Yearning for peace
Victims of a violent struggle between a self-serving autocracy and the ‘people’s war’ launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), many ordinary Nepalese look for a peaceful resolution to years of conflict
BY HIRANYALAL SHRESTHA
Since February 1996 Nepal has been going through what is known as the people’s war launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). About 8,500 people have lost their lives in the conflict between the government and the Maoists. Most of the victims have been innocent civilians. After the King started to rule the country through a nominated Prime Minister and council of ministers after dissolving Parliament and the elected government, the conflict between the King and parliamentarian parties has increased. The insurgents have broken the cease-fire and both sides have intensified military activities.
Humanitarian laws and human rights have been systematically violated. Women and children have fallen victims to the conflict. The ratio of internal displacement is increasing. Large sections of the Nepalese people want peace and a permanent settlement of the conflict through socio-economic transformation. They want to build a peace culture instead of the culture of guns.
Located between China and India, Nepal is renowned both for its natural Himalayan beauty as well as its cultural heritage. The Nepalese people, living as they are in the birthplace of Lord Buddha, have spread the message of peace, friendship and brotherhood since early times. But why is this very land now in turmoil, unstable and conflict-ridden? Today the Nepalese people are engaged in seriously questioning these developments. They have begun to pinpoint the shortcomings and have shown eagerness to correct the situation.
When Nepal fell under the shadow of imperialism following the Anglo-Nepal war (1814-15), Britain started Gurkha recruitment with a view to set Asians against Asia. They have used the Gurkhas not only in the suppression of the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ (1857), but also in Malaya, the Falklands and recently in the Iraq war. A culture of the gun has been nurtured in Nepal by inculcating a mercenary tradition in the minds of the people.
Junga Bahadur Rana introduced Rana family autocracy by staging the Kot Massacre in 1846 in collusion with the imperialists and feudal state power in the country. This continued for 104 years. Rana autocracy was swept away in 1950, under the influence of national independence movements sweeping across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The movements of 1950 and 1990, however, ended in compromise. As a result, the country could not move towards radical change. Though democracy was formally achieved, no socio-economic transformation could be brought about in the country. No significant change was wrought in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal status of the country.
The status of the common people, especially that of workers, indigenous people, Dalits (untouchables), the exploited and the oppressed remained unchanged. Gender discrimination, too, remained intact. People from remote areas and the Terai remained marginalised and sidelined. Taking advantage of these contradictions, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) launched a revolt under the attractive slogan of radical change.
The rulers, in turn, chose brutal and violent suppression of the movement instead of opting for political negotiation and socio-economic transformation. Today, despite being the least developed country in the region, Nepal has become a huge market for weapons. The State is openly acquiring weapons and training large sections of the military and paramilitary in their use. The insurgents, too, have been bringing in weapons clandestinely from the money they have accumulated by robbing banks and through extortion.
The possibility of Nepal receding to the status of a "failed State" looms large. Instead of forging understanding and unity to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table, constitutional forces have been engaged in a cold war, driving chances of peace farther away. This is a source of serious worry for the common people who are, through different movements in civil society, creating popular pressure for a fresh cease-fire and the start of peace negotiations. The lust for power and the culture of war cannot be challenged until an effective peace movement is built at the people’s level. Global social forums are expected to express their solidarity with the Nepalese people’s desire for peace.
It is necessary to stand for freedom, equality, justice and an all-round prosperity to build the culture of peace. Political forces should be able to move towards dialogue and consensus by accepting mutual co-existence. We should be alert against the schemes of imperialists and hegemonies "to fish in troubled waters". Durable peace can be established only if society can be transformed through forward-looking reforms instead of regressive measures and the status quo. Peace in absolute terms, therefore, is not feasible. It should always be linked with national interest, justice and democracy.
Even the international factor is involved in the Nepalese peace process. There are people who want to pull Nepal within the anti-terrorist coalition on the plea of globalising security following September 11, 2001. There are also regional powers that consider Nepal to be their sole sphere of influence and seek a special role here. There are also people who want world organisations like the United Nations to play a role, maintaining that there is a risk of interference from a third power if an external force takes sides in the conflict or mounts military interference in the name of defusing the ongoing conflict.
Therefore, the people of Nepal at home and abroad must put up resistance against any sinister attempts to take advantage of the situation of conflict within Nepal or the use of the conflict as an opportunity for expansion of influence and domination – attempts to use the territory of Nepal against the interests of one or other of its neighbours through a puppet government that takes this or that part in the conflict.
Nepal needs the goodwill and co-operation of the international community in sharing useful experience on conflict resolution in other countries, increasing the capacity of its internal institutions, providing relief to displaced Nepalese people and resettling them on a permanent basis, encouraging peace negotiations between the State and Maoists to implement international humanitarian laws in conformity with the Geneva Convention if the conflict continues, and in facilitating the implementation of the UN peace process if the forces in the country fail to build peace on their own.
Building a peace culture in Nepal means stopping militarisation and encouraging dialogue, consensus and national reconciliation. It means negating external interference, creating an internal environment of peace, acquiring the goodwill and co-operation of the international community and bringing about socio-economic transformation by ending exploitation and oppression. In fact, peace making in Nepal means its reconstruction through national reconciliation. A sovereign, free, stable, peaceful, prosperous, democratic, non-aligned and transparent Nepal will be a reliable guarantee of peace for both the Nepalese people and their neighbours within South Asia. n
(Hiranyalal Shrestha is a columnist and former chairperson of the Foreign Relations & Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives, Nepal).
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