By Farooq Sulehria
On February 1, Kathmandu witnessed another government dismissal
- the fourteenth government change in as many years. In May last
year, Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned following weeks
of street protests by opposition groups and in June 2004, King Gyanendra
reappointed Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister, only to re-sack
him. Deuba had earlier been dismissed in October 2002.
In his televised address on February 1, King Gyanendra cited
the Deuba government’s failure to organise elections and
quell the Maoist insurgency as the reasons for his action. The
king has assumed absolute power for the next three years and plunged
Nepal into a political crisis. The crisis points to the strength
the Maoists have gained in Nepal since February 12, 1996, when
the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) started its jana yuddha
Nepal has since 1996 been home to the world’s fastest flourishing
and most successful Maoist movement in the post-Cold War period.
Also, the communists involved in parliamentary politics (CPN-UML)
emerged as a leading force in the 1990s, even reaching the corridors
of power once. The CPN-M is one of several splinter groups of
the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). The CPN-M was born when Samyukta
Jana Morcha Nepal (SJMN) split in late 1993, when the SJMN was
the third-strongest force in the Pratinidhi Sabha (parliament),
with nine MPs.
Nepal’s Maoists have been flourishing since. Even The Economist,
a paper with contempt for the Maoists, confessed in its issue
of Dec. 2: "The Maoists claim to control four-fifths of the
country. That is an exaggeration. But it is true that the government
does not exist in most rural areas..."
One reason for the rapid Maoist control of Nepal’s territory
could be that the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) was poorly armed at the
time the guerrilla struggle was launched. The insurgents are generally
believed to have few external sources of arms supply, but their
radical ideas on land reform and negation of the caste system
has won them support. They are running the district districts
they control through people’s committees and have implemented
land reforms, besides setting up ‘people’s courts’.
Human Rights Watch, however, is critical of these courts: "As
part of their ‘people’s war,’ they have deliberately
targeted and killed civilians suspected as informers. Most of
the victims are members of opposition political parties, persons
suspected of having informed against them, and persons who oppose
them in any other way."
The Nepalese government has been ruthless too. Consequently,
the death toll is high: 10, 000 since 1996. Several attempts at
peace talks between the government and the Maoists have proved
unsuccessful. The first round of peace talks, which began on August
30, 2001, broke down on November 23 that year. On January 29,
2003, the government and the Maoists announced a second ceasefire,
but the talks soon reached an impasse over a justified Maoist
demand for a constituent assembly, and the ceasefire ended on
The success of Maoist ideas in Nepal underlines the crisis facing
this impoverished country of almost 25 million, the majority living
below the poverty line. According to figures published by the
Asian Development Bank last year, Nepal, with an annual national
income of just $241 per head, is the world’s twelfth poorest
Despite some democratic reforms paving the way for multiparty
elections in 1990, Nepal is still a classic example of a feudal
state ruled by a powerful monarch. The King is a military-police
dictator supported by the upper-caste Hindu elite. The masses
have been looking to the communists to rid them of exploitation
by the monarchy, its lackeys and state apparatus, because the
communists of various hues have always been in the forefront of
the struggle for democracy and change.
When limited democratic reforms paved the way for multiparty
elections in 1990, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist
Leninist (CPN-UML), emerged as the largest party in 1994 general
elections. In Asia, this was the first time a communist party
was elected to power. But the communist government not only failed
to deliver the land reforms it had promised, it also disillusioned
its cadres. Meanwhile, the CPN-M provided the action the Nepali
masses were perhaps seeking. As the CPN-UML was losing its electoral
base in the towns, the Maoists were becoming a pole of attraction
in the rural areas.
The Maoists’ growth has been making neighbouring India,
itself facing Maoist uprisings in six states, pretty nervous.
Nepal, which serves as a kind of buffer zone between India and
China, has been strategically very important. Landlocked Nepal,
the world’s only Hindu kingdom, has been under a sphere
of Indian influence and is also desperately in need of Indian
support and cooperation.
India is a major supplier of arms and training to Nepal. In April
2003, India’s army chief of staff revealed that India had,
by that time, provided arms and ammunition to Nepal worth $25.8
million, and would provide another $12.9 million in weapons.
Traditionally, India and Britain supported the monarchy, but,
of late, the US has increasingly been extending its support too.
The Bush administration put the CPN-M on the US list of terrorist
organisations on October 31, 2020 and also signed a five-year
agreement "for co-operation in fighting terrorism and preventing
possible terror attacks" with Nepal in 2002.
Washington may have concerns about the impact of instability
in Nepal on the Indian Subcontinent as a whole. But the major
reason for the growing US military ties with Nepal is the country’s
strategic position — adjacent to China and in the neighbourhood
of Central Asia.
Washington has a series of military arrangements with countries
bordering China, stretching from its new bases in the Central
Asian republics through South-East Asia to its formal allies in
North-East Asia: Japan and South Korea. Therefore, the United
States has become a major provider of military assistance to Nepal,
allocating over $29 million in grants to Nepal to pay for U.S.
weapons, services and training from October 2001 to October 2004.
U.S. military assistance to Nepal increased dramatically after
2001: in mid-2001, the U.S. administration anticipated spending
some $225,000 the following fiscal year (October 2001-September
2002) on the military training of Nepalese troops and did not
plan to provide any financing (via grants and loans) for military
purchases by Nepal. After September 11, the U.S. added $20 million
in a supplemental allocation. In fiscal 2003, Nepal received $3.15
million in FMF financing and $500,000 under another programme.
For fiscal 2004, the U.S. administration asked Congress for $10.6
million financing. The justification offered is interesting: "FMF
in Nepal will help its government cope with a brutal insurgency,
restore enough stability to permit elections, and prevent the
countryside from becoming a haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorist
groups." A Hindu state becoming a haven for al-Qaeda...?
Others reported to be supplying weapons to Nepal since late 2001
include Great Britain, China, Belgium, Kyrgyzstan, Poland and
It seems that in sacking the Deuba government, King Gyanendra
is counting on Nepal’s growing strategic position and taking
advantage of the changing global political game.