Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Setback for Talks in Nepal

by Krishna Pokharel, The Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2010

NEW DELHI—Prospects for a lasting peace in Nepal were dealt a blow
over the weekend by the death of former Prime Minister Girija Prasad
Koirala, the head of a committee that aimed to break an impasse in
peace negotiations before a May deadline.

Mr. Koirala served five terms as Nepal's prime minister and was chief
architect of the peace process under which Maoist rebels came out of
their mountain hideouts in 2006, ending a decade-long insurgency. He
also led the democratic movement that culminated in the fall of the
240-year-old Nepalese Hindu monarchy in 2008.

Mr. Koirala died Saturday at age 86 of multiple organ failure, doctors
treating him said. Despite his achievements, his legacy of peace is
fragile, with a democracy that remains in its infancy.

Nepal held national elections for its first constituent assembly in
2008, giving 601 politicians from various political stripes, castes
and ethnic groups the mandate to rewrite the country's constitution
and restructure the nation.

The two-year deadline ends May 28, and political parties are still
haggling over the details. The constituent assembly, which also acts
as the parliament, can extend the deadline to write the constitution
by six months—but it would first have to declare a national
emergency, which could be destabilizing to the country's democracy.

The proposed integration of some 19,000 former Maoist fighters into
the national army is the most contentious of the issues on which the
success of the peace process hinges. These fighters are kept in United
Nations-supervised camps. Politicians have yet to agree on how to
induct the politically motivated fighters into the tradition-bound
army of about 90,000 that they used to fight.

Mr. Koirala was the chairman of a high-level political committee
formed earlier this year to resolve the differences among parties on
the integration of the Maoist fighters into the national army and on
other issues, such as rewriting the constitution by the May deadline.

The lack of a unifying personality, a role Mr. Koirala had taken, may
leave the parties squabbling on key issues, delaying the constitution.
On Sunday, leaders of political parties across the spectrum said they
will work together as a tribute to Mr. Koirala.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, head of the Maoist party, the Unified Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist), said Mr. Koirala's death "will have an effect
on peace and the constitution-making process."

On Sunday, thousands of Nepalis poured into the sports ground at the
center of Katmandu, where Mr. Koirala lay in state. He was cremated
later Sunday on the banks of the Bagmati river near the city's
Pashupatinath temple, and his funeral was carried out with state
honors, which had previously been provided only to the king as head of