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Peace and war

Peace and war

The then CPN (Maoist) had launched the ‘people’s war’ on Feb 13, 1996, which formally ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Nov 21, 2006. National politics has come a long way since. The monarchy was abolished, and a federal republic established. The former Maoist leaders see the uprooting of the feudal monarchy as the biggest achievement of the war, coupled with laying the foundation for a more fair and inclusive ‘New Nepal’. Thanks in large part to the war, they believe sovereignty is now completely vested on the people and power devolved to the lowest rungs of government.

But as former Maoist leaders observed the 23rd ‘people’s war day’ on Feb 13 this year, that narrative is being increasingly contested. Critics see the 10 years of conflict as a ‘lost decade’ when Nepal’s development process not only halted but was pushed back by years. Was the loss of 17,000 lives and forced disappearance of nearly 2,000 people worth it? And aren’t the Maoists being disingenuous when they credit their war for recent changes when in reality it was the ‘peaceful movement’ of 2006 that did the trick?

Interestingly, former Maoists under Pushpa Kamal Dahal have now merged with their once bitter enemies, KP Oli-led CPN-UML, to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Dahal’s UML colleagues refuse to celebrate the anniversary of the ‘people’s war’. PM Oli was notably absent from the ceremony this year, as were most of the erstwhile senior UML leaders. Whether to recognize the war was among the biggest sticking points as the merger was being discussed, and most UML leaders continue to believe it was a big mistake.

But leaders of the traditionally marginalized communities like Madhesis, Dalits and Janajatis have a different take. They give more credit to the Maoist war for at least trying to demolish the erstwhile near-complete monopoly of select caste groups in the state machinery. Likewise, with women commanders at the forefront of the war, Nepali women’s traditionally subservient image got a complete makeover.

Whether one subscribes to the first or the second narrative, one thing is certain: even if fought with the best of intent, war has all kinds of unforeseeable consequences. Conflict victims continue to wait for justice, 12 long years after the start of the peace process. Nor has the legitimization of the use of violence by non-state actors been healthy for Nepal’s nascent democracy. Yes, there should be a nuanced understanding of the Maoist war. But as Benjamin Franklin put it: there never was a good war or a bad peace.