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Debordered Insurgency? Redux.

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A previous post made the point that one of the advantages that the Maoists have vis-a-vis the state is their capacity to wage a debordered insurgency inside federal India. What is less clear is how debordered the Naxalites are regionally.

There have long been rumours of collaboration between the Nepalese and Indian Maoists. However, since the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended their armed struggle and won a democratic election, a rift developed between the two parties.

Now that Nepal again seems to be on the brink and the Maoists are on the outside looking in, rumours of renewed contacts have re-emerged.

Prachanda, the Nepalese Maoist leader, has denied any link:

“During the 10 years that our party went underground and waged the People’s War, Prachanda met representatives from many communist parties in the world,” Shrestha said. “The meetings occurred due to the parties sharing the same interests and ideologies.

“However, after our party signed a peace agreement and returned to mainstream politics in 2006, there has been no link between us and any other underground party.”

If Nepal descends back into a war waged by even a minority of disgruntled Maoist factions, India would face an even more dangerous, debordered insurgency.

Telangana as Farce

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Since my last post on the ongoing battle for an independent Telangana the story has taken a turn for the absurd. In early December, the central government unilaterally (and suddenly) declared their support for the creation of a new state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh, leading to anger and sporadic violence. Opponents of the decision were particularly concerned with the status of Andhra’s capital, the wealthy technology hub Hyderabad situated deep inside Telangana. After the resignations of a number of Congress politicians in protest at the decision, the central government backtracked and announced that Telangana would only come into being after a process of talks involving all of the local political parties. Again, this lead to violence and resignations, only this time by disappointed Telangana activists. The talks are scheduled to begin on 5 January.

The central government’s handling of the issue has been inept and farcical. First, by rushing through a unilateral decision on the creation of a new state, the government alienated much of the population of Andhra. Then, by backtracking on their decision, they effectively alienated and angered all of those who had supported the initial decision. It’s a mess. Furthermore, the decisions of the government have greatly strengthened the hand of the Maoists.  As this (excessively pessimistic) piece in Pragati states:

Telangana is not only being formed with the support of the Naxalites, but will be encompassing the districts that are their stronghold. The security situation is bound to worsen further.

Not only is the creation of Telangana a potential boon for the Maoists, the muddled process that has so far marked its birth is tailor-made for strengthening their position. The Maoists have strongly supported calls for an independent Telangana. The central government’s moves have created a volatile situation in the state marked by a high degree of political mobilisation. By supporting the pro-Telangana forces, the Maoists have positioned themselves as an armed and disciplined force which can help a popular movement struggle against the central government’s duplicity. They have, for example, already called for a general strike for the 2 January.

If the Maoists play their hand well, they will be in position to gain a tremendous goodwill and popular support by acting as a force which is willing to fight for the sentiments and aspirations of the local population. They will be in an even stronger position to capture the newly independent state once it is created. Delhi could not have created conditions more beneficial for the Naxalites had it been closely collaborating with the Maoist leadership.

Written by Michael

January 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm

On the Boil in Kathmandu

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iphoto_1242042973546-1-0jpgThe political situation in Nepal continues to deteriorate, albeit at a slower pace than had been the case earlier this month. The Maoists have refused to join the new Communist-lead government and the dismissal order for General Katawal has been all but rescinded. Sporadic street protests by both pro and anti-Maoist factions continue in Kathmandu and other parts of the country.

There have been two new ominous and significant developments. The first is a continuation of the Maoist’s attempt to paint recent developments as a pro-Monarchic coup. I discussed what I see as the motivation for this strategy in a previous post.

The Maoists have ratched up this rhetoric and have now added an anti-Indian component. According to Prachanda:

“After Madhav Kumar Nepal became the Prime Minister, a conspiracy is being hatched with the help of foreign powers to restore monarchy,” Prachanda told a workers’ gathering in Lalitpur near here on Friday, the day Nepal observed its first republic day.

This is a shrewd (if desperate) tactic. Xenophobic resentment against Nepal’s Indian community, who form a powerful urban business class, is widespread. More broadly, India’s often heavy-handed interventions in a country which it has often treated like a dependency, lends credibility to the claim and is a good way to bolster the Maoists nationalist credentials and weaken the legitimacy of the new government.

The Maoists are painting themselves as pro-democracy nationalists, and the government as a reactionary, monarchist cabal beholden to Indian business and political interests. It may not be true, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

And, as with all good lies, there is an element of truth. India has not played a very constructive role in the recent Nepalese crisis and has provided moral and diplomatic support to the anti-Maoist forces. It is alsoa stretch to pretend that the new government and its supporters are democrats. They are a motley collection of discredited politicians, business elites, military figures and, yes, royalists. Their temporary alliance does not, as their spokespeople claim, lie in a principled concern for democracy. They are only united by their desire for power and their hatred of the Maoists.

Finally, the Maoists have begun reactivating the parallel governance structures which they shut down after the peace agreement. Clearly, the Maoists are going to use this is a means to weaken the new government and state. Are the Maoists simply hedging their bets and preparing for the possibility of a renewal of the war? Are they simply seeking to undermine and weaken the new government and the Nepalese state? Or is this a first step in a strategy of actively resuming the People’s War? It’s an open question.

(Image: AFP)

Written by Michael

May 30, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Nepal Plunging Back Into War? (5)

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The peace process looks increasingly moribund as Nepal spirals further back into war (The Economist has a solid peace on the current crisis here).

In recent days the Maoists have resigned their ministerial posts, effectively leaving the country without a functioning government. The other large parties, notably the UML and the NCP, are in the process of forming a new cabinet which will almost certainly exclude the CPN(M). All of this is happening in the context of heightened tensions with Maoist street violence and threats to indefinitely disrupt parliamentary functioning.

Where is this leading? It is clear, given both the popular and parliamentary support enjoyed by the CPN(Maoist), as well as its ability and willingness to deploy violence, the Nepalese republic cannot and will not be able to function without their involvement. From VoA:

Political analyst Yubaraj Ghimire, says any new government formed without the backing of the Maoists is unlikely to survive for long.

“Maoist strategy would be to rule if they can, and not let anyone rule if they can’t form the government. As simple as that,” said Ghimire. “This will make the peace process and the move to institutionalize democracy a casualty.”

No Maoist governmental participation no peace. No peace, no republic. Another South Asian failed state may emerge. The key questions are: to what extent are the Maoists in engaging in posturing; how able is their leadership to compromise in the face of dissension by internal ‘hardline’ factions; and are the Maoists, as their critics allege, really interested in seizing total control of all the major organs of the state?

The sincerity of the Maoists has been severely undermined by the leaking of a video, purportedly made in 2008 (just before the election that gave the CPN(M) a plurality of parliamentary seats), that shows Prachanda telling People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commanders that he intended to disregard the conditions of the peace process and gain control over the state and the army (no English version available yet… trying to find a transcript).

On the surface this is a pretty damning indictment of the party’s sincerity and commitment to post-conflict transformation in Nepal. The only caveat might be (and it’s not a terribly convincing one) that Prachanda was simply telling the PLA leadership what it needed to hear in order to prevent them from rejecting the peace process. Prachanda has clearly had to delicately navigate between the militant factions of the party and those who have been willing to compromise. Without the support of the hardliners in the PLA, peace would have been impossible. Prachanda needed (and still needs) their support. Perhaps he was allaying their fears.

The blame for the current crisis cannot be placed exclusively on the Maoists. The second major actor in this unfolding drama, the army, is as guilty of violating both the spirit and the letter of the peace accords as are the Maoists. They have increasingly played a political role and have actively sought to undermine the elected government. According to The Economist:

In recent months Nepal’s generals have been engaging in politics nakedly, briefing foreign diplomats on alleged Maoist intentions and producing constitutional and policy proposals on issues far beyond security and military matters. The army’s political activism is backed by India, which supported the peace process but now wants a limit on Maoist power.

The current crisis is simply a culmination of the simmering antagonism between the two, large, armed groups which exist in Nepa- the army and the PLA. The other political parties have simply demonstrated their bankruptcy and rank opportunism.

It’s difficult to see how this crisis will end without either a resumption of civil war, a military coup or a slow collapse of the state. The only chance of preventing any of these outcomes is through significant and rapid diplomatic intervention from outside actors. The UN has already expressed it’s concern with the situation and both India and the United States have been engaged with both the army and the Maoists. Both countries have tarnished their credibility as honest brokers in recent weeks and another outside power must become involved.

Both the premise and the mechanisms of the peace process have been revealed as dyfunctional. Whoever does get involved would have their work cut out for them.

(Image:  Prakash Mathema/AFP)

Written by Michael

May 6, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Nepal Plunging Into War? (3)

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At at meeting today, the senior Indian envoy to Nepal communicated Delhi’s opposition to any dismissal of the General Katawal, the chief of the Nepalese army. The ambassador clarified the country’s policy shortly after consultations with senior government officials in India.

Katawal is set to retire in a few months and is likely to be replaced by a general more flexible on the integration of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Why are both parties forcing a crisis now?

Prachanda is being squeezed by militants within his party who feel that there revolutionary dreams are being shattered. Two breakaway factions merged in February to form a party calling for the resumption of the ‘People’s War’.  If this wasn’t bad enough for a leader desperate to demonstrate that the Maoists are as capable of governing as they are at waging a guerrilla war, a:

section of Maoist lawmakers are threatening to pull out of the coalition if beleaguered Nepal Army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal is not dismissed

It doesn’t look good for either Prachanda or Nepal. If he persists in trying to sack Katawal, he could be facing an army revolt. If he buckles to Indian pressure, his party and elements of the PLA would turn against him. Either way, it’s a return to violence and civil war for Nepal.

Surely India doesn’t want this.

Written by Michael

April 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Nepal Plunging Back Into War? (2)

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imagesAs tension between the Nepalese army and the Maoist led government deepens, India is increasing its mediation efforts. The Indian ambassador in Nepal flew to Delhi for consultations with senior government officials. He is scheduled to return to Kathmandu today.

In a further sign of the deepening seriousness of the standoff, the Indian ambassador, along with his Chinese, American and British counterparts phoned the Nepalese PM expressing their concern.

There is a ridiculously biased article in the Times of India on the latest developments in the crisis:

Though the Maoists have been at it for some time, refusing to abide by the rules of democracy which they invoked to justify their bid for power, what brought matters to boil was Prachanda’s proposal to sack General Rukmangad Katawal after he resisted the move to induct former Maoist guerrillas in the army.

Unfortunately for the Times, the case is far more complicated. Yes, there is a dispute over the sacking of General Katwal and the integration of the army and guerillas, but the issue is equally about confidence and mutual trust. Both sides have failed to completely abide by the terms of the 2006 peace agreement (see full text). The guerrilas have not disarmed as per their commitments, nor has the military absorbed and integrated any Maoist cadres into their ranks.

Both Prachanda and Katwal have not lived up to their commitments. Is the 2006 agreement dead? It depends on what happens in the next few weeks.

The single biggest barrier to building a post-conflict society in Nepal is a failure to engage in meaningful confidence and trust building exercises. The Maoists do not trust the army, who they fought but didn’t defeat militarily, and the army does not trust the Maoists, who they also fought but didn’t defeat.

The army as an institution is terrified that rather than absorbing the guerrillas, they will be absorbed by them. One side is confined to its cantonments and the other side is confined to its barracks. There have been no joint exercises or gradual integration between either of the two commands.

Assuming that neither side want a resumption of war (and this is certainly not clear), the mechanisms of the peace agreement need to be revisited. A gradual and phased integration of both groups must be designed in such a way that would slowly increase personal and institutional links between the two. Additionally, both Prachanda and the army must make an unequivocal commitment to Nepalese democracy.

All of this will require international, and particularly India, involvement. India must not seek to undermine the government. This would be disastrous for Nepal and disastrous for India. A resumption of war would effectively see Nepal as a failed state with no government and a large and angry Maoist army  tempted to look across the border and deepen their ties with the Naxalites.

(Image: AP)

Update: Of course its also far more complex than trust. Trust assumes good faith on both sides and it isn’t at all clear how much of this exists. Are the army and conservative elements willing to countenance democracy, especially one led by Maoists? Are the Maoists dishonestly consolidating their power until they are ready to take over the state and establish a dictorship? Nepal is a nototiously complicated country rife with intrigues and heavily polarised population. None of the negates the importance of confidence building measures.

Written by Michael

April 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm