It is tempting to be over-optimistic about the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Maoists in Nepal. While any genuine attempt for peace will be welcomed by the Nepalese, there is also a strong case for cautious realism. It is so not merely for the fact that an earlier ceasefire and subsequent negotiations were scuttled by the rebels. The circumstances which led to the Maoists’ announcement of the ceasefire have justifiably left room for scepticism. It remains unclear why the chief of the country’s armed police was assassinated by the Maoists even while the ceasefire was being negotiated. More important, the rebels forced the government to revoke the rewards for the capture or killing of top Maoist leaders and withdraw the terrorist tag as well as the Interpol red corner notice on them. There is no indication, however, on the rebels relenting on their fundamental demand for aboliton of the constitutional monarchy and establishment of a republic in the Himalayan kingdom. There is good reason to suspect that the Maoists’ republican idea is a ruse for sabotaging Nepal’s fledgling multi-party democracy and replacing it with a monolithic communist regime. Unless the Maoists are made to accept parliamentary democracy, their peace overtures will remain suspect.
That is not to suggest, however, that the government should not respond to the offer of talks. King Gyanendra will have a crucial role in the negotiations because Nepal now has an interim government that does not have a parliamentary mandate. But the process has to be transparent enough to allay any misgivings about the palace’s role in peacemaking. King Gyanendra will win the people’s trust if he involves the two main political parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — in the negotiations. The Maoists cannot be given the wrong impression that they can bypass the legitimate political process and still expect to strike a peace deal. After all, the greatest threat posed by their rebellion is to the nation’s hard-won democracy. Even if the multi-party democracy has not lived up to the people’s expectations, that can be no reason for letting the country fall prey to anarchists. Only a stable, democratic polity can tackle the problem of poverty which the Maoists exploit to widen their appeal.