M.R. Josse: Pact - Peace For Our Time?
Pact: Peace For Our Time?
By M.R. Josse
The six-point pact signed at Baluwatar at midnight, 8-9 November, between the SPA government and the Maoists was heralded by one English daily with a banner headline that declared: Peace At Last.
A HISTORICAL NOTE
That brought to mind British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's celebrated declaration that the pact that he, among others, had signed with Nazi Germany's Adolph Hitler in Munich in September 1938 had brought "peace for our time." All students of contemporary history know, however, that it actually paved the way, a year later, for the opening of the Second World War, following Hitler's military assault on Poland.
As Henry Kissinger recalls in his magnum opus, 'Diplomacy': "In March 1939, less than six months after Munich, Hitler occupied the rump of Czechoslovakia. The Czech portion became a German protectorate; Slovakia was designated a technically independent state, if a German satellite. Though Great Britain and France had offered to guarantee Czechoslovakia at Munich that pledge was never formalized, nor could have been."
" Munich" has in fact entered the vocabulary of international relations as synonymous for political appeasement with disastrous consequences. Having averted immediate war with the powerful military machine that Nazi Germany then represented, Chamberlain became wildly popular in the wake of Munich. Later, when it was evident that he had not, in fact, achieved "peace for our time" his reputation not only collapsed; ' Munich' itself became associated with appeasement and surrender.
Is the Baluwar Pact (BP) the harbinger of a genuine and lasting peace in Nepal or is it instead the precursor of a counterfeit peace that will pave the way for renewed strife and hostilities at a later date? In my considered view, the jury is still out on that crucial question; it will probably be months before a definitive reply can be provided, an answer that goes beyond wishful thinking and hope.
Basically, of course, the definitive response can only provided with the passage of time that witnesses the implementation of the plans outlined in the BP based on the adage that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Furthermore, the verdict must be based on a much firmer foundation than mere hope or wishful thinking.
For the time being, however, it is possible – indeed, necessary – to record a number of observations, beginning with the fact that out of the eight constituent elements of the SPAM combo, only one has organized nation-wide "victory" celebrations in its wake. This, mind you, despite Prime Minister Koirala's public statement that the BP did not represent victory or defeat for anyone or any side.
What might also usefully be recalled is the Maoists' plans for free board and lodging in private homes of thousands of their cadres bussed in from outside the Kathmandu Valley. The Maoist plan involved providing such accommodation for 10 people, with three meals for three days. All that, in order for the Maoists to make a demonstration of power at a Tundikhel rally to be addressed by Prachanda.
As it turned out, following two-days of protests by courageous denizens of Lalitpur and a stinging piece of criticism from American Ambassador James F. Moriarty (Maoist cadres had, in fact, been emboldened to demand free board and lodgings from American citizens, as well), Prachanda called off the show-of-strength rally, replacing it with the more benign version of a victory celebration. However, Maoists cadres did on 10 November not shy away from commandeering public transport vehicles for "rally duty."
It will perhaps be germane to note that at various public occasions soon after the ink had dried on the BP, whether this was at a NC conclave at Baluwatar or in Parliament, the mood has been perceived to be more somber than celebratory.
Besides, discerning observers have taken note that there was no jubilation at the street, or home, level. Indeed, deepavali, or illumination, of private dwellings was conspicuous by its absence, at least in Kathmandu.
In fact, it was only the Maoists that made a specific point of organizing "victory rallies" in various locales within the country.
There were also copious reports that suggested that, apart from the Maoists and the NC, the other six parties were less than exultant. Indeed, there have been rumblings of disenchantment, particularly from the smaller parties who have more or less had to satisfy themselves with crumbs from the head table.
At the time of writing, no agreement has been reached on how the 48 undecided seats in the interim Parliament will be divvied up to satisfy the smaller parties, as also the NC (D) which has claimed more than the 42 seats that have already been allocated to her.
The UML, which did not have its demand for even one more seat than the Maoists entertained, has written a note of dissent on two pretty substantial points. The NC (D) too keeps on reminding one and all that her demand for the specific mention of a federal system of governance was not accepted.
Hence, it is not surprising that the prevalent view is that the BP has, in effect, created two categories of parties: the Big Two and the Other Six. Also noted by Kathmandu's political class is that the UML and the NC (D) have publicly differed from Maoist supremo Prachanda's declaration at a post-BP press conference that Koirala would be the prime minister of the interim coalition government. According to UML and NC (D) spokesmen, that has not been decided, yet.
STRESS ON HOPE, SINCERITY
To nobody's surprise, India came in as opening batsman as far as congratulatory messages are concerned. Its message, issued in the name of Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, called the BP "a victory for the Nepali people" and went on to add that India hoped it would "take Nepal on the path of reconciliation, peace, stability and economic prosperity."
However, India's new-found strategic ally, the United States, took the position that it would welcome any step that may lead to peace in Nepal but that "only the future would tell how good the agreement is." (This is a position that more or less coincides with that of this column.) Incidentally, if a major news story in the Kathmandu Post of 14 November is accurate, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) will continue to remain on the US terrorist list although the US Embassy is requesting the appropriate authority in the US for a waiver to allow US agencies operating here to continue - after the Maoists join a new interim government.
While the state-owned print and electronic media were agog telling listeners and viewers that the world community were hailing the "peace pact" analysts scrutinizing the congratulatory messages, whether from the EU, France, Russia, Denmark or the UNHCR, could hardly miss that all welcomed it but took care to stress their "hope" that it would lead to a lasting peace.
While a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry also welcomed the BP adding the familiar caveat hoping that it would place Nepal on the road to peace and prosperity, significantly no high powered Chinese official put his/her imprimatur on that message.
The emphasis of Nepalese politicians, including those represented in the latest SPAM deal, was, significantly enough, on the need for the Maoists' to implement the BP in all "sincerity" and/or "honesty". Indeed, this mantra is still being heard from a galaxy of such worthies, day after day. Cumulatively, it is difficult not to interpret it as suggesting that there is a high degree of doubt whether the BP will, in fact, be implemented in all "sincerity" or "honesty."
Noteworthy too are reports such as UML's Rajendra Shrestha charging that the BP has cheated the indigenous people, as also the warning of the chairman of the Newar National Forum, Malla K. Sundar, that "the Kathmandu Valley will not accept Ishowar Pokhrel, Bidya Bhandari and Raghu Pant (all UML MPs and Brahmins) as contestants in the constituent assembly elections."
Also deserving of notice is a news item (THT) that reported that the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha charged the BP of having ignored the problems of the Madesh region. A leader of that outfit said: "The 'historic agreement' is only an act of perpetuating Pahadiya (hill people) power in the nation."
MAOIST UTTERANCES, ACTIVITIES
Perhaps even more eloquent have been the activities and utterances of Maoist leaders and spokesmen, post-BP. Here is a tiny representative sampling: The revolution is on despite the historic agreement, only the 'form' has changed. "We have agreed to lock up our arms in our camps on the condition that we will keep the keys. We can take them up whenever we feel that a conspiracy is being hatched against the peace process." (Prabhakar). The Maoists' ambivalence also comes across in Krishna Bahadur Mahara's statement that: "We would accept the result (CA) even though it be in favour of a ceremonial king but we would never accept monarchy."
Equally significant is his appeal that the SPAM combination should not be disturbed for at least 10 years, much beyond the CA. He in fact urged other political parties not to engage in competitive politics for that period. Such a prescription is against the very ethos of multi-party democracy being redolent of a single-party political order that conforms to the Maoists political philosophy.
Also noteworthy are some reported activities that the Maoists have engaged in, following the BP. A news item had it that the Maoists seized a plot of land from a poor farmer in Sarlahi and registered it in the name of a Maoist cadre (TKP). Another news story (THT) reported that "a woman landowner is outraged that the Maoist People's Liberation Army is preparing to set up its camp on her land, without her permission."
Yet another report in the same daily disclosed that Maoists abducted four persons, including a bank manager.
Then there was the startling news report (TKP) reporting that Maoists were threatening UML and NC cadres with dire physical harm if they continued their political activities in eastern Banke district.
Meanwhile, a report from Pokhara (The Rising Nepal) revealed that human rights activists have raised the issue of the Maoist leadership not taking any action against those who were involved in violating human rights, as the Nepal Army has done.
On the positive side, there is the welcome development that tripartite teams have been visiting various sites across the nation with a view of selecting locations where Maoist camps may be located, as per the provisions of the BP. A hint of the difficulties involved therein, particularly in meeting the deadline of 21 November, was suggested over differences on a proposed site in Kavre.
Also significant was a report (THT) disclosing that UN weapons experts were unlikely to arrive in Kathmandu by that date. Difficulties are being encountered since "everything has to be worked out, including the budget, which involves member states." Reportedly, there would be about 100 unarmed UN experts with a military background for monitoring purposes.
Finally, mention must be made of the 10-point draft of a peace agreement that has been revealed by the Government-appointed Peace Committee. It is worth bearing in mind that Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai, talking to journalists in Kavre, took exception, quite correctly in my view, that it was inappropriate in as much as the Maoists' own draft, which is also ready, has not been made public.
After all, one-sided release of such drafts could very well create complications, providing scope for an unnecessary public debate on which side gained more, even before the final document is signed and sealed.
To sum up, it is far too early to pass out the cigars and pop open the champagne bottles, as US negotiator Christopher Hill recently commented vis-à-vis the North Koreans' readiness to rejoin six-nation talks in Beijing scheduled for next month.