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Misguided Generosity

By Beena Sarwar

07 November, 2004
The News

At 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".

Such statements 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',

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 11, 2004)

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'.











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