- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2004

The political crisis in Nepal shows no sign of resolution as King Gyanendra’s hope of reshaping the political order is met by thousands of protesters shouting antimonarchy slogans in Katmandu and Maoist guerrillas attack district headquarters in preparation for a final offensive.

Nepal is divided into 75 administrative districts. A district headquarters is an administrative center and generally includes a police station, prison, court, tax office and Royal Nepali Army (RNA) barracks.

Since early April, the five parliamentary parties have organized public protests, saying the country faces a “decisive movement” after King Gyanendra ignored their political demands.

Instead of reconvening the dissolved parliament and forming an all-party government, the king proposed late last month while visiting the western town of Pokhara to hold elections to the House of Representatives by mid-April 2005. On Tuesday, in a Nepali New Year’s message, the king repeated his call for parliamentary elections within a year.

But many observers believe that free, fair elections are impossible in Nepal amid the ongoing civil war. They say free elections for whatever purpose — to elect a new parliament, choose a constituent assembly, or hold a referendum on monarchy-versus-the republic — are not possible unless combat between government security forces and the Maoist insurgents is halted by a temporary truce under a neutral third party, such as the United Nations.

In late March, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to the government and the Maoists to establish peace in Nepal and offered his good offices.

The Maoists were quick to welcome Mr. Annan’s offer but the government declined, saying that Nepal’s problem is internal and that the Nepalese could solve it without third-party intervention. Furthermore, backers of the king argue that because Nepal is located between China and India, third-party mediation is likely to offend Beijing and New Delhi.

Many analysts see this argument as self-serving: If the problems were truly internal, then why does the government seek foreign military aid to fight its own people?

These analysts argue that Nepal’s royal regime would not survive a week without the military assistance coming from Washington, London, and New Delhi; hence the regime will continue to spurn U.N. mediation until these powers stop supplying arms or tell the king to agree to neutral, third-party mediation.

While the leaders of the five-party alliance say their movement is directed only against King Gyanendra’s actions, the rank and file are demanding a republic. Several professional organizations of lawyers, engineers, doctors, university professors, nongovernmental organizations and students have joined the antimonarchy movement.

Maoist top leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who goes by the name Prachanda, backs the five-party alliance in its movement against Gyanendra.

The king promised to be a “constructive monarch” on Oct. 4, 2002, when he dismissed the elected prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, calling him incompetent to hold elections within the constitutionally required six months. Eighteen months later under the king’s active leadership, Nepal’s political, economic and social situation has deteriorated to the point that international observers have begun to express concern that Nepal could become a “failed state.”

At the heart of the crises since Oct. 4, 2002, is a struggle among three protagonists — the king, the five parliamentary parties and the Maoist rebels — each trying to unseat the others.

Monarchists blame the parties for mismanagement of the country, paving the way for the Maoist rebellion.

The Maoists, whose aim is to establish a communist republic, have been suggesting a round-table conference, an interim government, and election of a Constituent Assembly as necessary for immediate peace.

The parliamentary parties have criticized the king’s assumption of power as “regression” and demanded restoration of the dissolved parliament. After that, an all-party government that would open peace talks with the Maoists, amend the constitution and conduct elections to a new parliament.

Analysts say the demand for the restoration of parliament has become meaningless because the old parliament was to expire last Monday if it hadn’t been dissolved.

Many analysts believe the tripolar stalemate among the king, parties and Maoists has turned into a bipolar conflict between monarchists and republicans. This is shown by the growing number of party supporters shouting antimonarchy slogans and demanding a republic.

And previously, crowd estimates of protesters ranged from 1,000 to 10,000, but now crowds are estimated at 30,000 to 100,000 people. The protests against the king, organized by the five-party alliance, were clearly boosted by the explicit support of the Maoist rebels.

The royal regime is just as clearly intent on crushing the republican movement. On April 10 the king issued the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities Control and Punishment Ordinance. The government has declared parts of Katmandu to be riot-prone areas and banned demonstrations in those areas for an indefinite period. Demonstrators have been defying the ban.

Riot police have beaten demonstrators, including Nepali Congress President and former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, Unified Marxist and Leninist General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, and many others. On some days, thousands are arrested and released in the evening.

Local news media are full of antimonarchy messages, and many columnists and writers are warning Gyanendra and the monarchists by reminding them of the executions of King Charles I of Britain, King Louis XVI of France and the disgraceful departure of the shah of Iran.

The rebels, determined to establish a Maoist People’s Republic through protracted armed struggle, believe they can hasten the outcome by eliminating the monarchy through a democratically elected constituent assembly.

The monarchists realize they and the king could be removed from power by a constituent assembly.

The parliamentary parties also fear that Maoist dominance of a constituent assembly could eliminate multiparty democracy.

As a result of these fears, the peace talks with Maoists in November 2001 by the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and those of August 2003 by the royally appointed government failed, pushing the country into further chaos.

The armed hostilities between the Royal Nepalese Army and the Maoist guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army Nepal (PLAN) have killed more than 10,000 people, and at least five times that number are believed to have been injured. Hundreds of thousands of Nepalis are said to be internally displaced, and thousands are reported to be refugees in India.

Amnesty International (AI) has pointed to the deteriorating human rights situation in Nepal at the 60th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that began March 15. AI said the Himalayan kingdom is experiencing the highest level of violence since the start of the Maoist insurgency. Its report charged that both the government and insurgents are violating human rights by arbitrary arrests, “disappearances,” extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, recruitment of children and hostage taking.

AI, the European Union and Switzerland have urged the commission to establish a mandate to monitor the human rights situation in Nepal and to support a long-term and adequately backed observer presence in the country.

The European Union sees the insurgency and counterinsurgency operations as involving widespread human rights abuses and has been more critical of the government. The Europeans believe that insurgents, even when they kill, cannot approximate the power of the state.

India and the United States, however, are critical of the Maoist rebels and support the royal regime against EU and Swiss criticism of Nepal’s record on human rights.

The Doramba massacre of 21 unarmed Maoists by the RNA led to the breakdown of peace talks last August. The RNA denied for months it was a massacre, but finally conceded that its troops had killed the Maoist captives.

Human rights groups suspect that less than 10 percent of army atrocities become public. Critics say the RNA is degenerating into a militia dedicated to protecting the monarchy and its cronies.

Meanwhile, the Maoist rebellion has spread all over the country and emerged as a force to reckon with. In areas they control, Maoists have set up regional and ethnic governments, built up their guerrilla forces and created mass organizations. They are, in fact, running a miniature state.

From early March to mid-April, PLAN, backed by ragtag militia and civilians, destroyed two district headquarters at Bhojpur in the east and Beni Bazar in the west and two police garrisons at Jankpur in the south and Pashupatinagar in Ilam district along the border with India, killing more than 100 RNA soldiers and government police. They also captured nearly 200 assault rifles, including a few U.S.-supplied M-16s, and thousands of bullets.

These attacks have discredited government claims that the Maoists are on the defensive, are running out of ammunition, are sapped by defections and are losing popular support.

Insurgency watchers have recorded at least 170 large and small encounters between the armed forces and the guerrillas since the collapse of peace talks last August.

Despite its superiority in numbers, military hardware, training and foreign advisers, the RNA can hardly defend itself against human-wave attacks. Media reports say RNA combatants “spray [bullets] and pray” for the early arrival of helicopter gunships with night-vision equipment to drive away the Maoist attackers.

Except for two major clashes in the west — at Kusum and Bhalubang — the guerrillas have punished the RNA with lightning blows or harassed its forces.

Several reports say more than half the attackers in the recent Maoist offensives that destroyed the district headquarters at Bhojpur and Beni Bazar were women in combat dress, indicating women’s growing participation in the insurgency.

Previously, women were estimated to be one-third of Maoist combatants.

The insurgency appears to be in transition to the third phase of “strategic offensive” in Mao Tse-tung’s theory of people’s war. The guerrillas have imposed blockades in several districts and are said to be preparing a blockade of the Katmandu Valley — an act of encircling the city from the villages.

King Gyanendra, however, does not seem concerned. He continues to visit district headquarters, where his supporters organize welcomes. His nonchalance at a time of crisis has led some commentators to compare him to the Emperor Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned.”

Chitra Tiwari, formerly a lecturer of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, is a Washington-based free-lance analyst of international affairs, specializing in South Asia. He can be reached by e-mail at cktiwari@verizon.net.

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