Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nepal peace accord and Northeast updates (November 1, 2011)

1) Nepal peace accord: Linky

Breaking a political deadlock that has lasted more than three years, Nepal's political parties arrived at a historic agreement on the peace process, Constitution writing and power-sharing late on Tuesday evening. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), and the Madhesi parties settled the future of 19,602 Maoist combatants, agreeing to integrate a maximum of 6,500 fighters into the Nepal Army (NA) and provide rehabilitation and cash packages to the rest.
According to the deal, the former combatants would be integrated in a newly-created special directorate under the Nepal Army, which will also include NA soldiers and personnel from other security forces. The directorate will be responsible for development works, industrial security, forest security, and disaster relief. Combatants will be integrated on an individual basis, and will have to meet the norms of the security force. But there will be flexibility on age, marital status, and educational qualification. To determine ranks, the norms of the security organs will be taken into account. There will be bridging and educational courses for the combatants.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Disappearances Commission, a high-level political mechanism to oversee the peace and Constitution process, and an experts' team to address state restructuring issues would also be constituted. The parties have also agreed to complete the process of regrouping of combatants by November 23, and prepare the first draft of the Constitution by November 30. While not in the agreement, sources said a power-sharing arrangement had also been worked out, whereby the NC will lead the government which will hold elections after Constitution promulgation.

More on this: Linky

UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal and Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha leader Bijay Kumar Gachhadar signed the time-bound agreement that commits these political forces for a national consensus on completing the peace and constitution making process resolving the contentious issues in the integration of Maoist combatants.
The deal commits to integrate maximum 6,500 Maoists combatant in the Nepal Army, offers package worth between Rs. 600,000 to Rs. 900,000 for combatants opting rehabilitation and cash package between Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 800,000 for combatants choosing the voluntary retirement option. According to the deal, the regrouping of combatants along with the return of the properties seized during the conflict to rightful owners and dismantling of the paramilitary structure of the Young Communist League will be completed within November 23. The agreement provides a way forward for addressing the fate of over 19,000 former Maoist combatants living in the seven main and 21 satellite cantonments since 2006. The international community including the United Nations had been putting pressure the Nepali actors to reach an agreement to address the future of former combatants.
The issue of rank determination will be resolved on the basis of existing standards of the security forces by the prime minister-led Special Committee. The date of combatants' enrolment in the Maoist Army recorded by UNMIN, the provision of allocation of rank in the security forces would be kept in mind so as not to adversely affect the career prospect of regular recruits of the existing security agencies.
In the agreement signed on Tuesday, leaders have committed to form a high level mechanism to conduct discussions for concluding the peace and constitution making process. They have agreed to immediately form an expert panel from the CA instead of a commission to seek recommendation on the restructuring of the state. They have pledged to proceed ahead in preparation of the first draft of the constitution within a month. The efforts to form national unity government once the peace and constitution making process gains momentum in accordance to agreement signed on Tuesday. Leaders involved in negotiations have said there is no possibility of change in government leadership before the November 30 deadline of the CA. There is a tacit understanding between the Nepali Congress that a Maoist led government will continue until the promulgation of new constitution and NC will lead the next government that will ovesee the general elections as per the new constitution, according to Maoist and NC leaders involved in cross-party talks.

Meanwhile, Linky

The hardliner faction of the UCPN (Maoist) led by Vice Chairman Mohan Baidya has objected to the historic seven-point deal signed by the major political parties and Madhesi Morcha on Tuesday evening to conclude the peace process. During the three-party meeting at Prime Minister's official residence in Baluwatar, the Baidya faction opposed the content of the agreement. Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal tried to convince the Baidya group for more than two hours in Baluwatar, but the hardliners refused to own up the agreement, delaying the signing ceremony.
The rift inside the Maoists party began primarily after the Central Committee (CC) on July 22 decided to follow the path of peace and constitution on which hardliner faction registered note of dissent. The sixth extended plenum of Maoists held in Gorkha last year had passed the line of peace and revolt at the same time, latter Dahal changed the party's political course to peace and constitution. After the Maoist decided to adopt the line of peace and constitution, Dahal and PM Bhattarai stood together and the hardliner faction began to feel increasingly isolated inside the party.

After that the hardliner faction wrote series of note of dissent on party's numerous decisions, and Dahal and Bhattarai continued to push through on peace and constitution on the basis of the majority they hold inside the party. The intra-party rift became even pricklier after the party decided to handover the keys of arms container immediately after the formation of government under Maoist's leadership.The hardliner faction was pressing Dahal and Bhattarai not to take any decision before the CC meet which begins from November 3. Leaders from the Dahal camp said Dahal took a huge risk in party's history to forge an agreement on peace despite the objection from the hardliners. Leaders say if Dahal fails to manage the rift it might cause split in the party. Dahal had taken similar risk inside the party by signing Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006.

My comments:
a) The maoist integration issue has been one of the biggest sticking points in the whole imbroglio. Now that a 6,500 number has been arrived at, and the integrated combatants' responsibility is not to include internal security, the Nepal Army should breathe easy on this sticking point and let the whole thing slide through.
b) This is one of the biggest face-savers that the maoists should consider as manipulated out of their People's War. It would be detrimental to the maoists' to keep pushing the envelope past this stage. But knowing the devil, it would not be entirely surprising to see such a move. Yet, the presence of Dr. Bhattarai calms one's nerves for the time-being.
c) Much of the stalemate must have been broken following the recent visit of the PM, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to India. The Indian footprint in the whole peace and reconciliation process was more and more overt following the rise of Dr. Bhattarai as a consensus candidate for PMship. So there you go: India 1, China 0 in a continuation of Linky
d) Another exhibit in this direction is the importance placed to Shri. Bijay Kumar Gachhedar in the agreement. Overnight, the Nepali triangle has become a quadrilateral with the Madhesis becoming a full force in the political spectrum by this very act. Their de facto joining the big players league was not in question given the makeup of the coalition that led to the "coronation" of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.
e) It is no secret that the Indian think-tank has been in favor of the Madhesis given the cross-border connections between the Madhesis in Nepal and the people of Bihar/UP. Ideally, the next best thing would be to let Shri. Nitish Kumar make the inevitable cross-border visit and forge many development projects with benefits to both sides of the divide.
f) In terms of the internal dynamics of the maoist party, the vocal anti-Indian faction of Mohan Baidya Kiran seems to have been sidelined. Their opposition to BIPPA and this deal is just pure theatrics given that Nepal has signed BIPPA with many other countries before it signed with India. It is in India's interest to forge a dominant grouping inside the maoist plank led by Dr. Bhattarai with Prachanda inside the house as a big player. This will keep the vocal anti-Indian faction out of the camp and with complete freedom to release their bodily fluids into the wind. It should not be entirely surprising to see the maoists split vertically along the Prachanda-Bhattarai axis with the Kiran grouping forming a splinterist "true" maoist faction. This is only natural for a People's War-driven movement. There is a big segment of the Nepalese population from which this camp can derive sympathy over its natural course.
g) There will be further splits into uncontrollable factions over the next few years, but with the main hardliners inside the camp, and with BIPPA signed, India and Nepal can forge ahead in their common paths of lifting the teeming millions out of poverty and desperation.
h) So make that India 1, China 0 effectively an India 1, China -1. However, it is important to note that only the foolish will persist on certainties at this stage!

2) On Nepal-Bhutan relations, Refugee problem in Bhutan: Linky

Two small bombs exploded in a Bhutanese border town just three days ahead of the royal wedding on Oct 13. Responsibility for the blasts was claimed by the United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan (URFB), an insurgent group based in Nepal, which said it had timed the explosions to draw attention to the “gross national sufferings of the Bhutanese people”. This incident highlights laidback Bhutan’s startlingly hardline approach to preserving its traditional culture and identity. This pillar of its Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, has not been helpful in lending happiness to some segments of its population. Bhutan’s bid to preserve its unique identity is rooted in its Buddhist beliefs, but it has to resolve the problem of thousands of Hindu Bhutanese Nepalis languishing in refugee camps and the small but growing Christian population who seek recognition of their religion and to be allowed to build churches.

The biggest blot on Bhutan’s history is its attempt to deal with the Nepali people within its borders. The Nepali claim brutality. The Bhutan government says they are illegal immigrants. People of Nepali descent have been settling in southern Bhutan in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as Bhutan has a porous border with hardly any immigration control. By the 1950s the number of Nepali immigrants swelled to such an extent that a Citizenship Act was passed in 1958 to stem the flow. Those who could show proof that they have lived in Bhutan at least 10 years prior to 1958 could stay but those who could not were deemed illegal immigrants. In 1988, the government conducted its first real census exercise and decided to force out the “illegal” immigrants, perceiving a threat to the country’s cultural identity. But poorly trained census officials who were sometimes arbitrary in their classification of who were non-nationals triggered a great deal of tension. About the same time, the government also started enforcing the Bhutanese traditional dress and language code.

These measures combined to alienate even the genuine citizens of Nepali descent. Militancy grew in the south and and turned violent in September 1990 when protest marches were held in different districts. Schools were torched and local government officials stripped of their national attire. The army responded with mass arrests that triggered more protests and arrests that sent thousands of ethnic Nepalis fleeing the country between 1990 and 1992. They settled in seven UNHCR refugee camps in South-Eastern Nepal. Meanwhile, many poor, border-dwelling Nepalis claimed to be refugees in order to receive aid, and within a year, the camps’ population grew to more than 100,000, according to UNHCR. The United States, Australia, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark offered to resettle the refugees and by the end of 2010, 40,000 of the refugees were resettled and more are slated to be resettled in the coming years. It is often these resettled Bhutanese of Nepali descent who work hard to ensure their plight is not forgotten abroad. For them, and for some of the ethnic Nepalis still in Bhutan (about 150,000), Bhutan’s promotion of Buddhist culture has been a source of distress. This festering refugee problem looks set to haunt Bhutan in the international arena for years to come.

Another brewing problem is among the Christians, estimated to be between 6,000 and 15,000, who would like to see their religion recognised. They are not allowed to build churches or proselytise. Several stories have appeared in Bhutan’s newspapers claiming that converts were being paid money by Christians from Western countries, which Christian leaders in the country vehemently deny. But the government is deeply suspicious of Christian evangelism and under proposed Section 463 of the Penal Code that carries a jail term, “a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of proselytisation if the defendant uses coercion or other forms of inducement to cause the conversion of a person from one religion or faith to another,” according to the government-run Kuensel newspaper.

Prime Minister Jigmi Yoser Thinley told Compass the proposed clause in the penal code was “essentially… to deter conversion,” saying there was no reason why Christians should seek to induce others to join their faith. “There are a few Christians and followers of other faiths as well (in Bhutan), and there is no difficulty with that,” Thinley said. “That is good… we promote diversity of cultures. But then, when there are those who try to convert others without understanding the values, the principles, and the essence of the other religion, we have here what constitutes the worst form of discrimination.” While the constitution recognises a citizen’s freedom to religion, only Buddhist and Hindu organisations have been registered by the Chhoedey Lhentshog – the country’s authority which regulates religious organisations.

About 75% of Bhutan’s population is Buddhist, and Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepali, account for around 22%. Bhutan’s Minister for Home and Culture Minjur Dorji told Compass that the passing and implementation of the penal code amendment “may take some more time, due to procedures involved.” Asked if the law could be misused to make false allegations and thereby create religious disharmony, as in Indian states with similar anti-conversion legislation, Dorji said he would not allow that to happen. The Christians remain hopeful that the country’s leaders will move beyond the distrust of their religion and discussions are going on.

It should also be noted that Nepal too followed the Bhutanese role and enforced a "national dress," but that is a tale for a different day.
3) GNLA ban view: Linky

“Recently, the Centre sought comments from the state government on whether it (GNLA) should be declared a banned outfit,” a senior government official told reporters here today.

The official said the comments would be sent “as early as possible”. However, the state has not been in favour of recommending that the GNLA be declared a proscribed outfit, but it would do all it can to wipe out the group. Personnel belonging to the elite Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and the BSF, apart from the state Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) commandos, are currently engaged in flushing out GNLA cadres from Garo hills.

4) Interview with Bertil Lintner: Linky

Q: Do you think the recent peace initiatives taken by New Delhi with several militant groups in the north-east are sufficient to solve the insurgency problem in the trouble-torn region?

A: It's definitely a good step taken by New Delhi. The expulsion of ULFA leaders from Bangladesh, and the subsequent arrests of Anthony Shimray, the NSCN-IM's main arms procurer, and United National Liberation Front chairman Sana Yaima indicate that India is determined to wipe out insurgency movements in the north-east once and for all to clear the area for trade with Myanmar. But the ethnic problems in the north-eastern India are not going to disappear even if the militants are neutralised; there are genuine grievances that has to be addressed as well. Many people in the region feel neglected and marginalised. Development has to reach those areas, and their ethnic identities have to be respected. Frankly speaking, many of them feel that they are not Indians.

5) Manipur People's Party -- Nexus between politicians and terror: Linky

Manipur Peoples Party vice-president Y. Mangi Singh and four others, arrested for alleged involvement in illegal arms, were today remanded in police custody till November 8. Police said a team of commandos arrested Y. Biju, 33, after recovering two pistols and six live rounds of ammunition from him at his Khagempali locality yesterday morning during a frisking operation which was conducted following information that weapons were going to change hands in the area. Biju, the younger brother of an alleged cadre of the militant Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, told interrogators that four persons were coming to collect the weapons from him.
The police are also investigating whether the weapons were meant for use during campaigning for Assembly elections, which are expected to be held in February 2012. The MPP, a major Opposition party in the state, is silent on the development. Mangi Singh is a prominent person in Imphal East. He contested the last Assembly elections from Heingang constituency of Imphal East and his name has been doing the rounds for candidature this time as well.

6) Talks with UPDS: Linky

An hourlong meeting in Delhi between representatives of the Union home ministry and the United People’s Democratic Solidarity resolved all the hurdles in signing the proposed accord between the government and the Karbi militant outfit. A jubilant UPDS leadership said the conclave removed all the blocks and the pact would be signed within the next 10 days according to the time and date scheduled by the government. “We are happy with the decisions taken in today’s meeting,” said UPDS general secretary Saiding-Eh.
“The changes are very minor and these are not related to the context of the accord. There are four or five such points which the state government wants to change. We had some objection in case of one or two — even the home ministry had some objections to one or two clauses — anyway, all these have been resolved in the discussions and in a friendly atmosphere all the recently emerged points have been brought to a meaningful solution,” said UPDS joint secretary Tong-Eh-Nongloda after the meeting. Nongloda, however, did not explain the minor changes.
The proposed accord for a Karbi Anglong territorial autonomous council was scheduled to be signed last September, but the date was postponed to October 24. On October 21, the UPDS announced that it would not sign the accord if the government climbed down from the decision of forming a neutral interim administrator. The term of the Congress-led existing Karbi Anglong autonomous council ends in December, prompting the party to pressure Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi into postponing the date of signing the accord to November.

7) In a continuation from Linky, Nabam Tuki sworn in as Arunachal Chief Minister: Linky

Mr. Tuki, the first Chief Minister from the Nyishi community, told reporters that his priority was to maintain communal harmony among all tribes for development of the land-locked State. Mr. Tuki was chosen as Mr. Gamlin’s successor by the Congress high command after the latter stepped down.

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