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World View: Rebellion in Nepal

In early May, at the White House in Washington DC, Deuba met Dubya. The Nepalese prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba met President George W Bush in the Oval Office to discuss how the US could help Nepalese security forces in their six-year conflict with the country's Maoist rebels.

Deuba, who also met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condleeza Rice, had every reason to come away smiling, commenting “President Bush . . . is very much supportive of our campaign against terrorism and he has assured us he will help in many ways.” Bush promised him $21 million in military aid and doubled US development aid to Nepal to $38 million in 2003.

Defending the deal, one White House spokesman observed: “Nepal is an example, again, of a democracy and the US is committed to helping Nepal.”

Colin Powell had said pretty much the same when he was the first US Secretary of State to visit Nepal in January of this year. Thanking Dueba for his war against the “terrorists” he said: “You have a Maoist insurgency that is trying to overthrow the government and that is really the kind of thing we are fighting throughout the world.”

Nepal has a population of 23 million, made up largely of impoverished subsistence farmers who lend the “Communist” Party of Nepal (Maoist) much support and who feel the rebels represent a voice that their government all but ignores. It is this grassroots resentment of the government that the Maoists have tried to tap into since 1996.

Although the guerrilla campaign is six years old, having commenced when a Dr Baburam Bhattrai went underground to begin the Maoist insurgency, much of the current wave of unrest can be traced to that fateful night last June, when the crown prince murdered most of his family including the “liberal-minded” King Birendra. Birendra had been reluctant to use the army against the Maoists fearing the situation would escalate. This changed when his brother Gyanendra took the throne. The mourning over, the rebels launched an offensive that was cruelly repulsed by the army. Although the conflict has raged for six years, half of the deaths have occurred in the past year, since Gyanendra began relying on the army instead of the police.

Rebel leader and one time university academic “Comrade” Prachando (otherwise known as Pushpe Kamal Dahal) is a great admirer of Chairman Mao, modelling his insurrection on that carried out by Peru's Shining Path movement and intent on establishing a “communist state”, a “people's republic”, in Nepal and, indeed, holding out much hope for the alleged inherent revolutionary potential of his peasant fighters.

The unrest has destroyed the country's tourist industry, a primary source of income. What few civil rights the Nepalese enjoyed have been suspended. Newspapers have been censored, thousands have been arrested and detained without trial, there have been widespread human rights abuses and many disappearances, and political corruption is rampant. In the rebel controlled areas of the country, the Maoists have established their own courts and banks, press-ganged children as soldiers and targeted teachers. To sustain their activity, the rebels extract taxes from businesses, not only in the areas they control but right under the noses of the security forces in the capital.

Deuba flatly refuses to negotiate with the rebels who, to put pressure on him, target bridges and power stations with explosives, and kill political opponents. Not so two years ago when Deuba was all for negotiations, even chairing the Consensus Seeking Committee – a body set up to seek a peaceful political solution and supported by the government – until it concluded that the uprising had its roots in grave societal inequality. A month ago the rebels were pressing for negotiations, negotiations turned down by Deuba who was far more responsive to US overtures, keen to expand their “war on terrorism”.

To label the rebels “terrorists” and to announce a state of emergency has thus become a convenient way for the Nepalese rulers to avoid addressing the cause of the unrest. Supplying guns to aid the Royal Nepalese Army is much cheaper than trying to reform their corrupt and unworkable system or to address any of the grievances of the impoverished majority. The situation is also favourable to the US. Evidently since Bush's “War on Terrorism” State of the Union Address of that same month, the US has been focusing increasingly on states and organisations with no connection at all to Al-Qaeda, spreading its tentacles and influence ever wider, and always on the pretext that this is part of the “war on terror” and blind to the fact that this is another conflict rooted in inequality and oppression.

The “People's War” in Nepal is ostensibly a war of liberation, but it is led by people inspired by Mao Tse Tung, only hopeful of establishing a system of state capitalism in an economically backward country, a system the US is hardly going to welcome with open arms. Though we are on the side of impoverished workers everywhere, this is quite simply another instance of a “revolutionary” group attempting to lead the masses from capitalism and down the road to capitalism under a different name.