South Asia Peace Initiative

Trekking Toward Democracy

Nepal is a small Himalayan nation, slightly larger than Arkansas, and sandwiched between the giants of India to the south, west and east, and Tibet/China to the north. Mention Nepal and the mind conjures images of mountains, trekking, and spiritual quests—all seemingly overlapping one another. Buddhist monasteries, meditation, and mantras; museums and thangka paintings; Vedic instruction and picturesque shrines—all seem to mix seamlessly with the towering Himalayan peaks. And understandably so: Nepal has seven of the eight highest mountains in the world, including Mt. Everest, the world’s highest summit.

Historically, Nepal has been the only Hindu kingdom in the world, ruled for centuries by a monarch considered a Hindu god. The political landscape of this nation of 30 million people changed dramatically in 1990. A massive popular uprising of various political parties put aside their differences to united and bring an end to an absolute monarchy that now had to share political powers with an elected government. In Nepali this became known as Jana Andolan, the People’s Movement.

Within the framework of a limited, constitutional monarchy, a multiparty democracy was established. However, the king retained important powers such as control over the police and army. Unfortunately, this form of limited democracy did not bring the much hoped-for peace and social development; instead, since the first general elections in 1991 a series of unstable coalitions saw thirteen governments form and dissolve.

Instability led to intolerance, heavy-handedness and ultimately insurrection. Six years after the establishment of the constitutional monarchy, the Communist Party Nepal-Maoists (CPN-Maoists) led by Pushpa Kamal Dhakal, alias Prachanda, went underground to launch their armed uprising, a so-called “people’s war” pitting Maoist insurgents against the royal government.

Over the next ten years, from 1996 to 2006, an estimated 13,000 Nepalese citizens died, with Maoist cadres “engaged in a variety of guerrilla and terrorist tactics that have victimized, and in many cases brutalized, civilians,” according to a U.S. State Department report.

More insecurity and uncertainty came to Nepal when, on June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra killed ten members of the royal family, including his own parents, the king and queen, because they apparently refused to accept his choice of a bride. The carnage took place inside the royal palace and, according to official accounts, the crown prince then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life.

Fearing that Nepal might become a failed state and a source of regional instability, the United States, the European Union, and India, along with other nations, pumped extensive military and economic aid into Nepal. This support, however, was suddenly frozen in February 2005 after King Gyanendra dismissed the government and sized absolute control of power. Dissatisfied with the government's inability to address the Maoist insurgency, arrest corruption and deal with incompetence, the king declared a state of emergency, imprisoned party leaders and journalists, cut communication lines with the outside world, and proclaimed, “Democracy and progress contradict one another.”

Against the backdrop of political unrest and civil strife, nationwide economic progress stagnated. Rural areas were particularly hard hit where development ground to a virtual halt. Tourism, the greatest source of foreign currency, plummeted. Nepal which had for years been among the top ten most popular destination sites for adventure tourism fell to twenty-seventh.

Amid widespread violence, a non-governmental peace initiative has brought rival factions into direct dialogue with each other and succeeded in drawing down tension. Several years ago, when the profile of UPF-Nepal began emerging, a personal representative of the monarchy attended an international program to investigate first-hand the objectives and activities of the organization. After reporting to the King that the organization's objectives were indeed good, the activities of this federation were allowed to continue. Over the past few years, the Universal Peace Federation of Nepal (UPF-Nepal) has held a series of high-level discussions and public events that have engaged representatives of the royal government, leadership and cadre from the main political parties, including even Maoist rebel leaders.

Today UPF-Nepal is the only NGO in that country that has active ties with the leadership of all the political parties of Nepal, representatives in all 75 districts of this mountainous country (through its Ambassador for Peace program), a student organization with offices in 10 cities working on at least a 1,000 campuses (including schools, vocational training centers, two-year colleges, and universities), and, since the end of last year, its own newspaper. “The Universal Times” is an English and Nepalese bi-weekly, published expressly to support the peace process and “to contribute to building a peaceful Nepal,” according to UPF-Nepal national leader, Mr. Ek Nath Dhakal.

The Beginning of SAPI

Since its inception just two years ago and despite on-going political chaos nationwide, UPF-Nepal has been working throughout the country, both in Maoist-held rural regions as well as in government-controlled urban areas. The diverse projects of UPF-Nepal include: building an orphanage, giving scholarships to students especially from remote areas, sending a high-level delegation to the Middle East as part of UPF’s international and interreligious Middle East Peace Initiative, constructing a peace garden at Tribhuvan University, establishing a literacy and vocational training school in Lalitpur (on the outskirts of Kathmandu), organizing a teachers’ training conference and curriculum development team to create character education programs for schools, conducting family-values education programs in more than three hundred schools, and coordinating several free health clinics and medical distribution camps.

The concept of the South Asian Peace Initiative (SAPI) was conceived in October 2003. The Founder of the Universal Peace Federation is Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and from his perspective, conventional diplomacy rarely addresses the root causes of conflict. Non-governmental initiatives that encourage the inclusion of spiritual values rooted in the extended family unit so prevalent throughout Asia can complement government-based diplomacy. Such independent initiatives can provide a forum of mutual respect in the pursuit of peace, creating an environment of compassion, honesty and objectivity.

The draft proposal for the SAPI said that programs “must be balanced in political representation and sensitive to indigenous cultural circumstances and should seek to clarify why political ideology alone cannot bring stability to Nepal or solve its most basic social problems.” Out of this vision a series of seminars emerged designed to foster dialogue among the monarchy, members of parliament and the Maoists.

In 2005, UPF began by sponsoring seminars in five regions (Pokhara, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, Kathmandu and Lumbini) intentionally intended to create a forum for open dialogue and national debate. The fifth program was convened on July 22 in Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha and has the distinction of being designated the first SAPI program. India’s longest serving ambassador to Nepal, Krishna V. Rajan, spoke about the important role of good leadership, not only in the current unrest, but also for long-term social and economic development. Dr. Christopher Kim, the chairman of UPF-Asia, highlighted a strategy for peace that focused on addressing the root causes of violence, human alienation, conflict, and suffering. Drawing on the UPF founder’s philosophy, Kim explored the dysfunctional state of love as a major source of human conflict and suggested that remedies can only be sought in understanding and correcting these root disorders.

This pioneer effort concluded with the drafting of an “Appeal for Peace,” calling national stakeholders to:

· Agree to a ceasefire and laying down arms

· Keep the common good of the nation above personal or group interests

· Accept the values of coexistence, human rights, and the rule of law

· Declare educational institutions violence-free zones

· Find an appropriate arrangement to end conflict and resolve violence

The appeal was signed by noted leaders from government, religious institutions, and civil society, with the Rt. Hon. Tara Nath Ranabhat, speaker of the House of Representatives, the first signatory. The appeal was published in Kathmandu on August 28, and on September 3 the Maoist declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire.

Building peace
On November 12 at Kathmandu University, the great-grandson of the father of modern India, Tushar Gandhi of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, encouraged a second SAPI assembly to follow the “non-violent option” and open direct dialogue with the Maoists. House Speaker Ranabhat addressed a press conference acknowledging UPF’s role in fostering dialogue among national leaders to further the peace process in Nepal, and Dr. Kamal K. Joshi, former Vice-Chancellor of Tribhuvan University, presented a twelve-point peace proposal to the press.

Ten days after this second SAPI concluded, on November 22, UPF founder Dr. Moon, 86, came to Nepal and spoke to an assembly of 4,500 at the Birendra International Convention Centre (BICC) . This speech, telecast live nationwide, was part of Moon’s international World Peace Tour.

Coincidentally, the same day in New Delhi, Maoist rebels and leaders from the government opposition Seven Party Alliance (SPA) reached their own 12-point memorandum of understanding calling for a peaceful transition to an elected constituent assembly and a united movement for the restoration of democracy in Nepal.

After more than a decade of armed conflict the Maoists had agreed to return to the electoral processes and yield to the will of the people. In some circles it was seen as a major breakthrough. One the other hand, it meant the Maoists and the SPA had formed a coalition against the monarch.

The road ahead would not be smooth. Prime Minister Koirala took a big risk reaching out to the Maoists. In like manner Prachanda, the leaders of the Maoists rebels, also took a huge gamble. Not only was the new alliance seen as a threat to the king, within the Maoists cadre themselves other rebel leaders accused Prachanda of selling them out, of abandoning their cause célèbre of a violent, armed struggle. The US government was particularly outspoken: free and fair elections cannot be held while the Maoists are still armed. Everyone wondered whether Prachanda would really surrender his weapons prior to holding elections.

In February of 2006, Nepal had seen 12 months of direct rule by the monarch and the law and order situation had not improved. The opposition alliance demanded the restoration of democracy; King Gyanendra refused citing continued instability and promising election in April 2007. The situation grew worse.

Over the next two months fighting between the Maoists and government forces escalated. Hundreds of police, armed forces personnel, Maoists and innocent people were killed. The death toll mounted daily claiming a six year old boy as it youngest casualty.

The Maoists blockaded the Kathmandu valley and prices of daily commodities shot up 80 percent. Kantipur news reported on March 17 that “normal life across the nation continued to be crippled as the Maoists called indefinite blockade and general strike.”

On April 6, the SPA alliance began a four-day strike to force the king to restore parliament. To support this, the Maoists rebels called for a cease-fire in the Kathmandu valley. On this day, four hundred protesters were arrested and dozens of people injured as the government took a heavy hand against the agitations.

The government announced a curfew on April 8, issuing orders to shoot protestors on sight. The next day, the SPA called for a tax boycott and announced an indefinite strike. Still small, disorganized protests continued, but the size of the rallies increased daily. Over time crowds reached an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 (10% of the city population of the capital). The biggest rally was on April 21. While some sources claim that the size of the crowd in Kathmandu was half a million people, more conservative estimates say the number was about 300,000. Nationwide in cities across the nation, millions had taken to the streets in defiance of the king.

In the midst of this national crisis, on April 17 a memo was circulated to all the staff and members of UPF-Nepal and its many affiliated organizations (numbering more than 10,000 people). In the tradition of India’s independence movement—where Gandhi took responsibility for Hindu-Muslim fighting by fasting, sometimes almost to death, until communal conflicts abated—UPF associates were asked to offer a seven-day period of penance for the “national harmony of Nepal.”

Following the Asian tradition of vicarious penance, volunteers set daily conditions including a full day of fasting, studying and recitation of religious scriptures, praying/meditating for 40 minutes, holding peace rallies, performing 120 bows to heaven, and holding a candlelight vigil.

It seemed like a miracle. On the evening of April 24, the day that the week of penance ended, King Gyanendra addressed to the nation and said he would reinstate the House of Representatives, which was dissolved on 22 May 2002. Immediately after the royal proclamation, the SPA withdrew its nationwide general strike that had been in place for the last 19 days.

These events came to be known as the second People’s Revolution, Jana Andolan II, and have been called the first major revolution of the twenty-first century. But it came at a cost: at least 19 Nepalese were killed during street demonstrations in Kathmandu in April.

After the king’s historic announcement, events moved quickly. Nepali Congress president, Girija Prasad Koirala was appointed by the king as the new Prime Minister, the House of Representatives was reinstated and unanimously called for elections to a Constituent Assembly. In addition, nine Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) soldiers abducted by Maoists were released as they announced a three-month-long unilateral truce, and the Government responded in kind by calling a cease-fire while inviting the Maoists for talks.

Against this backdrop of national reconciliation, on June 1, Mrs. Hak Ja Han Moon, the wife of Dr. Sun Myung Moon and co-founder of UPF, visited Nepal and spoke to the nation. Her address was part of her 180-nation world tour and appropriately entitled, “God’s Ideal Family and the Kingdom of the Peaceful, Ideal World.” The following day, she left for India and met the President of India, H.E. Abdul Kalam, at the Rastrapathi Bhavan in New Delhi, with headlines in the Kathmandu Post declaring, “Mammoth Maoist Rally in Capital.” For the Maoists, this was the “first show of strength in the capital city since they began their insurgency 10 years ago.” Indeed, it was as if, even momentarily, the family of Nepalese had been reunited and again dreamed of peace.

UPF-Nepal wanted to support and build on the new political environment. On June 26 they held a conference in Kathmandu on, “Human Rights and Human Responsibilities: In Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations.” Mr. D. R. Kaarthikeyan, the former Director General of the National Humans Rights Commission of India as well as the former Inspector-General of Police, explained that “rights and responsibilities are two sides to the same coin” and called on religious and spiritual leaders to take a more active role in post-conflict Nepal.

The new Speaker of the House, the Rt. Hon. Subash C. Nembang, presided over of the Closing Session where Amb. Rajan highlighted the unique role civil society can play in the peace process, noting that the UPF’s peace initiatives were a good example of the non-partisan role NGOs can play in nation-building.

The next day after, June 27, the Nepalese Maoists extended their nationwide ceasefire. In the coming weeks, the United Nations began to play a more high-profile role in preparation for elections. The head of the UN team, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, arrived in Nepal and began dialogue with both the Maoists and ruling party.

A few months later, on September 22, Mrs. Moon returned to Nepal and again spoke at the BICC. Like her previous visit, this was part of a World Peace Tour sponsored by UPF international. This time she was accompanied by eleven of her grandchildren who spoke in eleven other venues throughout the Kathmandu valley, Pokhara, and Chitwan. All twelve events occurred simultaneously and the Moon family departed the next day.

Coinciding with this, others too were thinking the importance of the spirituality, young people and the future on Nepal. A weeklong International Youth Conference on the theme, “Deepening Our Spirituality,” had just begun and similar to Mrs. Moon’s address, this conference sought to take youth beyond ceremonial religiosity, “to make the young generations feel the essence of spirituality.”

A month later, in mid-October, talks between the government and the opposition stalled. Headlines in The Himalayan newspaper broadcast what everyone already knew: “Inflexibility Leads to Deadlock in Talks.”

Members of the Universal Peace Federation again sought to take responsibility, this time taking to the streets of Kathmandu. On October 15th, in front of the Prime Ministers official residence, they demonstrated with placards reading “Forgive, Love, Unite,” calling on all parties to put the interest of the nation above political self-interests and to bring a new spirit to the peace process.

Over the next three weeks after days of on-again, off-again dialogue and hours of negotiations between top leaders of the SPA government and the Maoists, a landmark deal was realized. On November 7, after a 14-hour marathon of talks, a six-point peace accord was reached. This included issues related to a constituent assembly and an interim government, but more importantly, an arms management agreement was achieved. The treaty would be signed by November 16 and by November 21 the all Maoist insurgents would be confined to seven cantonment areas.

Against this backdrop, in early December, UPF-Nepal gathered 80 Ambassadors for Peace and held a seminar entitled, “In Support of the Peace Process: The Role of National and International Civil Society,” and for the first time ever representatives from the Maoists joined a UPF-Nepal program.

Ram Karki, Foreign Affairs Leader from the Central Working Committee, CPN-Maoists, emphasized that the communists didn’t invent violence, nor were they the first to instigate violence. The ruling elite began hostility against the masses before the communists took to arms, he said. Religions too, he explained, use violence, pointing out the tradition of making animal sacrifices in many religious ceremonies.

Karki’s presence at this fifth SAPI added a new dimension of personal face-to-face dialogue between all parties, now a hallmark of this federation, and fulfilled a mandate given by Tushar Gandhi 13 months earlier. After the program, escorted by Karki, a delegation from UPF-Nepal met with Maoist Supreme Leader Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the second in command in the Maoist party. In the half-hour meeting, it became all too obvious the critical role of interpersonal dialogue in building trust, overcoming barriers, dismissing stereotypes and constructing bridges of understanding. In conflict resolution, having a mediator who facilitates such confidence-building measures is essential.

Leadership and Good Governance

On March 17 of this year in Kathmandu, His Excellency Girija Prasad Koirala, the Prime Minister of Nepal, graciously received UPF’s highest honor—The Leadership and Good Governance Award. The decision to give this award to Prime Minister Koirala was two-part: first he took the risk of his life, reaching out to the Maoists to bring them back into the politics of democracy. From UPF's perspective, Prime Minister Koirala was doing more than bringing the Maoists into the political mainstream—he is healing a divided nation. Secondly, this federation saw the presentation of this award as a way to support all those involved in the peace process on a national level.

In his acceptance speech, the Prime Minister said there were four principles that guided his life: the desire for peace, the need for independence, the goal of prosperity, and the mechanism of democracy. He believes so strongly in the power of the rule of the people, by the people and for the people, not only as a model of effective accountability and administration, but also as a healing force. Koirala believes that if the Maoists become part of the democratic process then they will abandon their violent means, therefore he explained, “my responsibility and duty is to bring all non-democratic elements within the constitutional framework of democracy.”

On the same occasion, the Speaker of the Legislature-Parliament, the Honorable Scubas Nembang acknowledged the role UPF played in Nepal’s trek towards democracy:

“The series of South Asia Peace Initiatives (SAPI) programs that have been conducted in an environment of trust and mutual respect for people from all persuasions have also benefited the people of South Asian region and I wish that these programs shall continue in future too.”


NGOs and Peace-Building:

The correlation between UPF-sponsored events and the Nepal’s recent history is not accidental. UPF-Nepal wanted to support the peace process and purposefully designed programs with this specific objective in mind. Using the experience and expertise of advisors like Amb. Rajan, along with the nimbleness of a non-governmental organization that has effective leadership and is guided by universal spiritual values rooted in the family, UPF-Nepal has the ability to evaluate the situation quickly and respond almost immediately. As the political process takes often unexpected twists and turns, UPF-Nepal is grateful to use its good offices to support the building of a new Nepal.



Over the past ten years, not a single foreign tourist has been killed in the insurgency. Tourists could even travel to Maoist-held regions after paying a travel permit fee of about $20.


No relation to Pushpa Kamal Dhakal.

Including close circuit transmissions


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