Nepal’s Maoist Civil War on the World Terrorist Map

Saturday 1 June 2002, by Rita MANCHADA

The US has put Nepal on the world terrorist map, following the events of September 11. On November 26, Nepal declared a state of emergency, dubbed the Maoist rebels terrorists, and for the first time, deployed the King’s army.

Till last November, it was a war theatre of antiquated rifles and home made "pressure cooker" bombs, with the rebels pitted against a poorly armed police. However after the Maoists broke the three month old cease-fire and re-launched the war with a blitzkrieg of attacks, the level of violence dramatically increased with nearly 2000 people killed in six months.

US Ambassador to Nepal, Mike Malinowski, has denounced the rebels as "fundamentally the same as terrorists elsewhere, be the members of the Shining Path, Pol Pot’s people or Al Qeda". An international anti-Maoist support group is being put together by Britain. American, British and Indian military teams are visiting Nepal to determine the military aid needed to fight terrorism.

The US is asking Congress for $20 million in military aid, and there is speculation about long term US strategic interests in Nepal. India’s visiting army chief has committed more military hardware for Nepal. India has stepped up paramilitary patrolling across the open Indo-Nepal border. India is the natural sanctuary for dissident Nepali armed political movements. The Nepali establishment is convinced that India is turning a blind eye to the alleged presence of the top Nepali Maoist leadership in India.

Martial Law

The government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is committed to a military strategy, rejecting any peace dialogue unless the Maoists first lay down arms. However, at a recent public meeting, leaders of seven political parties, including the ruling Nepali Congress, appealed for a peace dialogue and for protecting the gains of Nepal’s 11 years old multiparty democracy.

Since the emergency, Nepal has been virtually under martial law with the King’s army in control and the authority of democratic institutions becoming weaker and irrelevant. Looming in the background is the new King Gyanendra, a constitutional monarch. On June 1, he comes out of official mourning for his brother, the late King Birendra. The King and his entire family were massacred. Sections of the Kathmandu elite are voicing the wish that the King step forward and take control from a supine democratically elected government.

Meanwhile, the Maoists have been signalling that they may be keen on a new truce. While they are able to make devastating hits on military bases and state infrastructure, the widening of foreign military support could change the balance of forces. Also the Maoist heartland is suffering from severe food shortages with food becoming an instrument of war.

The Kathmandu intelligentsia is adamant that the Maoists have lost popular support. What is clear is that Maoists have alienated middle class support. In 1996, when the Maoists put forward their 40 point agenda on ’nationalism, democracy and livelihood’, there was sympathy for the frustration with a multiparty democracy that has produced 11 governments in 12 years and made little impact on the structures of poverty and discrimination. The sticking point was the Maoist demand for the abolition of the monarchy, the symbol of Nepal’s system of oppression.

Till 1994, the CPN (Maoists) were part of the parliamentary left. Nepal’s Left is splintered into seven parties. The Maoist heartland in the mid western hills has a tradition of radical left politics. In Nepal there is a convergence of regional, ethnic and economic inequalities and deprivations. Nepal’s 36 ethnicities have been marginalised in an upper caste power structure which multiparty democracy has reinforced. The Maoists have appealed to the discriminated ethnic communities of Tibeto Burman stock and the Dalits (untouchable castes). Also the movement has a strong support base in rural women as a consequence of its women’s rights agenda. A third of the Maoist fighters are women in the heartland. During the brief truce period the Maoists established 22 peoples governments in 75 of Nepal’s districts.

Distant Thunder

Are the Maoists losing their support base? Has the leadership lost control of the ground level commanders and cadres? Speculation and rumour are rife in a situation of blanket censorship. There is no news other than the daily count of ’Maoists’ killed. Human rights organisations in Nepal and internationally have raised concern about who the army is killing.

Diplomatic sources indicate that the EU and US have discussed human rights violations with the Nepali government. Meanwhile, weekly there are the peace rallies by a few activists in Kathmandu, but for most, it is still Distant Thunder in the hills.

*The author is a Nepali Researcher.

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