- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Who are Nepal's Maoists, what do they want, and why are their ranks growing so fast?

The rebels, whose number is estimated to be 15,000 hard-core fighters and up to 50,000 part-time combatants, have declared their intention to abolish Nepal's historic monarchy and establish a Maoist People's Republic.

The insurgents have raised the issues of legitimacy, economic development and distribution of Nepal's resources and income. The rebels threaten the survival of the country's multiparty democracy with a constitutional monarchy, which appears to be hanging by a thread.

The country's first indigenous insurrection began in five districts in February 1996, and has spread to all of Nepal's 75 districts, where government forces and the guerrillas play a game of hide and seek on a daily basis.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who also uses the nom de guerre "Prachand," heads the insurgency. Another leader and theoretician is Baburam Bhattarai, who earned a doctoral degree in architectural engineering from India's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The Maoist insurgency has reached the stage of "strategic stalemate," which is the second phase of the three-phase "people's war" as described by China's late Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Mao described "strategic stalemate" as a phase of prolonged guerrilla war in which the rebels will exhaust the resources of the incumbent government and prepare the way for a final phase of "strategic offensive with conventional force."

The creation of the rebel Provisional Revolutionary Government, organization of the People's Liberation Army and running of a parallel administration in many hill districts testifies that the guerrillas are determined to destroy the 233-year-old monarchical state structure.

The latter lost popularity after last year's June 1 palace massacre in which the entire family of King Birendra was gunned down. The killings were said to have been carried out by his son, the drunken Crown Prince Dipendra, who reportedly shot himself afterward.

Observers say that it will take decades for Dipendra's younger brother and successor, King Gyanendra, and his son, Crown Prince Paras believed by some to be responsible for the palace massacre to win the loyalty of Nepalis.

Over the past six years, the Maoists have reportedly built an efficient network of decentralized local guerrilla organizations capable of mobilizing hundreds of youths. The bases of these organizations are the poor peasants, the so-called "untouchable" castes, minority ethnic groups and women. No one in Nepal had ever in the past tried to coordinate such a broad-based organization.

The Maoist militia and Red Army recruits come from the mass of dissatisfied, poorly educated and unemployed youth. Almost half the guerrillas are believed to be women. The Maoists have successfully capitalized on centuries of isolation, neglect and underdevelopment of the interior and remote regions of rugged Nepal.

They raise the money they need for guerrilla activities through extortion, bank robbery, donations from supporters and sympathizers and "taxes" on farmers in the areas they control.

The organizational capability of the Maoists in terms of propaganda, recruiting, training and deploying cadres for military, ideological, propaganda and intelligence work floating around the villages as a "fish in the ocean" appears to be effective. The Royal Nepalese Army's failure to find and destroy guerrilla hideouts or arrest the main leaders of the movement testifies to this. As a result, the central government has lost its tenuous hold on the rural areas.

The Maoist insurgency did not emerge in a vacuum. The government's crackdown on the rebels does not address the root of the problem the fact that in the past 10 years, Nepal has become a country of endemic corruption, ruled by public-money embezzlers, foreign-aid cheaters, drug traffickers, organized crime and thugs.

Observers of Nepalese politics lament the government's imprudent decision to seek a military solution to a problem that is essentially political, and reinforced by genuine social and economic grievances.

The government has neither the money, the manpower or the morale to fight an insurgency that is rooted in the poverty of Nepal. Any international aid in the form of money or materials sent to Nepal is likely to be embezzled by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Those who wish the country well are increasingly suggesting that the government and the rebels must negotiate a political solution in the form of a referendum to solve the crisis soon.

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