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Exacerbation if Elections Postponed: Intl Crisis Group

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The Brussels-based International Crisis Group that works to prevent global conflicts, warns that the implementation of the recent political accord will not be straightforward, and there will be exacerbation if elections are postponed.

Nepal’s Peace Agreement: Making it Work

Asia Report N°126 (15 December 2006)

Executive Summary and Recommendations
Nepal’s government and Maoist rebels have signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) declaring an end to the ten-year civil war, paving the way for inclusion of the rebels in mainstream politics and June 2007 elections to an assembly that is to write a new constitution. The deal has been welcomed by an optimistic public but implementation will not be straightforward: some central questions remain, and there is a serious risk the elections could be delayed, putting strain on the whole process. The UN has very high credibility but it will not last indefinitely, especially if there are delays. International support for its monitoring of both the two armies and the elections will be critical.

The peace agreement charts a course towards elections for a constituent assembly (CA) following formation of an interim legislature and government including the Maoists. In a detailed agreement on arms management, the Maoists have committed to cantonment of their fighters and locking up their weapons under UN supervision; the Nepalese Army (NA) will be largely confined to barracks. The constituent assembly, to be elected through a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional system, will also decide the future of the monarchy.

The CPA was signed on 21 November 2006 after months of slow progress following the success of the April 2006 mass movement that overturned King Gyanendra’s direct rule. The talks were sporadic and at one point came close to collapse. The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) government was criticised for a lack of urgency and clarity; the Maoists pursued negotiations with more coherence but paid less attention to democratic methods. The process has now delivered significant results but some of the problems that characterised it since April – primarily a lack of solid dialogue mechanisms, poor facilitation, little attention to confidence-building and an opaque, elite-driven approach – may continue to dog the next stages.

The deal has its origins in the November 2005 SPA-Maoist agreement signed in New Delhi, which provided a basis for the April movement and a guiding framework for subsequent compromises. However, it represents a temporary convergence of interests more than a permanent shift in the underlying outlooks and interests of the sides. The SPA and the Maoists retain different visions for Nepal’s future institutions, and individual parties’ electoral interests will come increasingly to the fore. The peace accord will not in itself alter the exclusionary characteristics of public life or deliver urgently needed economic progress.

The significant remaining hurdles will all be exacerbated if elections are postponed:

Weak governance. Post-April confusion turned into a worrying power vacuum across the country, which the Maoists were quick to exploit. The government has failed to re-establish law and order and democratic governance. Control over the civil service, election commission and distribution of local posts – always key bones of contention for mainstream parties – may be particularly intense in the run-up to CA elections.

No deal on security structures. The Maoists want their fighters to be half of a new, downsized national force while the NA still wants them entirely disarmed. Neither army sees itself as defeated, so compromise will be difficult, and lack of progress may cause unrest among cantoned Maoist soldiers. With the NA suspicious of the peace process and yet to embrace democratic control, the Maoist demand for more solid guarantees is understandable.

Maoist behaviour. At least until November, the Maoists continued extortions and abductions while showing little sign they are ready for meaningful power sharing and opening up of democratic space. Demilitarising their politics will require more than just laying down weapons; without this, chances for free and fair elections are limited.

International involvement in the peace process has been mostly low-profile and supportive. The government and Maoists have asked the UN to take on new tasks and provide immediate assistance, and public expectations are high. But getting an effective monitoring force on the ground quickly will be a challenge: questions of mandate, funding, logistics and staffing need to be resolved quickly.

Nevertheless, the peace process has some momentum, which gives good grounds for Nepalis’ optimism. With continued compromise, political will and solid international support, a lasting peace is possible. Apart from shaping future institutional arrangements, the talks have agreed proposals for social and economic transformation – topics of immense public concern. However, only free and fair elections can give a government the necessary decisive mandate. Nothing should be allowed to put them off.

To the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist):

1. Build on the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) by:

(a) resolving remaining differences quickly and establishing the specified joint bodies and commissions, including, in particular, agreement on the scope and format of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;

(b) setting realistic timetables for the remainder of the process, including fallback plans if the constituent assembly elections must be postponed;

(c) managing public expectations and disseminating information about the CPA; and

(d) developing provisional arrangements to take urgent decisions as necessary by alternative mechanisms such as joint working groups so any delays in forming an interim government do not stall the peace process.

2. Develop quickly plans to re-establish local governance and rule of law by:

(a) prioritising re-establishment of effective policing, including by involving local Maoist militias in helping to manage the transition in areas they currently control;

(b) deciding on a power-sharing mechanism to restore local government, deliver services and, where appropriate, deal with donors on implementation of local projects; and

(c) proceeding with proposed local peace councils only if they fulfil clearly defined functions which do not make them rival institutions to legitimate local government.

3. Build confidence on military matters by:

(a) establishing effective bilateral frameworks for joint planning on cantonment management and working with donors willing to support the cantonment process;

(b) addressing longer-term army restructuring and merging of Maoist fighters into the national army by establishing a joint committee as soon as the interim government is formed (as specified in the CPA) and proceeding with informal discussions until that date;

(c) developing further confidence-building and dialogue mechanisms that include commanders of both armed forces and working to ensure their active support for the peace process and professional input into discussions over their future form; and

(d) Making the NA-PLA-UN Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee an effective mechanism not just for monitoring agreement compliance but also for developing lower-level coordination to deal with potentially destabilising incidents such as natural disasters or public unrest.

4. Make the next stages of the peace process more inclusive by:

(a) actively seeking public input, including canvassing the views of conflict victims, without assuming that self-appointed groups are necessarily fully representative;

(b) encouraging independent voter education initiatives in the run-up to the constituent assembly elections;

(c) fulfilling promises to ensure fair representation of all marginalised groups (in interim bodies, as candidates for election and in negotiating teams, working groups, joint commissions and the like) and setting up a monitoring body or interim legislature committee to report on implementation;

(d) Expanding public forums, focus groups and local consultation sessions to reach out to communities which have difficulty making their voice heard in the capital and considering holding interim legislature sessions and other such meetings outside the capital;

(e) ensuring key decisions involve all SPA members, not only the top Nepali Congress Party and Maoist leaders, and encouraging broader debate, for example by recognising an official opposition within the interim legislature and consulting with non-SPA parties; and

(f) considering creation of a commission to broaden input into the new constitution-drafting process.

5. Investigate and resolve, as promised, all outstanding cases of alleged disappearances and cooperate in the investigation of criminal acts and war crimes committed during the conflict.

To the Government of Nepal:
6. Prepare for the formation of the interim government by completing implementation of existing policies, including:

(a) strengthening democratic control of the security sector by dissolving the palace military secretariat, bringing royal guards under the Nepalese Army chain of command, halting army recruitment and investigating, as promised, disappearances and other abuses alleged to have been carried out by the security forces;

(b) seeking advice from all concerned groups on implementation of the Rayamajhi Commission report and starting a wider public debate on acceptable forms of transitional justice; and

(c) reducing the size of the palace secretariat and bringing it within the mainstream civil service.

To the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist):

7. Immediately cease all activities that contravene recent agreements and international law and ensure that affiliated and subsidiary organisations do the same, including:

(a) ending extortion, intimidation and abduction;

(b) halting military recruitment and ensuring the prompt discharge of any soldiers younger than eighteen;

(c) recognising that the Maoist “new regime” is now defunct and disbanding all parallel government structures, including indirect mechanisms such as regional fronts;

(d) allowing the police, as agreed in the CPA, to maintain order and investigate criminal activities;

(e) assisting the return home of all conflict-displaced individuals (IDPs) if they wish and expediting the return of seized property; and

(f) demobilising local militia and ensuring they do not act as a parallel police force.

To India, the U.S., the European Union and Other Members of the International Community:

8. Maintain basic coordination, building on the consensus that restoration of rule of law and democratic space across the country is the top priority, and keep pressure on both sides to work towards a genuinely pluralist culture guaranteeing full civil and political rights.

9. Support the UN monitoring mission by:

(a) personnel, including by identifying and preparing candidates as soon as possible;

(b) visible political encouragement, especially from missions in Kathmandu; and

(c) cooperation with the UN to open local political space through coordinated civil affairs and police advisory assistance.

10. Provide effective development, reconstruction and other post-conflict assistance, including by:

(a) employing strict criteria, especially at the local level, when distributing aid to re-establish local governance, and releasing funds only when measurable targets are met, such as redeploying police or getting Village Development Committee secretaries in place and working;

(b) prioritising assistance that supports the opening of political space and the rule of law, even over aid for such security matters as cantonments and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR);

(c) ensuring that proposed projects have the buy-in of all parties in the peace process;

(d) supporting the electoral process with money, helping the UN monitoring mission (which may be best placed to coordinate electoral assistance) and building the capacity of the Electoral Commission also beyond the immediate round of polls; and

(e) helping the government develop, including through extensive consultations, a plan for transitional justice that gives citizens a range of options to choose from and can gain broad public support.

Kathmandu/Brussels, 15 December 2006

To read the full report, click here

For more Nepal reports by International Crisis Group, click here.

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Brihát Śhānti Sámjhautā, 2006
(Comprehensive Peace Agreement)

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