- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

Nepal's image as a Shangri-La has been shattered by renewed Maoist guerrilla violence and the government's imposition of a state of emergency, giving the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) all powers to end the 6-year-old insurgency, which has claimed more than 2,100 lives with nearly 300 in the past week alone.
The government also has declared the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) a terrorist organization.
The international community is concerned about the developments in Nepal, which is strategically located between China and India. The U.S. Embassy in Katmandu has strongly condemned the Maoist violence and has urged the insurgents to participate in mainstream politics under the existing constitution. Officials from the European Union also have endorsed the Katmandu government while India has condemned the Maoist violence and China is monitoring developments.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of communist governments from most former satellite countries and the emergence of market communism in China, communist ideology is far from dead. In fact, it has found fertile ground in Nepal, where an armed Maoist revolt and repressive government measures to control the rebellion since February 1996 have paralyzed the Himalayan nation, which has a population of 24 million and a per capita income of $220.

`People's war'
The rebels have been waging a "people's war" to topple Nepal's age-old monarchy and establish a "new people's democracy" in line with the ideas of China's late Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
Since early 2000, the Maoist guerrillas won victory after victory in their clashes with police. The rebel movement got a significant boost after the royal palace massacre on June 1 in which the entire family of King Birendra was wiped out, reportedly by Crown Prince Dipendra. The prince, said to have been drunk and brooding, then killed himself.
Prince Gyanendra, younger brother of the deceased king, was installed as the new king.
The palace killings led to a political crisis in which King Birendra's supporters and others suspected the new king's hand in the royal deaths. The Maoist party took the opportunity both to denounce the massacre and the newly installed King Gyanendra as well as to declare a republic blaming the killings on the United States' CIA and India's equivalent, the Research and Analysis Wing.
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, a top Maoist leader and ideologue, sought to ride the anti-Gyanendra sentiment by trying to provoke a Leninist-style urban uprising while keeping the Maoist People's War on the back burner.
This strategy backfired when there was no response from the Katmandu populace.
In July, Sher Bahadur Deuba replaced Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and declared his priority would be to end the insurgency. Mr. Deuba invited the Maoists to join him in a dialogue, and both sides agreed to seek a cease-fire.
Under pressure from human rights activists, intellectuals, moderate politicians and the international community, the government and the rebels agreed on a cease-fire in July. As the dialogue continued, the rebels demanded formation of an interim government, holding of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution, and replacement of the monarchy with a republican system.
The government refused to consider creating a republic or calling a Constituent Assembly, but indicated a willingness to amend the constitution and form an interim government that would have included rebel leaders.
In the third round of talks held during the second week of November, the Maoist representative, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, withdrew his party's demand for a republic but refused to yield on the matter of the Constituent Assembly.
Government Minister Chiranjibi Wagle refused to accept a Constituent Assembly. The meeting adjourned in a deadlock.

Illegitimate constitution?
The Maoist leadership argues that the present constitution, promulgated by now-deceased King Birendra in 1991, is not legitimate because it was neither drafted nor approved by elected representatives of the people. They add that the existing constitution is rigid in holding the monarchy as sacrosanct and beyond the reach of future changes.
The government side contends the 1991 constitution guarantees multiparty democracy, human rights and popular sovereignty, and the institution of constitutional monarchy is a symbol of national unity.
The government's refusal to hold a Constituent Assembly in which the Maoists had hoped to secure a majority to write a republican constitution was the point of no return. On Nov. 21, Maoist leader Puspa Kamal Dahal, who has taken the name Prachanda, issued a statement saying his "party's justification for dialogue has come to an end."
It was a call to arms by the guerrillas.
The Maoist party also announced the formation of a 37-member Provisional Revolutionary Government headed by Dr. Bhattarai.
On Nov. 23, the Maoist People's Liberation Army (MPLA), backed by thousands of civilian supporters, attacked government buildings, police posts and a military base. Last Sunday, the rebels attacked Salleri, the district headquarters of Solukhumbu district, some 20 miles south of Mount Everest.
The attacks claimed the lives of 18 soldiers and 60 policemen. Maoist losses were estimated at 300 dead, though the figure has not been independently verified. The rebels captured several hundred automatic rifles, dozens of light machine-guns, mortar launchers and tens of thousands of bullets and other ordnance.
The insurgents also attacked a regional airport in western Nepal, destroying a helicopter belonging to a private airline that was frequently used by security forces to ferry policemen. The rebels also looted 20 banks and took away the equivalent of $3 million in Nepalese rupees.
With the imposition of the state of emergency, Nepal's government is clearly seeking a military solution to the 6-year-old Maoist People's War. With forces poised to begin land and air strikes on rebel positions, the military is likely to drive the guerrillas back into the jungles.
The Nepalese government yesterday said at least 90 rebels had been killed in clashes with security forces. It claimed to be making headway in quashing the Maoist insurgency.

Short-lived victory
The government victory will probably be short-lived, however, as the rebels will revert to guerrilla and terrorist tactics better suited to their abilities.
The RNA is far better armed than the police, which frequently sought infantry help when pressed by the guerrillas. Police units engaged against the Maoist guerrillas use Lee Enfield .303 rifles, a bolt-action firearm whose design is more than a century old, and slow to fire. Their only other weapons are pistols and some shotguns. The army, on the other hand, has semiautomatic rifles and a machine-gun per section (a squad of about 10 soldiers). In addition, each section has a small mortar to propel bombs several hundred yards, even behind hills.
An army battalion has heavier mortars and can call in helicopters armed with machine guns and rockets. Army helicopters can bring ammunition, food and other supplies, help evacuation of the wounded, and provide entry to terrain inaccessible to vehicles as well as terrain where there are no foot trails.
According to a Nepali government minister, the United States has promised to supply 10 armored helicopters with night-vision capability.
The Maoist guerrillas counter with homemade bombs, antiquated powder guns, .22-caliber firearms, 12-gauge shotguns, .303 Enfield rifles captured from the police, and hundreds of revolvers, pistols and land mines that have inflicted significant casualties on police forces.
The successful rebel attack eight days ago on a military base in Daang district has suddenly increased the firepower of the MPLA by 300 automatic rifles, 40 light machine guns, a mortar launcher, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and other military war materials. This is the equivalent of a new well-armed battalion.
If RNA troops retake the strategic mountain passes, rebel forces in the insurgency-hit area will be cut off from their supply routes to MPLA bases in the interior of Nepal. But while victories in a few mountains will boost the morale of the beleaguered government and its military forces, they are likely to be transient. Far from ending the armed conflict, the guerrillas will draw the RNA into the jungle warfare that favors the MPLA.
The government seems to have misinterpreted the Maoist party's peace offer as a sign of weakness. It seems to have been further encouraged by the post-September 11 events in United States and the subsequent war against guerrillas in Afghanistan.
The activities of the Maoist rebels, however, do not appear to be influenced by the fighting in Afghanistan. There have been no signs that the guerrilla numbers or morale was declining, nor has there been any news of desertions.
The guerrillas and militias comprise volunteers who are prepared for sacrifice their lives to establish a "People's Republic of Nepal." Almost half of them are women.
As RNA troops beat the MPLA back into the jungles, the rebels are likely to undertake guerrilla-type operations, combined with terrorist actions all around the country. The government will certainly answer with counter-insurgency operations and heavy aerial bombardments. In this type of war, however, the government forces are unlikely to prevail.

Stretched resources
The army's responsibilities are already stretched. Nearly 40 percent of the 50,000 armed forces is defending the urban-based strategic positions such as the Royal Palace, military bases, telecommunication, power plants, which leaves another 60 percent available for deployment against guerrillas throughout the country. The topography and size of Nepal preclude the possibility of eliminating the Maoists. There are now only 24 helicopters in the entire country, and only nine belong to the RNA hardly enough for the rapid deployment of forces as and when needed.
With the exception of a few areas, guerrilla bases are scattered throughout a large mountainous jungle area of about 35,000 square miles, with heavy woods, bad roads and a sparse population. This region is ideal for guerrilla forces and presents serious difficulties for motorized and infantry units of a conventional army.
Counterinsurgency experts believe it takes a 10-to-1 preponderance of soldiers to bring a guerrilla conflict under control. The current ratio of 7-to-1 in favor of the army roughly 110,000 government troops (including police) to 15,000 guerrillas (the estimates vary from 5,000 to 25,000) may be sufficient for conventional war, but it is insufficient to destroy the guerrillas in the jungle. Nor would the number be adequate to blockade the MPLA, as the area covered would be too large.
In general, the rebel fighters appear to be much more determined than leaked government intelligence estimates suggest.

Volunteer brigade
Former Prime Minister Mr. Koirala, who is president of the ruling Nepali Congress Party and advocates a hard line against the Maoists, plans to create a volunteer brigade comprising members of his party to boost the military campaign against the MPLA. But enthusiasm does not appear high among young males of the Nepali Congress or any other parliamentary party.
On the other hand, the Maoist rebels continue to enjoy support among ordinary Nepalis in the villages as well as among urban intelligentsia. Unemployed youths are increasingly joining the MPLA. The broad sympathy for the Maoists among millions of low-caste and poor villagers indicates that the armed struggle will continue no matter what success the government achieves on the battlefield.
Observers of Nepal's political development lament the failure of government-Maoist talks and argue that the government has missed an opportunity for a peaceful settlement.
The Maoists' final demand for a Constituent Assembly was a democratic one that, if granted, might ultimately have defeated them at the polls.
Civil liberty and human rights groups worry that the introduction of the military into politics with proposed anti-terrorist legislation poses the biggest threat to freedom in Nepal since a Westminster-type democracy was reintroduced in 1990 after a nationwide movement for democracy.
The government's crackdown on the Maoist insurgency does not address the root of the problem the fact that in the past 10 years, Nepal has become a country of random terror, both "white" and "red," a world of endemic corruption ruled by public-money embezzlers, foreign-aid cheaters, drug traffickers, Mafia, apocalyptic rebels and thugs.
Chitra Tiwari, Ph.D., who lives in Northern Virginia and works as an independent consultant on international affairs, was a lecturer in political science at Tribhuvan University in Katmandu, Nepal.

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