Faulty Start: Critical Evaluation of Nepal’s Peace Process

Prakash Bhattarai

It has been almost eight years since the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the CPN (Maoist) and the then government of Nepal. Eight years is a reasonably long time within which Nepal could make considerable progress in implementing most of the provisions of the CPA. However, Nepal is still struggling to make its peace process reach its logical conclusion and shorten the political transition. This article attempts to provide a holistic analysis of flaws in Nepal’s peace process and some possible solutions.

Multiple factors are responsible for the delay in CPA implementation. End of consensus politics, power struggle, and changes in power equations among political parties after the election of Constituent Assembly I, unwanted external interventions, emergence and proliferation of new interest groups, and the loss of civil society momentum as a strong watchdog of the peace processes are major factors. 

The very basis of the peace agreement is faulty. CPA contains complex and loose provisions, open to multiple interpretations. As a result, political actors have spent a significant amount of time and energy in redefining and re-negotiating several provisions of the CPA and still not reached a final agreement in many controversial issues. Likewise, the conflicting parties have made many promises in the CPA without considering their own capacity to deliver for its implementation within a feasible timeframe. 

A mismatch between the political transformation process and the political management capacity of leaders has contributed to the poor implementation. Nepal experienced a rapid political transformation between 2005 and 2008. Most historic events—signing of the 12-point agreement between the Seven Party Alliance and the CPN (Maoist), People’s Movement of 2006, abolition of feudal monarchy, end of decade-long armed conflict and CA polls of 2008—took place within three years. However, leaders failed to display management capacity in tackling the challenges in the new political environment. Such situation has contributed to almost derailing the peace process. 

Lack of clear national vision among political actors on how to deal with the stalled agendas of the peace process also led to the poor implementation. Leaders were incapable of engaging in simultaneous negotiations in finding solutions to the unresolved and unimplemented agendas of the peace agreement. In the period between 2008 and 2012, the whole nation focused its efforts on just a couple of things: constitution-making and the management of arms and armies. But they failed to pay sincere attention to the formation of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), post-conflict reconstruction, providing justice to the conflict victims, and launching robust socio-economic reforms. 

Over the past six years, new interest groups have emerged in the name of ethnicities, religion, and on issues around regionalism. However, political actors could not come up with solid strategies to deal with these groups politically. Instead, they ended up supporting such groups for their own political benefits. External interveners also have their vested interests in shaping the dynamics of the peace process. They also had a clash of interest in the name of establishing the supremacy of their post-conflict reconstruction models. Political actors, however, have not been able to take any concrete action for managing and controlling unnecessary interventions imposed by external actors. 

Leadership crisis is another factor behind the unsuccessful implementation of the peace agreement. Till 2011, Nepal’s peace process was led by former Prime Minister GP Koirala. After his demise, none of the political leaders have been able to take his position to drive the remaining agendas of the peace process to meaningful conclusion. In the past few years, the notion of collective leadership was somehow practiced by major political parties with the formation of a High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM) to resolve disputed agendas of the peace process. However, legitimacy of this mechanism in taking major political decisions is under question now in the presence of an elected CA body.

Civil society lost momentum in the post-agreement period. There was an active civil society particularly during the time of conflict and even until the signing of CPA in 2006. The momentum was somehow continued even until the first CA election. But they have lost track and are unable to put a significant amount of pressure on the conflicting parties. 

When peace processes are stalled, it is the conflicting parties who primarily should take the responsibility in finding ways to keep the process going until it reaches the final stage of its implementation. Once conflicting parties are unable to find solutions on their own, it becomes the responsibility of local and external actors to provide necessary mediation, facilitation, and implementation support for completing the remaining tasks. 

The main problem with Nepal’s peace process is that the critical issue of inclusion has not been properly addressed. Political forces, mainly the UCPN-Maoist and civil society organizations, local interest groups, and the conflict victims should be frequently consulted by the major political parties to complete the remaining agendas of the peace process. However, political leaders need to have an adequate strategy regarding their proper inclusion in the CPA implementation process.
Prevalence of simultaneous negotiation is quite important to the success of the peace process. International community and local civil society need to ensure that conflicting parties are not just focusing their negotiation efforts in solving one particular issue of the peace process at a time, rather they should carry out multiple negotiations at multiple levels for finding concrete solutions to each controversial issue they encounter. Division of work among leaders in each political party is also quite essential for having negotiations at multiple levels, and leaders involved in such negotiations should get full authority to take decisions so they do not have to wait their high command to have final words in each issue. 

Spoiler management is one of the critical issues in the peace processes around the world. It is no exception in Nepal. Spoiler can be any individuals or group of people within and outside conflicting parties who attempt to obstruct the peace process for fulfilling their vested interests. Conflicting parties should be judicious in identifying them and taking strong actions against them. 

The impact of foreign aid remains a major concern in conclusion of peace process. Is the foreign aid Nepal received in the post-agreement period has been spent on supporting the peace process? How should foreign aid be spent in making positive impacts on completing the remaining tasks of the peace process? A critical reflection on these questions is important for directing the foreign aid to the best support of the peace process. 

Given their past contribution in the peace process, civil society members should be assigned the role of watchdogs in ongoing peace process. It is time to make our leaders realize that there is a group of individuals and organizations closely watching the entire process.

Prakash Bhattarai is PhD Candidate in Peace and Conflict Studies at University of Otago, New Zealand (prakash.bhattarai@gmail.com). Original article was published in MYREPUBLICA.COM http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php/thweek/www.cpnuml.org/ads/sgalaxy.swf?action=news_details&news_id=79441