There’s more to Oli-Dahal rift than meets the eye

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Former Maoists are concerned about government’s plan to deal with war-era cases, party insiders say

Three years ago the then Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre) was a key partner in then CPN-UML coalition led by KP Sharma Oli. On May 4, 2016, the Maoists made a sudden move, calling for the formation of what it called a national consensus government under the party—and its Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The Oli government sensed an imminent danger. Last-minute negotiations—and a nine-point deal between the UML and the Maoists on May 5–saved the government.

Two of the nine points in the deal were related to transitional justice. The third point said that a concrete work plan, including law amendments, would be prepared within 15 days to move the transitional justice process forward in the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The seventh point called for withdrawing conflict-era cases from the court and aimed to grant amnesty to those involved in serious human rights violations. This deal, in particular, drew the attention of the international community, human rights activists and conflict victims, all of whom opposed the coalition’s plan to grant amnesty.

The nine-point agreement, however, could not save the coalition for long. The Maoist party pulled out of the Oli government on July, 2016 saying “it did not show any signs of implementing past agreements including the nine-point pact.”

The coalition then was an outcome of convenience rather than conviction. Maoist leaders had little trust in the UML. On May 3, 2016, while addressing the House, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, then general secretary of the Maoist party, said that the government was conspiring to send Maoist leaders to jail by reviving war-era cases.

More than a year later the two parties in October 2017 decided to join hands, this time to form a united communist force, which ultimately became the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Their leftist alliance swept the elections that year. Oli is the prime minister and party co-chair. Dahal is another co-chair.

But relations between the two leaders have soured in recent weeks. Though its genesis, as it has come to the fore, is a series of statements on Venezuela, transitional justice is one issue which many party insiders believe is creating a rift between the two leaders.

Dahal on Friday launched vitriolic attacks on the Oli administration. Speaking at a book launch, Dahal warned that the country could see the birth of another Maoist force if the peace process and constitution were treated lightly.

The Oli-Dahal rift in the party is apparent now, but insiders said the acerbic remarks from Dahal showed how the spectre of the bloody war was haunting him again.

A ruling party leader told the Post that Dahal was finding himself trapped.

A statement last month by the foreign missions in Kathmandu, at the initiative of the United Nations, calling on the Nepal government to clarify its plans to take the transitional justice process forward in 2019 and ensure broader consultation with the stakeholders has put Dahal at unease, the former UML leader who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Post.

Multiple leaders in the ruling party--both former UML and Maoist members--confirmed to the Post that there is a growing distrust between Dahal and Oli on the issue of transitional justice.

The mandates of the two transitional bodies have been extended by another year, and they are set to have new officials. But the law is yet to be amended in line with the 2015 Supreme Court verdict and international obligations.

A former Maoist commander told the Post that Dahal was not happy with the way the Oli administration was planning to take the transitional justice process forward. “The government wants to settle all the war-era issues through a special court, which will look into all the cases and finalise them with symbolic punishment,” he told the Post. “This is not what Dahal wants. Dahal is for settling war-era cases by punishing a handful of ‘convicts’.”

On Friday, Dahal expressed his fear about police actions against the spirit of the peace agreement. “These days I am hearing police are moving cases forward one after another… in violation of the intent and spirit of the peace agreement,” Dahal said. “I don’t want to go into details… but I think I must draw attention.”

Dahal was referring to a recent incident in Dolakha. The District Attorney’s Office on January 13 registered a case against Shankar Lama, a former Maoist leader, at the Dolakha District Court for the murder of Chakra Bahadur Budhathoki of Fasku on January 15, 1999.

Political analysts say Dahal’s unease does emanate from the January statement by the United Nations and several foreign missions as well as the recent government actions.

“There is a feeling among former Maoists that they are being cornered. Some people involved in the war--including those from Netra Bikram Chand’s party--have been arrested. They also feel that some new laws are not to their liking,” Hari Roka, a political analyst and former lawmaker in the Constituent Assembly from the Maoist quota, told the Post. “Who wants to go to jail declaring oneself a war-criminal? This unease in Dahal is but obvious.”

A Standing Committee member in the ruling party, who has historically played a crucial role in the former Maoist party, told the Post on Saturday that a briefing to Dahal that the Oli administration was working on some provisions of transitional justice which could be against the former Maoists had agitated the former rebel leader. “This could be one of the reasons for Dahal’s strong statement on Friday,” he said. “Also, Oli’s television interview provoked Dahal to some extent.”

A Standing Committee member of the ruling party and former UML leader said Oli’s interview with the national television on Wednesday, saying there was no need (for Dahal) to issue a statement when he was in Davos, Switzerland was read by the former Maoist chief as Oli’s bid to appease the world powers.

“It looks like Dahal feels he is trapped… as Oli believes the United States and the European Union are against the former Maoist leader,” the leader said.

Twelve years since the signing of the peace agreement, political leaders in Nepal has dragged their feet about concluding the transitional justice process as victims endlessly wait. While leaders are never tired of branding the peace process as “homegrown”, their commitment to concluding it has not been up to the mark, say conflict victims and rights activists.

There is a growing concern among the former Maoist leaders, who are now members of the ruling communist party, that the top Maoist leadership could be dragged to the court.

“The command system was clear during the days of war,” said the former Maoist commander, now a Central Committee member of the NCP. “It was the central committee of the Maoist party that was authorised to ‘decide’ actions against ‘the enemies’--except in some rare and special cases where the regional bureau would decide--and the top leadership will be in the soup when war-era cases are moved forward.”

At the book launch, Dahal repeatedly called for “honest implementation of the peace agreement”. “If anyone believes the Maoists have been gradually thrown out of the picture, that will be unfortunate. Another Maoist force could emerge which will pose even a bigger threat. There is a need to implement the peace agreement honestly,” Dahal said.

Haribol Gajurel, a Standing Committee member in the ruling party who is close to Dahal, said there have been quite a lot of manoeuvrings of late to derail the peace process and to trap the Maoists as well as to wedge a division in the party.

“In Friday’s statement, Dahal was pointing at some foreign power centres who are trying to create a division within the party. National and international forces are making moves to derail the peace process and trap the Maoists,” Gajurel told the Post on Saturday.

Until recently Dahal and Oli were said to be on the same page when it came to the transitional justice process. In August 2016, days after Dahal’s party pulled out of then Oli government, he had told the Post in an interview: “Views that Maoists are afraid of transitional justice are flawed.”

Dahal, according to Roka, now fears Oli could toe the US and EU line. “This, the former Maoist leader believes, would not let the reconciliation process move forward the way he wants,” said Roka.

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  • There’s more to Oli-Dahal rift than meets the eye

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