Thursday, Dec 08, 2022

Drifting Into Disaster

Drifting Into Disaster

The prime power in the conflict, King Gyanendra, is yet to make public his stand on the future of his country, and Nepal can only anticipate a further deterioration in the situation, as the warring groups rely increasingly on the 'military option'.

The ongoing civil war between the 'People's Army' of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the government's security forces, took a violent turn immediately after the end of the short-term ceasefire announced by the Maoists for the Dashain festival between October 20 and 28, 2004. 

Within hours of the expiry of the temporary truce, the security forces and the Maoists clashed at Kamirechour in the Kavre Village Development Committee (VDC) of Dang district on October 29. On October 31, some 1,000 Maoists attacked Gamagdhi, Mugu District headquarters. The insurgents have also threatened, according to a widely reported statement by an unnamed 'Political Commissar', "to attack and destroy the mid-western regional headquarters Birendranagar in Surkhet district." 

The statement claimed, further, that, "the Gamagdhi attack was an unplanned, small attack. Now we will show them by attacking Birendranagar and turning it into ashes." The Maoist threat against Birendranagar, one of the government's key strategic locations in the mid-western region, clearly demonstrates the progress and direction of the 'protracted war' in Nepal.

The Maoist 'Chairman', Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka, Prachanda, has made it clear that the armed confrontation with the state is the primary instrument of the 'People's War', and the movement has relied on popular Marxist-Leninist-Maoist slogans such as 'The People without an army have nothing of their own'; 'The main instrument of the state is the army'; 'In the New Democratic Revolution the main form of organization is the army and the main form of struggle is the war'. 

The Maoists objective is to transform the unarmed masses into the armed masses, and little effort has been spared to this end over the past years. The absence of parallel development and a sincere national leadership has made their task easier, pushing common folk, voluntarily or under coercion, into the armed struggle, validating the revolutionary theory that war teaches war.

There has, over the past months, been a steady and strong evolution of the Maoist military strategy from rural and jungle-based guerilla warfare to a greater focus on urban targets, with a number of tactical attacks on various district headquarters, where the Security Forces are currently concentrated. More significantly, the Maoists appear to be hunkering down for a conventional confrontation, with reports that the insurgents have commenced extensive construction of bunkers and tunnels, particularly in the mid-Western and Western districts of Rukum and Achham respectively. 

This fortification and 'tunnel warfare' is expected to provide greater security to the Maoist cadres and leadership against increasingly sophisticated operations by the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) which has received a substantial bounty of improved weaponry, and has been conducting offensive operations using modern weapons, armour and aircraft against the Maoists. At the same time, these fortifications can be expected to provide the Maoists a more secure base to launch their own operations against urban targets.

Current trends in Maoist activity, consequently, suggested that they see their movement as having reached the 'third stage' postulated by Mao's theory of protracted war - the strategic offensive (the two preceding stages are 'strategic defense' and 'strategic equilibrium'). Indeed, the beginning of the 'strategic offensive' phase had been announced by the CPN-M after 10 days of the 'Central Committee' meeting at an undisclosed location on August 31, 2004. 

The push forward is motivated by the conviction that other revolutionary movements such as "the Shining Path and the Colombian revolutions failed because they let the strategic balance drag on for too long. In Nepal, the Maoists think a quick push when the state is vulnerable will take them to victory." It appears that the Maoists now seek the 'decisive destruction of the enemy's armed forces' and the seizure of power.

The Maoists have been long in their preparation, building rural base areas and establishing military control and political authority in ever-increasing parts of the countryside, to surround the cities. Apart from the abductions and coercive recruitment, largely among young rural students, the Maoists have designed curricula for primary school students (4th and 5th Grade) in the name of 'pro-people education'. The curricula include subjects such as military science, Maoist philosophy and ideology, profiles of Maoist leaders, and history and politics of the People's War.

To increase the pressure on the government, the Maoists have extensively targeted the political and economic structure across the country with devastating attacks on power plants, bridges, telecommunication centers and government buildings, which have caused immense damages to the national economy. Since the end of the temporary cease fire on October 29, there have been at least 30 incidents of Maoist violence across the country, and the Maoists have detonated bombs in all their attacks, including those at Gamagdhi in Mugu, Humla, Jajarkot, Dolpa, Bardia, Palpa, Rukum and in the mid-Marsyangdhi power plant project area. 

According to a study conducted towards the end of 2003, the seven-year long Maoist insurgency has cost the nation Rs. 66 billion, with tourism being the worst hit sector of the economy incurring a loss of Rs. 5.9 billion during 2002-03. Subsequently, the slump in tourism sector had a spillover effect on the banking and hotel industry, and ultimately on all productive activities. Security expenditure has increased by almost 300 per cent over the last five years of the civil war. The cost of destruction of physical infrastructure, such as power stations, telephone towers and VDC buildings by the Maoists was estimated at Rs. 18 billion. 

In general, the overall business environment has deteriorated drastically as a result of Maoist violence. The insurgents have also been intensifying their activities in the districts surrounding the Kathmandu Valley, simultaneously putting pressure on the capital city itself with well-targeted bombings, abductions, strikes and economic blockades. The buildings of more than three-fourths of the 3,915 VDCs in the country have already been totally destroyed by the Maoists, either during attacks or in bombing incidents. Almost all the remaining VDCs are vulnerable to their attacks.

Significantly, the Maoists are now claiming the lion's share from the money allocated to VDCs for development works. Various Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and international NGOs, moreover, have been forced to recognize the Maoist 'People's governments' in their areas of domination, and can only work after procuring or securing the Maoists' permission to continue their developmental projects. NGOs, along with local businessmen, government employees and common civilians, are now routinely paying 'revolutionary taxes' to the Maoists in much of the country, even as the countryside witnesses an incredible exodus from the rural areas, with an estimated over two million villagers fleeing their homes over the last two years. 

These distress migrants are mostly young men and women who have streamed out of the hills into the Indian Terai plain to the south, or into the District headquarters and cities within Nepal. Observers estimate that the migration continues at a rate of about 75,000 persons each month.

On the flip side, an offensive strategy for the Nepalese security forces also appears to be crystallizing. The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) has rejected the proposal for a unilateral ceasefire from the government side, and continued its patrolling activities even during the Dashain temporary ceasefire period. In mid-October the RNA had carried out a week-long and massive military operation, 'Operation Lekbesi', against Maoist training camps in Myagdi, Baglung, Gulmi and Arghakhanchi districts, to flush out the Maoists from their stronghold areas, and had set up a 'tactical headquarters' at the Upallochour barracks to coordinate their operations. 

At the same time, the Army had conducted 'Operation Simarekha' in the Rukum, Dolpa and Pyuthan areas and in the Accham District, establishing significant presence in these areas of Maoist domination. The Armed Police Force (APF) of Nepal, which has been working under 'operational instructions' of the RNA, is also expected to form a brigade for the security of Kathmandu, and to establish a battalion in each of the 75 districts in the country.

Despite some successes for the RNA, however, there is little evidence, or even possibility of the political re-consolidation of the country, and of the restoration of the institutions of civil governance in the vast areas that have been lost to the disorders. Indeed, as Kathmandu almost exclusively and alternately emphasizes either talks or military operations, there appears to be no will or motivation to restore the structures and activities of normal civil governance in rural areas, and the entire administrative paraphernalia has been withdrawn into the District Headquarters across the country.

On the political front, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government had clearly specified that the government would hold a national election, even if the Maoists did not join in a negotiation process, though the feasibility of an election in prevailing circumstances is highly suspect. 

The Maoists, in an official statement, have further claimed to have initiated processes to 'hold dialogue' with all political parties and organizations 'other than the royal palace and India', to find a way out of the country's current political impasse, and to preclude the possibility of 'foreign intervention'. If anything, this move will only further isolate the incumbent regime. The prime power in the conflict, King Gyanendra, is yet to make public his stand on the future of his country, and Nepal can only anticipate a further deterioration in the situation, as the warring groups rely increasingly on the 'military option'.

P.G. Rajamohan is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal