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Publication Date : 11-09-2012
The Peace Corps came to Nepal in 1962 when the country was only just beginning to come out to the world. Nepal’s global image back then was partly the reason why it was the most sought-after Peace Corps destination in the world, and many volunteers came back—again and again. In fact, Nepal had the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers who wanted to return to what was then a “Shangri-La” in their eyes and their host families, with whom their ties remained life-long. So when Peace Corps operations were suspended in 2001, as the civil conflict grew in size and scale, it hit an emotional chord for many here in Nepal and in the US. Eight years later, yesterday, Nepal welcomed back the Peace Corps with 20 new volunteers to work in various fields of development. The reestablishment of Peace Corps operations is an emotive issue for an entire generation who, throughout the 60s, identified all foreigners as being Americans, for when the Peace Corps arrived in Nepal, foreigners were no common sight. Furthermore, the Peace Corps coming back into operation is a signal that Nepal is back on track towards peace.
What is important to remember is why international concerns were raised to begin with and the circumstances under which progressive and uniting initiatives, like the Peace Corps, were halted. When the operation was suspended, it was done so in the wake of harsh security threats during the conflict. Matters came to a head in 2001 when, Ramesh Manandhar, a US Embassy security guard on duty was shot and killed by two assailants who claimed to be Maoist rebels. A string of threats followed and among many ties strained during the conflict years, the Peace Corps was just one. This is why its resurgence is so important. It is symbolic of renewed faith in Nepal’s political circumstance — faith that had long been lost through the decade of conflict.
However, the situation is far from stable. If it’s taken the international community six years after the call for peace to gain some confidence in the direction that the country is headed, it will take a far shorter time to lose that ounce of belief. The decision to bring back the Peace Corps was made before the demise of the Constituent Assembly, and the constitutional crisis that ensued. The Maoist splinter party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, has threatened to go underground if its demands are not met. Meanwhile, society is polarised and negotiations on the constitution and the call for election are yet to make any real headway. Nevertheless, the international community has given politicians the benefit of the doubt by reengaging in people-to-people efforts like the Peace Corps. It’s crucial that politicians realise the symbolic value of such gestures, and not take it for granted, by working earnestly towards ending the current crisis as soon as possible.