SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Clouds of Uncertainty
The three bomb blasts in capital Kathmandu on September 2, 2007, in which three people died and 25 others were wounded, are an indication of how tenuous the peace in Nepal is. While the bombings exposed the Government’s lack of security preparedness for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections scheduled for November 22, the explosions occurred against the backdrop of a multiplicity of troublesome fronts and a beleaguered Government’s attempts to negotiate peace with an array of dissident groups across the country with divergent demands.
The Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M), till recently the country’s principal rebel group, and now part of the Interim Government, constitutes a real threat to the conduct of elections and to the eventual end-game in Nepal. The CPN-M Chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ Prachanda, has threatened that his party could quit the Government and launch what he describes as a "peaceful agitation" if the parties leading the Government were not ready to declare Nepal a republic. On August 19, he announced a 22-point set of preconditions for ‘credible’ Constituent Assembly elections. He said the CPN-Maoist would launch an agitation on three fronts – the Government, the Parliament and the street – for the fulfillment of its demands. He further warned of a full-blown "people’s movement" if the demands were not met. On September 8, he escalated his threats further, calling on Maoist cadres to "be ready for another revolution", putting a 10-day deadline for a ‘fresh pact’ with the Seven Party Alliance and declaring that CA elections could be held only after the 22 Point Maoist charter of demands was fulfilled. Failing a new agreement with the SPA, Prachanda threatened that the ‘new revolution’ would commence on September 18.
Earlier, Ganesh Man Pun, the President of the frequently violent Maoist-affiliate, the Young Communist League (YCL), had declared that "physical action" could not be ruled out in the course of their projected agitation. Further, reiterating that a meaningful election could not be held without first declaring a Republic, senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai warned that his party could walk out of Government at any time. He has also stated that the time was not opportune for the Constituent Assembly election. Prachanda had also proposed a postponement of the Constituent Assembly election to mid-April 2008, but eventually did a U-turn on this count, stating that the comment had been made in "a different context".
The declaration of republic is one of the Maoists’ principal preconditions. However, a two-thirds majority is needed in Parliament to declare Nepal a republic, and this is not possible without the support of the Nepali Congress (NC). The latest reports indicate that the Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala-led NC will campaign for a republic in the elections. "The central working committee of Nepali Congress has decided, in principle, to vouch for a federal republic," Nepali Congress chief whip Ananda Prasad Dhungana told AFP. The decision has to be approved later this month by a 615-member general Assembly. "If the assembly ratifies it, Nepali Congress will officially stand for a federal republic in the coming constituent assembly elections," said Dhungana. Earlier, the NC was not in favour of declaring Nepal a republic and reportedly wanted to retain the monarchy as a ceremonial institution. On their part, the Maoists are clear that they intend to erase all remnants of the disgraced monarchy and establish a republic immediately.
On the ground, the Maoists continue to engage in subversive, disruptive and intimidatory activity, and are applying continuous pressure on the fragile Government, which is clearly susceptible to threats from various quarters. While the infamous YCL continues with its intimidation across the country, other pro-Maoist groups have also pitched in. The Buddhist ethnic group, Nepal Rashtriya Tamang Mukti Morcha (Tamang National Liberation Front), is pressurizing the Government by demanding autonomy and a republic. They have organised strikes and shut downs in the Kathmandu, Makawanpur, Sindhupalchowk, Kavrepalanchowk, Makawanpur, Dhading, Nuwakot and Rasuwa Districts. Similarly, another Maoist-affiliated organisation, the Samyukta Ganatantrik Dalit Mukti Morcha (United Democratic Dalit Liberation Front), comprising members of the dalit (lower caste Hindus) community, is demanding proportional representation for dalits in the impending election, and a republic.
Apart from the overwhelming Maoist threat, conducting elections in the Terai region will be a major challenge for the Government, even if the Maoists extend fullest support to the electoral process. Though the Government has been able to strike a 22-point agreement with the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) on August 30, other groups like the factions of the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) led by Jaya Krishna Goit (JTMM-G) and by Nagendra Kumar Paswan aka Jwala Singh (JTMM-J) have openly challenged the Government by declaring their intention to interrupt the CA elections in Terai. In fact, Jwala Singh has already declared Terai an independent state and asked the Government officials posted there to leave or face adverse action. Similarly, Goit has warned the Government of the consequences of holding elections in the Terai. The Koirala regime, however, remains gripped by apathy. Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula claimed on August 6 that no agitating group in the Terai poses any threat to national integrity. He added, further, that none of the agitating groups in the Terai, including both the JTMM factions, were separatists and that the Government can find a negotiated settlement with all of them.
While the Terai’s non-MJF groups are still not on board, much depends on how the treaty with the MJF can be implemented. The important points of the pact are:
The situation has, however, been rendered more complex after the pact with the MJF. Expressing dissatisfaction with the agreement, four senior leaders of the MJF dissented and ‘ousted’ their chief Upendra Yadav, who had been instrumental in clinching the deal. Yadav, of course, insists that the party’s ‘secretariat’ has no right to take such action against anyone. In response, the dissidents formed a four-member body under the convenorship of Bhagyanath Prasad Gupta to mobilise and coordinate a fresh Madheshi movement. The body includes other senior leaders such as Kishor Kumar Biswas, Ram Kumar Sharma and Jitendra Sonal. Factionalism also affects other Madheshi groups. For instance, a central committee meeting of the JTMM-G on September 2 suspended its co-ordinator Jaya Krishna Goit from the group's general membership, alleging that he was engaged in embezzlement, and unanimously elected another leader, Pawan to the post.
Intermittent violence continues to afflict the Terai and, according to Institute for Conflict Management data, 14 incidents involving various armed groups were reported in June 2007, 23 in July and 12 in August. Fatalities included one civilian and four Maoists killed in June, eight civilians and three Maoists in July and six civilians killed in August. Apart from the killings and a large number of abductions, the Madheshi groups have been involved in capturing land and disturbing day to day life by calling for frequent strikes in the region.
With several armed groups already active and new groups emerging, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Government to deal with the situation. Armed groups like the Terai Army (which, incidentally, claimed responsibility for the September 2 serial blasts in Kathmandu along with the Terai Utthan Sangat), the Terai Cobra, JTMM (Bisfot Singh faction), Madheshi Mukti Tigers, Terai Baagi, Madheshi Virus Killers Party and the Royal Defence Army, reportedly possess enough capacities to create disturbances during the polls.
The Government is also under pressure from various indigenous communities. Their major demands include a federal restructuring of the state based on ethnic lines, the ‘right to self determination’ and a proportional representation-based election system. All the major groups representing the indigenous communities have united for a common struggle on these demands. Groups like the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Students, Indigenous Nationalities Joint Struggle Committee, National Indigenous Nationalities Women’s Federation and Nepal Indigenous Nationalities Youth Association have joined hands to pressurise the Government, resorting to strikes and agitations across the country. They have also indulged in some occasional violence, including the destruction of public property during demonstrations. The leader of the Government talks’ team, Ram Chandra Poudel, expressed the Government’s inability to entertain all such demands by ethnic groups, stating: "There are over 100 ethnic groups in the country and if all of them are to be represented, the Constituent Assembly will be more of an ethnic assembly and less of a political assembly."
The two agitating ethnic groups, the Limbuwans and Khumbuwans, have been organising strikes in the eastern Districts, demanding an autonomous federal state based on ethnicity. Their avowed goal is the creation of autonomous regions along the boundaries of the traditional areas of their ethnic groups. They have resorted to sporadic violence and organized strikes in many Districts where these communities are in a majority. The Sanghiya Limbuwan Rajyaparisad [Federal Limbuwan State Council (FLSC)] has demanded that nine Districts lying east of the Arun River – Panchthar, Taplejung, Terhathum, Sankhusabha, Ilam, Jhapa, Dhankuta, Sunsari and Morang – be declared the Limbuwan State. Similarly, the Khumbuwan Rastriya Morcha (Khumbuwan National Front) is demanding a ‘Khumbuwan State’ comprising seven Districts – Solukhumbu, Okhaldhunga, Udayapur, Bhojpur, Khotang, Siraha and Saptari. In response to a talks offer by the Government, both these outfits have decided to suspend their agitation and have also formed negotiating teams to hold a dialogue.
Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj–Nepal (CBES-N, Chure Bhawar Unity Society) is another group which has been demanding security and protection of rights of people of hill origin living in the Terai region, seeking autonomous status for the Chure-Bhawar region. This group is a direct response to the activities of the Terai armed groups and represents the interests of the Tamang, Magar and some other hill-ethnic groups. They demand that the Government ban the Terai armed groups that are killing pahades in the Terai, and declare as martyrs the CBES-N cadres who are killed.
Similarly, the dalits are calling for the fulfillment of their demands, which includes 20 percent reservation for people from their community in the Constituent Assembly, scholarships and free education for dalit students.
All these above organisations have significant potential to disrupt the electoral process by resorting to strikes, threatening voters and officials and/or directly engaging in violence. A recent meeting held between the heads of the Nepal Army for five ‘development regions’ in the country is reported to have indicated that if the CA election was conducted in the prevailing security situation, "then the likelihood of violence could not be ruled out to a maximum and also that the political parties themselves possibly might be involved in violent activities with the competing parties." The Government at present is short of armed forces to conduct a free and fair nation- wide election. It needs a well-armed and well-trained force to secure the polls, keeping in view the number of active armed groups. Till now, the Government has included only the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force in the election security plan. However, some parliamentarians from the NC and the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist consider this insufficient and have reportedly proposed that the Nepal Army can be deployed if a consensus is reached on the issue among the eight parties. The Maoists oppose the idea of deploying the Nepal Army and, instead, want their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be given the responsibility of election security. PLA Deputy Commander, Janardan Sharma aka Prabhakar, has declared that, "If there is a decision to deploy the Nepal Army, the PLA should also be deployed for security in the elections." While the decision to deploy the Army is still pending, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has hinted that the Government is planning to recruit an additional 30,000 security officials on a short-term contract for election security.
With a multiplicity of spoilers pressing on Kathmandu from all quarters, most players are hedging their bets on the outcome, indeed, even the possibility, of the scheduled CA elections. On the other hand, any further deferment of the elections can only worsen the potential for violence in the country. Nepal remains trapped in a dynamic unleashed by the violent and protracted Maoist ‘people’s war’; it is a dynamic, however, that has acquired a life of its own, no longer within the control of its Maoist progenitors.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 3-9, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Foreign Ministry denies any arrests in connection with bomb blasts in Hyderabad: Bangladesh has denied any arrests in the country in connection with the August 25-twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, and said it has not received any request from India for information on the bombings which killed 44 people. "Bangladesh is yet to receive any request for information in connection with the Hyderabad blasts and there have been no arrests in Bangladesh in this connection," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on September 5, 2007. "The Home Ministry has informed me that no one by that name ‘Mohammad Sharifuddin’ has been arrested here," said acting foreign secretary Mohammad Touhid Hossain. He was reacting to reports in a section of the Indian media that Bangladeshi police had detained one Sharifddin alias Abu Hamza in connection with the Mecca Masjid blasts (May 18, 2007) and for providing support to the twin blasts in Hyderabad. PTI , September 6, 2007.
Former Chief Minister and wife escapes Maoist assassination attempt in Andhra Pradesh: The former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, N. Janardhan Reddy, and his wife, N. Rajyalakshmi, who is also Minister for Women’s Development and Child Welfare in the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet, escaped unhurt while three Congress party workers were killed and five others wounded in a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)-triggered landmine blast near Chitwedu village in the Nellore District on September 7, 2007. The remote controlled blast targeted Reddy’s convoy of 21 vehicles, damaging the bulletproof car in which the couple was traveling. Reddy, who is currently a Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha, the Lower House), was the Chief Minister when a ban was imposed on the Maoists (then known as People’s War Group or PWG) for the first time in May 1992. He has been on the Maoist hit-list since then. He had earlier escaped an assassination attempt in 2003. Express India, September 8, 2007.
politicians and 411 officials killed by left-wing
extremists in the last three years: The Union
Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal,
informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament)
in a written reply on September 5, 2007, that
left-wing extremists have killed 129 politicians
and 411 Government officials between 2004 and
2006. While 45 politicians were killed in 2004,
64 were killed in 2005 and another 20 in 2006.
Similarly, 100 Government officials were killed
in 2004, 153 in 2005 and a further 158 in 2006.
Left-wing extremists carried out 114 attacks on
politicians in 2004, 111 attacks in 2005 and a
further 31 attacks in 2006. Similarly, a total
of 245 government officials were attacked by the
extremists in 2004, 201 in 2005 and 216 in 2006.
Hindu, September 6, 2007.
Be ready for fresh revolution, Prachanda tells Maoists: The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) chairman, Prachanda, on September 8, directed party cadres to be ready for another revolution. Addressing a workshop in the Bardiya District, he said revolution was necessary as the Government had still not laid the foundation for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. "The CA can’t be set up under pressure. Therefore, be ready for another revolution," he stated, adding, "The Government has not laid the foundation for the CA polls. Therefore, I have directed my party to be ready for another revolution." Prachanda said that within 10 days the Maoists would try and arrive at a fresh pact with the seven political parties. Failing this, the Maoists will start their revolution from September 18. The CA polls can be held only after the Government concedes the 22-point charter of demands put forward by his party, he noted. The Himalayan Times, September 9, 2007.
Afghan suicide attackers coming through Pakistan, says UN: The spiraling number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan is often carried out by young Afghan men who pass through religious schools in Pakistan, a United Nations report said on September 9, 2007. Some attackers appeared driven by anger at the presence of international forces and the civilians being killed in their anti-Taliban operations, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) study said. Others were motivated by religious zeal or were young boys who had been abducted and forced into the task or somehow persuaded they would survive and earn rewards such as cash, a motorcycle or a cell phone, it noted. The report cited a "senior" Taliban commander as saying that 80 percent of suicide attackers passed through recruitment centres, training facilities or safe houses in Pakistan's Waziristan area. "The tribal areas of Pakistan remain an important source of human and material assistance for the insurgency generally but suicide attacks in particular," the report said.
There were 77 suicide attacks in the first six months of 2007, about twice the number for the same period in 2006 and 26 times higher than from January to June 2005, the survey disclosed. In 2007, till June, suicide bombings killed 193 people, including 121 civilians, even though three-quarters of the attacks were targeted at Afghan and international security forces, it stated. 62 Afghan security personnel and 10 international soldiers were also killed. AFP, September 9, 2007.
30 persons killed in two suicide attacks in Rawalpindi: 30 people were killed and 70 others wounded in two suicide attacks at Qasim Market and RA Bazaar in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on September 4, 2007. The first suicide bomber targeted a bus that was carrying about 35 employees of a defence agency to their office near the Qasim Market, killing at least 20 people. Soon after, another blast occurred near the RA Bazaar police station, killing 10 more people. Military spokesperson, Major General Waheed Arshad, said the attacks were suicide bombings aimed at targeting personnel of the security forces and other people. Four army officers were among the dead and 15 among the injured, he disclosed. The News; Dawn, September 5, 2007.
LTTE planning to use chemical weapons, says Prime Minister: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is planning to use chemical weapons against Government troops, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka told Parliament on September 4, 2007. "We have evidence that the LTTE has plans to use chemical weapons against the security forces. During the past several weeks the security forces have detected them transporting large quantities of acid," Wickramanayake said, adding, the timely action by the Defence authorities had foiled LTTE plans to use chemical weapons to create mass destruction. Times of India, September 6, 2007.
Over 600 LTTE cadres arrested worldwide in recent years: More than 600 cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been arrested around the globe for their involvement in various types of covert activities in recent years. The United Kingdom (UK), United States and Australia have arrested key LTTE militants who had been operating in these countries for more than 10-years. The LTTE's international network is divided into two categories – one section was involved in raising funds and the other was responsible for purchasing arms and other equipment, along with smuggling drugs. At least 200 LTTE cadres have been arrested in Thailand in recent years. Following the stringent measures adopted by several countries, there is reportedly a decrease in pro-LTTE activity globally. Sunday Observer, September 4, 2007