Politics of People’s War and Human Rights in Nepal
by Bishnu Pathak
(Kathmandu: BIMIPA Publications, 2006, 472pp.)

reviewed by Rene Wadlow 

Nepal is in a crucial period of transition when a large number of social, ethnic, and political forces are positioning themselves for the future yet often blinded by the history of the past. It is a period in which measures and actions can be taken to promote peace and healing from past violence and injustice, but it is also a period when violence is not far below surface and could hinder efforts to create a new society. The challenge of rebuilding societies after armed conflict is more complex and difficult than the task of putting an end to fighting. There are no simple solutions. Peace must be developed by an accurate analysis of the situation, followed by intelligent compromises, and leadership with vision.

 Accurate analysis and leadership with vision is the aim of this important study by Bishnu Pathak. The book grew from his PhD thesis which was based on his experience working in conflict and crisis management. It is a first-rate guide to the conflicts and tensions in Nepal. These pre-existing conflicts and tensions served to set off the Maoist-led People’s War. These conflicts and tensions have not ended with the entry of the Maoists into government and politics. Thus, there is the need to understand well the structure of the country, its geography and the history of the different cultural groups. Bishnu Pathak makes this analysis — not as a guide book of dry facts but rather a presentation of facts as they relate to current issues and the politics of the People’s War.

Politics today is a constant flow between local events, the broader regional setting and universal ideological currents. Nepal’s politics is thus an interplay between the very local situation — each valley may have a different political colouring —, the regional impact of India and China with their differing interests and ideologies, and the universal standards of human rights and humanitarian law which should provide the framework for action.

Bishnu Pathak provides a useful discussion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — proclaimed jut 60 years ago in 1948 — and the conventions and treaties which have followed. He describes some of the UN and regional efforts to put these human rights values into practice. He shows how these human rights are understood in Nepal, how they are violated by all sectors of those with power but also how human rights standards serve as guidelines for those wanting to establish a more just and peaceful society.

Despite the cease fire and the end of the People’s War, new leadership with vision is not yet in place. Violent gangs, more criminal than political, raid villages. There is chronic food insecurity in many parts of the country. There is sharp polarization among political parties, but many of the established political figures go on with “business as usual”. India and China continue to watch the situation in Nepal closely, trying to pull what strings they may. In addition, criminal groups have crossed from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to fish in troubled waters with kidnappings and theft.

Bishnu Pathak is particularly strong in his analysis of minority groups and the deep cultural pluralism of castes and ethnic groups. The unequal distribution of opportunities in education and government jobs has increased divisions between castes and ethnic groups. Often, the aftermath of one war can become the soil for the next war if the deep-seeded culture of violence is not replaced. There is a need to empower people who have been in the shadows and on the sidelines. People need to face challenges in new and creative ways, to meet the real needs of their own community while having a vision of the needs of all the country. Bishnu Pathak’s study is a very useful guide to the challenges facing the people of Nepal. It deserves a wide readership.