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Martial Law with velvet gloves

May 27, 2001

Nepal news


The new Internal Security and Development Program (ISDP) is an extremely skilful idea. If the Prime Minister has correctly judged the situation the policy could be successful. Of course it would need to be implemented. Promising to improve employment, health, education and drinking water for millions of citizens is one thing. Actually achieving that is something quite different. And the Government has been very generous in their promises. Defense Minister Acharya guaranteed the ISDP would bring security and peace to Maoist affected areas. There will be armed protection against Maoist intimidation and everyone will have easy access to the judiciary. The Army only has to be deployed because the Police Force was unable to stop the violence he declared. In short, Mr. Acharya stressed all the positive aspects of the most polite form of Martial Law ever devised.

But has the Prime Minister correctly judged the situation? His spokesman firmly placed responsibility on the Maoists for the current crisis. Minister Acharya said that Maoist violence, intimidation and killings were the main reasons behind the ISDP. He did not mention the false arrests, beatings and killings of innocent civilians by policemen. He did not balance the casualties on both sides and admit that earlier government policy may have been wrong. Far more people have died because of State reprisals than those killed by Maoists. But the Minister did not offer any guarantee against future official wrong doings. He did not promise that no one would suffer from the problems that first instigated Maoist violence. The ISDP assumes that a small number of power hungry rebels are terrorizing more than half the population in Maoist affected areas. It assumes their support has come through intimidation and violence. And where there is genuine public sympathy for their campaign, it assumes that poor living conditions are the root cause.

There is no doubt that poverty stimulates insurgency. Improving the lives of ordinary people in Maoist affected areas is a noble enterprise and many in Government have supported the ISDP for that very purpose. But how much improvement will the policy bring to general living conditions? Mr. Acharya did not detail the amount of money invested by the State in each of their promises. Improving just education and health for millions of remote rural people is an expensive business. But improving irrigation and agriculture, creating new employment and cleaning the water supply is a massive undertaking. A genuine effort to achieve all this would require substantial financial adjustment. The money has to come from somewhere. It is said in the Christian Bible that Jesus Christ once fed 5,000 people from a few fish and two loaves of bread. Perhaps old Girija can do the same! After all he is head of the new all-powerful Integrated Security and Development Committee. But I suspect those recent visits by senior American and Chinese officials are connected with his miracle. The extra fish he needs may well be coming from foreign shores.

But nothing is free in life. Foreign aid and investment does not come without a price. And often we are never told exactly what it is. For example many Western governments demand marijuana controls because they do not wish the substance to reach their countries. They do not consider that it has always been used for many purposes in rural life. They know nothing of keeping goats in the Himalayan foothills. But their money always buys their interests. Their investment programs are not charities aimed to give freely without expectation of profit. They are carefully calculated political/economic manoeuvres intended to benefit those politicians who agree to them. It is therefore important for the people to know the details of any foreign aid or State investment. The conditions of investment return are a matter of vital national interest as the Tanakpur Agreement with India established. If the ISDP can achieve a radical social and economic revolution across the country I will be delighted to congratulate the Prime Minister in this column. But the finance behind it must be explained for the whole project to be believable.

Of course there is another aspect to Maoist support that has not been identified in the scope of the ISDP. It is not only poverty that motivates insurgency. After eleven years of unstable government and failed administrations there is a rising thirst for political reform. Corruption is seen as a cancer throughout the system and millions of citizens have lost faith in multi-party democracy. But the ISDP is not intended to review the Constitution. As a solution to insurgency Mr. Acharya invited the Maoists to peacefully participate in the existing political system. They would have to form a political party and raise the funds to fight a national election. Their supporters are the very poorest people in the country but the system does not take that into consideration. Whilst the Congress Party is funded by hundreds of rich businessmen who always profit from its political success, the Maoists can expect no such support for their policies. They wish to see the profits of industry shared more equally among the workers but only idealists and the poor share these dreams. And rich businessmen who fund politicians are rarely idealists. Money is the always the power behind the leading political parties under the current system. It buys advertising and travel expenses. It buys people and even votes. The Maoists cannot compete against the wealthy parties in Western style democracy and the current administration is well aware of that.

But the ISDP has one very important feature that could be effective. Mr. Acharya confirmed that serious dialogue with the Maoists was also part of government policy. And he met with several CPN (Marxist) central secretariat members at a special meeting of the new ISDP Political Sub-Committee shortly after his press briefing. This is definitely a step in the right direction and over the next few weeks this column will examine the areas of their discussion. There has to be an acceptable compromise between the interests of the State and the famous Maoist '40 Point Demands'. Perhaps we can find it.

With my best wishes to you all,