solely as a friend of Nepal, and as someone who deeply wants to see Nepal go forward in peace, respect for human rights, and socio-economic progress for all its diverse peoples.

I want to try to address what I regard as the larger underlying issues of the peace process in Nepal, which I believe is the way to address the question of what needs to be done to get it back on track.

Five aspects of the peace agreements have been unchanging and are fundamental, and it is the extent to which they have been respected or not respected which I want to examine this evening.

The first fundamental is the commitment to power-sharing and consensus. The second fundamental is the commitment of the Maoists to the transformation of their movement, to conform to democratic multi-party norms and to respect the rule of law. The third, the commitment to transformation in the security sector: to the “integration and rehabilitation” of former Maoist combatants, and to an action plan for “democratisation” of the Nepali Army. The fourth, the commitment to political, economic and social transformation, where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement set out a radical and ambitious agenda. The fifth and last fundamental is the commitment to address the needs of victims of the conflict, and to build the rule of law by ending impunity.

Such commitments are common to peace processes, and one can perhaps say that they are requirements of a successful peace process: transitional power-sharing; democratic transformation; security sector reform; addressing root causes of the conflict; and ending impunity. So what has so far been the history of the fulfillment of each of these commitments in Nepal?

The history of power-sharing has been an unhappy one from the outset. The UML as well as the Maoists were forthright in protesting the lack of collective decision-making within the Nepali Congress-led governments, and the same complaint applied to the Maoist-led government after the election. Throughout successive governments, each party has tended to treat the ministries it controlled as its own fiefdom and a source of jobs and rewards for its own supporters, rather than advancing proposals for consensus decision-making in the public interest. This has had particularly adverse consequences for the peace process in that the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction has been from its creation a partisan ministry, rather than a consensus mechanism of peace implementation. Maoist unhappiness at Nepali Congress control of the Peace Ministry led to a promise in the 23-point Agreement of December 2007 to create a multi-party High Level Peace Commission alongside the Ministry, but it was never created, and the Maoists were no more interested in creating it once they took control of the Peace Ministry than had been the Nepali Congress.

The most serious breakdown in power-sharing and consensus decision-making, of course, came in the aftermath of the Constituent Assembly election. The outcome of the election had been, and continues to be, difficult for many in the non-Maoist parties to accept. The Maoists had to concede the creation of a Presidency before the vote to implement the republic went ahead, but they resisted the claim to the post made by the Nepali Congress as second largest party. The election of outgoing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala as President while Maoist Chairman Prachanda became Prime Minister would have kept in play the uneasy partnership that had been the main pillar of the peace process, but the Maoists feared that it would lead to the Presidency becoming a strong alternative power centre. Once Mr Koirala was denied the Presidency and the Nepali Congress was refused the Defence Ministry, the voices in the party which preferred to remain in opposition to a Maoist-led government prevailed.

In the manoeuvring over posts, the Maoists also alienated the UML, and by the time the new coalition government was formed, relationships among the parties were irrevocably soured.

Today some in Nepal argue that there is nothing uncommon in international democratic practice about a government based on a simple majority of the elected body. True enough, but before normal political competition can begin in Nepal, there is a peace process to complete, a constitution to agree upon as the framework for future competition. That is why we urged all parties to work together in government after the election. And from a peace process perspective, it is patently obvious that a peace process based on power-sharing cannot be expected to succeed if not just one major party, but one side to the peace process is not part of the power-sharing —  especially if it happens to have emerged from an election as the largest single party. This is not just a matter of one political party feeling aggrieved, but about maintaining a viable peace process, which I believe is why the Secretary-General has expressed his agreement with all those in Nepal who say that a national unity government is desirable now, as it has always been.

The second fundamental aspect of the peace process is the commitment of the Maoists to the transformation of their movement, to conform to democratic multi-party norms and to respect the rule of law. Maoist leaders argue that this commitment is sincere, and ask for recognition that the transformation of a movement based on armed struggle is bound to take time. So it is, of course. But they must expect to be judged by what they do, as well as what they say, in private as well as in public. They created their Young Communist League, not solely as a movement of law-abiding youth activists based in their own communities, but as a paramilitary formation in quasi-barracks under former commanders from the People’s Liberation Army. They used it in the contest for the Constituent Assembly election to deny other parties the space in some localities for free and fair campaigning. Public statements before and since the election have threatened “revolt”. What is known of internal debate has often suggested two lines, with the commitment to peaceful democratic practice uncertain in the long-term. The Shaktikhor videotape revealed a highly disturbing private discourse, as do statements or interviews by Maoist leaders which talk of final insurrection to capture state power. It is time for one line, not two: the line expressed in the 12-point Understanding, of unambiguous and lasting commitment to multi-party democracy.

Some people saw the attempted replacement of the Chief of Army Staff as the last step in a creeping capture of the state. I see it in more complex terms, coming as it did after a series of highly political statements and interventions by the Chief which would have led to action in any country with democratic control of its armed forces. But democratic control does not mean partisan control. On the wider charge of state capture, the Maoists need to show a convincing commitment to independent state institutions, especially an independent judiciary. But so do other parties: some aspects of alleged Maoist state capture seem not so very different from the way in which each party in government has sought to have its supporters in the institutions of the state.

The third fundamental aspect of the peace process, the future of the armies which fought the war, is the hardest to assess, because it was not fully negotiated: the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Interim Constitution only set out processes towards solutions, not the expected outcome. But despite suggestions to the contrary, the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants to be determined by the special committee was intended and understood to mean integration of some Maoist combatants into state security forces, including the Nepalese Army. The action plan for democratization of the Nepalese Army was intended and understood to provide for a degree of downsizing and for recruitment which was more inclusive of under-represented groups, as well as to replace control by the Palace with control by the government. And the prohibition on any new recruitment by either army which began in the ceasefire code of conduct meant just that: no new recruitment, not recruitment to fill vacancies in an army swollen by wartime.

The Maoists were the first to break the ban on new recruitment. As the cantonments were being established in late 2006, they swelled the numbers there by bringing in young people, many of them minors, attracted by promises of salary payments and future recruitment into the security forces. Together with no planning and poor government performance, this contributed to abysmal living conditions in the cantonments. It also gave rise to long arguments over payments, as non-Maoist ministers resented being expected to fund the living costs and pay salaries for numbers of Maoist personnel they knew to be grossly inflated, and to do so by handing over lump sums which they knew would be used for wider party purposes, including sustaining the YCL.

Meanwhile, the Nepalese Army maintained that its formal acceptance of the authority of the interim governments and of the transition to a republic, distasteful as it was to many of its officers, meant that it was now democratized. In fact, accountability to the Palace having come to an end, the Army was more autonomous than ever, with no effective control by an acutely underdeveloped Ministry of Defence.

From very early on, the United Nations, wanting to prepare the ground for UNMIN’s exit, pressed the parties to commence the processes they themselves had agreed. The special committee was established in mid-2007, headed by the Nepali Congress Peace Minister: it met once, but never met again until it was reconstituted after the election.

It was late October 2008 before the Government announced the re-establishment of the special committee, only for it to give rise to objections from the Nepali Congress regarding lack of consultation, composition and terms of reference. Thus it was January before the new special committee held its first meeting. During the long period in which no serious negotiation or technical analysis of options had been taking place, public statements by political and military voices had demonstrated the clash of divergent opinions. The Maoists dragged their feet on the discharge of those disqualified by UNMIN’s verification, which should have been immediate. The Nepalese Army’s active lobbying against any integration of Maoist combatants into its ranks became a major element of the crisis which led to the downfall of the Maoist-led government, and today any progress is hostage to the overall absence of political cooperation.

Three years after Maoist combatants were cantoned and restrictions were placed on the Nepalese Army, pending what was to be a June 2007 election, both armies are understandably restless. It is remarkable, in terms of any international comparison, that there have been so few serious breaches of agreements, and fortunately for the political leaders, UNMIN is available to be blamed when they do occur, rather than their own failure to address the issues that could lead beyond temporary arrangements. But it is laying up further problems for the future to increase rather than reduce the numbers of personnel for which the state has a responsibility, without any plan for the future of Nepal’s security sector: an army of wartime proportions and a paramilitary raised to fight the Maoist insurgency, whose numbers are being increased, alongside commitments to Maoist former combatants and undertakings to increase recruitment of under-represented groups.

I shall say less about the fourth fundamental aspect of the peace process, the commitment to political, economic and social transformation, but not because I think it less important. Those who talk of the Maoists “joining the mainstream” overlook the fact that while the former insurgents committed themselves to multiparty democracy, and must be held to that commitment, they did not abandon their commitment to fundamental change: indeed, the other political parties undertook to make such a commitment themselves. But three years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is long enough to lament the inability of politicians in Kathmandu, or for the most part locally, to cooperate so as to bring some dividends of peace and beginnings of change to the poor and marginalised majority of Nepal’s people. No effort has been made to forge a common vision for the “New Nepal” that is so often spoken about.

The fifth fundamental aspect of the peace process, the commitment to address the needs of victims of the conflict, and to build the rule of law by ending impunity, sadly can also be quickly addressed. Each side of the former conflict is concerned for its own victims, but little concerned for those it made victims, or for those who were simply caught in the middle of a ruthless war. Processes for compensation have been inadequate, and a process for addressing post-conflict issues of land and property has been non-existent. Not a single person has been properly brought to justice for a major human rights violation committed during the armed conflict or since.

This summary of the non-implementation of key commitments of the peace process might be different if there had been serious mechanisms to monitor implementation. Yet despite repeated commitments, there has been to this day no effective mechanism for monitoring implementation of the peace process, except for the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies, under which UNMIN regularly convenes the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee, which has now held over one hundred meetings.

If this is the state of Nepal’s peace process, is it bound to fail? You may by now be surprised to hear me say that I believe that while it is in danger of failing, it is not yet bound to fail. My suggestions for the way forward correspond to my analysis of its fundamentals.

First, the commitment to power-sharing and consensus-building must be re-established. It should be reflected in a national unity government, including both sides to the original peace process and all major political forces, in accordance with commitments before the election and with the election outcome. Effective mechanisms should at last be established to implement and monitor implementation of peace process commitments and commitments to inclusion, and should include strong representation of women and marginalized groups, and independent civil society voices. At the national level, priority should be given to building consensus around a new constitution.

Second, the Maoist leadership must be consistent, in public and private, in words and deeds, in its immediate and long-term commitment to democratic multi-party norms. The YCL —  and other youth movements —  must be instructed in these norms and in full respect for the rule of law.

Third, hard discussions should take place towards an overall plan for the security sector.  “Civilian supremacy” has become a Maoist slogan, but democratic control of the armed forces is a universal principle and the common interest of all political parties. Within such a plan, the size of the Nepalese Army and the role of the Armed Police Force should be decided, inclusive recruitment policies designed, and integration of former Maoist combatants into politically-neutral army security forces carried out, along with rehabilitation of those who do not want or qualify for integration.

Fourth, a common minimum programme for socio-economic advancement of the poor and excluded should be agreed upon —  and implemented.

Fifth, there should be equitable compensation for all categories of victims of the conflict, real efforts to investigate disappearances, and justice for the worst abuses by either side.

Can this happen? At this moment I do not know, and it may seem unlikely. But I believe that this is along the lines of what the overwhelming majority of Nepal’s long-suffering people would want to see happen, and I believe that it is the interests of those concerned for stability in Nepal, including India. When I went back to the 12-point Understanding, I was struck by one of its least-often quoted commitments: that both the Maoists and the parliamentary parties would engage in “soul-searching” and not repeat their mistakes of the past. I hope that this commitment can be implemented in time to maintain the peace and pursue the change which both sides promised the people of Nepal.

(Based on a talk given by the author at the New School in New York on Friday. Full text posted at http://www.newschool.com/ici)


5 responses to “Ian Martin asks: Is Peace Process in Nepal Failing?”

  1. Prakash Dalit Avatar
    Prakash Dalit

    I think this is the first insider account from ex-UNMIN head on how the peace process unfolded during his time in Nepal. All his five recommendations sound good to me. But there is one more he has left out: all parties should unite and find thier own solution to the crisis rather than let India dictate it to them.

    Let me be clear here – India has played a positive role in the past. It mid-wifed the 12-point agreement which is the basis of the peace process. And despite significant concerns, Delhi allowed the UN to open its human rights office in Kathmandu and later UNMIN to manage key aspects of the peace process. But since the CA election, India (or more specifically, Ambassador Sood) has emerged as the spoiler.

    There won’t be any peace in Nepal until the Maoist soldiers now in cantonments are given a fair deal – either through integration into the army and other security forces, or reintegration back into Nepali society. For a durable peace, a significant portion of them should be integrated, and the majority reintegrated.

    Were the other political parties smart, they would deal with integration as quickly as possible to ensure that the Maoist army, which they fear so much, no longer remains a threat. But it’s clear that it is not the Maoist army so much as the fear of the Nepal Army and its Indian sponsor that is keeping the parties hemmed in. India’s insistence – at the behest of the parties and Nepal Army, not to mention some self-serving self-proclaimed elite civil society leaders – that no Maoist fighters can be integrated does no good to the peace process. It only ensures that the problem festers, with open sores sprouting in not too long a time. Indeed, the current Maoist protest is one such open sore.

    The Maosits of course have much to be blamed for too. Thier biggest failure has been on reassuring common Nepalis of thier democratic credentials. Thus Martin’s second recommendation rings true. But realistically, the Maoists will be loathe to make such a commitment without seeing progress on the other four points. So the sensible approach is to ask for progress on all five recommendations simultaneously. But will that happen?

    Not if Nepalis themselves remain divided. But the Nepali public must realize that the time has come to demand that the parties work together to institutionalize peace. Let’s picket them all at once, bang some heads, and make them see some sense. Lock them up all in a room and force them to come up with a compromise.

    Civil society – will you lead the way? I’ll bring the locks.

  2. pasda Avatar

    Ian Martin himself is hugely responsible for this fiasco in Nepal. His sympathy towards Maoists in light of their regular atrocity to innocent Nepali population went unchecked and even deliberately hidden during Ian’s reign in UNMIN in the country.

  3. Jai Nepal Avatar
    Jai Nepal

    Interesting Approach by IAN MARTIN, who himself was the main cause for complexing the already existing problem in Nepal. Ian doesn’t understand the bigger symantics of the Maoist ‘strategic warfare,’ which is well crafted both within and outside the country by pundits of ‘real politik!’ I have discussed on several ocassions with with own senior colleagues, who indicate that it was a big ‘strategic mistake’ Ian made in relation to outlining/implementing the policy in Nepal in relation to its mandate. One needs to look at Ian’s background (where he comes from and what he did in the past) to know why hw had been so near to Maoist and not the democratic forces! I do not want to say that maoists are all ‘bad and mad,’ what i want to say is that the ‘balance of power’ and the ‘ground reality’ in the context of Nepal was overlooked by Ian alongside with his personal and guided vested interest. I will keep on commenting if there are other comments. Jai Nepal.

  4. hasu Avatar

    I am trying to get in touch with Ian, so Ian ( or anyone else, who knows Ian , and has a contact e.mail, )please let me know.

    Thank you


  5. Cath Barton Avatar
    Cath Barton

    I would also like to contact Ian – we worked together in JCWI all those years ago – I was then Cath Carmichael. Funnily enough I visited Nepal in October-November 2009, but had no idea you were there Ian.


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