Nepal’s Maoists have once again proved bad peacemakers. Their insincerity had been exposed even on two previous occasions when they walked out of the peace talks. Their insistence in the latest round of talks on a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution now looks suspiciously like a ploy to sabotage the peace initiative. More so because the rebels, belonging to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), also wanted this assembly to decide if Nepal wanted to continue with its constitutional monarchy. It was inconceivable that a government, appointed by King Gyanendra, would accept the demand and thereby put a question mark on the future of the monarchy. The Maoists’ recalcitrance confirms the suspicion that they sought to use the peace process, not to end their seven-year-old rebellion, but to replace the Himalayan kingdom with a communist republic. The prime minister, Mr Surya Bahadur Thapa, sent out a positive signal by agreeing to hold the talks this time, not in Kathmandu, but in a remote rebel stronghold. The government’s negotiators were also realistic enough to concede that the present constitution needed some reforms. But they had no political or moral authority to agree to the rebels’ demand for the scrapping of the constitution, which ended absolute monarchy and ushered in parliamentary democracy in Nepal in the wake of a popular uprising in 1990.
Ironically, the failure of the talks may now lead to some developments that the Maoists were anxious to avoid. Although both sides want to maintain the ceasefire, the absence of a formal peace process may eventually see a resumption of hostilities. The assassination attempt on former prime minister, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, in a rebel-controlled area within days of the peace talks foundering is an ominous signal. Moreover, some Western powers may now feel more anxious than before to mediate and resurrect the peace process. It was significant that the diplomatic missions of the United States of America and the European Union in Kathmandu officially expressed their views on the issue, for the first time, even while the peace talks were on. External interventions would complicate the problem for all sides and also cause unnecessary strains in Nepal’s relations with India. New Delhi has a stake in seeing an end to the rebellion, not only because peace in Nepal is crucial to the security of the region, but also because of the Nepalese rebels’ links with Maoist groups in India. Nepal has been facing a dangerous political void ever since the king dissolved the elected parliament nearly two years ago. The government must foil the Maoist game to exploit the vacuum.