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Monday, Dec 05, 2022
Outlook.com
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Nepal

The More Things Change…

While much appears to be happening in Nepal almost from day to day, little is changing in terms of the fundamentals of the conflict.

The More Things Change…
The More Things Change…
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

The king's takeover of power on February 1, 2005, appears to have compounded an already complex situation. Even as the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist rebels declare that their movement against the monarchy has arrived at its 'penultimate stage', the international community has turned up pressure on the king to restore multi-party democracy and the fundamental rights of citizens. The king, however, has clearly reiterated his intention to continue his 'direct' rule for another 'few' (three) years, as he proposed in his proclamation on February 1, 2005. 

Major political party leaders, including Nepali Congress (NC) President, Girija Prasad Koirala, and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) General Secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal, are still under house arrest, and many others are under detention by the security forces (SFs) to prevent the parties from organizing any protests against the king's 'take over'. After five agitating political parties announced demonstrations against the king across the country on March 8, over 750 political leaders and activists were reportedly arrested in the course of protests on March 15, and another 300 on March 20.

The Maoists have also sought to demonstrate their capacities under the circumstances, and 'Chairman', Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ 'Prachanda', has announced a succession of general strikes, 'wheel-jam' agitations, shutdowns and blockades at the local and regional level thrice since February 1, 2005. A 'general strike' was announced for three days from February 3-5, followed by a 13-day blockade from February 13-26 and the countrywide 'mass mobilization and military resistance' between March 14 to April 1. 

This is to be followed by a countrywide general shutdown from April 2 to April 22, coinciding with the anniversary of the 'historic' Mass Movement Day of 1990. These blockades have generated acute problems for the people, who are already facing severe privations in this underdeveloped and impoverished country. Business sources claims that losses during the blockades are incalculable, running into hundreds of millions of rupees a day. A Kathmandu Research Center study claimed that each Nepali incurs a loss of about Rs. 47 and the nation as a whole Rs. 1 billion, in losses from each day of banda or general strike. Neither the government nor the Maoists appear to have taken the people's plight into consideration.

An analysis of the pattern of earlier blockades suggests that the Maoist domination in the districts is clearly advancing from the Mid-western to the Western region, and then again penetrating the Central region of Nepal. During the whole of the year 2004, the Maoists imposed more than 38 blockades, general strikes, economic blockades, transport obstructions, etc., of varying intensities and in different areas. In all such actions, they systematically included at least one or more of the 'zones' that linked Kathmandu to the rest of the country. At least on two occasions in 2004, they succeeded in imposing a severe blockade of the Kathmandu Valley (August 18-24, 2004) and on major companies and industries (August 15- September 15), which have created widespread disruption across wide areas of the country.

However, a succession of strong SF operations in and around the Kathmandu Valley through 2004 decimated the leaders and cadres of the Maoist 'Special Task Force' operating in the Valley. Moreover, with the high concentration of SFs in the Valley since February 1, 2005, Maoist activities in the Valley and the 'Ring Area' - which includes Bagmati, Narayani and Janakpur zones - have been substantially curbed.  

While information flows from Nepal are currently severely limited, official sources have revealed that Phulchowki in Lalitpur has been targeted by the Maoists trying to establish a base in the outer ring of the Valley, and they are also attempting to establish a base at Dhulikhel in Kavrepalanchowk, a district adjacent to the Kathmandu Valley, to launch attacks in Capital and its 'ring areas'. The potential for such attacks wreaking extraordinary direct damage is, however, small, and the Maoist objective in the capital region is currently more focused on engineering a wider economic collapse.

This is a more realistic strategy. The insurgents overwhelmingly dominate the three major highways of the country - Mahendra, Prithvi and Tribhuvan - and have the capacity to shut down the economy virtually at will. During the blockade of February 13 to 26, SF patrol teams and helicopters guarding vehicles traveling on these barely succeeded in keeping a fraction of the normal traffic flowing, primarily to keep the supply chain to the capital open. 

Traffic on other routes was severely curtailed, with virtually no movement in the farther districts. The major trade routes that connect Kathmandu to the rest of the country were the most vulnerable to Maoist attacks due to the low presence of security forces in the eastern, western, mid-western and far-western regions. The insurgents planted bombs and cut down trees to block transport on these highways during the strikes and blockades. The Maoists 'strategic offensive' focuses on what they call 3-Sa (in Nepali) Sadak, Sadarmukkam and Sahar, that is, roads, district headquarters and cities.

There is further evidence to confirm that the Maoists do not seek a significant confrontation with Kathmandu in the foreseeable future. Limited information flows indicate that clashes between the Maoists and the Army have occurred primarily in the border districts and few hill districts. 

The Army's counter-insurgency operations have chiefly concentrated in Dailekh, Kailali, Achham and Baitadi in the Far Western Region; Kapilabastu, Argakhanchi and Gorkha in the Western Region; and Siraha, Solukhumbu, Sankhuwasabha, Bhojpur, Ilam, Sunsari, Morang and Jhapa in Eastern Region. There has also been some aerial bombardment of the hills of western Nepal, particularly in Rolpa, Rukum, Salyan, Jajorkot and Kalikot. Since the February 1, security forces have killed at least 249 Maoists in various operations across the country.

Maoist activities, on the other hand, have been prominent in the Bardia, Banke, Kailali, Argakhanchi, Kapilavastu, Rupandehi, Nawalparasi, Bara, Sarlahi, Saptari, Sunsari, Morang, Panchthar, Nuwakot and Dhading districts. Maoist sources have, moreover, claimed that they have inflicted a large number of casualties on the SFs and seized significant numbers of arms during clashes in Morang, Danusha, Bardiya, Kailali and Ilam. The Maoists have also detonated powerful explosives and caused heavy losses at the offices of the Nepal Telecom Company, District Survey Office and District Forest Office in the eastern town of Inaruwa in Sunsari district on March 16.

On the ground, consequently, there is little evidence of any major transformation in immediate favour either of Kathmandu, or of the Maoists.

In the meanwhile, international pressure has increased substantially for the restoration of democracy and the multi-party system. India, UK and USA, Nepal's strongest supporters in the pre-February 1 phase, have made their positions abundantly clear. The European Union and some constituent countries, such as Switzerland, have expressed their strong disappointment at the 'royal takeover' and the 'escalation' of conflict. This disapproval has, in many cases, resulted in the suspension of financial aid (in addition to military aid suspension by India, USA and UK). 

Thus, on March 17, the British government suspended part of the aid it had pledged to the Nepal Police, Prison Services and the Prime Minister's Office. The British International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas, stated, "In the current environment we consider it inappropriate to continue support to Nepal… We need to ensure that our programmes will continue to benefit poor and excluded people in Nepal." A total of Pounds 2.4 million had been committed under these programmes, but Pounds 1.3 million remained unspent and will now reportedly be cancelled. 

Similarly, Finland's government announced that assistance to Nepal would depend on democratic stability, adding, "Development is impossible in any country without democracy." Strong reservations have been expressed by the international community on the possibility of aid money being used to purchase arms and equipment for the SFs. 

Earlier, two of Nepal's major institutional donors had strongly criticized the prevailing security and political situation. On February 25, the World Bank informed the Nepal government that it was suspending its US$ 70 million budgetary support for the current fiscal year, on the grounds that "extremely slow implementation of agreed reform measures has compelled to take such a decision." On March 9, the World Bank stated further that continued assistance to Nepal would depend on the government's demonstrated commitment and capacity to implement reforms. 

Asian Development Bank (ADB) country director in Kathmandu, S. Hafeez Rahman, also warned that, in view of the recent political and security developments in the Himalayan kingdom, it was reviewing the implications for its on-going operations and stated, "ADB has not been able to field operational missions in the past few weeks. ADB's ongoing operations will critically depend on how the security situation evolves." The ADB has pledged to provide $121 million to Nepal to gear up its development initiatives.

USA had also suspended arms supplies to Nepal along with India and UK, though it had initially assured continuance of assistance for developmental works. However, the US Ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty, has clarified that the US government is reassessing the current political scenario even for development assistance. During the meeting between Indian Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, and the visiting US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on March 16, India and US expressed "complete agreement" and stated that nothing short of full and early restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal would satisfy them. Meanwhile, the Swiss government decided to table the Nepal issue for discussion at the ongoing 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Britain has expressed support for this move.

There has, however, been limited relief for Kathmandu, and qualified hopes of more to come, as new and at least some dubious players step into the breach. On March 7, the Japanese government agreed to extend over US$ 17 million to Nepal as Non-Project Grant Aid and for the increase of food production. More suspect, is Pakistan's offer of arms supplies and military training to Nepal to support its fight against the Maoists on March 11. The offer includes "anything from boots for its (Nepal's) 80,000 soldiers to helicopters to ferry troops and attack guerrilla hideouts in rugged hills and jungles."

King Gyanendra has also been assiduously wooing Beijing, and just before the 'royal takeover', Nepal had shut down the office of the Dalai Lama's Representative in Nepal as well as the Tibetan Refugee Welfare office in the capital Kathmandu. Nepal has eagerly reiterated its 'unequivocal support' for the anti-secession legislation enacted by the Chinese National People's Congress, asserting that it would contribute to achieving the goal of reunification with Taiwan, and that, "in conformity with its (Nepal's) long-held one-China policy," Nepal considers Taiwan an integral part of China. 

China has, since February 1, maintained that Nepal's problems are an 'internal affair' and has expressed concern on the Maoist insurgency. On March 17, Nepal's Foreign Ministry sources said that the possible sale of arms by Beijing would be discussed during Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's visit to the country at the end of March. Since the beginning of the present crisis provoked by the 'king's coup', the dominant apprehension, particularly in India, has been that Pakistan and China would use the opportunity to fish in troubled waters.

As has been argued before, restoration of military supplies to the SFs in Nepal from either traditional or new sources cannot contribute significantly to the restoration of order and the state's authority, though it may give the king the capacity to challenge the broad international consensus and keep democracy in fetters for a little longer. While much appears to be happening in Nepal almost from day to day, little is changing in terms of the fundamentals of the conflict.


P.G. Rajamohan is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management.  Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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