Saturday, November 4, 2006

Peace under the gun?

The news about the government and the Maoists making a breakthrough on the issue of arms management took everyone by surprise. The Kathmandu Post (Oct 31) quoted an anonymous leader involved in the negotiation and reported that a breakthrough acceptable to the government, the Maoists and the international community had been reached.

However, the recent interview given by Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa "Badal" to Nepal Magazine states otherwise. He flatly refuses any possibility of the Maoists agreeing to the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration (DDR) formula put forward by the United Nations (UN). His perception of DDR as a means to force the Maoists to surrender raises serious doubts about him toeing the line with the Maoist supreme leaders, Prachanda and Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, on the issue of arms management. The brewing suspicion of him leading a splinter Maoist rebel group holds ground more than ever now and should not be understated.

A flurry of statements from the Maoist and SPA leaders in recent days have led to waxing and waning of people's expectations for a durable peace and stability. The marriage of convenience between the SPA and Maoists during the April revolution had instilled a ray of hope for a lasting peace and stability among the conflict-ridden Nepali citizens. However, with each day's passing, both peace and democracy seem to be an elusive dream.

As long as the Maoists maintain their goals inflexible and provide conflicting signals, there is a strong possibility that talks may soon hit the wall. Their refusal to disarm may prove to be a stumbling block in the ongoing peace process. When a party involved in negotiation puts forward inflexible goals, overlapping bargaining ranges fail to emerge and negotiations can break down prematurely.

At this point in time, the Maoists are trying to prove that they can hold out longer than their opposition during both negotiations and war. They understand that the longer they can stall negotiations, the more likely they are to convince the SPA government to capitulate.

The Maoist leaders are reluctant to disarm militiamen because while divulging secret weapons depots might facilitate settlement, it will simultaneously leave them vulnerable to intimidations and attacks. They know that the people and security forces that they have intimidated during this decade-long insurgency will lash out at them at the first chance they get.

Thus, the Maoists are trapped in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to the issue of disarmament. If the Maoist leaders agree to complete decommissioning of weapons, they will be making their militiamen dangerously vulnerable to annihilation; if they refuse to do so, they would be triggering the very security dilemma they hope to avoid.

Insurgency resolution is always a complex matter, no matter how simple and straightforward it may look from outside. It is complex not because of conflicting objectives, but because of conflicting perceptions of the issues involved and the complicated relationships between adversaries.

Resolving the Maoist insurgency requires more than agreeing to a ceasefire. An extension of a ceasefire is not a guarantor of peace. Successful resolution of the Maoist conflict warrants complete disarmament and demobilization of Maoist militiamen, integration of militiamen into the mainstream of society, and building an interim government capable of accommodating insurgents' interests. However, the formation of an interim government including the Maoists should be based on the complete disarmament and demobilization of Maoist militiamen.

Disarmament and demobilization of Maoist militiamen is crucial because a free and fair Constituent Assembly (CA) election is not possible without complete disarmament of Maoist militiamen. If they are not disarmed, the Maoists will definitely try to capitalize on people's fears. It would be naive to think that the demagogues, with their pathetic human right records, would act like Boy Scouts during the CA election.

In addition, if the CA election is held without disarming the Maoist rbels, it will be dominated by concerns about peace and security. Furthermore, the voters will be forced to use the limited power of their franchise to appease armed insurgents with a hope that this will prevent rebels from heading back to the jungles.

Thus, successful disarmament and demobilization of the militiamen is extremely important in enhancing confidence in the electoral process and guaranteeing fair election results.

Peace and democracy cannot flourish under the gun. The mad rush towards the formation of an interim government without addressing the core issues--- disarmament and demobilization of armed rebels --- would be a futile attempt towards a lasting peace and stability. The solution based on power sharing without taking care of the core issues remains incomplete. Forcing unwilling and contentious factions together in any kind of power-sharing structure is not a lasting solution and is bound to fail in the long run.

If we look at the world's history, it becomes evident that settlements based on power sharing without taking care of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration (DDR) issues eventually fail and lead to renewed war. For instance, failure to disarm combatants led to renewed conflict in Angola.

According to Margaret Antsee, the UN special envoy to Angola, "Any lasting solution of a long-standing civil war depends on a satisfactory resolution of the military element." Thus, complete disarmament and demobilization of Maoist militiamen should be the central component of efforts towards re-establishing legitimate governance, lasting peace, and a well-functioning democracy.

If peace talks are on the verge of breakdown, the Maoist fear of annihilation can be subsided through a firm commitment from the third party. The UN can mobilize peace keeping forces in the field to actively punish violations and protect disarmed Maoist militiamen. This will ensure that the Maoist security concerns will not be negated and will promote their willingness towards disarmament.

The ongoing peace negotiations may fail, not because the Maoists do not want peace, but because they cannot solve certain tenacious bargaining problems. If the Maoists want to establish themselves as a political force, they should view disarmament and demobilization as an important step towards both confidence-building among the parties and the development of new institutions and procedures of decision-making that are necessary for sustaining peace and democracy.

The Maoists should move away from their current competitive-bargaining strategy and adopt a softer cooperative-bargaining strategy. This is mainly because competitive-bargaining strategy assumes a "win-lose" situation. As neither the Maoists nor the government want to be perceived as a loser, this strategy does not lend itself to the compromises necessary to bring an end to the conflict; no substantial progress can be made as such. Cooperative-bargaining is based more on a "win-win" mentality and is geared more towards focusing on benefits for the parties involved.

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