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National Seminar on Conflict Resolution in Nepal

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

17-18 May 2003

Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies organized a discussion among scholars and experts from various fields on conflict resolution in Nepal to provide a scholarly perspective to the prevailing conflict situation and the efforts aimed towards alleviating it. About 60 participants indulged themselves in the discussions which was organized into five sessions that went on for two days. The first session introduced the theme of the discussions to the participants while the remaining four were working sessions where experts made their presentations and opinions of the participants solicited. The seminar began on May 17 and ended on 18. The programme was a product of NEFAS-Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) cooperation.

The first session was the inaugural where Ananda Srestha, the NEFAS executive director, introduced the theme of the discussions to the participants. He asked the participants to seek the reasons that had kept the Nepali society a peaceful one for a long time before the peace was broken. Searching for a solution in the rich Nepali traditions may produce a solution to the rising conflicts, he said.
Yadav Kant Silwal, who had taken the chair of the inaugural session, said that conflict resolution could be a very tortuous process in Nepal. He pointed to the Sri Lankan experience and said that in spite of the efforts put in from both international and domestic quarters, the insurgency there is still continuing. Silwal, who is also a former South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) secretary general, said a United Nations mediation would have produced a better outcome in the Nepalese crisis scene. The reasons he gave for such a belief were: a) because the UN had offered it, it had a high credibility, its vested interests were limited to the development of this country and Nepal had participated in its peacekeeping operations since the fifties, hence, a good candidate, and b) a UN role would allay many apprehensions about Nepal going the Sikkim way.

On the ongoing peace talks between the government and the CPN (Maoist), Silwal showed dissatisfaction over the inability of the two sides to take up the economic and social agenda, thus far, which have been touted as the root cause of all conflicts in Nepal. "It is this that is going to make the talks a long and tortuous process," he said. The working sessions followed the inaugural.

SESSION I

Dev Raj Dahal presented his paper titled "Conflict Resolution: A Note on Contending Issues" in the first working session. In it he explored the theoretical aspects of conflict in general with references of Nepal and other countries. The session was chaired by Ananda Aditya. Excerpts from the floor discussions are given below.

Prof. Gunanidhi Sharma: Whenever there are conflicts of interests, contradictions arise. There are many such contradictions in Nepal because the development process has always been involved in aggravating conflicts rather than resolving them. Income disparities, wealth gaps, poverty and other basic issues have always remained unsolved. Unemployment has already reached about 15% and poverty is rampant, measured according to World Bank index of 5,000 rupees per annum puts 82% of the people under the poverty line. Similarly the Ginni coefficient has increased.
All these show us that most conflicts have been externally induced. The 1950 treaty ties major polices with India's policies-- the price policy, investment and fiscal policies have always remained tied. The smaller economy has had to be dragged along the way. In addition, proven conflict prone policies espoused by the World Bank have been used by Nepal pushing the country into further crisis. Our policies are making governance publicly irresponsible.
Conflicts have also been the result of the failure of the state to resolve national issues like the border, trade, refugees etc. The paper would have done better by highlighting conflicts that have been externally induced. Instability has been created by others, not by us.

Ananda Aditya: Constants, hazards and threats need to be probed for the resolution of conflicts. Capacity needs to be built to cope with crisis. The UN should be more assertive in its role as globalisation is promoting trans-state forces like the UN. For a meaningful resolution to the Maoist crisis, we need not be apprehensive of foreign forces.

Srish Rana: The paper could have dealt more with sources of conflict. For example, what is the relation between organisation and sources of conflict. Are organisations a source of conflict, e.g. Al- Quaeda? To be more specific, what is the relation between political organisation and conflict?

Lal Babu Yadav: Is 'peace through peaceful means' meant only for weaker nations? Superpowers have been vouching for peaceful resolution of conflicts everywhere, but when it involves themselves they come in with arms, like happened in Iraq.
How do we settle conflicts arising from regional power hegemony? How do we resolve those arising from international regimes?

Keshav Jha: At the moment only the establishment and the Maoists are talking and the other actors are completely sidelined. How do you anticipate a resolution of the Nepalese crisis in such a situation?

Krishna Pd. Poudel: The Maoists say that they have shifted their policy and have been centering on the constituent assembly but it is little likely that the regressive forces will bow to their demands. What is the acceptable point of compromise here?

Khagendra Prasai: If indeed conflict is inherent in human nature, how can we avoid it in the society?

Prof. Mohan Lohani: Parties to conflict must leave behind their mistrust and since they share the same destiny they must come to an understanding sooner or later. A peace dialogue has begun in our country. The focus of negotiations should be on convergence in the beginning, not divergence. If this happens failure of talks is less likely.

Bharat Pokhrel: Galtung's book, Conflict Management by Peaceful Means, has not been quoted by the author here. Generally, facilitators appear to be too interested in their own interests and aggravating the conflict rather than in resolving them.
I would have liked the author to conclude on his own rather than depending on foreign experts to do so. The paper also has not done the References section of the paper properly.

Durga Poudel: The Maoists generally point at the resource distribution inequalities, injustices and corruption. Most of the demands also appear to be along the same lines. Are these voices within the purview of the term 'conflict'.

Padma Nidhi Tiwari: Conflict in Nepal is basically about unequal resource distribution. The Constitution says that people are sovereign. So is the demand for a Constituent Assembly genuine? Will the present negotiation lead us towards a resolution? The 1990 negotiation does not appear to have paid off.

Som Bahadur Thapa: The paper should have been more centered on the Nepalese case. For example, confusion is being created at the moment. Two ministers have been making conflicting remarks. Will this not obstruct a resolution? Transparency and accountability should also be applied to the negotiators.

Ashok Kumar Pathak: What is the type of state necessary for 'peace by peaceful means'? Our history has shown that that has not always been possible. There was no internal democracy in Nepal after 1990. We have been forgetting our traditions and have not been able to adopt new ones properly, leaving a vacuum there. We have only been pointing at problems but have not produced any solution.

Karna Bdr. Thapa: There has not been enough background study of the handling of the conflict before sitting down for negotiation. The Maoists had closed all doors before the Dang attack which is a rare case in any conflict. Usually a door is open as an exit strategy. But in our case, both the political and military doors were closed. Why?
The parties should be making their stance clear, if we are looking for a proper solution. We need a political force that can cleanse the system of the problematic people who have been in power. Without such a political force there is no hope for conflict to be resolved well.

Prof. Maheswar Man Shrestha: The paper should have been more specific on the ongoing efforts towards solving the crisis, not just a theoretical exhortation, as this is the need of the day.

Dev Raj Dahal's reply: There are a lot of conflicts being induced from outside throughout the world, not just here. When conflicts are not solved internally, they get outside attention. When some elites form state policies, they heirarchize or sector