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There is no military solution
March 17, 2002

Nepal news


Over the past few weeks the military struggle between Government and Maoist forces has intensified to become the biggest civil war in the world. The average daily casualty rate is higher than the bitter fighting in Palestine or even Afghanistan. Hundreds are now dying every week. Travel throughout the country has become a lottery. Kidnappings, robberies and brutal murders are commonplace events. A nation that only fifteen years ago was regarded as the most peaceful and happy on Earth has now descended into the pit of vicious brutality and despair. Our worst fears have become realised.

There can be no hiding from the truth of what is happening in our country. We cannot go about our daily business and forget the fact that we are at war. Government ministers might still go about in fine suits hosting trade conventions, international conferences and sporting events. There may be new constructions in Kathmandu and trade agreements with India. But the ugly truth will always remain in the shadows behind every show of normality. Our sons and our brothers are still slitting each other's throats in a desperate struggle between two utterly uncompromising power groups.

The Prime Minister is now in a very similar situation to his predecessor. He may be more popular than the accident prone Girija Prasaad Koirala who was handicapped by persistent allegations of nepotism and corruption. And the violent Maoist attacks that broke the cease-fire in November certainly generated more public support for his military campaign against them. But Mr. Deuba has no greater chance of successfully ending the war than the last administration. He remains fixed in the stubborn demand that the rebels must effectively surrender before any meaningful dialogue can take place between them. And the rebels remain fixed in their refusal to do so.

The government is therefore obliged to force that surrender and prosecute a war in which the enemy has no clear identity and may be disguised in any form. Mistakes will be made and many innocent people will be killed. Both sides will overreact and send more soldiers and cadres to avenge the deaths of their predecessors. So it is perpetuated. This is not a dispute that force alone can settle. Mr. Deuba may eventually succeed in launching massive hi tech bombardments against the rebels. He may enlist foreign support and exterminate thousands of Maoist cadres and sympathetic civilians. But he will never defeat the force behind them unless his government reduces the desperate poverty suffered by nearly half the population. Of course the sheer cost of the war is preventing any general improvement of living conditions. And the chaos of it is rapidly destroying the economic base of the nation. Military methods can only buy a little time for political manoeuvre. The real battle Mr. Deuba must fight is the war against poverty. And it is ultimately one that the whole world must face.

The struggle in Nepal is not simply a local war between different social groups. It is not a war confined to our borders. The entire world is actually facing the same crisis that we are experiencing here. The wealth gap between rich and poor is growing bigger every year both globally between nations and socially between people. In short the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It is the fundamental reason why Palestinians cannot live alongside Israelis. Whilst an average Israeli earns nearly $20,000 a year, the average Palestinian must work for less than four hundred. It is the same problem in Nepal. Whilst some people are earning thousands of dollars every year through business or corrupt practices, the average citizen must live in complete poverty.

Although such circumstances have existed before in history, something today makes them particularly acute. The wonderful development of satellite television has recently delivered their reality to millions of viewers across the globe. A generation ago very few Nepalis were aware of our hugely disadvantaged situation compared with other nations. Not only has such knowledge substantially increased but the sheer commercial nature of media has also encouraged common desire for Western goods and living standards. Unfulfilled desire will always create disappointment and that has been the breeding ground for new ideologies to challenge the West.

The Palestinians will never live happily alongside their Israeli neighbours until both economies are at least within sight of each other. Where one man eats cake alongside another that is starving there will always be trouble. Perhaps we cannot expect to have absolute equality of wealth when some systems are plainly more economically efficient than others. But the wealthy will always have the moral responsibility to ensure the basic requirements of everyone. It is a form of natural law that no degree of human force or dictatorship or even torture can ever override. No man has the right to demand a second helping before his neighbour has been served the first. And no nation has the right to line its streets with gold before its neighbour has even built shelters.

Of course we can make human laws that try to operate otherwise. We can give tax advantages to the rich and allow some nations to spend billions of dollars on missile defences whilst others face drought and starvation. But there will never be peace in the world as long as such injustices continue. The wealthy will never be able to sleep comfortably in their beds at night. There will always be the threat of sabotage, terrorism, assassination and mindless destruction.

And so Mr. Deuba must do more than increase our military strength or make fine speeches in political gatherings. He must actually win his war against poverty and demonstrate a radical path ahead that will give everyone hope for a better future. Constitutional change is an inherent part of that future and the government should rapidly accept the principal of it. For by doing so they would immediately open the prospect of a much more constructive dialogue with the rebels than the current strategy of force and counter force.

With my best wishes to you all,