Impact of the Maoist Insurgency on the Nepalese Society
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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
1. The Nepalese people had a positive, but to a large extent unrealistic, expectation with the new political establishment of 1990, which had installed a democratic system of governance in the country. This form of governance was unable to meet the people’s expectations. Midterm parliamentary elections of November, 1994 resulted in a hung parliament that further led to a power-centric rivalry between various political parties. Maoists, a radical fraction of the Nepalese communist movement, whose ultimate goal was to establish a communist republic through armed struggle, found the prevailing environment most appropriate for triggering a long awaited armed struggle. The Maoists started an armed insurgency amidst political instability from the remote hills of mid Western region, and finally emerged as a threat to Nepal’s democracy. The Nepalese government, in its various capacities, fought the Maoist insurgency. The government was able to contain a growing insurgency, but had not been able to achieve the desired political end state within the existing constitutional framework.
2. Nepal endured the Maoist insurgency for more than a decade and this truly posed a formidable threat to national security. The government failed to anticipate and diagnose the problem properly in the first place and a frequently changing government could not effectively employ the instruments of national power by devising a coherent and coordinated national strategy. Ultimately, the government relied on security/military measures without formulating a viable and broader political and socio-economic strategy. The government’s response to the Maoist challenge in general was reactive, inconsistent, and far from effective. The extreme friction and division within the ruling circles prevented the state from articulating a clear, consistent and convincing response during the most critical phase of democratic transition. The conflict resolution and long-term stability in Nepal is still uncertain, yet the conflict settlement process has started after more than a decade long conflict. Had there been a better understanding of the insurgency from the beginning, conflict would have been less costly.
3.Emergence of Nepal Communist Party (Maoist).Understanding the birth of the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist), relates back to the conquest of Kathmandu valley in 1769 by a king from Gorkha, a small principality in central Nepal. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Shah dynasty of Gorkha through conquest, marriage and diplomacy had succeeded in annexing the small principalities and forming the country that is today known as Nepal. Towards the end of the unification campaign in the early nineteenth century, the King’s power waned and control of the state slid into the hands of the military families. Competition for the control of the state led to bloody struggle between different military families. From the mid nineteenth century onwards, the state machinery became the preserve of one family – the Ranas.
4. With its aim to overthrow the Rana rule, the Nepali National Congress (NC) was formed in 1946 in Banaras by fusing the Akhil Bharatiya Nepal Rashtriya Congress, the Nepali Sangh and the Gorkha Congress. Pushpa Lal Shrestha who served as the office secretary for Nepali National Congress was dissatisfied with the NC’s policies for a non-violent struggle. He quit the party and started working on setting up a communist party. He translated and published Marx’s Communist Manifesto which was released on 15 September 1949, the date that is considered the founding day of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). Although political parties were legally prohibited during this time, Nepali students in India had been exposed to Marxist views and many were even affiliated to CPI (Communist Party of India). At the time of the 1950 uprising, the CPN was in the early stages of party formation. Although it enunciated its ideology of class struggle and armed revolution, the party was not explicit about its objectives nor was it clear about its role in the 1950 movement in which NC had professed overthrowing the Rana regime and establishing democracy with constitutional monarchy. Therefore, NC dominated the 1950 revolution and CPN began expanding its support base and exercising its strength only after 1950.
5. Ideological and personality clashes among the leaders began eroding the organizational unity of the CPN during the decades of 1960s and 1970s. The party divided into three branches: the moderates, the extremists and the radicals. In 1974 the ‘central nucleus’ split into the CPN led by Mohan Bikram and Nirmal Lama and the CPN led by Man Mohan Adhikari. The communist party led by Adhikari joined with smaller groups and formed the CPN (ML) in 1978. By 1991 the CPN (ML) joined hands with Pushpa Lal’s CPN (Marxist) to form the CPN (Unified Marxist Leninist) a nomenclature that is retained to this day. At the time of the 1990 movement, the CPN (UML) was the largest Communist organization in the country.
6. While the Communist party led by Man Mohan Adhikari was consolidating with smaller groups and expanding its base, the other CPN was experiencing numerous break offs. In May of 1979, King Birendra announced a national referendum. Disputes arose between the two leaders of this party regarding the referendum. Mohan Bikram Singh was unwilling to participate in a referendum called by the King while Nirmal Lama, general secretary, accepted the referendum and faced opposition within his party. As a result, he was forced to resign from his post. Ultimately, Mohan Bikram Singh and Nirmal Lama parted ways. Singh formed his own party the CPN (Masal) in 1983. In 1985, Masal fragmented into Mashal and Masal. Mashal, led by Mohan Baidya, was subsequently replaced by Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, who would later be known as the Maoist supremo. The subsequent development and emergence of the Maoist party is shown in Appendix “A”.
7.Background of Maoist Insurgency in Nepal.The start of armed insurgency was not only the result of an opportunistic response to the emerging political instability after 1990 but also the product of a rational and deliberate calculation. Some form of radical elements of the leftist movement in Nepal has always believed in armed insurgency. The root of the communist movement in Nepal goes back to the birth of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) in 1949. The CPN had secured four seats out of 104 in the first ever parliamentary election conducted in 1959. The CPN was split on the question of supporting a royal takeover in December 1960. Towards the latter half of the 1970s, the communist movement in Nepal had also developed its radical factions which were influenced by the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Naxalites movement of India. Following in the footsteps of Naxlites, CPN (Marxist-Leninist) carried out killings of local land owners in eastern Jhapa district of Nepal during the late 1970s, also known as Jhapa Uprising. This uprising was immediately suppressed by the then Panchyat government, a party-less government system under direct rule of the monarch. The Nepalese communists were generally divided into two groups until the end of the Panchayat system. One group was ready to follow democratic system and another believed in seizure of power through armed insurgency. CPN (Maoist), who started the armed insurgency in February 1996, was always in favor of armed insurgency. Maoists, through their open political front, forwarded a 40 point demand to the government in February 1996, as an ultimatum otherwise to begin an armed insurgency; however, the Maoists started the armed insurgency even before reaching the deadline.
8.Government’s Counter Insurgency Strategy.Nepal had experienced 15 different governments from 1990 to April 2006. Political instability made democratic transition difficult and prevented the government from acting appropriately against the insurgency. Various governments endeavored to respond to insurgency with a range of policy instruments during their respective tenure. Weak administrative infrastructure, frequent changes in government, hung parliaments, lack of determined leadership, diverse interest and different views of major political forces towards insurgency contributed to reactive, inconsistent and sometimes counterproductive response. Maoists completed preparation of the armed insurgency by keeping the government unaware, in order to avoid government repression. As an initial response, the government preferred to use police forces without anticipating the long term consequences. Police operations engaged the Maoists, but never controlled the local population. These repressive and heavy handed law and order measures further alienated the local populace, which ultimately benefited the insurgents for organizational expansion. Only with the November 2001 offensive by the Maoists, did the government become more serious. After initial setbacks, the government decided to take a immediate approach to address grievances at the local level. It was conceived as the Internal Security and Development Program (ISDP). Increased Maoist violence prevented the government from running such types of programs together with combat operations in the insurgency infested areas. The government was forced to back out of this program. Nepalese government counter insurgency measures from 1996 to 2006 included programs as followings:
- Initial Police/administrative measures.
- Security/military measures with ISDP programs.
- Counter Insurgency Operations.
- Peace Talks
- Promulgation of Terrorist and Terrorism Act.
- Activation of special courts to try insurgents.
Statement Of The Problem
9. The researcher intends to analyze the impact of the Maoist insurgency on the Nepalese society in terms of political, social, economic and security aspect which they were forced to undergo during the period. The researcher also lays suggestions and recommendations to assist the future military leaders for better understanding of the problems and ways to address all societal needs if exposed to similar type of environment in the future.
10. The Nepalese society and the people were the main victim of the conflict during the decade long insurgency, in terms of social, economic and political losses.
Justification Of The Study
11. Conflict, war and warlike events themselves are intolerable events in a peaceful society and automatically their impact on the society and its organ is more intolerable. The research will limit itself to a brief description of the then prevailing political situation. The main focus of the research will be concentrated towards how the society experienced the insurgency/counterinsurgency operations. A detailed analysis of the state’s inability to visualize the social, political, security and economic impact realized during the counter insurgency will be analyzed in detail.
12. The sole intent to scrutinize the above mentioned aspects is to provide an insight view to all the readers to understand the psychological pressure that the Nepalese society had undergone during the counter insurgency operations. Despite being one of the most significant subjects, there were some limitations regarding preparation of the paper which includes; the time limitation to make detailed study and the other commitments of the researcher in the college as well.
13. There are various national and international books, research & paper written, prepared & published by military professionals, academicians & journalist about the Maoist insurgency and the government’s approach to the problem, but only few of them that were relevant to the subjects were studied for the preparation of the paper.
Methods Of Data Collection
14. This paper is based on a review and examination of information gathered from a variety of secondary sources. Due to the nature and availability of numerous research works on the subject matter the researcher did not opt for any field based research. This study is based on a descriptive along with analytical study of the Nepalese government’s counter insurgency strategy along with its impact on the Nepalese populace at large. For this, the researcher has mainly studied and analyzed books and various websites. This research is by no means a complete picture of the conflict in Nepal and neither a complete picture of the Nepalese experiences during the insurgency period. Neither does this research claim to cover all impacts, but merely constitutes a review dependent upon available information.
Organisation Of The Dissertation
15. It is proposed to study the subject in the following manner:
- The chapter II highlights the background reasons behind the decade long conflict, in which more than 13 thousand innocents lost their lives.
- The chapter III briefly tries to explain the societal experiences of the insurgency in various levels and facades.
- The chapter IV tries to analyze the victims of the insurgency.
- The chapter V finally concludes the research, with proving of the hypothesis.
BACKGROUND REASONS BEHIND THE CONFLICT
16. On February 13, 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), initiated a People’s War with over 5,000 actions being carried out throughout the country including armed assaults on police stations in rural districts, the confiscation of property from oppressive landlords and punishment of local tyrants. The Maoist movement in Nepal grew out of imbalance within the society due to poverty, unemployment and frustration among the youths. Inaccessible hills, lack of communication and illiteracy further created an environment where insurgency could easily take its roots. Political instability in the country and failure of political leaders to respond to the hopes of mass population further attributed to the rise of Maoist movement.
17. Geographical disparity.Mid Western and far Western regions are basically remote areas of Nepal suffering from widespread poverty, disparity, structural inequality, injustice and discrimination. This in turn provided the Maoist with perfect breeding ground. Hence, the insurgency started from the mid-Western region (namely Rolpa, Rukum, Salyan and Jajarkot districts). Gradually they were able to increase their influence across the country and later were virtually present in all seventy five districts from rural to urban and hills to terai (plain) areas. The geographical expansion and growth of the Maoist insurgency was sharp and ubiquitous mainly because of two reasons. First, they effectively and successfully utilized media, rights activists, frustrated masses (e.g., ex-bounded laborers, unemployed youths, etc.) and poor, marginalised and underprivileged groups. They also created reign of terror to help expand their activities. Second, complete failure of the government to address geographical inequalities and provide regionally balanced development opportunities and infrastructures. All form of governance had completely neglected these two regions as they were inaccessible and remote.
18.Impacts of the Security Forces.Nothing can be more appalling to innocent rural community than when security forces move in, searching for insurgents. Because of the poor training of the police personnel and their lack of knowledge and proper orientation, instead of resolving the problem, they usually end up becoming major problems themselves. Police Operations like Operation Romeo, Operation Kilo Shera-2 and Jungle Search Operations (1998-99) and Silent Kilo Shera-3, Delta and Operation Chakrabihu (2000-May 2001) did not prove effective. Instead they helped escalate the conflict from certain geographical areas to across the country. Large numbers of innocent people were victims of these operations, which developed further resentment and feeling of revenge. The government completely failed to recognize the gravity of the problem of geographically neglected areas. Thus the Maoist were able to give the impression to the general public that they truly represented their interests, needs and aspirations of geographically isolated poor rural population who had been excluded from the economic, political and social opportunities mainly because of staying in geographically remote and backward areas.
19.Social Exclusion and Acute Inequalities. Absolute poverty, lack of access to resources and failure of political structures to address these issues made the Nepalese society extremely vulnerable to conflict. Deep rooted social cleavages in terms of caste, ethnicity, gender, regional, cultural, linguistic and religious forms of discrimination provided fertile ground to escalate the conflict.Maoists successfully capitalised the widely discernible disillusionment of people towards poor performance of political structure. Dominance of certain groups (e.g., Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar) in all social, political and economic sectors promoted feeling of injustice and revenge as lower caste people strongly believed that they had been excluded from opportunities and resources. Maoists tactically utilised these feelings. The emergence of ethnic interest groups, awareness on social exclusion, ethnic inequalities and governance failure fuelled the conflict.
20.Unstable Government and Their Lack of Responsiveness.There has been considerable political instability since the inception of democracy in the country. The performance of parliamentary democracy for years had repeatedly failed by its frequent shifting of alliances, changing stands with the alternative governments and seeking fresh elections. This trend created an unhindered and favorable environment for the Maoist to widen their influence, the government being unable to take any bold steps for the economic as well as social upliftment of the people. The people, who had great expectations from the political leaders after the restoration of democracy, were disheartened by their irresponsible acts of engaging themselves in internal wrangling.
21.Lack of good governance.The revolving door charade of ministers with the formation and fall of different governments only increased the corrupt practices across the board.The splitting of major parties created a weaker government which inspired the rampage corruption in the administrative sector. The nepotism and favoritism made people feel the class discrimination. Such conditions decreased the faith towards the government and the Maoists were successful in exploiting the discontented group to gain passive or active support.
22.Fragile Economy and Rampant Poverty. Nepal ranks among the poorest countries of the world. With no major industries for earning foreign currency and deteriorating tourism industry, the economic condition of the country is decreasing each day. No economic program had been implemented effectively in the remote areas where 85 percent of the populations are still in acute poverty. The 2002 Budget presented by the government headed by then Prime Minister Deuba painted a gloomy economic picture of the country. Out of Rs. 96.12 billion, Rs. 57.45 billion was set aside for regular expenditure and rest for developmental projects. Rs. 14 billion was allocated to the security forces. This meant regular expenses were higher than expenditure under the development section in the, and government was giving more importance to law and order than economic reform.
23.Ideology.Maoist Movement involves only a small minority of the country’s population as active participants. Most of the participants are members of the underground who perform their normal functions within the society along with their clandestine and covert activities. However, ideology has been an important factor in unifying the many divergent interests and goals that exists among the Maoist movement’s membership. As a common set of interrelated beliefs, values and norms, the ideology has been used to manipulate and influence the behavior of individuals with in the communities and societies. Such strategy of the Maoist has directly or indirectly motivated and attracted many innocent citizens of the country.
24.Illiteracy and ignorance. Nepal’s Functional literacy remains low, even though official statistics show that the literate population numbers at around 60 percent. Most of the literate or educated are again concentrated in the cities and often it is the illiterate majority that remains back in the villages where the Maoists are still active with organization building. Those without proper education are unable to distinguish between promises and practical goals and because they are “unaware” or not “critically conscious” about what they are told, they are more likely to be influenced. Inability of the people to differentiate between what is told to them and what is achievable is reason for the increase in support to the Maoists. Low literacy and lack of effective information and communication mechanisms in rural areas provided the Maoists, the space to persuade locals to support their cause and at the same time failure of democracy to deliver up to the expectations of the people contributed to the frustrations of the poor and to the growth of the insurgency.
Positive Aspects Of The Conflict
25. The conflict also had some “positive” aspects, i.e. if one discounts and pretends to temporarily forget the losses. These positive aspects are the social reforms initiated by the government after the Maoists began rattling the status quo by forcibly correcting some long-standing socio-cultural inequities. Some of those reforms were in the plans and programs of the government and political parties but had never really been implemented. The Maoists have effectively challenged the discriminatory and exploitative caste system and have taken the debate on ethnicity and identity to the level of discussion or regional autonomy and self-determination.
26. The Maoists advocate regional autonomy, promising nationalities and geographically specific regions the right to self-determination. Locally, Maoists women, enforced bans on alcohol production and distribution, which they claim had helped reduce social evils (domestic violence, for example), and also to improve food security by ensuring that food grains are not used for brewing alcohol. The anti-alcohol drive, however also had another side. Many of the ethnic populations need alcohol for religious ceremony and cultural events, and the industry is also a major employer.
27. In the village the Maoists are also said to have forcefully ended polygamy, by shaming or even killing those found guilty of the offense, which is something every woman would support. They also advocated equality of the sexes, and were able to portray that they are at least better than the state, on gender equality. According to published information, about one third of the Maoists militia comprises women, which is symbolically a better mix, compared to the status of women in state institutions. Furthermore, in the Maoists “base areas” – places where they claimed to have complete control – they tried out different development models, for example cooperatives, restoration of the tenancy rights of tillers and the setting up of “model” primary schools.
SOCIETAL EXPERIENCES OF THE INSURGENCY
AND COUNTER INSURGENCY
28. Nepal has endured a decade long brutal insurgency which pushed the nation to the brink of catastrophe. Notwithstanding the little knowledge and experience in Counter Insurgency (COIN), Nepal’s Armed forces were haphazardly deployed to mitigate the threat posed by the insurgents. Devoid of a proper political stratagem, however, the military response failed to yield the intended outcome.Any form of violence / conflict leaves behind physical scars not only on the mankind but also to its surroundings with the left away of damaged building, displaced individuals and families, disrupted public services along with the deaths and disappearances. However, the real damage is done on the hearts and minds of the people, most of them civilian peoples who stayed as bystanders during the entire period of the conflict sharing the both pain from the side of the rebel and the government forces. Hence following are some of the broad categories in terms of social, political, economic and security impact that the researcher has identified as possible areas which were experienced by the Nepalese as a whole in the past conflict.
29. The conflict in Nepal had resulted into death of more than thirteen thousand, from the hands of Maoist or the security forces. Many more have been impaired for life and thousands more have been displaced from their homes. There were fightings almost every day after November 2001, except during seven months of truce between January and August 2003. The conflict between the security forces and the Maoist in the past had far-reaching effects on any society, in terms of destruction, disruption, diversion and dissaving. Besides destruction of material, the conflict also disrupted the normal walk of life of the people causing social and economic losses, many of which were difficult to measure. Some of them being the pain of an individual or group that had lost their dear and near ones, anguish of bereaved widows, orphans and friends and families of those killed in the conflict, belonging either to security forces, civilians or the Maoist combatant. Besides, there is other aspect of the socio-cultural impact which includes displacement of people resulting to homeless, Human Rights violations, educational shutdown, detainees and disappearance, psychological and mental problems in children and women, degradation in environmental protection are some of the experiences faced by the society during the insurgency period. Following paragraphs discuss the socio-cultural impacts of the conflict, based on the findings from the research.
30.Displacement. Operation Romeo was the major pushing factor for the displacement of people right before the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) declared People’s War on 13 Feb 1996 with an aim to overthrow the constitutional Monarchy and establish New Republican State. Later it was followed by the government launching Operation Kilo Sierra Two which also fuelled the displacement problem.The rate of internal displacement was further intensified after the government initiated actual counter insurgency operation. However there are no any definite statistics of the displaced people and the one available also shows the variations regarding the numbers of Internally Displaced People (IDP) which is shown in Appendix “B”, this however does not include the displaced people due to the threat of the government and security forces.
31. However it has been clear that the displacement had been both voluntary and forced. Those who left the village voluntary did so fearing they could be attacked by the Maoist, even though they were not threatened by them. Most of the voluntary migrants included members of the politician, local landlords, money lenders and the ones who were involved in illegal activities. The bitter experience of the displaced people could be understood easily since any individual that are forced to move from his/her place of residence faces multiple problems.
32.Children and Women.Where ever there is a conflict, children and women are often the worst sufferers in the conflicts, it is no doubt that many have appreciated Maoist for empowering women into their party but there are many more who blames Maoist for victimizing them as well. Though recruitment of women alongside of the men in the militia/guerilla has been termed as empowerment but at the same time the ignorance of the hardship that the women had to undergo during the conflict has always been neglected. Women experienced conflict differently than men, there were numerous cases regarding gendered form of violence during counter insurgency operations such as rape, slavery, deprivation of food, teenage widow and eviction from the family (according to Thapa, Ranjana, Impact of Armed Conflict on Women). They were victims of rape and torture and would often end up being forced to raise their children on their own, especially after their male partner were killed or captured. There were incidents where the young women/girls within Maoist had suffered from sexual abuse and exploitation, there was an interview in the national TV which the researcher still recalls, a 19 year old women Maoist cadre had claimed that she and many in their party had to fulfill the sexual desire of their own level Maoist cadre and she further notified that sometimes she even had to fulfill sexual desire of more than dozen per night. Overall, women had been adversely affected during these periods, whether as daughters, mothers, sisters or wives of both the personnel of the security forces and the Maoist.
33. Despite a national campaign “Children as Zone of Peace”, it was the children who were caught up in the Maoist conflict mainly as victims. Many had been killed in the Maoist – Government conflict of which they were no part of. According to the INSEC, over 260 children under the age of 18 were killed in the conflict between 1996 till 2004. Many others were wounded and many had lost either both or one of their parents. According to other estimate, at least 2,000 children have lost one parent and more than 4,000 had been displaced. The Maoist at one hand had been using children as child soldier by either using them for combatant, cultural groups or as informants. At the same time the security forces have also used children in various ways such as guides, couriers and porters. Children nationwide experienced school disruptions because of Maoist attack on schools, forced closures and strikes at schools. The Maoist always use to see school going children as their potential future combatant or child combatant resulting into abduction of entire class of student.
34. The framework projected in Appendix “C” provides an overview of an involvement of children in armed conflict and its impact which was distinctly experienced/ observed during the counter insurgency operations against the Maoist Peoples War.
35.Health and Food Security.Though many people had experienced death as a direct result of fighting from knife wounds, bullet, bombs and landmines, but many more died from malnutrition and disease due to Maoist People’s war. The interruption of food supplies by the security forces, the destruction of agricultural and health services infrastructures by the Maoist, resulted into diminished food intake and severe malnutrition/infections, the target always being children and the older peoples in the society. The people living in the rural area of Nepal experienced serious cutback in local food production, caused by the migration of the merchants from the rural areas, lack of access to markets due to restriction imposed by the Maoist cadres and the displacement of able human resources from the villages.
36. In one incident in particular in 2004, Rolpa district suffered from transport blockade for nearly a year, similarly four village in Acham district faced movement restriction for over year and the Doti district faced blockade of food transportation for more than 6 months, all of them were enforced by the Maoist activists. On the other hand, in order to prevent food from falling into the hands of the Maoists, the security forces had also imposed small weekly quotas on private traders of food in some district. In some cases these amounts were so small that it was not worth for merchants to long risky journey to sell it. The quotas impacted civilians more then intended Maoist force because the Maoist regularly forced the villagers to provide them with meals, leaving very little food left for feeding families.
37.Human trafficking and HIV/AIDS. Trafficking of women and girls to India and other countries is a long standing prob
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