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#1501, 17 September 2004
Nepal: Maoists hold State and People to Ransom
Sanjay Kumar

The writ of the Royal Government of Nepal runs only in Kathmandu. It has virtually no control over territories outside the state capital. But when Maoists in that country launched their blockade of Kathmandu on 18 August they showed to the world that they could hold even Kathmandu to ransom. Nepal suffered huge losses due to this blockade. Its impact was most visible on the tourism industry, which lost about five million dollars due to cancelled bookings by foreign tourists. The blockade also affected other industries due to severing of road links. However, the crisis was gotten over quickly as Maoists themselves did not come out to enforce the blockade. Pressure was exerted by protests from civil society, human rights groups and condemnation by the international community.


Maoists had started their 'Peoples War' in 1996, when gun-wielding extremists simultaneously attacked six government and police outposts in western Nepal. After years of similar acts, the group has grown in strength. Its cadre strength ranges between 10,000 and 15,000 who are present in at least two-thirds of Nepal's 75 districts. The extremists have come to control much of the countryside and over 10,000 people have been killed in the insurgency. The Maoist movement draws its strength from widespread dissatisfaction with the traditional order in Nepal. The caste system that dominates Nepalese society is the primary cause of frustration and anger, but there are political motives as well. Many of the rebel leaders were participants in the overthrow of the absolute monarchy more than a decade ago. While most of those individuals subsequently joined the political mainstream, others grew increasingly disillusioned with the government's failure to better the lives of peasants. Majority of these peasants now live below the poverty line.


Since 1996, the country has been plagued by political unrest. Corruption and political infighting has only made the matters worse. The rebels who earlier operated mostly in the countryside, are now targeting the main population centers including the capital city Kathmandu. The movement's growth has been facilitated by ineffectual government policies that largely ignored the guerrillas and thus allowed their influence to spread.


In July this year, two sister organizations of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) - the Kirant Workers Party (KWP) and Madhesi National Liberation Front (MNLF) - decided to sever relationships with the Maoists and steer an independent course. This was the first major dissension within the Maoist fold since its inception. However, this split could not affect their capability in a serious way as the Maoists have managed to strengthen their grassroots support and have increasingly firmed up their hold over territories where they were not so strong.


The government has failed to tackle the most important problem of poverty. The country remains largely dependent on aid and tourism. Moreover, the rebels also allege violation of human rights when in detention. Nepalese law allows the detention of individuals suspected of being rebels for 90 days without being charged. Human rights groups claim that many are kept much longer.


But, the solution offered by the extremists to tackle poverty is equally fraught with danger. They want to follow the model of Peru's Shining Path and destroy the traditional order in the country and replace it with a revolutionary peasant-led order. But this kind of 'revolutions' in places like Cambodia has only resulted in mass killings and atrocities. Human rights groups accuse the rebels in Nepal of atrocities similar to those committed by the Khmer Rouge: kidnapping, torture, extortion, rape and summary execution of innocent civilians. Most recently, hundreds of school children were kidnapped for a week of "re-education." Maoists have also abducted poor people to indoctrinate them into their ideology. On its part, state uses force to free the areas from Marxist control.


Several peace initiatives in the past have shown that Maoists are using the interregnum for recouping and once they feel that they have become strong enough to control state, they sabotage negotiations on some pretext or the other. Still, talks are the best possible way to solve the Maoist problem. The other path will lead to widespread bloodshed, which the country is already witnessing.


It is difficult for Nepal to deal with the problem of this magnitude on its own. It is in order if India lends a helping hand and assists Nepal in its struggle against the Maoists by providing training to Nepalese Army and by making available required arms and ammunition. It can also help by quick exchange of the extremists and by maintaining a strict vigil on the international border. But definitely using just force is not going to solve this problem forever. The Maoist crisis of Nepal has made clear that the present order, which ignores the welfare of the people, is untenable. The Nepalese society needs to get rid of its evils. Only wide-ranging socio-economic reforms will make the peace in Nepal durable even if the Maoists are not present tomorrow.

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