Maoist Insurgency in Nepal

August 2002


The optimism that greeted the restoration of democracy in Nepal in 1990, after 30 years of absolute monarchy, is steadily waning. A bloody Maoist insurgency beginning in 1996, the massacre of the royal family in June 2001, and the gradual collapse of the economy due to a slowdown in the tourist industry and widespread corruption are but three of the major setbacks Nepal has faced in the last decade.
The Maoists were once part of a mainstream communist political alliance before intra-party disputes and parliamentary squabbling caused them to splinter off and renounce politics in 1995, a move that was followed by a repressive government response. Led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (known as Prachanda), the Maoists demand an end to feudalism, a rewriting of Nepal's constitution, and the establishment of a Nepali republic. To this end, they have waged an insurgency that has claimed an estimated 4,000 lives in over six years, with over half of those lost in the last six months.

Nepal's continuing socio-economic problems, namely poverty, rampant unemployment, feudalism, low levels of education, caste discrimination, and a poorly maintained infrastructure, account for much of the attraction the Maoist rebellion holds for thousands of Nepalis who have joined it. Support for the Maoists is found mainly in rural villages and more poverty-stricken areas, especially mid-western Nepal and the Terai region near the border with India. Since the start of the uprising in 1996, Maoist activity has been centered in 35 of Nepal's 75 districts, although 68 districts in total have been affected by the insurgency. The Maoist force is estimated to consist of 2,000 guerilla fighters and 10,000 reservists.
To broaden their support base, the Maoists attempted to use the mysterious circumstances surrounding the royal massacre in June 2001 to further alienate the people from the new king, Gyanendra. However, the new prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, immediately called a ceasefire and began negotiations in July. But no immediate results came of the talks, and the Maoists felt the government was not in earnest. It is suspected, however, that the Maoists agreed to enter negotiations only to buy time to regroup, rearm, and plan a surprise attack on an army barracks in the Dang district of western Nepal in November 2001. In response, the government refused any further negotiations, declared a state of emergency, suspending all constitutional rights, and labeled the Maoists as terrorists.
The late King Birendra was reluctant to use the Royal Nepal Army against the rebels, preferring instead to rely on the Nepali police force, but King Gyanendra does not have any such reservations. In addition, the United States has offered military aid to Nepal in its fight against the Maoist "terrorists," further emboldening the government to avoid negotiation or reform to end the bloodshed.
In the escalating violence, Nepali villagers are often caught in the middle: the Maoists have killed many innocent civilians and teachers who they suspect are government informants, while army forces also harass innocent villagers in the hunt for Maoist sympathizers. Through the intimidation and arrest of journalists, the government has brought the press under its control, effectively removing any objective source of information for Nepalis.
Although the cry for political reform and an end to corruption is as strong as the call for an end to the violence, the current hardline stance of both the Maoists and the government seems to suggest that Nepal's immediate future will remain bleak.
Access commentary, news stories, online reports, papers, resources, and news sources about the Maoist insurgency in Nepal in this special report.


Nepal Needs Reform, Not More Guns (May 10, 2002)
The Guardian's Isabel Hilton comments on the political situation in Nepal since the establishment of democracy in 1990. She notes that the new King Gyanendra, unlike his predecessor and brother King Birendra, has no qualms about pitting the Nepali army against the Maoists, resulting in a severe escalation in violence. In addition, the US has branded the Maoists terrorists, which has led the Nepali prime minister to reverse his earlier decision to negotiate; he can now rely instead on military aid from the US. Ms. Hilton argues that the US should be helping Nepal work towards political reform rather than simply sending in more weapons.

All Sections Conference to Reach National Consensus (May 9, 2002)
Kuber Sharma, Chairman of the Green Nepal party, writes on, "To come to terms with the Maoists we accept them as a plausible political force." He believes that the political parties in Nepal's parliament negotiate with the Maoists only because they want to form an alliance with them and gain even more power for themselves. He argues that it is necessary to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream under the current constitution as part of the multiparty democracy of Nepal. To this end, he suggests that a conference of all sides be held.

Erosion of the Nepali World (April 2002)
This extensive essay by Deepak Thapa in Himal Magazine addresses the catastrophic events of 2001 in Nepal. He analyzes the conflict from each side, considering the motivations of both Prime Minister Deuba and the Maoist leadership in the failed negotiation talks, and assessing the military tactics of each. Ultimately, Thapa concludes that action is necessary from India to force the Maoist leadership to return to Nepal and settle the conflict within the Nepali political system.

Nepal PM's Visit Strengthens Ties (March 26, 2002)
In this opinion piece for The Statesman, Salman Haidar, former Indian Foreign Secretary, analyzes the Indo-Nepal relationship in the context of the Maoist rebellion. Haidar compares the lackluster Nepali military response to the insurgency with India's treatment of its rebels in the northeast. He also discusses the Nepali Maoists' relationship with Indian Maoist groups and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's secret service), and stresses that because the Maoists may be receiving aid and support from outside the country, the strongest possible collaboration between India and Nepal is needed, especially along their open border.

Worth Noting (March 15, 2002)
This editorial from the The Kathmandu Post urges the government to consider the effect of the insurgency on the educational system of Nepal. It points to several Maoist attacks on school buses, teachers, and school buildings, which, along with the sharp downturn of the economy, have created an abysmal situation for the country's students.

Unrest in the Himalayan Kingdom (February 13, 2002)
In this opinion piece from the The Pioneer, Ashok Mehta writes that widespread corruption, frequent changes of power, and governmental inefficiency have caused the current disillusionment with democracy in Nepal. Mehta believes the delay in deploying the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), combined with their lack of funding and intelligence resources, has rendered them, much like the Nepali police before, unable to adequately fight the insurgency. Mehta suggests that the way to stop the violence is for King Gyanendra to address the issues that have caused it: "unemployment, underdevelopment, and corruption."

Nepal's 'Homeland Security' Sacrifices Human Rights (February 7, 2002)
Li Onesto, a contributor to the Pacific News Service, argues that labeling the Maoists as terrorists has given the government sanction to repress constitutional rights in Nepal, especially freedom of the press. He writes, "Washington's 'global war on terrorism' is giving Nepal's government license to institute a draconian 'homeland security' as part of its efforts to defeat an insurgency with widespread grassroots support."

Nepal's Maobaadi (November 2001)
In Himal Magazine, C.K. Lai outlines the history and causes of the Maoist uprising, discussing the social, political, and economic factors that contributed to its development and the current situation. Mr. Lai discounts the theory that poverty in and of itself is the root cause, but rather a complete lack of opportunity for the poor to better their prospects in the face of political elitism and cronyism.
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