Dr. Baburam Bhattarai on the Failure of the Peace Talks in Nepal

Dr. Baburam Bhattarai was the Convener of the 5-member Negotiating Team of CPN (Maoist) and is also in charge of the International Department of the Party.

In this space we have followed as best we can the evolving revolutionary struggle in Nepal. Our most recent comment in February 2003 accompanied the presentation of an interesting article on women’s leadership in the revolutionary struggle. We then noted with relief and pleasure the ceasefire of January 29, 2003 that promised to bring an end to the brutality and bloodshed that had engulfed a beautiful people and a beautiful land.

Commentators of every persuasion saw the ceasefire in the civil war as reason for optimism, with but one exception. The only note of displeasure at the truce was sounded by Christine Rocca, U. S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia—the Imperial Supervisor for the region. “Maybe this is a reason for hope but the fact of the matter is it’s a deteriorating situation,” she said, “the situation in Nepal is really not looking very good.” (Reuters, February 4, 2003)

The United States moved quickly beyond a mere expression of concern at the outbreak of peace. Just as formal talks finally got under way in May between the revolutionary leadership and the Palace, the United States announced that it deemed the popular revolutionary forces—in control of much of the countryside of Nepal—to be “terrorists.” Shortly afterwards a U.S. agreement with Nepal’s Royal government on “counter-insurgency” operations was signed. Under cover of this pact the U.S. began to bring sophisticated communication-military weapons into Nepal, along with a substantial contingent of out-of-uniform military “advisers.”

The ceasefire held, despite a series of provocations by the Royal Nepal Army. The revolutionaries advanced the proposal to conduct nationwide democratic elections for a constituent assembly, to permit the Nepalese people themselves freely to determine their form of government. A crucial third series of talks was scheduled to begin on August 17, 2003. On that very day the now U.S. “advised” RNA ended the ceasefire with the deliberate cold-blooded murder of nineteen unarmed activists attending a political meeting. Nonetheless the revolutionaries attended the scheduled session, only to have the Royal “negotiators” declare non-negotiable the powers of both the Palace and the Army. On August 27th the aborted talks broke off, and the ceasefire formally terminated.

The third political force in Nepal are the parliamentary political parties, frozen out of government by the dismissal of parliament in May 2002, and the Royal coup of October 2002. These parties, demanding the restoration of the parliament, have continued to clash with the Royal government. The avowed aim of the United States is to broker an agreement between the Army and the leading parliamentary political parties, so that under cover of a “parliamentary” regime a nightmare of U.S. advised terror (“counter-insurgency”) can be unleashed. It is not possible to exaggerate the responsibility to resist this evil that now rests upon the parliamentary parties.

In this historic conjuncture, not only for Nepal but for all of South Asia, we received a letter (dated September 7, 2003) from Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who had been the head of the negotiating team for the revolutionaries. This letter, setting out the revolutionaries’ understanding of the current situation, we feel certain will be read with sympathetic interest by all true friends of the Nepalese people.

The Peace Talks And After

by Baburam Bhattarai

The seven month long ceasefire and peace talks between the old monarchical regime and the revolutionary democratic forces led by CPN (Maoist) have finally collapsed on August 27. The international community, from the UN Secretary General at the top to the government ofAustralia down under, have expressed serious concern over the collapse of the ceasefire and called for a solution of all outstanding problems through continued dialogue. This warrants a short overview of why the talks failed and what the prospects for the future are.

Why the Talks Failed

There has been lot of media dissection of why the talks failed and many have tended to put the blame on procedural matters and similar secondary issues. But we, and for that matter any serious student of political science and history of democratic struggle in Nepal, would locate the impasse on the seemingly irreconcilable class and political contradiction between a feudal-bureaucratic monarchy backed by foreign imperialist powers and democratic forces fighting for complete sovereignty of the people in all state affairs.

A cursory glance at the two political proposals put forward by the two warring sides at the negotiating table (i.e. by the CPN (Maoist) during the first round of talks on April 27 and by the representatives of the royalist regime during the third round of talks on August 17) would suffice to bring out the huge gap between the two political positions. The talks failed precisely on those core political issues which could find no meeting point despite any amount of diplomatic niceties and procedural finesse.

The CPN (Maoist) proposal identifies the two-and-a quarter century old feudal-bureaucratic state presided over by the autocratic monarchy (with cosmetic reforms in 1950 and 1990) as the root cause of all class, national, regional, gender and other contradictions and seeks basic structural transformation in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres of the state simultaneously to solve the fundamental problems of the country. However, given the stage of strategic equilibrium in the seven and half year long civil war and the sensitive geo-strategic positioning of the country sandwiched between two superstates of India and China, the proposal offers the creation of a transitional state system through democratic means by means of a process of the promulgation of a new constitution with a common minimum content. Whereas a round-table conference, interim government and election to a constituent assembly were proposed as the process of creating a new constitution, the minimum content of the new constitution were proposed as: unrestricted sovereignty of the people; no ‘unchangeable’ features in the constitution; creation of a new national army; proportional representation of different classes, nationalities, regions, dalits, women etc. in the legislature and proper representation of all in the government; a secular state; guarantee of rights to self-determination and autonomy to oppressed nationalities and regions; guarantee of multi-party system, rule of law, freedom of expression etc; education, health and employment as fundamental rights to all; revolutionary land reform on the basis of ‘land-to-the tiller’ and protection to national industry and trade; and abrogation of all unequal treaties and strict practice of a non-aligned foreign policy.

Along with these, it was proposed that political parties would be free to propagandize in favor of a republican state during the election to the constituent assembly, which would be held with no preconditions attached. In sum, the essence of the CPN (Maoist) proposal was to let the people exercise their sovereignty in an unrestricted manner and complete the unfinished agenda of bourgeois democratic revolution in the country.

Contrary to this, the so-called ‘Concept for Forward-looking Reforms in the State-system’ proposed by the old regime eulogized the traditional role of the monarchy as quintessential for national unity and sought to preserve it for ever as ‘indispensable basis’ of the constitution. On the crucial issue of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), which has been the bulwark of the monarchy and a vehicle for counterrevolution time and again, the old regime was not even prepared to discuss, leave alone negotiate, and rather sought outlandishly the immediate surrender of arms by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Also it rejected almost all the other ‘minimum content’ of the new constitution proposed by us, by making offer of only selective ‘reforms’ on peripheral issues to hoodwink the gullible, like twenty-five percent reservation for women. The most significant hurdle, however, was the obstinate unwillingness of the old regime to go for a new constitution and its ridiculous stand to introduce ‘reforms’ through ‘amendments’ to the old moribund constitution, which is already mutilated beyond recognition after the royal take-over of October 4 last.

Hence these two irreconcilable political positions of the two warring sides practically sealed the fate of the peace talks after the third round on August 17-19. Any observer with a sense of objectivity and conversant with the ground reality of class and political balance of forces in Nepal (i.e. a triangular contention between the monarchists, parliamentarists and revolutionary democratic forces) would, however, acknowledge that a free and fair election to a constituent assembly under an interim government would have been the best course of compromise acceptable to all the three contending sides. It is quite ironic that both the monarchist and parliamentarist forces, who swear by the sovereignty of the people and multi-party democracy, have chickened out of going to the sovereign people to elect a constituent assembly, and thus precipitated a bloody civil war in the country. No sane person or organization would now blame the CPN (Maoist) for an intransigent stand, as the Party openly espousing a strategic goal of people’s democratic republic has come down to the immediate slogan of a constituent assembly.

Apart from this broader ideological-political issue, the saboteur role of the RNA, with the prompting of some foreign powers, has contributed significantly to derail the peace talks. Not only did the RNA consistently violate the cease-fire and code-of-conduct mutually agreed upon by the two sides, it openly challenged the decision of the second round of talks to confine the RNA activities within five kilometers of its permanent bases. The most serious and provocative incident was the massacre of nineteen unarmed political activists by the RNA in Doramba (Eastern Nepal) on the very day of start of third round of talks on August 17. This ghastly crime has now been corroborated even by an enquiry commission sent by the National Human Rights Commission owing allegiance to the old monarchical regime.

Role of International Forces

As most of the rulers of the semi-colonial and dependent third world countries are just the puppets in the hands of their foreign imperialist masters, the role of foreign forces cannot be minimized in the internal political dynamics of the country. This ‘foreign hand’ was quite visible and active in our case, too, and can be said to have significantly influenced the outcome of the peace talks, despite their pious official pronouncements to the contrary.

Even though a large section of the international community was seen sincerely committed and endeavoring for the success of the peace-talks, some forces could not conceal their sabotaging role from the beginning to the end. Leading this evil band was U.S. imperialism led by one Mr. Bush and his arrogant ambassador Mr. Malinowsky. On the very morrow of the first round of talks on April 27, the US government put the CPN (Maoist) on the co-called “other terrorists” list, signed a five-year ‘anti-terrorist’ agreement with the royalist regime, announced the supply of several billion rupees worth of ultra-modern arms and equipments to the RNA and sent hundreds of military advisors and trainers. Also, sudden rush of hordes of US ‘strategic experts’ with dubious antecedents to the country at the same time could not have been a mere coincidence.

In the immediate aftermath of the break-down of peace talks the U.S. ambassador, along with a few others, was seen hectically campaigning to make the agitating parliamentary parties surrender to the King, so as to ‘isolate the Maoists’. In the process these self-professed guardians of ‘democracy’ have unmasked their own autocratic monarchist and militarist character and isolated themselves from the masses of the people fighting for their democratic rights and freedom.

The CPN (Maoist), however, as reflected in the recent letter of Chairman Prachanda to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has been assuring the international community of its full commitment to all universal democratic values and principles, and appeals to all to stop every sort of foreign military and other interventions in the country and let the Nepalese people choose their own destiny themselves.

The Future Prospects

Despite the ultimate break-down of cease-fire and peace talks our Party has positively assessed the overall political developments so far. It is our considered view that the decision to enter into cease-fire and negotiation process was correct in the concrete historical situation, and through our sincere efforts to find a forward-looking political solution in a peaceful manner we have won over millions of masses and middle-strata of the population to the cause of democratic revolution and isolated the regressive monarchist forces. Even the opinion polls conducted within the status quoists dispensation have over the months consistently showed that a large majority of the people across all strata and regions support the democratic programmes and policies advanced by our Party. This is one of the reasons why the so-called votaries of ‘democracy’ have chickened out of the innocuous proposal of a constituent assembly which is supposed to be the ‘highest form’ of bourgeois democracy.

However, the political developments in the country in the coming months are likely to follow different twists and turns and the democratic forces would have to be prepared for every eventuality. As the real power of the old state is now centralized in the monarchy and its RNA and the formidable foreign power brokers are lobbying hard to make the King share some power with parliamentary forces so as to mount a unified assault against the revolutionary democratic forces, coming weeks may see yet another governmental change. But whether the mask would be ‘white’ (i.e. Nepali Congress) or ‘red’ (i.e. the revisionist UML), the real power will be wielded by the King and his RNA and prodded by the foreign masters. Consequently a head-on collision between the regressive and progressive forces would be unavoidable.

A lot more blood may be spilled. But it won’t be in vain. The birth of a fully democratic and republican Nepal may not be too far off.