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National Seminar on Building Bridges for Peace in Nepal

Organised by Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS)

Paper Presented in the Seminar

6-7 October 2009, Kathmand


Nepal achieved significant mileage in restoring peace following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of Nepal (GON) and the CPN (Maoist) on 21 November 2006. In the absence of CPA, it would not have been possible to hold Constituent Assembly (CA) election, abolish the monarchy and form the successive governments thereafter so smoothly.

However, conflict is not yet over. It is still going in several parts of the country, particularly in the Terai. Many of the armed groups in the Terai are engaged in criminal activities like abductions, extortions and killings. Because of the impunity, the culprits go scot free.

Of late, the GON has taken initiatives to resume dialogue with the armed groups. But the progress is too slow. The conflict is getting intensified and the situation is being aggravated each successive day. The growing pace of anarchical situation has been affecting the economic development, peace and prosperity in the country. In order to help the government to restore peace and support it in its initiative of conflict mediation, the national seminar on "Building Bridges for Peace in Nepal" was organized on 6 and 7 October, 2009 in Kathmandu.

Seminar Objectives

The basic objective of the seminar was to support the democratic process in Nepal by helping the government and other stakeholders in building bridges for peace in Nepal. The specific objectives of the seminar were to:

1. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Nepalese peace process;

2. Estimate the role of religion in conflict mediation;

3. Analyze the relationship between federalism and economic development;

4. Discuss the constitution making as a mechanism of peace;

5. Identify the role of media in conflict resolution; and

6. Analyze the challenges faced by Nepalese journalists in conflict mediation.

The Seminar

The two-day seminar was organized on 6 & 7 October, 2009 at the prestigious institution - Centre for Constitutional Dialogue (CCD), Buddha Nagar, Kathmandu. Major participants of the seminar were intellectuals, including CA members, academicians, political activists, journalists, Janajatis, Dalits and women from Madhesh and different other parts of Nepal. Important electronic media including Headlines & Music FM 97.2 Mhz and Nepal One covered news of the seminar. Similarly, Gorkhapatra national daily, the Telegraph Weekly and Visleshan Fortnightly also covered news of the seminar.

Inaugural Function

The Inaugural function of the two-day seminar on "Building Bridges for Peace" started in the morning at 9:00 on 6 October 2009. Hari Bansh Jha, Executive Director of CETS presided over the function. The noted spiritual saint and philosopher of Nepal, Swami Chandresh was the Chief Guest on this occasion.

Welcoming the guests and participants, Man B. K., National Manager, CCD highlighted the importance of the seminar. He expressed hope that the seminar would contribute positively in restoring peace in the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Sarita Giri, President of Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi Devi) and Constituent Assembly member said that conflict hardly occurred in the democratic and undemocratic system. It has a tendency to grow in the semi-democratic system. She added that the major political challenge in Nepal was that the larger parties were not open as they made decisions behind the door. As a result, such parties had little interest in addressing serious national issues such as federalism. It was, therefore, doubtful if there would be buyer of the constitution even if it was approved by two-thirds majority of CA members.

In his remarks, Dev Raj Dahal, FES representative in Nepal revealed that the political dead-lock as seen in the country was not the outcome of politics, but anti-politics. Unfortunately, the politics in Nepal was based on fear psychosis in which spiritual energy was missing. Peace policy required a coalition of peace promoters in which media, civil society, international community and civic groups needed to serve as bridge builders.

In his inaugural address, Swami Chandresh remarked that Nepal was still one of the peaceful countries in the world. However, he said peace in itself was not enough. He classified peace into four categories such as tamoguni peace, rajoguni peace, satoguni peace and eternal peace. He added that there prevailed only tamoguni peace in the country until recently, which was of lower nature. People in such a state largely lived in slumber. On the other hand, under the influence of rajoguni peace, people are more involved in constructive activities such as building health, education, development and infrastructural facilities to make their life more comfortable. In the state of satoguni peace, innovative ideas are generated for the welfare of the people. And finally, in the state of eternal peace, people enjoy the fruits of peace living in eternity. He said that the resent leadership in Nepal had little love left for the people. So what was needed most in the country was to build the character of the people.

Hari Bansh Jha, Executive Director of Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS) and co-ordinator of the seminar stated that the two-day seminar would be able to generate ideas that would be useful to the concerned bodies to restore peace in the country. He thanked Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) for supporting the seminar and also to CCD for certain logistic support. Besides, he also expressed heartfelt thanks to the paper writers, guests and above all the participants for their support to make the seminar successful.

Seminar Sessions

There were six sessions in the two-day seminar. The paper writers presented their papers and the commentators made their observations on the main theme of the papers in free, frank and fearless manner without any prejudice.

First Session

The first session of the seminar started in the morning at 11 on 6 October 2009, which was presided over by Chitralekha Yadav, Former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Nepal. Uma Shankar Prasad, Lecturer in Economics, CEDA, T.U. made his presentation on "Constitution as a Mechanism for Peace Building in Nepal."

While presenting his paper, Uma Shankar Prasad said that all the constitutions made in Nepal in the past including the Interim Constitution 2007 failed to follow the basic principles required for successful constitution making as they excluded the roles and participation of marginalized groups. Therefore, he wanted the new constitution to have provision and scope for the inclusion of all marginalized communities in the decision-making process of the country.

From the floor, Akhileshwor Prasad Singh remarked that the new constitution needed to follow the principles of positive discrimination.

Dambar Narayan Yadav pointed out that the major political actors in the country were not serious about making constitution. They were, rather, serious about grabbing power.

Sambhu S. Rana asked as to what would be the worst case scenario in Nepal if constitution was not made till due date in 2010.

Gajanand Agrawal wanted the constitution to address the problem of hundreds of thousands of Madheshis who were still deprived of citizenship certificates in Terai.

Narayan Prasad Mishra said that discrimination with the people of Karnali or Madhesh was done by the rulers.

Kunjilal Yadav said that the concept of federalism as developed by major political parties was of Panchayat style.

Pushpa Thakur commented that the reservation for certain groups of people should not be made on the basis of caste.

Lalbabu Yadav said that peace returned to certain countries like in Mozambique after the constitution was made, but it was not so in other countries. He further added that constitution making was the work of the experts. The CA members should just discuss the issues related to constitution and make amendments, wherever needed. Statesmanship was needed to make constitution, which, however was lacking in Nepal. In the emerging situation, if we go by federalism, constitution cannot be be made. And if we go by constitution, federalism cannot be made.

Keshab Kumar Jha asked how peace can be maintained in Nepal when the armed groups in Terai are mushrooming. Grabbing power and not making constitution is the main objective of the politicians. The paper does not refer anything that would help make constitution and contribute towards peace, he added.

Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya said that peace would be elusive, if constitution was not made. Federalism gives ownership in state. Language and ethnicity should be the basis for the formation of federal states.

Shanti Mishra asked how the political parties would bring an end to intra-party conflict. If they cannot do it within the parties, how can they address peace issue at the national level?

Shushil Kant Jha commented that there was serious mistake in CA towards making constitution. Its very purpose was defeated as the people could not understand questionnaires that were sent to them to collect their opinions. Besides, no one knew how the report was made based on such faulty questionnaires.

Commenting on the paper, Sarita Giri said that the paper needed to address the challenges of constitution making.

Binit Kumar Jha said that since the intention of making constitution was questionable, it was likely that the constitution would not serve much of the purpose.

Prakash A. Raj said that Nepali was not the language of only Brahmins and Chhetris, but it was also the language of other communities in Nepal.

Uma Shankar Prasad addressed all the queries raised from the floor satisfactorily. In her remarks as chairperson of the session, Chitralekha Yadav said that the foremost job of CA was to make constitution. However, the major political actors were interested just in falling and forming the governments. Until CA members were committed, constitution would not be made. Therefore, the Nepalese constitution should incorporate the feelings of people from all the regions, religions, age groups, and for this we needed to have honest and committed political actors, she said.

Second Session

During the second session of the seminar, Keshab Prasad Chaulagain made is presentation on "Conflict Transformation into Peace through Religion." Chuda Bahadur Shrestha presided over this session.

In his paper, Keshab Prasad Chaulagain said that each religion, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain, Christianity and Islam focused on peace. The religious community in Nepal could make contribution by pursuing the people to attain higher level of welfare of the state. They needed to do so as per the maxim Janani Najma Bhumischa Swargad Api Gariyesi meaning that the mother and the birth place are lovelier than the paradise. Besides, the religious community might create pressure by forging solidarity among the followers of different religious groups in Nepal for peace. They might also prepare a religious calendar and give a call for stopping violence on festive day. Since each month in a year has festive days, there should be no day left for violence.

While making comments on the paper, Narayan Prasad Dhakal stated that Nepal should again be declared a Hindu state as secularism would not work in the country.

Prakash A. Raj said that people from legal background should be nominated in yet to be constituted Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Quoting certain survey report, Lalbabu Yadav said that 80% of the Hindus are in favour of Hindu state and 90% Janajatis are in favour of secularism.

Bhakta Bahadur Balayar wanted that Hindu organizations needed to be rejuvenated and strengthened as people from other faiths had been attacking Hinduism aggressively.

Gajadhar Sunar said that untouchability had its roots in religious sector. As such, the Dalits were having more degraded life than even the dogs.

Shailendra K. Upadhyaya stated that in Nepal many people converted to other religious faiths due to poverty.

Mahesh Kumar Upadhyaya stated that the youth force was fleeing the country as we could not restore value system. While we preached Sarbdharm Samanwya meaning co-existence of all religions, extremism was also growing like Talibanism in the country. Religious conversion was promoted partly due to petro-dollar and partly due to green dollar of the affluent society of the West.

Other participants in the seminar including Narayan Prasad Mishra, Priyanka Pandey, Ram Kumar Khatri, Kunjilal Yadav, Trilok S. Thapa, Birendra Prasad Mishra, Binit Kumar Jha, Punya Prasad Dangal and Keshab Prasad Chaulagain also made comments on the paper, which the author responded satisfactorily. In his remarks as Chairman of the session, Chuda Bahadur Shrestha emphasized the role of religion in transforming conflict into peace.

Third Session

The third session of the seminar opened up with the presentation made by Hari Bansh Jha on "Federalism and Economic Development in Terai." Sakuntala Kadirgamar Rajasingham, Research Fellow, Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, T.U. and Dambar Narayan Yadav presided over the session.

In his paper, Hari Bansh Jha mentioned that the great majority of the Nepalese population, including the disadvantaged groups like the Madheshis have developed a feeling that only federalism would empower them. Many of these people have perceived federalism as recognition of their religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity. However federalism should not be taken as panacea of all the ills. It does not guarantee overall development and prosperity of a country. What it merely does is that it creates conducive environment of self-rule whereby development opportunities tend to get generated. In Nepalese context, the federal units need to be made on the solid ground of geography and economy. Complications might arise if ethnic, linguistic and other such factors are considered in the process of restructuring of the states. It would be worthwhile if only three states are established in the country on the basis of geo-economic structure like the Terai State, the Hill State and the Himalayan State. The economy and ecology based comparative advantage of the three belts can be harvested if the states are organized horizontally from east to west Nepal.

During the floor discussion, Pushpa Thakur, Dwarika Dhungel, Shankar Malla, Mahesh Kumar Upadhyaya, Bhakta Bahadur Balayar, Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya, Keshab Raj Panthee, Uma Shankar Prasad, Sushil Kant Jha, Ram Kumar Khatri, Binit Kumar Jha, Trilok S. Thapa and Narayan Prasad Dhakal made comments and suggestions on the paper.

Meena Acharya commented that she was very much for federalism because it would give more power to local people to manage their own affairs all over the country. But federation should be built on the basis of mutual respect among various groups of the population and not on acrimony. Grievances must be addressed, but these must be based on real situation and not politics for politics sake.

The author responded the queries from the floor. Finally, in their remarks as co-chairpersons of the session Sakuntala Kadirgamar Rajasingham and Dambar Narayan Yadav dwelt on how the Nepalese could contribute towards restructuring the federal states.

Fourth Session

The fourth session of the seminar began at 9:00 a.m. on 7 October 2009. It was presided over by Mohan Prasad Lohani, Former Ambassador. In this session, Aditya Man Shrestha, Journalist presented his paper on "Role of media in conflict resolution in Nepal."

In his paper, Aditya Man Shrestha observed that during the armed conflict in Nepal the media was sandwiched between the conflicting parties. It could not play proper role because some parts of the media were far from independent. Therefore, it would be imperative that the media remain free and independent from the conflicting parties. A free, credible and unbiased media not only mitigates the conflict but also goes a long way in resolving it, he added.

During the floor discussion, Shambhu S. Rama stated that it was unfortunate that the media had also been involved in creating conflict. Managing media is a problem in Nepal, he added.

Mahabir Prasad Singh told that there has been urbanization of journalism. It gives space to news such as on Prachanda or Girija Koirala, but it hardly focuses on serious national issues such as migration of population, poverty and other such aspects.

Chuda Bahadur Shrestha added that the Nepalese constitution making process was costlier than even writing constitution in America.

Keshab Kumar Jha observed that the journalists could not play the role that it was expected in conflict time. The journalists must write truth. This is the main responsibility of the journalists. However, 95% of the media in Nepal are biased against Madhesh and Madheshis.

Dambar Narayan Yadav noted that the media had the same characteristics as that of nation, which is largely influenced by power and money.

Kailash Deo stated that time had come to assess if the Nepalese media brought about conflict in the country or it intensified conflict.

Trilok S. Thapa stated that there was monopoly of big house in media sector. It was feared if such media houses would help intensify conflict. They gave focus to Kathmandu, but did not collect news on Madhesh, Janajatis, etc. Ethics should govern them.

Damodar Gautam said that the Nepalese media was under the influence of national and international money.

Narayan Prasad Dhakal observed that the journalists should think in long run perspective for the nation.

Gajanand Agrawal noted that nationalism spoiled the nation. He noted that certain journalists were responsible for the pitiable condition of the country.

Pushpa Thakur, Keshab Prasad Chaulagain, Narayan Prasad Mishra, Prakash A. Raj, Ram Kumar Khatri, Shanti Mishra, Ganga Thapa and Hemanta Jha made some important observations on the paper.

Aditya Man Shrestha replied all the queries from the floor. In his remarks as chairperson of the session, Mohan Prasad Lohani expressed satisfaction for the active participation made by the participants.

Fifth Session

During the fifth session of the seminar, Birendra Prasad Mishra made his presentation on "Strengths and Weaknesses of Nepalese Peace Process." Senior leader of CPN-UML, Ram Chandra Jha, presided over the session.

In his paper, Birendra Prasad Mishra mentioned the background of the People's war of CPN (M) that began in 1996. In the decade-long war, 16,278 people were killed. In order to restore peace in the country, the first negotiation between the government and the rebel groups took place on 25 July 2001 followed by second negotiation on 27 April 2003 and third negotiation on 17 August 2003. However, the armed conflict took a decisive turn with the signing of the 12-point understanding on 22 November 2005 by the Seven-party Alliance (SPA). Since insurgency had affected political, social and economic conditions of the common people, the peace process succeeded in providing great relief to the peace-craving people. However, the lack of interest in monitoring, non-implementation of the provisions of CPA, non-execution of agreements signed, failure in law and order situation and failure in owning the peace process were found to be the major weaknesses of the peace process.

During the floor discussion, Pushpa Thakur observed that in the negotiations with the armed groups, the women should also be included. They can do better. However, this does not mean that incapable women should be there.

Binit Kumar Jha questioned if Nepal was heading towards the line of Afghanistan?

Man Bahadur Sirpali wanted to know what needed to be done for the rehabilitation of disqualified Maoist combatants.

Ganga Bahadur Thapa wanted to know about the nature of external form of peace process in the Nepalese context.

Ram Dayal Rakesh questioned about the role of Special Security in peace process?

Other participants who raised certain queries on the main theme of the paper included Prakash A. Raj, Ram Kumar Khatri, J. P. Kenung, Shanti Mishra, Keshab Prasad Chaulagain, Chuda Bahadur Shrestha, Shambhu S. Rana, Narayan Prasad Mishra, Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya, Dambar Narayan Yadav and Sushil Kant Jha.

Birendra Prasad Mishra tried to satisfy all the queries raised from the floor. In his remarks as chairperson of the session, Ram Chandra Jha stated that there was transition period in the country. Under such a situation, it was difficult for any person to say how the conflict would be transformed into peace. However, many of the developments had been moving towards consensus in the country. PLA was of course important. But more important was the issue of restructuring of the state, he added.

Sixth Session

During the sixth session of the seminar, Suraj Bhattarai presented the paper "Challenges of Journalists in Conflict Resolution" on behalf of Dharmendra Jha, President of Federation of Nepali Journalists. Noted economist and journalist, Bhavani Prasad Dhungana chaired the session.

In his paper, Dharmendra Jha had pointed out that the journalists and the media institutions became the victims of various attacks. Attacking media houses, vandalizing vehicles, torching newspapers, smashing media equipments and stopping newspaper publications were some of the incidents worth to be noted. In the past few years, professional journalism in Mid Madhesh and eastern hills had faced serious crisis due to impunity, insecurity and self censorship. The women journalists were targeted most in the eastern Terai region. It was, however, not yet known why it was so. Under such a situation, the press right was not possible unless the citizen's rights were first secured. Hence, the press had always supported civil movements. Press movement, which was directly associated with the civil movement, focused on ensuring professionalism and commercial security.

During the floor discussion, Narayan Prasad Dhakal stated that the Nepalese media did not cover important events, but it talks so much of minor events.

Pushpa Thakur added that the media published social evils a lot. But it did not cover many of the issues related to violence against women or exploitation of women in the families.

Anjala Jha told that there was no system of punishing those who published wrong news.

In his remarks as chairperson of the session, Bhawani Dhungana said that there had been major development in media sector in Nepal over the past years. However, the media was largely responsible for dramatizing and fuelling conflict in Nepal. The conflict situation was there but it was not as fearful as it was projected by the media.

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