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Under the shadow of arms

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post
October 26, 2006

The issue of management of small arms, which were used to ruthlessly slaughtering more than 13,000 Nepalis, is unfortunately still the most intractable part of the story of a revolution that has already gone sour.
There are indigestible misrepresentation by the constituents of the Seven Party Alliance as to the issue beforehand, falsification and distortion of major facts, and arbitrary shift in the major requirements of the transition in Nepal. So much so that even the international community seems to be confused about the priority of the hour.

What the April movement has finally brought in is a turn of the wheel of fortune, by which those who were at the bottom mounted to the top and assumed the choice positions, crushing the former power-holders beneath them. Every constituent of the Seven Party Alliance is standing only for its narrow and opportunistic interests, and is trying to browbeat each other in the power sharing game, twisting that loktantrik ideology to suit their masters. In effect, there is very little concern for the arms that were raised against the state, the common folks and a functioning democracy, finally bringing untold miseries to the people.

Arms management in our context is an all encompassing subject, which must not be reduced only to the demand of 'separation between Maoists and their arms' as some pundits are trying to do. In ongoing peace process it should refer to all restrictions that must be imposed on the armed groups on production, development, stockpiling, proliferation, import, distribution and usage of small arms and light weapons and decommissioning of the insurgents in order to liberate the political environment from their clutches. They need to be disabled to change the Maoists from an armed group into a political party in equal footing with others, and then hold the elections to the constituent assembly as demanded by them as a way out to the conflict in Nepal.

Linking the issue of arms management with constitutional monarchy or any other political issues on the national agenda at this stage is very questionable. It is a tactical Maoist game calculated to retain some form of countervailing power during the peace process (as they know that the parties without arms cannot 'live in water and become an enemy of the crocodile.'

It needs to be recognized by all including the international community that the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists, even if united in their stand, do not represent all political forces in the country, let alone the whole of Nepal. There are sizable parties outside the present framework, and there are many people who have never sold their loyalty to any political party; and who are habituated to vote in elections based on what is their current perspective on the political issues.

In any case, political issues including what form of governance this country should adopt is a question that can only be decided by the people casting their vote in a free environment. The issue of the management of arms and these general political issues are always mutually exclusive, and are not supposed to be negotiable with bloodstained arms. The ongoing attempt to unethically link these two separate issues tends to foreshadow the real objective of maintaining simultaneous access to the arms and political power, and also limiting the choice that the free people can make through the popular process. It is not surprising that the Maoists want to pre-empt the exercise of powers by the constituent assembly in areas that might not cut much ice in an arms-free environment.

Arms smack of power and intimidation whether they are in use or not. Specially, elections under the shadow of arms, whether for constituent assembly, the House of Representatives or for any other representative institution, cannot be free, fair and impartial. The demand that the arms of the Maoists must be decommissioned has strong moral force. It is better for the parties to stand up now than to live with problems later on, especially in view of the complexity that the mismanagement of the decommissioning issue might create in rural Nepal. It is hard to live in Rome and strive against the Pope. In fact, the context here is more rigorous.

If morning shows the day, the Maoists activities at this stage aptly show how they intend to pose themselves during the constituent assembly elections if they are able to have access to their arms, physically or otherwise.

Even the recent OHCHR reports say that they have continued with abductions, ill-treatment, killings and child recruitment in spite of the peace process of which they have been a proud owner. They continue to impose tax and other levies, and run their unjust administration including peoples' courts. The way the combatants are demonstrating their arms in the far-flung villages and intimidating people to join them in their political platform show how the people can always be frightened into closing their eyes and voting what they have been asked to vote on without exercising judgment.

Against these facts, the assurance of the Maoists that their arms are the arms of liberators just look ridiculous. It plainly reminds what is emphasized by 'the cat embarking on a pilgrimage after feasting on hundreds of mice.' The whole problem with the SPA government is that it is full of doubt while the Maoists and fanatics surrounding them are always so certain of themselves.

It is also the time for the United Nations to come forward with some concrete options for the management of arms in Nepal. There are dozens of success stories and many important lessons, which have become relevant for Nepal.

There is no doubt that the UN job becomes less cumbersome when it is asked only to execute what has been mutually agreed by the parties to the conflict. But there is no reason why the UN cannot take a proactive role the way it has done in many other countries and facilitate the parties in the issue beforehand to find a solution acceptable to the free people, albeit behind the screen.

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