Nepal: Withering Peace
Author: Nihar Nayak
Originally published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 02/01/2006
The shimmering prospect of peace in Nepal has ended, for the time being, with the withdrawal of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) from unilateral truce on January 2, 2006. Despite the warnings and concerns of the international community over human rights violations, Nepal witnessed 24 Maoist-related violent incidents in which 11 people died (including eight security force personnel, two civilians and one Maoist) and more than 12 were injured. Maoists also attacked government institutions with a series of bomb blasts in and around Kathmandu. During the course of the 10-year Maoist insurgency that aims to dethrone the King and establish one-party communist rule, more than 12,500 people have died, half of them civilians.
Nepal will experience more violence and human rights violations in coming days; the CPN-Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachanda) recently announced that, “The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) has compelled us to end the cease-fire. It was not only impossible, but also suicidal for us to extend it.” Stating that all future actions would be targeted against the “dictatorial government.” Dahal continued: “We are compelled to go on the offensive not only for the sake of peace and democracy but for self-defence.” In retaliation, RNA spokesperson, Brig Gen Nepal Bhusan Chand, said, “RNA will continue to play its role,” and added that “should it confront any hostility, it will act in self-defense.” Meanwhile, it’s likely that the Maoists will be more aggressive than before, as the Nepal revolutionary movement has now entered its strategic offensive phase and is preparing the masses by using mainstream political parties for further advancement in its war to overthrow the monarchy.
However, the level of violence in the year 2005 remained comparatively lower than previous years, primarily due to the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Maoists in the last four months of the year, and also because the Army has virtually suspended its counter terrorism operations.
[Fatality Data compiled from open sources by Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi]
King Gyanendra, who fired the government and seized power on February 1, 2005, had refused to respect the truce, saying the Maoists could not be trusted. But the King is in a defensive position in securing his first objective of “restoring order” in the country. With an estimated 80,000 soldiers in the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), 17,000 personnel in the Armed Police Force (APF) and a poorly equipped 47,000 in the Police Force, the King simply lacked the numbers to contain the Maoist insurgency, with every one of the country’s 75 districts currently affected. The Maoists have cadres of between 8,000 and 10,000 well-armed and trained “regulars,” approximately 25,000 “militia” armed with relatively primitive weapons such as pipe guns and crude bombs, and a substantial number of “sympathizers,” officially estimated at about 200,000 in 2003, who can, under certain circumstances, be mobilized – voluntarily or coercively – for violent action.
Making the situation worse, the Maoists have vowed to disrupt elections, and the seven main political parties, pressing the king to restore democracy, have announced a boycott. Also, the Central Working Committee meeting of the Nepali Congress-Democratic on January 3 decided to omit “constitutional monarchy” from its party statute, following two other major political parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML. Earlier, to appease the international community and his Nepalese subjects the king assured a return to democracy (monarchical democracy) by holding elections in 58 municipalities in the country on February 8, 2006. Elections for the House of Representatives would be in April 2007.
Violence and Economy
In addition to the threat to human life presented by the conflict, the country’s economy has been on the rocks. A series of explosions rocked Nepal, with one blast erupting in the popular tourist town of Pokhara, just hours after Maoists called off the truce, raising fears among tourists. Canada and other countries asked their respective citizens to leave Nepal immediately. According to the Nepal Tourism Board in the year 2005, the number of tourists to Nepal slipped four percent from the previous year as visitors were scared off by Maoist activity. Tourism accounted for about 4 percent of the country’s $6.3 billion Gross Domestic Product in 2004. Still, the Maoists have so far avoided targeting tourists, choosing instead to demand “taxes” from trekkers in remote areas.
Nepal is already facing a serious financial crisis due to suspension of financial aid by foreign countries and international aid agencies. On March 17, the British government suspended part of the aid (£2.4 million) it had pledged to the Nepal Police, Prison Services and the Prime Minister’s Office. On February 25, the World Bank informed the Nepal Government that it was suspending its US$ 70 million budgetary support for the current fiscal year, on the grounds that “extremely slow implementation of agreed reform measures” had “compelled” it to take such a decision. On July 20, condemning the “Royal takeover,” Norway cut the planned financial assistance to Nepal for 2006 by 10 percent and terminated an agreement on support for the Melamchi Water Supply Project.
Unless Nepal gets immediate peace, the economy is sure to decline further. In this regard, On January 11, Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Nepal’s Asian Development Bank (ADB) country director, told the Himalayan Times, “If the conflict is allowed to continue, there will be a lot more social and economic losses. Many more lives will be lost and many more people will be denied the opportunity to improve their livelihood.” He noted that in the 1990s, Nepal’s annual economic growth averaged a healthy 4.9 percent, but the escalating insurgency saw this drop to an average of 1.9 percent between 2002 and 2004. “Given that this conflict is persisting, and that there are chances it might actually deteriorate, Nepal could lose significantly more than two percentage points of GDP (gross domestic product) per annum.” Rahman pointed out that, “The economic costs of people having died, and people having been displaced from their homes, people who have been handicapped, this takes away not just output today, but output in the future, potential output of the economy.”
While Nepal is rapidly moving towards another bloodier phase of internecine war, neighboring countries – China in the north, India in the south and Pakistan fishing from its own troubled water – are beginning to take an interest. The danger is that the presence of these Asian giants in the troubled region could dilute the peace process in the future. China is apparently ready to open a consulate at Biratnagar at the border between eastern Nepal and Bihar. The Chinese diplomatic presence at Biratnagar comes in the context of the broader demand for a highway between Tibet and Eastern Nepal along the Kosi River. Ambassador Sun told a Nepalese audience in December that Beijing has given a “high priority” to the construction of the Kosi corridor, which could emerge as an important transport link between Tibet and the eastern sub-continent.
Moreover, China has always stood in favor of political stability, indirectly, through monarchy and economic and strategic interest including stopping pro-Tibet activities in Nepal. In a bid to win over China, just prior to the Royal takeover, Nepal shut down the Kathmandu office of the Dalai Lama’s Representative in Nepal as well as the Tibetan Refugee Welfare office in Kathmandu. With the suspension of arms supplies from traditional sources like India and Britain, the King tried to woo China and was eventually rewarded when the later supplied 4.2 million rounds of 7.62 mm rifle ammunition, 80,000 high-explosive grenades and 12,000 AK-series rifles to Nepal, in November 2005. The diplomatic relations with China and Pakistan had intensified in October, when RNA chief General Pyar Jung Thapa, visited Beijing. He followed that up with a trip to Pakistan in December, and he was reportedly offered “comprehensive training capsules” for RNA soldiers. On December 20, Thapa also hosted a four-member Chinese military delegation at Kathmandu.
Significantly, Pakistan, which shares neither a border nor any substantive trade with Nepal, is keen to open shop at Birganj in the central Nepal region that also borders Bihar. The purpose behind the move is fomenting trouble on the open border between India and Nepal. Reportedly, the anti-India activities of Pakistan’s embassy in Kathmandu have long been a major source of concern to New Delhi, those activities specifically being the trafficking of fake currency, narcotics, and small arms to India via Nepal. Apart from that Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan also help foreign Islamic militants to cross over to India through the porous Indo-Nepal borders. Reports indicated that the ISI is also supplying arms to Maoists through militant outfits operating in the northeast region of India.
Apart from South Asian giants, world powers like the US and the UK have vested interest in the region. The US and the UK have provided arms, training and financial assistance to the Nepalese government to combat the insurgency.
Nepal’s so-called traditional friend India seems to be loosing ground in Nepal after the king’s take over. India’s approach towards Nepal after the end of democracy has changed and the relationship continued to sour when New Delhi said the development constituted a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and was a cause of “grave concern” to India, whose Prime Minister abstained from SAARC meeting in Dhaka. The relationship further deteriorated when New Delhi halted arms supplies to Nepal and is subsequently hosting the meetings between Maoists and seven political parties in November. Nepal’s anger at India’s hosting of the meeting between Maoists and several political parties is already visible. In a statement on January 6, Nepalese Consul General at the Royal Nepal Consulate General Office in Lhasa, Leela Mani Paudyal said, “China never interfered in our internal affairs”. “Unflinching support of China to the Nepalese people, irrespective of whoever sits in power, is really commendable.”
While the King is not satisfied with India’s support of political parties and Maoists, certain cross-border connections of the Maoists had posed an even greater threat to India. Nepali Maoists have identified India as a major obstacle towards holding peace talks and even inviting the United Nations as the mediator during the truce. In a joint statement on September 1, 2004, senior leaders of the CPN-Maoist of Nepal and CPI-Maoist of India declared that “…Maoist parties solemnly appeal to the entire oppressed masses, the world over, and Nepal and India in particular, to raise their voices against every evil design of imperialism and expansionism to repress the revolutionary cause of the oppressed people in Nepal & India… we pledge to fight united till all 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”.
Alarmingly, there is a strong link between the Indian and Nepalese Maoists. The Nepalese Maoists are mostly trained and educated in India. Intelligence sources indicated that the Nepalese Maoists are being trained by the erstwhile Maoist Communist Center (MCC) of India at the Jhumra hills and Saranda forests of Jharkhand. The CPN-Maoist has long maintained that unless the Maoists of the South Asia region work together to counter India’s ‘pernicious role’, ‘final victory’ would elude them. Intelligence sources indicate that if the Maoist insurgents achieve their objective in Nepal, a sudden spurt of cross-border terrorism along the 1,751 kilometer Indo-Nepal border would be a certainty, as the Maoist groups focus on the consolidation of their Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) comprising areas under the influence of the CPN–Moist in Nepal with those of the MCC (In Bihar and Jharkhand) and the PW in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Prospect for Peace
The ongoing Maoist insurgency in Nepal is not simply a “security problem” but is very complex with social, economic, political, and ethnic dimensions. There is a chance of early peace in Nepal because people are frustrated with violence and looking for peace. Further, like the earlier three-way fight between the King, Maoists and the political parties, now it is between King and Maoists with conditional support from political parties. Pressure is on the King. Putting aside rhetoric, the International communities should put pressure on the King and Maoists to engage in peace process negotiations. This is a challenging situation for the international community, as they have earlier failed to restore democracy in Pakistan and solve refugee’s problem in Bhutan and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
Bio: Nihar Nayak is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.