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History of Conflict in Nepal

By Gokul Pokhrel

  1. Until the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, internal conflicts in the scale as we see today were quite unknown to Nepalese people. During the last four decades while many countries of South and South East Asia passed through a phase of turbulence and conflicts, Nepal stood an exception and enjoyed a long era of peace and stability unparalled in history. Many political pundits looked at the peace as something Nepal took advantage of the strained relations between China and India, skillfully playing one against the other. But it was more an uneasy calm created by circumstances. Disturbing symptoms were already there when in 1975, at the height of partyless Panchayat era, late King Birendra proposed to declare Nepal a Zone of Peace (ZOP), He felt that the existing guarantees of independence devolving from separate treaties with two big neighbours and enhanced profile in international arena were not enough to sustain the rising tide of Nepalese nationalism. Despite support from 105 nations including all big powers, the ZOP was aborted due to lack of support from one big neighbour which was not convinced about the threat perceptions Nepal felt at that time.
  2. The upsurge in Nepalese nationalism without liberal democratic governance could not last long and had to be overthrown through a popular revolt in 1990. The installation of multiparty democratic system was welcome as a panacea to all the malaise Nepal was facing at that time - strained relations with India, alienation with party-led popular forces and all those values that come along with liberal democratic dispensation. All the paper works following the adoption of new Constitution in November 1990 were excellent as these were not only at par with prevailing international standards but also in close harmony with the political system in India. With improved relations with her close neighbours, people had reasons to be euphoric about the emergence of a long peaceful and prosperous era undisturbed by external influences. The so-called theory of equidistance vis-a-vis the two neighbours was discarded for apparently good reasons and it was hoped this rationale should work fine. The iceberg of discontent was discernible only in 1995 when a dissatisfied faction decided to dissociate from the political mainstream and take up arms against the democratically installed regime. It is now nine years of the most brutal conflict between ballot and bullet which shows no end of the tunnel of peace. A total of 13000 precious lives have been lost and a peaceful country has been plunged into a chasm of instability, dislocation of democratic institutions and a chaos.
  3. The genesis of the armed conflict has much to do with the deviations that had crept in the functioning of the democratically installed governments, their faulty economic planning and policies that ostracized a large segment of rural population and minorities from the mainstream of economic and social development. While political leaders were basking in the fruits of new found democracy that favoured more to the enrichment of the power elites, the insurgents used the very weakness of the political parties to enhance their cause in the remote villages. Their radical slogans of social and economic transformation, backed by strong disciplinarian approach on gun-point has found roots in the heart and minds of rural masses. During the past five years, public support to democratic forces eroded regressively through in-fighting, factionalism and mis-governance, the Maoists have gained in strength. The ensuing instability and chaos has led to the emergence of Royal Palace and the Army in the political scene setting in a triangular power struggle. A compromise of interest among any two of the three protagonists is enough to sway power balance toward either way. It is difficult to say at this stage to what extent external power lobbies have hand in destabilising the country including support to the rebels, but political leaders are warning the people of external influences ca at work in the country. The gruesome massacre at Royal Palace on 1st June 1901 and Maoist leaders claiming affinity with the late king on many issues pertaining to nationalism were not merely casual references.
  4. It is clear that the rebels are using latest guerrilla warfare techniques available in the world today in the repertoire of revolutionary uprising. It is an aberration of globalisation of insurgencies as well. While the extreme Maoist ideology is indigenously grown with roots in remote villages, it cannot be denied that they are supported by various clandestine revolutionary groups of neighbouring countries and elsewhere. Over the years, the Maoists have mustered enormous money, muscle and gun-power and backed by a strong ideological thrust, they are capable of threatening the very foundation of civic life and state security apparatus. Large scale abduction of minors, their forcible recruitment as conscripts, closure of schools and brutal killings terrorising inhabitants of the surrounding form a part of their ideological war. The exodus of people from the villages to safer areas in the cities and across the frontiers in India is enormous.
  5. As direct consequence of mounting insurgency and counter-insurgency operations, media men are now becoming very vulnerable. The gruesome murder of Gyanendra Khadka last year and of Dikendra Thapa of Dailekh in the second week of August, 2004 by the insurgents are a reminder that the Maoists are not going to tolerate freedom of expression that goes counter to their dictates. Human Rights groups and Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) estimate that about a dozen journalists, mostly operating in the remote districts, are abducted by the insurgents. While there were complaints of mistreatment to reporters by security personnel on suspicion that they were critical of their operation, the latest Maoist outrage seems to have surpassed the atrocities meted out by others in proportion.
  6. In addition to military tactics of assault and attacks, the insurgents are active with their political frontal organisations which are strong enough to spread fear, insecurity and threat to the extent of disrupting civil order. Now, everybody seems convinced that the conflict cannot be resolved through military means alone. It is only though dialogue and negotiations between the contending parties that peace can be restored. While the Maoists have demanded the involvement of the United Nations in mediating peace talks, the government is lukewarm to this option and prefers direct talks. This may be so to avoid giving legitimacy to the political entity of the Maoists on the one hand and not giving pretext to internationalise the conflict. Another difficulty lies in the acceptance of this course is that the United Nations and other major powers regard the insurgents as terrorists by the very means they are deploying and it might appear compromising with the stated policy of having no deal with terrorism. But at the face of escalating Maoist pressure, the present regime has little option of either asking more military help from its close neighbours or expedite the process of peace talks by striking compromises in a manner acceptable to the rebels also.
  7. At this time of impasse, while educated elite shudder at the prospect of the return
    of Polpot style regime of repression and slavery, the oppressed masses see Maoist doctrine as an instrument of deliverance from exploitation, inequalities and suppression. In fact, the country is experiencing immense political vacuum at the face of ineffectiveness of prevalent political structures. The options lie not only forging strong unity among the democratic forces within the country but also creating a congenial environment of mutual trust externally also. In view of the geopolitical realities of Nepal, lasting solution to peace and stability is possible only through thaw in relations between India and China on the one hand and between China and the United States on the other because we should not forget that the United States regards China as a strategically rival power to contain with. An improvement in global security perspectives in relation to South Asia can be an essential element in the quest of lasting peace and conflict resolution vis-a-vis constructive dialogue with the rebels. We have jettisoned the rationale of ZOP for good reasons but its appeal in different form cannot be easily wiped out in present context.

The emergence of an undaunted media having the skills and capacity to present issues impartially and objectively can prove an asset in strengthening the cause of peace and negotiations. But in order to enable media play its role fearlessly, both the parties should be persuaded to practise high degree of tolerance, providing access to sources of information and creating an environment of trust and confidence. Should not this logic be made one of the agenda of peace dialogue?

Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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