Journey Towards Peace
Dev Raj Dahal
Nepal’s journey to peace remains non-stop. Its citizens have internalised peace in living consciousness for a decent living. So long as their aspirations underlined in the Constitution of Nepal are not filled with social justice they will be haunted by bitter memories of countless tales and traumas inflicted by decade-long insurgency and its side-effects. They have treasured experience of biological, political and moral necessity of peace in terms of the big picture. The lesson learned is: what one can do for personal survival and collective good in the midst of disruption of the rituals of ordered life. The Comprehensive Peace Accord has cut the amount of direct violence by catapulting rival sides into political power. But it has yet to address its central causes of fear and basic needs deficits vital for the social and emotional recovery. The accord marks a power shift to the Maoists and parliamentary parties, not an idealised consensus animating the hope of negated, marginalised, potential actors and conflict victims alive in the abolition of the state on nature and a transition from chaos to civility.
Nepal has yet to recover from the insurgency’s debilitating effects while the dark cloud of uncertainty risks the edifice of peace. The conflict residues sitting with the vacuum of security and authority of the state stoke the free-ride of defiant forces: armed non-state actors, armed group of Maoists led by Piplav, non-armed groups led by Baidya, social movement groups including conflict victims, pro-religious, monarchy and unitary state dissatisfied with the new status quo and Madhesi parties seeking to amend the Constitution for a multi-national state with full federal autonomy. Their restless activities have inflated the fluidity of politics choking the gear of elected government of Communist Party of Nepal at many layers and its vision of prosperity, happiness, stability and good governance.
Leaders’ talk about peace is couched in fleeting power sharing, not in terms of inner peace through internal vigilance by knowing the source of free will and outer peace through public duty to reconcile the rival goals of social and political forces and nullify the future conflict. So long as the rationalistic concept of politics as a struggle for power engulfs Nepal’s public life, it is hard to stabilise the values of justice and create a stable democracy that makes it possible to nurture an economy of peace. Reaping the nation’s demographic dividends and cultural and natural potentials can dynamise the economy and facilitate a safe journey to transformational justice if job creation serves a basis of cohesive social development.
It needs intergenerational circulation of leadership, end transitional politics and ease transitional justice making persons accountable for odious crimes. It deters the lingering signs of violence and sets the rule of law, a precondition for justice and higher order of morality. It is essential to reap the benefits of sanity of native knowledge jurisdiction abstracted from the complexity of everyday life and nudge all for constitutional behaviour. The shifting political mandate entails leaders to settle lawful conflict of power, ideas and identity in the golden mean thus making peace indivisible even for its foes.
By inventing alternative path Nepali leaders of integrity can step out of narrow definition of self-frozen in inner-party dynamics. Journey to peace demands the resolution of antinomies and engagement of citizens in the construction of livelihood means through social solidarity, enriching cognitive, material and institutional resources and bringing law in every sphere of life, not just the family. It can stabilise democratic values, institutions and entrepreneurship and liberate muscular politics from excessive intoxication of privileges, impunity and satisfaction of group benefits.
Good governance does not tolerate the dictates of paternalistic guardians. Civic education of Nepalis about constitutional rights and duties and involvement in multi-relational activities are essential to re-link the Nepali state with citizens and the polity and build bridge with the global community seeking help for a journey to enduring peace. It entails leaders and citizens to self-discover, broaden perspective and learn about the practical skills to animate mutually inclusive ownership of peace.
Nepali Constitution recognises the sovereignty of citizens, requiring public consultation and participation in framing policies and laws for their legitimacy. Democracy as a bottom-up process relies on the rational minds of citizens capable of finding better outcome of peace in combination of rational calculation, gut instinct and emotional intelligence. Its consolidation rests on how Nepali leaders bring their concerns to a world of public and connect to national sovereign—the state and rectify its defective monopoly on power. The engagement of citizens in education, production, exchange and the praxis of peace can induce non-violent change. Democratic politics delinks itself from violence. This is vital to resolve the nexus between structural injustice and conflict and inspire leaders in modern politics of public duty.
Positive peace provides ethical and material means for civilised coexistence. In Nepal, however, peace is used as a means to negotiate power, resource, identity and status, not basic needs fulfilment which is non-negotiable or the easy access to public goods which have been weakened by their split into public and private, or mutually beneficial collaboration which is hit by adversarial politics and efficiency-based economy, all straining the social mobility of the poor. A positive peace vital to reason and reality exposes the irrationality violence, creates level playing field for all, educates about human rights and searches for a common ground for cooperation at various levels of society. Constant civic education about the health of the nation enables the stakeholders to create political will vital to support Nepalis voice, visibility, representation and recognition driven by practical reason of modern politics.
Violent conflict punishes the weaker members of society, especially women, children, poor and unorganised ones and inverts the order of nature. To avert this scenario, honing the resilience of communities and the rational construction of social and political order are vital. It does not mean radical social engineering of Nepali society considering it “traditional” while forgetting the sanity of many positive aspects of its culture which citizens hold in high esteem. The cultural components of peace education enables the optimal choices for citizens and cultivate the pursuit of peace that is tied with democratic order based on mutually agreed rules for the socialisation of all co-nationals in their dealings with each other.
The job of politics is not to trigger violence. Violence symbolises the regression of human life and makes the public duty of politics for peaceful opportunity for citizens a Sisyphean toil. Peaceful roles of myriad of duty based NGOs, civil society, communities, local party committees and peace builders can complement the nation’s imperative of restoring society’s trust, de-linking violence from public sphere and transforming vicious links between injustice and spiral of violence. Nepali leaders can work together for this transformation in the common public and national interests and cultivate common nationality and shared humanity.
Constitutional rules have stressed a creative participation of citizens in conflict mediation, peace, security and fulfilling life. Civic space exists in Nepal for multi-track engagements of civil society, business and leaders with conflict-affected persons in peace, local citizens’ struggle for social reforms and surge of social movements for equitable distribution of social, economic and political power. With the dissolution of local peace committees, the roles of local Judicial Committee (JC), NGOs, civil society, media and community associations like Mothers Group have become supreme in peace promoting activities. The capacity building of JC in adjudication enables it control the swelling of local grievances.
Now, the fate of TRC and Disappeared Persons Commission hang in a precarious balance haunting top national leaders in drivers’ seat. Global community has shown a critical concern of their inaction to positive trajectories. A viable journey to peace needs the frame of peace dividends to conflict victims and ordinary citizens. Reconstruction requires home-grown approach linked with rights code. The social learning experience of local leaders and peace researchers about the solution of changing nature of conflict through mediation and dialogue is important to align peace with principles. The inherent gendered power relations, dissimilar needs for transitional justice and a growing recognition to redefinition of women’s role in society are to be settled for the creation of an egalitarian society. Gender justice is a means to plant the seeds of peace, citizens’ equal role in peace building and the general conduct of political life in Nepal.
A journey to peace is the noblest aspirations of Nepalis. But without controlling the thieves of state linked to kleptocratic networks causing the erosion of the performance of public institutions and reforming the public life, a culture of peace cannot flourish. The execution of peace measures hit a snag in Nepal due to new conflict lines being opened around bitter power struggle-national and geopolitical, confiscating the power of Nepali state and its ability to create a just public order and mobilise the centripetal forces of society for peace and stability.
Journey to stable peace requires a rationally defined path because it can demolish monopolistic thinking, transcend exclusivist institutional, ideological and personality frames, recognise each other’s legitimate concern, communicate rational purpose, restore the balance of state-society ties, establish local peace units and offer peace building measures as a lasting security and compassion to all the needy. In all these areas, deep engagement of conflict victims and attentive citizens is vital. A stable peace rests on collaborative efforts of national actors and a common process of social learning and practice about a public culture of democracy worthy of the nation’s heritage of tolerance of diversity and of the goals Nepalis want to pursue and relearn to live peacefully.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)