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Seminar Report on Conflict Management in Nepal

Organised by CSDG/FES

December 17, 2002

A ONE-day seminar on Conflict Management in Nepal was held in Kathmandu by the Centre for Studies on Development and Governance on December 17, 2002. Luminaries of all the major political parties attended the day long discussion on the subject. There were four papers to be presented making the seminar a marathon debate that went on well into late evening until it had to be broken for dinner. The participants had so much to say on the current topics that it appeared that they could not hold themselves within the allotted time.

Speaker of the House of Representative, Taranath Ranabhat, the chief guest of the programme, inaugurated the seminar by lighting a traditional lamp. In his address, he said that the conflict among political forces had coincided with bad governance of the country. According to him, ethnic groups, oppressed and marginalised classes have all found it opportune to raise their own demand for justice. This had led to the youth being attracted to the Maoist insurgency. He called on all the political forces to come together to resolve the conflict.

The newly elected Rastriya Prajatantra Party president Pashupati Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, who had chaired the inaugural session of the seminar also agreed with the Speaker that the Constitutional forces had not been able to unite to resolve the conflict in the country. He reminded everybody of his party's three year old call on all the political forces to unite to initiate dialogue with the Maoists.

The Communist Party of Nepal (UML) general secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal said that the discussions being held were topical and that there were various viewpoints regarding the conflicts in the society today.

In his welcome address, Achyut Bahadur Rajbhandari of CSDG said that the main reason for conflict in society is the perceptions of injustice by individuals- injustice regarding identity and distribution of state resources. "If popular aspirations induced by change are not met by the existing legal framework, new laws may need to be drafted," he said.

THE FIRST working session saw the presentation by Shanker Pokhrel. Taranath Ranabhat chaired the session whole Homnath Dahal was the commentator of the paper. The presentation was titled "The Historical Background of Conflict Management in Nepali Politics". He gave his account of the history of conflicts in Nepal right from the days of unification. He concentrates his thesis on the family feuds for control of state resources in the pre-1951 era and the political struggle to restore multiparty democracy after it was replaced by the Panchayat system. He also lists the various issues of inequality in the contemporary Nepali society- gender, unemployment, regional imbalances etc. Finally, he lists the options for resolving the Maoist conflict.

Commenting on the paper, Homnath Dahal said that the paper had failed to take into account the major incidents while focussing on the minor incidents of history. He particularly pointed out the decisions of the first elected government in 2015 BS and the 2042 Satyagraha protest programmes. He also said that the Maoist problem was not new and that it was already in progress well before 2046. But they were forced to resort to violence because of ruling party atrocities perpetrated against them particularly in Rukum. According to him, the King's decision of Ashoj 18th has divided the political parties which is being capitalized by the Maoists. If this situation remains for long, the country's existence itself could be at stake, especially when people do not care about who rules them.

Then the floor was opened for discussion on the presentation. The following points were raised by various speakers.

  • The military solution to the Maoist problem is not going to be long-lasting and that dialogue needs to be pursued. Track II diplomacy could be useful to break deadlocks.
  • Insecurity, religious, political, social and economic reasons have been responsible for the Maoist insurgency.
    Who is to announce the elections for the Constituent Assembly? If the King is not constitutional as you say it, how can we ask him to announce those elections?
  • Meritocracy needs to be promoted and the meritorious should not be marginalised for the benefit of political workers.
    We need to find new methods of resolution if the old ones do not work. We should also be ready to change according to the needs if we are serious about resolution.
  • Does the UML take any blame for the mistakes? The UML had unity with the Janmorcha in the 1991 elections.
    The paper supposes that until the King takes back his decision, the Maoist problem will not be resolved. If your party does not like it, it is not constitutional. Will such an approach be helpful?
  • The paper mentions conflict brought about by foreign aid, how do you resolve it?
  • We talk about high politics but never the grassroots when seeking solutions to problems. When you criticize the king, who is going to represent the unity of the Kingdom? The parties only represent the part and not the whole. In England when they beheaded the king, they had to deal with Cromwell. Have we thought about that?
  • People are killed from both the state side and the Maoist side. The Maoists have shown their willingness to talk today and then the next day there is a killing spree.
  • Other South Asian conflicts, like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, need to be provided in the historical background for comparison purposes. This would avoid reinvention of the wheel again and again.
  • We need to have the international experience. A multifarious approach is needed for resolution. Tools and techniques of counter-terrorism are necessary and a single viewpoint is not enough.
  • Demobilization strategies have not been discussed while talking of resolution. Truth Commission is another necessity for reconciliation.
    Mal-governance needs to be dealt with as it is a major reason for the Maoist insurgency.
  • The starting point for mistakes was Bhadra 12 initiated by Deuba. The Pajero culture needs to be stopped for conflicts to be resolved and other mistakes too should not be repeated.
  • If we say that we are the only right doers, it is not democracy.
  • If we have conflict-coping capacity we can resolve the problem well, if not, no.
  • The 051 election and the corruption afterwards made us forget our own constituencies. A political vacuum was thus left for the Maoists to exploit.
    The NC and UML are trying to isolate the King.
  • Consensus is necessary to save the country.
  • We need to mobilize our youth in politics.
  • We need to accept the Maoists as a political force and start talking with them.
  • We were not able to meet the aspiration of the people that we raised post 046 which led to the Maoist proliferation. Should the paper not accept it?
  • We are talking of mediation. Should we accept it or are we not there yet? Is the Maoist proliferation due to the lack of political mobilization of parties?
  • We talk of foreign hand and their activities from time to time. The paper should have mentioned that.
  • Is it not the failed development models that led to the birth of the Maoists.
  • Whose problem is the Maoist problem- the King's the party's or the people's?
  • In the past 12 years, there were individual weaknesses, Those individuals were linked with parties, but those linkages should not be taken as the weaknesses of the system or the parties. It is also unjust to say that the Constitution has been thrown out.
  • Looking at the geopolitics, all the political forces including the King need to come together and take the country forward. Panchayat is not very appropriate to be re-introduced and the present constitution needs to be followed with changes if necessary.
  • Those seeking a constituent assembly should come forward and say what they want and see if those changes can be accommodated in the present constitution.
  • The King is necessary because of the diversity of cultures, ethnicity and languages. He symbolizes unity. Talking about an alternative to the King is counterproductive in every way.
  • The Maoists do not have a clue to where the country will go to with so much violence and bloodshed. The foreign intervention that can be the result is not being contemplated by them.
  • Violent means to suppress the Maoists movement could rekindle it again, so peaceful means are necessary. We do not have to search for foreignmediators, we have Nepali mediators to do the job for us.

THE SECOND working session discussed Kamal Thapa's presentation titled "Recognizing Conflicts in the Nepali Political System and their Resolution". Keshav Badal had chaired the session while Sri Bhadra Sharma was designated the commentator of the presentation. In his presentation Thapa outlined the theoretical trends in the democracy discourse and compared them with the present day politics in various countries throughout the world. Democracy, he said, remained vulnerable in countries that were least developed while prospects for democracy looked good in developed countries. He said that countries with weak democracy needed to try harder through good governance if they wanted to preserve the political system. After discussing the inherent conflicts among global ideologies and values, he went on to describe the faultlines in the Nepalese society-- particularly ethnic and economic. For a solution to the existing conflicts in society, he listed some immediate steps to be taken like, a common action plan to meet the basic needs of the people, an interim government that included the Maoist voice, and a democratic alternative to the means being adopted by the Maoists. More longer term steps included an agreement among the political forces to stop politicizing the role of the King which could be achieved by clearly defining it. This requires a proper mediation between the traditional forces and the popular forces. Good governance, electoral reforms, reforms in the role of political parties, local autonomy and reservation or positive discrimination are the other longer term steps for a resolution of the Nepali conflicts, according to Thapa.

Commentator Sri Bhadra Sharma said that the the paper included everything that contemporary Nepali society is facing today. But he said that the need was to priorities which problems we want to resolve first. One of the priority problems is the Maoist problem which is neither easy to solve nor is anything going to move ahead without solving it. "Deuba was encouraged by other parties to recommend a postponement of elections according to Article 127 and the King applied the 127 article according to his own interpretation, not Deuba's. This has given rise to another conflict between political parties and the King, he said. "If the country is to have a democratic system, elections will have to be held. If we wait for peace before elections, then I fear that elections will be postponed for an indefinite period. How do we hold elections without peace? Let us form a government together and hold elections. Proportional representation would help curb corruption. Today, we need to have market economics, but for an economy like ours which is just developing, we need to protect some of our productive capabilities," he said

The following queries and points came up during the ensuing floor discussions.

  • Will economic development be assured after getting the Maoists in the mainstream?
  • We brought in the Westminister style of democracy, but it has not delivered in the past 12 years. We mismanaged it and the Maoists are the result.
  • The Monarchy should come in the institutional mold.
  • Parliamentary reforms are necessary for overall reform.
  • The 046 movement was the culmination of the protests that began in 2017 and was not spontaneous like the paper seems to believe.
  • Proportional representation is part of a consensual model as against the majoritarian one. Political scientists believe that the majoritarian model does not meet the needs of a diverse and plural society like ours as no one wants to remain a minority permanently. Nobody wants to wait for their turn in having a share in common resources.
  • The government is not even willing to decentralize, let alone provide the right to self determination. Autonomy is a proven way to stop disintegration throughout the world.
  • Maoists were leftover forces and there are also potential forces that need to participate.
  • Democracy is dialogue. In the absence of dialogue, people could resort to guns, not while engagement is there.
  • Politicisation is right, but party-isation is wrong.
  • We only focussed on systemic integration, not social integration.
  • The economic policy we adopted is not liberal, but neo-liberal.
  • Deuba dissolved the parliament and had he held the elections, the latter problems would not have arisen.
  • Majoritarian rule was designed for homogenous countries.
  • Elections should not be a gamble for the people.
  • Is the induction of extra- party characters in the King's task force going to reduce conflict?
  • The paper tries to show that economic decline has occurred in the multiparty system as the data shows only for 1985- 95. The decline was due to the World Bank doctrine in the initial years.
  • Democracy means participation of the people in the productive resources of the nation.
    People who have been deprived of their citizenship papers.

THE THIRD and the fourth sessions that followed were lumped together for presentation so that a single floor session would cover both the papers. Separate discussions for the two sessions would take time which was becoming a rare commodity as the first two sessions had virtually taken up the time alotted for the four sessions. In fact, the last paper did not have time for a separate commentator that nthe first three papers were assigned. Kashiraj Dahal's presentation was titled "Conflict Management: Institutional Problem and Legal Context" on which Subash Nemwang commented and Sashtradutta Pant's paper was on "The Role of Various Agencies in Conflict Management". Nilamber Acharya chaired both the sessions.

Dahal said that conflict in itself was value-neutral and the it is for the political society to utilize it for the benefit of the people. It is for this purpose that politicians take recourse to a code which is followed in resolving all conflicts, and this is called the rule of law. For a rule of law to be firmly established the executive, the judiciary and the legislative should function according to the prescribed functions. Legal checks and balances are imposed so that abuse of authority does not take place among the three branches of government. When the conflict resolution mechanism comes under duress because of it has to think in terms of expanding the conflict resolution mechanism by initiating alternative options. Apart from traditional mechanisms like special tribunals, fact finding missions, negotion bodies, arbitrators and the like, there could be NGOs and other extra-judicial bodies specializating in dispute resolution which need not unnecessarily burden the legal system. He thought that such mechanisms had a huge scope in Nepal if thye courts were to be made more effective.

Subash Nemwang in his comments said that conflicts that arise in a society need to be resolved in time and that all conflict resolution efforts need not be constitutional. "I still believe that in the constitutional history of Nepal, the present one is a good document. Unfortunately, the constitution is getting weakened. I am not going overboard when I say that we have started moving backwards from the day when the constitution was formed. The constitution does have weaknesses especially regarding ethnicity and languages, but still the Constitution is a good constitution.

After Nemwang's comments Shastradutta Pant made the last presentation of the day titled "The Role of Various Agencies in Conflict Management." His paper is the outcome of a survey of opinions among leading politicians. The findings, although the methodology was debated during floor discussions, show that the rise of the Maoists in Nepal is because of various factors among which corruption, politics taking precedence over public service, lack of change in the personalities controlling state resources in spite of political changes, etc. The main theme of the reasons Pant provides for the Nepali crisis appears to be mal-governance and the grave socio-economic imbalances which are hard to solve even with very good governance. He calls for reforms in the political system, the political economy and most of all introspection by leaders so that mistakes are not committed in public acts.

The following were the points raised during the floor discussions held for both the presentations of Dahal and Pant:

  • Electoral reform needed to reduce corruption. That reduces politicization. An inclusive election could help consolidate democracy.
  • Political leaders provide us with a lot of rhetoric about how to live a principled life, but they do not practise it themselves.
  • Several towns had initiated official use of local language and the Supreme Court trashed their efforts. The Maoists have succeeded also because of that.
  • What will happen if everybody supports the Maoists?
  • The Maoists had not agreed with the Communist Front during 1990. They had shown their intention to follow the Shining Path of Peru.
    There is no set-up to manage conflicts in Nepal. People are concerned only when things start going out of hand.
  • We have only focussed on political conflict- one is the Maoist conflict and the other brought about by the recent moves of His Majesty. His Majesty has tried to save the nation and the monarchy. It is necessary that the parties should come together with the King to solve all problems.
    The constitution is itself a problem as it was intended to bring about agreement to quell the political forces of that time. Complete constitutional monarchy is the only workable option available today.
  • The sample of the study appears to be extremely biased, if we look at the questions provided. The instruments appear to be defective. The questions are close-ended and only negatively taken up. It is not clear which community the questions represented. The same questions could bring a totally opposite outcome. You should not misuse scholarly research tools.
  • The government development budget is totally dependent on foreign aid out of which only several million rupees go to the Prajas and other janjatis. But, it is the janjatis that are blamed for being inspired by foreigners. The research is a fraudulent work.
  • The sample of the study appears to total only 9 and the translation into percentage for such a small number could be misleading. Absolute numbers would have been better.
  • Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms appear effective.
  • Regarding corruption, the PAC did do its job in unearthing the cases before the CIAA began. Should we not have mentioned that?
    The security agencies have already said that elections cannot be held, including the election commission.
    For management of conflicts in time, a structure is needed and a process is required. Then an agreement sought. For lack of a structure and an effective process, the Maoist problem has come up so forcefully today.
  • When there are huge conflicts, where the state is on one side, tribunals or judicial systems do not work. In such instances a regular system appears to be the need. In Norway, peace councils exist at all levels to resolve all kinds of conflicts. They study even latent conflicts.

Parties could ignore particular conflicts that do not suit their needs and there should be a process to avoid that. This shows that a conflict management system should be there. It may require legal changes. A free channel that can move ahead without interference is therefore needed.
We need to give the Maoists a space to air their demands and views and discussions. The Parliament is such a space but we have banned some things from being discussed there. We need to be able to form a Parliament that is vested with sovereignty. Today, we only have shared sovereignty.
As the discussion was going on till late in the evening, it had to be broken for dinner and it was done with the vote of thanks by Achyut Bahadur Rajbhandari.

Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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