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Nepal's Ceasefire Under Stress

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • September 05, 2006

    Despite the cease-fire, the Nepalese Maoists are busy collecting illegal taxes, besides carrying out abductions, extortion and forceful recruitment. They are consolidating their bases in urban areas where they had a very poor presence till April 2006, and are recruiting new cadres with the objective of setting up a communist society, if the peace talks fail. In the last four months, the strength of the Maoist armed cadres has increased from 29,000 to 35,000. While the Nepal Army is confined to its barracks, the Maoists are reportedly carrying their arms and moving freely. On September 3, 2006, Maoist chief Prachanda clearly stated that "The People's Liberation Army will not be confined in cantonments before the state is completely restructured for solving problem." Since the declaration of cease-fire on April 26, 2006, a total of 25 violent incidents, including 12 abductions and five incidents of extortion, have been reported in Nepal. The Maoists have also killed 11 civilians in separate incidents. It seems that in case the peace talks fail, the Maoists may not go back to their base areas in the country's mid-western region but would rather fight from their newly formed urban base areas. Their commitment to the peace talks in the wake of these developments seems doubtful.

    The Maoist armed struggle is never confined to military action alone. To destroy the existing political structure, if possible, the Maoists use passive strategy very creatively. In an interview to A World to Win in 2001, a magazine published by the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the Maoist chief Prachanda said "Our guiding principles on the question of negotiations are the experiences of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty under Lenin's leadership and the Chongqing negotiations under Mao's leadership," which suggests that revolutionaries utilise periods of negotiations and ceasefire to regroup and prepare their forces for the future offensive. Nepal's Maoists have been engaging in precisely this tactic for the last four months and had also taken recourse to this approach earlier. Thus the politics of ceasefire essentially provide them an opportunity to consolidate bases in new areas and fashion their image before the international community.

    The continuation of violence is a breach of the 25-point code of conduct signed between the interim government and the Maoists to carry forward the present peace process. These activities could jeopardise the entire peace process. According to the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) spokesperson Azad, the interim government in Nepal is unlikely to work, because of the two diametrically opposite class interests of the Maoists and the Koirala government. The violent activities of the Maoists indicate more their commitment to party ideology than to democracy.

    On the political front, despite the 12-point agreement between the Maoists and the Koirala government, they have failed to reach consensus over contentious issues like Maoists surrendering their arms and the future of the monarchy. While the Prime Minister is arguing in favour of a Constitutional Monarchy, the Maoists are demanding a Republic. Further, the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), the second largest political party in the country and a member of the Seven Party Alliance, is suggesting the setting up of a Democratic Republic system. Moreover, the Maoists have been demanding an early dissolution of the restored House of Representatives and they have also refused to disarm until an interim government has been formed. They are also accusing the government of succumbing to pressure from foreign powers (India and the United States) and the King to wreck the peace talks. The situation became serious when the Maoists came to know that the government tried to obtain weapons from foreign countries despite engaging them in peace talks. All these have made the Maoists ask for a quick political resolution, failing which they would begin a powerful campaign against the Koirala government.

    The Maoists are believed to have discussed with the Chinese government in July 2006 the idea of setting up a Republic in Nepal. On July 1, 2006, three Chinese government officials reportedly made a secret trip to Nepal to hold talks with top Maoist leaders. Prof. Wang Je Chuan, a former counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu and known to have contacts with the Maoists, was reportedly part of the Chinese team. Significantly, China has never promoted democracy in its neighbouring countries but has invariably supported authoritarian regimes.

    China is also quite concerned over recent political developments including the possible presence of foreign countries in Nepal. It is apprehensive about the presence of the United States and other foreign powers near its border as part of the UN monitoring mission, which the Nepalese government has recently asked for. It presumes that democracy and a US presence in Nepal could adversely affect its Tibet policy. At the same time, given that China is increasingly becoming energy dependent due to rapid industrialization, it hopes to use Nepal's untapped water resources for generating hydroelectric power. Since India is also a strong contender in this respect, China wishes to neutralize New Delhi's influence in Nepal by supporting the Maoists and using the latter's anti-India feeling for its own purposes.

    Despite India's mediation between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists and support for the peace process, the Maoists continue to accuse India of supporting the Monarchy. They believe that India follows what they call the 'Nehru doctrine' under which it supposedly seeks to interfere and dictate terms to its neighbours.

    The recent activities of Nepal's Maoists appear to be pressure tactics to enhance their bargaining power during the next round of peace talks with the government as well as in negotiations with UN representatives over arms management. Simultaneously, they hope to neutralise India's influence in Nepal's domestic affairs by inclining towards China. During the impending fourth round of peace talks, pressure tactics would help to obtain better bargains from the SPA. However, the change in the Maoists' position from that of a collaborator to a negotiator with the SPA, coupled with their raising of unacceptable demands, could jeopardise the ongoing peace talks.