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Sebastian Von Einsiedel, David M. Malone & Suman Pardhan, Nepal in Transition From People’s War to Fragile Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 398.

Reviewed by:  Padmini Tomer (S.B.S.B.M.University College, Sardulgarh, Mansa, Punjab, India)

Nepal, a small country situated between two of the fastest rising global powers of South Asia, India and China, has been caught in an internal struggle for peace, development, and justice for the past six decades. Two failed democratization attempts and thirty years of dictatorship by a monarch led this country towards a Maoist insurgency, geopolitical struggle, and political instability. From the year 1996 onwards, the country witnessed ten years of civil war followed by the reinstitution of absolute monarchy that lead to the critical transition of Nepal. Nepal in Transition from People’s War to Fragile Peace describes the upheavals in Nepal over the past decade and explores the role of international players in those developments. The editors of this book, Sebastian Von Einsiedel (a former political affairs officer on a UN political mission), David M. Malone (a non-resident envoy to Nepal), and Suman Pradhan (a journalist turned international public servant) share a common goal -to participate in Nepal’s peace process. In this volume, the editors discuss three stages of Nepal’s transition: geopolitical struggle playing out in the region; Maoist insurgency and their political involvement; and, finally, international efforts in peace making carried out by NGO’s, the UN Secretary General, and India. This volume critically evaluates the transition period in Nepal and the role played by international community in the peace process.

Mass Rally Organized in Nepal to Expedite Constitution Drafting Process. photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Samsujata.

The book argues that the initial Maoist insurgency in Nepal and a political process in which Maoist join politics, set a valuable example for many countries undergoing a similar transition. However, as the book demonstrates, Nepal’s transitions have been followed by a long period of bloodshed. The authors argue that the first milestone year responsible for the current transition was 1846, when Mulki Ain (Civil Code) was introduced. Before the implementation of the Civil Code the monarchy prevailed. Two more attempts to achieve democracy were carried out in 1959 and 1990. These attempts added fuel to the movement that supported Nepal’s transition. The editors opined that the civil code, introduced at that time, was responsible for the discrimination and marginalization of large parts of the population.

Ten years of civil war that started in 1996 by the Maoist groups is portrayed as another nail in the coffin that led to multiple causalities of innocent people. The editors propose two types of causes that triggered civil war – structural factors and mid-term proximate causes. Structural causes (also known as long term factors) include poverty, inequality, low GDP, and a low Human Development Index. Short term or midterm proximate causes include an unstable political condition for democracy, lack of representation for the marginalized groups in society, and corruption, including artificial scarcity created by corrupt people.

The authors also argue that Nepal’s transition was influenced by the outsider community that supported the transition, including India. To a large extent, the authors saw India as a big supporter of Nepal before, during and after transition. But, somehow, they defined the role of India in Nepal’s transition and peace process as very dominating. The support provided by Indian communist party and the national congress (Democratic IndiraCongress) to protestors during Civil war added fuel to the pro-democracy movement. The authors further opined that excessive interference and excessive meddling by the Indian government in political process gave rise to resentment in Nepal. To some extent these arguments are acceptable because after a long history of internal instability – mainly due to top-down society structure, horizontal inequalities, regional deprivations, and caste polarization – a country, like Nepal, has no more strength to stand on its own feet. In the shadow of neighbors like India and China,whichare the fastest growing global powers, Nepal continuously struggle to show its presence on the world map.

UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) Conducts Disarmament Exercise. photo credit: UN Photo/Agnieszka Mikulska.

This book is divided into three sections. The first section examines the Maoist insurgency, the prospects of the two armed forces (People’s Liberation Army and Royal Nepalese Army), and the role played by the international donor communityin Nepal’s development. This section also provides insight into three critical dimensions of conflict: political nature, development regimes with more illegitimate state, and Maoist role in politics. It also highlights a potential path for Nepal’s development and analyzes the role of natural resources in a sustainable development. An overview of Nepal’s diverse ethnic make-up and the impact of ethnic politics on the peace process are also discussed in this section. The author Deepak Thapa argues that the social political background shaped by the deprivation of a large part of society in Nepalis the main reason behind Maoists’ emergence. Another reason is thepolitical opportunity, where Maoists had political space that could be used to generate public support for their cause.

The second section of this volume assesses the role and efficacy of international actors’ peacemaking efforts and their capacity to create space for dialogue. The authors discuss the role of India, the United Nations, and the Human Rights commission. Catinca Slavu and Bhojraj Pokhrel  examine a scenario of constituent assembly election in 1990 and provide a unique inside perspective on the constituent assembly election. Additionally, this section provides a detailed story behind Maoists’ transformation.

United Nations Mission in Nepal – Nepalese Electoral Advisers Assist Commission Prepare for Elections. photo credit: UN Photo/Mukunda Bogati.

The last section is the most important as it deals with the regional dynamics. This section analyzes Nepal’s relation with India and China. It also discusses India’s role in facilitating the negotiations and examines the role of outside actors like the UN, China, and the United States. The discussion in this section suggests that an outsider who participates in Nepal’s peace process has his own personal interest that brings political instability to Nepal.

This volume concludes that civil war in Nepal was domestically driven. It also illustrates that a continuous transformation is beginning to take placeafter multiple transitions from war to peace. After regular ups and downs, the development scenario in Nepal is encouraging. Today’s situation is just like ceasefire that cannot be quelled by a restored parliament due to the existence of two formerly opposed armies in Nepal. The editors suggested that an election in Nepal was an important achievement. However, the election remains symbolic until it fulfills its promiseto develop a new constitution. Moreover, the authors opined that liberalism leads to democracy, yet it is not sure that democracy will result in constitutional liberalism. Furthermore, Maoists’, who are the game changers in Nepal, face public opposition within the party’s leadership.

UNMIN Prepares for Elections in Nepal. photo credit: UN Photo/Stephen Malloch.

Many authors in this volume think that traditional political parties withidealistically inclined politicians did not bring change to Nepal’s politics and that most of these politicians are just self-interested. The authors compare Nepal’s condition with Lebanon, which is also encircled by two powerful neighbors. This volume suggests that Nepal should profit from a maturing economic relationship with China. It also highlights that Chinese policy of penetration into India’s sphere of influence is India’s problem. Moreover, all of the authors in this book agree with the fact that the UNMIN yielded desired results and that this mission playeda significant role in the peace process and assembly elections in Nepal. Some authors reveal that financial aid by international donors over the past few decades could not address local needs and challenges. They propose that aid strengthens traditional elites and fuels patronage networks. The authors also suggest that donors must revisit their engagement in Nepal and design strategies in such a way that address the specific challenges of the country. They also point to certain areas like hydropower, agriculture and tourism that can be helpful in the economic development of the country. Although a considerable time is required to alter dynamics of Nepali politics and to achieve sustainability in peace process, this volume provides an in-depth assessment of Nepal’s transition and present it as a valuable case study for those countries undergoing a similar transition. The subject matter is very impressive and beneficial for both academics and practitioners.