Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Nepal: Formal closure to civil war

The Himalayan nation has reached a deal that essentially demobilizes the former rebel army.

By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost - November 2, 2011

NEW DELHI, India — Nepal may have eliminated the single largest obstacle standing in the way of a resolution to the country's decade-long civil war.

But there are plenty of obstacles remaining.

After five long years of negotiations following the end of the conflict, the Himalayan nation's major political parties settled on a deal late Tuesday that paves the way for the final dissolution of the rebel army.

The deal will see the former Maoist soldiers, who fought government forces from 1996 to 2006, integrated into the national army — or sent home with a fat severance check.

Many tout the move as a step in the right direction, given that the deal essentially demobilizes the nearly 20,000 former rebels.

But with that stumbling block out of the way, next comes the nitty-gritty work of making a new government. Ironing out the details and drafting a constitution are surely going to remain contentious. The deal is likely going to take much longer than the month the political parties have allocated.

Nepal's civil war was started by the Maoist Communist Party in 1996, with the aim of overthrowing the monarchy and establishing a "People's Republic of Nepal." It ended with a peace deal 2006, which has since been monitored by the United Nations.

An estimated 15,000 people were killed during the conflict, and more than 100,000 displaced.

"We have concluded yet another chapter of the peace process. The main task now is to implement this," Prachanda, the leader of the Maoists, told reporters after signing the agreement Tuesday.

Under the deal, Nepal's main political parties — which include the Maoists and the Nepali Congress, among others — agreed to integrate as much as one-third of some 19,600 former Maoist soldiers into the country's official security forces, Reuters reported. The other two-thirds will receive a rehabilitation package including education, vocational training and financial aid of up to $11,500 to start a new life.

The former soldiers who are included in the national army will be restricted to non-combat operations, such as the construction of development projects, emergency-rescue operations and patrolling forests.

“This is really a major breakthrough,” said Prashant Jha, a Kathmandu-based political commentator.

“For the first time there's a formal agreement on the details of the peace process. Now the key challenge is implementing the agreement that has been signed.”

Indeed, the deal eliminated the most contentious issue of the peace process, which has made little headway since the shooting stopped five years ago.

“With the future of the combatants out of the way, there's no obstacle to moving ahead on the constitution,” said Anagha Neelakantan, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Nepal.

No obstacle, that is, but politics.

Although Nepal's various political factions have been discussing the drafting of a new constitution for several years — as United Nations deadlines whooshed by — there is still no formal agreement on the most essential questions about what form the country's new government will take.

And because these actors include erstwhile monarchists and Maoist revolutionaries, not to mention a long list of ethnic groups competing for the country's scant resources, ironing out a deal won't happen overnight. Or, most likely, even within the month proposed in Tuesday night's agreement, according to Neelakantan.

For example, there is a broad consensus that Nepal's former unitary government will be scrapped in favor of a federalist structure to help address the vast inequality between the central Kathmandu Valley and poorer areas of the country — a major reason the Maoists first took up arms.

But there is no such agreement on how power will be shared between the central and state governments, on what grounds the states will be formed, or even how many states the tiny, mountainous country will eventually have.

“For any state that has historically been centrally administered to move to a federal model is a challenge,” said the political commentator, Jha. “What complicates it in Nepal is that this is a very diverse country, with many different ethnicities and many minority groups.”

That makes for tough questions, such as whether states should be formed along ethnic lines or named for ethnic groups.

But at least some of the framers of the new constitution hope to address longstanding grievances regarding social and economic inequalities related to ethnicity, caste and region with leveling measures called “preferential rights” that may prove even more contentious.

“Restructuring of the state into federal units will potentially be a hard negotiation, but the parties are still closer than they were a year ago,” said Neelakantan. “This is the start of formal closure on the war. That's the really important thing.”

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