Freedom and Peace
The Boss magazine , Jan 15 - Feb 14, 2005
Nepal needs peace. Its people are demanding it. They are demanding it because they know intuitively that the peace dividend can be huge. They know - no economist needs to tell them - that the resources which are being diverted by the government and the Maoists to fighting each other could go towards enriching them, should peace prevail.
I am not an expert on conflict resolution; I do not know what demands of Maoists can be met and what can't be. However, I do know that to end the recruitment of the young people of this nation by Maoists, alternate employment opportunities are required.
Lack of opportunity is the reason that enabled Maoists to cheaply recruit the unemployed youth. If the young boys and girls had economic opportunity, if they could obtain jobs, or had the chance to start their own businesses, it would have been impossible for them to be hired by any terrorist organization.
People who are making money cannot easily be led to their deaths. The young in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, South Korea, and Australia do not offer their lives for revolutionary causes. They have too much to lose.
In Nepal, the girls and boys joining the Maoist had little to lose. It was easy, therefore, for the leaders of this ‘red revolution' to capture the imagination of the young. They offered the young a life with a purpose. Yes, you could die, but, is life without a job and without hope of one any better? And, what if you won? You would then have the opportunity not only to chart your own destiny but that of your motherland as well. Many considered the rewards well worth the risk of catching a police or army bullet.
For peace to come, negotiations must go on, and one hopes that they succeed. However, the government must, irrespective of how the negotiations proceed, also take measures to end the conditions which led to so many of Nepal's able-bodied men and women becoming terrorists.
It is not a pre-condition for Nepal's economic progress that peace prevails. It would indeed be nice if it happens. If however the country and its citizens have access to economic opportunity and wealth, peace is that much more probable.
What is it that is essential for progress and prosperity? Economic freedom. Let the government institute as many market friendly policies granting people freedom to trade, manufacture, and deal with foreigners, and the chances of ending terrorism increase manifold. People, if they are busy doing business deals will not join the Maoists. Those who are already with the Maoist will find reasons to leave if jobs and opportunity are on offer.
The single most important measure which the government can take is to end all controls and taxes on foreign trade. As soon as this happens, people will become busy with imports and exports. They will become busy selling cheap goods to the Indians and Chinese. They will be busy manning the shops, and running shopping arcades for tourists. They will be busy handling the avalanche of shoppers which will descend on them from the neighbouring countries.
Imagine a duty free Nepal. Keep in mind that labour rates are the cheapest in the world and real estate costs are low. All this results in an explosive combination except that this will be an explosion which doesn't cause death and destruction, but results in wealth and jobs. Shoppers will forget Hongkong, Singapore, and Dubai for Nepal.
Free foreign investment from bureaucratic oversight and regulation. Open every sector of the economy to investment. Reduce taxes and end the red tape which feeds corruption. Guarantee property rights and apply the law equally to all.
Do this and unemployment will end in no time. It will then be an uphill task for the Maoists to retain their comrades let alone obtain fresh recruits. The opportunity to pursue prosperity is hard to compete against, and the Maoist will soon find that out. Revolutionary slogans sell only if the audience have nothing to lose.
I don't know when or even whether this country's rulers will take it on this path to prosperity and peace. I do know that should a leader with vision and guts choose to make the people economically free, peace will follow as surely as the day follows the night.
(The writer an economist and a proponent of free markets contributes to leading international dailies. Contact e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org )