A successful high-wire act
Reports out of Kathmandu suggest that Nepal’s Maoists have agreed have their arms counted and deposited under the supervision of the United Nations. The interim government led by Girija Prasad Koirala had insisted on this as a pre-condition to their inclusion in his cabinet. Also as a part of the deal, the Nepal Army will be confined to the barracks, perhaps until its fate, along with that of the Maoist militia is decided by a future dispensation.
The deal itself is the most significant development in Nepal, rivaling Gyanendra’s climbdown earlier this year. It will be all the more significant if the ‘disarming’ is permanent—and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) pursues, as it has sometimes claimed, democratic politics peacefully. It is certain that support from India and the United States helped bolster the Koirala government’s insistence on the Maoists disarming before joining government. That they managed to carry this off at all is counts as a little foreign policy achievement. To make the achievement significant India must now ensure that the Maoists keep their end of the deal. India’s longer term challenge will be to prevent Nepal from turning into a Communist totalitarian state—for the Maoists may lose their enthusiasm for elections once entrenched in power.
A taste of political power, the giddiness of success and a sudden requirement to stop ‘living off the land’ can test the ability of the Maoist leadership to rein in its cadre. The Maoist militia does not entirely, or perhaps even substantially, consist of disciplined and ideologically motivated troops. The Maoist leadership itself may be unable or unwilling to control opportunists and criminal elements of various hues from continuing to terrorise the countryside. Depending on the scale and seriousness of their activities, the accomodation between the Maoists and Seven Party Alliance may come apart, with terrible consequences for peace and stability. India must put the Maoist leadership on notice that it has the primary responsibility to discipline its own cadres.
In bringing the crisis to an end, India has countenanced the United Nations entering Nepal in a security role. It must now ensure that the UN’s job is well defined and well done. And that the UN arms monitors have no need to stay a day more than is necessary.