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DateLine Sunday, 8 April 2007

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Need to take a leaf from Nepal

Worldview by Lynn Ockersz



Nepalese Maoist rebel leader Prachandra (centre), deputy leader Baburam Bhattarai (right) and General Secretary, Nepalese Communist Party United Marxist Leninist, Madhav Kumar Nepal, (left) attend Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala (not in the photo), administering the oath of office to Ministers in Katmandu, Nepal on April 1. Former communist rebels joined an interim government in Nepal as part of a landmark peace deal that ended a decade-long insurgency, pledging to ensure development in the Himalayan nation and to hold credible elections. (AP)

While there was near unanimity among the 'SAARC Eight' on the need to contain terrorism at the recently concluded 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi, it was left to Nepal to freshly indicate an appropriate approach to resolving the problem most cost-effectively.

"We have managed to bring the Maoists to the mainstream. A new chapter is going in Nepal," Nepal's ageing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was quoted as telling the SAARC Summit last Tuesday.

"I wanted to have a dialogue with the Maoists but was told by many that 'terrorists are not to be believed'... Now they have come within the democratic framework and the situation has calmed down," Koirala explained. He went on to say that he had gambled his 60-year political career to arrive at an agreement with the Maoists.

At the time of writing, the Maoists have accepted several portfolios in the Nepalese cabinet and have made the crucial transition from armed guerrilla fighters to democratically-oriented politicians who are willing to conform to the norms of representative governance.

If all goes well they will be sharing power at the Nepalese centre with the Nepali Congress and its allies.

Nepal, then, has joined India in containing the terror menace by meeting the power aspirations of disaffected groups. India's State divisions are based on this principle of giving ethnic groups reasonably extensive autonomy within the Indian Union.

The Nepalese example, however, is strikingly noteworthy on account of the prolonged and horrific bloodshed which came to be associated with the Maoist rebellion. Apparently power sharing is delivering Nepal from its wasting, years - long conflict.

Hopefully, therefore, the Nepalese example would highlight the advisability of containing terror in South Asia by adopting political means rather than military means.

Considering that political terror afflicts almost every country in the SAARC region, it is exceedingly important that the 14th Summit laid notable emphasis on alleviating the economic and material burdens of the ordinary people of South Asia, while calling for speedy action for concluding a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Accordingly, the SAARC Eight pledged to launch cross-border projects on subjects such as water, energy, food and the environment, besides launching far-reaching initiatives which touch on the lives of the people, such as, the SAARC Development Fund, the SAARC Food Bank and the SAARC Arbitration Council, which will aim at promoting cross-border trade. Referring to the cross border projects, Indian Premier and SAARC Chairman Manmohan Singh was quoted saying that: "We have agreed to make tangible progress in the next six months on four issues which affect the daily lives of our people."

This is far-seeing thinking on the part of SAARC. It is an acknowledgement of the close bearing material discontentment and economic want has on socio-political unrest.

Rather than siphon huge development funds into military campaigns to end political terrorism, it would be more cost-effective to blunt terror through sustained development and a war on want. Thus does economics eclipse politics in the SAARC arena.

These policy positions by SAARC are a vindication of the path chosen by Nepal to end its long-running insurgency.

It should be remembered that the Maoist rebellion in Nepal was almost entirely fuelled by economic want and poverty.

By integrating the Maoists into mainstream politics and by providing them a share in governance, the Nepalese government is going a considerable distance in ending the powerlessness of the poor. If all goes well, this would end the Maoist rebellion.

Thus, the Nepalese experience in conflict - containment needs to be considered a high-water mark in the region's turbulent politics. Hopefully, it would be studied and replicated.

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