In Nepal, the last-minute restoration of parliament by King Gyanendra has temporarily put on hold the street drama that threatened to become a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. In scenes that could pass for Paris of several weeks ago, mobs dominated by rootless young men threw themselves at the security forces in support of “democracy.”
Even the interested powers found themselves helpless, none more than India, which actually set the present riots in motion through an alliance it brokered between the main legal parties of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the insurgent Maoists (collectively known as SPAM–no kidding). Other key players–the United States, Britain, and China–likewise found themselves sidelined.
The goals of the SPAM leadership are confused with the motivation of these mobs. Leaders of the SPA, universally vilified in their previous lives as corrupt and ineffective, have risen, Phoenix-like, as champions of democracy. They have done this by making a bargain with the devil, the insurgents of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
It is the Maoists who have most to gain should the SPA falter. The former have played both internal and external foes like a fiddle. Having built their bloody insurgency by exploiting weakness of the reforming but imperfect ancien regime, they now plan to present themselves as the forces of the restored parliament.
Completely forgotten is that it was the politicians of SPA who created the constitutional crisis by dissolving parliament–a consequence of their endless feuds. They then proved incapable of holding elections to restore the status quo. When the monarch endeavored to do so, polls were boycotted by SPA and attacked by the Maoists. Foreign embassies and organizations, pursuing their own narrow designs, encouraged this boycott.
Now galvanized with false calls to action is the parliament of the streets, the disenfranchised masses of a desperately poor country whose population (25 million) has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land, yet remains overwhelmingly rural, under 19 years of age, and without options. As the urban lumpen riot, their rural counterparts are mobilized by the guerrillas. What all share is a misguided notion that somehow their struggles will bring them better lives.
A bandwagon effect has brought even the gainfully employed but politically adrift onto the streets. “Peace now” and “republic” are the cries. What will happen when they discover it’s all a shell game is anyone’s guess.
Facing them is the remnants of a regime not nearly the cads of the charges but guilty enough of political ineptitude and strategic miscalculation. Possibly the best of the bunch are the security forces. These, however, have been thoroughly tarred by the human rights cartel as the main enemies of the people, which they most certainly are not.
No matter what happens, the current chaos and destruction has produced only two winners: the Maoists and India, both of whom played key roles in setting events in motion.
From the Maoist Playbook
Having declared a “ceasefire inside the Kathmandu Valley,” thus to gain the media “spin” that necessarily comes from “peaceful protestors” being “attacked,” the Maoists have proceeded elsewhere in the country to attack positions. Though rebuffed thus far, they see this as their moment.
Maoist cadre have been prominent in insuring that urban protest daily turns to riot. Large caches of explosives have been unearthed by the security forces, and Maoist combatants have been apprehended–and revealed their marching orders–to insure that the violence escalates and that no compromise is successful.
That the foreign media (with the help of the anti-government sectors in the Nepali media) persist in calling what has occurred “peaceful protest” only demonstrates how thoroughly detached they are from the reality of the people’s war approach. The same might be said of the various INGOs, who have not so subtly worked against the government.
From the Maoist perspective, they have adopted a “win/win” course of action: no matter what actually happens, they will benefit. They expect the restored Parliament to bring them into the governing structure, though they have not been tested at the polls. And their blockade of Kathmandu and other urban centers continues.
Role of India
India’s role in the present upheaval remains to be untangled, but no one who was in Sri Lanka in July 1987–as I was–can overlook the startling similarities. Then, the Indian invasion, conveniently disguised as the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), was but the culmination of half a decade of support for Tamil insurgents/terrorists that New Delhi thought it could “manage.”
This time around, in last half of 2005, New Delhi’s shaky ruling coalition (in a parliamentary system) allowed left wing and irredentist members to hijack its Nepal policy. The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists (M) were brought together in New Delhi, promised Indian support, and given the green light to pursue a coordinated assault upon the Nepali government.
The motives for such conduct were several. Most importantly, the parties of SPA owe their very existence historically (and apparently slices of their funding) to India. They toe the line when required to do so.
In contrast, the present king, Gyanendra, has increasingly rebuffed Indian positions and advice while simultaneously inviting assistance from other powers, particularly the US, Pakistan, and China. By exploiting strategic unease of hegemonists in the Indian ruling party, ideologues, notably those of the legal left (who are important swing votes), were able to assist their Marxist comrades in Nepal in ways they dream of doing (but dare not) in India itself.
Certain elements of the Indian power structure, notably the military, have been astonished at the strategic myopia involved in destabilizing Nepal further even as India itself grapples with its own growing Maoist challenge. Ultimately, they may have interjected just enough common sense into the process to change the equation. India did play a salutary role in damping the escalating street violence.
As irony would have it, it is the growing amicability of India and the U.S. which has served as the strategic cover for New Delhi to bring Kathmandu to heel. This leads directly to the obvious question: Why should the U.S. care what happens in Nepal?
Any number of tangible reasons could be advanced, from geostrategic position smack in the midst of India, Pakistan, China, and Southeast Asia/Bangladesh; to the world’s second-largest-proven hydropower reserves–in the same power-hungry neighborhood.
More important, though, is the intangible. That Nepal is so poor only highlights the reality that a democratic market economy has been ripped asunder by Maoist insurgency and terrorism. It sends a powerful negative message when other democracies do so little to assist, or, as with India, actually profit from (and exploit) the bloodshed.
For the moment, this is water under the bridge. Recriminations must not drive events but action, to include negotiations to test the sincerity of Maoist propaganda (echoed by Indian fellow travelers) that they are willing to come into the fold if certain conditions are met.
Time and again it has been the fact that the Maoists could not preordain the outcome of democratic rough and tumble that led to them to return to their terror. If they now take a genuine step to participate in the compromise at hand, that is well. If not, the powers should throw their weight squarely behind Nepal’s battered but still struggling democracy.
–Thomas A. Marks is a political-risk consultant based in Honolulu, Hawaii and a frequent visitor to Nepal. He has authored a number of benchmark works on Maoist insurgency.