Vol 9 - No. 1


SOUTH ASIA: NEPAL                                                                                                                       News Briefs


       (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
         map are not members of SAARC)

Will the Real Prachanda Stand Up?

Guest Writer: Dr. Thomas A. Marks
Honolulu-based Political risk consultant and writer; 
Author of Maoist People’s War in Post-Vietnam Asia

As Nepal continues to reel under the violent efforts of the Maoists to pursue ‘peaceful’ politics, the question looms ever larger: just what is on the mind of Maoist leader and now former Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda? His Maoists have lost the reins of power through their own refusal to foster reconciliation. Yet, no sooner has his custom-made bed been moved out of the official Prime Minister’s Baluwater residence, than the ‘Fierce One’ claims that the democratic process is "counterrevolution".

For good measure, he throws in that the goal of the new leadership – headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) – is to restore the monarchy; which would seem laughable were it not accompanied by the orders for the Maoist Young Communist League (YCL) storm troopers and the various Maoist front organizations to take to the streets and shut down the country.


Is this method or madness?


Since Prachanda’s resignation as Prime Minister on May 4, 2009, and the fall of the Maoist-led coalition Government, the Himalayan former-kingdom has plunged into chaos. Though the new CPN-UML-led coalition formed the Government on May 23, 2009, it is far from projecting an impression of strength or stability. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has failed even to give final shape to his Cabinet, not only because of strong lobbying for ministerial berths by coalition partners, but also due bickering within his own party.


Furthermore, there effectively has been a split in the Madhesh Janadhikar Forum (MJF), a crucial ally in the coalition, with 53 Constitutional Assembly (CA) seats, after the appointment of Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar as the Deputy Prime Minister, much to the annoyance of the MJF leadership headed by Upendra Yadav. The Yadav group has expelled the faction led by Gachhadar and six others, who in turn have approached the Election Commission claiming that they have majority support in the party.


Meantime, the Maoists have stepped up their nationwide protest, often accompanied by violence, against President Ram Baran Yadav’s move reinstating the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), General Rookmangud Katawal – whom the Maoists had sought to dismiss due to conflict over the ‘integration’ of Maoist armed cadres and leaders in the Nepali Army (NA). The Maoists have also disrupted the normal proceedings of Parliament for the past month, even as attacks on non-Maoist politicians escalate.


Having unleashed the violence, Prachanda and the Maoist leadership are now poised to exploit the expected systemic weakness. Yet the extent to which even they control what they are enabling remains an open question. Here, understanding the relationship between the Maoist leadership and the manpower of the movement is critical in order to understand the course of the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist’s (CPN-M) ‘people’s war’ – and to understand the inability of Prachanda’s erstwhile Maoist-led, pseudo-coalition Government to produce little beyond chaos, declining livelihood, and intimidation.


Many have argued – certainly it seems to be the opinion of a fraction of the Indian foreign policy establishment – that Prachanda is ‘really’ a larger than life version of Robin Hood, who has sought only to address the myriad economic, social, and political grievances (as well as hopes and aspirations) of the marginalized Nepali masses. This ‘moral economy of the peasants’ version, however, simply does not consider the obvious: what if Robin is just a Hood?


The central question of the nasty decade of Maoist insurgency in Nepal has been whether the dog wagged his tail, or vice versa. How much of what occurred – and it was a bloody decade between 1996 and 2006, with the dead augmented an order of magnitude by mutilations, disappearances, and the like – was planned or simply the result of being astute enough to exploit events as they were carried out autonomously or semi-autonomously by others?


What seems clear is that, with a fairly typical (in Nepali terms) party structure, the CPN-M – led by marginalized elites (the principal figures among whom, like Prachanda, were Brahmins) – achieved traction through linkage with dissatisfied tribal formations, particularly Maggars (who appear historically to have provided a plurality of those recruited to the British Gurkhas). This was not unlike what occurred in the Hmong areas of the north during the unsuccessful effort of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) or in the northern Luzon homelands of the Igorots during the 1980s heyday of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). There, the leadership was Maoist, the manpower ‘grievance guerrillas’. Whether the CPT or CPP actually exercised complete command and control over the tribal formations remains unclear, as it does in the CPN-M case.


In Nepal, the tribal formations appear to have been the heart of the main forces, the Maoist battalions, just as the so-called ‘Secret Army’ of the US in Laos was built on Hmong alienated by North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao abuse. The Maoist battalions were in essence copies of the Indian Gurkha establishment – no surprise given the prominence in Maoist training of ex-figures from that establishment, which presently accounts for more than 40 battalions of the Indian Army. They were mixed gender, had good discipline, and fought effectively, using standard, though innovative, tactical doctrine.


These forces, however, were a distinct minority amidst the violence that swept across Nepal. They were linked to the numerous local wars that raged in Nepal’s localities – theoretically, in the 3,913 Village Development Committees (VDCs, counties in Western terminology). It was at this local level that widespread atrocities took place.


Efforts to place the onus of human rights abuses on Government forces do not hold up well, since they essentially sidestep the massive level of assault and maiming, not to mention destruction of infrastructure, which was carried out by Maoist local forces. Even as this debate has continued, what has not been touched is the connection between such local agency and Maoist central structures, and the question: How much was ordered versus simply exploited?


The CPN-M leadership has, throughout, claimed absolute control over the organization – except when it comes to owning up to widespread depredation. On the contrary, the Maoists continue to fall back on denying what is undeniable: the fact that their movement wreaked havoc on the country. Yet the only defence is to claim that the main forces were the movement, and the rest occurred as commission by loosely affiliated fellow-travellers. But this would be an admission that they did not actually control the insurgency.


This is far from an idle issue, since lawlessness continues under the official umbrella of the YCL storm troopers drawn from the lumpen ranks (to include street urchins and dragooned youngsters) but officered by the same Maoist chain-of-command that ran the main forces. With tacit protection from the erstwhile Maoist-led Government, YCL continued to engage in various criminal activities, including murder, extortion, and abduction, silencing political opponents across Nepal. On occasion, the YCL has also been involved in quasi-policing activities, such as traffic management, night patrolling, demolition of illegal houses, and the capture of alleged gangsters. Backed by the full might of the Maoists, YCL cadres openly challenged Government authorities, including the police, and progressively established a parallel authority and system.


As a consequence, the demoralized Police, unable to act due to continuous political intervention, have been progressively displaced by armed gangs linked to the major political parties. Even a smaller party, such as the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party – Nepal (RPP-N), announced the formation of a 151-member National Youth Front (NYF) on June 12, in an effort to form a counterforce against the unruly YCL, and against the Youth Force, the youth wing of the ruling CPN-UML.


This matters very much, also, as illustrated by ‘Prachandagate’. The Maoists – by Prachanda’s own recorded admission – packed both local and main forces into the camps established under United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) monitoring for the Maoist armed cadres, plus thousands of brand new recruits. In any Maoist structure, main forces (the battalions) are the tip of the iceberg. Most ‘combatants’ are local forces, trained, but lacking high-powered firearms. It is not that UNMIN ‘miscounted’ the Maoist armed strength. It is that the inspectors did not know what to count. The structure is similar to that of any state security apparatus. In Nepal, for instance, the bulk of the armed representatives of the Government are not in the Army but in other forces, such as the Police.


Hence – as Prachanda himself said in his defence – most of those in the camps were indeed ‘combatants’ of sorts but not the ‘real guerrillas’ that the world was hoodwinked into thinking it was counting. Further, while UNMIN could count weapons turned in, it had no way of knowing what was not turned in – and some of the best and most powerful pieces did not appear in the inspectors’ inventories.


What happened next has already been noted by one and all. The camps were used to expand the actual main forces (with the Maoists allowed to retain a proportion of their weapons), while the chain-of-command raised new local forces – the YCL.


What, then, do the Maoists have in mind for the future of Nepal? Prachanda speaks constantly of the need to displace parliamentary democracy in favour of a ‘people’s republic’ (though, as with the actual name of the CPN-M, now the UCPN-M, a new formulation has lately been advanced). Addressing a workers' gathering in Lalitpur on May 29, 2009, the day Nepal observed its first Republic Day, Prachanda reiterated that he would lead the ‘final fight’ to establish ‘people’s republic’ in the country. Key elements in the Maoist leadership urge an outright power grab. Prachanda and his faction appear to feel that this would provoke, at best, isolation (not least from dominant India), at worst, external intervention (again, India is a prime candidate). They urge caution, consequently, noting that the same end can be achieved without such extreme provocation.


The Maoists themselves are rent by factionalism, with some truly odious characters not only urging but openly leading violent acts even as Prachanda counsels… what? As noted accurately in Nepali media, the ‘Fierce One’ seems all but schizophrenic in his shifts between conciliatory rhetoric and threats of vengeance to be visited upon any who seek to thwart his or his party’s grandiose schemes.


From knowledge, though, comes the ability to act. Key issues relating to the basics of the Maoist military structure that require understanding include:

  • First, the strategic thought of the Maoists, especially of the factionalism that led to the fierce debates that occurred within the leadership ranks during the struggle. These offer the Rosetta Stone to understand Prachanda’s present conduct (and that of his faction).

  • Second, how were operational advances during ‘the war’ related to the individual positions of the Maoist leadership, especially Prachanda (who, judging from Nepali cell phone intercepts, spent much of the decade, not in the theatre of operations, but in India)?

  • Third, what were the actual mechanics by which these advances were achieved? How, for example, did the urban commandos function in the Kathmandu Valley? Who gave the orders to kill those who were murdered and left hanging on poles throughout the country?

  • Fourth, given the way events have been developing as concerns New Delhi, what were the relationships of Prachanda and his leadership with India? What was the agreement both thought they had reached in 2006? After all, India not only did not arrest him (Nepali security forces did provide to the Indians details of his whereabouts), but ultimately intervened decisively in favor of the insurgents.

  • Fifth, what was the role played by fellow-travellers (both domestic and international) in the Maoist effort? At no time did Prachanda or the Maoists exist as isolated actors. They interacted with numerous Nepali political parties and individuals (including elements of the Press and the human rights establishment), as well as numerous foreign actors, official (certain embassies) and unofficial (certain INGOs). What was the end-game being pursued by these forces and how did it influence the conflict? Was Prachanda central or marginal to these activities?

  • Sixth, how do the party factions relate to the present chaos and unwillingness of the Maoist movement to engage in good-faith reconciliation? To what extent is Prachanda a prisoner of the local forces that swept him to power or a shrewd politician playing the ends against the middle? Put bluntly, what does ‘the unknown revolutionary’ really believe?

One thing is clear, even to many who have hitherto lived in a state of false consciousness: Power is the end-game for Prachanda and the Maoists. All they do revolves around that one goal. Power can be secured ‘peacefully’ – by which the Maoists mean the system surrenders to them and their plans for societal dismemberment. Or it can be achieved violently – what the Maoists are preparing to do with their street thugs (something they have now announced unambiguously).


Pick up any volume on the rise of Fascism between the great wars. There, a reader will find spelled out, chapter and verse, what is unfolding in Nepal. Only the name of the storm-troopers has changed to protect the guilty.

[South Asia Intelligent Review]


News Briefs



No proof of link between Maoists in India and Nepal, says Indian Foreign Secretary: India’s Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on June 21, 2009, said the Government doesn't have any proof to link the Maoists in Nepal with those in India. Menon, who is on a two-day official visit to Nepal, said "we don't have any proof to find a link between India's Maoists and the Nepalese Maoists." He was reportedly responding to a question on whether there was any link between Maoists in Nepal and India. The Hindu, June 21, 2009.


Maoists launch nationwide protest against President's decision to reinstate the Army chief: The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (Unified CPN-Maoist) on June 3, 2009, launched a nationwide protest against President Ram Baran Yadav's decision to reinstate the Army Chief General Rookmangud Katawal, who was dismissed by the then Maoist-led Government. Maoist cadres staged a sit-in protest and surrounded the District Administration Offices (DAOs) across the country for two hours. In Kathmandu Valley, hundreds of Maoists demonstrated in front of the DAOs of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, chanting slogans against the President's 'unconstitutional move' and demanding its immediate withdrawal. Nepal News, June 4, 2009.


[South Asia Intelligent Review]




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