By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU, March 22 (Reuters) - Nepal’s former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who chaperoned the nation’s transition from a monarchy to republic, died at the weekend, in what has been called a loss for a fragile peace with former Maoist rebels.
Following are some questions and answers about possible risks to the peace process, which Koirala helped start in 2006 to end a civil war that killed more than 13,000 people.
WHY IS NEPAL IMPORTANT?
Seen as a buffer between rivals India and China, Nepal has traditionally been under New Delhi’s sphere of influence. India provides Nepal all its fuel and most military equipment and exerts huge clout over its politics. Many Nepalis resent this. The Maoists also seek to undermine India by cozying up to China.
For China, Nepal is seen as crucial to the security of Tibet. Nepal is traditionally a crossing point for Tibetan refugees. Beijing seeks support from the Nepali government in controlling 20,000 Tibetan exiles based in the Himalayan nation, who often protest against Chinese policies in their homeland.
WHAT IS THE PEACE PROCESS?
Under the peace deal, Nepal held elections in 2008 for a special constituent assembly meant to prepare a new constitution. It also abolished the 239-year-old monarchy, fulfilling two major demands of the Maoists during the conflict which began in 1996.
But two other conditions seen as crucial for lasting peace are yet to be fulfilled: More than 19,000 former Maoist guerrillas housed in U.N.-monitored camps need to be integrated and rehabilitated; and the assembly must prepare a new constitution before May 28.
WHY IS KOIRALA‘S DEATH A POSSIBLE RISK TO PEACE?
Koirala was trying to forge a consensus among all parties to settle the future of the Maoist army and draft the constitution.
The Maoists, who quit the coalition government in a conflict with the president over the firing of the army chief last year, were hoping to convince Koirala to set up a national unity government under their leadership. They say they were unfairly forced out of power.
His death leaves the Maoists worried and ever more suspicious of the remaining coalition partners, raising the risk of a prolonged period of political uncertainty.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NOW?
In all probability, the assembly will miss the May 28 deadline because it is yet to agree on whether to adopt a parliamentary or a presidential government, or how a federal system will distribute resources.
Experts say the interim constitution can be extended for another six months and that all parties will likely agree to finish drafting the new constitution within that period.
Another strong possibility involves Nepal being placed under emergency rule, handing all powers to the president until the new constitution is written. In such a case, the Maoists will likely try to paralyse the governmment through huge street protests.
The possibility of a return to war is highly unlikely. Maoist chief Prachanda has said the group will not take up arms again but will capture power if the government failed to deliver on peace and the new constitution. But they have not said how, making the mainstream parties suspicious about them.
Still, there is heavy public pressure on political parties and the Maoists to work together to bring peace to Nepal. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee)