INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

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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.

Pre-Emptive International Concern

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An interesting little piece of news today. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Office, which funds relief efforts in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, has cautioned the Indian government against undertaking an anti-Maoist offensive that would jeopardise its work:

“It can become too dangerous, because of ongoing fighting, for our partners to access and reach out to the villages,” Maria Joao Ralha, ECHO’s desk officer for India, told AlertNet by phone from Brussels. “It can also limit access as parties involved in the conflict may become too nervous and may not want humanitarians working there so villagers would not be able to receive the healthcare that our partners are providing them.”

Aside from the increased international dimension which this story demonstrates, it’s important to note that, according to the piece, over 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict. The very real suffering that the so-called ‘Naxal-problem’ has caused for some of India’s most marginalised populations is far in excess of what might be inferred by merely tracking total annual deaths. It’s important to think about. I’ve been to Bastar and visited illegal re-settlement villages in the forests. And the suffering I saw was horrendous. The government needs to be cautious.

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 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

Mapping Naxalism- predictive political ‘science’

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The Only Map Around

everyone loves the only map around

I’m fortunate to have received my master’s in International Relations from the UK where positivism and empiricism doesn’t quite have the hold on the discipline as it does in the US. While using scientific tools to measure and predict social and institutional behaviour are valuable, all too often this type of work veers into the insanely hilarious realm of pseudo-science. Some of the papers I’ve had to read seem to be the cries of a discipline desperate to be taken seriously in a culture which values engineers over artists and numbers over words. Guess what, five line formulas with ‘quantified’ variables representing ephemeral concepts like ‘cultural stability’ or ‘religious conviction’ is inane, silly, and boring as hell… it’s a lot of things, but it ain’t science.

That aside, I do think that there is a paucity of good solid comparative data available on Naxalism in India. In particular, the claim is often made that one of the key key causes of Naxalism are poverty and underdevelopment. The Maoists are strong specifically in those parts of Indian which are the most backward.

Fair enough. This is intuitively plausible. But where is the data which tries to at least support this? Using, say, Maoist attacks/incidents as a proxy for Maoist strength in a cluster of districts and overlaying this with social indicators would be a valuable exercise. It would either support or weaken the counter-insurgency through development argument and would allow for at least some predictive thinking about Naxalite expansion.

This kind of exercise is, of course, flawed. Specifically, are attacks necessarily a proxy for strength? And as every first year undergrad knows, correlation does not equal causality. There could be any number of ’causes’ for Maoist activity… climate, governmental infrastructure, whether the local people like red. In either case, I do think it would useful if it is taken for what it is.

I’m going to start working on this today. It might take a while as anything below state-wide data in India is difficult, if not impossible, to find. Wish me luck! Hopefully something useful will come out of it. Everyone loves a nice map!