Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali
Asia-Pacific Summit, 1 December 2018
“Nepal’s Peace Process: The Dawn of a New Era”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Namaste and good afternoon!
It is a distinct honor and privilege for me to extend our warmest welcome to all distinguished guests who have joined us for the Asia-Pacific Summit.
Our deliberations on this occasion will focus on issues pertaining to the pursuit of peace, prosperity and stability in the world. I do hope that the variety of perspectives and diversity of experience that such discussions bring will be helpful in addressing the many challenges that we face in ensuring a peaceful, secure and stable world.
It is with this objective in mind that I wish to share with you the unique experience of Nepal’s own home-grown, nationally-initiated and –led peace process that successfully put an end to a decade-long armed struggle, and brought together forces from across the political spectrum to begin a new chapter in Nepal’s long and glorious history.
In the past seven and a half decades, Nepal witnessed several episodes of struggles for political freedom, economic development and social progress, the aspirations, which were repeatedly thwarted by the unchecked ambitions of an absolute monarchy. In 1961, for example, Nepal’s nascent democracy suffered a severe blow in the form of a royal ‘coup’ which pushed the country into another three decades of autocratic party-less Panchayat system.
The incessant and resolute struggles of the Nepali people for democracy and modernization finally culminated into the People’s Movement of 1990, which led to the restoration of multi-party democracy. Unfortunately, our naïve initiative to confine monarchy within the constitutional set up failed again, since the monarchy couldn’t give up its longing for power. In addition, the deep-rooted structures of exclusion and exploitation perpetrated by a centuries-old feudal system continued unabated. Against this backdrop, the conflict in the form of an armed struggle began. A peaceful and peace-loving nation had to admit a dark blot in its history. Though it played an important role in fermenting political transformation, regrettably, the ultimate cost of the armed conflict fell upon the people of Nepal. During the decade-long struggle, several thousand lives were lost; many families were torn apart and vital infrastructure suffered irreparable damages.
While the world entered the new millennium, the King harbored the ambition of reviving absolute monarchy, pushing the nation into the labyrinth of dictatorship.
It was at this critical stage that the mainstream political parties and the Maoist rebels realized the need to overthrow absolute monarchy and resolve the decade-long conflict in a peaceful manner. To attain these twin objectives, twelve-point understanding was signed between seven political parties and the rebels, which would be the founding stone of Nepal’s peace process. A compromise was reached this way: the mainstream parties agreed to pursue the constituent assembly election and the republican setup and the Maoists became ready to give up the arms and join the mainstream democratic course. The agreement reflected a prudent and far-sighted – albeit rather late – realization on the part of Nepal’s political parties to honor the popular will of the Nepali people for peace,, democracy and modernization.
Immediately after, there was a rapid build-up of momentum in the democratic struggle. A peaceful popular uprising, also known as the Second People’s Movement or April Uprising, succeeded in forcing the King to yield sovereign power to its legitimate owner –the Nepali people. The dissolved Parliament was reinstated – and expanded later – as an interim legislature-parliament for broader representation.
The comprehensive Peace Accord signed in November 2006 between the Government and the Maoists formally ended the armed conflict. The other agreement signed was on the management of arms and armies. These accords were indeed the milestones in Nepal’s homegrown, nationally owned and -led peace process. An interim government was formed with the participation of former rebels to carry out the onerous tasks that lay ahead.
The management of arms and combatants was handled through in-depth and extensive consultations among stakeholders to pave the way for a smooth political process. Some combatants were absorbed into the national army; most of them were reintegrated in society. In tandem, several initiatives were taken for further reform the Nepali Army to make it even more professional and politically neutral while ensuring civilian oversight.
To build confidence among the parties of the conflict in implementing the peace agreement, Nepal invited a UN Mission, with small size and limited mandate, – mandate to monitor arms management. By and large, its presence in the early days of the peace process was helpful in supporting confidence-building measures among the parties of the conflict. Later we realized that Nepal’s political parties had full trust and confidence in each other’s capability, competence and motivations to carry forward, thence forward the peace process on our own.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
As part of the peace process, and to realize the long-held aspirations of the Nepali people, the Constituent Assembly election was held in 2008. The Nepali people voted for an inclusive and representative Constituent Assembly, which declared Nepal a federal democratic republic, abolishing the 240-year old monarchical system. However, the first assembly could not agree on the draft constitution owing to the inconclusive debates on several vital issues such as the structures of governance, mode of representation and the basis of federalization. Another election became necessary for seeking a fresh mandate.
The second Constituent Assembly continued the democratic process and ultimately adopted a new constitution in September 2015 with the support of over four-fifth majority. The constitution institutionalized federal democratic republic polity in Nepal.
The overwhelming consensus on the new constitution marked a uniquely successful conclusion of the nationally owned peace process in Nepal. The new Constitution has received wide support and acceptance of the Nepali people, because the Constitution guarantees equality, safeguards fundamental rights and ensures opportunity for all by putting an end to all forms of discrimination. This is no small feat, reflecting the extensive consultations and constructive discussions during the lead-up to its promulgation.
Last year, the constitutionally mandated elections at all the three tiers of the government – federal, provincial and local, were concluded with a record turnout. The left alliance, which included the formal rebels, won the overwhelming support of the people. Also resonant in the people’s mandate was the strong call for unification of the two largest left parties of Nepal.
Now the Nepal Communist Party leads the government with over three-fourth support of the parliament. With this historic mandate, Nepal has achieved much needed political stability, and is marching on the way toward a new era of socio- economic transformation. Just a few days ago, for example, the Government started the implementation of an elaborate social safety net for the people.
Our peace process had three major dimensions. On political front, we have accomplished the historical mission by formulating a democratic, just and progressive constitution and introducing a federal and inclusive state structure, which mirrors the multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic society of Nepal. On military or security side, we have settled the combatant issue thru mainstreaming them and making the National Army more representative, inclusive and professional. Now we are finalizing the transitional justice where we have to heal the wounds of conflict, to ensure the new life to thousand of victims and have to end the impunity and prevent reoccurrence of conflict. We are clear- there will be no any blanket amnesty for gross human rights violations, though our major focus will be on the reconciliation.
Despite insuperable challenges and difficulties, we have successfully navigated through the difficult waters of conflict resolution. Ours has been an exemplary model of peace process and democratic transition. People from a diverse spectrum of political ideologies and backgrounds and from the heterogeneous mosaic of linguistic groups, ethnicities and regions have come together in the political process for a political settlement that caters to their dreams and aspirations for a brighter future. Never before in Nepal’s history were its people consulted at such length, and with such intense sense of purpose and goal-orientation.
Nepal’s experience with peace making and peace-building has been eminently indigenous, with many salient features that are unique to our special circumstances. To quote Prime Minister Rt. Hon. KP Sharma Oli, “Nepal’s case is a unique example of peaceful and democratic transformation. It is a telling testimony that dialogue triumphs the differences; and ballot triumphs the bullets.” (UNGA statement 2018)
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me now share my thoughts with you about the lessons that we have learned from our peace process.
The important lesson from our experience is that we should not lose sight of the long-term prospects for peace, and that the parties in the conflict should keep on engaging with each other and seek the common grounds despite their differences in perceptions and positions. The spirit of accommodation, consensus and confidence building is a sine qua non for the successful resolution of conflict. Equally important in any homegrown peace process is strong political will, national leadership and ownership.
As I mentioned earlier, national ownership and leadership have been key features of Nepal’s unique peace process. There are, however, several other significant features in our peace process that deserve special mention, and among them are shared vision and unity of purpose; agreed process and mechanisms, consultation and debate; change with continuity; initiative and leadership; and, pragmatism and flexibility.
Vision and Unity of Purpose: By signing the 12-point agreement, all the major political forces in Nepal had agreed to a single vision: the vision of a democratic, peaceful, prosperous and socially advanced society by ending autocratic monarchy. Therefore, whenever there were any disagreements, such as in the wake of the failure of the First Constituent Assembly, we knew where to look for: the initial vision for a peace, democracy and prosperity. Other actions would follow on this major consensus, as they eventually did.
Agreed process and institutions: To bring the conflicting parties closer, and to promote ownership, common process and institutions are extremely important. Peace process is not a unilateral step, where one side decides and the other just abides or follows. We developed such institutions and processes, where both side agreed to sit together and deliberate. The 12-point understandings, Cease fire agreement, Comprehensive Peace Accord, Agreement on the management of arms and ammunitions, Interim constitutions were such frameworks, among others, which guided the peace process. Likewise, Interim parliament, Special committee for combatant management and Constituent Assembly were some important mechanisms, which played the role of common bodies in decision making.
Consultation and debate: The devil lies in the detail, as they say. Therefore, several precious years were lost in agreeing on the details of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous society we all wanted to build. However, we did not block the full expression of each other’s voices, concerns and fears, because they reflected not discord but debate.
For a time, it seemed as though the cacophony of disparate voices that had permeated through to the very depths of society would shake our confidence and run over any semblance of order or a pathway of conflict resolution. But then gradually, but surely, a pattern evolved. Extreme forms and expressions of ideas began to falter and then died down with a whimper.
What followed was a spectacular unanimity and consensus on all major issues that we had been grappling with for so many years. Or if there was no unanimity in the beginning, the process itself gave the answer. For instance, there were some grievances during the constitution drafting, and a small number of assembly members abstained in the process. But when the new election under constitution was declared, all sections of society, with overwhelming turnout, participated. Likewise, we began to realize that identity is important, but then it is neither immutable nor unchangeable; besides, we all have multiple identities, all at the same time. We realized that all sections of society should find fair and equitable representation in all layers of political bodies, but then it would also be a good idea to elect some parliamentarians directly for the purpose of promoting leadership and accountability.
Change with continuity: So, while the country was going through a period of momentous change, there was an underlying system of continuity that ensured that abrupt change would not disrupt social structures by setting undesirable precedents. The House of Representatives, which had been dissolved by the King, was re-instated to function as a legislature-parliament by expanding it with the inducting of members from the CPN (Maoist). It was a classic case of change with continuity.
Initiative and Leadership: However, none of such historic change would have been possible without powerful initiatives and strong leadership. Leadership, in turn, is a product of the material conditions of a society, and the special conditions of our country during those years mandated special initiatives. Given the prevailing security conditions in the country, only strong leadership with a view of the distant future in the eyes, and of the welfare of the Nepali people in the heart, could have dared to sign the 12-point agreement in the first place. I again want to emphasize how much important the role of national leadership is, because for some elements, whether they are insiders or outsiders, both conflict and peace is equally beneficial like trade. Sometimes they invest in conflict and sometimes in peace. If the national actors cannot take the lead, there is always a risk of vicious cycle of never ending conflict.
Pragmatism and flexibility: Finally, I would like to emphasize the crucial role of pragmatism and flexibility for mutual accommodation, compromise and give-and-take. The history of Nepal’s peace process is replete with numerous instances of pragmatism and flexibility exercised by all parties in achieving their common goals. Three instances of them come instantly to my mind: successful integration of the former Maoist combatants, where the national army and the former rebels agreed to bury their hatchets and made significant compromises early on; when the mainstream parties and CPN (Maoist) quickly realized it was time to move on by agreeing to jointly proceed with the peace process without help from outside the country; and when it was necessary to hold elections for the Second Constituent Assembly, all major political parties were able to agree on the modality of conducting those elections without much delay.
These are all important lessons, and we need to discuss them honestly, and also credit them duly, lest we forget the how in the past twelve years we have traveled through a most tortuous road fraught with too many roadblocks and far more numerous danger zones to land where we are today.
Today, the peace process has culminated not only in the management of armed conflict but also to the political transformation of enormous proportions. This has come at a high price for which the Nepali people have shed enormous amounts of blood, sweat and tears. It is time to move on, and to make good on those promises, which were made to our martyrs who willingly sacrificed their lives for the sake of liberty and national rejuvenation.
Since the political issues have now been settled after a series of protracted struggles, we have a great responsibility for nation building ahead of us. We are well aware of the fact that political transformation can hardly be sustained without social progress, economic transformation and modernization. It is in this sense that the challenge of consolidating and strengthening the edifice of durable peace in Nepal warrants equally far-sighted vision and mutually reinforcing efforts such as those which were required for initiating and completing the peace process.
The sustainability of peace hinges on the happiness of the people and the prosperity of the nation. Cognizant of this, the Government has set a vision for ‘Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali’. Ultimately, the realization of this goal will be the ultimate reward, and the best guarantor, of everlasting peace in Nepal.
With these few observations, I would like to conclude my remarks and thank you all once again for your kind patience.