WAR WITH THE MAOIST REBELS IN NEPAL
In February 1996, Maoist rebels calling themselves the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CNP(M)) launched a "people's war" against the Nepal government The official government death toll for the conflict, which ended in 2006 and is now known as the Nepalese Civil War, was 16,278. Among the dead were hundreds of police officers and hundred of civilians. The number of Maoist rebel casualties was hard to determine because the rebels carried their dead away from the battlefields. It was difficult to get any kind of information because the areas where fighting took place were so remote and difficult to get to and the movement of journalists was restricted.
During the civil conflict the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) killed, expelled, and threatened government officials, landlords, and others it charged with economic and political oppression of Nepalis. Initially, the government largely ignored the conflict, but by 2000 the conflict had expanded to nearly two-thirds of the country. In 2001, the Maoist rebels stepped up their campaign of violence. By 2005 the CPN(M) controlled an estimated 40 to 60 percent of the country. [Source: Library of Congress, BBC]
Unstable political institutions and worsening civil conflict weakened the government’s capacity to address economic, social, and other problems. Factional fighting within and among political parties led to rapid changes in government and prompted parties to spend precious time and resources on maintaining or acquiring power. Prime Minister G.P. Koirala quit over the violence and was succeeded by Sher Bahadur Deuba. In November 2001, Maoists ended a four-month old truce with government, declaring peace talks with government had failed and launched coordinated attacks on army and police posts. The conflict came to an end in 2006 with a negotiated settlement. Two years the Maoists later won a general election and achieved one their main goals: the abolition of the Nepalese monarchy.
Kathmandu was largely been spared from the fighting. Most of the violence took place in the countryside and remote mountain areas. Guerilla movements have traditionally hid out and carried out their activities in the mountains and jungles. Nepal is an ideal place for such groups to operate because it is nearly all mountains and jungle.
The war with the Maoist rebels was the gravest threat to Nepal’s internal security and possibly its existence. Estimates of the conflict’s economic impact varied, but the Ministry of Finance claimed tourism, banking, social services, and physical infrastructure suffered considerably.
Many have said that the government, the monarchy and the ruling elite only had themselves to blame for the Maoist problem as they enriched themselves and looked after their own interests while neglecting poverty in countryside and often looking down on the poor with disdain and even contempt. Many Western observers who compared the poverty in the poor regions with the profligate lifestyle of some of the royals understood why many villagers turned to the Maoist rebels. The Maoist rebels were able to attract followers with promises of improving Nepal’s poverty and doing something about the country’s ethnic and caste discriminations.
Maoist Rebels in Nepal
The Maoist movement got its start in the Rolpa district, about 350 kilometers west of Kathmandu. It was initially dismissed as a fringe group and not taken very seriously but over time it gained strength and made much trouble for the government, devastated the struggling economy, scaring off tourists and ultimately prevailing over the government.
The rebels were members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) — CPN(M) — and were led by Puspakamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, and Babu Ram Bhattarai. Their stated goals included the establishment of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, land reform, establishment of Nepal as a secular nation, termination of several treaties with India, and abolition of untouchability. The Nepalese and many foreign governments categorize the CPN(M) as a terrorist organization that sought to establish a communist dictatorship. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]
The Maoist revolt began when the leaders of the Maoist United People's Front began a violent insurgency that including killings, kidnappings, bombings, extortion, and intimidation against civilians, police, and public officials in more than 50 of Nepal's 75 districts. Independent observers contended that a significant portion of the rural population was supportive of the insurgents’ goals but became exasperated with repressive activities of both the Maoists and the government.
Fighting During with the Nepalese Civil War
Most fighting during the Nepalese Civil War occurred in rural areas and in western districts. Until early 2000, Nepalese police efforts against the CPN(M) were generally uncoordinated. The army became involved in February 2000 and began actively engaging the CPN(M) in November 2001. Government security forces were generally hobbled by a lack of funds, local support, and counterinsurgency experience. the mountainous, forested, generally roadless terrain favored the Maoists’ guerrilla tactics. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]
Human rights observers and foreign governments have suggested that some government efforts to address the conflict — including the suspension of civil liberties and elected government — have reduced the government’s popular legitimacy and thus have been counterproductive. The Maoists’ attacks on infrastructure reportedly have lowered their popular support, as have accusations of robbery, extortion, and forced recruiting. The CPN(M), however, claims such activities are either unauthorized actions committed by lower-level cadres or are justified to prevent the use of public resources to exploit Nepalese. Peace talks in 2001 and 2003 were unsuccessful. **
Indeed, unarmed civilians have been frequent victims. According to a Nepalese human rights organization, the Informal Service Sector Center, from February 13, 1996, to September 16, 2005, 12,809 persons were killed in the conflict, with 64 percent attributed to security forces, 36 percent to the CPN(M), and 82 percent of all conflict-related deaths occurring since 2002. Of the killings attributed to security forces, most were of actual or suspected members of the CPN(M) or political parties (65 percent) or agricultural workers (15.6 percent). Of the killings attributed to the Maoists, most were of police personnel (28.2 percent), agricultural workers (16.2 percent), army personnel (14.4 percent), or civil servants (11.6 percent). Additionally, 50,356 persons had been displaced by the conflict through 2004. However, these figures include only verified events; actual numbers may be higher. **
It was difficult to estimate the true number of deaths because both sides tended to underestimate their own dead and overestimate the number of deaths of their opponents. The Maoist rebels tended to pull their dead from the battlefield, making their number of dead particularly had to gauge. In a typical report the government claimed it killed 90 Maoist rebels as they attempted to launch a human wave attack on an army camps. In one series of attacks in May 2002, the government announced that it had killed 500 Maoist rebels while losing only three government soldiers.
Communist Party of Nepal (CNP(M))
The Communist Party of Nepal (CNP(M)) — the name of the Maoist rebel group fighting the government — grew out from the United Revolutionary People’s Council and the People’s Liberation Army of Nepal as a legitimate political party that was allied with other Communist groups and even won a few seats in Parliament. In the 1991 election, it captured almost 5 percent of the popular vote.
In 1994 the CNP(M) were banned from participating in elections by the Election Commission because the group said in its manifesto that it goal was overthrowing the government. The ban was later ruled illegal. In the meantime the leaders of CNP(M) were brutally beaten up by police.
The CNP(M) was formally created in 1995 by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai. The group took up arms against the Nepalese monarchy in 1996, when it issued 40 demands, went underground and took up its “people’s war.” It decided to take this course in part because it was banned from the mainstream political arena and had come to the conclusion that democracy as it existed in Nepal didn’t meet the needs of the people.
The Maoist rebels got their start in the Rolpa district, 350 kilometers west of Kathmandu. Although they claimed to be Maoist they had no support from the Chinese, who the rebels claimed had become “revisionists.” For inspiration the CNP(M) looked to Peru's Shining Path and was compared to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. The United States labeled them as a fundamentalist, terrorist group, putting them in the same category as Al-Qaida. But at least some Nepalese felt that the monarchy and democracy had failed them so miserably that they wondered aloud that maybe the Maoists could help.
Prachandra: Leader of the Maoist Rebels
The CNP(M) was lead by an upper caste Brahman, university graduate who calls himself "Comrade Prachandra," and called Nepal a "semi-feudal-, semi-colonial society." He said, "In oppressed societies like this, the objective is revolution." Prachandra can mean “fierce one” or “awesome.” He was regarded by many as a kind of Robin Hood figure and is believed to have spent much of war hiding out in Bihar state in India. After the war he served as prime minister twice: in 2008-2009 and 2016-2017.
Prachandra real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal. He was born in Pokhara in 1954 and grew up in Bhimsen Nagar, a village in the Chitwan area of Nepal. His father was a Brahma but was a poor farmer. His mother died of leukemia when he was a young man. He was an agricultural student and worked as a school teacher before turning to politics and supported democracy before becoming a revolutionary. As a young man he was rail thin. A photograph of him in the early 2000s shows him with a beard and a pot belly. Critics asserted that his belly was a sign of his own corruption.
Prachandra has been described by his former neighbors as “kind hearted” and “generous.” As a teacher he was called Lotus Flower because e was so gentle and handsome. His father told the New York Times, “It was his habit to make people smile. He used to do it with everybody,” When asked how he felt about his son’s political activity he told the New York Times he was proud “this great revolutionary is a son of mine” but added that he wished a settlement could reached “where people from either side are not killed.”
Prachandra is regarded as brilliant and charismatic to his followers and manipulative and opportunist to his critics. He personally declared the “people’s war” against “imperialists and reactionaries” and has said “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is undefeatable because it is a system based on truth...Marxism says the reactionaries continue to create problems until they are eliminated.”
Baburam Bhattarai: Leader of the Maoist Rebels
Baburam Bhattarai is other found of the CNP(M). He is also a university-educated Brahman believed to have been hiding out in India during the war. After the war he served as prime minister from August 2011 to March 2013. Krishna Bahadur Mahara was regarded as the No. 3 man in the Maoist rebel hierarchy.
“Marxism is alive and kicking,” Bhattarai said during a United Nations address in 2011. “By end of this century, it will again be the leading philosophy to guide this world.” He injected Mao and Lenin sayings— such as “It is more pleasant and useful to go through the experience of revolution than to write about it” into his speech and described the challenges of applying for a visa to visit the United States when you are a sometimes-violent revolutionary. “In Nepal we tried to be creative. We followed the basic tenets of Marxism and then re-created it. That is why in 10 years, we rose as the biggest political force in the country,” he said. [Source: Anup Kaphle, Washington Post, September 30, 2011]
Anup Kaphle wrote in the Washington Post: Bhattari “was the architect of the Maoist insurgency that began with a handful of ideologues who had read Marx, memorized Sun Tzu and brandished guns. They inspired thousands of marginalized Nepalis, mostly peasants who lived in the far-flung regions...Nepal’s Marxism — or Bhattarai’s version of it — is a bit messy, with lots of fighting among political parties and disagreements about how to manage the former rebel forces.
“It is not so much his Marxist rhetoric that draws people to [Bhattarai] but his consistency on issues like republic, employment, peace and inclusion of the marginalized,” says Prashant Jha, a Kathmandu-based political analyst who has written extensively on the Maoists. “His image as a committed, clean and educated leader who could have been a successful professional but choose to engage in political struggle adds to his appeal.”
Maoist Rebel Fighters
The CPN(M) fighting force was comprised of an estimated 5,000 regular armed members and approximately 10,000 to 15,000 members in local militias. Observers contended that most members and supporters were indigenous groups, “dalits” (“broken people” or untouchables), and lower castes. There is evidence of CPN(M) collusion with Maoists and other rebels in India as well as allegations of arms purchases from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]
The Maoist rebels in the “people’s army” are believed to have mainly been recruited from poor farming regions and trained at special camps. Some wear military fatigues and red head bans and carry antique rifles. Others dress in civilian clothes. Commanders are believed to have received some training from Maoist groups in India. In their attacks they used 5-centimeter mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and Indian self-loading rifles. They are often better equipped than the police and soldiers they fought.
By one estimate a third of the fighters were women. Prachandra said in an interview that fighting with a number of “women for the first time he felt liberated from hundreds of years of feudal patriarchy.” Describing an attack by women fighters one victim at a hospital in Kathmandu told Time, “They rushed in. They were all dressed in white, all with short hair, the youngest about 15 and the oldest no more than 22. They took me out on the porch, where they bound my hands. They brought a big rock and put it under my knees. One girl showed me a very large ax. While 12 girls held me down. Three other girls took turns hacking at me. Blood and pieces of my bone shot up in the air — it was all over the porch wall the next morning.” The man had his leg amputated below the knee.” Doctors at the hospital said they often saw injuries like his.
The Maoist rebels were also able to recruit a number of fighters from minority groups such as the Tharu, who live in the Dang district about 400 kilometers west of Kathmandu and make up about 5 percent of the population of Nepal. They claim they have been discriminated against by the Nepali-speaking majority ever since Nepali settlers began moving into the lowland areas traditionally occupied by the Tharu after malaria was brought under control there.
Maoist Child Soldiers
The Maoist rebels were accused off using child soldiers and abducting children to fill their ranks. Sometimes the children they recruited simply disappeared from their villages. Other times a shoe was hung from a house, a message from that rebels that they wanted a recruit from that household.
One group estimated that the Maoist rebels forced 8,000 children to become fighters in 2004 alone. In some cases children were kidnaped at school and forced to attend three-day-long “democratic people’s education” camps. Some joined the rebels voluntarily after being promised enough to eat. Other were children who were left behind by adults who fled the rebel-controlled areas.
The children were reportedly used as porters and political workers more than as fighters. They were used to carry ammunition and other supplies. Western reporters said they saw children as young as 10 carrying rifles. Some carry knives. They were told if they remained loyal they would get to carry a gun. When they got to be old enough — 14 or 15 — they were trained to be frontline fighters.
A representative of the National Coalition for Children in a Zone of Peace told AP, “It is distressing to hear repeatedly of more and more children being shot and blown up by bombs and explosives, being taken by force from their homes and schools, and of girls being abused, raped and killed.”
Many families sent their children away to places beyond the reach of the rebels so they would not be taken by the rebels. Some were sent to monasteries in India. Some moved to towns controlled by the government security forces. The Nepalese government was not innocent. It reportedly used children as porters and messengers.
The Maoists' Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal, Human Rights Watch, February 2007 hrw.org/report
Maoist Rebel Ideology and Promises
The Maoist rebels based their struggle on the writings of Mao Zedong yet many of their fighters and supporters could not read. The Maoist rebels promise to end Nepal’s problems, eliminate exploitation, bring equal rights to women and cheap fertilizers to farmers and provide good food for everyone but the royal family, whose special privileges they promised to end, and Indian troops, who they wanted removed from Nepalese soil.
The Maoist struggle embraced by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CNP(M)) is based on Mao’s ideas about class warfare and agrarian revolution. One rebel official told AFP, “We are Maoists because the government and the constitution are set up for the rich. The Maoists are the only one who care about the people.”
The Maoist rebels admire Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao and even Stalin. (CNP(M)) leader Prachandra said in one interview that Mao was right when he said maybe half the world’s population has to be destroyed to create a new classless society. “It’s not that Mao was irresponsible for saying that. It was the spirit of making a new world. It was the spirit of transforming the world.”
Maoism is a variant of Marxism, derived from the literature of Mao Zedong and is widely applied as the political and military guiding ideology in the Communist Party of China (CPC). Maoism is basically Marxism — which mostly addressed urban revolution — adapted to agrarian societies, with peasant farmers being the discriminated underclass rather than factory workers. Unlike the Russian Communists, who initially ignored rural peasants and believed that revolution was spread through the cities by workers in short dramatic bursts of activity, Mao believed that engaging Chinese peasants in a long war was the key to the success of his revolution.
Mao liked to turn things around so the sacred became profane and low became the high. He won the support of peasants with his radical proposal to seize land from the landowners and redistribute it among the peasants. He believed the most effective military strategy would be to patiently infiltrate the countryside with guerrillas and fight a protracted war of attrition that would eventually frustrate and ultimately exhaust the Communist's more powerful enemy — the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek.
In a 1929 memorandum Mao wrote: "The tactics we have derived from the struggle of the past three years are indeed different from any other tactics, ancient or modern, Chinese of foreign. With our tactics, the masses can be aroused for struggle on an ever-broadening scale, and no enemy, however powerful, can cope with us."
Based on Karl Marx's view that the "the proletariat cannot liberate itself without liberating the whole of humankind", Mao's internationalism holds that Chinese people must support anti-oppression movements worldwide. Mao used to organize massive demonstrations at Tiananmen Square and issued statements to show Chinese people's support for "revolutionary" movements across the world.
Mao promoted world revolution. He urged oppressed people everywhere to “dare to fight, defy difficulties and advance wave upon wave." The Khmer Rouge and the Shining Path in Peru were Maoist movements. The Viet Cong effectively utilized Maoist ideas in their fight against the American forces in the Vietnam War. There are still Maoist rebels active in Nepal and India.
Maoist Ideology in China
In the early days, the Chinese Communist Party was an army of volunteers who believed that land should be confiscated from the rich landowners and given to the poor peasants and that industry and production should be controlled by the Communist party not foreigners and rich industrialists. Peasant organizations within the Communist Party demanded that 1) rents be reduced to 25 percent of the crop; 2) that the private armies of the warlords be abolished; and 3) the seizure of land to pay for debts be prohibited.
The Communist soldiers were told to have respect for peasants in the countryside, and there was even a song about it:
Replace the door when leaving the house
Return and roll up the straw matting
Be courteous and polite to the people and help them
Return all borrowed articles
Replace all damaged articles
Be honest in all transactions with the peasants
Pay for all the articles purchased
Be sanitary; establish latrines at a safe distance
from people's houses.
"During the 20 year struggle that preceded the revolution," historian John Reader wrote, "Mao Zedong and his colleagues placed China into a network of party cadres. Throughout the country, individuals were selected and secretly trained as links in a unified command structure which steadily transformed the rural population from a largely unprotesting peasantry into the conscious agents of change." After the revolution this structure laid the foundation for the country's bureaucracy. [Source: "Man on Earth" by John Reader, Perennial Library, Harper and Row]
Mao Zedong and Revolutionary Peasantry
Dr. Robert Eno wrote: “Mao Zedong, who had been among the founders of the CCP, was one of the few Party members willing to address a central fact about China's prospects for revolution: in a land of a half-billion people, the proletarian class probably numbered no more than a million and was concentrated in only one or two eastern cities. There was no realistic prospect that such a class could gain control over China — Leninism was simply inadequate for China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]
“Mao proposed an alternative model of a distinctively Chinese form of communist revolution. Mao's idea was that the peasant class in China had for so many centuries endured the oppression of a parasitic landlord class, and possessed such a rich store of hatred and anger towards the wealthy landowners of China, that it was a potentially revolutionary class. (Mao was himself from a wealthy peasant family.) Mao's analysis of China's class structure did not conform to Marx's model of history, which was based on European precedents. For Mao, the two contending classes whose conflict would give birth to the next stage of history were not the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, they were the peasant and landlord classes. Mao believed the Party should be serving as the vanguard of a revolutionary peasantry, and should be instilling revolutionary consciousness not in the minds of city factory workers, but in the minds of rural peasants. /+/
“Prior to 1927, the CCP had viewed Mao as an eccentric among its founders. Marx and Lenin had said that the peasants, who worked individually rather than collectively in factories, were invariably a reactionary class which could never be politically mobilized prior to a revolution. Mao's arguments that the Chinese peasant was a uniquely “blank slate” upon which the outline of revolutionary consciousness could be inscribed with relative ease seemed idealistic and naive to the other founders of the Party. However, Mao had been allowed to experiment with his theories and was dispatched by the Party to the remote hinterlands of Jiangxi to see whether he could mobilize the peasantry.
“Once in Jiangxi, Mao's method for this was to recruit village peasants into the Party and its military corps until he had sufficient manpower to coerce local landlords — generally wealthy families who owned vast tracts of land that they leased to peasants for generations on cruel terms — into giving up ownership of their lands to the peasants who actually farmed the fields. This process of seizing the lands of the idle landlords and giving it to the peasants was called land reform. It was through his program of land reform — from which peasants benefited directly — that Mao wished to recruit peasant support and build a revolutionary peasant army that would ultimately overthrow the oppressive national “landlord” governments of the Nationalists and the local warlords. /+/
“Mao's efforts in Jiangxi had not been particularly successful. It was not until later that he mastered the art of conducting land reform campaigns that would yield solid peasant support for the Party. But when the other leaders of the CCP were forced to flee to Mao's base territory in 1927, Mao's tactics and his charismatic personality were far more forcefully impressed upon the Party membership than had been the case before...In the end, Mao Zedong did prevail, Soviet Leninist advisors returned to Russia, and the communist revolution that proceeded under Mao's guidance came to possess the distinctive character of a “communist peasant revolution," which for Marx would have been a contradiction in terms. It is this aspect of Chinese communist ideology and practice that distinguishes it from Marxist-Leninism, and this is why Chinese communist ideology is called “Maoist."
Mao Zedong and Guerilla Tactics
Mao Zedong was a great spokesman for guerilla tactics. “The guerilla," he wrote, “must move among people as a fish swims in the sea." He said guerilla tactics are what “a nation inferior in arms and military equipment may employ against a more powerful transgressor." On guerilla tactics themselves, he wrote: . “They consist mainly of the following points: Divide our forces to arouse the masses, concentrate our forces to deal with the enemy...Arouse the largest number of the masses in the shortest possible time."
According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: “In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek split with the Communist Party and ordered the assassination of Communist Party members. This drove Mao Zedong into the remote rural area of Jiangxi Province, where he and his supporters established a based area and created an army to defend themselves. It was in the context of fighting with the numerically superior and better-equipped Kuomintang forces that Mao developed and applied his theories of guerrilla warfare. Mao and the Communists continued to employ guerrilla warfare in the struggle against the Japanese beginning in 1937. In 1937, Mao set his ideas out in a small book entitled “On Guerrilla Warfare." [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]
The Red Army had a great deal of success by following tactics outlined in the following slogans: "When the enemy advances, we retreat. When the enemy halts and encamps, we harass him. When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack. Whenever the enemy retreats, we pursue." The highly mobile Red Army attacked quickly with a sudden concentration of force and then quickly dispersed after the attack was over.
Large battles against forces that outnumbered them were avoided at all costs. Communists in unfriendly territory operated underground and in cells and through united front operations. When a military operation was taken it aimed to follow classic Maoist insurgency theory: overrun police outpost and remote military bases; let the state overreact with human rights abuses; capitalize on the resulting public anger over the abuses to gain support and win new recruits.
Mao was not a great military tactician but he was able to surround himself with talented military minds. He also realized that one of the greatest underutilized military assets was women. Jiang Jee was young female revolutionary who was killed in fighting the Nationalists and made into a martyr.
Maoist Rebel Demands
The Maoist rebels wanted to replace the current Hindu monarchy with a Communist republic and for the powers of the monarch to be greatly reduced if not eliminated completely. To support their argument they said all you have to do is look around the rural areas of Nepal to see what little the government has done to help the poor, which make up a large percentage of the population.
The Maoist rebels began their “people’s war” with a 40-point list of demands that includes 1) collective ownership of production, 2) an end to foreign aid and investment, 3) cutting ties with India. The positions of the Maoist rebels were published in semiclandestine newspapers and magazines.
The Maoist rebels also called for an eradication of poverty, an end of Hinduism as the state religion, the suppression of the caste system, and implementation of radical land reform. They labeled the government that existed before 2006 as an “eunuch parliamentary monarchy.”
In peace talks with the government, the Maoist rebels demanded a new constitution and the creation of a special elected assembly to draft it and decide whether Nepal should be a Hindu kingdom or a Communist state.
Maoist Insurgency Strategy
The strategy of the Maoist insurgency was to demoralize the government and police. They were very effective in demoralizing the police, One human rights activist told the Independent in April 2001, "They face little or no opposition now when they attack the police. Besides they [the police] have committed many, many atrocities themselves and have no support in the countryside.”
The Maoist rebels grew in strength by raiding isolated police and army camps, seizing abandoned weapons and extorting “contributions” from villagers. They are believed to have obtained some weapons from Maoist groups in India and even the Tamil Tigers from Sri Lanka.
The Maoists in Nepal hoped to build up support in impoverished villages and win recruits and build more support until they surrounded the cities and cut off supplies and were able to take over the country. Western diplomats told the Independent, "It’s not that the Maoists can take over tomorrow but the they have solid bases and a lot of sympathy."
Maoist leader Prachandra told an American leftist periodical in 2000 that his group has purposely avoided attacking Kathmandu and decided instead to focus on “the police force, landlords (and) local goons in rural areas...We did not have a big plan to sabotage the capital city because at the time, we are not able to create a situation where with one strike the intellectuals would go away from us.”
The Maoist rebels had links with Maoists in state of India, particularly Bihar, that borders Nepal, and could escape across India’s 1,040 kilometer border with India if pressed to do so. At the same time, the Maoist rebels took on a nationalist stance and accused King Gyanendra of being a lap dog of India.
The Maoist rebels were not shy about using disinformation campaigns. They spread rumors that King Gyanendra was behind the massacre of King Birendra and his family and he was going to target Indian residents and tourists networks.
Inability of the Nepalese Government to Tackle Nepal’s Problems
Peter Beaumont wrote in The Guardian: “ That revolution itself has been fuelled by the endemic poverty of Nepal - which neither the monarchy nor the leaders of democratic parties that emerged in 1990 following the collapse of the panchayat system of royal governance have managed to address. But in the 14 years since the revocation of the panchayat constitution - which revoked a previous attempt at democracy and replaced it with a system of representative groups that acted as advisers to the king - the poverty-stricken Nepalis, especially in the west of the country where the Maoist revolt began, have seen little improvement to their conditions. [Source: Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, August 22, 2004]
“Instead, political parties - in particular the faction-ridden leaderships of the Nepali Congress party and the United Marxist Leninists - have used their parties to build personal power rather than to tackle the country's massive social inequalities. Neither has Gyanendra's approach revealed any greater political acuity. Thrust into power after a palace massacre in June 2001, Gyanendra has shown no sign of understanding that an interventionist king is likely to exacerbate rather than solve his country's problems. His sacking of the government — despite his assurances that Nepal's future is with a multi-party democracy — has done little except make the Maoists' indoctrination of a rural peasant class against him easier.
“It has also not been helped by the human rights abuses that have been committed by the government in their war with the Maoists. Earlier this year a report by the private Kathmandu-based Informal Sector Service Center placed the death toll for the eight-year Maoist insurgency at just under 9,200, blaming government forces for 1,622 of the deaths and the Maoists for another 819, with the rest of the killings taking place in unclear circumstances. Amnesty International has also expressed its concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Nepal, accusing the government of arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial executions and torture and the Maoists of killings, abductions and child recruitment.”
The Maoist rebels in Nepal controlled about two thirds of the countryside. They were strongest in the west and central Nepal but were also found east of Kathmandu. Their attacks on isolated police and army camps forced the government to abandon these camps, leaving large areas of the country without a government security force presence and allowing the rebels to fill the vacuum and roam around where they wanted, and support themselves by taking advantage of villagers.
In most of Nepal’s 75 districts. the army controls small district headquarter towns. In many cases they were surrounded by areas controlled by the rebels. Government army units could only move around in heavily-guarded convoys or by helicopter. Food, fuel and supplies were air lifted in at relatively high expense. In some places the only person employed by government was a lonely school teacher, who was easily harassed by the rebels.
The Maoist rebels controlled large "liberated zones" in the hilly west. They were active in 50 of Nepal's 75 districts and outright controlled districts such as the Rolpa district. Many of the areas controlled by the rebels were poorest and most neglected in Nepal, with a per capita annual income of less than $100. They also control Dolakha district, which embraces the start of the popular Everest trek.
Life in the rebel-controlled area for most part wasn’t much better or even worse than it was under government control. Red banners were strung across roads leading to Maoist rebel-controlled villages. Young men and women in civilian clothes marched up and down roads and patrolled foot paths. The Maoists’ extortion network extended to the cities. In Kathmandu, the Maoist rebels approached almost every shop owner for money.
Maoist Insurgency Strength and Support
Analysts said that they believed that neither the Maoists nor the government were strong enough to decisively win the conflict. The analyst said the Maoists were not particularly strong, and were able to get as far as they did because the government was so weak, corrupt and divided and the rebels were able to take advantage of that. Many believed the Maoist rebels could not generate sufficient numbers to wage an all out civil war. But some diplomats believe the Maoist rebels were stronger than any people gave them credit for.
Micha Odenheimer, an Israeli journalist, wrote in the Washington Post that the Maoist rebel’s “success emanated form their ability to harness the invisible strength of the weak and powerless — a very, large group in one of the world’s poorest countries...I think the outside world ignores this at their peril. There is a real possibility that there will be a Maoist government here.”
The Maoist rebels were most active in the rural areas, where they had strong support among the rural poor, whose concerns were ignored by the government and felt that radical Communism offered them some hope of escaping their abject poverty. Trade unions and student groups allied with the rebels served th Maoists’ interest in the cities. The All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary) and the rebel’s labor wing, the Nepal Trade Union Federation were involved in organizing strikes and seeking recruits in urban areas. Trade unions associated with the Maoist rebels shut down businesses accused of abusing workers and supporting the government.
The Maoist rebels lacked strong financial support as was the case with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka that received large amounts of money from overseas Tamils. The Nepalese Maoists armed themselves with seized weapons and get money by robbing banks and extorting villagers, shopkeepers, government workers, foreign tourists and even industrialists. One shop owner told the Independent, "We can’t say no; they have guns." One businessman who refused to fork $70,000 demanded by the rebels said the rebels told him “you will face the consequences” as they stomped out of his office.
By the mid 2000s, shortages of food and recruits forced the Maoist rebels to demand more food and recruits from villagers in the territory they controlled or roamed around in. As that occurred the Maoist rebels turned more to extortion and violence to fund their cause and forced conscriptions to fill their ranks after losing some support among the rural poor that had previously supplied manpower.
Maoist Rebels Help Villagers and Host Festivals
The Maoist rebels used both carrot and stick methods to recruit fighters and supporters in rural areas. Many farmers had praised them for freeing them from repressive landlords by issuing threats, recapturing deeds through raids on banks that have helped them get their land back from unscrupulous moneylenders.
The rebel effort to win hearts and minds included small, village-level development assistance. One villager told the Washington Post, the Maoist rebels "drove out the evil people who lend money and force us to work for nothing. They are helping us build latrines and repair paths. They punish people for drinking and settle our disputes...The police insult us" but the rebels "treat us with respect...Now, we have space here, and we are very satisfied."
One Maoist rebel fighter told the Washington Post, “You hear about our fighting but when we come to a village, and someone is sick we harvest their rice for them and fix their roof.” Odenheimer witnessed one incident in which police tried to arrest a group of grenade-carrying Maoist rebels but were prevented from doing so by an angry mob of 800 villagers that supported the rebels.
The rebels hosted musical dramas and festival to attract supporters and new recruits. Describing a Maoist festival in Sindhuli district, Micha Odenheimer wrote in the Washington Post, “Families were streaming in from all over the region to attend the festivities...Along the way, local peasant fed us for free, scooping rice and lentils onto shiny green leaves. We passed through victory gates made of bent saplings and waded waist-deep to cross a river before emerging onto a grassy plain that quickly filled up with 10,000 people.” A “dais was decorated with paper streamers, confetti and water color portraits of the movement’s heroes.”
Describing a procession to mark the opening of a new “People’s Government,” Peter Popham wrote in the Independent: “Approaching a pine woods, I heard the beating of a drum...As I continued waking the drum was joined by a sound like a bag pipe, then more drums and cymbals, sporadically an almighty horn blasted like a giant cow....Through the woods below me came a long line of villagers waving banners, banging drums and blasting horns...The procession snaked....towards an natural amphitheater at a place called Sailunggewswor.
“The natural amphitheater steadily fills up. Ever few minutes a new group would arrive with banners declaring ‘Down with American Imperialists and Indian Hegemonists’...They found places in the grass among rippling red flags...The two main speakers...spoke for an unrelenting five hours.”
Maoist Rebel People’s Governments
As of 2002, the Maoist rebels had set up “people’s governments” in 22 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In areas they controlled, the rebels ran schools and set up courts. They collected taxes and appointed their own self-declared chiefs.
The Maoist rebels also built bridges and improved mountain trails, which was often more than the government did. The rebels led efforts to ban alcohol and hashish use so that husbands’s didn’t squander their family’s money getting drunk and high. The Maoist rebels punished agents who enticed young girls to India to work as prostitutes after they were promised good jobs.
"People's Courts" dispensed summary justice and paraded drunks through the streets, which pleased many women frustrated by drunken husbands and domestic violence. Armed militias guarded boundaries and said that "clearance" from the central command was necessary before entering. Some people were happy with the courts because decisions were made without bribes and wife beaters and rapists who would been able to escape justice in the ordinary government court system were brought to justice.
Maoists introduced their own curriculum to their schools. Students were forced to observe a moment of silence rather than singing. In some places the Maoists came to the schools at least once a month and took away students for days for indoctrination sessions. The teachers in these areas were still paid by the Nepalese government. The teachers were asked to pay the rebels 5 percent of their pay as a tax to the rebels. During “emergency fund-raising” drives the rebeks asked the teachers to fork over an entire month’s pay. Teacher were often threatened or intimidated by the rebels. Some were killed. Many quit and fled. As a result many rural schools closed.
Hardships in the Maoist Rebel Controlled Areas
Hundred of thousands of people fled the violence and fight in places the Maoist rbels were active. Thousands, probably tens of thousands, became internally displaced refugees. One poor farmer told the New York Times, “We are simple people. We have nothing for or against anyone. Both sides pressure us. The Maoists say you must be informants for the police. The police say you must be sheltering the Maoists. We are squeezed.”
As of 2005, more than 8,000 children had lost one or both parents as result of the conflict with the Maoist rebels. Some were put up at orphanages that relied on donations from local businessmen. One such orphanage described by Reuters had ten children in a room, with two often sharing a bed.
The fighting has made it difficult for the government to implement development or poverty reduction programs. The Maoist rebels were accused of extorting “contributions” from villagers and rounding up thousands of villagers for political meetings.
For every school or bridge the Maoist rebels built, it could be argued, they did things caused ten times more damage. They pursued a campaign of destruction, blowing up bridges, hydroelectric projects, phone lines, sewage systems, farms, forestry projects and other basic infrastructure. A pro-Maoist women’s group — the All-Nepal Women’s federation — demanding a ban on alcohol, torched a distillery, causing almost a half million dollars in damage.
The Maoist rebels seem particularly keen on attacking schools that offered a “bourgeois education.” A guard at an English-language school in an upscale neighborhood in Kathmandu told the Asahi Shimbun “They put a gun to my head and forced themselves in” and then blew up the school libraries and a set fire to a classroom filled with computers.” The next day they bombed the administrative offices at Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s top university. Afterwards 4,700 schools in the Kathmandu area were closed as a precautionary measure.
Maoist Rebel Brutality and Terror
The Maoist rebels engaged in intimidation, kidnapping, the killing of political opponents, forced conscription, beheading of local government officials, and reprisal attacks against suspected informants and government sympathizers, often beating and killing them.
The Maoist rebels were accused of executing dozens of school teachers who refused to submit to their extortion demands and killing political opponents with large curved knives. The headmaster of one school was tied to a tree and shot because of his refusal to give “donations” to the rebels and because he had ties with a mainstream political party. There have been reports of Maoist rebels cutting out the tongues on informants and burning them alive and people deemed class enemies having their hands and knees crushed between stone slabs.
A poor farmer accused of being an informer by the Maoist told the New York Times that a group of Maoist rebels broke into his house while he was eating dinner with his family. They dragged him away and shattered his shin bone with boulder. Another villager told the Washington Post, "If a Maoist comes to our home, we never tell the police where they went. Even if the police arrest and beat me, I will never tell. If we tell, we know the Maoists will come back and kill us.”
The fact that the Maoist rebels had to rely on fear was seen as a sign of weakness, indicating they were having trouble finding recruits, and that their methods were turning villagers off that might otherwise support them.
Blockades and Strikes Organized by the Maoist Rebels
The Maoist rebels called “bandhs” (general strikes), forcing schools and businesses to close, shutting down domestic flights, and keeping vehicles off the roads. To enforce their blockades they burned vehicles and planted mines. Pro-Maoist student groups organized strikes that shut down schools, demanding that private education be abolished and all private schools be nationalized.
According to a warning issued by the U.S. State Department: : “A“bandh” (forced closure of businesses, schools and halting of vehicular traffic) is a frequently used and longstanding form of political expression in Nepal. Many bandhs are enforced through intimidation and violence. During a recent bandh, an American citizen was injured when demonstrators threw a rock and broke the window of the vehicle in which he was traveling to the airport. Bandhs tend to be unpredictable and may take place without any prior notice. Bandhs typically draw thousands of demonstrators into the streets who sometimes incite or initiate violence. Bandhs tend to focus on the central areas of Kathmandu, but they also can be nationwide, and bandh-related violent disturbances occur throughout Nepal. [Source: U.S. State Department, Consular Information Sheet, January 8, 2008]
“Bandhs in the Terai region of Nepal also occur and have been known to last for several weeks, causing acute shortages of daily food supplies and bringing vehicular traffic to a complete halt. Individuals have been reported kidnapped or killed for not complying with the bandhs in the region. During bandhs, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid all unnecessary travel. If travel by vehicle is necessary, U.S. citizens should pay attention to the volume of traffic on the roads, waiting until a pattern of traffic is well established before undertaking travel, and maintaining a low profile throughout bandh periods. Buses, taxis, and other forms of public transportation may not operate during a bandh. Observance of bandhs, particularly in the transportation sector, may be higher outside the Valley, where a number of private buses and trucks have been stopped, torched, and their drivers beaten. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to avoid road travel outside the Kathmandu Valley, especially during scheduled bandhs.”
Kathmandu Under a Rebel Blockade
Peter Beaumont wrote in The Guardian: “In a poor country that lacks railways — reliant on its roads for food supplies — it is the small things that are indicative of how Nepal is being hurt by the Maoist rebels' five-day blockade of Kathmandu. In a few days the price of tomatoes has doubled, in common with other perishables. Some stores have been left with only a few days of fresh produce and cooking oil after less than a week of the blockade. The government has said that it has stocks of other staples to last a month. [Source: Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, August 22, 2004]
“Maoist bombs in the capital may have hurt no one, but the Maoists are putting the squeeze on where it hurts most. And it is a strange thing, this blockade. Without roadblocks, it is being enforced by fear and threat alone, emptying the main routes into the capital. It has trapped travellers by their thousands, and confronted King Gyanendra with the brutal arithmetic of the Nepalese crisis — how easily his country can be throttled.
“If the king's inner circle needs reminding, it is reiteration of Mao Zedong's prescription - that 'political power grows out of the barrel of a gun'. The gun that has been pointed at Kathmandu has underlined the country's growing existential crisis amid the fragmentation and increasing lack of relevance of its political institutions confronted with revolution.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022