Nepal Veers Closer to Disarray

The months of political chaos in Nepal that have followed the decision by Maoist leader Prachanda to step down in May as premier appear to be growing worse, with a top Maoist lieutenant accusing the current government of gearing up for war, further fraying hopes of forging a new constitution by next year's May deadline.

In an interview with Asia Sentinel, Chandra Prakash Gajurel, the Maoists' head of international affairs, said the government is pursuing an arms deal with India, potentially undermining a peace agreement signed at the conclusion of a decade-long civil war that pitted Maoist guerrilla forces against the Nepali Army and ended in 2006. The charge also imperils the shaky constitution-writing process on which the relatively new democracy has pinned its hopes of political stability.

"They are consciously violating the conditions of the peace accord," said Gajurel, widely known by his nom de guerre, Gaurav. "It means that in one or other way, they are going to violate the peace process itself by purchasing the arms, and they are internally making preparations for the next war."

Earlier this week, the Maoist mouthpiece newspaper Janadisha Daily claimed that six consignments of weapons had entered Nepal in Indian container trucks. The claims come on the back of Nepal Defense Minister Bidya Bhandari's meeting with her Indian counterpart A.K. Antony in New Delhi last week.

Prime Minister Madhav Nepal denies the government has made or is seeking to make weapons purchases and said it would do nothing to disrupt the peace process. The 2006 peace agreement stipulated that neither army could buy weapons or ammunition.

The Maoists came to power after a surprise win in 2008's Constituent Assembly elections, garnering 38 percent of the vote. The peace accord charged the 601-member, 24-party assembly with writing a constitution and acting as a legislative body. After the elections, the Maoists' charismatic leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, otherwise known as Prachanda, became Prime Minister and soon deposed the monarchy, but he resigned in May this year and dissolved his Government after a dispute with President Ram Baran Yadav over the reinstatement of Nepali Army chief General Rukmangad Katawal. Prachanda had earlier fired Katawal for refusing to integrate members of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army into the national force -- another condition of the peace agreement.

Since then, the Maoists have worked to disrupt and stall the legislative process as one of only two parties outside of a fragile 22-party coalition government. The party in early July vowed to retake a leading government role within a matter of weeks, but Gajurel presented a more guarded front when questioned in Kathmandu, saying a takeover could be imminent in two or three if months if the current government fails.

"We will not abandon our goals, we will not sacrifice our responsibilities in order to be in government, but if the other parties are unable to form the government, we'll do that," said Gajurel, who spent three years in a Chennai prison after being caught trying to leave India with a fake passport in 2003.

Meanwhile, the political upheaval continues to beset Nepal, contributing to steep inflation, resulting in a lack of law order that has affected everything from tourism to concert promotion and foreign investment, and disrupting the healing process from the war, which, according to official numbers, killed more than 13,000 people. The country is frequently crippled by transport strikes and protests triggered by increasingly trivial concerns, such as domestic disputes or clashes between student unions.

Earlier this month, for instance, a gunfight broke out between members of two student unions over an argument about the tender for a planned chemistry department at a Kathmandu university.

And now the country - one of the world's poorest -- is grappling with a cholera outbreak in the remote western region. More than 200 have so far died in the outbreak while authorities have been slow to deliver medicines to the areas in need.

Meanwhile, Gajurel's comments suggest the constitution-writing process is headed for a stalemate. The Maoists want the constitution to enshrine the country as a people's republic, while other parties favor a democratic republic. "There is little chance for compromise," he said.

Other parties, Gajurel says, are trying to portray the process as going smoothly while secretly harboring ulterior motives. The "ruling elite", he says, do not want the Maoists in power. "They are trying to show that they are still on that [constitution-writing] process, but on the other hand, side by side, they are preparing for other things."

However, while conceding the Maoist-led government failed in meeting its own expectations because of lack of experience and difficulty with the bureaucracy, he offers little hope that his party can resolve Nepal's political problems, saying only that the Maoists would "utilise the strength of the government for stability and to pave the way for making a new constitution".

But while the Maoists continue to divide the country with their tactics, for the time being they at least seem reluctant to again take up arms. Fighting, reckons Gajurel, is a last resort for any revolution. "Now we have a real possibility that we can bring about political change with the people's movement -- so we are not thinking that we should re-start war-mongering."

That will be little comfort in a country for which peace has brought almost as much uncertainty as war.