Murari Sharma: Confrontation will Harm Opposition More

Nepal is hurtling swiftly towards a political cliff. Failing to find consensus with the opposition front, the ruling coalition has initiated the process of approving the new constitution by the two-thirds majority, as provided in the Interim Constitution. Angered by it, the front has walked away from the Constituent Assembly, spurned Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s call for dialogue and hit the street. Confrontation is in the air.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal has warned that heads would be lacerated, limbs broken, vehicles destroyed, and life disrupted if the government follows the process. The ambitious opposition leader and Maoist chairman has refused to talk until the ruling parties scrap the process and commit to formulate the constitution only by consensus. The CA Speaker has already put the process on hold, but the government cannot commit to nullify a constitutional provision.

What is more, consensus is impossible to achieve. In CA, the fourth largest party wants to reinstate monarchy and restore Hinduism as state religion. Some parties are totally opposed to federalism. The CA members of the far western region, from across the parties, want a state touching China in the north and India in the south. Communist parties are uncompromising on secularism and republicanism. The two-thirds majority will be inevitable to resolve these differences.

Yet, there is nothing wrong for the front to bargain with the ruling coalition through peaceful and constitutional means. But Dahal’s incitement of violence is illegal, unethical and wrong and his demand  for negating an Article of the Interim Constitution is unconstitutional. Maybe, this should not surprise anyone, because our leaders put themselves above the law, like our royal family did before 2008.

Anyway, the opposition protests are unlikely to draw broad public support. First, people are sick and tired of never-ending protests and mayhem and have no appetite for more. Second, the front’s demand — political control of the judiciary, proportional representation, executive presidency and ethnic states — do not resonate with the masses.

People abhor the idea of political control over the judiciary. They have no enthusiasm for the executive presidency and for Dahal to occupy it. According to a recent Tribhuvan University survey of 98 ethnic groups, only 22.4 percent people know about proportional representation and only 20.1 percent about federalism. Lacking issue-based public support, the opposition has played victim by accusing the ruling parties of flouting previous accords to win public sympathy.

But it is unlikely to take the front too far. Both sides have breached them. Actually, the Maoists were the first to break in 2008 the commitment to run the government and write the constitution by consensus, as contained in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and to walk away from the understanding on the contentious issues in the previous CA. The Madheshi parties have also departed from the “One Madhesh, One Pradesh” agreement.

That brings me to the confrontation, which will ruin both sides. Lacking spontaneous public support to its program, the front will be forced to hire paid professional protesters to show strength and encourage them to break shops, burn vehicles and prevent the sick from visiting hospitals to provoke police action, so it can accuse the government of using excessive force and breaching human rights and generate outrage at home and abroad. But it may prove counterproductive to the front.

The government will also be hurt by the protests, but not as much as the opposition. Whether it controls violence or not, it will be criticised . If it does not, the public will blame it for the dereliction of duty, the destruction of their property and the disruption of their life. If it does, it may result in injuries and even a loss of life. After the 22 January target to promulgate the document gone, the government has the luxury of time and number on its side. It still has nearly three and half years left to finish the task. If push comes to shove, it also has the two-thirds majority to approve the statute.

The only scenario in which the constitution would not be written by this CA is the break in the ruling coalition. It is probable but not possible. The coalition partners know that, if they do not deliver the statute, it would be suicidal for them. People will punish them in the next elections, as they had the Maoists last time, and reward the pro-monarchy and pro-Hindu forces. The rise of Kamal Thapa’s party in the last vote and the former king’s recent demand for a role too obvious to miss.

That means the achievements of the 2006 political change — republic, secularism, federalism — will be in jeopardy. To prevent this prospect, the ruling and opposition parties ought to demonstrate flexibility, seek further compromise, avoid confrontation, and produce a constitution quickly. If the standoff is allowed to continue, it will hurt both sides, but it will damage the Maoist-led front more.

Here is how. Pushed against the wall, the ruling coalition will adopt the constitution by resorting to the process, and swiftly call and handily win the next general election. But the opposition will have nothing to show but anger and disappointment and will have no level playing field for the next vote. Voters often support the leaders and parties that present hope, not despair.

Despite this possibility, the government should try its best to take the opposition on board so the constitution will be accepted by the broadest spectrum of political actors. At the same time, the opposition should not hold the train at the station forever simply because it may leave the station without taking some of its agendas on board. If one train leaves this time, there will another train coming in next five years. The Aam Admi Party — which has won 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi — shows that the next train could arrive pretty quickly.

Therefore, the opposition front should sit down for unconditional negotiation and seek agreement with the ruling parties, register its  dissent on the areas of disagreement, let the constitution go forward, claim credit for it, and level the playing field for the next election. If they win the two-thirds majority next time, they can then amend the constitution as they like. They must not hold the constitution hostage and push the country over the cliff.


Murari Sharma: How Long Will Wars Continue?

Marx has said, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” One may quibble about this statement, but there is little doubt that the history of mankind is the history of wars. The Treaty of Westphalia, the League of Nations or the United Nations has not eliminated wars. Wars between states have reduced after the collapse of the communist bloc, but civil wars have become more common. The age-old quest for permanent peace continues to remain elusive.

Clausewitz defines war as “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” Although the weaker party may provoke the stronger into war with its pinpricks, the latter declares war on the former. In civil war, the weaker party tries to force its will on the stronger opponent through opportunistic guerilla attacks. Though it may sound simplistic to suggest that wars and civil wars are the two sides of the same coin, they actually are. One often leads to the other if the stakeholders do not widely agree on the settlement of the existing crisis.

Take, for instance, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Taliban started civil war and captured Kabul with the help of Al-Qaida; western countries declared war against the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan; after the Taliban were chased out of power, they started civil war again. The Kurds began civil war in Iraq; the western countries first declared a no-fly-zone over the Kurd area and then launched a full-scale attack on Baghdad; now the Islamic State has started civil war against the Baghdad regime. Libya has taken a similar route. Syria will do the same. The Ukrainian civil war might have already escalated into war, except that Russia has not formally declared its involvement there. What next? It depends on the settlement.

Why do wars continue? To impose one’s will on others, as Clausewitz says, is only part of the answer. There are several other reasons as well. Trade in arms is one. Although arms trade ($43 billion dollars in 2013) is miniscule compared to the international trade in commodities ($18.8 trillion), it is one of the most profitable trades. It is largely a sellers’ market in which they can dictate the terms of trade and set the price. So arms exporters would not want wars, and profit from arms sales, to be things of the past.

Another reason is that, to sell weapons, the producers have to prove to the buyers the worth of their products sold at the often-exorbitant price. Though controlled experiments may give some clue, they do not offer the same insight about the arms’ killing capacity and range, as do the live uses in a real war. For instance, America tested its atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their bunker-buster bomb in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Yet another reason is political influence and market access. Since the sellers dictate the terms of trade, imported weapons arrive with political influence on their back. No wonder, the largest five arms exporters — the United States, Russia, Germany, China, and France (2009-13) — are also most influential nations. Political influence is crucial, for it gives such countries access to the markets for their other products and services and to the raw materials in the buyer nations. These countries would not want to lose their influence by not producing and selling arms.

Finally, war is a gargantuan industry. It employs millions of people around the world directly and indirectly and contributes to the growth of other industries. For instance, in the United States alone, there are more than a million people in uniform and an equal number in defense related civilian workforce. US arms producer sell nearly $250 billion dollar weapons to the American and foreign governments; the largest ten of them have in their payroll more than a million people; the rest employ as many or more people.

Arms industry also contributes to the invention of commercial products and services. The global positioning system, jeeps, telegraphy, radar, microwave oven, drones, nylon, canned food, air travels, the Internet, etc. are some of the military inventions that have been innovated into commercial products and services. There products have earned billions of dollars for the inventors and innovators. Those countries benefiting from such inventions and innovations would not want the wars go away and military investment in technology development vanish.

If the arms producer and exporter countries want wars to continue, why do they talk about peace? Well, they have other interests too, besides selling arms. As mentioned already, they want to win political influence and access to market for non-arms products and to raw material are some reasons. Besides, they want to open investment opportunities and protect their investment in the rest of the world as well. Once they have won political influence, they seek peace to advance their other interests.

Powerful countries try to stir trouble in those nations where their opponents hold sway. They support anti-government forces with money and weapons to start civil war there. When the opponent-supported regime is pulled down and the opponent is driven out, the victor may sell weapons to both sides, as the United States is doing to Israel and Arab states, or one sides, as most in other cases. Sometimes neighboring countries suffer the collateral damage. For instance, western countries have fomented ethnic trouble in Nepal to stir Tibet and destabilize China.

During the Cold War, the two superpowers — United States and USSR — supported their client states in the Third World to wage war against each other in which their weapons and strategy could be tested. In 2009-13, they are still the largest exporters of arms: US share in arms trade was 29 percent, followed by Russia’s 27 percent and Germany’s 7 percent. Other large exporters of arms are China, France, and the United Kingdom. Now these nations often support intra-state wars.

Powerful countries tray to bring into their fold those states that have deep pockets to spend on arms, that are engaged in conflict, or that have strategic materials like oil, gas, uranium, etc. No wonder, the largest importer of arms during 2009-13 was India (conflict with Pakistan and threat from China), followed by China (threat from the United States and Russia), Pakistan (conflict with India and terrorist threats), and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (both rich in oil and gas, deep in pockets, and frightened with Iran and Israel).

There is a convergence of interest between arms sellers and buyers. The former want profit and political influence and the latter want increased offensive and defensive capacities with imported weapons. As long as this convergence continues, there will be wars and conflicts. Countries with most powerful weapons do not fight with each other due to the fear of mutually assured destruction; so they induce proxy conflicts where there is none in the name of rights, dignities or something else. Such wars make the arms seller richer and more powerful and the buyers poorer and less powerful.

The world is run by the rich and powerful. In an anarchic realm of international relations, they mercilessly pursue their national interest, which might be presented in an ethical and moral wrap. The UNESCO Constitution says, “. . . since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” So wars will continue and the quest for permanent peace will remain elusive until defenses of peace are not built in the minds of men.