Nepal’s Rebel Leader Speaks

Prachanda’s comments on TV reveal much about Maoist demands as they resume negotiations with the seven-party government

Reclusive Comrade Prachanda has met with Nepal’s Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to start round two of peace negotiations. Three days before the meeting Prachanda gave an interview to Nepali-language television station Kantipur TV. What he said provides insight into difficult negotiations ahead.

Prachanda’s main targets were the seven-party alliance and restored parliament with whom he will be negotiating. He said that the parties see the restoration of parliament as an end in itself, and he derided the idea that the government was representative without including the Maoists. The Maoists’ roadmap calls for the dissolution of parliament and the formation of an interim government of the Maoists, the parties, and civil society. That government would then hold constituent assembly elections.

The parties’ claim that they motivated the people and stripped the king of power is “political opportunism,” he said, and referred to a Nepali proverb about one man killing a tiger and another plucking the dead tiger’s whiskers. The Maoists, he said, brought down the king.

Comrade Prachanda said that the main issue for the parties was to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream, not make proclamations on minor issues. He then took another jab at them, asking what the parties had done during all their years in power about the same issues the parliament now was addressing so hastily.

When asked why the Maoists had proposed meeting directly with the king last year, he turned the question against the parties again, saying that they were expedient and that the Maoists had feared at the time that the parties would give in to “the master” if the king offered them a deal.

The Maoists still fear betrayal. Prachanda said he was profoundly aware that a conspiracy to undermine or bypass the Maoists could be in the making, and he warned “foreign powers” not to try to sideline the Maoists. He said he had opted not to appear at a massive Maoist rally in Kathmandu because the party felt betrayed by the seven-party alliance.

Prachanda spoke to two difficult issues that will face negotiators almost immediately – disposition of the two armed forces and the composition of the constituent assembly. He said that the Nepal Army and the People’s Liberation Army should come under international supervision once elections for the constituent assembly are announced, but said that since the PLA had no barracks they would continue to live among the people. He boasted that the rebels are disciplined enough to follow orders even so: “Our party doesn’t follow the gun, the gun follows us.” Prachanda also repeated an earlier promise that the Maoist forces would obey the government formed by the constituent assembly, whatever was decided.

The composition of that assembly will be a tricky matter. Prachanda said that the Maoists favor proportional representation based on population but want that weighted by the degree of “oppression,” presumably by the state, that communities have suffered. The parties are sure to object, particularly as the Maoists already control a majority of the countryside and would exert even greater influence on a new constitution under a weighted representation system. Prachanda was insistent on this point: if the Maoists’ formula was not accepted, then the restructuring of “the old order” could not take place and the underlying issues would not be resolved.

The government will not have missed the implied threat in that, and it is taking steps to meet Maoist demands. Since Prachanda’s meeting with Home Minister Sitaula, one of the comrade’s hot issues, the actions of parliament, has been partially addressed by a temporary suspension of the body. Parliament’s last act was to withdraw a controversial anti-terrorism law: About 350 Maoists held under the law will soon be released. No wonder the Maoist spokesman looked pleased when he briefed the press after the meeting.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.