Saturday, April 15, 2006

Nepal Update

The Nepalese monarchy is in deep crisis. The Maoists have positioned themselves to be the lead political actor in the weeks to come. New Delhi lacks a policy to address this. Nepal is adjacent to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The spectre of a Maoist corridor between Nepal and Telangana is real.

The Maoist insurrection started in 1996. 13,000 have died since then. King Gyanendra dissolved the legislature in 2002. He suspended the All Party Government in 2005. The situation has since worsened. As the Chennai-based "Hindu Newspaper" put it, "A novice in politics and statecraft, Gyanendra is all tactics and no strategy". It is clear that he needs to either hold free and fair elections or abdicate.

The Seven Party Alliance of Political Parties (SPA) had signed a political compact with the Maoists in November, 2005 and March, 2006 to (i) initiate a nationwide agitation against the autocratic monarchy; (ii) restore parliament; (iii) form an interim administration: (iv) conduct elections for a constituent assembly; (v) and initiate the process of constitutional reform. The goal is "Loktantra". The word could either mean "people's rule" or outright "republic". The Seven Party Alliance is led by the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist.

India helped negotiate the deal. This is surprising given the extent of anti-Indian sentiment held by the Maoists. India until recently had the "twin pillar strategy" that it believed held the key to stability in Nepal. The "twin pillar" entailed the co-existence of a constitutional monarchy and elected government.

The United States on the other hand had pressured the SPA not to enter into the agreement with the Maoists. Washington expressed concerns that the deal had failed to commit the Maoists to abandon the campaign of violence. Donald Camp, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, stated in the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific at the House of Representative Committee on International Relations that the United States had only two goals in Nepal i.e. the (i) restoration of multi-party democracy; and (ii) prevention of the Maoist take over. This vision is in New Delhi's interest given the anti-India record of the Maoists, not to mention the Maoist campaign of murder, torture, bombings, extortion, kidnapping and the recruitment of child soldiers. It is in India's interest to coordinate with the United States in this instance.

King Gyanendra is increasingly unpopular. The nationwide agitation has had its effect. The King held Municipal elections on February 8, 2006 to test the waters. The call for a boycott by the SPA and the Maoists succeeded with only 20% of the electorate casting their vote. Only 15% of the seats were contested while 54% of the seats had no candidates. The Maoist campaign of terror and high levels of popular disaffection explain this.

The latest civil uprising is now in its tenth day. There is now grass roots support for the anti- government demonstrations. The elderly, women and children defied nationwide curfews to come out to the streets and protest. They clashed with security personnel. Students, teachers, professionals, doctors and civil servants joined them to barricade roads, burn tires and chase away the police. Lawyers took to the street. Journalists did the same. There are increasing calls for the monarch to be exiled.

Nepal is a landlocked country. It is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Kathmandu is heavily dependent on India for trade, transit and riparian rights. It is heterogenous with numerous tribes, ethnic groups and dialects. The Caste Hill Hindu Elite that comprise 31% of the population is dominant. The need for a smooth transition in Kathmandu from an inept autocracy to a representative democracy is in India's interest. The days of the monarchy appear numbered unless the King were to dramatically shift gears. A Maoist takeover is therefore possible in the upcoming political vacuum. This is not in India's national security. The deafening silence in New Delhi is therefore perplexing.


cynical nerd said...

Jaffna: A timely, well researched post. I too am surprised that India is working with the Maoists and political parties. I am not able to understand the logic. GoI thinks that once they share power, they'll have to stop their guerilla activities in India and Nepal. It is not all convincing since they only become emboldened. Check this quote from one Prof. Muni:

"There is nothing wrong in India supporting groups representing people of Nepal," says Professor S D Muni, India's foremost expert on India-Nepal relations. "Although the Government of India has not said anything against the king, but if at all India has supported the political parties and Maoists there is no harm because they are representing people, the king is not," he adds.
Professor Muni disagrees. "Why will Maoists not abandon violence? Why will violence be more important to them than power?" he asks.
"Rather, if India and Nepalese Maoists come closer it will have a positive impact on Indian Naxalites who will get a cue to join the democratic process like the Nepalese Maoists."

Jaffna said...

Cynical Nerd,

S.D.Muni has published a book called "The Maoist insurgency in Nepal: The Challenge and the Response". He is naive in my view.

For one, Maoism is a failed ideology. China has tacitly rejected it. It is incompatible with the modern consumer economy. Even if land reform were to be introduced in Nepal, I am not sure what Nepal could really export in terms of agricultural products.

Two, the Maoist influence on Peru (the Shining Path), in Cambodia (Pol Pot)and Sri Lanka (JVP insurrection in 1971 and 1987) revealed the sheer violence it brings about.

Three, the Nepalese Maoists are anti-India. Once the king is deposed, the Maoists will be the only armed group that can quickly fill the void and displace the unarmed Nepalese political parties, half of whom are Marxist-Leninist anyway.

Four, landlocked Nepal can not exist without good relations with India. The Maoist dream of a Nepal that stands up to India can not therefore hold.

I was rarely impressed with S.D. Muni. His writings on Sri Lanka are just as banal. Btw, is he from JNU? If so, it would explain a lot :-)


cynical nerd said...

Jaffna: Thanks for the clarifications. He is indeed naive perhaps or even sympathetic to Maoist cause. A quick Google search reveals that Prof. SD Muni indeed is from JNU. He is apparently in the list of Columbia Univ's "International Directory of South Asia Scholars".


Anonymous said...

Useful reminder not to forget events in our neighbourhood. Once Nepal collapses, India will be surrounded by enemies on three sides. How shortsighted of the PMO. Perhaps he does not care.

Dude said...

By Dr. Thomas A. Marks

Even as I write, events in Nepal unfold as if a Broadway play – nary a miscue from the script passed out months ago in the Nepalese media.

Having declared a "ceasefire inside the Kathmandu Valley," thus to gain the media "spin" that would necessarily come from "peaceful protestors" being "attacked," the Maoists proceeded elsewhere in the country to attack positions.

The Butwal attack is only the most recent example.

Open use of violence "outside" the urban centers has been accompanied by orchestrated rioting "inside." That the foreign media (with the help of the anti-government sectors in the Nepali media) persist in calling such "peaceful protest" only demonstrates how thoroughly detached they are from the reality of the people's war approach.

From the Maoist Playbook

To outline the Maoist strategy for those who were not present at the auditions for parts:

● Overload the security forces "inside" while attacking with main forces "outside." Claim to be only supporting "peaceful" forces for change.

● Use government troop deployments to advantage. If the security forces must move more men inside, flow into the vacuums left behind. If they move outside, send urban partisans inside.

● Exploit every death and claim that any setback (e.g. failure to overthrow the government) proves that only the violent way is left to install "absolute democracy."

● Break the RNA at all costs. RNA is the one real obstacle remaining in the quest for power.

So caught up is the SPA in its short-term effort to remain relevant that it is oblivious to long-term peril. SPA can be counted upon to mindlessly perform on cue.

● Move now to exploit the opening provided by Indian perfidy. New Delhi senses an opportunity to at long last create of Nepal a dependency that will do as it is told.

From the Maoist perspective, they have adopted a "win/win" course of action: no matter what actually happens, they will benefit.

By declaring a "ceasefire outside Kathmandu Valley," they seal off the battle area, declaring that it will be a fight between rival bodies of manpower. They feel that the SPA manpower on the streets can overwhelm whatever the police and APF (the backup) can put on the playing field.

When the authorities make mistakes, which ultimately they must if SPAM plans go off as scripted, the government is again "human rights abusers" -- and the howls can already be heard from the usual suspects. Some elements of the Nepali media appear to be working deliberately to fan the anti-government flames.

Further, the violence allows the Maoists to claim they at least gave "peace" a chance.

The dream scenario, from the SPAM perspective, is to replay 1990, with masses rushing across the open boulevard leading to the main palace gate, the troops forced to open fire, bodies filmed by international media and beamed worldwide, India declaring it can no longer stand by "as democracy is crushed."

Role of India

India's role remains to be untangled, but no one who was in Sri Lanka in July 1987 – as I was – can overlook the startling similarities. The Indian invasion, conveniently disguised as the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), was but the culmination of half a decade of support for Tamil insurgents/terrorists that New Delhi thought it could "manage."
Then, as now, the shape of the international arena played a significant role. India, many have forgotten, had sided with the Evil Empire. There were some 6-7,000 Soviet advisors in the country. It was the first country outside the Warsaw Pact to receive the MIG-29 fighter, the first (and only) ever to be rented a nuclear submarine.

Beyond all else, in a relationship only now emerging from files of the KGB spirited out of the country prior to the resumption of the authoritarianism, the government of Indira Gandhi allowed itself to be fed Soviet disinformation that convinced it Sri Lanka was a threat.
Alleged "special intelligence" provided by Moscow purported to prove Colombo was on the verge of granting Washington basing and spying facilities, India became involved with the Tamil insurgents, eventually training, arming, and basing them. When an initial massing of forces to invade in early 1984 was warned off by the Reagan administration, Delhi simply waited for a more propitious moment. This came in July 1987, as the Sri Lankans moved to crush the trapped insurgents in Jaffna.

What that moment shares with the present is the astonishingly bad "intelligence" that drove Indian policymaking, as well as the claim that "foreign hands" support the monarch. Putting the word in quotation marks only highlights what Indian field commanders realized within days of landing in Jaffna – there was little they had been given in their briefing packets that was accurate.

That India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had produced "analysis" every bit as flawed as any in the annals of intelligence debacles has since been recognized by no less than India's imperious Proconsul at the time, J.N. Dixit (now deceased) – though he continued to claim, even in his last writings, that India's information on America's intentions was completely reliable.

That India had completely botched its assessments of Sri Lankan ground realities would not surprise anyone who has followed what has emerged as the dominant government position in the present Nepali crisis. Indeed, Indian participants in panels held in Washington, DC, such as S.D. Muni, have distinguished themselves principally in what can only be characterized as willful ignorance of SPAM pronouncements and motives.

To cite but the most egregious example, the Indians continue to claim SPAM is willing to negotiate for itself a role in a parliamentary framework headed by a constitutional monarchy, even as the Maoists give press conferences claiming they will try the monarch in a people's court.

There do seem to be analysts who have correctly identified the astonishingly strategic myopia involved in destabilizing Nepal further even as India itself grapples with its own growing Maoist challenge. In his recent "India, Maoism and Nepal," former Finance Minister Madhukar S.J.B. Rana hit the nail squarely on the head when he wrote, "India is playing a dangerous game of pure real politic where it seeks to intervene in Nepal militarily by using the Maoist [as published] as proxy under the unbelievable propaganda 'to secure peace and democracy for the Nepalese people and to arrest the impending refugee inflow into its own territory'."

Change a word here and there, and the logic is identical to the debacle that became IPKF. It is further noteworthy that in the three bloody years that followed July 1987, IPKF acquitted itself well in "India's Vietnam" (as it was called by the press), even as Indian policymakers sought to cast blame for the blunder on anyone and everyone except themselves. (The most ludicrous position, of course, was the very one the Maoists advance now: it is all the fault of American imperialism.)

Where to From Here?

As irony would have it, it is the growing amicability of India and the US which has served as the strategic cover for New Delhi to bring Kathmandu to heel. Nepali sources have become increasingly blunt (and strident) in the same manner as the Sri Lankans all those years ago, as the Indian ties to Nepali violence become more clear.

One does not have to engage in plot mongering to posit that India is making a major policy error in steering its present course. Neither does one have to cast aspersions to point out the obvious: the SPA portion of SPAM has been willing to play the quisling for momentary political gain.

For it will be momentary, come what may. Let us suppose that the present government collapsed tomorrow. Where would that leave SPA? With two useless pieces of paper and a worthless sheath of promises.

What is tragic is that very little would seem to separate the sides at the moment save profound mistrust. The king agrees that parliamentary democracy should be restored with a constitutional monarch. The Maoists claim they will accept a democratic republic of whatever sort is decided by a constitutional convention. SPA claims the same. SPAM as a whole claims to desire a "ceremonial monarch" (but the "M" has been unwilling to desist from claiming a trial or exile is the only way out for the present monarch). RNA would become a true "national" army, which, not surprisingly, it already thinks it is.

It is important to interject RNA into the discussion, because the shape of any successor organization was a major sticking point in the previous 2003 round of ceasefire talks. SPAM seems to think this institution will simply agree to dissolve itself without discussions of what this entails.

That this will not happen was put to the Maoists directly in 2003, but they were as unwilling then to grapple with the complexities thus raised as they appear to be now. Yet the growing stratum of combat-tested, politically astute officers is not simply going to go as lambs to the slaughter.

Thus a great deal more thought is required upon the part of all sides. This will not take place as long as SPAM persists in its present course.

Dr. Thomas A. Marks is a political risk consultant based in Honolulu, Hawaii and a frequent visitor to Nepal. He has authored a number of benchmark works on Maoist insurgency.

Perveted minds said...

i havent researched as much as you folks have, but i guess a layman point of view helps.

Maoism is definitely a failed cause, as has been mentioned above, and a wonderful example too being china.moreover, the mao in india has changed from fighting for a cause, to becoming an extortion outfit

The situation is india can neither support the king or the maoists, bother are evil to india's survival. The king is ought to be dethrowned, but the thing is - is it to be done at the cost of bringing the mao to power? First india should act fast and really fast, because the mao influence is only growing by the day.

The need is to change the authoritarian rule, that the king is all out for. The curbs by the king must be reduced, and slowly peace has to be restored. India cannot let the mao gain influence.

Nitin said...


At a huge risk of going way off the mark, I'd like to hazard a guesstimate of what is a likely outcome.

I think the Maoist insurgency will go the way of the Assam insurgency. Once the Maoists come to power (or are accomodated into it), they'll end up like the 1986 AGP government of PK Mahanta and BK Phukan. In the battle for spoils, there will be a split (perhaps some assassinations) with one group choosing electoral politics and the other continuing its 'armed struggle'.

Another thing: regimes of small countries have a practical political need to snub a larger country once in a while to assert their own credibility. So, regardless of Gyanendra, SPA or Maoists, or a combination of the three,
'anti-Indianism' is to be expected. The question right now is whether Gyanendra's behaviour is simply an example of the above, or irredeemably way beyond that. IMHO, it's the latter. He's the elephant in the room.

Muni is wholly right. The Maoists are unlikely to abandon violence. But he's not wholly wrong either. Segments within the outfit will want to share the spoils of power.

Nitin said...

to continue...

The Maoists are certainly a despicable lot. Indeed, their emergence cannot in any way be a positive development as far as India's interests are concerned. That they are so strong today is largely due to India's sins of omission. Unfortunately, setting the clock back is well nigh impossible; so normative positions based on dislike for the Maoists won't help much.

The monarchy as an institution was an option that had the potential to maintain stability. But Gyanendra's ascent after the palace massacre, the antics of (now Crown Prince) Paras had already undermined that institution before Gyanendra did what he did. Another of India's sins of omission is that it failed to prevent Gyanendra from steering his autocratic course. Again, it is too late to set the clock back; and normative positions based on restoring anything short of a Japanese style constitutional monarchy remain wishful thinking.

The unfortunate reality is that India waited until its options got worse and worse. Part of that reality is that it is very likely that the Maoists will constitute some part of the future dispensation in Nepal and India will have little choice but to deal with them as such.

Jaffna said...


I think your points are useful and well-thought out. They contribute to a cogent discussion.

But let me disagree. Nothing is inevitable in international politics. I do not believe that the Maoist presence at the helm is predestined despite recent events. I do believe that the one can "set the clock back" as Thatcher and Reagan did in their respective polities. [As a humorous aside, Sri Lanka just set the clock back after 10 years]

In my view the comparison with the Asom Gana Parishad might not hold. I refer to the (i) level of violence committed by the Maoists, (ii) extent to which they envision a complete restructuring of the Nepalese state, (iii) sheer antipathy towards India, (iv) vehement commitment of an outdated ideology that can only bring further ruin to an already impoverished landlocked country and (v) antagonism to religion is such that any Maoist take over would lead to tumult. The anti-Indian sentiment they express is qualitatively different from that expressed elsewhere in the Nepalese political spectrum. It is extremely violent.

Let me qualify by mentioning that I am not a historian. With this caveat, l would still not make the comparison with Assam and refer to Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s instead. Here too, Marxist parties (in the instance of Cambodia, the peasant revolutionary ideology of the Khmer Rouge had parallels with Mao) allied with "centrist" parties to get rid of a pro-American right-wing administrations in Phnom Penh and Vientiane respectively. Once the right wing administrations fell due to a variety of reasons, the coalition assumed power where the Marxists quickly eliminated the erstwhile allies. I would also make the comparison with several East European states in the immediate aftermath of the War. Marxist led coalitions where the coalition partners were systematically eliminated upon take over.

However, King Gyanendra is the bull in the China shop - utterly incompetent and out of tune with the times. He needs to go. No two words about it.

But I would still argue the case for a constitutional monarchy and a rapprochement between the SPA and the royal palace. While I am not pro-American, it is inevitable that that country is the only one that can impose a solution on these lines in Nepal. The Royal Nepal Army is a force to contend with. Do not assume that it would be defeated. The Maoists can be sidelined like the Vietnamese did to the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Pockets of revolt, the occasional assassination and bomb blast will remain. But at least the Nepalese heartland can be cleared.

The Indian administration is incompetent to address the issue. The likes of S.D. Muni have got it all wrong as they did the Sri Lankan crisis in the 1980s. So perhaps Washington is better equipped here given the policy vacuum in New Delhi. The idea is to trigger a palace coup, ensure internationally monitored elections within a six month time frame and arm the Royal Nepal Army. The question is will Washington commit to this relatively easy and inexpensive task?

Vishal said...

The Leftist element in India likes Maoism.
It is no surprise that this Prof Muni of JNU
should write like this. This is common way that Leftists Profs always write the world over. Thats what they wrote of Khomeni as well.

Congress Party and the Indian foreign bureaucracy is rife with these sorts of Leftists as well. They are trying to make the same mess as they made in Punjab, Assam,
It is foolish to compare AGP with Maoists.

Paramendra Bhagat said...

King Of India
King's Address: Old Wine, Old Bottle
Could Girija Be President?

jabbarnepal said...

Shun the maoists, people of Nepal!
Dear people of Nepal,

I write this to you from the bottom of my heart; do you honestly believe that maoists will bring in peace and economic prosperity and growth? do not believe this , do not live in a dream. Please wake up read the history of other nations who have done in the past what you are doing now...... and see for yourself what happiness, what peace and prosperity has it brought them?

Look at your neighbour India, 60 years ago the indians overthrew the yoke of the British empire, indian freedom fighters gave their blood, young lives were bartered for precious freedom and self rule......... Alas, did the politicians who came in after this martyrdom care anything for the sacrifice of those heroes. They were only interested in their own preoperity.

Capitalism is the only way, let the economy be free. Communist, socialist policies will worsen the situation in Nepal. In India, Jawaharlal Nehru with his precious socialist policies succeeded in only making india poorer. what did he achieve ' the honest rich became poor, the poor became poorer, and the dishonest rich parked their money illegally abroad' what did the fool succeed in doing except transfer indias money to swiss banks?

When did India begin to rise? only after the 1990's ! only aftre it changed Nehrus useless socialist idealogies. when india started opening up, started following liberal economic policies, the rise began.

What socialist regime has ever succeded? it is only hogwash fed to the poor masses , giving them hope......... alas the poor seem to buy it hook line and sinker!

from me, a lover of Nepal, its people , its monarchy, its culture, its beautiful himalayan land... oh just about everything........ ay mero nepal!


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