Who are Nepal's Maoist Rebels?
by Alastair Lawson
BBC News, June 6, 2005
Just when it seems that revolutionary
communism has all but disappeared in the world, Nepal's Maoist
rebels seem to grow stronger and stronger.
It is estimated that they now have between
10,000 to 15,000 fighters, and are active across the country,
with many parts completely under their control.
So how did the rebels transform themselves
from a small group of shotgun-wielding insurgents in 1996 to the
formidable fighting force they are today?
The disillusionment of the Maoists with
the Nepalese political system began after democracy was re-introduced
Many who are key figures in the rebel
movement today played a role alongside mainstream political parties
in over-throwing Nepal's absolute monarchy.
Although they participated in the country's
first parliamentary elections, their disenchantment with ceaseless
political squabbling - and their anger at the plight of the rural
poor - prompted them to take up arms.
In doing so, there is little doubt that
the two key rebel leaders, Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, derived
their inspiration from Peru's Shining Path rebels.
Both men wanted to emulate the Shining
Path's stated objective of destroying government institutions
and replacing them with a revolutionary peasant regime.
As with the Shining Path, Nepal's Maoists
deal with dissent ruthlessly. Human rights groups say that like
the security forces, they are guilty of numerous summary executions
and cases of torture.
The Nepalese Maoists have also made some
"homegrown" modifications to Maoist ideology.
They argue that what makes them different
from other communist parties in the country is that they want
a complete revamp of the multiparty democratic system as part
of a programme aimed at turning the country into a Marxist republic.
But on this issue there is some ambiguity,
because in the past Maoist negotiators have hinted that they will
abandon this demand so that the peace process can be kick-started.
In fact the only area where they have
stayed consistent is in their demand for an end to Nepal's constitutional
Another key grievance of the rebels was
the resentment felt by lower caste people against the authority
wielded by the higher castes.
The Maoists say that the reason they have
so much support is because most of their supporters have traditionally
been treated as second-class citizens or worse.
Many analysts say this is the real explanation
as to why such a seemingly anachronistic movement has made such
Unquestionably there is a substantial
number of people in Nepal who see the Maoists as the only genuine
alternative to the old, repressive social order.
The first Maoist attack is believed to
have taken place in 1996, when six government and police outposts
were attacked simultaneously in mid-western Nepal. Similar attacks
took place on a regular basis in the same area over the next few
Initially the rebels were not taken seriously
at all by the government, diplomats, journalists or the all-pervasive
aid agencies that dominate Nepal's economy. They were lightly
armed and not considered a genuine military threat.
But since then they have become one of
South Asia's most potent rebel groups, rivalling the Tamil Tigers
of Sri Lanka.
Today the Maoists are well organised,
and the firepower at their disposal greater than ever.
Rifles and explosives have been stolen
from captured police outposts and it is believed that the country's
open border with India has made it easier to smuggle arms and
So powerful have the Maoists become that
few dare defy them when they call a general strike in Kathmandu.
The rebels' threat to cut off the city from the rest of the country
can no longer be considered an idle one.
In the summer of 2004, the rebels abducted
hundreds of school children for a week-long "re-education"
course on Maoist ideology right under the noses of the security
forces on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
The Maoists may not yet have the strength
to win their "People's War" but they are too strong
to lose it.
As one analyst put it, the government
appears to be caught in a classic catch-22 situation.
Until there is substantial social and
economic development in the areas of the countryside where the
Maoists hold sway, the insurgency will continue.
But development cannot happen until the
government gains even limited access to these areas, and access
can only be achieved by using highly unpopular and potentially
counterproductive military means against a well-organised guerrilla