The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Peace talks may be tricky business, but that is no reason for shying away from them. In agreeing to resume the negotiations with the government, Nepalís Maoists seem to have seen reason at last. They now need to prove that they are honest about giving the peace process a chance to succeed. Suspicions about the Maoist motives linger, not just because they walked out of earlier rounds of talks. Their demands for abolition of the monarchy and a new constitution smell of a conspiracy to replace Nepalís fledgling democracy with a communist republic. Obviously, even this round of talks may not go far if the rebels plan to use them as a ploy for their subversive agenda. If the government is keen to continue the dialogue despite the misgivings, it is primarily because the people are sick with the blood-letting in which seven years of the Maoist rebellion have plunged the Himalayan kingdom. Although the involvement of the major political parties in the peace process could give it both legitimacy and wider acceptance, the issue should not be allowed to hold the talks to ransom. It is another matter that these parties are upset at the way Mr Surya Bahadur Thapa was appointed prime minister by King Gyanendra. Nepalís elected governments have been notorious for instability, but the importance of the peace talks with Maoists goes beyond partisan politics.

Their importance actually goes beyond Nepal. India, for instance, would be keen to see the peace negotiations run smoothly. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) is known to have close links with several rebel groups operating in some Indian states. It is also a prime mover in a plot to bind these and some other groups into a south Asian confederation of Maoist outfits. Added to these old Indian worries are recent indications of possible international involvement in Kathmanduís battles with the Maoists. This cannot be good news for Indiaís security concerns in its neighbourhood or for regional stability. New Delhi, however, has to be extremely cautious in its approach to any sensitive issue relating to Nepal. It cannot be seen as interventionist because that would raise hostile domestic opinion in Nepal. At the same time, it cannot afford to lose sight of its strategic interests in the area and allow Nepal to be the base for a new Great Game. The best bet ó for both Kathmandu and New Delhi ó is to ensure the end of the Maoist insurrection and strengthen parliamentary democracy in Nepal. Occasional irritants notwithstanding, the two countries have a common stake in peace and stability.

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