Friday, October 6, 2006

Peace and disarmament

Six months after the April revolution, a gloomy prognosis has replaced the historic euphoria. The turtle pace of peace negotiations forced those hopeful of permanent peace and stability to celebrate the Dashain festival amidst confusion and uncertainty. Despite signing multiple agreements with the government, the Maoists have not deviated an inch from their ideology: violence makes everything possible. Their excesses continue unabated. They still engage in kidnapping, extortion, forceful indoctrination, coercive recruitment, torture and murder of innocent civilians. Fear and frustration out of subjugation has made our poorly governed and bleakly maintained nation even more vulnerable to negative outbursts.

With their continued actions, the Maoists are trying to malign the credibility of security guarantees that a government is supposed to provide to its citizens. It is an attempt to generate public impatience with the government's inability to maintain law and order. Maoists' documented pattern of behavior reflects that, for them, it is struggle at a different level.

The Maoists are trying to overwhelm the system without provoking the Nepali Army. Their myopic goal is to extort as much money as possible so that they can become a larger and more organized force to overwhelm the system. The Maoist threat of violence is nothing but a tactical move to achieve the end of violence without incurring any loss at the hands of the Nepali Army.

The time is ripe for the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to ascertain where Maoist interests lie. Despite the government's relentless effort to appease the whims of Maoists, the Maoist actions show that they want complete dominance over the Nepali politics rather than share the limelight with SPA. SPA might have accepted the Maoists as their partner but the Maoists are yet to accept SPA as a friendly political force.

Although the Maoists have easy access and refuge in urban areas with the help of seven party alliance, they still deny access to political activists belonging to other parties in rural areas. All that the Maoists want at this point is to consolidate their base and garner support in urban areas without losing an inch in rural areas.

The Maoists have outperformed the SPA politicians in media campaigns. The government has miserably failed to actively communicate with the general population in order to manage expectations, build support, and allay suspicions. There seems to exist a disconnect between the people's aspirations for peace and stability and the actual ability of the political leaders to deliver. The people are not yearning for modern cars, luxurious houses, lavish vacations and other trendy gizmos: rather, they could be well-content in a simple life, free of violence, corruption, and living in inferno.

The SPA leaders should move away from fear's paralysis and put the Maoist leadership in defensive with active media campaigns. They should push for complete disarmament of Maoist militiamen. This is crucial for the ultimate survival of political parties and establishment of permanent peace, security and stability.

Many peacekeeping missions undertaken by the United Nations in conflict-ridden countries since the late 1980s failed mainly because weapons harvesting of combatants was not done properly; at best, it could be regarded as having been done very poorly. Thus, long term peace and stability of our conflict-ridden society largely depends on well-structured peace building negotiations between warring sides, humanitarian and infrastructure tasks to support local populations, and the permanent disarmament and demobilization of Maoist militiamen; failure to do so will render permanent peace a distant dream. This is mainly because uncollected weapons and unemployed ex-militiamen can easily reintegrate into society and pose a threat to long-term peace, stability and democracy. Failure to manage arms, which are the prime source of Maoists' fiefdom, can and will have a negative impact on the success of ongoing peace efforts, the consolidation of peace, and the prevention of future conflict from possible break away factions of the Maoist party.

Peace and stability warrants strengthening the power of the government, which can only be possible when the Maoist militiamen are disarmed completely. Thus, complete disarmament of the Maoist militia is crucial to reducing the potential for escalation of the insurgency, and as a part of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction.

However, disarming the Maoists is not an easy task for the United Nations or any other international agency that might be interested in negotiating peace. This is because the Maoists do not have any incentive to tell the truth about the number of weapons they possess, and Maoist commanders will definitely try to covertly retain weapons and troops in case things do not go their way. For the Maoists, who can collect huge sums of money through extortion and by exercising fiefdom, conflict's familiar pattern is a safer bet than peace, which is altogether a new leap into the unknown and uncertain future.

The Maoists are hesitant to surrender their weapons because weapons possess economic as well as security values for them. With virtually non-existent employment opportunities and a lack of marketable skills among the Maoist militiamen, there are no real incentives for them to lay down their arms. The willingness to completely disarm on the part of the Maoist militia will largely depend on the government's ability to guarantee employment opportunities, food security, and the personal safety of Maoist militiamen.

One of the ways to deal with this is to secure overseas employment opportunities for the Maoist militiamen. By doing so, the government will not have to bear the burden of providing them jobs in the armed forces. The country can benefit through increased remittances and it will provide the Maoist militiamen with first-hand experiences of earning money through a fair and legal means while instilling in them a sense of respect for private property which they currently lack. In addition, the possibilities of ex-militiamen organizing themselves and starting insurgencies reduce drastically.

The Maoists should move beyond their rhetoric and begin to see disarmament as part of a wider political process aimed at resolving underlying and structural sources of conflict. Conflict is a vicious cycle and the sooner one can achieve an end to this recurring circle of violence, the better it is. This is mainly because conflict is a highly persistent condition. Societies caught in a vortex of conflict have a high probability of remaining in conflict.

Sebastian Mallaby rightly points out the nature of conflict when he notes, "violent conflict might become self-sustaining, because war breeds the conditions which make fresh conflict likely". What Maoist leadership should not underestimate is the impact of war weariness on their militia. If war stretches on for too long and the militiamen perceive victory to be unachievable, they may gradually lose their continued will to fight.

With the international community against them and having militiamen "burn out," the Maoist leadership might be deprived of the fair deal that they can negotiate now to find a timely and safe resolution to the conflict.

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