Tomorrow, on 15 January 2011, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), established to monitor Nepal’s post-civil war transition period, will come to an end amid wide concerns about the country’s still fragile peace process. Set up in 2007 and extended several times after its initial one-year mandate expired, UNMIN will be sorely missed as it clearly played a stabilizing role during this volatile period in the country’s history.
The Nepali Civil War, a conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels, began with a Maoist-led insurgency on 13 February 1996, with the aim of overthrowing the Nepalese monarchy and establishing a “People’s Republic of Nepal”. During the conflict, more than 12,800 people were killed, and an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Nepalese were internally displaced. The bloodshed finally ended with a Comprehensive Peace Accord which was signed on 21 November 2006, and which was monitored by UNMIN during the following years.
The treaty called for the drafting of a new constitution and the integration of an estimated 19,000 Maoist combatants into state security forces – though the exact terms of how, and how many Maoists would be integrated were never defined. It was thus to nobody’s surprise that when the peace process finally came to a standstill in 2008, it was because of differences about the integration of these fighters into the army. Since then, the political infighting between the major parties has simply intensified. As a result, the country has now been without a government for over six months, as 16 attempts to choose a new prime minister have failed – and attempts to draft a new constitution have stopped altogether.
It is therefore self-evident that governments and NGOs around the world would be worried about the future of this land-locked mountain state. Yet while it is true that Nepal’s slow transition from a state of war to one of peace was marred by chaos, the country is in fact more stable than it seems. And so is the nation’s peace process. While Nepal’s reconciliation endeavors have stalled over the past years and the major factions remain strong, the country’s political landscape has now come to see a mushrooming of smaller parties and interest groups advancing their individual ethnic and regional agendas. Yet none of these new groups challenges the state in the way the Maoists did. They offer no existential threat to the political system, and instead seem to be content on working from within it.
The most serious challenges, and conflict risk of the near future stems either from widely unpopular programs advancing the transition to federalism, or from the fact that impunity for human rights violations during the decade-long war remains the norm. This struggling nation-state, nestled between the huge India and the even larger China, urgently needs a stable and effective government not only to push through reforms and better the lives of its 30 million inhabitants, but also to finally bring justice to its many victims. It still has an immensely long way to go – but in the end, Nepal will succeed.
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