Nepal's Maoist Civil War
on the World Terrorist Map
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
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
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.
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