Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bumpy road ahead

The midnight accord was a big deal. Certainly, it marked an end of the aspiration of experimenting with radical communism in Nepal, cherished by the Maoist insurgents. Girija Prasad Koirala, who in the past had been consistently labeled as having a hawkish personality and was often blamed for propagating nepotism and corruption, has finally been able to achieve people's aspirations of peace. His sheer determination to restore peace and stability has paid off at the end.

Prachanda has done a big favor to himself. By signing the peace accord, he has saved himself from going down in history as a notorious and stubborn insurgent leader. Time will tell if he has a vision to establish himself as a true statesman or if he simply succeeded in reaching where he is now because of the failure of politicians in the past.

Everyone, except for King Gyanendra and his cronies, has tremendously benefited from the midnight accord. The biggest winners are the Nepali people who have been longing for a durable peace and democracy for quite some time.

That King Gyanendra's failed bid to establish an autocratic regime proved to be a boon for the people. The people suffered for a couple of months, but this provided a platform for them to unite for a republic Nepal. Had King Gyanendra not been blinded by his autocratic aspirations, pushing freedom-loving people to the wall, it might have taken longer for us to convince the Maoists to join the mainstream politics.

The midnight accord has given the political parties that committed numerous mistakes and mismanaged national priorities an opportunity for a fresh start. Politicians have a golden opportunity to whitewash their previous records of corruption, nepotism, and incompetence now by lending an ear to the grievances of their constituents and fulfilling their aspirations.

The cloud of uncertainty and insecurity looming over the Nepali sky has finally cleared. Hopefully, all of the smoking guns will fall silent for good. After several tumultuous years marred by violence and political instability, the people can now breathe a sigh of relief. However, the days ahead are not filled with beds of roses. The real challenge begins with this new dawn. This is mainly because the stability of a conflict-ridden country largely depends on the success of reconciliation and reconstruction measures.

The countries in transition from a time of war to a time of peace are often confronted with a significant chance of sliding back into warfare. Thus, the mere signing of a peace agreement is not a guarantee of stability and peace.

The transitional phase is always a difficult and bumpy time because of constant uncertainty and insecurity. The leaders of all political parties, including the Maoists, should be careful because mistakes and mismanagement of problems during the transition phase can cause the country to slide back into warfare.

In order to establish a durable peace and stability, the violence and lawlessness that has existed thus far must give way to the security of citizens and the rule of law; social and political exclusion must give way to participatory institutions; animosity between the Maoists and the internally displaced persons (IDPs) must give way to national reconciliation; and the economy that has been ravaged by the decade-long violent insurgency must be transformed into a well-functioning market economy. The challenges ahead could be overwhelming if not dealt with carefully.

The most difficult question confronting us is where to begin with the reconciliation and reconstruction process. The government can begin by establishing positive measures such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It is extremely important because this has an ability to bring people on both sides of the conflict together to explore their mutual fear and anger and helps build bridges of trust between them.

Constructive reconciliation is extremely important for a meaningful transformation and democratization of our society. This is mainly because at the heart of any sustainable peace is the condition and process of reconciliation that helps restore a certain wholeness. It enhances the capacity of our society to let go of the hatred and hurt of the past and help warring sides to envision common future. It will instill a sense of friendship and nurture understanding between both the oppressors and victims.

Reconciliation is extremely important if peace is to be stabilized. Many peace agreements are orphaned in the absence of reconciliation. In the absence of reconciliation programs, the warring sides soon realize that it is impossible to co-exist and the conflict becomes renewed. One example of what can happen in the absence of reconciliation is the case of the second Intifada carried out by Palestine since 2000. Despite signing the Oslo accord and other numerous agreements, the warring sides (Israel and Palestine) have not been able to achieve a stable peace.

As reconciliation is a bottom-up process, the government should encourage people from both sides of the divide to come forward and forgive and reconcile with their one-time adversaries. Reconciliation is not easy because it forces each party to deal with human emotions and self-respect. It is hard for the victims of Maoist atrocities to forget their past grievances and forgive their oppressors. At the same time, it will be extremely difficult for the Maoist militiamen that committed crimes against humanity to admit their guilt and, with it, shed their arrogance.

Nepal has undergone a profound change, and the change poses new challenges for all of us. Citizens face the challenges of adapting to the changed social and political conditions; the government faces the challenges of directing the nation through the extremely painful process of reconciliation as well as the difficult process of reconstruction.

Like any other war-ravaged country, the decade-long insurgency has taken its toll on this country's overall economic development. Nepal today suffers from economic underdevelopment and damaged physical, economic, and social infrastructures. This armed conflict that has dragged on for a decade and a half has delayed the developmental process and eroded its developmental foundation. Bringing a highly polarized society together to rejuvenate a national economy that is capable of taking care of the basic needs of all citizens is not an easy task.

Rebuilding damaged physical and economic infrastructures is important, but the government should not get absorbed in the "mechanical-materialist approach" of reconstruction. This is mainly because reconstruction cannot be truly achieved in a society like ours without reforming social and political structures and the human relationships that are necessary to foster reconciliation and an idea of peaceful co-existence.

The government should reform economic policy and make development more inclusive, promote equity, and create special programs aimed at consolidating peace and stability. The economic policy of a new Nepal should thus focus not only on securing rapid economic growth, but also on equity, social inclusion, and stable peace. It should be aimed at fostering political and social adjustment vis-a-vis economic adjustment. Economic development alone cannot sustain peace if the underlying political and socioeconomic causes that sparked the Maoist conflict are not resolved.

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