First, look at the regional and international setting. India remains the most important actor, and after two years of a fairly bitter and public battle, there is a degree of rapprochement between New Delhi and the establishment faction of the Maoists. Along with the Maoist-NC relationship, the Maoist-India relationship was crucial to both the 12-point agreement and the progress in the political process until the April 2008 elections. As long as this dynamic remained disturbed, there was little chance of progress. India thought it could keep the Maoists out and force it to deliver on the peace process—it was doomed to fail. Maoists thought they could form a government India was uncomfortable with (the Khanal experiment) and act unilaterally – it did not work.
India did not ‘engineer’ this government. But since a section was always more open to the idea of Bhattarai leading a government, it did not block it either. This allowed Madhesi parties to exercise their discretion, and do what they would have done last year itself for Prachanda if Shyam Saran had not intervened as special envoy.
The Indian establishment generally supports the present coalition, and wants to see tangible results on the peace and constitutional process. It appears to be quietly encouraging Maoists to take some confidence building measures, and asking NC to sort out its mess and be flexible. This constructive phase in Indian diplomacy is a major opportunity that must be utilised by domestic forces to build durable peace and a stable democratic order.
China preferred the Khanal government, and penetrated the political sphere and bureaucracy on a fairly unprecedented scale. But it has tried to play catch-up since this government was formed. Beijing’s interests may have expanded and engagement may have increased. But it neither has the leverage not the inclination, as of now, to destabilise governments in Nepal. And it too, at a fundamental level, seeks the completion of the peace process. No one wants a militia lying around in the region. So even if there is no overt support, there will probably be no obstruction from Beijing.
The US played a major role during the war, in 2005 when it tried to restrain India from facilitating the 12-point, and when Moriarty was sermonising about Maoist vices in 2006-07. But its role is usually over-stated and it has adopted a relatively low-key approach, because of deference to India, the nature of its recent ambassadors, and recognition that the Maoists are a legitimate political force here to stay.
A glance at the Wikileaks cables reveals that it encouraged India to be open to the idea of a ‘unity government’ in 2009-10 which was a code for a ruling arrangement that included the Maoists; the US was also more flexible than India on integration of combatants. The general US mood appears to be supportive of this government and Bhattarai in particular, and it may also have done some low key diplomacy to encourage all sides to be flexible. The EU is more or less on the same page—the difference being that it is only more convinced that the problem is the NC.
This is a rare moment of external convergence on Nepal, which we have not seen since 2009. The challenge is using this moment to get the internal dynamics in order.
Apart from India-Maoist, the NC-Maoist relationship was the building block of the 12-point agreement. There can be no sustainable agreement without Nepal’s grand old party. The NC maybe fearful of the credit Bhattarai may garner by starting this, but also has some grouses about the Maoist stint in government. “Why can’t they call the special committee meeting? Why can’t they return property of at least some of our leaders? Who has stopped them from dismantling some YCL camps, say in Hetauda?” Except blustering, Maoists usually don’t have an answer to some of these questions.
Building confidence, reaching out to Sushil Koirala as well as the other faction of NC, keeping UML on board, and telling the Madhesi allies what is happening is a pre-requisite to a broad deal.
The PM is right—the external context is conducive, and there is potential to bridge the internal rift. We will not get this chance again. from the article in ekantipur