Rebel Assault: Maoist Insurgence in Nepal. (Global Notebook)

By Kwon, Richard | Harvard International Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Rebel Assault: Maoist Insurgence in Nepal. (Global Notebook)


Kwon, Richard, Harvard International Review


Nepal is in danger of a humanitarian crisis. Over 40 percent of the Nepalese population lives in poverty, and 45 of its 75 districts suffer from food shortages.

A series of famines, floods, and epidemics over the past four years have affected over 150,000 people. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has noted that the need for humanitarian relief is so great that aid development is no longer even an issue. Seven years of civil war between the Nepalese government and the Maoist rebels have turned the already formidable poverty problem into a genuine disaster. Neither side has shown much discrimination between military and civilian targets, and almost no outside aid can even reach the roughly 30 districts under Maoist control.

Nepal cannot begin to develop again until the Maoists are defeated and the government restores order in the countryside, To do this, the government will first need military aid to defeat the ever more dangerous guerillas, and then need economic aid to restart the development process. The population's suffering is a powerful reason for the United States and other concerned powers to take an active interest in the country's future.

The Maoist rebels are a diverse confederation of groups drawing inspiration from China's celebrated leader Mao Zedong and from the tactics of the Peruvian opposition group Shining Path. Calling attention to widespread rural poverty and denouncing the monarchy, they began using guerrilla tactics in 1996 in an attempt to weaken the government. The goal of the movement's leader, known as Comrade Prachanda (roughly translated as "Awe-inspiring"), is to replace the current constitutional monarchy with a communist republic. Many are farmers who chose to join the Maoists rather than live deep in poverty. The estimated 5,000 to 7,000 Maoists were initially only a minor threat to the government, but their attacks multiplied late in 2001. The guerillas had previously battled poorly armed police forces in remote areas, but now began attacking the army in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital. Maoist attacks on November 25,2001, left more than 100 dead. In response, the government declared a state of emergency and requested ai d from the international community. Three months later, the rebels killed 153 policemen, soldiers, and civilians in a single day of violence, suggesting that they were capable of challenging Nepal's 10-year-old constitutional monarchy.

In fact, the Maoists' continued raids and the inability of the government to stifle them have already caused political instability. Former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who, at least in theory, had a majority in parliament and international support for his military campaign, was ousted by King Gyanendra in October 2002. In spite of protests by Nepalese politicians that the King had abused the clause in the country's 1990 constitution requiring that prime ministers be chosen by general election, the public upheld his decision and accepted his plan to head the government until elections were organized. The public is dismayed and angry at the government's incompetence. While many Nepalese are aware that the police force is small and illequipped, their trust in the army waned significantly when it failed to stifle the Maoists. …

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