Nepal Assessment 2006
On January 2, 2006, the
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
'Chairman', Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda announced the end of
the four-month old unilateral cease-fire that the insurgents had announced
on September 2, 2005. “The Royal Nepalese Army has compelled us to end
the cease-fire. It was not only impossible, but also suicidal for us
to extend it,” Prachanda said. Stating that all future actions would
be targeted against the ‘dictatorial government,’ his statement pointed
out incidents in Morang and Palpa, and the military operation in Rolpa
as the reason for the cease-fire withdrawal.
On April 7, 2005 troops repulsed a major Maoist attack targeting an RNA base at Khara in the Rukum District, killing at least 166 insurgents. Three RNA personnel were also killed. Although the Maoists suffered heavy losses in the battle in Khara, this was unsurprising since the RNA had strengthened its defences, after the Maoists had overrun several of their bases in 2001 and 2002. The Khara operation provided crucial lessons for the Maoists as was highlighted by their chief Prachanda himself when he commented on April 12, 2005, “the two-day Khara campaign has provided valuable experiences and lessons and will help in taking the war to a new level.”
April 13, 2005: Sixty Maoists were killed during clashes following an attack on a security patrol at Dalphing in the Rukum district.
April 19, 2005: Twenty-two insurgents and three soldiers were killed during clashes at Rankot and Ramja in the Rolpa District.
May 15, 2005: At least 50 Maoists and two soldiers were killed during a clash at Jarayatar in the Sindhuli District. The clash occurred when security personnel were pursuing the insurgents who were returning to their hideouts after staging attack at three security bases in the eastern District of Siraha, where they killed four Armymen.
June 7, 2005: Fourteen security personnel, one civilian and six Maoists were killed in a clash when hundreds of heavily armed Maoists attacked a security patrol at Masuriya jungle in Kailali District.
June 25, 2005: Twelve soldiers and six insurgents were killed during a Maoist attack on an Army patrol team at Khandaha in the Arghakhanchi District.
July 3, 2005: Twelve insurgents were killed and two police personnel sustained injuries in a Maoist attack on Diktel, headquarters of the Khotang District.
August 7, 2005: The RNA recovered at least 40 bodies of its soldiers killed in a Maoist raid on the Pili Army base camp in Kalikot District. The Maoists also conceded the death of 26 cadres in the attack.
February 26, 2005: Maoists killed three brothers of a family at Masina in the Rupandehi district, charging them of being members of ‘resistance committee’ against the Maoists.
March 6, 2005: A group of Maoists killed five civilians, accusing them of being members of an ‘anti-Maoist retaliation group’, at Kudarmatewa village in the Kapilavastu district.
April 16, 2005: Maoists killed ten civilians, accusing them of association with a 'Maoist Resistant Committee' at Baragdawa in the Nawalparasi district.
April 23: Maoists killed five villagers accusing them of being members of an anti-Maoist "resistance group" in the Marchabar Semari and Thumahawa villages of the Rupandehi district.
As one commentator noted, "Though portrayed
as a spontaneous uprising by common villagers against Maoists, village
vigilante groups in Kapilavastu District have wrought carnage that can
only invite Maoist retribution. A field study by a group of human rights
organisations found that at least 42 villagers have died there, 31 of
them killed by the vigilantes on suspicion of being Maoist sympathizers.
What has gone underreported is that most of these killings, which occurred
in the last half of February, have taken an ethnic/communal colour,
as most of the victims are said to belong to hill tribes, who had settled
in the fertile Terai plains over the last few years."
However, a comparison of the January to August data for the years 2001 to 2005 reveals that the violence in year 2005 was headed towards a larger figure, till the Maoist truce intervened in September. Further, a 2005-monthly breakdown of fatalities reveals that the violence reached its zenith in April and May.
Also, the districts of Rukum and Kailali have recorded the highest fatalities figure for the year 2005, although each of the 75 districts witnessed Maoist violence at some level.
The Maoist response to the February 1 ‘takeover’ was typical and swift. ‘Chairman’ Prachanda announced a succession of general strikes, ‘wheel-jam’ agitations, shutdowns and blockades at the local and regional level. A ‘general strike’ was announced for three days between February 3 and 5, a 13-day blockade from February 13-26, countrywide ‘mass mobilization and military resistance’ between March 14 and April 1 followed by a countrywide general shutdown from April 2. The success of these shutdowns and blockades were guaranteed, as the insurgents overwhelmingly dominated the three major highways of the country – Mahendra, Prithvi and Tribhuvan – and had the capacity to lock down the economy virtually at will, though Kathmandu was able to keep at least a single principal supply line open along the Tribhuvan Highway, under heavy military escort, to support a trickle of essential supplies to the capital.
Some differences within the senior Maoist ranks came to the fore during the first half of the year, when ‘disciplinary action’ was reportedly initiated against senior ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and his wife Hisila Yami. However, the differences were not sufficient to split or significantly weaken the outfit, and the leaders were later ‘reinstated’.
All Maoist offensives came to a halt, on September 3, 2005 when Prachanda, issued a Press Statement declaring a three-month truce, under which the Maoists would not undertake any ‘offensive activities’, but would “remain in a position of active defense and resist if there is an offensive from the side of the enemy (the Government)”. The Maoist chief also warned that, if the Government intensified its military offensive or expanded Army bases by interpreting the Maoist move as ‘weakness’, the ceasefire could be ended ‘at any point’.
The Maoist strategy that prompted the cease-fire announcement was multifaceted. The announcement was a first – and extremely successful – step towards the polarization of political forces in Nepal, with the King increasingly pitted against all others. This polarization has resulted in large-scale political demonstrations in Kathmandu and other places, with police resorting frequently to baton charges and tear-gassing to disperse crowds. The culmination of this strategy was the November 22, 2005 ‘Twelve-point Understanding’ reached between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and seven Parliamentary parties, of which one key point was the “end of autocratic monarchy”, followed by “election to the Constituent Assembly as a process of establishing total democracy” – positions long held by the Maoists, but that were, till fairly recently, anathema to the political parties. Further, for the purpose of achieving ‘total democracy’, the understanding envisaged keeping “the Maoist armed forces and the Royal Army under the supervision of the United Nations” or any other reliable international institution during the process of election to the Constituent Assembly. These positions demonstrated a significant consolidation of the Maoist position, as the political parties diluted their stance on the Monarchy as an ‘essential pillar’ of Nepali politics and the demand for a ‘ republic’ has now moved from the radical Maoist camp squarely into the democratic mainstream. With this understanding, consequently, the Maoist were able to dramatically alter the conflict dynamics in Nepal, which, prior to the ‘takeover’ was three-cornered, with the Maoists, the King and the political parties, each commanding a considerable pole of influence. After the ‘Twelve-point Understanding’, however, this was transformed into a two-dimensional tussle between the King at one end, and the Maoist-dominated coalition with political parties at the other.
The unilateral truce, moreover, allowed the Maoists to concentrate on overground mobilization and political activity, while at the same time continuing with a process of quiet military refurbishment. A report released by the Kathmandu-based Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), titled "Three Months of Ceasefire – An Assessment of Human Rights Situation during the Unilateral Ceasefire by CPN (Maoist) in Nepal", noted that 75 persons were killed by both the state and Maoists during the three month period of the cease-fire, between September 3 and December 2 – 62 persons killed by security forces, and 13 by the Maoists. The report noted further that, though number of killings from the Maoists’ side had decreased, there had been a rise in incidents of abduction. The Maoists abducted 8,777 people, mostly students and teachers, during the period, the report stated, adding that the studies of at least 30,000 students had been affected, as the Maoists continued to target schools in remote areas.
Following the ‘King’s coup’, foreign countries and international aid agencies expressed strong disappointment and suspended crucial financial and military aid to Nepal. On March 17, 2005 the British Government suspended part of the aid it had pledged to the Nepal Police, Prison Services and the Prime Minister's Office. A total of Pounds 2.4 million had been committed under these programmes, but Pounds 1.3 million remained unspent and was cancelled. On February 25, 2005 the World Bank informed the Nepal Government that it was suspending its US$ 70 million budgetary support for the current fiscal year, on the grounds that “extremely slow implementation of agreed reform measures” had ‘compelled” it to take such a decision. On July 20, 2005 condemning the ‘Royal takeover’, Norway cut the planned financial assistance to Nepal for 2006 by 10 per cent and terminated an agreement on support for the Melamchi Water Supply Project. The USA, India and the United Kingdom, Kathmandu’s principal military backers, suspended arms supplies to Nepal.
With the suspension of arms supplies from traditional sources like India, and with depleting ammunition stocks, the King has assiduously tried to woo China, with some success. In a bid to win over Beijing, just prior to the Royal takeover, Nepal shut down the Kathmandu office of the Dalai Lama’s Representative in Nepal as well as the Tibetan Refugee Welfare office in the capital. The King’s courtship was eventually rewarded when China supplied 4.2 million rounds of 7.62 mm rifle ammunition, 80,000 high-explosive grenades and 12,000 AK-series rifles to Nepal, in November 2005. The flirtation with China and Pakistan had intensified in October, when RNA chief, General Pyar Jung Thapa, visited Beijing, where he is understood to have closed a deal for certain weapon systems; on another trip to Pakistan in December 2005, he was reportedly offered ‘comprehensive training capsules’ for RNA soldiers. On December 20, Thapa also hosted a four-member Chinese military delegation at Kathmandu.
To appease the international community, the King, in a message to the nation on October 12, 2005, directed the Election Commission to hold parliamentary elections to the House of Representatives by mid-April 2007. He also urged the international community to cooperate actively in the conduct of the parliamentary polls, in a free and fair manner, adding that the ‘misguided lot’ (Maoists) were free to join the political mainstream by ending violence. The King’s announcement implied that he was no longer rigid about ruling the country for three years, as earlier announced in his ‘takeover’ speech. However, few would give much credence to the possibility of elections by the April 2007 deadline, in the absence of a radical and improbable settlement with the Maoists.
As a prelude to the parliamentary elections, the Election Commission (EC) stated on October 9 2005, that elections in all 58 municipalities would take place on February 8, 2006 – the first municipal election since 1997. However, the Maoists warned of “people’s actions” against both candidates and officials. Worse, at a high-level meeting held in Nepalgunj on December 22, 2005 in which Home Minister Kamal Thapa and the RNA Chiefs of the Mid- and Far-Western Divisional Headquarters participated, Chief District Officers (CDOs) of 10 districts in these regions pointed out that it would not be possible to conduct municipal polls with the present level of security forces.
The people of Nepal evidently remain suspended between the devil and the deep sea, and year 2005 further crystallized the notion that both war and peace are now conditions imposed by Maoists, demonstrating fairly clearly where the initiative and control is located in the present conflict.