History and modernity

Emergence of peace structures in Nepal

Ajaya Bhadra Khanal


Peace structures in Nepal first emerged in the context of the Maoist insurgency, which started in February 1996. Eventually, the structures became central in carrying forward the peace process as outlined in the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the Maoists and the mainstream political parties, then popularly known as Seven Party Alliance (SPA). These structures enabled the country to assimilate a second wave of political movements carried out by the people of Madhesi origin who mostly live in the southern plains of Nepal and successfully hold the Constituent Assembly election in April 2008. After the elections, however, non-implementation of the peace agreements resulted in a widening gulf between different political actors forcing the peace facilitators to speak out about an impending crisis[1].

Two years after the CPA, Nepal is still in a period of transition, and there are possibilities of further conflict. In such a context, peace structures and their ability to guide socio-political transition become issues of central concern. This Chapter outlines both the successes and challenges of the peace process in Nepal, and seeks to analyze the trends and patterns associated with the evolution of peace structures. Another key issue is that of international support to the peace process. How has it worked in Nepal, and how has it affected the idea of local ownership? Most importantly, what lessons we have learnt about the peace process, especially the dialectic between international support and local ownership?

This Chapter is in three parts. In the first part, it discusses the background of the conflict and the peace process. In the second part, it outlines the evolution of the peace structures. In the third part, it analyzes the significant trends and patterns associated with the peace process and its structures.

A gradual siege

The siege of the state by the CPN (Maoist) in Nepal was a gradual process, which was made easier by political conflict among the parties in power. When the CPN (Maoist) launched the People’s War in February 1996 by bombing symbolic state structures in remote villages, it barely shook the government. By the end of 2001, however, the Royal Nepal Army had been drawn into taking counter-insurgency measures. Civil strife in Nepal reached unprecedented proportions after the army’s involvement. In 1996, some 81 people were killed by the Maoists and the state. In 2002, the number of killings rose to 4,648 (INSEC).

The ability of the state to carry out counter-insurgency measures or to resolve conflict was weakened by differences among the parties in power. One of the contentious issues early on was whether or not to use the Nepali Army in counter-insurgency operations. The decision to use the army was taken on November 26, 2001, three days after the Maoists carried out a devastating attack in Dang and made the largest haul of sophisticated weapons and ammunition. Both for the Maoists and the state, the attacks marked a turning point. Despite the decision to use the army, there were other severe differences over who was to head the state. The intervention by King Gyanendra in February 2005 made things more difficult.

Even as conflict intensified to unprecedented proportions, no one side could claim victory. There was a growing realisation, both within and outside, that the war with the Maoists could not be won militarily. As early as April 1997 politicians from western Nepal suggested that the state must make efforts to win the war politically[2]. Later, a high-level committee headed by former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba formed in November 1999 emphasized local self-governance, and special development programs to strengthen the state’s presence at local level. However, such strategies were linked to issues of good governance and were ignored, primarily due to problems of political ownership. Later on, the international community also began to insist on such strategies. The US and Britain, providing economic and military assistance to the Royal regime to crack down on the Maoists, had already realized that the war with the Maoists could not be won militarily. It increasingly emerged that conflict in Nepal had a deeper root than just the decision of a communist party to carry out an armed revolution.

One of the major drawbacks of the peace process during that time was that resolving conflict was considered the responsibility of the government only. The government, too, did not bother to bring political parties in opposition on board. Consequently, there was no uniform approach among political actors to resolve the problem. Lack of proper institutional mechanisms hindered continuity and consistency in the peace process. Every succeeding government had to start afresh to address the problem. This provided the Maoists with the opportunity to divide major political actors and spread their activities across the country.

Nepali state announced a series of cease-fire agreements with the CPN (Maoists) beginning as early as July, 2001. For the Maoists the cease-fire agreements marked their coming of age. In the absence of a decisive victory for either side, the Maoists understood it as a state of “strategic equilibrium” (Bhattarai, 2006). Nepal’s conflict took a dramatic turn in November, 2005, when the Seven Party Alliance of mainstream political parties signed a 12-point agreement with the CPN (Maoist) in New Delhi. This agreement displaced the logic for international support of the Royal regime, because it would have meant working without the mainstream political parties with democratic credentials.

Roots of Conflict: An Academic Consensus?

In the early years, the government viewed the Maoist movement as an “internal security” problem rather than a “political problem”(Sarlina, 2001). The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US provided the Nepali government with greater support for military crackdown, and encouraged the government to outsource funds from the human development sector and give extensive powers to the military (Upreti, 2003).

The international community, however, increasingly began to turn to the issues of social exclusion and unequal development as the root causes of conflict in Nepal. An early assessment by the European Commission pointed out a “complex web of interacting factors”(Loocke and Philipson, 2002). These factors included “uneven development within the country; endemic corruption; the politics of the Palace, both internally and externally, and their relationship with the army; ethnic and caste inequalities; intense politicisation; human rights abuses; social exclusion and deprivation, and inadequate infrastructure development.” The report, which interpreted the Maoist insurgency as the “violent eruption of a general, deep, popular dissatisfaction,” advised initiatives to address all these underlying factors. Peace negotiators held  similar notions, one going to the extent of analyzing all the faultlines in Nepal as being related to human rights (Galtung, 2005).

A study by the World Bank emphasized incidence of poverty and lack of economic development to be a more reliable predictor of conflict intensity than caste or ethnic divisions (Do and Iyer, 2007). According to Do and Iyer, violence is higher in locations that favor insurgents, such as mountains and forests. Whatever the underlying causes of conflict, international communities began to adopt a human rights-based approach to the peace process. It had two core elements–good governance and rule of law. Good governance emphasized increased involvement of marginalized groups in decision making, improving democratic functioning of political parties, and decentralizing power to local government bodies. Rule of law, meanwhile, emphasized ending impunity by enforcement of a strong human rights regime, reducing corruption and increasing public access to justice (United Nations Country Team, Nepal, 2007). This type of interpretation had a strong impact on Nepal’s unfolding peace process and peace structures.

The first peace structures emerged in 2003 when an end to the conflict was nowhere in sight. After the sacking of the democratically elected Deuba government by the King in October 2002, negotiations became more difficult. While the Maoists were more prepared and constructive than the government, the Royal regime was in no mood to compromise on the monarchy. After that, there were quick changes in Nepal’s political situation, and with it there were corresponding changes in the nature of the peace process.

Evolution of the Peace Structures

Initially, the government did not adequately address the Maoist insurgency, as it was perceived as an agitation launched by a small, leftist outfit. As the problem started to grow more complex and expand, subsequent governments made attempts to make interventions formally and informally.

The Deuba Committee, constituted in November 1999, was situated within the context of a bitter rivalry between two senior Nepali Congress leaders Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala (Upreti, 2003). The Deuba Committee, formed by Prime Minister Bhattarai suggested that the Maoist problem was not due to the failure of democracy, but rather a result of weaknesses in the state governance system, changes in government, poverty, discrimination, injustice and exclusion. It suggested that peace talks could be a short-term measure, but social and economic restructuring would be required in the long term.

At the time, the negotiation table was just a showpiece to buy time, there was no sincerity on the part of the government. However, the situation reached a stalemate in 2001, with neither side being able to defeat the other. The stalemate led to the first cease-fire in July, 2001. The negotiations, however, were about ending direct violence, and were not related to peace negotiations that could reduce structural violence (Galtung, 2005).

The need for establishing institutions to manage the conflict was not felt till 2003. In February, 2003, the government constituted a Task Force to make recommendations for necessary arrangements to provide institutional, technical and physical assistance to the peacebuilding process. The Task Force recommended constituting a Peace Coordination and Management Center for such purpose. In response to the recommendation, the government established the Peace Negotiation Coordination Secretariat under the Office of the Prime Minister in June, 2003. When the peace secretariat first emerged, the motive was to show it to development partners, who were concerned about issues of conflict and development. It was merely an intellectual exercise, and was seen as an irritant. But the King wanted to continue the secretariat in some way (Mallik, 2008).

In addition to its regular role as a Secretariat, the new body was also asked to coordinate with the media. The Secretariat was engaged in a three-phase negotiation process between the government and the rebel groups. The Secretariat, without any mandate on taking political decisions, was unable to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream. The failure of settling disputes through negotiated means not only jeopardized the peace process, but also raised the question of sustainability of such institutions established by the government without engaging other political actors.

A later analysis by international consultants drew some lessons from the experience. Past failures indicated the necessity of establishing a common political agenda for the success of a peaceful settlement of violent conflict. It was necessary for government to engage all political actors, including civil society, so that they could exercise their right and responsibility to make significant contributions to the process through meaningful participation. This lesson led to the establishment of a High-Level Peace Committee (HLPC) under the chairpersonship of Sher Bahadur Deuba in August, 2004.

Institutionalization of peace structures came about as a result of international assistance. In 2004, the Peace Resource Center was established with support from the international community. The Center developed a Terms of Reference and action plans for peace structures and negotiations. In the first half of 2004, when Surya Bahadur Thapa was the prime minister, the Maoists were underground and there was no Ministry looking after the peace process. Consultations were held with international partners for development of support mechanisms. The Nepal Transitions to Peace (NTTP) Initiative was set up in November 2004 with the support of international donors.

The key objectives of the HLPC (High Level Peace Committee) was to institutionalize the peace process; put an immediate end to violence; bring about consensus of all political parties; generate international support; work for rehabilitation and reconstruction; work for elections; and generate public support. In a bid to address the institutional vacuum, i.e. non-existence of a permanent peacebuilding institution  and insufficient human and other resources, the government also made a decision to establish a Secretariat to the HLPC, clearly defining its structure as well as functions and duties.

When the King disbanded the Deuba government and took direct control in February 2, 2005, he also dissolved the HLPC and all its sub-committees. He formed a pro-monarchist cabinet and put political leaders under house arrest. A state of emergency was declared to defeat the Maoists. Civil liberties were suspended. The existing Secretariat to the HLPC was renamed the Peace Secretariat and was directed to function in accordance with its previous mandate. In response to the changed political context, efforts were made to redesign the structure and redefine the mandate of the Secretariat.

The role of the Peace Secretariat became very limited; it was not encouraged by the government to engage with parties or civil society. Senior politicians in charge of the government thought that the secretariat was unnecessary. They believed that the Maoist conflict was due to play of international forces, and if there was support from outside, the issue would be resolved. The political leadership believed that military solution was possible, feasible and was within their hands (Mallik, 2008)

The King’s move had a severe impact on the peace process. He termed the mainstream political parties “corrupt” and the CPN (Maoist) as a “terrorist” organization. His move disrupted the two basic principles of the peace process: that all stakeholders have a right to take part, and that it should have an institutionalized structure. As a result, the ongoing institutional effort to bring about sustainable peace in the society was severely jeopardized.

There were several developments after the King’s takeover. First, the security apparatus focused their activities in urban areas, and the government’s presence outside Kathmandu Valley began to shrink. Second, the military increased counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists, and reports of human rights abuses in rural areas began to increase. The military was unable to guarantee security outside cities and district headquarters. Security forces were more concerned about reducing their own casualties rather than protecting the populace (Upreti, 2003). In one incident, they forced villagers to clear road-blocks set up by the Maoists fearing that it was part of an ambush.

Most importantly, King Gyanendra’s emergency rule in Nepal militarized the country and fragmented the civil society. The breakdown of civil society meant that there was also a breakdown of the state. As noted political theorist Antonio Gramsci has argued, a civil society, like a coin, is made up of two sides. One side consists of the state apparatuses that extend to the grassroots level. Social order, from this perspective, is imposed through force. The other side of the state apparatus consists of structures that are deeply rooted among the people. Social order, in this context, is a result of consent and hegemony (. In Nepal’s case, the breakdown of the civil society also damaged the legitimacy and support to the state prevalent among the people. The state no longer operated through the consent of the people and their networks.

The international community continued to work confidentially under the King’s direct rule. Former national facilitators and the NTTP continued informal talks with parties. International support for individual and group consultations with national facilitators and stakeholders continued during the King’s rule. There were informal and confidential dialogues between the government and the parties through facilitators. Links with the Royal Palace were also established.

In November, 2005, a pact was signed between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) consisting of major political parties and the CPN (Maoist) in New Delhi. The Peace Secretariat had no role in the pact, which reoriented the nature of political alliance in Nepal and initiated the peace process as we know it today. Prior to the pact, there were considerable differences between the mainstream political parties and the CPN (Maoist). But after the King’s takeover, the political parties began to soften to the Maoist’s demands for a republic and Constituent Assembly. There was also a considerable amount of public opinion in favor of a republic and Constituent Assembly[3]. Suddenly, the monarchy was alienated and sought to retain legitimacy by trying to demonstrate popular support.

In April, 2006, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) declared a pro-democratic movement against the King and launched a 19-day historic popular uprising. The Peace Secretariat, facilitators and Indian parties worked throughout the popular uprising known as Jana Andolan II to help identify what would be commonly acceptable to the parties and the Palace.  Points raised by the parties were given to the Chief Secretary to pass on to the King.

Until late April, there were still doubts as to whether the King would relent, and the question of a smooth transition was uppermost in many people’s minds. Indian envoys were engaged in shuttle diplomacy between the parties and the King. The Peace Secretariat and facilitators provided the government with detailed demands and guidance based on consultations and communications with individuals who were in jail and under house arrest. Nepal Army Generals advised the King on the situation countrywide, and advised against taking action against the protesters. Most of these recommendations were reflected in King’s address on April 24, which opened the way for a Republic and Constituent Assembly. Indian envoys also played a big role in breaking the deadlock and re-establishing democratic rule.

As a result of the popular movement, which saw hundreds of thousands of Nepali people take to the streets, the King relinquished his role as the head of the government and returned power to the people on April 24, 2006. After the April movement and the restoration of the Parliament, the Maoists declared a unilateral cease-fire and the government reciprocated.

The end of the armed conflict and subsequent signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on November 21, 2006 between the government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) marked the country’s entrance into a formal peace process. The 12-point agreement signed between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and CPN (Maoist) on November 5, 2005, followed by the mass movement of April, 2006 contributed towards the return of democratic rule in the country. Likewise, subsequent political and constitutional reforms enabled a federal state; the declaration of a republic to be endorsed by the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly (CA); and adoption of a policy of social inclusion and a mixed election system.

The Peace Secretariat played a significant role in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 People’s Movement. The Peace Secretariat housed the Peace Negotiation Coordination and Advisory Committee formed on June 12, 2006 comprising of representatives from the 10 political parties in the restored House of Representatives, with Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress as Convenor. The Committee, however, excluded the Maoists, who had their own negotiations team. The Peace Committee was assigned the role of “carrying out all necessary works for the peace process and restoration of peace” as well as providing necessary advice to the negotiating team of the government.

The environment for the peace negotiations was thus created, and both the parties — the Maoists and the government — formed peace talk teams from their respective sides. These talks resulted in various formations such as the National Monitoring Committee on Code of Conduct for Ceasefire to monitor the implementation of the 12-point understanding between the SPA and the CPN (Maoists) and the Code of Conduct for Ceasefire agreed on May 26, 2006. The agreement on June 15 also decided to form a team to observe negotiations between the government and the Maoists. The team was later known as Peace Talks Observers Committee. Another major joint structure was the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee (ICDC) comprising of six members created on June 16, 2006. The Peace Secretariat housed and supported the interim constitution drafting committee, the Peace Talk observers’ committee, and National Monitoring Committee on the Code of Conduct.

The government has been making policy and institutional arrangements periodically to minimize the prolonged conflict’s negative impact by transforming it into peace through dialogue and providing immediate relief for reconstruction and social integration.  Various peace structures are envisioned to make the peace process lasting and sustainable.

Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction

In order to address the issues of peace and reconstruction, the government upgraded the Peace Secretariat into a full-fledged Cabinet Ministry on April 1, 2007. The main objective was to provide consultation services to the government for institutional, procedural and technical support to the peace processes aimed at opening avenues of lasting peace and development.  The objectives of setting up of the Ministry were also  to ensure sustainable peace through conflict management and post-conflict reconstruction; develop development strategy; prepare negotiation strategies based on international experience and local context; rehabilitate victims of conflict; and reconstruct damaged infrastructures. (Put the TOR of the Ministry)

Peace and Rehabilitation Advisory Committee

A Peace and Rehabilitation Advisory Committee has been set up as an inclusive mechanism for peace. An expanded version of the earlier Peace Negotiation Coordination and Advisory Committee formed on June 12, 2006, it advises on policy issues and assist the peace process by normalizing tensions created by the armed conflict. It advises on matters such as providing relief, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction of physical infrastructures. The Committee is inclusive, representing the political parties in the Interim Legislative Parliament, civil society members, peace facilitators, ethnic groups and so on. (Mention the specific members of this Committee)

Local Peace Committees

With the aim of creating a full democratic environment at the local level through the participation of all sides, the Local Peace Committees Procedure 2006 has been approved together with a Terms of Reference 2007. The government is facilitating the establishment of Local Peace Committees (LPCs) in all districts, as in 2008 such committees had been formed in 21 districts. The LPCs include representatives from the political parties, women, ethnic groups, Dalits, and civil society. The committees are mandated to promote peace, prepare the ground for inclusive local democracy and support the implementation of the CPA. The LPCs also have to act as catalysts in preventing violence; resolving conflicts; promoting reconciliation, healing and trust building; and helping facilitate free and fair CA elections. The LPCs are expected to be the instruments of the peacebuilding process at grassroots level. However, like many other peace structures, the LPCs have been embroiled in political differences.

As part of its post-conflict management initiative, the government has constituted a taskforce to prepare a database of conflict victims and damaged infrastructures. Internally Displaced Persons Identification Committees are operational in all the 75 districts of the country. According to the Task Force, there are about 24,800 internally displaced persons in the country of whom 600 are disabled. The number of victims is likely to increase.

Peace facilitators insist that it is necessary to implement and bring to life previous agreements and understandings, but competitive politics have put these issues on the backburner (Daman Nath Dhungana, 2008). Some of the major understandings that have not been implemented two years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord include the understanding on management of combatants and the peace structures. The political parties have not also been able to install the High Level Peace Commission with a strong mandate and a politically inclusive structure so that it can steer and monitor the implementation of the peace process.  The parties have also not shown interest in forming the High Level Commission on Disappeared Citizens, Local Peace Committees, Truth and Reconciliation Commission,  National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and State Restructuring Recommendation Commission.

High Level Peace Commission (HLPC)

The formation of the High Level Peace Commission (HLPC), which is expected to oversee, facilitate, advise and monitor the peace process in close coordination with the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, has been stalled due to political differences. The HLPC is expected to be an inclusive and neutral mechanism to resolve conflict related issues in a timely manner. The HLPC has also been envisaged as a neutral institution that can resolve issues referred to by the Local Peace Committees, which are expected to expand to all the districts once political parties reach a consensus.

State Restructuring Recommendation Commission (SRRC)

Despite emphasis on State Restructuring Recommendation Commission as one of the key transitional mechanisms—the formation of the Commission was one of the preconditions for the CPN (Maoist) participation in the Constituent Assembly elections–it is yet to be formed. With Nepal making a transition into a federal state structure, the Commission is expected to ensure that the state machinery is inclusive, economically viable and cohesive. Political parties have agreed that the recommendations of the State Restructuring Recommendation Commission will be taken as one of the bases for the design of the federal state.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another planned peace structure that has been delayed. Truth and Reconciliation Process is expected to bring about transitional justice to thousands of victims of conflict. More than 13,000 people died during the course of conflict and many more have debilitating injuries. At least 900 people disappeared after arrests by security forces, and another 200 in Maoist detention are unaccounted for (OHCHR-Nepal, 2007). The loss of and damage to properties and forceful displacement, violation of human rights and humanitarian law and other atrocities was common. As two facilitators said, the wounds of the war have not healed (Daman Nath Dhungana, 2008). The victims are waiting for justice, eager to know the truth about the excesses, waiting for restitution and also waiting for a normal life in a peaceful and reconciled society. There is also an urgent need to rebuild trust and cross cutting social relationships which span across religious, ethnic, class, geographic and generational cleavages in conflict-ridden societies.

National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC)

Along with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), High-Level Inquiry Commission on Disappeared Citizens (Disappearances Commission), and High-Level State Restructuring Recommendation Commission (SRRC), NPRC is one of the four key peace structures outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement dealing with the issue of transitional justice. (If the High level Peace Commission is formed, there may not be this commission as the two could have a similar job to a large extent)

Peace Process Consultative Committee

This broad based representative committee is to be appointed by the Government of Nepal (GON) and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) to advise and guide the NPRC, seven parties, the Government, and related peace structures on all matters related to the peace process and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). The membership of this committee consists of: representatives of all parties in parliament and seven-party alliance, civil society, all relevant departments of Government, appropriate United Nations entities, MOPR, business community and co-opted experts.

Management of Arms and Armies

Another major challenge in the peace process is the effective monitoring and management of the arms and armies. The Comprehensive Peace Accord provided for the confinement of the Maoist combatants within seven main and 21 satellite cantonments. The Agreement also provided for rationing supplies and other necessary arrangements for the Maoist combatants staying within such cantonments. The UN became involved in the management of arms and armies after Prime Minister of Nepal, Girija Prasad Koirala and CPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda sent separate letters with the same content to the UN Secretary General on August 09, 2006.

In order to fulfill such responsibility, the government formed one committee directly under the Prime Minister mandated to approve the policies, plans, programs and budget related to cantonment management. Another committee was constituted under the Chief Secretary. However, both the committees are non-functional now as a separate committee under the Minister of Peace and Reconstruction has been constituted as per Article 146 of the Interim Constitution. This Committee is a political committee to oversee the matters related to cantonment management and is supposed to provide directives to the Cantonment Management Central Coordinator’s Office.

One of the stumbling blocks in Nepal’s peace process has been the issue of integration and rehabilitation of ex-Maoists combatants now remaining in the cantonments. A special Army Integration Special Committee to be formed by the cabinet is currently under negotiation, and is likely to move the process ahead.

Analysis of the Peace Structures

Project of greater collective agency

In the aftermath of King Gyanendra’s takeover of the Nepali state on February 1, 2005, major political parties in Nepal were still standing by their previous positions. For the Nepali Congress, a return to democracy meant restoration of Parliament, whereas for the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), restoration of democracy meant a multi-party alliance running the government. Both the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) were emphasizing a return to the status quo that existed before the dissolution of Parliament in October 2002, rather than a progressive move to a new democratic state.

After November 2005, the mainstream political parties and the CPN (Maoists) agreed to resolve both direct and structural violence. The 12-point agreement between the Seven Party Alliance consisting of the major political parties and the CPN (Maoist) laid down the basis for the peace process. The key points were: a united stand against “unrestrained monarchy”; Constituent Assembly elections; international (UN) mediation to ensure free and fair elections by monitoring arms and armies; transformation of the Maoist party according to principles of multi-party democracy, human rights and rule of law; rehabilitation of victims of conflict; acceptance of human rights and press freedom; and a peaceful People’s Movement (Jana Andolan) against the King.

With the 12-point agreement, political leaders in Nepal stopped arguing for a return to the status quo and provided blueprints for a new future. Political parties announced a project of greater democracy and collective agency. The peace agreements between the Maoists and the SPA reflected a desire to conform to international norms, as well as to lay down a common political path. The 12-point agreement was significant because it marked a turnaround of the major parties of the SPA in their position toward the monarchy and the Constituent Assembly. The CPN (Maoist), despite inner-party differences, committed itself to the principles of multi-party democracy, human rights and rule of law.

Soon after the People’s Movement restored the parliament, people of the Madhesi origin living in southern Nepal started an ethnic movement calling for a separate province. It was followed by movements by different ethnic and indigenous groups. The case of Nepal has shown that political conflict is easier to resolve if the conflicting parties agree to a project of greater democracy and collective agency that takes into account the need for recognition and representation. Nepal is facing a challenge of rising above partisan interests and addressing these issues by implementing suitable peace structures.

Trust versus structures

One of the highlights of the 12-point accord signed in New Delhi was that it was a home-grown process. Although international support for peace process existed, political parties took it upon themselves to negotiate the peace process. The peace secretariat was not involved either formally or informally. However, three years after the 12-point agreement, the peace process has not been able to generate trust among the people. The peace structures have not evolved to the grassroots level, and there is a danger that the peace process might derail. What has gone wrong in Nepal’s peace process?

Vidyadhar Mallik, who worked as Peace Secretary during the King’s rule and after, believes that Nepal’s peace process has depended more on the element of trust than on mechanisms and structures. In the early phases, the real negotiations were very confidential, and was not shared even with other senior party leaders. Once the key negotiators (politicians) started agreeing with each other they shared the draft agreement with others. The handful of negotiators would completely depend on trust, and did not favor having minutes, facilitators or monitoring committees. The negotiators had a strong distrust of foreigners and bureaucrats (Mallik, 2008). The result was that the negotiation process never became transparent. Even senior party leaders felt left out and were unhappy. This later created a problem of ownership.

For example, during the Comprehensive Peace accord, the Peace Secretariat designed and forwarded drafts. They weren’t even considered during the negotiations. It was only after the CPA that the Peace Secretariat gained prominence as the venue for the peace process.

The early indifference to the process is now producing a growing mistrust among parties. Non-implementation was a major problem in the past also. There were mutual attacks, and blaming each other for non-implementation. The 12-point agreement is the common agenda. It is becoming weaker and weaker. Instead of mutual trust, we have a situation of mutual mistrust (Daman Nath Dhungana, 2008)

After the elections, lot of things changed. There was a common enemy before the elections, and they had a perceived threat. After the elections, however, parties started competitive politics. Even the CPN-Maoist felt it had gained legitimacy. There was no longer a peace process. They feel that each party is out there to eliminate each others. The current challenge is serious.

“We always insisted on technical issues like keeping a facilitator, minutes and technical experts on both sides,” says Mallik. Lack of emphasis on process is now resulting in a fear that the peace process might derail. Another concern is how to spread the peace process to the grassroots level. Without national ownership of the process, there is a possibility of bigger problems like ethnic conflict and struggles.

Lack of emphasis on peace structures has meant that the peace process could not be firmly institutionalized after the success of the Jana Andolan although it was a significant means of ending both direct and structural violence. However, if the state and peace structures are not quickly strengthened and democratized, the state will lose its capacity to mediate social and structural conflicts. Once competitive politics sets in “trust” erodes, and only structures can uphold the peace process. Nepal is currently in a phase when it has realized the value of peace process and peace structures. Almost four months after formation of the government, the government is now working forward to establish peace structures.

Does International Support undermine Local Ownership?

In 2003, His Majesty’s Government (HMG) developed an Integrated Peace and Development strategic plan with the assistance of international and local experts. The process was driven by international support (USAID, 2004). HMG accepted the need to create an office for coordination of conflict and peace- related assessments, policy formulation, conflict communications, and conflict peace process monitoring. This process, however, was not deeply embedded in the government, and did not have a major impact on governance or the peace process itself.

Until late 2005, peace structures remained largely overlooked by the government, and worked as parallel entities at the behest of the international community and civil society. The peace secretariat, however, continued to develop designs for peace structures like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Local Peace Committees. Although such ideas were incorporated in the political agreements reached between the conflicting parties, many of the peace structures have not been formed yet mainly because of problems of ownership, as well as the holding of elections which required the parties to engage in competitive politics.

Peace structures in Nepal emerged with the initiative of the international community which worked in partnership with local actors. The peace process, in this context, can be described as a process of cultural globalization where cultural norms and values prevalent at global level have shaped the structures and identity of local institutions and actors (Meyer, Boli et al., 1997). This process of globalization, however, is marked by decoupling between purposes and structure, intentions and results, as highlighted by Meyer et al. (pp. 154-156). In the case of Nepal, there is a clear difference between the peace structures created, and the political parties’ own cultures and interpretive schemes. For example, commitment to human rights, democratic practice and rule of law are part of the peace agreements and figure heavily in the parties’ discourse. However, the parties’ claims and policies are inconsistent with their practice. It is for these reasons that structures like the Local Peace Councils, Commission on the Disappeared, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are being delayed, or are being implemented half-heartedly. Even after Constituent Assembly elections these inconsistencies are hindering Nepal’s peace process.

Peace structures were largely driven by international technical input. There is a problem of ownership. Many of the structures envisioned have not been formed.  In the absence of trust, peace process can only work as long as there is mutual trust. In the absence of such trust, peace process can only be bolstered up through peace structures and mechanisms. Although processes like Local Peace Committees were designed, they were not owned by political parties. As a result peace structures have been ignored by political parties. The same problem was there for ceasefire monitoring, which did not become effective (Mallik, 2008).

While the characteristic decoupling can be described as a problem of local ownership, the case in Nepal goes further than that, and needs to be qualified by at least two other major processes. The first is the ownership of the peace process itself. Instead of the peace process being a problem of ownership between international versus local actors, the problem is more of collective ownership versus ownership by a single party or alliance. Immediately after the Jana Andolan, the peace process was headed by the Minister of Nepali Congress. The peace process immediately began to be controlled according to the interests of the Nepali Congress, and the Minister himself played the role of a Maoist critic. At present, a Maoist minister heads the Peace Ministry, and is having considerable difficulty gaining the support of the opposition.

The second major issue is the capacity of civil society in Nepal and the amount of inner-party democracy.  These two issues are linked. Political parties, theoretically, are the legitimate representatives of people. However, in the absence of genuine democracy within political parties, the interests of the people may not always be represented by the political parties. Or, many political parties find it hard to balance party interests with national interest. The same problem exists with civil society in Nepal, currently heavily dominated by NGOs dependent on international assistance, and heavily centralized. As for the international community, the principles of good governance and human rights provide the basis for the NGOs’ identity and behavior. The problem, in this instance, is: How to connect with local communities? There is no doubt that the peace process needs to have as broad a base as possible, and without active grassroots support, the peace process in Nepal may always take the guise of internationally assisted practice.


Do, Q.-T. and L. Iyer (2007). Poverty, Social Divisions, and Conflict in Nepal. Washington DC, The World Bank.

Galtung, J. (2005). The Crisis in Nepal: Opportunity and Danger. Kathmandu, National Human Rights Commission.

Loocke, J. H. V. and L. Philipson (2002). Report of the EC Conflict Prevention Assessment Mission Nepal. Kathmandu, European Commission Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management Unit.

Meyer, J. W., J. Boli, et al. (1997). “World Society and the Nation-State.” The American Journal of Sociology 103(1): 144-181.

Sarlina, P. (2001). “The People’s War? The Resurgence of Maoism in Nepal.” Harvard International Review Spring 2001: 34.

United Nations Country Team Nepal, U. (2007). Common Country Assessment for Nepal. Kathmandu.

Upreti, B. R. (2003). Breaking the barriers and Building a Bridge: A Road Map for Structuring Negotiation and Peace Process in Nepal. Kathmandu.

USAID (2004). Nepal-Strategic Objective: 367:008.

[1] Two renowned facilitators, Daman Nath Dhugana and Padma Ratna Tuladhar issued an appeal in early December, 2008 expressing deep concern about the peace process and asking leaders of major political parties to resume peace negotiations

[2] The coalition government headed by Lokendra Bahadur Chand constituted a Task Force under the convenorship of Prem Singh Dhami in April, 1997. Other members were Yogesh Bhattarai (UML), Pradeep Shamsher Rana (IGP), Devi Ram Sharma (Chief, NID), and Krishna Murari Sharma (Ministry of Home). It emphasized good governance as a counter-insurgency measure.

[3] Articles and news items published in Kantipur daily newspaper during the period provides an example of how the ideas of republic and constituent assembly gained favor and put pressure on the SPA to go for an understanding with the Maoists.


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