November 25, 2020
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The Divided Political Spectrum

A wedge between the King and the constitutional parties is in the Maoists' favour, because the probability of the polarization of anti-monarchical forces would be greatly enhanced if the King continues to ignore them

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The Divided Political Spectrum

Nepal is no longer the favourite tourist destination of South Asia. Violence is widespread, and human rights violations by the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist (CPN-M or Maoists) in its 'people's war', and by the state, are regularly reported in the Press. Despite frequent protests against such incidents by human rights groups in Nepal, neither combatant party appears to listen to them.

In just the past month, some 1,000 school children have been kidnapped, including 250 recently abducted in the Jajarkot district of in the Western hills. These kidnappings have added a greater complexity to the nature, motives and strategy of the Maoist war. Indiscriminate kidnappings and murders of members of political parties have also become common, though they are not uniform across the country, with the Maoists adopting different tactics in different places.

By December 2002, more than 7,000 people had lost their lives in this conflict, and the Amnesty International report disclosed that a large number of innocent civilians had lost their lives because the Maoists used them as human shields during encounters with the security forces.

However, most of these fatalities are clubbed with the rebels, and the Army and the Home Ministry records indicate that, of the 4,366 killed in the current phase of escalated conflict, till October 2002, 4,050 were 'Maoists'. This reflects an enormous rise in violence, with some 2,700 people killed over the preceding five years (1996-2001). Killings have risen sharply since the Emergency was declared in November 2001, and it is certainly difficult, if not impossible, to positively identify each person killed on the Maoist side as a 'terrorist'.

The Maoists have also engaged in over 1,000 deliberate and targeted killings till the middle of January 2003, describing their victims as 'enemies of the revolution'. Taking hostages for ransom, torture, long periods of detention, and kidnappings for coercive recruitment into the Maoist Militia, have forced young villagers to flee their homes, creating yet another crisis of displacement among the people.

Many of these have trekked to India for jobs and safety; others, including schoolteachers, are reported to have found refuge in district headquarters and at Kathmandu. The flight of the labour force from the villages and the swelling of population in urban centres has already impacted adversely on the economy, and placed enormous burdens on the existing and overstretched infrastructure of urban society.

Within this context, the frequent kidnapping of school children and other young villagers suggests that the Maoists are having some difficulty with recruitment to their forces. These kidnappings may also represent another tactic to attract the attention of the government and of the international community, and to bring pressure to bear on speeding up the initiation of a process of negotiation.

Through these kidnappings and targeted killings, the Maoists also appear to project their 'message' that supporters or informers of the regime would be penalized. At least some of the kidnapping victims who were released recently stated that they were abducted for organizing political meetings without taking permission from the Maoists. Some party activists also disclosed that the Maoists took them into captivity because their respective parties had supported the Emergency.

The Nepali government declared the Maoists a terrorist organization following the declaration of a State of Emergency in November 2001. Both the Government of India and the US have categorized the Maoists as terrorists and had promised to provide necessary assistance to Nepal for its counter-insurgency campaign. Nevertheless, despite the fact that both the US and India were committed to providing assistance to Nepal to combat Maoist violence, neither the international support, nor the State of Emergency imposed to facilitate Army and security forces' operations have produced any tangible results.

The Maoists have demonstrated their presence and operational capabilities virtually throughout the country, and the levels of violence that they have been able to sustain despite the Emergency indicate that the campaign of attrition that the state has launched against them is still to destroy or significantly erode their operational capabilities. The security forces, however, dismiss such an interpretation, asserting that the Maoists' capacity to mobilize both manpower and resources had been considerably affected in recent months.

The Maoists reaped major, if inadvertent, political advantage as a result of King Gyanendra's decision to take executive power into his own hand on October 4, 2002, after Prime Minister Sher Deuba, then head Minister of the 'interim government', was removed on charges of 'incompetence' after he recommended to the King that general elections be deferred for at least thirteen months.

All major political parties have opposed King Gyanendra's transformation from a constitutional to an executive monarch, though the King continues to ignore them. The Maoists have also opposed the King's move, thus making the protection and consolidation of the gains of the restoration of democracy in 1990 a common political agenda.

Nevertheless, the situation is far more complex than this simple dichotomy between monarchists and democrats may suggest. Political parties operating within the system do not support the Maoist demands - the abolition of the monarchy; creation of a constituent assembly to frame a new constitution; formation of an interim government; and the holding of a round table conference to forge a solution to the current crisis. The Maoists, moreover, have now expressed their preference for the inclusion of the King in such a round table conference, presumably because of the changed power equations in the country.

The parliamentary parties, on the other hand, have divergent approaches to the emergent constitutional process and the continuing Maoist crisis. The Nepali Congress (NC) wants to restore the dissolved parliament in order to set the trend for future reforms and negotiation with the Maoists.

The Communist Party of Nepal - United Marxist Lenninist (CPN-UML) wants the constitution of an all-party government to steer the country out of the current constitutional crisis; other communist groups in and outside parliament support the NC's demand for the restoration of parliament first, followed by the initiation of suitable reforms to be introduced in the Constitution.

The democratic political parties of the country have come under substantial public criticism for their failure to agree on a common agenda, but their leaders argue that their divergent positions on these issues do not contradict or undermine their collective petition to the King, urging him to constitute an all-party government.

The split in the NC in 2002, and the growing intra-party conflict that is manifesting itself within the CPN (UML) have weakened these democratic formations considerably, though the leaders of these parties do not fail to blame the Palace for contriving divisions within their ranks. The weakening of these parties and their gradual marginalization from mainstream politics has also put the Maoists in difficult situation: if they negotiate with the King, they would have to compromise on some of their basic demands, such as the abolition of the monarchy, the formation of a constituent assembly, etc., and this would make them vulnerable to criticism from other parties, and possibly within their own cadres.

It is apparent that the Maoists want to involve all political forces in the country in any process of negotiated settlement or reform, in order to secure their own acceptability and legitimacy. Since no concrete efforts for negotiation have been visible so far, all the three sides of the political spectrum - the King, the systemic (democratic) parties and the Maoists - have little clarity of vision regarding the new roadmap of Nepali politics.

And unless the row between the King and other parties is settled, any fresh negotiations with the Maoists seem to be a remote prospect. Tactically, however, a wedge between the King and the constitutional parties is in the Maoists' favour, because the probability of the polarization of anti-monarchical forces would be greatly enhanced if the King continues to ignore them

The author is Executive Chairman, Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies (NCCS), Kathmandu. Courtesy: South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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