Thursday, October 21, 2004

Nepal: Maoist Insurgency - With Little help from "Big Brother"



Meanwhile, an anti-India sentiment is building up among the elite as well as the Maoists because of what they term as Indian interference in Nepal’s affairs. "Ultimately, we will have to fight the Indian Army. That is the situation. When the Indian Army comes in with thousands of soldiers, it will be a very big thing. But we are not afraid," said the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) a couple of years ago. The Maoists are sore that India is militarily helping Nepal. But India is a refuge for the rebels when the going gets tough. As the Royal Nepal Army and the 15,000-strong Armed Police Force, a counter-insurgency outfit, close in on the Maoists, they sneak off into India. A former consul general of Nepal, Yuba Raj, says, "The Maoists are working to create a revolutionary zone with the help of the Naxals of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal." Padma Ratna Tuladhar, a peace negotiator, says, "If the zone materialises, India, like Nepal, will suffer from violence and bloodshed."


Use and abuse of Big Brother


Maoist rebels, despite their strong anti-New Delhi sentiment, establish a network in India

Ajay Uprety/Kathmandu

Kathmandu looks normal. The streets are chock-a-block with traffic. People are rushing around doing their daily business. The weather is pleasant, around 25 degrees Celsius, but the nights are cool. Yet, hearts are tremulous. Nepal is going through a civil war between the government and the Maoists, who want to overthrow the monarchy. On August 18, the Maoists laid siege to the capital and announced a month-long ban on vehicles entering and leaving Kathmandu. The blockade lasted a week. As a result, Kathmandu had only four weeks of kerosene, three weeks of diesel and 10 days of petrol reserves. On October 1, the Maoists shot at a helicopter which was carrying foodstuff for people living in the remote Surkhet area.

More than 10,000 people have lost their lives in the civil war since it began in 1996. It has affected the economy, and this year there has been a 20 per cent fall in tourist arrivals.

Meanwhile, an anti-India sentiment is building up among the elite as well as the Maoists because of what they term as Indian interference in Nepal’s affairs. "Ultimately, we will have to fight the Indian Army. That is the situation. When the Indian Army comes in with thousands of soldiers, it will be a very big thing. But we are not afraid," said the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) a couple of years ago. The Maoists are sore that India is militarily helping Nepal.

But India is a refuge for the rebels when the going gets tough. As the Royal Nepal Army and the 15,000-strong Armed Police Force, a counter-insurgency outfit, close in on the Maoists, they sneak off into India. A former consul general of Nepal, Yuba Raj, says, "The Maoists are working to create a revolutionary zone with the help of the Naxals of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal." Padma Ratna Tuladhar, a peace negotiator, says, "If the zone materialises, India, like Nepal, will suffer from violence and bloodshed."

It is easy to sneak into India as there are 22 exit points along the Indo-Nepal border, which touches four major Indian states—UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttaranchal.

Of late, the Maoists have been active in Uttaranchal. In September, the Uttaranchal Police seized posters from Jhulaghat town of Pithoragarh district which warned India not to help Nepal or else face human bombs.

In August, the Uttaranchal Police recovered a cache of arms and ammunition and anti-India literature from Tanakpur town. Earlier, the police had nabbed five Maoists from Nanakmatha region.

"If all the pieces are put together it is evident that the Maoists are consolidating their base in India," says a senior Uttaranchal police officer. Last month, the Maoists blew up Sita bridge in Pithoragarh district, which connects India and Nepal.

Around 20 Maoists escaped from Mahendranagar Jail in Nepal on September 12. "We have reports that these prisoners are not in Nepal, which means they have sneaked into India," says a Nepali police officer. There are also reports that Prachanda went to Patna and had meetings with the Naxals of Bihar.

Two years ago, the Uttar Pradesh police seized a truck full of cartridges and arms at the Indo-Nepal border near Gorakhpur. Investigations revealed that the arms were being sent to the Maoists by the Naxals. Now, the police say, the Maoists have penetrated cities like Patna, Almora and Lucknow.

In 2002, the Lucknow Police caught eight Maoists who had come there for medical treatment after they were injured in a fight with the Nepal police. But because of friendly relations between Nepal and India, they were quietly handed over to the Nepali authorities and the news was suppressed.

Indian and Nepali intelligence agencies have reported that the Maoists have opened up training camps in India. "Recently, we handed over a list of 28 Maoists to our Indian counter-parts and asked them to nab them dead or alive," says a senior police officer. "Top leaders like Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda are on the list."

India has deployed the Indo-Nepal Border Police Force and the Special Security Bureau to guard its porous border but it has not been of much help.

On high alert: Soldiers of the Nepalese army walking through Kathmandu

Meanwhile, the scene is not encouraging in Kathmandu. An anti-India mood, which was latent a few years ago, is palpable, even among moderate leaders, who express their sentiments in guarded words.

Madhab Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), an important coalition partner in the government, says, "In the name of cooperation, India’s excessive intervention in Nepal’s internal matter is complicating the situation." Tuladhar says, "Many in Nepal are apprehensive that in future there will be foreign intervention [by India] and the country will be militarised. That is why anti-India sentiments are growing."

The government and the Maoists, tired of relentless violence, are looking for a truce, but are yet to sit down for talks as both have preconditions.

A truce at this stage will give the Maoists an opportunity to consolidate and reorganise its cadres, who are facing a tough time because of the ‘iron hand’ policy of the government. For the government, a truce will convey a message to the citizens that the state is serious about resolving the crisis.

In September, after two days of intense debate by ruling coalition partners, the government invited the Maoists for a dialogue, but the response was cold. Earlier, Prachanda had posed six questions to the government: Is the government a legitimate one or the king’s servant? Why is the king’s army killing innocents? Is the government ready for a constituent assembly? Will the government stop taking military assistance from India? Is the army under the government or the king? Is the government ready for UN mediation?

The government did not give a point by point answer. Instead, it said that it was willing to resolve the crisis. But this did not satisfy the Maoists.

Anti-India feeling: External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh with King Gyanendra

The Maoists’ demand of involving the UN in talks is unpalatable to King Gyanendra. "We will prove the government’s willingness to resolve the problem through dialogue at the negotiating table," says Dr Mohammed Mohsin, information and communication minister. The government has set up a high-level peace committee to resolve the crisis, comprising representatives of various political parties. But at the same time it has ruled out a unilateral ceasefire.

There is sharp division among coalition partners on whether the government should declare a ceasefire or not. While hardliners like Mohsin do not want it, the CPN-UML strongly favours it.

"We have to send out a message to the rebels," says Madhab Nepal. "A ceasefire during the Dussehra festival is the best way to break the ice." The CPN-UML is desperate because its cadres will demand that it quit the government since one of its preconditions for joining the coalition was declaration of a ceasefire. However, the other coalition partners like the Nepali Congress-Democratic party, headed by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party are not keen.

Another major obstacle is the Maoists’ oft-repeated demand for a constituent assembly, to carve out a new constitution, which will substitute the monarchy with a democratic government. This, the government says, is unacceptable.

Two rounds of peace talks, held in 2001 and 2002, between the Maoists and the government broke down on the issue of constituent assembly.

The opposition—which comprises the Nepali Congress (Girija Prasad Koirala faction), the Jan Morcha, the Nepal Mazdoor Kisan Party and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi Devi faction)—believes that the king does not want to give anything to the Maoists.

The Maoists say they want to talk directly to the king and not the ‘king’s servants’. They call the present government by that term since the king has frequently appointed and sacked prime ministers. For instance, Prime Minister Deuba was sacked in October 2002 and reinstated in June 2004. In between, the king had appointed and sacked prime ministers Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur.

In June 2002, Deuba dissolved the country’s parliament. So rebels question the legitimacy of the government. Against this background, it seems difficult for peace talks to begin.

But some leaders are optimistic. "The formation of the high-level peace committee and the government’s answer to Prachanda’s posers indicate that the government and the rebels are doing their homework in order to return to the negotiating table," says C.P. Mainali, general secretary of Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist (CPN-ML). Adds Khem Raj Pandit, assistant general secretary of Rashtriya Prajatanta Party, "The political scenario at present is quite conducive to begin a dialogue."

But others say that unless the government concedes the Maoist demand for a constituent assembly, there is little chance of a dialogue. "The government is not sincere about the talks and is moving towards militarisation," says Ram Baran Yadav, leader of the Nepali Congress. "The Maoists are creating impediments, while the king is promoting militarisation," says K.P. Oli, leader of the CPN-ML. The future seems as hazy as a fog-laden winter morning in Kathmandu.

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