Struggling to find meaning in a political tragedy that is tearing Nepal apart
The Maoist insurgency in Nepal has stretched over a decade and claimed over 15,000 lives. For the majority of that time, the Maoists have been at the center of the conflict. However, it now seems apparent that the monarch has played an increasing role in prolonging what is now a civil war. The King's action or lack thereof has contributed to the confusion, frustration and hopelessness of the current political situation. The attention has shifted from Maoism to the monarchy, as the people of Nepal struggle to find meaning and truth in this political tragedy that is tearing the Himalayan Kingdom apart.
The Maoists, officially the Communist Party of Nepal [CPN], claim an ideological legacy from the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. Under the leadership of Prachanda, the Maoists seek to convert Nepal's current multi-party democracy into a communist system. They use scare tactics to achieve their political goals, much like Mao Zedong during the revolutionary war.
Scare tactics encompass both verbal threats as well as physical follow through. Some examples include threats to local families to provide troops with shelter and food, abducting children for training, intimidating journalists to print slanted stories, coercing tourists to pay hiking fees to support Maoism, and numerous other ploys to force civilians to comply with Maoist military leadership in their strongholds.
Consequently, they view Nepal's civil war as a necessary means of revolutionary transformation; thereby justifying their disregard and non-compliance with basic human rights.
Numerous human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and United Nations have reported repetitive cases of torture, abduction, extortion and murder carried out by the rebels. Manfred Nowak, a UN special rapporteur on torture, has received evidence of torture and mutilation by Maoists in order to extort money, punish non-cooperation and intimidate others.
The Maoist presence has been considerably more visible since 2003/04. In an attempt to control the insurgency, King Gyanendra declared a one-month state of emergency on February 1st, 2005, dismissing the government, jailing politicians, and suspending civil liberties such as freedom of the press. Gyanendra claims his intention was to quell the Maoist movement; however suspicion has grown as a month stretched into a year and the King had yet to restore democracy.
Does Gyanendra want to make Nepal into a militarized, royal dictatorship? Is his refusal to restore democracy proof of his intentions? Looking back over the past year, Gyanendra has taken a number of measures to retain his autocratic rule.
On September 3rd, 2005, the Maoists announced a three-month ceasefire to allow time for peace talks. However, the King did not reciprocate, raising concern about his motives. The ceasefire was a positive move towards peace, and if accepted by the King and his government, it could have provided an opportunity for constructive dialogue.
Although the three-month ceasefire was extended to four, it was officially called off in January 2006 due to Maoist frustration with the King's complacency and lack of response.
Conflict has trickled from remote hills to urban streets, as civilians risk their lives in the battle for democracy. Prior to the King's autocratic takeover, conflict was primarily confined to the jungle as Maoists carried out their insurgency in remote areas. Now, however, protests erupt daily in the populous Katmandu Valley to pressure the King to restore democracy. The civilians have shifted their strategy from protesting against Maoism to protesting against the monarchy.
On February 16, 2006 the King implemented a curfew in the capital city of Katmandu, where anybody found on the streets was authorized to be shot by the Royal Nepalese Army. Likewise, local elections were pushed forward by the King at a very inopportune time. Political parties boycotted and protested the date of the elections, but their voices fell on deaf ears.
The results of the local elections of February 8, 2006 show the success of the boycott:only 20% of the country's 58 municipalities participated. Indian government spokesman Navtej Sarna suggests that a credible electoral exercise should have the active involvement and participation of all the mainstream parities. Only then would such elections be able to contribute to the restoration of democracy and political stability.
In April 2007 the King intends to hold federal elections on his own terms, which may further enable him to continue his autocratic dictatorship.
Fact and fiction collide to form a big cloud of confusion resting above the Himalayan kingdom. The King has made numerous empty promises and currently sits in an isolated position, not only from his own kingdom, but from the rest of the world as well. Permanent representative to the United Nations Murari Ray Sharma said the King says one thing and does just the opposite. He preaches democracy, but practices dictatorship. He has promised peace, but has given more violence. The monarch has made Nepal a police state at home and a pariah state abroad.
The decisions that have been made by the King and the atrocities committed by both monarchists and Maoists are now bubbling to the surface of the world media quicker than boiling chya.
As awareness becomes heightened, the King has an even greater responsibility to act in accordance with the democratic principles outlined in the Nepalese constitution. The current political triangle consisting of the CPN; the monarch (backed by the Royal Nepalese Army); and the political parties are engaged in a power struggle where there is no winner.
The King has had numerous opportunities to discuss peace with the Maoists. During the ceasefire the constitutional monarchy could have forged links with political parties to strengthen democracy and galvanize all segments of the society to discuss matters with the Maoists. However, their choice to ignore the Maoist offer has resulted in a tipping of the political scales where Maoists have gained strength through allying with political parties, thereby weakening the monarch's position.
In a recent report, the International Crisis Group notes that the Maoist leaders would disarm under international supervision and take part in multi-party democracy. Nepal's main political parties and Maoist insurgents have already agreed to work together to end the rule of the King.
The Maoist insurgency has changed dramatically in the past year, but in order for the situation to improve, two things need to be done. First, the Maoists need to enter mainstream politics. If this is accomplished they will need to comply with the order and protocol of politics and the rule of law. Second, the monarch needs to take direct and immediate action to restore democracy, as well as welcome the Maoists as a legitimate political party.
Clearly, the only way to end this decade-long conflict is to approach it from a new angle. As the problem evolves, so do the strategies to deal with it. If this is the "people's war," then the people should choose whether they would like to participate. However, in order to do so, they need to have their basic rights returned to them, and there is only one person who is capable of such a task; King Gyanendra.Shannon Boyce is a Canadian who lived and worked in Nepal during 2005.