By SOF Editor on Tue, 12/22/2009 - 10:25am
In Nepal, Maoists have intensified protests as a 6-month long standoff with the government shows no signs of ending. The political impasse threatens a historic peace pact which ended a violent Maoist-led insurgency, and brought them into the political mainstream 3 years ago.
The three-day general strike called by Maoists this week was not what most people in Nepal had expected to witness at the start of the year.
At that time, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal also known as Prachanda, headed a government which came to power after his party swept elections in 2008.
But hopes for peace received a serious jolt in May when Prachanda quit, and his party walked out of the government after the president overruled his bid to sack the army chief.
Since then the country has returned to a familiar pattern of strikes and protest rallies led by the former guerillas. Even more serious was a bid by Maoist activists to grab land in the countryside earlier this month leading to a clash in which four people were killed.
During the latest strike which began Sunday, the Maoists shut down the capital Kathmandu, blocked highways, damaged vehicles and clashed with police.
The editor of Nepali Times, Kunda Dixit, says the Maoists are using these tactics to get back into government.
"The end goal is, let the protests escalate, frustrations of the public, let it boil over, and then they can swing into power through street protests or an urban uprising. That seems to be the plan at least as far as the hardcore is concerned," said Dixit.
The governing coalition is blaming the Maoists for insincerity in implementing the peace deal, under which they abandoned their decade long guerrilla war, and entered mainstream politics.
However political analysts point out that the two major parties within the governing coalition - the Nepali Congress and the Communist UML party -- are equally to blame for refusing to negotiate with the Maoists. The Maoists want the President to apologize for refusing to obey their orders when they were in power -- a demand the government has refused to concede.
The head of Nepal's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says the political parties are wary of the Maoists who emerged as the single largest party in the last election, and are not prepared to compromise with the Maoists.
"The other parties are very rigid, and the Maoists after all they are pushed too far. They are scared of the Maoists, that is the main reason. It is not good for our peace process," Baral said.
The growing gulf between the main political parties and the Maoists has virtually brought the peace process to a standstill. In parliament the Maoists have led a protest campaign blocking most legislation. And while all political parties including the Maoists say they remain committed to writing a new constitution for the country, few expect it to be ready by its May 2010 deadline if the deadlock persists.
Central to the impasse between the two sides is also the issue of what will happen to about 20,000 former Maoist fighters who have been living in United Nations supervised camps since the insurgency ended three years ago. The army has so far refused to integrate them into its ranks as demanded by the Maoists, saying the fighters are politically indoctrinated.
Kunda Dixit says the growing influence of hardliners among the major political parties and the Maoists also poses a threat to the peace process.
"There is also a very dangerous right wing tendency, now within the two non-Maoist parties as well as parts of the army which think that the entire peace process was a mistake, we gave too much away to the Maoists and then on the Maoist side there is the whole radical wing, the commanders in the field who have been stewing in U-N supervised camps now for three years and they are getting impatient, both sides are under pressure from the hard core," said Dixit.
As the political bickering continues, there is growing disillusionment among ordinary Nepalese that the end of the country's civil war has not meant the return of peace to the country. And fears are growing that the country could even return to conflict if the impasse is not resolved soon.