By Beena Sarwar
07 November, 2004
a press conference in Kathmandu recently,Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat
Aziz generously offered to help Nepal crush the Maoist insurgency that
has spread over much of the country, claiming some 8000 lives since
1996, many of them women and children. Mr Aziz was visiting the Himalayan
kingdom as current Chairman of South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (Saarc), during a tour of the seven member countries.
"If Nepal wants,
Pakistan is ready to extend all possible help in fighting the terrorists,"
he said, adding that Islamabad was "ready to extend army and civilian
training in Pakistan." The prime minister, a high-flying former
banker also said that "control of terrorism will be one of the
main issues on the agenda during the 13th Saarc summit in Dhaka".
indicate that, like many world leaders including the re-elected President
of the USA, Mr Aziz does not really understand what the catch-all term
'terrorism' means. There is also a refusal to acknowledge that the roots
of this problem - whether in Nepal, Pakistan, Chechnya, the USA or the
Middle East - are political, not military, and that the solution ultimately
lies in political initiatives and dialogue.
In February 1996
when the Maoist declared their 'People's War' with attacks on police
and military installations in six remote western districts, it was inconceivable
that they would one day control much of the countryside. Today, they
can even bring the capital to a halt by calling for a 'bandh' or strike.
But like 'terrorism'
elsewhere, the Maoist insurgency is the symptom of a problem, rather
than the problem itself - although it has certainly become a problem
for thousands of Nepalis. Over the years, the government has consistently
ignored the problems of remote rural areas, leading to a deep power
and political vacuum. Today, no matter how many Maoists the security
forces kill or capture, others will emerge because the insurgency is
"a manifestation of the weakness of the country's political and
socio-economic structures" as a recent paper puts it, noting that
"In spite of the particular ideological and political aspirations
of the movement, there seems to be a wider national and international
consensus on the legitimacy of some of its demands". It rightly
stresses the need to examine "why there have not been qualitative
changes under the new democratic system of government." ('Towards
Conflict Transformation in Nepal: A Case For UN Mediation', http://www.monitor.upeace.org).
The Maoists' main
demands relate to nationalism (concerning Indian excesses and expansion
over Nepal); public and well-being (political demands); to the people's
living (economic and social demands). These echo the demands made by
the popular struggle for democracy that led to the 1990 Constitution
- the elimination of the Royal family's privileges, the drafting of
a new constitution through a constituent assembly, civil rights guarantees,
and basic services for the rural poor.
The 1990 constitution
did incorporate some of these demands - but not enough. It included
provisions against discrimination and an expanded list of civil rights,
but also incorporated contradictions that are believed to have contributed
to the political crisis - most notably, its lack of definition of the
powers of the King, who remains Commander in Chief of the army and retains
emergency powers if advised by a Council of Ministers whose majority
he himself appoints. Fears that he would misuse his influence proved
correct when in November 2001 he used the army to try and control the
insurgency -- which had until then been allowed to operate unchecked.
As noted in this
column before, the Maoists had been 'arresting', 'jailing' and even
'executing' opponents and security personnel, and 'taxing' villagers
(complete with receipt books). "The state's ultimate response was
not political, but military, in a reprisal that is claiming innocent
lives as well - justified in the post 9-11 world as 'collateral damage'.
The Nepali authorities' fight against 'terrorism' is supported not only
by USA and Great Britain, but also by neighbouring India which has a
stake in the
"But as in
Iraq, this is not an easy fight. Nepal's army, used to being a peace-keeping
force, finds itself pitted against an implacable enemy in terrain more
difficult than Afghanistan or Vietnam. It is responding with disproportionate
force, gorged with new guns and ammunition mostly obtained at subsidized
rates from India." ('Musharrafising' a monarchy, The News, April
Adding to India's
generous aid is the new offer from Pakistan - which, like India, has
yet to set its own house in order. Islamabad continues to respond to
its problems with force and military might, most lately in Balochistan
and South Waziristan, rather than seeking the more democratic option
of political negotiations. 'Sectarian' violence has claimed over 4000
lives since 1980; stationing armed guards at places of worship may deter
some attacks but it is not the answer. Outside 'help' in internal battles
only ups the ante, leading to more violence, more killing - remember
India and Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, the USA and the world. Nepal
would be well advised to respond to Mr Aziz's offer with a polite but
firm 'Thanks, but no thanks'.