Nepal: Repression and Maoist Struggle in the Himalayan Kingdom
The current political situation in Nepal is unstable. Since 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal and the United People´s Front, both of Maoist orientation, have been carrying out an insurrection against the Government which they call a "revolutionary people´s war" in the mountains of western Nepal. The Maoists advocate the abolition of the constitutional monarchy and the establishment of a people´s republic.
The decision of the current Nepalese prime minister, Girija P. Koirala, to use force against the rebels in order to put a halt to Maoist violence has only made a peaceful solution to the conflict through dialogue more difficult.
At the same time, the high level of corruption in the country is political dynamite, as most of the population cannot even meet its most basic needs.
Keys to the Conflict
On February 13, 1996 a group of rebels led by the Communist Party of Nepal and the United People´s Front, decided to initiate a so-called "people´s war" against the Nepalese state. Its main objectives were overthrowing the current democratic, multiparty system through guerilla warfare, writing a new constitution, and installing a Maoist-style people´s republic.
Several circumstances led to the Maoists´ decision to initiate an armed struggle against the Nepalese state. First, one must remember that multiparty democracy in Nepal dates only to 1991. Up until that time, Nepal had lived under the "Panchayat" political system characterized by a single, monarchist, party and by a king with absolute powers including that of naming the prime minister unilaterally. The coming of multiparty democracy did nothing to change the country´s political culture. Thus, as soon as the main political party, The Nepalese Congress Party (NCP), came to power, it made overtures to the former officials of the Panchayat system, whom it returned to their posts in a move designed to isolate the communists. As a result of the understanding between the monarch and the NCP, the more radical members of the communist parties decided to go underground and take up an armed struggle.
Several strategic, economic and political factors characterizing the Nepalese scene also help to explain the why the Maoist rebels adopted their belligerent position. The coming of democracy did nothing to solve the serious problems affecting the country, the primary of which is the extreme poverty of most of the inhabitants. The World Bank has in fact shown Nepal as one of the world´s poorest countries and is one of the least advanced according to its Index of Human Development finding itself in position 144 on the ranking among 174 countries. Feudal economic relationships and exploitation persist where 90% of the population works in agriculture and where there is a general shortage of food and basic goods.
In the political sphere, one should emphasize that the Government´s centralization in Katmandu and its inability to care out policies related to rural areas, the administration´s inefficiency, the generalized corruption of leaders and politicians, and the perception of the state as a means of serving private interests. As the same time the state has marginalized and oppressed ethnic minorities-Nepal is home to thirty ethnic groups and one-hundred different languages-in favor of the Hindu religion and women in general.
The Maoists has various supporters on the international scale, specifically the Communist Party of India, which provides them with materiel; Sendero Luminoso of Peru, which supplies tactical and military advice through the World Revolutionary Movement; and anarchist and other radical organizations who work through NGOs.
Finally, the Maoists seek to regain Nepal´s sovereignty in relation to India, its powerful neighbor. The long-standing understanding between Nepalese monarchists and India has produced a subordination of Nepal and promoted Hindu expansionism.
The Maoists finance themselves through bank robberies, extortion of wealthy farmers and merchants and revolutionary taxes.
They have managed to channel generalized discontent with the state toward strengthening their position. For this reason, it is not surprising that they control the country´s poorest areas, particularly the rural west and that one find in their ranks a large number of women and individuals from marginalized ethnic minorities.
Far from attempting to curb growing popular support for the guerillas, the Government for its part has served to strengthen it through its ever more repressive police operations.
The Nepalese Government has recently reached an agreement on integrated border management with India in the interest of preventing the Maoists from receiving support from within India. In exchange, Nepal has committed itself to checking the growing activities along its border of the Pakistani Intelligence Service.
Background and evolution
For over one hundred years up until 1951, the Rana family effectively held power in Nepal, the post of prime minister was hereditary and an oligarchy of interrelated families jointly made decisions. A popular revolution, led by the NCP, deposed the Ranas and established a limited constitutional monarchy. The monarchy continued to control the government through the 1950´s through King Tribhuvan and his successor on the throne, Mahendra. In 1959 the latter promulgated a new constitution calling for an elected bicameral parliament. In the same year elections gave victory to the NCP led by B. P Koirala. The monarch, however, retained a degree of power and conflicts between him and the Prime Minister led to a monarchist coup d´etat in December 1960 that ended the democratic interlude. The King dissolved Parliament, prohibited political parties, and then in 1962 introduced a new constitution re-establishing the absolute powers of the monarch. King Mahendra´s death and the country´s malaise permitted a series of constitutional reforms that however in no way eroded the king´s power.
From 1973 until 1990 Nepal was governed under the Panchayat system characterized by an absence of parties and the existence of six governmental organizations formed by various classes and professional organizations. These governmental organizations became the only political forum open to the Nepalese. IN 1990 the climate of conflict that arose between the anti-monarchists and the police in Katmandu led King Birendra to undertake a peaceful democratic transition reestablishing multiparty democracy and a constitutional monarchy.
The democratic revolution of 1990 meant explosive change for the old traditions and local conditions. The arrival of democracy did not, however, mean a change for the better in economic situation of the Nepalese people nor did it change the power relationships inherent in the Panchayat system. Indeed, after the 1991 elections won by the NCP, the Government began to move closer to the monarchists and a return to their posts of the officials under the Panchayat system. Contrary to expectations, the constant struggles for power led to a disintegration of the structures of the political parties, constant changes in leaderships and weak minority governments, which destabilized the new Nepalese democracy.
In June 1995, the Maoists decided to initiate a "revolutionary people´s war" at a meeting between the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of Nepal where it was agreed that the parliamentary system was in crisis and that Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionaries had the historical responsibility to provided leadership for the imminent worldwide revolution. The Maoists´ main goals are declaring the districts under their control "red forts" where they introduce collectivization of the agriculture and collect taxes, infiltrating new political parties, launching guerilla warfare in order to provoke a civil war and establishing independent relations with other countries.
The Maoists currently control twenty of Nepal´s seventy-five districts (basically the rural west of the country) and about 1.5 million Nepalese out of a total of 20 million live under their control. The rebels are reaping the fruits of the long period during which communists infiltrated the village councils under the rule of the dictatorial monarchy. But the main factor in the increase in support for the Maoist insurrection is the policy of repression that the Government has implemented in its attempt to finish off guerilla warfare and its supporters. During July and August 1998 the Government launched the repressive "Kilo Sera 2" operation involving a series of indiscriminate massacres and arrests which left two hundred dead in the western region. More recently, the Government has approved the creation of a special armed police force to combat the Maoists. It has also proposed the mobilization of the Royal Army of Nepal but that would require a consensus among all the political parties difficult to achieve given the fact that the communist movement currently receives about 37% of the vote.
In only five years of insurrection at least fifteen hundred people have been murdered, two-thirds of them by the Nepalese police. In addition the violence and repression have increased considerably since the beginning of 2000.
The current situation gives little hope for a short-term peaceful resolution of the conflict. The coming to power of B. p. Koirala in March 2000 replacing K. P. Bhattarai, another NCP member, removed any chance for negotiation between the Government and the rebels. While Bhattarai favored a peaceful solution to the conflict, Koirala came to power on a platform of dealing with the Maoists by using force to maintain security and order.
Pressures from the international community has succeeded in making Koirala tone down his position and open the doors to possible negotiation with the rebels. For their part, the Maoists have expressed a desire to sit down and negotiate with the Government when and if their "minimum conditions" are accepted. These include a cease to hostilities and the end of state terrorism, the freeing of all Maoist activists currently in jail, the publication of a communiqué on the situation of missing Maoist leaders and compensation for the victims of police actions. It seems unlikely that the Government will accept these conditions, as this would suppose giving the Maoists legal status and a complete amnesty. On account of the intransigence and lack of confidence on both sides, the proposed dialogue between the Government and the Maoists has remained thus far an illusion.
The Government´s current position of using coercive state mechanisms to deal with the insurrection has only strengthened support for the Maoists. The Government will no doubt have to change course and introduce a series of political and economic reforms if it hopes to curb popular support for the rebels. The reforms ought to facilitate the development of a culture of democracy that does not allow concentration of power in political leaders and promotes a mechanism of responsibility between the state apparatus and the civil society. There should also be institutional and structural reforms that bring in marginalized groups such as women and ethnic minorities and help narrow the economic gap between rural and urban areas. Otherwise, civil war in Nepal is a distinct possibility.