July 15, 2020
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Between Illusion And Reality

Democracy is the issue – upon that there is agreement. Regrettably, none of the contenders in the present struggle have demonstrated convincing commitment to a reality that moves beyond the word.

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Between Illusion And Reality
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With the issuing of the 12-point letter of understanding between the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M, or ‘the Maoists’) – and the agitating seven-party alliance, the conflict in Nepal has entered a dangerous period. This is recognized by all sides. Which way matters will swing is being portrayed as dependent upon decision-making in the palace, but of equal moment is what few seem inclined to discuss: the Maoists’ ‘real game’.

The leader of the legal (Parliamentarian) Marxists, Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) General Secretary, Madhab Kumar Nepal, the public face of the agreement for the political parties, has put forth his belief that the Maoists have "developed a new maturity" in concluding that they are unable to complete their "capture of state power through the barrel of the gun." Conseqeuntly, they are willing to do this peacefully, which means "if the Maoists resort to arms again, those in power will have to take the blame."

This would hardly seem a stable platform for bargaining with the Palace, particularly given Madhab’s astonishing rider: "If the well-equipped Shah of Iran was uprooted by unarmed people, there is no reason why it can’t happen in Nepal." Why the monarch would be even slightly interested in holding a discussion based upon such terms, apparently, is because the most important thing is ‘peace’.

Waving this flag, the political parties have, indeed, stormed back onto centre stage, making a bargain which is altruistic, Machiavellian, or simply suicidal, depending on how the cards fall. However this may be, their long-running battle with the palace has caused them to play ‘peace’ as the hand that will gain them both power and breathing room from their mortal foes, the Maoists. There is no ‘peace’, goes the stated logic, because there is no ‘democracy’; and there is no ‘democracy’ because ‘the Palace’ insists upon violence. That this is historical falsification of the first order would be apparent to anyone who has even notional familiarity with the political history of Nepal.

There is insurgency in Nepal due to shortcomings of the system that evolved during the democratic era. Those most responsible are the same individuals who have cut the present deal with the Maoists – not just the same parties but the same individuals. That this well-documented reality could somehow be blamed upon the Palace was a position that emerged in vibrant form only with the ‘Royal Massacre’ that replaced the previous monarch, Birendra, with his less-popular brother, Gyanendra. The latter’s missteps have served to elevate the parties to the position they now hold as advocates of a ‘democracy’ they never practiced, either in power or within their own ranks.

In reality, it is the nature of ‘democracy’ that has been the issue all along in the present struggle. For the Maoists, the choice has never been between ‘absolute democracy’ and ‘autocratic monarchy’, the terms used in the 12-point agreement. It has been between parliamentary democracy and ‘people’s democracy’. The former is portrayed as a Western concept. The latter is certainly also a Western concept, but in Nepal it is portrayed as ‘Maoist’. (The very Western origin of Maoist ideological beliefs is regularly on display at the CPN-M’s public gatherings, where place of honour is occupied by the pantheon of ‘white gods plus one’ – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao).

What ‘absolute democracy’ means for the Maoists, operationally, is the ability to knock from the battlefield their only tangible obstacle, the monarchy. What it means strategically is the ability to move beyond the gun to the ballot at this particular juncture in the struggle. It is what the Sandinistas did so adroitly, moving rapidly within ‘democracy’ to solidify what they had been after all along – people’s democracy. Apologists go to some lengths to avoid discussing this aim, but it is the concrete manifestation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. It turned out so badly for the Chinese that the Maoism espoused by the CPN-M is now completely rejected, alive only in South Asia and isolated pockets of Western anarchism.

That the Maoists have no intention of abandoning their strategic goal was made clear to cadres in the recent CPN-M leadership meetings in Rolpa. Whether they operationally will go the route of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in Ulster, actually decommissioning their arms, remains to be seen. There are too many unknowns, not least the nature of the Maoists’ links with the newly formed Communist Party of India-Maoist, CPI-Maoist, created through a merging of the two principal Maoist insurgencies in India, and aggressively committed to violence as the only route to political power and social justice. In their statements, the two Maoisms have stated clearly that peaceful means are useful only so long as they facilitate the violent end.

Ironically, an important role in the emerging Maoist-UML alliance (with the remaining six parties figuring in as necessary) apparently has been played by members of the Indian ‘legal Left’, a catch-all term for those Marxists who participate in parliamentary democracy while disclaiming its ultimate legitimacy – the same position taken by the UML in Nepal. On the one hand, Indian Left participation offers some grounds for optimism, since the legal Left does not engage in insurgency (which is not the same thing as eschewing violence, something PIRA has demonstrated well in the Catholic ghettos of Ulster). On the other hand, it is also grounds for profound disquiet, since the ‘terms of reference’, as reflected in the 12-point agreement, are vague and contingent upon the surrender of the present Nepali Royal Government. This only heightens Nepali nationalist suspicions that what is being set in motion is a ‘Sikkim solution’.

In fact, prisoners taken by the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) and documents captured clearly state that the present Maoist course is ‘tactical’, that the CPN-M will not compromise its ultimate goals: political power and ‘people’s democracy’. Even a ‘peaceful’ solution, then, depends upon the monarch and RNA being willing to accept a transition as witnessed in Cambodia under UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority), with the tremendous difference being the position of the monarchy. In Cambodia, the monarch became constitutional, but the 12-point agreement mentions only ‘absolute democracy’ (which means a departure of the monarchy, not just the monarch). This is not a minor discrepancy, and the manner in which the 12-point agreement appears to claim there is nothing for Gyanendra save exile, guarantees that it will not be considered seriously.

All eyes seem glued to the palace to see the next move. It is not hard to discern. In a situation where the political parties have committed themselves to obstruction, the Royal thinking should go, political forces must be allowed an outlet in new political parties. This is easier said than done. The scheduling of local and national elections is a first step; ensuring their success is the second; providing local security for the winners is the third. Absent local security, it will all be a paper drill.

If, as seems likely, the conflict continues, counterinsurgency will proceed by using the local elections to restore local connections to the Centre. Restoration of local democracy must occur behind a security shield and be the means for proper governance. Proper governance must include restoration of local democratic decision-making, micro-development, and local security. In this campaign, the political parties have adamantly refused to participate, seeing it as but a thinly disguised means to restore the previous and reviled panchayat system.

That the government’s approach should be considered controversial demonstrates the degree to which polarization and mistrust have poisoned the Nepali polity. Thus the Maoists have emerged as advocates of ‘peace’, and ‘negotiations’ are held up – not least by elements within the foreign presence in Nepal – as an alternative to waging counterinsurgency. In reality, as stated directly in the RNA’s campaign plan, the goal is that counterinsurgency restores legitimate government writ in such fashion and to such extent that the Maoists ultimately agree to reincorporation within the political system. The constant saw that ‘there is no military solution’ is just a demand for inaction. In reality, negotiations are always on the table but must be used as part of an overall approach to the conflict.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Maoists accept the common understanding of ‘negotiations’. To the contrary, evidence supports a conclusion that the point of the current ceasefire is to further the armed struggle. Maoist exhortations to combatants continue to state that the old-order can only be addressed with violence. Fellow-travelers, continues the party line, will be accepted as long as they are useful, but they will not have a meaningful role in the shaping and execution of ‘New Democracy’. Nevertheless, it is felt by the party that the political parties can play an important role, "with all forces against the autocratic monarchy centralizing [focusing] their assault against the autocratic monarchy from their respective positions, thereby creating a nationwide storm of democratic protest."

Absent the ‘nonviolent’ delivery of operational victory, however, plans have been laid and are being implemented for the resumption of the Maoist military assault within the overall strategy for the seizure of power. The ‘nationwide storm’ only has worth so long as it delivers by ‘political means’ that which can only be gained at greater cost through violent means. If this is the strategy, operational intent will include demonstrations in urban areas and attacks in rural areas to force the government to fight on two fronts.  The RNA is aware of this to some extent, but it is unclear how much is being done to prepare.  

There are two pressing government failures that have contributed to its present situation. The first is the failure to address the information warfare side of the equation is causing serious problems. A key aspect of an information warfare campaign should be to bring the Indian government back in the game in a positive manner. The impression of ‘failure’ and of ‘democracy destroyed’ that has gone unchecked has allowed the legal Marxists to support the elements of the ruling coalition at Delhi that seek to meddle in Nepal’s affairs. The issue is rarely stated as such, but there are Left Wing elements (within India) who view India’s own democracy as problematic, so they would like nothing more than to ‘act out’ against whatever force in Nepal can serve as a surrogate target. To that end, bringing the monarchy to its knees serves their immediate purposes.

This is not in India’s best interests, keenly aware as it is that it has a growing Maoist problem on its hands within its own borders. The joint statements and activities of the Nepalese and Indian Maoists, together with an upsurge of activities on the ground in India, has led to the center becoming much more energized in its approach to the lackluster state anti-militant campaigns. 

It may be noted in passing that most analysts feel that India is central to any solution in Nepal. The notion that a Nepali relationship with China is an alternative to one with India is not viable. China is not willing to extend itself in any manner that can substantially assist in the present counterinsurgency, whereas India wants to help. It is simply being mired in the same domestic processes that are hampering Nepal itself.

The second is the failure to implement some sort of solution to the local security dilemma places the security forces in an impossible situation. The invariable reason given in Kathmandu (a year ago, as now) for having no local security in place is ‘the EU’.  The problem of foreign donor objections to local security mechanisms is known, but local security is as much a matter of C2 (command and control), transparency and semantics as anything else. The British, for instance, made local security the foundation of their entire Ulster effort through the ‘national guard’ mechanism of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). Likewise, the Colombians, facing the most profound legal challenges to local security in recent memory, have found an effective and sustainable way to protect areas through local forces.

Further, local security is indispensable.  There is no way to proceed in its absence.  As has been discussed time and again, the precise form of local security must be determined – it need not even be armed capacity. But it must be the capacity to inform and/or resist, pending reinforcement by the security forces.

These, it bears observation, have improved, led by improvement in the quality of RNA junior and middle grade officers. In many ways, in fact, the senior service, the RNA, is not the same force it was several years ago. Tactical and operational improvement, however, can make no headway in the absence of a strategy for victory.

This highlights the heart of the matter: there still is no articulation of ‘why we fight’, much less a comprehensive state (national) plan for counterinsurgency. There is an RNA plan, and this does bring along elements of the state at times, but there is no designated command authority that can bring together all facets of state power – much less the actual application of those assets. This cannot be the job of the monarch.

Democracy is the issue – upon that there is agreement. Regrettably, none of the contenders in the present struggle have demonstrated convincing commitment to a reality that moves beyond the word. Since the 12-point agreement is not ‘the answer’, either, the prospects – absent what would be (for Nepali politicians) an uncharacteristic willingness to move beyond generalities to specifics – are for a resumption of violence at the end of the present extension of ceasefire.


Dr. Thomas A. Marks is a Political Risk Consultant, Honolulu, Hawaii. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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