Although the IPJ has been working in Nepal since 2001, each trip is unique, and this most recent journey was no exception. While the number of bandhs (strikes) in Nepal has reduced dramatically over the past several years, there has been a recent increase as various groups try to pressure the political parties to move forward on the drafting of a new constitution, currently scheduled to be completed on May 28 (although the deadline will almost certainly be missed).
During our first full day on the ground, we were greeted with shuttered stores and quiet streets as the Newa-Tamsaling Joint Struggle Committee enforced a one-day bandh across the Kathmandu Valley. While the situation paled in comparison to the conditions on the streets in the mid-2000s, the threat of physical assault from protesters if citizens ventured into the streets still existed, and it was enough to restrict nearly all vehicle traffic – a strange site for the normally bustling and overcrowded streets of Kathmandu.
One of our colleagues, Eric Henry (managing partner, CMPartners, CMP), arrived that afternoon and needed to travel from the airport to our hotel. Although tourist buses are usually allowed safe passage around the protests, this can be a slow process. Our colleagues from the Nepal Armed Police Force (APF), who we worked with closely on this trip, offered their assistance and a memorable escort for Eric and our local partner, Santosh Shah (president, Today’s Youth Asia).
While the armed escort was a first, our partnership with the APF began several years prior, and during a meeting in November 2010, the IPJ received an invitation from Additional Inspector General of Police (AIG) Shailendra Kumar Shrestha to train a group of senior APF officers in communication techniques in an effort to deepen collaboration and build trust with members of the community. (The AIG is ranked second in the APF hierarchy.) The IPJ and CMP conducted a two-day program – “Advancing Security Interests – Gaining Community Trust” – that provided negotiation skills training for senior command staff.
AIG Shrestha selected the participants – which included deputy inspector generals – based on their ability to train other officers in the negotiation techniques. The program focused on improving the “soft skills” of policing – negotiation and the power of language and persuasion – while emphasizing the use of force as a last resort. The IPJ/CMP team shared skills and international best practices while also engaging the participants in participatory exercises.
An additional request from AIG Shrestha was to include APF women officers in the programs. With the support of our local partner, Women for Peace and Democracy – Nepal, we conducted a one-day program – “Women Collaborating for Security and Peacebuilding” – with a diverse group of women leaders including 10 APF officers, 10 Nepal Police officers, 10 leaders from civil society, and 8 representatives from 4 different political parties.
This marked the first instance where women officers from the Nepal Police and APF were involved in these programs, and it was the first time that the security sector represented half of all participants at an “IPJ Women, Politics and Peace: Working for a Just Society Series” program. For most civil society and political sector participants, this was their first chance to have an extended interaction with officers, and vice versa. The program allowed the participants to not only work across sectors to explore solutions to a crisis simulation, but also for the women to discover that they shared common concerns – whether it be their own personal security, that of their children/family, or the completion of the new constitution – regardless of what sector they represented.
Dee Aker is deputy director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ) and Chris Groth is interim program officer for the IPJ’s Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative. They were in Nepal from April 24 to May 6, 2011.
For more information on the IPJ’s work in Nepal, please visit: http://www.sandiego.edu/peacestudies/ipj/field/nepal/