- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Three months after King Gyanendra’s reinstatement of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, whom he fired on Oct. 4, 2002, for incompetence, Nepal’s political stalemate continues as civil war between Maoist revolutionaries and the royal regime takes a high toll on the country’s poorest.

The saying that “misfortune arrives on horseback and leaves on foot” applies to Nepal as it suffers from political mismanagement by a corrupt elite, compounded by military atrocities and guerrilla vengeance.

Proving the fickleness of fate, 12 Nepalis seeking safety abroad from the internal war were recently captured and killed by Islamic insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and calling themselves the Army of Ansar al-Sunna.

In Katmandu, Nepal’s capital, people vented their anger Sept. 1 when protesters, mostly Hindus, vandalized offices of employment agencies sending Nepalis to jobs in Iraq. The protesters also burned the offices of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Pakistan International Airlines, a mosque, businesses owned by Muslims, and the Egyptian Embassy.

To avoid further damage, the royal government imposed a curfew in several towns, including Katmandu, while the king and Mr. Deuba urged patience and religious harmony.

The four-party alliance of the Nepali Congress, Jana Morcha-Nepal, Nepal Majdoor-Kisan Party and the Sadbhavana Party charged that royal intelligence agents instigated the anti-Muslim riots to divide and weaken the parties united against the Deuba government.

Nepal’s Muslims, a small religious minority, comprise about 3.5 percent of the country’s estimated 27 million people.

Maoist leader Prachanda, while condemning Islamic extremists for killing innocent Nepalis, criticized the royal government for sending unemployed youths to Iraq “in the service of the U.S. imperialism.” He urged jobless youths “to stay home and swell the ranks of people’s warriors” to fight the feudal autocracy.

Anyone familiar with Nepal’s poverty must be pessimistic about the possibility of reform. Critics of Maoist revolution, however, say Maoism is a failed ideology and inappropriate as a model for the 21st century.

Supporters of the Maoist revolution, on the other hand, say more than 80 percent of Nepalis in rural areas do not live in the 21st century, and thus Marxism-Leninism and Maoism are as relevant in Nepal today as they were in China in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Analysts say this may be why the Maoist revolution is making gains in Nepal, while counterinsurgency efforts by the royal government, with the support of the United States, the United Kingdom and India, appear to be failing.

Under international pressure, the Nepalese government announced on Aug. 31 the establishment of a “peace secretariat” with a view to create conditions for resuming peace talks with the Maoists.

The government and the Maoists have held two rounds of talks so far, both of which failed when the rebels insisted on election of a Constituent Assembly and the government refused, apparently fearing that a constitution written by an elected assembly might abolish the monarchy.

Analysts see no hidden agenda in Maoist plans. The aim of the Maoists is to abolish the monarchy and establish a People’s Republic, period.

To achieve this, the Maoists have prepared a peaceful strategy as well as one of force. The peaceful strategy seeks to give a coup de grace to monarchy through election of a democratic constituent assembly, which the Maoists are confident they would win. Their plan allows room for opposition political parties.

If the royal government continues to refuse such an election, the rebels expect to use the villagers to encircle the cities, based on Mao Tse-tung’s theory of people’s war.

Analysts note that in the last two and half years, the rebels have tested both strategies.

Starting the week of Aug. 17, the Maoists blockaded the Katmandu valley, bastion of Nepal’s ruling elites. No Maoist military presence was reported on any of the highways to Katmandu — there were only military vehicles and a few civilian vehicles escorted by soldiers.

The blockade choked the residents of Katmandu, who had to bear the brunt of escalating prices of consumer items.

A week after the blockade began, it was suspended for a month, giving the government time to consider demands by Maoist-affiliated student and labor groups to investigate extrajudicial killings of their comrades and withdraw the “terrorist” tag imposed on them.

Analysts say the Maoists were successful in taking the pulse of the royal government on its own ground.

Aiming to strangle the economic power of the ruling elite, the rebels ordered 12 big companies operated by royals and their relatives with foreign investment to shut down. The 12 firms, including the Soaltee Crown Plaza Hotel, Nepal’s oldest hotel, complied with the Maoist order and closed their gates.

A week later, the Maoists issued another statement announcing that all companies with foreign but non-U.S. investments could resume business, clearly seeking to divide foreign companies and isolate U.S. investments. But another 35 companies were ordered to shut down before today.

The Maoists are angry with Washington for its support of the royal regime with modern weapons, logistics, and training, and for listing the Maoist party as a terrorist organization.

The United States has been providing more than $40 million a year in military and development assistance to the royal regime. India has provided more than $65 million worth of military assistance, but American support carries more weight in view of its superpower status.

A statement posted on the Maoist Web site Sept. 1 announced that a recent party plenum concluded that an ideological, political, organizational and military basis exists in Nepal for the rebels to shift from the present stalemate to the strategic offensive. Without divulging details, the Maoist statement said the party plenum charted a framework for the first stage of strategic offensive.

The statement also disclosed for the first time the military strength of its main force without divulging the number of armed soldiers. The party said it now commands three divisions, nine brigades, and 29 battalions.

In addition to the main Maoist force, the People’s Liberation Army also commands close to 100,000 militia members who will be soon be put into company-level formations.

The party statement cited Indian “expansionism” and “U.S. imperialism” as the main external hindrance to a peaceful political solution, and warned the people that foreign military intervention in Nepal was imminent.

While the Maoists are monitoring the Katmandu regime’s vulnerabilities with a view to imposing a larger and more effective blockade, the actions of the U.S.-backed Royal Nepali Army have been criticized by Amnesty International.

The human rights organization, in an Aug. 30 report, said Nepal has the world’s highest incidence of “disappearances,” and expressed concern over the unexplained loss of people.

Amnesty International recorded 622 disappearances since 1998, of which 378 were recorded after the failure of a second round of cease-fire and talks between the royal regime and the Maoist rebels on Aug. 27, 2003.

The Amnesty International report said more than one disappearance was reported each day after the cease-fire ended, and that it has received reports of hundreds of extrajudicial executions, thousands of arbitrary arrests and widespread torture by security forces.

Nepal’s own National Human Rights Commission said it has received information on about 1,000 disappearances, while the Informal Service Center, another human rights group, has recorded about 2,000 disappearances by the state while the rebels were blamed for about 1,100 cases.

International organizations, particularly the United Nations and European Union, have called for both combatants to seek a negotiated settlement, advising that there is no military solution to the crisis.

Even the United States and India, which have armed the regime, have spoken of the impossibility of a military solution.

The United Nations has sent informal emissaries to Nepal seeking a role in mediation.

Nepali political and civic leaders have put pressure on the royal regime to declare a cease-fire, even a unilateral one, and begin negotiations with the Maoists with U.N. mediation if it can bring peace to Nepal.

They argue that if the government can ask foreign powers for arms aid, why not invite a neutral international organization to help bring peace?

The Maoists, meanwhile, have ridiculed a government minister’s claim that there have been efforts behind the scenes for negotiations with the rebels.

The Sept. 1 party statement made it clear that Maoists will not talk with the Deuba government but would not close the door of negotiations with “his masters” — meaning the king, the United States and India — under international mediation.

Stalwarts of the royal regime, however, hesitate to accept third-party mediation, privately hoping that New Delhi and Washington would never allow the Maoists to prevail in Nepal.

Mr. Deuba is currently in New Delhi, to be followed by King Gyanendra himself, seeking a greater Indian role in suppressing the Maoists.

Observers of Nepal’s political situation, however, say the royal regime’s hope appears to be the “hope of the hopeless,” since New Delhi is unlikely to risk a repetition of the fiasco it met in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, when the Indian army entered the island nation to disarm Tamil separatist guerrillas.

Analysts do not see the possibility of foreign military intervention in Nepal against an insurgency that has reached a point in which suppressing it militarily will require billions, not millions, of dollars.

These analysts, however, argue that unless the rebels can convince New Delhi that a Maoist Nepal means no harm to India, there is a possibility of foreign powers organizing and supporting Nepali “Contras” with U.S. weapons and Indian bases, plus a modest amount of money, if and when Nepal becomes a Maoist state.

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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