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Facing Civil War

July 15, 2001

Nepal news


For many of you in Kathmandu the past five years of Maoist insurgency might have seemed a relatively distant problem. Even six months ago it was something that affected remote rural areas far more than the cities and main economic centres of the nation. But now that situation has clearly changed.

Last week the Maoists officially united with fellow rebels in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to form the first-ever international Co-ordination Committee of the Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA). Their declared aim is to advance the 'People's War' in Nepal and India and their strength was quickly demonstrated in several successful attacks to mark the birthday of King Gyanendra. More than 40 policemen including a senior Superintendent were killed and large quantities of government munitions was added to the rebel armoury. Dozens of small bombs were detonated in Kathmandu and several Indian owned factories were severely damaged by fire and explosions. Even the Prime Minister and his daughter have been targeted with symbolic bomb attacks.

The Government has responded to this growing threat of armed revolution by introducing tough new security laws and increasing military expenditure. It has mobilised the army and adopted new powers of arrest and detention for anyone even suspected of Maoist sympathies. Senior rebel leaders have been targeted for assassination and one has already been eliminated. Under the new '14 Point Agenda' the Government even intends to outlaw all strikes and bandhs for ten years. Taxation will be increased and more rigidly enforced to pay for the Security Programme whilst thousands of local government employees will lose their jobs in cost cutting efforts to help it.

But the recent Finance Act did little to help domestic agriculture from which over 90% of citizens still draw their daily living. There will be no resumption of the fertiliser and irrigation subsidies that millions of farmers need to sustain their crops and only 0.2% of total government expenditure will be given to the Poverty Alleviation Fund. The vast majority of our collective wealth will be spent on subsidising development projects. And doubtless many politicians, businessmen, wealthy companies and foreign investors will draw huge profits from the projects that are funded.

Nepal is clearly at war with itself. We are all drawn into a political struggle that seems destined to be decided by force. Both sides are answering violence with yet more violence. It is precisely the situation that so many of us feared earlier in the year. Of course there are talks in progress to resolve the crisis but since the assassination of King Birendra there seems little hope of compromise.

The Maoists firmly believe that Prime Minister Koirala conspired with Indian and American intelligence agencies to place King Gyanendra on the throne. Their logic is clear. After vain efforts by US Assistant Secretary Eastham to persuade King Birendra to use aggressive force against the rebels in late April, they believe the Americans became alarmed at his successful talks with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji three weeks later. The Chinese immediately allowed the passage of grain from Tibet to many starving citizens in Humla district and agreed to construct two new road projects that would significantly increase supply routes to Tibet. This agreement was undoubtedly against both Indian and American interests. And less than three weeks later King Birendra was dead.

It is terrible allegation but many independent foreign news media have given it some weight by reporting that alleged assassin King Diprendra received several bullet wounds in his back as well as his head. It is even reported that King Birendra held private talks with Maoist leaders shortly before his death and accepted many of their demands in exchange for the continuation of the monarchy under a revised Constitution. Under these circumstances there seems little chance of any agreement between the Maoists and the State whilst Mr. Koirala is Prime Minister and King Gyanendra is on the throne. And so we must all face the prospect of a long and bloody civil war.

I suspect that most of us will try to keep our heads down and leave the struggle to those who are fighting it. But each day the war will get ever closer to all of us. There will be many casualties on both sides. Some of us will lose brothers and fathers serving with the Government forces. Others will lose close relatives fighting with the rebels. A few will even lose loved ones on both sides of the conflict. Brother will fight brother; that is the terrible nature of civil war.

Even those of us lucky enough to escape personal grief will still suffer. The threat of casual bombs in Kathmandu will undoubtedly reduce foreign tourism and thereby lessen the income of millions across the land. That will affect other industries as well. Already many businesses have been forced to close with little hope of better times ahead. And the new security regulations will reduce the personal freedom of everyone in Nepal. Whatever we might wish, there can be no real escape from civil war. It affects each and every one of us.

But it all seems so unnecessary. The Government could have neutralised Maoist support simply by adopting stronger measures to fight corruption. High level corruption was the spark of popular rebellion. It is the real engine behind it and yet nothing has been done investigate the private assets of politicians and officials who live in luxury far beyond the possibility of their declared incomes. Nothing has been done to increase the penalties for tax evasion and corruption in line with many other countries. Instead of including firm measures to fight this evil in his '14 Point Agenda', the Prime Minister chose instead to outlaw strikes and bandhs that protest against it. He even invited Mr. Chataut to his official residence when the former Tourism minister was evading police questioning for corruption. Of course he did nothing to help the police arrest him.

The fight against corruption would have cost nothing. Indeed it might have even increased State revenue. But there was something far better the Government could have done with the benefits of an economy that grew more than 5% over the past year. Instead of spending 10 billion Rupees on soldiers and weapons, the Government could have spent half that sum providing food to the starving citizens of the remote hills and achieved the same result. According to official reports half the population is suffering from malnutrition. That is the main force of Maoism. And hunger will always fuel rebellion whatever guns are used against it.

With my best wishes to you all,