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Chaos in Kathmandu

Instability in Nepal may have more widespread consequences than the size of the country suggests.


Following the imposition of stricter media regulations by the Nepalese king, Gyanendra, Nepalese police have closed radio stations, confiscated equipment and arrested four journalists and a technician for preventing a radio station from broadcasting a BBC interview. The interview was with the leader of the Maoist guerrilla group.

In the interview with the BBC, the Maoist leader talks about the alliance between the guerrilla group and the political opposition in the country. These have reached an agreement to form a common front to fight for democracy. The Nepalese king threw the elected government in the country in February this year and took power himself. Thus, the former government formed a seven-party alliance with other political parties. This alliance has now been extended to include the Maoist guerrillas, who have thus chosen to enter into a political process. The guerrillas have also declared unilateral ceasefire, for now. The Maoists have been fighting to form a communist republic since 1996, and 12.500 people have lost their lives in this uprising. Several ceasefires have come and gone, but this is the first time the Maoists have shown a willingness for real political negotiations.

This is a very important development, since the main reason the king gave for casting the government was precisely its lack of success in fighting the Maoists.

Not a Shangri La

Let's take a few steps back in history, more specifically to the summer of 2001. The Nepalese king, Birendra, was allegedly shot and killed by his son this year. In addition to the father, Crown Prince Diprenda must have killed ten other family members before he committed suicide. The only one who survived and survived the massacre was the son of the king's unpopular brother, Prince Paras. Evil tongues should have it that the Crown Prince had nothing to do with the shooting, except being shot himself. He must have been shot in the back, and rumors are not diminished by the fact that Paras' father, Gyanendra, allowed the bodies of all the dead to be burned before autopsy.

People immediately took to the streets to protest, with accusations of who was behind the hail coming back and forth. The Nepalese Congress party government, which is pro-Indian, spoke of Pakistani interference, while others whispered about Indian support. This small country, which is sandwiched between the two Asian giants India and China, has in fact been the subject of a political dragon fight between India and Pakistan. A power struggle between these two can be seen everywhere in the region. The Nepalese conflict is greater, as China also plays a major role; The old colonial power Britain still has its interests and today the only superpower USA is also interested in the area. Spies, counter-spies, guerrilla fighters and provocateurs have long dominated the capital Kathmandu, and some have given the city the nickname Asian Casablanca.


But the glamorous image of Casablanca that most people have, thanks to the classic film "Taken by the Wind," probably does not fit so well here. Nepal is a lye-poor country, and with its 33 million inhabitants is at the very bottom economically in Asia.

What is so interesting about this country, one might ask. The answer lies in the location. The United States is trying to surround China in the same way as it did with the Soviet Union. Britain still has colonial-era interests here, and the United States is active. China, for its part, sees both a danger in making the country an American piece, but also sees a huge danger in the country's Maoist rebels. These, in turn, do not hide their contempt for what they see as a betrayal of the cultural revolution carried out by Deng Xiaoping and his successors, who are in power in China today. China has cause for concern. The Maoists seem to be slowly but surely winning in Nepal. They have already secured control in 68 of the country's 75 provinces.

The Maoists started their uprising in February 1996, after the government had rejected a 40-point plan for reforms put forward by the Maoists. These included everything from demands to overthrow the monarchy to an end to discrimination based on gender and caste. The Maoists have made tremendous progress due to a combination of their own skills and the incompetence of the government. On paper, the balance of power is totally in favor of the government. The 110.000 soldiers from the army are facing a maximum of 2500 guerrillas with a paramilitary force of around 10.000 in the back. In a conventional war, the guerrillas would not have much chance of victory, but it is not a conventional conflict they are waging. The security forces in the country are notorious for their brutality and human rights violations. Nepal tops an unflattering list, which shows that the country has the highest number of missing people you do not know what happened to. The army has arrested more than 1200 people, and it is not known where they are or what has happened to them. King Birendra in his time refused to use the army against the Maoists, and demanded that the police take that task, King Gyanendra does not seem to have such concerns. So far, this has not helped the Nepalese governing forces in fighting the Maoists, on the contrary.

International Maoists

But if the Maoists have had military success, they have not quite managed to secure political credentials on that basis, at least not their popularity in the international arena. The Maoists frighten and worry India as much as China. India is struggling with Maoist rebels itself, and has problems with the Indian Maoists in 157 of the country's 593 districts. The Indian Maoists, or Naxalites as they are called, have been fighting the Indian government since the 60s. A Maoist victory in the neighboring country will seem like a vitamin injection to the movement, at least India fears that.

The Maoists have used an Indian intervention as intimidation propaganda to gain a foothold among the people of Nepal, and the nationalist-oriented strategy has borne fruit. How the alliance between the Maoists and the political parties will affect India's views on the conflict is not good to say. It is also uncertain whether the Maoists will change their position in the future, purely politically. But they have at least proved that they master realpolitik, and are willing to compromise. Whether this will last is a completely different matter.

As if this were not enough, a new concern has emerged that concerns western countries as well as India and Pakistan. A number of bombings have shaken Bangladesh in recent times. In style, as well as execution, they are reminiscent of the bombings of the Naxalites in India. No one expects Bangladesh to collapse in the same way that Nepal has, but the spread of the power of the Naxalites / Maoists to another country worries many.

Indian Protectorate

India views Nepal almost as Indian property. A former neighbor, Sikkim, became an Indian protectorate in 1950, and was formally annexed by India in 1975. Since then, the country has been a state in India. Another neighboring country, Bhutan, is also an Indian protectorate today.

In 1988, Nepal decided to buy two anti-aircraft guns from China. India disliked this so much that it introduced a trade boycott of the country. This lasted until the mid-90s, and completely destroyed the Nepalese economy. Demonstrations in Nepal often end in "death over India" slogans, almost regardless of what they start as.

India, the United States and Britain are furious with the king for misleading them about what he wanted to do. They feel cheated. India has suspended military supplies to Nepal, which could lead to the army literally running out of ammunition. However, this creates an opening for China, which has put its weight behind the king and sent more weapons and ammunition to the army – which so far is loyal to the king. The United States is also accused of wanting instability in the country, to make it easier to use Nepal as a base for Tibetan and Uighur separatists. The Uighurs are Chinese Muslims living in southern China, in Xinjiang province. Accusations of this kind are mainly speculation.

Unholy alliance

The alliance between the Maoists and the political opposition has, according to the opposition, led to panic in the palace, and hence the strict measures with media censorship. The king calls the cooperation an unholy alliance, and rejects the 12 points they have agreed on. The political parties, however, demand that the Maoists lay down their arms before formal co-operation can begin. It is all expected to be monitored and led by the UN, or other international bodies. One solution would be to send UN forces to the country, but that does not allow India, which is afraid it will set a precedent for the Kashmir conflict.

Lok Raj Baral, a lecturer in political science at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, believes the king's reaction is "natural." The king has not been elected, and he is therefore worried about his lack of support in the population, Baral explains. Although the alliance has not stepped in to remove the monarchy, the king will have little more than symbolic power left if the political parties take over. This is a complete reversal for the Maoists, who have previously demanded that the king be deposed.

The king, for his part, has tried to sow discord in the alliance by saying that he might consider negotiating with the alliance, as long as they drop cooperation with the Maoists. Another political science professor at Tribhuvan University sees the pact as the start of a new reality in Nepal. The people's movement for democracy is becoming difficult to stop now, as he sees it. "If the king chooses to cooperate, he can maneuver towards security and continued power, otherwise it will be a battle for life and death," he believes. So far, it does not seem that the king has understood the seriousness of the situation. Instead, he has chosen to increase the pressure on the media and the international organizations operating in the country.

Good horoscope

While his enemies seemed to be approaching each other, Gyanendra took a two-week trip to Africa. This may be because he wants to show strength, and that the opposition to him does not worry him, but another explanation is given in Kathmandu. Gyanendra is a strictly practicing Hindu and he believes in astrology. His horoscope shows that this is a lucky period for him, and that he has little to worry about. We may soon find out how accurate the horoscope is.

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