SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
As was expected, the unrealistic projections on the inevitability of Constituent Assembly (CA) Elections in November have foundered against the Maoists’ strategies of obstruction and disruption. On October 5, 2007, the seven parties’ alliance (SPA) in Nepal decided to suspend the CA elections after a brief consultation among themselves. The decision to suspend the polls is an indication of Nepal’s continuing political instability and the fragility of the present peace process.
The main reason behind the suspension of the elections is the two key Maoists demands for the proportional representation system to be adopted for the CA elections and declaring the country a republic in Parliament before the CA elections. Prolonged deliberations were held in different party circles regarding the Maoist’s adamant stand and non-negotiable preconditions for allowing the CA polls process to go forward. However, with the election date approaching and no sign of consensus emerging among the parties, it seemed obvious that the polls would have to be deferred.
A complete consensus on the two core issues raised by Maoists remains elusive. While SPA leaders almost reached a compromise on the Maoists’ demand of declaring Nepal a republic by agreeing to pass a ‘commitment resolution’ through the present Parliament, no compromise could be reached on the second demand, with opposition coming particularly from the Nepali Congress (NC), who thought that changing the election system would take a long time and would consequently render the holding of election on time an impossibility.
In their obduracy on these issues, the Maoists are clearly violating the agreement they signed with the SPA on November 7, 2006. Strangely, they never raised these issues during the proposal of amendments to the Constitution, which has already been amended twice since the Agreement. The Maoists’ demand of declaring a republic through the Interim Parliament contravenes Article 159 (3) (a) of the Interim Constitution, which states that the Cabinet would submit a proposal in the House on declaring Nepal a republican state if the King is found to be disrupting the CA elections. Similarly, Article 63 (3) of the Interim Constitution has a provision for a mixed electoral system for the CA poll. Thus, both the Maoists demands grossly violate the letter and spirit, both of the Interim Constitution and the Agreement with the SPA.
The CPN-Maoist chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka ‘Prachanda’, on October 7 proposed a referendum to be held before the CA elections to gauge support for a full proportional representation system and a republic, arguing that, "a referendum can be held not only to decide whether to declare a republic or retain the monarchy, but also to gauge support for the proportional election system." But the NC is not ready for the referendum proposal since it believes that would reactivate the King. NC Vice-president Gopalman Shrestha said, "Referendum on monarchy will ultimately be instrumental in activating the monarch who has been remaining passive for the past one-and-a-half year," adding that the referendum would give King Gyanendra "a chance to campaign in his favour and this would bring him in active politics."
After the polls were suspended the Government decided to call a special session of the Parliament on October 11 to end the deadlock. The Maoists declared that they would raise their two key demands in the special session, and at the very first meeting of the session, filed three major proposals, including the key demands and an additional call for the amendment of the Interim Constitution to set a new date for the CA elections. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai had a meeting on October 12, but this, again ended in a failure. The Maoist leaders urged Koirala to get their two proposals endorsed by the Parliament, but Koirala stuck to his stand that the country cannot be declared a republic straightaway and a proportional electoral system cannot be accepted.
The sessions continues at the time of writing, and a majority of the members of the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the NC feel that the party should not change its current stand nor should it support the Maoists’ proposals in the ongoing special session of the Interim Parliament. Rather, the CWC asked the Maoists to withdraw their key demands, namely for the time being. The NC is also of the view that a consensus on the two key demands of the Maoists must be reached among the seven political parties before the Maoists raise the issue in the parliament.
The Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), a Parliamentary Party that has long been involved in the country’s democratic process, and a member of the SPA, reiterated that the CA election is the best way to overthrow the monarchy and wants a new date set for the polls at the earliest. The party is also of the opinion that there is no alternative to the CA polls in the present context. The UML has decided to use the continuing special session of the Interim Parliament to fix this new date. The party’s General Secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal, said that both the NC and the CPN-Maoist are to blame for the postponement of the elections, as they stuck to rigid stands on their respective conditions.
The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), a right-wing pro-monarchy party, has unsurprisingly decided to vote against the Maoists’ proposals for declaration of a republic through the Interim Parliament and for a proportional electoral system for the CA elections, on the grounds that these go against the Interim Constitution and the concept of people’s sovereignty. RPP Chairman Pashupati Shumsher Rana said that they will vote against the two proposals as "The Interim Constitution clearly stipulates that the first meeting of the elected CA will determine the fate of the monarchy and the mixed electoral system." Rana, meanwhile, disclosed that his party and the Rastriya Janashakti Party led by former Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, would unify soon. RPP leader Parasuram Khapung said that the declaration of a republic is an issue to be decided through the people’s verdict and that the legitimacy of such an announcement by the Interim Parliament would be questionable. Thapa, meanwhile, said that the Koirala-led Government has lost legitimacy as it has back-pedalled from its commitment to hold the polls on time.
Even after the suspension of the polls and severe opposition from other parties, the Maoists are not ready for any kind of compromise. Senior CPN-Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel aka Gaurav declared, on September 30: "We will not let the CA election take place till our demands are met." In a similar tone, Prachanda, who earlier proposed a referendum to break the deadlock, threatened to split the SPA if the special session of the Interim Parliament did not resolve the prevailing political crisis. Ram Bahadur Thapa aka Badal threatened that, if the Maoist proposals are rejected by the Interim Parliament, then the country will plunge into yet another conflict of much larger size and dimension, openly warning the other parties, "Embrace opportunities or face disaster."
The suspension of elections due to the obdurate stance of the Maoists indicates the quantum of influence they have on Nepal’s fate. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is also under immense pressure from different quarters to conduct the election at the earliest. The ongoing stalemate also casts doubt on the unity of the SPA, which is essential if the peace process is to move forward. The latest warning issued by Prachanda that the alliance may split if the special session of Parliament fails to produce any result is a direct threat to SPA unity.
Nepal is obviously struggling with its peace process and the euphoria of 2006 has vanished. The Chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, Ian Martin, aptly remarked on October 10 that the current crisis has come about not just because of failure to reach agreement on two issues, but as a reflection of deeper differences in perception and approach, and as a result of weaknesses in the overall management of the peace process, particularly the failure to implement agreements on certain key issues. He further said that the reluctance of the CPN-Maoist to ensure that its youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), ends its use of intimidation and occasional violence has badly eroded public confidence that the Maoists are indeed willing to enter a genuinely democratic process. He concluded that, "Many of Nepal's traditionally marginalised groups remain concerned that commitments made to them are not being fulfilled. There is frustration by all communities in the Terai, and indeed across Nepal, about the poor state of public security."
The ongoing political uncertainty raises question marks on the seriousness on the part of the Maoists to take the peace process ahead. The Maoists’ irrational and ‘out of agreement’ demands demonstrate that they are yet to transform themselves into a responsible political party. The ongoing special session of Parliament, which is expected to vote on October 16, will decide the next stage of the country’s troubled future. Whatever the decisions, it is unlikely that the Maoist demands will be accepted and, consequently, unlikely that future will be less anxiety ridden than the recent past.
The Nexus Again
The nexus between establishment politicians and militants would be tragic if it had not become almost routine. On August 17, 2007, Manipur Police personnel raided the official residences of three Members of the State’s Legislative Assembly (MLAs), identified as W Brajabidhu, Bijoy Koijam, K. Meghachandra and a former MLA, N Sovakiran. These raids led to the arrest of 12 militants belonging to different insurgent groups operating in Manipur. An M-16 rifle, a 9mm pistol, live ammunition and a number of extortion notes were recovered from the house of one of the MLAs. Addressing a subsequent Press Conference, the State’s Director General of Police (DGP), Y. Joykumar Singh, said that the MLAs, all belonging to the Congress Party, were present in their houses during the raid and were unapologetic about the arrests. The MLAs later described charges of collusion as baseless. Till the writing of this report, no action had been taken against the errant politicians.
For years, Manipur has been wracked by an unending militancy, with some 15 active outfits presently operating in both its valley and hill areas. While militancy has shown signs of decline in some States of the Northeast, Manipur’s tryst with militant violence remains unrelenting, impacting on all the nine Districts of the State. For two successive years, 2005 and 2006, Manipur has been the most violent theatre of the conflict in the Northeast with 410 and 311 fatalities respectively. Assam, with 11 times the population, and 3.5 times the land area, accounted for 254 and 242 fatalities over the same period. Available data portends an equally dreadful year 2007. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the first six months of the current year recorded 184 fatalities, including 40 civilian and 25 security force (SF) deaths. The Institute for Conflict Management database indicates a total of 295 fatalities till October 10, 2007.
The vacuum in governance is both a consequence and cause of militancy in Manipur. The civil administration has ceased to function across vast stretches of the State and intermittent military operations have had little impact on the level of militancy. The militants have carved out several more or less ‘liberated zones’ within the State and also operate from neighbouring Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, carry out attacks targeting civilians, SF personnel and Government servants, and run an enveloping extortion network across the State – extending right into the capital city – with impunity.
Certainly, politicians in the State are under tremendous pressure, and militant attack on leaders and party workers have been a recurrent phenomenon. Over the past months, such incidents have included:
In militancy-ridden Manipur, buying peace with the militants is commonplace and is seen across the political spectrum simply as a strategy of survival. The nexus between politicians and militants is, consequently, pervasive. As former Manipur Governor Ved Marwah expressed it, "There are hardly any politicians in Manipur of any stature who do not have links with the insurgent groups."
In December 2005, the then Army Chief J.J. Singh stirred a hornet’s nest by claiming that Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh had paid a ‘donation’ of INR Five million to the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and INR 10 million to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Chief Minister and the KYKL rejected the allegation. However, while describing the charge as "forgery, cheating and political victimization", the KYKL admitted that it receives financial help from ‘different people’, including politicians, though "not as much as INR Five million from a single individual".
In addition to Ibobi Singh, there is a long list of politicians, including Chief Ministers, who have been similarly accused of buying or attempting to buy peace with the militants. In the late 1980s, the then Manipur Governor, General K.V. Krishna Rao, accused then Chief Minister Rishang Keishing of contributing INR Three million to the coffers of the then undivided National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Keishing’s linkages with the Naga militants found mention in another State Governor’s report, when Lieutenant General V.K. Nayyar accused him as well as another senior State politician, R.K. Dorendro, of financing the NSCN. Keishing, during another stint as Chief Minister in the mid 1990s, was accused of supplying uniforms to the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN (NSCN-IM). Investigations into this incident were allegedly hushed up and the blame was eventually pushed off on to a Manipur Rifles Commandant. In 2000, at least five State Ministers were accused of reportedly contributing funds and official vehicles to unnamed militant outfits and even participated in the funerals of militants killed in encounters with the SFs. A State Government inquiry was ordered, but was never completed.
Both politics and militancy in the Northeast are rooted in ethnicity and the nexus between the two power centres is inherently linked to such primordial loyalties. Both militants and politicians share a common support base. Instead of choosing to confront each other and erode the support base, both tend to collaborate and benefit from the prevailing state of affairs. In 2003, Manipur Power Minister Phungzathang, belonging to the Zomi tribe, provided two vehicles and a sum of INR 260,000 to the militants of the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA). Similarly, the Naga MLAs in Manipur have often openly spoken in favour of the NSCN-IM’s demand for the merger of Naga-inhabited areas of the State with Nagaland. These politicians have periodically led delegations to the highest echelons in New Delhi in support of these demands.
New Delhi’s intermittent attempts at breaking the nexus display a lack of sincerity. In 1997, an ‘action plan’ drawn up by the MHA, following then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's visit to the Northeast, proposed a vigilance system to monitor the politician-militant nexus in the region. In 2001, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee decided to set up a judicial inquiry into the charges of the politician-militant nexus in the region. Nothing has been heard of either ‘initiative’ since the respective announcements. In August 2007, reports unveiled another of New Delhi’s proposed mechanisms to counter the nexus and the militant extortion network. The proposed mechanism involves setting up of local units of the Enforcement Directorate (An agency under the Ministry of Finance, which investigates financial irregularities) and in coordination with the banking sector, to evolve an anti-dote to the thriving problem. It remains to be seen whether this new proposal will have any eventual impact on the ground, or whether it will go the way of its predecessors.
The nexus between politicians and militants has conveniently been described as a natural corollary to Manipur’s thriving militancy. Notwithstanding occasional action by the enforcement agencies – as in the present raids and arrests – these linkages have sustained militancy for decades, providing the militants a steady source of finance and at least some safety from SF operations. Stringent punitive action could have been a decisive deterrent to such alliances. Regrettably, errant politicians have, so far, retained complete immunity against the ‘long arm of the law’.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 8-14, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Seven persons killed during bomb blast in cinema hall in Punjab: On October 14, 2007, seven persons, including a 10-year old child, were killed and 40 others injured in a bomb blast inside a cinema hall in Ludhiana. The victims were identified as migrants from other States who were watching a Bhojpuri language film at the Shringaar Cinema. Punjab Police chief, N.P.S. Aulakh, said that, from the preliminary investigations, it appeared to be the handiwork of some terrorist group. Talking to the media, police chief of Ludhiana District, R.K. Jaiswal, said it was suspected that RDX was used. Indian Express; The Hindu, October 15, 2007.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urges for different strategy to deal with terror strikes: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on October 12, 2007, that the country would have to think of a different strategy to deal with terror strikes. "Terrorists have the advantage of surprise. Therefore, we have to think of a different approach to deal with them… We have to mobilise all our resources and defeat their machinations. There is no lack of firmness and purpose… Let there be no mistake about our resolve to meet this challenge head on," he said, replying to a question about recurring bomb blasts, at the HT Leadership Summit in New Delhi. The Hindu, October 13, 2007.
Three civilians killed during bomb blast in shrine in Rajasthan: Three persons were killed and 16 others injured when a bomb exploded in the shrine of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer in Rajasthan on October 11, 2007. Official sources said that the bomb exploded at 6.12 pm (IST) near the Ahata-e-Noor courtyard. Intelligence sources revealed that the device used to execute the explosion was fabricated by packing low-intensity explosive and metal fragments inside a metal lunch-box. Some fragments of a mobile phone were also recovered from the incident site. The Hindu, October 12, 2007.
150 militants and 45 soldiers killed during clashes in North Waziristan: At least 150 militants and 45 soldiers are reported to have died during clashes between the two sides on October 7-9 in North Waziristan. "The clashes broke out after militants set off IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and conducted ambushes on the security forces," military spokesperson Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP. He also disclosed that aerial bombing had targeted militant hideouts in the Ipi, Khedherkhel and Khushali Torikhel villages of Mirali sub-division. "Security forces have also turned down the ceasefire request of militants as their demand cannot be met," the military said, adding that security forces would "continue punitive action till complete peace is restored in restive North Waziristan." Daily Times; Dawn; The News, October 7-11, 2007.
TMVP central committee suspends Karuna and appoints Pillayan as its leader: The central committee of the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP), a breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by ‘Colonel’ Karuna, which met on October 7, 2007, decided to suspend its founder-leader ‘Colonel’ Karuna Amman from the organization and formally appointed its former ‘supreme commander’ Pillayan as leader. Earlier, Karuna had appointed Iniyabarathy – one of the suspects in the killing of journalist Dharmaratnam Sivaram – as the TMVP’s new political head. "Karuna was removed after a probe on financial irregularities and other allegations leveled against him. He was found guilty of swindling more than Rs. 80 million of our funds… The appointment of Iniyabarathy will stand until we officially announce the central committee decision. Once that is done all the TMVP political offices will come under Pillayan including the Colombo office," a TMVP source said. Daily Mirror, October 8, 2007.