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THE NOISE AND THE SILENCE.

Nepal, April 30 -- From the start of the peace process, the Nepali people have lowered their expectations as the leaders who brought prajatantra in 1990, then gambled it away over power squabbles, came back once again, emboldened by the popular call for multi-party democracy-and by the trust that India, the United Nations, and the international community placed in them. The old guards of prajatantra returned as the vanguard of loktantra.

The peace process they have led has been, by turns, deeply cynical and immensely hopeful.

The cynicism has come from their struggles over power-sharing: their noisy squabbling over who (with India's blessing) will be prime minister, president, minister of this-or-that, and high- or low-level government appointee.

The hope has come from the larger transformation of the country to a 'new Nepal'-a term so roundly laughed at, now, that it feels naive to even use it. Yet: the election of an inclusive constituent assembly, the abolition of the monarchy, and (despite serious differences) the joint commitment to federalism are irreversible now. They have set in place the foundations for a new Nepal.

It is not, of course, all that the Nepali people hoped for.

The present crisis-centering on power-sharing-stems from the cynical aspect of the peace process. In the 'Big Three Public Dialogue' of April 28, the leaders of the Nepali Congress (NC), the UML, and the Maoists exposed themselves as the old guard: high-caste men squabbling, noisily, about who among them will be the next prime minister. India and the NC-UML bloc have tried to split the Maoists by backing Baburam Bhattarai. The Maoists have tried to embarrass India and the NC-UML bloc by rallying behind the beleaguered Pushpa Kamal Dahal. To settle this noisy squabble, no sacrifice-on the part of the Nepali people-is too great, apparently.

And so Kathmandu braces for a showdown.

This showdown could end badly; but mostly likely it will give way to a late face-saving compromise. For, as the Nepali people keep pointing out, given that none of the political parties can alone (or in any realistic bloc) impose their will on the others, they have to resolve all disagreements jointly. A breakdown of the peace process will be suicidal for them, and especially for their leaders. It will jeopardise their political survival.

Indeed, for their own sake, these leaders urgently need to reach a deal on everything related to power-sharing-military integration, the future political setup, federalism, and even a new constitution. With such a deal, they can deem the peace process a success, and move on to greater glory.

But of course the peace process is about more than power-sharing.

To date, its most neglected aspect has been the search for justice. This neglect has been intentional. The political parties and their attendant security forces are all culpable for war-time atrocities. While in government, the Maoists tried to buy off the victims with the promise of a million rupees each; the other parties have not done even this much. They are grimly united in their attempt to deny justice.

Maina Sunuwar's case is a shameful example of this. Despite incontestable evidence of her murder by the then-Royal Nepal Army, none of the perpetrators have ever been tried in a civilian court. Rather, the government has protected the perpetrators on behalf of the Nepal Army.

There are many more Maina Sunuwars among us, victims of the state security forces, or of the Maoists, or of the criminal groups that have proliferated since the war. Two separate bills for Truth and Reconciliation and Disappearances have now been approved for discussion in Parliament. Both, however, are flawed, designed for opacity rather than transparency, and for amnesty and quick reconciliation rather than for a legal redressing of the war-time crimes.

In the political leaders' desire to keep denying justice, security sector reform-once a top agenda of the peace process-has all but been forgotten by now. And so there is a murder in a Maoist cantonment.. And so there is the rise of crime in the Madhes.. And so there is the rape and murder of Dalit girls and women in a national park..

There is such a thing as too-low expectations. Let's be honest. A peace process that delivers a power-sharing deal but fails to deliver justice is not much of a success at all.

In the coming days, as we listen to the political parties' noisy squabbling over power-sharing, it would be instructive to also note the studied silence they are all maintaining on justice.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from EKantipur.com. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at htsyndication@hindustantimes.com

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Publication:Kathmandu Post (Kathmandu, Nepal)
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Apr 30, 2010
Words:789
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