Peace, in your own time
A breakthrough over former fighters could ease political chaos
NEPAL’S nasty Maoist insurgency ended five years ago, after ten years of fighting and 18,000 deaths. A ceasefire saw some 19,000 rebel fighters moved into camps across the country, but brought little stability. As long as no one could decide what to do with the leftist ex-fighters, parties could not agree on a new constitution. Without one, politics has been a mess. Governments have formed and disintegrated faster than a snowflake in a Himalayan gale.
So the relief was palpable in Kathmandu on November 1st, when the leaders of four main political parties held hands and announced a deal for the Maoist ex-fighters. Nearly two-thirds will don civvies, their pockets stuffed with a handout of up to $11,500 each (more than nine times an average Nepali’s annual income). The remaining 6,500 or so ex-fighters will be shunted into a new army unit to guard forests, provide disaster relief and do other useful things.
Getting the army to accept its former Maoist enemies was hard. Tougher still was wrangling among the Maoists themselves, who now dominate the government. Pragmatists like the current prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, managed to overrule party ideologues who do not want full integration and still openly oppose the deal. Mr Bhattarai has been shrewd in other ways too, for instance, in warming up relations with India that had cooled as Nepal grew closer to China.
With luck, more problems can now be resolved. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for five years”, enthuses Anagha Neelakantan of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. Drafting the constitution may take another six months. That looks tricky but doable. An unusual, informal deal has reportedly been struck allowing the parties, each of which is too small to rule alone, to take turns in government. Mr Bhattarai is likely to stay in office until the constitution is done, probably next year. Then the opposition Nepali Congress Party expects to move into government to oversee elections. None of this will be easy. But at least parties are finding a framework for peaceful compromise, and that must count as progress.