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Recent Developments In Nepal's Maoist Insurgency

Recent Developments In Nepal's Maoist Insurgency: Precursor To Decisive Phase?


By M.R. Josse

(Paper delivered at International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, 9 February 2006 at a workshop on Maoist Insurgencies in Asia and Latin America: Comparativeperspectives, 9-11 February 2006, organised by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) of Leiden University in cooperation with the International Institute for Social History (ISSH), Amsterdam, the Netherlands. )

Introduction

Kathmandu, 19 Feb: This paper focuses on recent developments, vis-à-vis Nepal's Maoist insurgency, especially the past one year, while providing an overview of its genesis, social and political roots and locale.

While a substantial body of literature has emerged on the latter, commensurate attention has not been accorded the former. That is striking in that the insurgency has ostensibly entered into what is perhaps its most decisive or crucial phase, not necessarily in its favour.

Not enough mindfulness has probed its fascinating transformation from a largely indigenous Nepal-based movement into one with robust transnational connections. Many have surfaced in the past year or so.

Adequate research has not gone into its equally revealing metamorphosis from an "anti-Indian" revolutionary nationalist force – formally known as the Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist (CPN-M) – into one viewed as a virtual ally of the Indian establishment.

No less attention should be directed to King Gyanendra's decision of February 1, 2005 to take direct control of the affairs of state.

SECTION ONE

Genesis

Its origins can be traced to the establishment of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) by Puspha Lal Shrestha in Calcutta [now Kolkata], India on 15 September 1949. The Communist Party of Nepal, following its legalisation in 1955, maintained a low profile until the first general elections in 1959.

Following convoluted leadership changes, splits and schisms developed. Physically, the Maoist insurgency was launched by the underground CPN (M) on 13 February 1966 under the rubric of Jana Yuddha or People's War. Conceptually, it was formed when in 1994 the CPN (Unity Centre) group led by Prachanda, aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and Baburam Bhattarai decided to separate from that led by Nirmal Lama.

The Communist movement in Nepal underwent further mutations, including in early 1990, when a popular campaign geared to overthrow the partyless Panchayat polity based on an active Monarchy. Three Communist groupings came together to form the Samyukta Jana Morcha (SJM) which participated in the 1991 general election. (1)

It secured 9 seats in the 205-member House of Representatives making it the third largest party after the Nepali Congress (NC) with 110 seats and the Communist Party of Nepal, Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) with 69 seats. (2)

Bhattarai was named party chairman. "In May 1994, the party split into an Unity Centre led by Prachanda and another led by Nirmal Lama." (3) The latter was "not particularly in favour of an armed uprising immediately." (4) In 1995, the SJM split, following radicalisation of its revolutionary wing. It was then that Prachanda and Bhattarai set up the CPN (M). (5)

Currently, Prachanda is the party's chief ideologue, Commander-in-Chief of the People's Liberation Army of Nepal and its organisational brain. In February 2001, the Party Central Committee, in recognition of his seminal leadership role, endorsed Prachanda Path, or Prachanda's Way, as constituting the party's guiding principle. (6)

Prachanda Path has been described as "a combination of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism advocating a dual strategy of simultaneous armed conflict and urban mass uprising" (7) with mass uprising being spearheaded by front organisations of students, women, farmers and labour unions.

In an interview to A World to Win on 28 May 2001 Prachanda himself expounded on his philosophy, thus:

The Party considers Prachanda Path as an enrichment of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

Giving it concrete definition the Conference has termed Prachanda Path as a set of ideas that is more than a general Party line but which has not yet developed into the level of 'Thought'. The Party has defined Prachanda Path in the Nepali context as a new link of creative Marxism, opposed to both the right revisionists and sectarian dogmatists. (8)

He went on to predict that "the Party is confident that the synthesis of Prachanda Path will serve the world revolution by giving direction to the forward march of the Nepali revolution." (9)

In a more recent exegesis he has further explained the CPM (M) ideology and ultimate goal. He declared that "the basic political strategy of the Party is to free the Nepalese society from feudalism and imperialism through the bourgeois democratic revolution" (10) and that "the military strategy of People's War (PW) is objectively based on the goal of achieving this political strategy." (11)

He has also stressed the value of flexibility in political tactics, explaining that "in the light of the particularity of the total international situation and the prevailing balance of power within the country, the Party has been pursuing a [sic] very flexible political tactics." (12) Incidentally, Prachanda has also lashed out at the establishment "by appeasing and kowtowing mainly to American imperialism." (13)

Bhattarai, as SJM chairman, on 4 February 1996 presented a 40-point charter of demands related to "nationalism, democracy and livelihood" of the Nepalese people to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, then heading a NC-led coalition.

In his 4 February 1996 roster of conditions Bhattarai declared that unless the government took positive steps towards fulfilling those stipulations by 17 February 1996 they would launch an armed struggle. However, four days before the expiry of that ultimatum, their guerrillas fired the first salvos of their People's War by attacking police outposts in Rukum, Rolpa, Gorkha and Sidhuli districts. (14)

>From then on, it has raged for nearly 10 full years now with a toll in precious human lives reaching about 13,000.

Social/Political Roots and Locale

Politicians, academics and journalists have suggested a plethora of root causes. One commonly identified cause is the "poverty in a nation that is 85 percent rural, and the failure of the government to institute land reform measures following the restoration of representative government in 1990." (15)

A menu of contributory factors and non-causes that have been identified in 2003 by Robert Gersony, an American scholar, deserve particular attention. He had focussed on six most Maoist insurgency-affected districts – namely Rolpa, Rukum, Surkhet, Salyan, Banke and Bardiya. While some of them go against conventional wisdom, they are credible and worth consideration. Topping his list is the personality and contribution of Mohan Bikram Singh.

In the academic's opinion: "Had it not been for his early efforts in Thawang [a village in northern Rolpa], it is not altogether certain that the Maoists would have had a base from which to launch their revolt." (16) Also listed is that it was six years before the government mobilised the Royal Nepal Army (RNA).

Gersony maintains: "While not a root cause of the conflict, the decision not to mobilize a substantive challenge to the revolt permitted the Maoists to multiply their forces, skills and geographical impact, exponentially." (17) He provides four past instances where "the few previous armed challenges to the government in Nepal's modern history had been met swiftly and effectively with armed force, at times followed by negotiations." (18)

Regarding caste and ethnicity as proximate causes, Gersony does not give it as much credence as many others. He demolishes the theory that Magars form the backbone of the Maoist cadre. He affirms that this ethnic group who constitute more than 7 percent of Nepal's population and represent the largest ethnic grouping in general, do not support the Maoists.

Neither, he affirms, do the "great majority of the Tharus", who constitute the second largest ethnic group. According to him, they "do not appear to support the Maoist movement." (19) Another oft-mentioned cause is exclusion from the coveted civil service of ethnic and caste groups/minorities.

This could be a possible cause as, according to an unidentified university expert quoted and based on the latter's reading of a 1834 survey on the subject, "in 137 years, the lower status half of the Nepali population gained only 5 percent share of the sought-after positions." (20)

In Gersony's opinion, although "the Maoist movement has its heartland in a predominantly Magar area – in part because of historical accidents like M.B. (Mohan Bikram) Singh's six-month sojourn there in the 1950s" he argues that "at its core it is not a predominantly a Magar ethnic movement." (21) Indeed, in his view, "the ethnic and caste dimension is a contributory, facilitating factor of the Maoist revolt, not a principal, core or defining element of the movement." (22)

Election abuses in 1991 by the Nepali Congress particularly against the SJM, from which the Maoist group emerged in 1995, have also been cited as a possible contributory cause. Yet, Gersony's study discounts it, among other reasons, because "three of the four parliamentary seats at stake in the 1991 Rolpa and Rukum elections were won" by the SJM candidates. (23) Similarly, "in the 1992 local elections in Rolpa, [Samyukta] Jana Morcha won 27 (53 percent) of the 53 VDC [Village Development Committee] chairmanships, and the control of the District Council chairmanship." (24)

Alleged post-election persecution of SJM activists in Rolpa and Rukum by NC leaders has also been widely suggested as a contributory cause. Gersony's findings would appear to lend credence to those claims. He says, "the NC leaders took the opportunity to use the power of government to arbitrarily prosecute the [Samyukta] Jana Morcha Party in Rolpa and Rukum, in part with the aim of strengthening NC's political position in the districts." (25)

Interestingly, that seems to be corroborated by Amik Sherchan, a SJM MP after the 1991 election, presently chairman of Janamorcha Nepal (JN) party. He has gone on public record to categorically declare: "If it hadn't been for Girija Prasad Koirala [prime minister-NC] and Khum Bahadur Khadka [home minister – NC], there would perhaps be no Maoist war." (26)

Gersony has established a few other contributory causes. They include the "SIJA campaign" (SIJA being an acronym of Sisne peak and Jaljala shrine, familiar Kham-Magar symbols) of 1994 in much of what would become the Red Zone and other areas of Rolpa. Conducted under the direction of military commander, Ram Bahadur Thapa aka Badal, one of the most senior Magars of the Maoist movement, it was focussed on long-term consciousness-raising and political mobilisation.

Another contributory cause is considered to be the launch of "Operation Romeo" in November 1995, basically an anti-Maoist police operation in Rolpa under the supervision of Home Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka of the NC, during Sher Bahadur Deuba's coalition government.

Baburam Bhattarai described it as a reign of terror against Rolpa peasants. Since the Maoist decision to launch their "people's war" was determined as far back as September 1995 following a Central Committee meeting of the CPN (M), Operation Romeo cannot, justifiably, be considered as a contributory cause.

However, Operation Romeo, that mainly affected Rolpa, "heightened tensions, projected a negative image of the police, and alienated ordinary rural residents. But it was conducted in the context of what by then was an inevitable armed conflict." (27)

The American researcher discounts one popular view – that disillusionment with multi-party democracy following a few years of the 1991/1992 elections fuelled, if not actually gave birth to, the Maoist insurgency.

A caveat must be entered here. It is this: that theory could be discounted had it not coincided with mind-boggling corruption, rank political opportunism and a succession of revolving-door governments. In such circumstances, recourse to armed revolutionary change must have seemed an attractive proposition to very many, especially in the neglected, isolated hinterlands.

There is no doubt that the failure of the Deuba government to extend the tenure of local officials several weeks after the dissolution of the House of Representatives in May 2002 is an important contributory cause. As rightly put:

By failing to extend their tenures, the NC government caused the collapse of the representational system…leaving behind a political vacuum in the midst of an armed political struggle. Through this measure, it achieved what the Maoists had been attempting to accomplish since the outset: to empty the rural areas of local elected leaders who opposed them and to diminish the government's presence at a moment when it was most critically needed. (28)

Other proximate causes

There is, however, no particular dearth of other explanations for the Maoist revolt. For reasons of brevity, I will now summarise them without specific identification of authorship.

Those of a functional or structural nature, at the subaltern level, have often been identified as deprivation, ethno-cultural grievances, and economic disparities. However, considering that all those "causes" have been extant since the founding of Nepal as a nation-state in 1769, this observer is not convinced that they, per se, constitute the core contributory factors.

Attempts have been made to locate its causes within the structure of a semi-feudal state, regional hegemony and global capitalistic imperialism. Scholars have also attempted to link unemployment, underemployment, and poverty in general, as being instrumental. Notably, those do not fully explain the timing of the implosion of the "people's war" in 1996, its theoretical underpinnings in 1994 or the actual 'birth' of the CPN (M) in 1995.

Arguably, the theory that Nepal's increasingly young and restless population had more than a casual bearing on the Maoist insurrection is far more credible. That is because the greening of her population, and the gap between that population and employment opportunities, has been particularly striking over the past decade or so, coinciding more or less with the "people's war".

In any case, the exodus of Nepal's youth for employment and study opportunities abroad over this time period and that of a parallel movement from the urban centres to the Maoist heartland is noteworthy.

Incidentally, remittances, estimated at millions of dollars by the Asian Development Bank, from some 1.2 million Nepalese migrant workers – dispersed through the Gulf, the Middle East, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong or South Korea – have helped shore up the insurgency-hit national economy, although it may not match the conflict-related loss.

On the other hand, the moral support to the Maoist cause from many young educated Nepalese, particularly in the affluent or capitalistic countries of the West, has helped boost their morale, though its value is difficult to quantify. These are the children of the 1990s who saw free-market economics and popular democracy breed greater, not bridge, social disparities.

Like the Maoists who are Internet savvy and know how to extract the maximum propaganda value from modern technological tools, including cell phones and FM stations, many of them have helped to paint a humane face to the brutal Maoist insurgency. By and large, they have sought to demonize the targets of Maoist ire, principally the Monarchy and the RNA. In their terror tactics the Maoists have made liberal use of the tools and concepts of globalisation: information, travel and trade, as also of new ideas and appealing public relations.

Not a few have attempted to project the 1990 Constitution, with the embedded concept of Nepal as a Hindu state, as an important proximate cause. Indeed, the demand for a secular state figures in the 40-point Maoist list.

Notably, the seven party alliance (SPA), now linked with the Maoists under the terms of their 22 November 2005 understanding forged in India, has come around to doing so. This is despite the fact that the Communist leaders who had joined hands with the NC in 1990 to topple the Panchayat edifice were among the principal drafters of the 1990 Constitution.

Indeed, the Basic Law was "finalised without it being neither nationally debated and sans representation of the national political spectrum." (29). Thus, "political elements of the Panchayat order, who subsequently refashioned themselves into the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and the Nepal Sadhbhavana Party (NSP), for example, were not represented" (30) in the constitution-drafting/debating process.

Ideological factors seem to have had more than a casual bearing on the birth and evolution of the Maoist insurgency, not least since its conception and rise, more or less, coincided with the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It also followed in the wake of the "revisionist" or capitalist trends set in motion not merely in the land of Lenin but also that of Mao.

In the case of China, the earlier eclipse of the Gang of Four must have been particularly galling, not least since its Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has provided much inspiration, as has been admitted by Prachanda in an interview to the Revolutionary Worker in 2002, thus:

When the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was initiated in China under the leadership of great comrade Mao, it directly impacted on the revolution in Nepal.

There were many materials from the Chinese Cultural Revolution that came to Nepal.

This Cultural Revolution inspired mainly the younger generation of communists and the masses. (31)

There is a consensus that China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution had a direct and profound impact on an armed peasant uprising in the late 1960s by an extremist faction of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It came to be known as the 'Naxalite movement' after the Naxalbari district of the state of West Bengal in India, bordering eastern Nepal, where it first erupted.

As theorised, perhaps there is a nexus between the rise of the Maoist insurgency and the post-1990 attributes such as freedom of political organisation and the freedom of expression that helped in speeding the creation of a politically assertive citizenry. It probably also provided additional space for articulating

new political demands and in generally encouraging political resistance, including that represented in extreme form by the Maoists.

The military/security-related ties between Nepal and India have been cited as an important contributory factor. Possibly, that is because, it is included in the 40-point charter of Maoist demands that, inter alia, includes the scrapping of the Nepal-India Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, regulation of the open Nepal-India border and the closure of Gorkha (also Gurkha) recruitment centres in Nepal.

Paradoxically, it is the open Nepal-India border that has had such a seminal impact on the Maoist revolt, including in arms/weapons supplies and to the to-and-fro movement of Maoist leaders/guerrillas, including for meetings, sanctuary and medication purposes in India.

In concluding this section, it would be remiss not to mention a final cluster of proximate causes for the birth and escalation of the Maoist insurgency. They include: corruption, specifically by those in high places; the politicisation of the bureaucracy, the police force, the state's intelligence services; and the conscious decision by successive governments, 1990-2002, not to bolster the legitimate counter-insurgency needs of the RNA.

SECTION TWO: POST-FEB. 1, 2005 AND RELATED DEVELOPMENTS

Coming to the heart of this essay, let us begin by taking note of some of the key policy declarations and utterances made by Maoist leaders in the period following King Gyanendra's assumption of direct political rule on February 1, 2005. But, before actually doing so, it will be appropriate to take due cognizance of the raison d'etre and backdrop of the King's decision to rule directly for a temporary period.

Royal Proclamation, February 1, 2005

The King, inter alia, provided the following background to and rationale for his drastic action:

Even when bloodshed, violence and devastation has pushed the country on the brink of devastation, those engaged in politics in the name of democracy and people continue to shut their eyes to their welfare. Tussle for power, abuse of authority on gaining power and unhealthy competition in fulfilling personal and communal interests at the expense of the nation and citizens contributed to the deterioration of the situation…(32)

He then went on to emphasise:

We have no interest other than the restoration of sustainable peace and exercise in meaningful democracy for the welfare of Nepal and theNepalese people. It is clear that what the people want are a meaningful exercise in democracy, an effective market economy, good governance, transparency and a corruption-free rule of law…

He also proceeded to recall:

Contrary to the wishes of the people on whom sovereignty is vested, no serious efforts were made towards initiating elections to the House of Representatives within the year 2061 BS [2002] by maintaining, to the extent possible, peace and security…(34)

He proceeded to disclose:

The Council of Ministers to be constituted will be under our Chairmanship.

This Council of Ministers will give utmost priority to reactivating multi-party democracy in the country within three years with the implementation of effective reforms by restoring peace and security…(35)

In a clear reference to the Maoist insurgency, he declared:

No one will be allowed to jeopardize the people's security and the future of democracy. Nepal will not allow terrorists to use her territory against herself or against any other friendly nation…Effective measures will be adopted to curb corruption while ensuring that the principles of justice are not infringed upon. (36)

Prachanda: now a decisive phase

Prachanda himself has indicated that the Maoist movement may have entered a decisive phase, not long after the King's move of February 1, 2005. In response to a written query about where his revolution stood, the Maoist supremo thundered:

The great people's war has entered its last stage, of strategic offensive.

In 1996, we had not a single modern weapon nor any trained armed groups, only an ideological, political and military line and a plan [that] defined three stages: defensive, equilibrium, and offensive. We have already pushed the R.N.A. [Royal Nepalese Army] into a defensive position and confined them to the capital, district headquarters and their barracks. We have confidence in ultimate victory. (37)

His following response to a question about whether he believed his revolution would spread across the world is equally revealing:

The imperialist world order makes a handful of rich richer and the vast majority inhumanly poorer. Anybody can observe a growing global unrest and protest by the masses against this world order. We deeply believe that what we are starting in Nepal is only a part of a worldwide revolution. Our Party is not only fighting autocratic monarchy but also the evil of the imperialist world. (38)

Yet, for all that bravado and bluster, the Maoist movement went into a period of crisis not long after King Gyanendra's took control and made the counter-insurgency campaign his number one priority, both at the domestic level and in articulating his government's position at international fora. One area where this was most vividly demonstrated was in the rupture between Prachanda and Bhattarai at which time it was openly speculated that the Maoist movement was doomed.

Schism & Patch Up: Prachanda/Bhattarai

First credible reports that party ideologue Bhattarai and supremo Prachanda had developed serious differences began to circulate in mid-March 2005 when the RNA's Public Relations Directorate claimed that politburo member Baburam Bhattarai, and his wife Hisila Yami, had been expelled from the party. (39)

Days later, a news report in an official newspaper quoted a Home Ministry press release to the effect that both Bhattarai and Yami have been "prohibited to issue any statements regarding peace" by "keeping them under a [sic] tight security of the armed terrorists." (40) It informed that posters, pamphlets and wall paintings had appeared in Rolpa, Rukum, Salyan and Dang districts with slogans such as 'Down with bloodthirsty Prachanda'; 'Hold peace talks soon"; "Do not play on [sic] with the blood of the sons and daughters of the people." (41)

A front-page news item days later not merely proclaimed that the Maoists had confirmed Bhattarai's expulsion but added "he had been relieved from the responsibilities of the terrorist group following his clash with Prachanda." (42) Continuing to inform the general public on the goings-on within the Maoist camp, the RNA declared that Bhattarai had been stripped of all leadership responsibilities and was henceforth just an ordinary party member. (43)

Another twist was provided when RNA H/Q in Kathmandu called a press conference and produced a video clip that showed Prachanda attempting to justify the feud within the CPN (M), asserting that the world already knew that Bhattarai had been reprimanded. (44)

A bombshell was detonated in the latter half of May 2005. News reports disclosed not only the presence of Bhattarai in New Delhi but also covered details of his meeting with Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), allegedly aided by India's intelligence agencies, quoting a report in the Times of India, headlined "Indian spooks host Nepal rebel." (45)

The next day, Bhattarai and Karat "refuted news reports that they had met each other in the Indian capital last week." (46). Nevertheless, the following day Prachanda disclosed that Bhattarai and Krishna Bahadur Mahara had been "specially assigned" to hold meetings with the Indian government and political parties so as to create an atmosphere conducive for the "pro-democracy movement in Nepal." (47)

Clearly, although there is no doubt that a serious schism had developed between Prachanda and Bhattarai in mid-March, two months later, they decided to bury their hatchet, ostensibly as a result of Indian intervention, possibly at the official and fraternal levels.

That the Prachanda/Bhattarai feud was a thing of the past by mid-July was underlined, notably, in an email statement by Prachanda in which it was disclosed that Bhattarai and two other erstwhile members of the standing committee of the party's politburo had been reinstated. The two others to were Yami and Dinanath Sharma, aka Ashok. As indicated, "they have been given the politburo's responsibility so that all the forces can be concentrated against [the] autocratic monarchy and the party can move ahead with new vigour." (48)

Not surprisingly, suspicions about an India-Maoist nexus were manifested in the outpourings of the non-Leftist Nepali media/commentators. One such concluded unambiguously that Bhattarai had been "reinstated after Indian intervention." (49)

The analysis noted that Bhattarai's reinstatement came after the Maoists invited seven opposition parties to appoint a nominee to discuss an opposition alliance against the King, in response to NC president Girija Prasad Koirala's public declaration that he was ready to hold discussions with the Maoists. (50)

The analyst recalled: "Before his suspension, Bhattarai charged Prachanda for monopolizing party and military power and developing a personality cult to lead a pro-King faction in the organisation." (51)

That analysis caused Bhattarai to "debunk pro-India charges through clarifications, accompanied with veiled threats" against the concerned weekly, in a letter. (52) He denied charges, via another letter, "by Leftist leader Sakti Lamsal in the newspaper [ Nepal vernacular daily] pinning responsibility on Bhattarai for the arrest by Indian police of Maoist leaders, Mohan Baidya, CP Gajurel, Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar in Patna…" (53)

It was not only within Nepal that the new pro-Indian posture of the Maoists began to be noticed, as indicated in a write-up by a Nepali journalist in the U. S. Therein, he recalled the falling-out between Prachanda and Bhattarai pointing out that Bhattarai had "questioned the propriety of Prachanda's photo being put together with Marx, Engles, Lenin, Stalin and Mao." (54)

He recalled Prachanda's response stating that Bhattarai's arguments had proved that "he is not concerned about the party and the revolution, all he cares about is his personal position." (55) Also, he stated that "in a tape recording recovered by the army, Prachanda was heard implying that Dr. Bhattarai was an 'Indian agent.' " (56) Responding, Bhattarai called Prachanda a "palace lackey." (57)

Cease-fire and Prachanda in Delhi

While the aftershocks of Bhattarai's presence in New Delhi, soon after his rift with Prachanda, had not died down, there came another tremor. This was in the form of Prachanda's startling alleged presence in the Indian capital. That was disclosed by the Bharatiya Janata Party's mouthpiece The Pioneer in early September soon after the unilateral Maoist truce announced on 3 September 2005.

It was initially refuted by Indian government spokesmen but later was admitted by Prachanda himself.

The Pioneer disclosure was widely commented upon, especially that the Maoist's three-month cease-fire announcement on 3 September came in the wake of Prachanda's being received by high officials in the Indian Prime Minister's Office (PMO), a few days earlier.

It was meaningful that "the said news story has it that the meeting with Prachanda, at the PMO's office no less, was opposed by India's Home Ministry but dissed not only by South Block [Indian foreign office] czars…but also by the PMO." (58)

Not surprisingly, Prachanda's dash to Delhi was taken note of widely, including by Nepali expatriates closely following events back home. One such individual had it that the circumstances surrounding the cease-fire announcement had thrown up a set of ominous questions. "Prachanda ordered the truce two days after signing a statement with [Muppala Lakshman Rao] Ganapathy, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), reiterating their 'pledge to fight unitedly till the entire conspiracies hatched by the imperialists and reactionaries are crushed and the people's cause of socialism and communism are established in Nepal, India and all over the world.' " (59)

Significantly, in the 3 September statement announcing the three-month cease-fire, the CPN (M) made reference to a series of international players who had been prescribing solutions to the crisis in Nepal, including "the main neighbour," (60) an obvious reference to India.

It may be mentioned that while the statement praised recent anti-monarchical moves by the NC and the UML as a basis for fortifying a common unity of purpose, it rejected their proposal for reinstatement of the dissolved House of Representatives. "That would only give leeway to the palace to conspire. This leaves going for an interim regime and constituent assembly as the only way out." (61)

Four days after the cease-fire statement, Prachanda announced that his party would utilize the three-month period "with mass mobilization and struggle" to campaign for a democratic republic. (62) The statement, inter alia, informed that all party units would be mobilized collectively while the People's Liberation Army of Nepal [Maoist militia] would be kept on high alert in a state of "active defense" to foil possible attacks from the state security forces. (63)

Prachanda, less than a week later, engaged in a further publicity blitz, granting a face-to-face interview at an undisclosed location to a Times of India correspondent traversing "villages that can't be named and through trails that can't be remembered." (64)

Therein, Prachanda downplayed his party's Indian connections/plans, asserting that "revolution is not a commodity for export." (65) In his words, "We have only ideological ties with Indian Maoists. We have no plans to lead joint armed struggle against India. We do not consider people's war as a commodity of export and import." (66)

He also debunked the veracity of a mass of reports in Nepal and elsewhere affirming that "the talk of our forming a compact revolutionary zone across the two countries is a creation of the media of the Indian government." (67) Prachanda suggested that " India should not help the King's army. It should extend moral and political support to the democratic stir in Nepal. We want fresh treaties between Nepal and India on natural resources and other important issues on the basis of equality." (68)

Addressing the international community, Prachanda declared: "We want the involvement of the United Nations to create an atmosphere so that possession of weapons by us does not become a stumbling block in the peace process. As proof we have already declared a unilateral ceasefire now." (69) The Maoist supremo had bitter words for the U.S. proclaiming: "In a way, we're now fighting against international imperialism, especially US imperialism…American commanders and generals are arming and training the Royal Army. India has also lent it big support." (70)

At that time neither American commanders nor generals were arming or training the RNA, nor was India. Such activities had been suspended by both post-February 1, 2005.

Other views

One may now take cognizance of a sampling of media reports at variance with Prachanda's assertions. A write-up in the South Asia Tribune online newspaper, based on a purported interview with a Nepalese Maoist activist in New Delhi, is noteworthy. Not only does he assert that Tamil Tigers are "providing military training to the Maoist rebels of Nepal in Bihar near the Nepalese border" (71) but that "all Maoist rebels and parties…have agreed to an international proposal to develop a Red Zone (RZ) from Nepal to Sri Lanka." (72).

Such an agreement reportedly came not long after the merger on 15 October 2004 of the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) of India forming a new outfit, namely the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M), whose general secretary is Muppala Lakshman Rao, alias Ganapathi Rao, (73) with whom Prachanda entered into an agreement in New Delhi two-days before his cease-fire announcement of 3 September 2005.

The unidentified Nepalese Maoist also disclosed to the South Asia Tribune: "The decision to assist the Maoist rebels of Nepal was taken at a secret meeting of the Maoist activists of eight countries held in Kolkata in India." (74) Also disclosed was that "the Maoists of Peru, Netherlands, Norway, France, Germany, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India participated in the meeting. The Tamil Tigers and rebels of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) were present as special invitees." (75)

The same report disclosed that the aforementioned meeting was held in 2004 "under the auspices of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA)." (76)

Let us now return to the unilateral three-month Maoist cease-fire of 3 September 2005, extended for another month on 2 December 2005, before being terminated on 2 January 2006 by Prachanda who squarely blamed the RNA. As he put it: "The Royal Nepalese Army has compelled us to end the ceasefire. It was not only impossible, but also suicidal for us to extend it." (77)

The announcement of an end of the Maoist cease-fire came as a blow for the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) many of whose leaders had days earlier expressed optimism that it would be extended again. Indeed, early on 2 January, before the Prachanda's announcement, it was widely speculated that it would be extended by another "10-15 days," when "extensive pressure would be mounted on the King, including by Western countries." (78)

In the event, SPA leaders held an emergency meeting shortly thereafter in Kathmandu. In a statement issued at its conclusion they declared: "We urge Maoists to avoid violent activities against unarmed innocent people, respecting the people's desire for democracy and human rights." (79)

UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal asserted: "The ceasefire has collapsed despite our efforts, but we urge the Maoists to respect humanitarian rights and laws of war…[The] State must take responsibility as its refusal to respond to the ceasefire positively has resulted in recurrence of violence." (80) In their joint statement, the SPA called upon the rebels to remain committed to their 12-point understanding with the Maoists. (81)

The following day he asserted that the SPA are all set for a "final fight" to establish republican democracy in Nepal (82), reflecting Prachanda's "decisive phase" language of the Time magazine interview.

Despite the SPA's appeals, seven bomb explosions at public places in Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Butwal attributed to the Maoists were reported, sans casualties, hours after the announcement of the end of the cease-fire. (83)

While SPA representatives and their supporters had been pleading/hoping, weeks earlier, that the cease-fire would be extended, not all observers were equally optimistic. One analyst had predicted that the Maoists were "unlikely to extend" it, stating "Baburam Bhattarai gave the strongest hint the cessation of hostilities won't be extended for the second time when he said, 'revolutionaries don't make the mistake of indefinitely extending the cease-fire to help the Army.' " (84)

He argued that "another indication came when Maoists broke their own cease-fire and killed at least one soldier when they attacked a security patrol Monday [26 December 2005]." (85) Likewise, he pointed out that "Maoists have now concentrated their activities, which promise to be violent, around urban centres clearly aimed at disrupting the 8 February municipal polls." (86)

Other immediate reactions

International reactions were not slow in coming. The first one of note came from India, just hours after it was announced. It was termed as "an unfortunate decision" with a foreign ministry spokesman in New Delhi declaring: "We have consistently called upon the Maoists to abandon violence, accept the discipline of multi-party democracy, and work for a political settlement that contributes to the political stability and economic prosperity of Nepal." (87)

The other substantive comment came from the U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in Washington, dated 3 January 2006. The full text is as below:

The United States is deeply concerned by the Maoists' announcement January 2 ending their unilateral ceasefire. We condemn the Maoist bombings of office buildings outside Kathmandu. The United States has consistently called upon the Maoists to abandon violence and rejoin the political mainstream. The end of the ceasefire at this time is unhelpful and contrary to that goal. There can be no excuse for resumption of violence.

We urge the government to urgently reach out to the political parties and find a way back to democracy in order to restore peace to Nepal. A multi-party democracy with full respect for civil liberties and human rights is necessary to bring lasting peace to Nepal. (88)

Paul K Bute, spokesman of the British Embassy, was quoted as stating: "The United Kingdom is extremely disappointed that the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Maoists has been terminated…We call of all sides (the Palace, political parties and the Maoists) to work together for a permanent end to violence and towards an inclusive political solution." (89)

The Embassy of Finland, which now holds the presidency of the EU in Nepal, (where there is no residential Austrian Embassy) regretted the termination of the cease-fire in a statement attributed to Pauli Mustonen, Charge d'Affaires, thus: "We regret that the unilateral ceasefire has been terminated." (90)

Likewise, a press statement issued by the UN System in Kathmandu expressed concern that "the people of Nepal are again faced with the prospect of an escalation of fighting, the loss of more lives and increased suffering." (91)

To be specially noted is that India and the U.S. were categorical in their insistence that the Maoists abjure violence and that they did not blame the government for the cease-fire's termination.

Significantly, China – Nepal's immediate northern neighbour from whose historic figure Mao Zedong the Maoists name themselves – did not express any opinion. Neither, for that matter, did Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Russia. All have residential embassies in Kathmandu and follow events closely.

No less meaningful was Home Minister Kamal Thapa's dismissive comments on the termination of the Maoist truce. He was quoted by the official English daily as declaring: "The so-called cease-fire announced by the Maoists was not intended towards establishing peace" but rather "just a drama" dictated under pressure from the parties, civic society and the international community. (92)

On the day that the Maoist truce ended, King Gyanendra was touring the eastern hill district of Taplejung which has been affected by Maoist violence where he reportedly told locals: "Peace will return in the country, rest assured." (93).

12-Point SPA-Maoist Pact of 22 November 2005

A reference was made earlier to the 12-point SPA-Maoist Pact forged in New Delhi. It is time to focus greater attention. On 22 November 2005 the 12-point accord was made public in separate statements signed by SPA leaders and Prachanda "following weeks of hectic meetings" (94) between their leading lights earlier in New Delhi.

"The key point in the agreement is both the seven-party alliance and the Maoists are committed to go for an election to a constituent assembly, which, they insist, is the only solution to the crisis facing the country. They have agreed to abide by the outcome of an election to a constituent assembly. They have expected 'dependable' involvement of the international community during the talk process." (95)

While the two sides adhered to their respective "road maps" – the SPA for a revival of the defunct House of Representatives and the Maoists to their formula of a national conference of democratic forces leading to an interim government that will conduct elections for a constituent assembly – NC president Koirala proclaimed: "What we have entered into is an understanding, not a working alliance. It will pave the way for both the parties to move ahead." (96)

UML strongman Nepal described it as a "breakthrough" and insisted that the Maoists had pledged to join the mainstream. (97) He insisted: "The King must now withdraw all regressive steps undertaken in the past. Election to [a] constituent assembly is the only way out." (98)

Amongst the most controversial provisions of the SPA-Maoist Pact is one requiring the army and the rebels to be under the supervision of the UN or some such international organisation until election for the constituent assembly is over. (99)

The reactions of other Nepalese stakeholders to the SPA-Maoist Pact were rather different including, surprisingly, those from elements within the SPA itself. Sharply divergent interpretations were also reflected in purportedly serious commentary from outside Nepal.

It immediately caused a rash of doubts to be raised within Nepal. In a commentary, this paper presenter argued that "the most prominent – and objectionable – feature of the SPA-Maoist pact is that it was engineered in Indian soil, acknowledged in a mea culpa…in a BBC Nepali service interview by the Maoist supremo himself." (100)

He had also indicated that suspicions had begun to surface from within the constituents of the SPA itself pointing out that the "president of the Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party, Narayanman Bijukcche, has publicly stated he was kept in the dark about the 12-point pact!" (101)

It was equally noteworthy that "similar public observations by Nawaraj Subedi, general secretary, Janamorcha Nepal" who "announced at a public forum in Kathmandu that the seven parties' leaders had not been given the mandate to sign any pact, merely permission to initiate talks." (102)

It was recalled that "Subedi lambasted the proviso that during the period leading to elections for a constituent assembly some international organisation, such as the UN, would be entrusted to supervise weapons that the Royal Nepalese Army and the Maoists hold respectively." (103)

Attention was drawn to the fact that "C.P. Mainali, leader of a SPA constituent, called for more clarification and, specifically, pointed out the need to be careful to maintain Nepal's geopolitical balance." Similarly, this analyst directed attention to NC's Joint General Secretary Ramsaran Mahat's

disclosure at a function in Nuwakot: " Maoists are still hindering activities of political and social organisations. " (104)

Another outstanding feature of the post-Pact debate was the overwhelming impression that the UML had "the key role in the tailoring of the 12-point arrangement…specifically that of its bossman Madhav Kumar Nepal." (105)

Other analysts, too, were highly critical. One asked why it was that "Nepali politicians, after all these years, are now suddenly hobnobbing with their archenemy, the Maoists, who ousted them from power by exposing them to be inept and incompetent?" (106)

He wondered why India is "so desperate to join hands with the Maoists, an outfit they once not only branded as terrorists but even supplied lethal weapons to the Nepalese government to crush the rebellion they perpetrated." (107) Further, he maintained: "Surely, India is aware that the political stalemate in Nepal was brought out by the musical chairs of the bickering power hungry leaders of political parties and the Maoist insurgents and that it compelled the February 1 move by the King." (108)

Another pointed out that even Narayanman Bijukchhe of the Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party had publicly stated: "The pressure by foreigners and a decision made in haste can give the country an outlet, but we should remain alert to the danger it can pose to the country's independence and sovereignty." (109)

He recalled that the then government spokesman and Communications Minister Tanka Dhakal had rejected the concept of a constituent assembly on which the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists had reached an agreement. (110)

Bijukcche, on another public occasion, characterised the SPA-Maoist Pact as flawed saying that "as the supremacy and sovereignty of the state rests on military power, international supervision [of the RNA] is a serious issue." (111) Another prominent Left politician, Chitra Bhadur KC, Speaker of the Nepal Communist Party (Unity Centre) stated that the Pact "had given way to increased foreign intervention in the country," (112) as also that "we need to look for the solution to the problems from within the home country and the Maoists must put an end to violence and killings." (113)

Two conflicting Western assessments of 12-Point SPA-Maoist Pact

Sharply divergent views on the 12-Point Pact generated within Nepal have been reflected amongst Western scholars, too. Two conflicting viewpoints are now presented.

An upbeat, almost euphoric, assessment has been made by the International Crisis Group (ICG) long known for its transparent anti-Monarchy bias. Its latest report to come to notice is an executive summary on the Pact, the full text of which has been published in a Kathmandu daily. (114)

It states plainly enough that the concerned parties "have reached agreement on a basic alliance against the monarchy." (115) It acknowledges the dialogue preceding the finalisation of the agreement "had India's tacit backing and that the deal was finalized at meeting in New Delhi." (116) It maintains that "many issues present challenges which have only been deferred…and it is not clear if the new alliance will hold out an olive branch to the king or try to force him into submission." (117)

It concludes, "both have realized that their own strength is not enough to be decisive." (118) It makes out that "the Maoists are prepared and have a clear strategy while the parties are still working out joint positions." (119) It argues that "the Indians have played their cards close to their chest and left even close allies guessing about their intentions." (120) It makes the rather obvious point that the deal "is only a bilateral process; other crucial players – notably the palace – are excluded." (121)

Furthermore, it argues that "the parties are neither fully united nor well prepared and may concede too much too easily as bargaining progresses, while the Maoists retain their arms and could revert to a military approach at any time." (122) The ICG's pro-Maoist sympathies come across in assertions such as: "Nevertheless, the alliance presents new opportunities: the Maoists are acting under genuine imperatives and constraints and they are willing to offer significant concessions." (123). It goes on to say that a new dynamic has been created as the "Maoists have forged a basic plan for joint action against the monarchy." (124)

Eloquently missing in the ICG executive summary are any mention of the Maoists' contacts and alliances in India and beyond the seven seas, for example, with the International Revolutionary Movement (RIM). There is also a conspicuous absence of any references to how other international players, besides India, are likely to react, including China the target of the Maoists' rhetorical wrath. Nor has there been any attempt to probe India's intentions in lending "tacit backing" to a coordinated armed effort to uproot Nepal's monarchy by force of arms.

The other Western assessment that I wish to turn to now is that by Dr. Thomas A. Marks an American political risk consultant. He is clear that with the issuing of the 12-Point "letter of understanding" between the Maoists and the agitating seven-party alliance, "the conflict in Nepal has entered a dangerous period." (125)

He challenges the view put forward by UML's Nepal that "the Maoists have 'developed a new maturity' in concluding that they are unable to complete their 'capture of state power through the barrel of a gun'." (126)

Consequently, he argues, they are willing to do this peacefully, which means, "if the Maoists resort to arms again, those in power will have to take the blame." (127) He asserts that this "would hardly seem a stable platform for bargaining with the Palace, particularly given Madhab's astonishing rider: 'If the well-equipped Shah of Iran was uprooted by unarmed people, there is no reason why it can't happen in Nepal.' "

(128)

Marks questions sarcastically: "Why the monarch would be even slightly interested in holding discussion based on such terms, apparently, is because the most important thing is 'peace'." (129) He points out: "Waving this flag, the political parties have, indeed, stormed back onto centre stage, making a bargain which is altruistic, Machiavellian, or simply suicidal, depending on how the cards fall." (130)

He asserts that "there are too many unknowns, not least the nature of the Maoists' links with the newly formed Communist Party of India-Maoist, CPI-Maoist, created through a merging of the two principal Maoist insurgencies in India, and aggressively committed to violence as the only route to political power and social justice. (131)

Stating that the terms of reference of the Pact are "vague and contingent upon the surrender of the present Nepali Royal Government" (132), Marks argues that "this only heightens Nepali nationalist suspicions that what is being set in motion is a ' Sikkim solution'." (133)

Enigma: Maoist-India ties

The nature of the relationship between the Nepalese Maoists and India, both at the official and informal level, as also that of Maoist/Naxalite groupings in India, has been a matter of considerable concern, speculation, debate and puzzlement for long.

Indeed, the Maoists' alleged Indian nexus has been most controversial, despite the fact that in their original charter of demands a good portion was related to opposing Indian hegemony. "Although India declared Maoists guerrillas 'terrorists' long before the Deuba administration did in November 2001, it was common knowledge in Nepal that Baburam Bhattarai and other top leaders were being provided safe haven in India while Maoist cadres who were injured were being given sanctuary and, often, medical care." (134)

Despite the assertions by Prachanda in his Times of India interview, there is little doubt that there have been, and continue to be, extensive contacts and linkages between his party and like-minded groupings in India. Most recently, it has been dramatised in the agreement between him and Ganapathy on 1 September 2005 in New Delhi. Recent events, especially the cobbling of the 12-Point Pact in India have made it more explicit.

Yet, much earlier too, "House Speaker Taranath Ranabhat of the Nepali Congress surprised quite a few…by publicly linking the scourge of terrorism to the open Nepal-India border." (135)

Indian Ambassador to Nepal Shyam Saran, now Foreign Secretary, has gone on record at a public function in Kathmandu admitting linkages between the Maoists and their Indian counterparts. In recent years, India "extradited 42 Maoist cadres, including Bamdev Chhetri, who worked as a librarian at the Jawarharlal Nehru University in New Delhi." (136)

Then, "towards the end of August 2003 it arrested senior Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel in Chennai, as he was boarding a flight to Frankfurt en route to London on a fake British passport. (137) It has also "banned the pro-Maoist Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Ekta Samaj." (138) Thereafter, "India tightened patrolling of the Nepal-India border, banned pressure cooker exports to Nepal and, significantly, in March this year [2004] arrested Mohan Vaidya, aka Kiran in Siliguri", (139) a township in India near Nepal's eastern border.

" New Delhi also came down hard on the attack on Indian nationals and cargo by Maoists, reportedly angered over Vaidya's arrest. Not too long ago [after that] India handed over to Nepal senior leaders Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar." (140)

Yet, despite such putative anti-Maoist action by New Delhi, many in Kathmandu, including UML figures such as former minister Mod Nath Prasit, have charged that India makes a distinction between "the big and little Maoists" sheltered in India. (141) It is extremely doubtful whether he, or anyone in the UML leadership hierarchy, would venture to repeat that charge today.

No wonder, then, that many analysts in Nepal are "convinced that the Maoist movement is an Indian creation aimed at Nepal's ultimate disintegration – and takeover." (142) Yet, "others summarily dismiss that hypothesis given – initially – the strong 'anti-Indian' thrust of the 40-point charter of demands with which they launched their movement in 1996." (143)

Of course, "there is…the possibility that the Indian establishment is itself divided on how it should deal with Nepal's Maoists with one group arguing for an accommodative stance and the other for a hard line approach. Besides, can one be absolutely certain that there are no rogue elements within India's powerful intelligence agencies determined to bring Nepal to her knees, once and for all?" (144)

Such division and vacillation are possibly extant vis-à-vis India's Nepal policy, a theme I will return to later in the concluding segment. Before that, we may note what Mohan Bikram Singh, general secretary United Front (Masal), who has had such a seminal role in the evolution of the Maoist movement, has to say on the subject.

Answering a query on the Maoists' relations with India he declared: " India always wants instability in Nepal. It wishes that Nepal should never be able to resolve the Maoist insurgency and it will be compelled to invite the Indian army to contain the violence here. The Maoists, like other political parties in the past, have become the best weapon for India to fulfill its mission." (145)

Interestingly, he described the Maoist movement in these harsh terms: "The Maoists have gone further from their mission of introducing fundamental changes in Nepal. They are more influenced by Trotsky than Mao, Marx and Lenin. They are more opportunistic and career-minded…Unlike Mao who never extorted, the Maoists in Nepal continue extorting, and butchering people, which has distanced the rebels from society." (146)

Mention may now be made of an incident in January 2005 when a group of 14 Indian Army soldiers belonging to a Gorkha regiment in Darchula near the Nepal-India border in the west were abducted on their way home on furlough. Two days later the Maoists' Kailali district-in-charge Akhanda at a well-publicised function released them. Akhanda told reporters that they had abducted the Indian army soldiers to "throw [a] challenge to the present Nepali government." (147)

The Indian Ambassador Shiv Shanker Mukherjee, however, was not amused, as he stated at a press conference in Birgunj that "we have taken it seriously" (148) adding that the "Maoist insurgency is rather terrorist [sic] than political" (149). That, statement, of course, sounds hollow and out of joint today, in the face of events later in 2005, especially the dramatic developments in May, September and November when Maoist leaders were feted in the very highest political circles in New Delhi.

Another twist to the abduction tale was provided by another daily that reported that the Maoists claimed the reason for the abduction was that the Indian army soldiers had been mistaken for RNA men. (149) Not a few pointed out how quickly the Maoists released their captives once they discovered that they were Indian Gorkhas, not RNA soldiers.

Maoist strategy and tactics

A few paragraphs on Maoist strategy and tactics would be helpful to more fully appreciate what the prospects for the success of the proclaimed "decisive phase" of their movement are. A Nepalese commentator has credibly outlined what I believe are some of the insurgency's key characteristics.

In his opinion, "their immediate objective/strategy is to seek national and international legitimacy and recognition as a political movement with their own established security wing." (150) He maintains that "in this regard they have to prove that there is a strategic stalemate, there are controlled areas and static HQs in Nepal." (151).

He asserts: "They are struggling to convince the UN system, the international community, NGO/INGO[s] and the Nepali public that there are two governments, two regimes and [that] there is a state within a state." (152) Their second objective is "to capture [a] couple of district HQs and strategic locations and force the government to declare [an] unilateral cease-fire and present unacceptable demands during the negotiations." (153)

Thirdly, "they want to exploit the internal intrigues and conflicts in the democratic political parties, particularly some of the unbridled leadership, by preaching people's new democracy/democratic republic etc., till they capture the state authority and finally impose their own ideology." (154)

Incidentally, given the above reference to an unilateral cease-fire by the state – and not forgetting the unilateral four-month Maoist cease-fire that was terminated on 2 January 2006 – this paper presenter wishes to focus attention to what Mao Zedong, the proponent of "people's war", had to say on that subject.

In chapter 8 of his so-called "Little Red Book", dealing with "People's War", Mao has offered the following piece of advice: "Make good use of the intervals between campaigns to rest, train and consolidate our troops. Periods of rest, training and consolidation should not in general be very long, and the enemy should so far as possible be permitted no breathing space." (155)

Changing dynamics/command and control issue

A research associate at New Delhi's Institute for Conflict Management two years ago wrote about the changing dynamics of the Maoist movement. He focused on Maoist incursions across the open Nepal-India border, and the extent to which they "have succeeded in establishing a base, or securing safe havens, in India." (156)

Apart from the meetings between the Maoists and other Left Nepali parties in India, such as those in Lucknow in November 2003 and in Siliguri in August 2001, "there has also been reportage of the Maoist insurgents establishing linkages with a melange of Indian left-wing groups…and at least two insurgent groups active in India's northeast." (157)

He maintains that "the extremely porous 1,800 kilometre-long border…offers uninterrupted passage for illegal smuggling of goods, arms, ammunition and narcotics…" (158) besides a convenient passage for injured Maoists from Nepal to be treated in hospitals in India. He quotes an Associated Press report of 13 December 2003 to the effect that "at least 128 injured Maoists" (159) had been treated in hospitals in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, bordering Nepal.

He discloses that "there have been many instances that establish the fact that the Maoists have been procuring weapons and are conducting joint training camps along the Bihar-Nepal border." (160). He asserts that "along the border areas in north Bihar they have formed an 'Indo-Nepal Regional Committee' (INBRC) to co-ordinate their activities." (161)

He concludes, "while India has been primarily concentrating on securing its borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, its open border with Nepal is now evidently threatened by continuing Maoist transgressions." (162)

Clearly, at least two conclusions from the above could seem to be inescapable. One is that the Indian State, that prides itself as a nuclear-weapons power and a legitimate candidate for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, is either an extraordinary "soft state." Else, it has deliberately chosen to turn a blind eye on the developments referred to by the Indian researcher quoted above for motives that must be suspect in patriotic Nepalese eyes.

Coming, now, to the issue of command and control within the ranks of the Maoist movement, reference is made, if only briefly, to a revealing write-up in October 2004 that has a direct bearing on the subject.

As asserted, "recent Maoist atrocities in various districts, and statements from central level leaders claiming these are against party policy, has raised a serious doubt: Is the Maoist leadership steadily losing [its] grip over its militias?" (163)

A local Maoist leader Diwaker was quoted as stating, "that the series of attacks launched against the cadres of [the] People's Front Nepal (PFN) [Janamorcha Nepal] in recent weeks in Pachthar, Dang, Baglung, Myagdi, and Dailekh districts were against the policy of the Maoist central command." (164)

The statement also admitted that such mistakes were committed as a result of "local internal conflicts" (165). Thus, "since such attacks have taken place in so many districts of different regions, it only raises a serious question about the extent of 'internal conflict' within the Maoist rank and file." (166)

At this juncture, this analyst wishes to recall a plethora of write-ups/disclosures in the Nepali vernacular media that, from time to time, have come out with reports/speculation/rumours of splits between the militant and political wings of the Maoist movement, led respectively Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai.

Periodic reports of ideological differences have come to light over what has developed as a Prachanda personality cult within the movement. Indeed, a recent disclosure was that "the Maoists are wearing their supreme leader Prachanda's locket on their chest. It makes it clear that Prachanda has started to compare himself with the great leader of China, Mao Zedong." (167)

It was credibly established during the Prachanda-Baburam "split" referred to earlier, that armed groups loyal to each were determined to fight the other. Given the shadowy nature of the movement and the danger for any outsider to attempt to establish what is really what, it is difficult (a) to pronounce categorical judgement in that regard and (b) to assess the seriousness of such problems in the command and control hierarchies of the Maoist insurgency.

However, what cannot be dismissed as inconsequential are frequent reports of the surrender by Maoist cadres, often of "commanders", in the presence of the local authorities and, sometimes, the media. Those surrendering have often included child recruits. Most have confessed publicly to their mistreatment at the hands of their seniors. A frequent allegation is that discrimination in treatment is rampant and, in the case of females, that of sexual molestation and harassment, as well. (168)

Similarly noteworthy is that, as documented regularly across the entire spectrum of the Nepalese media, the Maoists have continued terrorist activities such as extortion, abduction and forcible recruitment, even during their recent four-month truce.

One much publicised case: the abduction and release 12 days later of Arun Chand, a businessman and son of former Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand. He was released at a public programme at a village in Kailali district "after he agreed to pay Rs 31.1 million he owed to sugar farmers, by March 13 [2006]. " (169)

Two other examples: "Maoists threaten parties, civic movement leaders", and "Maoists harass journos, seize cameras" (170)

>From the above alone it is evident that the Maoist world is hardly the utopia for the downtrodden that many have tended to project it as, including in the West. As much is also underlined in the escalation in the number of vigilante groups determined to take matters into their own hands in a number of Maoist insurgency-affected villages.

Predictably, however, it has been criticized by groups sympathetic to the Maoists/dissenting parties and lauded by those who support the Establishment's policy of dealing with the insurgency with a firm hand.

Thus, a report from Nawalparasi district that disclosed that "plain-clothes gunmen, who are often seen moving alongside security patrols, are none other than members of the anti-Maoist vigilante groups that have been terrifying locals since the last one-and-half years." (171)

An earlier news report, also from Nawalparasi, disclosed that "people in 14 VDCs across the district have started campaigns to chase away Maoist terrorists." (172)

SECTION THREE: CONCLUSIONS/AFFIRMATIONS

Prachanda's claim to Time magazine in April 2005 that the Maoists' "people's war" has entered a "decisive stage" has been echoed in UML secretary general Madhav Kumar Nepal's assertion, after the 12-point SPA-Maoist agreement was inked, that the anti-Monarchy movement has reached a "final stage."

At a public rally in a southern township on 12 January 2006, NC's Koirala also indicated as much when he proclaimed, "the stir has moved forward to end a[n] autocratic regime, restore peace, build an independent Nepal and make people sovereign." (173)

Far from certain

That pat conclusion, however, is far from certain. For one thing, the UML leader, speaking at the same rally, referred to "ensuing months" – not days or weeks – in deciding the "fate of autocracy" (174). Koirala, in an unwitting admission of the Kathmandu citizenry's lack of response, declared: "A rally of this size is required in Kathmandu to compel the king to bow before the people." (175)

Amik Sherchan, president, Janamorcha Nepal linked the Monarchy's demise to the failure of the 8 February 2006 municipal polls, while addressing the same gathering. (176) In other words, if the polls are successful, the Monarchy will survive!

It should be noted that the King, on a three-week tour of eastern Nepal at the same time, was greeted with large and enthusiastic crowds – as he had been a couple of months earlier while undertaking walking tours within the Kathmandu Valley and elsewhere mingling with the people. (177)

Meanwhile, the government is going ahead with preparations for the municipal polls for which some 72 parties are registered with the Election Commission. The Home and Defence Ministries have repeatedly assured the populace of their ability to provide adequate security.

Both the SPA and the Maoists are committed to disrupting the polls, the former "actively" while the latter have threatened physical harm to potential candidates and voters. At the time of writing, their rhetoric has not been transformed into action. When or if it does, there is no certainty that the reaction of the general public, for years denied their right to elect their representatives, will ipso facto favour them.

Most people share the view that "in a parliamentary democracy it is the ultimate terrorism to deny the people the right to vote in elections to parliament and bodies of local government. It is the ultimate insult to the sovereignty of the people." (178)

Only a few would have forgotten that SPA governments prior to February 1, 2005 failed to hold elections. Or that, thereafter, they doubted that the King would hold elections. Now that the electoral process is underway they threaten to disrupt them, in tandem with the Maoists.

Other factors also militate against the claimed finality of the overthrow of the Monarchy, at least any time soon.

Among them is, as one commentator has argued, that:

The RNA has become a pole of stability. Its unwavering effort to protect our national security was the main reason why the Maoist declared their one-sided ceasefire and their domestic and foreign supporters and international meddlers welcomed it. From being a ceremonial army of about 40,000 men and women, it has become a battle-hardened and internationally experienced fighting force of nearly 90,000 soldiers. (179)

Common sense would also tend to suggest that if the Maoists were so close to a decisive victory they would not opt for a ceasefire or enter into a pact with the very forces that drove them into the jungles and declared them terrorists. It is also revealing that the Maoists who for years had spurned suggestions for UN mediation or involvement, as did the Establishment, has in the past year or so made a U-turn on that issue.

More than suggesting that a "decisive" victory is around the corner, it would seem to contradict it. As disciples of Mao's teachings on guerrilla warfare that turnaround has perhaps been conditioned by prospects for 'protracted' war, claimed to favour guerrillas over conventional forces of the state.

Also, it may be asked why, if victory for the Maoists was imminent, the RNA, and the police force for that matter, still routinely dispatch contingents for service abroad for extended periods of time, in a variety of UN peacekeeping operations.

Foreign risk consultants familiar with the Nepalese security situation note the improved capability of the RNA. One claims that the RNA's overall efficacy has gotten better over the years, "led by improvement in the quality of RNA junior and middle grade officers. In many ways, in fact…the RNA, is not the same force it was several years ago." (180)

Another, the author of Imperial Grunts (Random House, 2005), freely acknowledges as much.

The Nepalese officers are fluent English-speakers, graduates of Sandhurst, and of either the U.S. Army Ranger course at Fort Benning, Ga., or the Special Forces 'Q' Course at Fort Bragg, N.C…Nepalese Rangers fight and train at the squad levels, unlike most other third world military units that I've observed, which are only confident fighting in mass, at the company level or higher. Counter-insurgency, it should be said, is about small-unit penetration. (181)

Notably, until its suspension following the King's February 1, 2005 action, the counter-insurgency ability of the state's armed forces had steadily improved by an infusion of modern weaponry, principally from the US, India and the UK. So, too, their intelligence gathering and interrogation capability.

Most meaningful, too, was the arrival last November of military aid for RNA, in the form of 18-truck loads of military hardware from China via the Nepal-China/Tibet border. (182)

Earlier, following the visit to Beijing of RNA's Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa, China agreed to provide 8 million yuan (Rs 72 million) as military aid. (183) Gen. Thapa explained that as China had "realized the importance of RNA's development in combating internal and international terrorism, so it has agreed to help." (184)

Returning from Pakistan, he disclosed "training is the main field of cooperation between the two [military] forces." (185) In such circumstances, a military takeover by the Maoists is highly unlikely.

The military factor aside, schisms still apparently plague SPA constituents, notably the NC and the UML. Thus whereas Koirala accepts that Monarchy can still exist "if ceremonial in form" (186), the UML chief asserts "we now want to prove that a prosperous Nepal is possible without monarchy." (187)

Besides, doubts in the minds of some SPA leaders about how long they may be able to go hand-in-hand with the Maoists are frequently referred to. One analyst wonders: "Is that why SPA leaks, in private conversations, about the vacuum that might grip a small nation perched strategically between Asia's two giants? Is this why they, like the Maoists, have not been able to articulate what 'total democracy' is?" (188)

Whatever the language in the 12-point SPA-Maoist accord, enlightened Nepalese are convinced that "the Maoists are not interested in anything short of total victory – the overthrow of constitutional monarchy and multiparty parliamentary democracy and the imposition of a one-party totalitarian system." (189)

Many discerning political observers have also noted, and are disturbed by, Baburam Bhattarai's soft peddling of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In the Washington Times of 14 December 2002 Bhattarai has been quoted as stating: "There is no independent and authentic account of events in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge available so far. Whatever is emanating from the Western media appears to be highly exaggerated to us." (190)

There are many within Nepal that still "recall the documents and video footage seized during the last ceasefire, in 2003, showing Maoist cadres telling the mass base that negotiations were but a tactical gambit." (191) In such circumstances, it is easy to comprehend why a perceptive Nepali analyst makes the following assertions:

"Clearly, the Maoists seem to be taking a page from Lenin's playbook. They are betting on the kind of chaos that existed in Russia between the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II and the final coup that bought the Bolsheviks to power. Is Koirala destined to become the next Kerensky?" (192).

Such qualms are lurking not far below the surface within the NC leadership itself. Hugely revealing are doubts thus expressed by Ms Sailaja Acharya, Koirala niece and former NC deputy prime minister: "NC has adopted the Maoist agenda by agreeing with the 12-point pact…which has put NC's identity into jeopardy." (193)

As she recalled: " Bangladesh was born out of Pakistan. Sikkim was annexed into India and India was under emergency rule. These political incidents forced B.P. Koirala to decide that they must return home and carry out their political activities within Nepalese territory." (194) She pointed out that in China the KMT lost to Mao Zedong's forces after having forged an alliance with them, during the war against Japan. (195)

International factors, conflicting interests and hidden agendas

A cluster of international factors has been impinging on, complicating and disguising the Nepalese politico-security situation in recent years.

No real understanding of the current situation can be achieved without tracing the impact on the Nepali psyche of two seminal developments in South Asia: the creation of Bangladesh out of East Pakistan via active Indian military intervention in 1971 and India's annexation of, or merger with, Sikkim in 1975. There is one common, chilling factor.

It is India's aspiration for regional dominance. Henry A. Kissinger put his finger on the button when he commented on Mrs Indira Gandhi's intentions in the erstwhile East Pakistan, thus: "The Indian Prime Minister decided in the spring or summer of 1971 to use the opportunity to settle accounts with Pakistan once and for all and assert Indian preeminence on the subcontinent.[Italics supplied]" (196)

It is also significant that Sikkim's "merger" with India followed Chogyal [King] Palden Thondup Namgyal's ouster through the maneuverings by Sikkim's feckless political parties guided, behind-the-scenes, by India.

The SPA's constant kowtowing to India to catapult them back to power has now been exposed to the world. That, in their desperation, these "democratic" leaders should join hands with a ruthless militant force with a ten-year active history of violence and armed rebellion is weird to say the least. Perhaps they fondly believe that the Maoists wolves have truly transformed themselves into docile sheep that they can control once the King is disposed and the RNA disbanded.

As for India – which herself is a victim of scores of insurgencies, including a raging Maoist one now formally linked to Prachanda's forces – there is either the unlikely possibility that the Maoists are indeed Indian pawns or that it is confident that once her objective of regime change is affected, she will be able to contain/control them.

It is common knowledge that the Indian establishment is a divided house over Nepal policy. Thus, the armed forces and the National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan are reportedly in favour of assisting Nepal to deal firmly with the Maoists. However, elements within the Prime Minister's office and the External Affairs Ministry apparently favour punishing the King by either his removal or being sidelined.

India 's ruling coalition being dependent on Left parties for its survival has perforce had to placate them, including in the matter of enforcing sanctions on committed arms supplies to the RNA.

It would seem inexplicable that the Maoists, who started off on an "anti-Indian" or "nationalist" platform in 1996 would, ten years down the road, be transformed into a virtual Indian appendage. Far more likely is that their leadership has determined that in order to capture power they need the tactical support not merely of the mainstream political parties but that of India.

Possibly, they sincerely believe that they would be able to effectively deal with India once they are in the seat of political power. As we have noted, Prachanda has stressed the high value of flexibility in political tactics.

That, however, is difficult to imagine because the King's removal and the RNA disbandment would leave a dangerous vacuum. It would besides be viewed with utmost distaste by the U. S. and a China now vigorously pursuing policies that bear little if any resemblance to those pursued by Mao during his heyday. It should not be forgotten that Prachanda has claimed that his revolution in Nepal is only part of a worldwide one.

All the above, too, militates against the Maoists' "decisive" victory over the King and the Establishment any time soon.

Regarding the much-touted "threat to democracy" bogey that finds resonance in the West, it is nothing more than a red herring that disguises the real threat to Nepal's existence as an independent sovereign state.

Especially inexplicable is that the West continues to support an India which is clearly playing a double game: hunting with the Maoist hares it has hosted on its territory, even while pretending to run with the anti-terror coalition under the banner of the U.S.

Even more conspicuous is the death-like silence of would-be peace merchants when it comes to answering this conundrum: what is the overarching motive of the India-US-UK axis in attempting brazen regime change in the guise of promoting democracy in Nepal?

The question naturally arises: why has there been such an unusually coordinated and prolonged international campaign to topple the present regime in Nepal? Indeed, despite the U.S.–led international war on terrorism, how is it that a state courageously battling for survival against a fierce foreign-inspired and assisted insurgency should be punished and promoters and partners of terrorism rewarded?

It is thus impossible to erase the suspicion that the "democracy card" is being exploited as a convenient cover to affect geo-political transformation not only in Nepal but, ultimately, in Tibet as well.

China 's friendly posture towards the Establishment, and the increasingly close interaction between Kathmandu and Beijing of late, clearly suggest that such suspicions are not merely limited to the corridors of power in Nepal.

It now remains to be seen whether the faint flickers of doubt and change discernible in Washington after the SPA has decided to become a Maoist partner, will mark the beginning of a re-think in America and the West on the Maoist insurgency and related issues, or not. The current India-US-UK axis may not, in fact, survive a Maoist takeover.

In any case, as a perceptive commentator has observed: " Nepal has reached a critical crossroads. The stakes are much higher than determining whether Nepal remains a monarchy or becomes a republic. Basically, this is the challenge: Nepal can either be truly independent of, or truly dependent on, India." (197)

Speaking for myself, I agree with the analyst who sums up the Nepalese dilemma, thus: " Nepal must be a monarchy, or it will be Indian!" (198)

A "decisive" victory for the Maoists and their newfound allies, would, I believe, be denied also because a repeat of Sikkim is likely to bring China into the picture, further complicating matters all around. There is little doubt however that the ten-year State vs. Maoist conflict has entered a crucial stage.

Kathmandu,

17 January 2006.

ENDS

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