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Nepal’s New Alliance: Mainstream Parties & Maoists

Nepal’s New Alliance: Mainstream Parties and Maoists

The agreement between Nepal’s mainstream parties and the Maoists has created a new dynamic which could restart the peace process. However, it has not resolved crucial differences and will face many challenges in implementation.

Nepal’s New Alliance: The Mainstream Parties and the Maoists, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines this critical moment for the country. If managed carefully, the talks process could strengthen democracy and help address weaknesses in the 1990 multiparty constitution and the parties that have embodied it. The discussions have also identified a possible structure for peace talks – progressing via interim arrangements to a constitutional assembly and disarmament – though each issue raises its own problems.

“That they were talking is not new”, says Rhoderick Chalmers, Deputy South Asia Project Director for Crisis Group. “All sides have kept in contact throughout the ten-year conflict, but this time, they have developed a serious agenda that offers the framework of a peace deal”.

The parties and Maoists have differing political imperatives for reaching a deal, and they have not changed their long-term goals. Nevertheless, the alliance presents new opportunities. The Maoists are willing to offer significant concessions, and this is a real chance to bring the Maoists into the mainstream while they are still united and can bring their armed cadre with them.

Nevertheless, the agreement is light on detail. On key process issues – such as restoration of parliament versus moving straight to an interim government – both sides have for the time being agreed to disagree. The Maoists have not yet said whether they will extend their unilateral ceasefire, due to expire on 3 December, and their disarmament offer is conditional. The ultimate role of the monarchy is also still to be discussed.

Conservative Nepali commentators and U.S. diplomats had warned repeatedly of consequences if the parties did a deal with the Maoists. Some critics hoped the talks would fall apart or be derailed, but the twelve-point November agreement has dramatically, though not yet irreversibly, changed political realities. The talks may not in themselves lead to a new peace process, but they offer the best hope of breaking Kathmandu’s political impasse, though the king, keen to bolster his own power, still has cards to play.

“The parties’ willingness to make a deal with the rebels has raised the stakes for all players in the conflict”, says Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Robert Templer. “This is only a bilateral process, however, and other crucial players – notably the palace – are excluded. The November deal could prompt a violent backlash if the palace feels threatened”.

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