Nepal's Poor Suffer Most in Civil War; Maoist Rebels Seen Making Gains

Article excerpt


Three months after King Gyanendra's reinstatement of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, whom he fired on Oct. 4, 2002, for incompetence, Nepal's political stalemate continues as civil war between Maoist revolutionaries and the royal regime takes a high toll on the country's poorest.

The saying that "misfortune arrives on horseback and leaves on foot" applies to Nepal as it suffers from political mismanagement by a corrupt elite, compounded by military atrocities and guerrilla vengeance.

Proving the fickleness of fate, 12 Nepalis seeking safety abroad from the internal war were recently captured and killed by Islamic insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and calling themselves the Army of Ansar al-Sunna.

In Katmandu, Nepal's capital, people vented their anger Sept. 1 when protesters, mostly Hindus, vandalized offices of employment agencies sending Nepalis to jobs in Iraq. The protesters also burned the offices of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Pakistan International Airlines, a mosque, businesses owned by Muslims, and the Egyptian Embassy.

To avoid further damage, the royal government imposed a curfew in several towns, including Katmandu, while the king and Mr. Deuba urged patience and religious harmony.

The four-party alliance of the Nepali Congress, Jana Morcha-Nepal, Nepal Majdoor-Kisan Party and the Sadbhavana Party charged that royal intelligence agents instigated the anti-Muslim riots to divide and weaken the parties united against the Deuba government.

Nepal's Muslims, a small religious minority, comprise about 3.5 percent of the country's estimated 27 million people.

Maoist leader Prachanda, while condemning Islamic extremists for killing innocent Nepalis, criticized the royal government for sending unemployed youths to Iraq "in the service of the U.S. imperialism." He urged jobless youths "to stay home and swell the ranks of people's warriors" to fight the feudal autocracy.

Anyone familiar with Nepal's poverty must be pessimistic about the possibility of reform. Critics of Maoist revolution, however, say Maoism is a failed ideology and inappropriate as a model for the 21st century.

Supporters of the Maoist revolution, on the other hand, say more than 80 percent of Nepalis in rural areas do not live in the 21st century, and thus Marxism-Leninism and Maoism are as relevant in Nepal today as they were in China in the 1920s and '30s.

Analysts say this may be why the Maoist revolution is making gains in Nepal, while counterinsurgency efforts by the royal government, with the support of the United States, the United Kingdom and India, appear to be failing.

Under international pressure, the Nepalese government announced on Aug. 31 the establishment of a "peace secretariat" with a view to create conditions for resuming peace talks with the Maoists.

The government and the Maoists have held two rounds of talks so far, both of which failed when the rebels insisted on election of a Constituent Assembly and the government refused, apparently fearing that a constitution written by an elected assembly might abolish the monarchy.

Analysts see no hidden agenda in Maoist plans. The aim of the Maoists is to abolish the monarchy and establish a People's Republic, period.

To achieve this, the Maoists have prepared a peaceful strategy as well as one of force. The peaceful strategy seeks to give a coup de grace to monarchy through election of a democratic constituent assembly, which the Maoists are confident they would win. Their plan allows room for opposition political parties.

If the royal government continues to refuse such an election, the rebels expect to use the villagers to encircle the cities, based on Mao Tse-tung's theory of people's war.

Analysts note that in the last two and half years, the rebels have tested both strategies. …