'Govt will prove its legitimacy by making substantive progress in peace process'
Minister without portfolio Ghanshyam Bhusal from the UML is closely working with Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal in inter-party talks over the peace process. Republica´s Kiran Chapagain and Thira L Bhusal talked to him on current political issues. Excerpts:
What plans does the government have to tackle the issue of CA term extension?
When we signed the seven-point agreement, we had made a commitment to take the peace process to a logical conclusion, make progress in constitution writing and work for economic as well as social transformation. Unfortunately, we have failed to make any substantive progress. As the task of the peace process has been stalled, the work of constitution writing has also been obstructed. The Maoists claim that the tasks of constitution writing and the peace process need to be taken ahead simultaneously. But we are for concluding the peace process first. Mainly there should be concrete progress with regard to integration of the Maoist combatants before May 28.
What kind of progress can the government make by May 28?
The recent talks are focused on settling thorny issues of integration, including preparation of a package for rehabilitation, integration model and setting up of norms or standards for integration, among others. We have to come up with a concrete proposal, plan of action and a calendar of events for integration before May 28. This is the minimum thing we must do to prove the relevance of this coalition.
What exactly is hindering the peace process?
UCPN (Maoist) party is one of the major stakeholders of the peace process. The process couldn´t make progress due to its internal problems. The Maoists were unable to give momentum to the peace process due to the ambiguous political stance taken by the party at the Palungtar plenum. It was not clear whether it would adopt the political course of peace and constitution or opt for revolt. The latest central committee meeting of the Maoist party has made its future course clear by endorsing the political line of peace and constitution. But the issue has been resolved only at the political level. The party is yet to translate it into a concrete plan of action.
Are you confident that the Maoists would pave the way for peace and constitution before May 28?
The recent formal as well as informal discussions have made me optimistic. Top leaders from the three ruling parties -- UML, Maoist and MPRF -- recently committed to come up with a joint proposal on the issue of integration.
What is the state of progress on it?
The Maoist standing committee meeting is underway today (Thursday) to discuss the issue. We are holding discussions with the NC and other sides as well. I don´t want to highlight where exactly the problem lies. But it is certain that the differences have been narrowed down significantly. We have no problem in reaching agreement in principle. But we are yet to sort out some technical matters.
What is the most contentious issue with regard to integration?
We have reached broad understandings. For instance, we have agreed to form a mixed force...
Will it be separate?
In a way it is both separate and joint. There will be a separate directorate but under the command of the Nepal Army.
Do the Maoists and other major parties agree to this proposal?
Informally, we have made significant progress on various issues surrounding the peace process. Only some technical issues, including the number of combatants to be integrated, their ranking and amount to be offered for rehabilitation are yet to be finalized.
What about the standard norms to be followed for integration?
We have made considerable progress on that front as well. We have reached an understanding to follow certain norms for integration. We have to do it because the Comprehensive Peace Accord has also instructed us for the same.
What would be the approximate number of combatants to be integrated?
This is a technical issue. Maoist leaders have frequently made it clear that the issue of adding or subtracting a few hundred or thousand combatants is not a big deal for them if the entire peace process moves in the right direction. I believe that we can settle on an agreeable number.
Where does the government want to see the peace process reach by May 28?
The government wants to reach an understanding with the parties so that the categorization of the Maoist combatants would begin immediately. Even the Maoists have not rejected it. Efforts are underway to create a win-win situation for all.
The prime minister was elected for his agenda of national consensus. But it seems he has forgotten it since he assumed the post.
National consensus is an agenda. The constitution cannot be written by sidelining the Maoists. Formation of this coalition paved the way for the NC and other parties to join the government. But the NC chose not to join it.
The previous government ignored the UCPN (M) much in the way this government is ignoring the NC. Isn´t it?
NC did not join the government because it lost in the democratic process [the election of the prime minister]. We tried to persuade the NC to join the government but it did not agree. This government could have been blamed had it sidelined the NC. I stress that this coalition has not been formed to sideline the NC.
Don´t you think the present coalition will lose its legitimacy if there is no substantive progress in the peace process and constitution writing by May 28?
This coalition will prove its legitimacy by making substantive progress in the peace process and constitution writing.
What will the prime minister do if he is required to step down to save the CA?
The prime minister will resign if the parties come up with a logical argument that his sacrifice is required to save the CA. If there is a better alternative to this government, the prime minister is ready to step down.
How challenging is the upcoming central committee meeting of the party for the prime minister?
The central committee meeting will be challenging at this critical juncture because the prime minister is not only the leader of the government but also the leader in the current politics. We are ready to brace the challenge.