From the killing fields to the negotiating table is always a step forward. It may be too early to predict the outcome of the talks that have just begun between the Maoists and the government of Nepal. That a dialogue has now replaced seven years of violence should be reason enough to be optimistic about the kingdom’s chances of peace. Even the fact that the Maoists had walked out of a previous round of negotiations should not be allowed to detract from the new initiative. The tiny Himalayan country has bled so much from the Maoist violence and the government’s efforts to fight it that no price should seem too great for a peace formula. This does not necessarily mean that the government bends over backward to meet all the demands of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). Even the rebels know this cannot be the case. They certainly do not hope that the government would accept their demand for abolition of the monarchy and setting up of a people’s republic. Even if the two sides agree on some fundamental changes to the country’s constitution, as demanded by the Maoists, this has to be attempted with extreme caution. The Nepalese earned their parliamentary democracy, however flawed, after a decade of mass movements against absolute monarchy. But they never wanted a communist republic to replace the monarchy. In fact, the peace process can be strengthened by gradually involving the mainstream political parties in it.
The talks in Kathmandu have immense significance for India. Because of its strategic location between India and China, Nepal has traditionally had great geopolitical importance for the entire region. New Delhi’s stake in peace in Nepal is related not only to the regional power balance but also to India’s internal security. The Nepalese rebels are known to have links with extremist groups in Indian states such as West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. While the Himalayan Maoists regularly take shelter in India, the Indian rebel groups are aided by the former with arms and hideouts. No country, big or small, would like to have an insurrection in its backyard. No wonder India helped Nepal with arms, intelligence and other logistics in its battle against the Maoists. In his recent visit to the country, the chief of the Indian army, General N.C. Vij, spoke of further military cooperation between the two countries . The security question apart, peace in Nepal is a prerequisite for its trade and economic exchange with India. The peace initiative can go a long way in repairing the economic dislocation that the Maoist violence has inflicted on Nepal.