- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

In Nepal, the ruling coalition of its Seven Party Alliance and the Maoist rebels reached a historic accord on Wednesday, producing a new political mainstream in which the Maoists will join the interim government on Dec. 1.

Since 1996, the Maoists had been leading a deadly insurgency modeled on China’s Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s doctrine of people’s war. Since then, the insurgency and the counterinsurgency undertaken to contain it have cost 13,000 lives and thousands of people have been injured and displaced. Analysts say the agreement paves the way for the Maoists to end their people’s war and join the peaceful process of people’s rule.

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who goes by the name Prachanda, told a crowded press conference Wednesday: “Our experiences have shown we could not achieve our goals through armed revolution, so we have chosen the path of negotiation and formed an alliance with the political parties.” Calling the pact “a milestone,” the Maoist leader added: “We believe that the historic agreement that was reached in the early hours of Wednesday will provide a political outlet to the long-standing quagmire, and lead the nation in the direction of all-around socioeconomic development.”

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said Wednesday that the historic accord between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists laid the foundation for establishing a new Nepal. Warning against potential conspiracies by reactionary forces to jeopardize the agreements, Mr. Koirala urged everyone to move forward with patience to prevent such attempts. The Maoists’ second in command, Baburam Bhattarai, described it as “the beginning of an end to 238-year-old absolute monarchy and a new road toward a democratic republic.”

U.S. demand cited

Both Prachanda and Mr. Bhattarai had voiced confidence of such an outcome during meetings with this reporter in Katmandu in early September and late October. The business community, particularly the tourism-related sector, hopes peace will bring prosperity.

The Maoists had been expected to be in the government since an agreement last June between Mr. Koirala and Prachanda, but U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty warned that Washington would not recognize the government of Nepal if the Maoists were included in the government without being disarmed. Controversy over the issue of arms management slowed negotiations between the SPA and the Maoists for months. The stalemate ended in the wee hours of Nov. 8 as the two sides agreed to end the 11-year-old communist insurgency through a six-point agreement that covers agreements on arms management, the status of monarchy, an interim constitution, legislature, government and how to elect a Constituent Assembly. The accord also provides a timetable to complete the agreement.

Under the agreement, the government and the Maoists are to sign a comprehensive peace agreement on Thursday. Five days later, the Maoist army of up to 30,000 comprising seven divisions are to be sent to cantonments in seven districts, while a similar number of government troops would be confined to barracks. The weapons of both armies are to be separated and put under lock with the keys to be kept by the commanders of the respective armies. The cantonments and barracks will be monitored by the United Nations through closed-circuit television and siren alarms.

The agreement also provides that King Gyanendra lacks any powers until the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, which will determine the fate of the monarchy for good. The SPA and Maoists’ deal also agrees to nationalize all royal ancestral property. For the royalists, the only satisfaction is that Gyanendra remains king, albeit in a suspended form.

Charter due Nov. 26

The signatories have decided to announce an interim constitution by Nov. 26, dissolve the parliament and announce formation of an interim legislature with 330 members. The new legislature will comprise 209 members from the old parliament, 73 Maoists and 48 members chosen from different classes and the public. By Dec. 1, an interim coalition government that includes the Maoists is to be led by Mr. Koirala.

The agreement also provides that a mixed proportional system will be used to elect a 425-member Constituent Assembly next June.

Analysts say the agreement between the SPA and the Maoists provides a “win-win” situation for all the democratic political forces. The Maoists, who had consistently refused to surrender their arms, saved face by getting the keys to their locked weapons.

Critics say the political parties, unpopular because of their corrupt past and rendered almost irrelevant during Gyanendra’s absolute rule, won sizable representation — much more than their popular base warrants — in the new interim parliament. All in all, the political parties have saved the multiparty system while the Maoists have emerged from being hunted “terrorists” to become a formidable political force.

The agreement produced a jubilant and euphoric mood throughout Nepal, with politicians welcoming it as “historical” and “the beginning of a new era.” The Maoists held three days of victory celebrations throughout the country, with the participation of millions of people irrespective of their political orientation.

Foreign response favorable

The international response to the agreement is equally encouraging.

Describing the agreements as a “victory for the people of Nepal,” Pranab Mukherjee, India’s minister of external affairs said from New Delhi: “We welcome this significant step in Nepal’s democratic progress. … We expect these decisions to place Nepal on the path of reconciliation, peace, stability and economic recovery.”

In a statement issued in Katmandu, the U.S. Embassy greeted the accord with cautious optimism.

“The U.S. Embassy welcomes the announcement that the government of Nepal and the Maoists have reached agreement on addressing key political and security issues,” it said, adding: “The agreement must diminish the fear of violence, intimidation, and extortion that the people of Nepal have endured over the past 11 years. In this regard, effective monitoring that includes penalties for violators will prove essential.”

Mr. Moriarty told reporters that U.S. policy on Nepal after the Maoists join the government will depend on the Maoists’ behavior. He indicated that the “terrorist” label would not be lifted when he said: “The Maoists have to prove first that they are not terrorists.”

Kim Howells, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, congratulated the government of Nepal and the Maoists and said: “This agreement is a significant step towards peace in Nepal. We see it as a demonstration of both sides’ commitment to building a stable and peaceful future.”

Ian Martin, special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Katmandu to assist in Nepal’s peace process, also welcomed the accord and said Mr. Annan “was hopeful that the government-Maoist agreement will provide groundwork for a long-term cease-fire, interim rule, and preparations for the Constitutional Assembly elections.”

Analysts say the next two years will be crucial, as there are many potholes in Nepal’s political road map.

Chitra Tiwari can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]verizon.net

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