After the fall of King Gyanendra's despotic regime last April, political events have been unfolding at an unprecedented pace। For members of the reinstated parliament, raising hands in favor of whatever is tabled in Parliament seems to be easier than actually debating the issues that are detrimental to Nepal's future as a prosperous sovereign nation.
While internally displaced people (IDPs), many of whom are members of the current Seven Party Alliance (SPA), are still confronted by the wrath of Maoists and forced to live away from their homes, the government stays busy appeasing the Maoists and keeping them content। How far should this game of appeasement and political settlement go?
As far as the Maoists are concerned, they are still doing the same thing that they have been doing for more than a decade now। The only difference is that they are doing it more openly this time around. According to a recent National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report, they have killed 15 people since the April 26 truce. They have resisted the reinstatement of police posts in rural areas, and in turn obstructed developmental works. The 12th municipal council meeting of the Lekhnath municipality was recently cancelled because the Maoist cadres padlocked the municipal office. While the Maoist leaders are making politically correct noises in the capital, their low rung cadres are constantly playing with fears of civilians.
Human rights groups and the civil society that vehemently opposed human rights abuses during King Gyanendra's rule seem to be least bothered by Maoist atrocities। They even keep silent when Maoist militiamen march with their guns loaded in broad daylight. Their silence proves that they act when it pays, and in the current situation it certainly does not pay to be in the bad books of the Maoists.
We, as a nation, thought that Maoists' atrocities would subside after they signed peace agreement with the government। When that did not happen we kept our positive outlook alive and chose to wait till they signed the disarmament pact with the UN. Even after signing the peace accord with the government and the disarmament pact with the UN, and receiving multi-million rupees to feed their guerillas, the Maoists continue to flex their muscle and undermine human rights of civilians.
The Maoists are yet to abandon their decade-old tactics of intimidation, threats, and killings as a means of political control. Even after getting a bumper deal of 73 seats in a new 330-seat parliament without contesting election, they have not mended their ways. The Maoists know better than ever that the politics of intimidation, threats, and violence pays; and pays heavily.
While the Maoists are engaged in systematic violations of the covenants of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, we are forced to adjust our level of expectations and cope with the realities। Instead of pin-pointing Maoists' atrocities, we have chosen to resort to wishful thinking. We hope that the Maoists will soon start behaving as civilized citizens. However, the Maoist latest actions show that they have very little tolerance for peaceful existence.
The recent furor over the ambassadorial appointment by the government proves that for the Maoists, the goal is always power। They do not want to be perceived as a weak partner. On the contrary, the Maoists see themselves as being in the driver's seat.
Maoist supreme Prachanda's strategy in many ways resembles that of Moqtda Al-Sadr, a young Shiite cleric from Sadr city in Baghdad, who has been dictating Iraqi politics for quite some time now and is perceived as a thorn in American effort to stabilize Iraq। Like Moqtada, Prachanda too claims that he stands for the poor and disenfranchised even though the Breitling watch he wears points in other direction. Moqtada uses his Mahdi Army to exhibit his strength and so does Prachanda through his people's army.
Many in Nepal and abroad think that keeping Prachanda inside the political system would mark an end of violent politics। It may just prove to be our wishful thinking. Technically, they were supposed to stop extortion, abduction, torture, and recruitment of militiamen after signing the peace deal. Has that happened yet? What will it take for the Maoists to stop human rights abuses and start behaving as law-abiding members of society? How long should the people accept this brutality while holding onto the hope that someday the violence will end, and they will be allowed to speak and live freely?
In Iraq, like in Nepal, foreign diplomats had similar wishful thinking। They thought bringing Moqtada inside the political system would stop atrocities carried out by the Mahdi Army. Contrary to popular belief, even after Sadr loyalists won 30 out of 275 seats in the parliamentary election and were allowed to hold important ministries such as health and transportation, the covert recruitment and operation of the Mahdi army continued unabated. The Mahdi Army that was once thought to be in the hundreds has now grown to several thousand. It has grown rapidly over time and has been terrorizing Iraqi politics and society concurrently. With each passing day, covert modus operandi of the Mahdi Army gets more sophisticated. They extort, torture, and kill in larger numbers than ever.
Moqtada Al-Sadr stayed away from government but has been busy pursuing a dual strategy; increasing his militia covertly and capitalizing on his control over the key ministries that his men run to provide services to the poor, and giving jobs to his die-hard followers। Prachanda might be having similar plans in mind. The recruitment drive carried out by the People's Liberation Army even after signing the peace accord with the government and the disarmament pact with the UN raises more questions than answers. Our wishful thinking and desperate need for peace stops us from questioning Maoist intentions.
The government has not responded to the Maoist allegation of unilateralism in the appointment of ambassadors to various nations yet. But if that is the case, the government has committed a mistake by not consulting the Maoists before nominating ambassadors to various nations.
The SPA government should not alienate the Maoists and make them suspicious। None except for the Maoists themselves know how many weapons they possess. If Prachanda is insecure, more arms and militiamen will be covertly kept away from the cantonment sites. With a large number of ammunitions and trained militiamen out of cantonment sites and his ideologues in Singha Durbar running various ministries, Prachanda will be without a doubt, more powerful than ever.
A complete democratization of society will be an elusive dream. The survival of social and liberal democrats will prove to be harder than ever. We cannot afford to let that happen. Therefore, let us not commit any mistake in belling the cat.