Originally Published 2004-01-23 09:26:33 Published on Jan 23, 2004
Amid all political and economic impasses Nepal¿s incumbent Government under Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, announced ¿amnesty¿ to the Maoist insurgents on December 18, 2003 and called them to surrender along with their weapons, relatives and friends before February 12, 2004.
Nepal: Peace at Peril ?
Amid all political and economic impasses Nepal's incumbent Government under Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, announced 'amnesty' to the Maoist insurgents on December 18, 2003 and called them to surrender along with their weapons, relatives and friends before February 12, 2004. The Nepal Government's strategic move to find a solution for the eight year long devastating Maoist insurgency, known as 'Peoples Movement' (Jana Andolan) holds an important place in its peace making initiatives. After the end of ceasefire between the Maoists and security forces and the collapse of peace talks on August 27, 2003, the peace process had diminished to the lowest ebb and once again the brutal violence started outraging the whole country. The RNA has claimed 1400 Maoists and 288 security force personnel were killed including 111 RNA soldiers, 54 Armed Police Force personnel and 123 State police personnel since the collapse of the truce. On the other hand political parties are in the tenth phase of anti-King protest movement. Though the Government kept assuring that the economy was in an upward trend, but still the level of population under poverty is growing. Now it is imperative to analyze the prospects of resolving the conflict in the Himalayan Kingdom.

The Government sources said that since the beginning of the insurgency on February 13, 1996 to January 18, 2004 at least 7,792 were killed on both the sides including 5,000 Maoists insurgents' and 2,792 security force personnel. The renewed phase of escalation in insurgents activities especially after the failure of first attempt of peace talks during the late 2001, witnessed more number of deaths than its earlier phase. The first breakthrough in the peace process came in March 2001, when Maoists and the Nepal Government under Girija Prasad Koirala had accepted for peace talks. But the continued terror and violence by the insurgents, particularly the mass attack on Rukum police post on April 1, 2001, forced Koirala to resign from power. The immediate efforts taken by his successor Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba resulted in Maoists declaration for cease-fire in July 23, 2001. The Maoist leaders came to the peace talks table with their list of demands primarily on abolition of constitutional monarchy, convention for a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution and formation of interim Government to facilitate Nepal's transition to a republic. Even if the Maoists dropped their demand for republic after partly successful three rounds of peace talks, sudden increase in fatalities called the Government to declare 'state of emergency' on November 26, 2001. In November 2001 alone, 83 security force personnel and 395 Maoists were killed. The Maoists felt betrayed by the Government in the name of peace talks.

A paradigm shift in the insurgents' movement throughout 2002, witnessed more than 20 major fatality incidents, which resulted in 3992 Maoists, 666 security force personnel and 238 civilian deaths in that year alone. The security forces became more offensive in counter insurgency operations after loosing more than 100 security force personnel in a Maoists attack at Mangalsen in Accham district on February 17, 2002. Meanwhile, US, UK and India offered their - moral, military and monetary - support to the Nepal Government to continue their fight against the insurgency. On August 12, 2002 Interpol issued 'red-corner' alert notices against eight top-level Maoist leaders including the supremo Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) and Baburam Bhattarai, Chief ideologue and political wing leader. Apart from the continuing attacks on the security forces, Maoists felt to prove their potency across the country. Prachanda's call for a nation-wide general strike on November 11 - 13, 2002 resulted very much positively in Kathmandu valley. When the counter insurgency operation was in full swing, King Gyanendra dismissed Deuba's Government on October 4, 2002, for inept handling of insurgency and assumed all executive powers. The King's action was condemned widely including the Maoists saying 'country is frittering away the gains of 1990-pro democracy movement'. Without delay the King appointed one of his Palace loyalists Lokendra Bahadur Chand as caretaker Prime Minister on October 11, 2002.

Despite continuing attacks on each other, importantly assassination of Armed Police Force Chief Krishna Mohan Shrestha along with his wife in Kathmandu (January 26, 2003), peace process initiatives once again surfaced in January 2003 after a break of 13 months. On 29 January, Maoists and the Government announced cease-fire agreement and Government accepted to lift the terrorist label and 'head money' on the insurgents, called Interpol to remove 'Red Corner' notice, agreed to release Maoist leaders in detention and security forces to stop all offensives against Maoists. In the first round of peace talks on April 27, Maoists put forward their 35-point agenda including their prime agendas, which were discussed during the previous peace talks. The second round of talks was held on May 9. In the bundle of confusions including restriction on Army's movement, release of Maoist leaders from prison, the Prime Minister of the caretaker government Lokendra Bahadur Chand resigned from power. The King appointed another Palace loyalist Surya Bahadur Thapa from Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (largely known as 'King's party') sworn in as second care taker Prime Minister on June 5. The unceasing efforts for peace ended up in third round of talks in Nepalgunj on August 17. Both the warring parties have submitted their agendas and Government admitted for a round table conference to form all party government but not on constituent Assembly. But unfortunately, the predictions of all the opposition parties became true, when the Maoists unilaterally withdrew from the peace talks and broke the cease-fire on August 27, 2003. Maoists entered into the truce with terror by killing the APF chief Krishna Mohan Shreshtha and walked out through the same way by killing top RNA official Col. Kiran Basnet on August 28, 2003. Once again the number of fatalities shot up at the highest level immediately after the end of cease-fire.

Apart from many reasons, mutual distrust and suspicious attitude between the warring parties never allowed them to attain consensus on any issues.      Imposition of emergency and change of governments raised doubts on the intention of the King on resolving the Maoist problem. Both the sides did not stop blaming each other even during the peace talk's period. There was no sign of esteem for the 22-point 'code of conduct' by both the warring parties, which was agreed before the peace talks. Meanwhile, RNA killed 19 Maoists on August 17, 2003 and the insurgents attacked former Prime Minister Deuba's motorcade on August 25, 2003. Above some of the Confidence Building Measures, Government and RNA accused and threatened the Maoists for using the cease-fire to smuggle arms and recruit cadres and the Maoists indicted the Government for dragging the peace talks to destabilize their military strength and popularity. Reportedly Maoists have constantly continued their extortions, killings and attacks on government installations along with increasing their cadre force. On the other side Government equipped RNA with modern artilleries imported from western countries. The eight year long Maoist 'People's War' has turned an ornamental Monarchical army into a powerful, battle-hardened force.

The security forces are intensifying their strike against the insurgents to 'knee down' them through forceful actions. Even though the Maoists are not strong enough to equal the Army by means of military equipments, but their 'popular support' at the ground level should also be considered. Initially it was estimated that Maoists cadres must be around 2000 to 4000. But the Government figures released in early 2003 put their numbers at 5,500 combatants, 8,000 militia, 4,500 cadres, 33,000 hardcore followers and 200,000 'sympathisers'. Almost all the 75 districts of Nepal including the capital Kathmandu has been affected by the insurgents' activities and interestingly according to some reports four districts are under the total control of the Maoists. The Maoists increasing activities in 19 districts of Terai region is an extension of their campaign after having a strong base in the hilly districts in Northern parts of Nepal. Though their People's Liberation Army (PLA) is unorganized, they have been maintaining a partial Military system, which includes division, brigades, battalions etc. The escalation of dangerous conflict in Nepal would definitely take more lives.

According to the World Bank's 'Country Assistance Strategy Progress Report, 2003,' more than one-third of Nepal's 3,900 village development committee (VDC) buildings have been destroyed, 19 districts (of a total 75) are without telephone service, 250 post offices have been ruined and six airports have been closed. The devastating insurgency has broken the Nepal's economic development and made it more dependants on 'aid' from foreign countries. According to the latest reports, per capita annual income in Nepal is about $250 and the population of 44% in rural and 23% in urban areas are under poverty rate. The United Nations Development Programme report in 2003 has placed Nepal in 143rd position out of 175 countries in the world. Gradually, the major European donors have started revoking their assistance, because of misuse or not utilizing their money properly.

The continuing 10th phase of 'anti-King' agitation by the five major political parties vehemently oppose the King's use of Art.127, through which he acquired all the executive powers from the Government. The King's disinterest in reinstating the dissolved Parliament and not involving the mainstream political parties in the peace talks made them feel sidelined. To some extent every political party is longing for power and wants to be sole fruit bearer in resolving the conflict. When the King proposed a 7-point road map to solve all the issues of the country, the political parties contradicted and rejected it. Each party has their own agenda with respect to the Maoist insurgency. The whole political confusion prevails because of absence of an elected and permanent government at the center. Now the whole responsibility lies with the Monarchy to find a peaceful solution and it has to be more accountable to the welfare of the people and the nation. Nepal as a sovereign country severely threatened from all the sides. Simply prolonging the decision to find a solution would make the issues more complicated.

PG Rajamohan is a research scholar who attended the ORF Nepal Workshop in November 2003.

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