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Finding solutions

April 15, 2001

Nepal news


Since writing here last week I have read hundreds of your letters concerning the crisis. Some call for the Army to be used against the rebels and for Mr. Prachandra to be shot. Others urge the Maoists to kill the Government Ministers who have sent so many untrained policemen to their deaths. Many people call for the King to declare a State of Emergency and appoint an interim government to settle the war and almost everyone wants more dialogue between the factions. But one point was absolutely clear in all your letters; nobody has written in support of the Government. I have not seen a single letter or newspaper article that believes Mr. Koirala should remain as Prime Minister. And yet this was the week that Nepal celebrated the twelfth anniversary of the 'restoration of democracy'.

By now you must be realising the trick that has been played on you. Without a system of public accountability for the elected government, there is no 'democracy'. A political party can get elected for five long years on a series of completely false promises without any intention of fulfilling them and there is absolutely nothing the electorate can do about it. A government can use its office to enrich its ministers and their families but the people can do nothing to stop it. A government can even ignore the Constitution that directs it to benefit the poor and yet it faces no system of impeachment. Once elected, a government can do whatever it wants so long as it holds a majority in parliament. It is not surprising that many citizens believe this is not a democracy but merely a clever system to extend the wealth and power of the ruling class.

But that does not excuse the savage attacks on police posts by the rebels. Whatever moral right their cause may have, the Maoists cannot justify their campaign through merciless killing. Many of those policemen who died were the sons of ordinary rural citizens who have no other chance of employment. They were forced into battle by the same economic need that motivates the Maoist cause. Some of them may have been guilty of petty corruption or even acts of oppression against the people but their immediate execution without trial was a dangerous sign of how a Maoist Government might behave once in power. It would appear that Nepal is being torn apart between the wolves and the bears.

And yet the solution to this tragedy seems quite clear. Using the army to crush the rebellion cannot succeed in the long term. It would obviously be more militarily effective than the Armed Police Force but it cannot solve the problems that have caused the rebellion. The army might kill many Maoists but it cannot give the people any hope of a better future. Even the chances of military success are not certain. As the Americans discovered in Vietnam, a dedicated people's army using guerrilla tactics can defeat the most sophisticated army on Earth. And if the army was to suffer similar defeats as the APF have suffered recently, the nation would be laid open to Maoist revolution.

Were Mr. Prachandra to be arrested and tried for organising armed rebellion, it would only excite massive attention to his cause and strengthen it further. His execution would only create a martyr and there are dozens of other capable men in the movement who would willingly replace him.

Neither can the Government pass any legislation that would weaken Maoist support. It is no longer a question of simply giving a few more rupees to starving farmers in the rural areas. A few months ago such policies may have achieved success but now the entire political system has been discredited through persistent allegations of corruption that have not been answered. Mr. Koirala would have to order his own arrest for the people to be satisfied. His government would have to lay itself open to public examination of all financial affairs in order to quell the rebellion. And the chances of that are zero.

Neither can any dialogue between Government and Rebels achieve lasting peace for they are fundamentally divided on crucial issues. The Maoists are seeking a radical redistribution of wealth and power under a largely typical Communist system. The Government supports a Capitalist economy under a Constitutional Monarchy. There can be no compromise on these matters by either side. A hereditary king living in a gilded palace whilst millions of his people want for food and shelter cannot be accepted by a Maoist philosophy. And a system of strict government control over all aspects of culture, business and education cannot be accepted by a Capitalist philosophy. Both sides would have to jump onto completely new political ground to find agreement. Koirala and Prachandra would have to betray their supporters on so many issues that both of them would lose control of their parties. Any real compromise between the wolves and the bears over the carcass of their prey is therefore hard to imagine.

A Maoist victory is even less likely to provide lasting peace. Taking power by military force would isolate their government in the international community. Economic sanctions by the West would be inevitable and Maoist hostility towards India would almost certainly lead to another blockade. Foreign investment would drain from the nation like water in a river and tourism would evaporate. Nepal would become economically dependent on China and we all know what happened to Tibet. The Maoist cause might be fully justified but its economic policies appear outdated and unrealistic.

And so we are left with just two possible solutions to the war. Either a new political party must emerge that promises to withdraw the passports of all senior politicians pending investigation of their financial affairs or the King must appoint an interim administration to do the same job. Very few existing politicians have any credibility with the electorate and a new government must be composed of entirely new and unstained people to earn the support of the nation. Corruption is the fuel of this rebellion and the fire of war will never be extinguished until it is eradicated.

With my best wishes to you all,