POLITICAL RISE OF THE MAOISTS
In April 2006, the major political parties, in cooperation with the Maoists, organized massive countrywide demonstrations for the restoration of democracy, forcing King Gyanendra to relinquish power. The king reinstated the 1999 Parliament that he had absolved. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress Party was selected by the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) of political parties to lead the government. The Maoists declared a unilateral cease-fire and the new Koirala government announced its own unilateral ceasefire and plans for peace talks with the Maoist insurgents.
In November 2006, a peace accord was agreed to by the Maoist rebels and the parliamentary government. Both sides also agreed to an arms management process and elections for a Constituent Assembly. The rebels were allowed to join the government but were required to assemble in camps and place their weapons under UN supervision. The following month an interim constitution under which the monarch was no longer the head of state was agreed to. The question of the ultimate abolition of the monarchy was left to a constituent assembly that would be elected in 2007. Human-rights groups accused the rebels, however, of continuing to engage in extortion and conscription. [Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]
In January 2007, the Maoist rebels joined the interim parliament and the interim constitution came into effect. Maoists held 83 seats in the 329-member interim parliament. In April 2007, the ruling eight-party government formed an interim Council of Ministers through political consensus, including five Maoist ministers. Although some 31,000 rebels were in camps by late February, far fewer numbers of weapons had been turned in. Also in January, long-simmering resentment of the native peoples of the Terai, known as Madhesis, led to protests and violence in southern Nepal as the Madhesis pressed their demands for autonomy for the Terai. Although the government subsequently reached an agreement with the Madhesis, violence in the region continued throughout the year.
In December 2007, Parliament voted to declare Nepal a federal democratic republic, meaning among other things that the king was required to pay taxes like everyone else, though at Hindu funerals mourners must still offer prayers to his ancestors. In December 2007, parliament approves the abolition of monarchy as part of peace deal with Maoists, who agree to rejoin government after they quit the interim government in September 2007, demanding the abolition of the monarchy.
In May 2008, Nepal became a republic and the monarchy was officially abolished. In April 2008, former Maoist rebels won the largest bloc of seats in elections to the new Constituent Assembly (CA), but failed to achieve an outright majority.
Peace Talks and Ceasefire Between with the Maoist Rebels
The Maoist rebels had repeatedly said they prefered a negotiated settlement. The government was suspicious of their calls for cease-fires which were often seen as opportunities for the rebels to regroup. A cease fire and peace talks were announced in July 2001 shortly after Prime Minister Sher Bahadar Deuba was elected. At that stage the government insisted the rebels must lay down their arms before the negotiations would even begin. The Maoist rebels walked out of peace talks in November 2001 and launched a major offensive.
In January 2003, the rebels negotiated a surprise cease-fire with the government. The move came after the government dropped its declaration of the Maoist as a terrorist group and removed the bounties that had been placed on the heads of the rebel leaders. At that time the Maoist rebels demanded a new constitution and the creation of special elected assembly to draft it and decide whether Nepal should be a Hindu kingdom or a Communist state. The government said that it would not negotiate on issues involving its multiparty democracy, the constitution or the monarchy. The rebels rejected the government proposal to set up an interim administration with Maoist rebel representatives, saying it was an “old drama which will only exacerbate the conflict.”
The cease-fire was broken off in August 2003 by the rebels. It was followed by a surge in violence in which it seemed each side tried to inflict as much harm as possible to the other side to improve their bargaining position. A January 13, 2005 deadline was set by the government for the rebels to enter talks. If the rebels refused the government would go ahead with plans for elections that had been delayed because of fighting with the rebels. This in itself was an unusual threat. The rebels spurned the ultimatum. Maoist rebel leader Prachandra said, “Any move to hold ejections instead of finding a peaceful solution of the civil war will be very expensive.” In January 2005, hundred of students took to the streets in Kathmandu demanding that the government and Maoist rebels negotiate a peace deal.
After King Gyanendra’s power grab in 2005, the government said it would step up its offensive against the Maoist rebels with the aim of pressuring them then to the negotiating table to talk peace. In 2005, the Maoist rebels began inviting politicians to work in the areas they controlled and promised their safety. Some of the politicians who were invited had previously been the target of assassinations.
Maoists Sign Peace Deal in Nepal
In November 2006, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the guerrilla leader known as Prachanda signed a peace deal in which the rebels promised to lock up their weapons and let voters decide the country’s future. Tilak P. Pokharel and Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: “The accord promises to bring the rebels, who control vast swaths of the destitute countryside, into the political mainstream. “It is the beginning of a new beginning,” the Maoist leader, known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda, said after signing the agreement in Kathmandu, the capital. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said: “This has given a message to the international community and terrorists all over the world that no conflict can be resolved by guns. It can be done by dialogue.” [Source: Tilak P. Pokharel and Somini Sengupta, New York Times, November 22, 2006]
The peace agreement paves the way for the fulfillment of one of the Maoists’ chief demands: elections to decide whether Nepal will remain a monarchy. The interim government, which the rebels have agreed to join, will organize elections next year for an assembly that will determine whether Nepal will remain a kingdom and if so, what kind. The Maoists have repeatedly promised to run in the elections and abide by the results. During a visit to New Delhi, Prachanda reiterated that pledge, saying that even if Nepal voted to keep the monarchy, his cadres would continue to press for its abolition — but would do so peacefully.
“The agreement signed in Kathmandu came a year after the rebels teamed up with Nepal’s main political parties to topple King Gyanendra, who dismissed the country’s elected politicians and took control of the state early last year. In April, street protests blessed by the Maoists prompted Gyanendra to turn over control to the elected Parliament, which had been suspended four years earlier. This week a government-appointed panel found the king responsible for rights abuses against the pro-democracy protesters and called for him to be punished.
“After the king yielded to Parliament, it was swift to take vital powers away from him, including control of the army, and engaged in peace talks with the rebels, who declared a unilateral cease-fire. Under the peace accord, the Maoists will sequester their armed fighters in cantonment sites, and the Nepalese Army will return to its barracks.
“The rebels, still apparently distrustful of politicians and the palace, have not laid down their arms entirely. They have agreed to lock up their weapons but are holding on to the keys. The United Nations is to monitor the safekeeping of weapons through a system of closed-circuit cameras. Human rights groups have accused the rebels of continuing to recruit members in the countryside, including children, but the Maoists have denied the charge.
“The Maoists say they want their troops to be integrated into a new national army. How many and in what fashion remain unclear. “We are not dogmatic Communists, and we are prepared to change and debate our beliefs with anybody,” Prachanda was quoted by Reuters as saying. The peace accord in Nepal includes a provision to establish a truth and reconciliation commission “to find facts about those involved in committing serious human rights violations and those involved in crime against humanity during the armed conflict.”
“Within minutes of its signing, crowds of well-wishers lined the streets and lighted candles as they waited for Prime Minister Koirala’s motorcade to pass. “Both sides give up state of war; it’s celebration time,” Kanak Dixit, the editor of Himal magazine, said by telephone amid hoots and hollers on the street. “The only challenge that now remains is that the Maoists, in particular their militia, be held to account by the peace deal.” Basanta Sharma, 35, a student, waited for three hours outside the Birendra International Convention Center for news of the signing. “What else can be there which makes us so happy?” he said. “It seems the common man can now live in peace, work and earn their living.”
Former Maoists Go to Camps and Lock Up Their Weapons
According to the terms of the November 2006 peace accord, the former Maoist rebels were supposed to go to designated camps in part so they could be accounted for, with the aim of rehabilitating them for ordinary life or preparing them to join the Nepalese military. The 27 Maoist camps set up in 2006 were monitored by the United Nations until January 2011 when a government committee took over. About 31,000 rebels were in camps by late February 2007, but the number of weapons that had been turned in was considerably less than the number of former rebels. About some 19,000 Maoist former combatants were living in UN-supervised camps throughout the country as of 2009.
Reporting from Dashrathpur a few weeks after the peace accord was signed, Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: “An emblem of Nepal’s next test of peace sits here, a short hike from the banks of the Bheri River, in this forested patch of midwestern hill... This is where the rebels are building one of the 22 camps where they have promised, under United Nations supervision, to sequester their troops, lock up their guns and dump their homemade bombs. Their cantonment, on a large campus of open fields and small squat buildings, was once a government-run agricultural research center [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, December 6, 2012].
“Now a young woman in an Eminem T-shirt digs a trench for a sentry post. A team clears brush to set up a running track. A dozen cadres loll under the warm winter sun. A small army of tailors stitch new uniforms — almost exact replicas, they say proudly, of what Nepalese soldiers wear. The legacy of conflict is still raw in these parts. Getting to the camp means crossing the river in a dugout canoe, jostling for space with goats or a load of blankets for the rebels. There used to be a footbridge, but the Maoists destroyed it two years ago, hacking it apart piece by piece with a saw.
“How Nepal manages to wean away its insurgents from destroying bridges to earning a living is a daunting challenge. Few countries are as poor as this one. Besides, rebel leaders want jobs for their fighters in a new national army, a prospect rife with political and logistical difficulties. For now the Maoists are keeping their options open and the keys to their guns in hand.
“Under a novel agreement with the government and the United Nations, they are to deposit their weapons in padlocked containers at each of the cantonments like this one. They will hold the keys, but their gun closets will be closely watched. Floodlights will shine each night. Surveillance cameras and burglar alarms will be installed.
“How many fighters the rebels actually have is a matter of contention. They claim 35,000; the government says the number is closer to 12,000. The army has 90,000 troops, and the Maoists want it shrunk by half. Under the arms deal, only those who were part of the fighting forces before May are allowed to stay in these camps and become eligible for any disarmament package. But the Maoists are accused of drumming up new recruits to inflate their numbers and gain leverage in the negotiations. Rebel leaders deny the accusation. The commander in charge of the Dashrathpur camp, a friendly man in a gray tracksuit who gave his name as Deepak and who could be mistaken for a suburban soccer dad, called such reports propaganda.
Life and New Recruits in the Post-War Maoist Camps
Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: “Dashrathpur one recent afternoon was chock-full of young rebel cadres, who were playing board games in the streets, marching in long columns with ancient rifles slung on their shoulders or hauling their new blankets up from the river’s edge. During roll call it seemed plain that a great many were novices at revolution. They could hardly march in time, which explains why the drill sergeant repeatedly tried to banish a journalist from watching. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, December 6, 2012].
“Up the road in the village, among the old men sitting and soaking in the last of the day’s sun, the question of new recruits inspired churlish laughter. Of course these are new recruits, they said, and you can easily tell them from the old-timers. The new ones know nothing, one old man said. The new ones cannot tell the difference between where to defecate and where to bathe, another said. That inspired howls of laughter. Come, said a third. There are several dozen, new and old, staying in his house, cooking lentils and rice for themselves and sleeping wherever they can inside his spare rooms or out on the porch, shivering without blankets. The cantonment hardly has any tents yet.
“The troops who have gathered here for now rely on the hospitality of the local people. The old man, Ananda Gyawali, introduced one 19-year-old, Krishna Acharya, as a distant relative. The young man is illiterate and came a couple of weeks ago from a village far away to throw his lot in with the Maoists. He claimed to have joined the rebels a year ago.
“Two senior cadres, one after the other, came over to reprimand him for talking to a journalist. Then he was asked what he wanted to do after peace came. He looked bewildered. “I’ll ask the higher-ups and then I’ll give you an answer,” he said. Mr. Gyawali shook his head and laughed. The boy came only because he thought the Maoists would give him a job, he said, adding, “Poverty is to blame for this.”
“In a village called Ramghat, just across the river, schoolchildren recalled that rebel soldiers had gone around the market a couple of weeks before in an effort to enlist new recruits. Sher Bahadur Shahi, 16, said he had shrugged them off. The Maoists offered no guarantee of a job, he reasoned, so it would be better to stay in school, take the civil service exams after graduation and, at worst, stay and work on the family farm.
“Down the dirt road from his house, though, two young men, Durga Bika, 19, and Ram Bahadur Bika, 20, heeded the rebel call. Without a word to their families, they crossed the river and signed up. Six days later their parents came and yanked them out. What if war breaks out again, they demanded of their sons. Neither young man has ever been to school. Their only reason for joining the Maoists now, they said, was with the hope of a job. “Rozgar” is the word in Nepali, and it is precious. The only other rozgar they know is to travel to India and break stones at a quarry.”
Violence After the 2006 Peace Accord
In September 2007, three bombs hit Kathmandu in the first attack in the capital since the end of the Maoist insurgency. In January 2008, a series of bomb blasts killed and injured dozens in the southern Terai plains, where activists have been demanding regional autonomy. [Source: BBC]
According to U.S. State Department: Despite the signing of the November 21, 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Maoists and other political movements continue extortion, abduction and killing. Since April 2006, numerous groups using violent methods to advance various political goals have formed in Nepal. Business people (both Nepalese and foreign) and tourists who resist Maoist extortion demands have been threatened, sometimes assaulted, and risk being detained. Maoist demonstrators have stopped and in some cases attacked vehicles, including those of the U.S. Embassy. Since early 2007, the Maoist Young Communist League (YCL) has harassed and attacked established tourist facilities and infrastructure, and has threatened Kathmandu-based personnel of a U.S. non-governmental organization. [Source: U.S. State Department, Consular Information Sheet, January 8, 2008]
“In May 2007, YCL cadre attacked with stones a UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) vehicle carrying the UNHCR Resident Representative and the U.S. Ambassador in Jhapa District in the Terai. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends against non-essential travel to the Terai, the southern region bordering India. Maoist splinter groups in the Terai as well as other violent Terai-based groups continue to kidnap and murder Nepalese citizens. Additionally, ongoing political agitation and civil unrest in the Terai, including violent clashes between various political groups and Maoist splinter groups, as well as inter-communal violence and criminality, have increased. The random, indiscriminate, and unpredictable nature of these attacks creates the risk of U.S. citizens in Nepal being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Child Soldiers Freed from Camps
Reporting from Dudhauli, Gopal Sharma of Reuters wrote: “Teary-eyed but hopeful of a bright future, more than 200 former Maoist child soldiers began leaving their jungle camp as part of a peace deal that ended a bloody insurrection four years ago. The group is the first of nearly 4,000 former Maoist soldiers, most of whom were under 18 when the peace deal was signed in 2006, to leave remote jungle camps across Nepal and try to begin a new life. The release is a move forward in the fragile peace process that has been stalled since last May after the Maoists walked out of the government in conflict with the president over their attempt to fire the army chief. [Source: Gopal Sharma, Reuters, January 7, 2010]
Wearing marigold garlands, the former child fighters left the camp, waving at former Maoist army commander Pasang, who goes by one name, at the riverside camp about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Kathmandu. The former child fighters, many in their 20s now, left in five buses for their villages, some seated on roof tops with bags in their laps and crying. “I am very sad to leave other colleagues with whom we stayed for so long,” said 22-year-old Laxmi Gautam, who joined the Maoist organization five years ago.
“Others said they were proud that the monarchy has been abolished and Nepal was now a republic. “Without struggle, that would not have been possible. I am proud of it,” said Suhana Rana, also 22, as she left the camp. The Maoists were demanding financial aid for the children but the government has so far refused. Authorities said the United Nations would support schooling for children for up to grade 12, or vocational training, micro-enterprises and training as junior health workers. “Today marks the first step in the return to civilian life for thousands of Nepalis who have been living in cantonment since 2006,” said Robert Piper, a UN resident representative in Nepal.
Nepal's Former Maoist Rebels Hand over Last of Their Weapons in 2011
Finally, after the Maoist Baburam Bhattarai was sworn in as prime minister, six years after the peace accord was signed, Nepal's former Maoist rebels handed over the last of their weapons to a multi-party committee overseeing the peace process. [Source: Surendra Phuyal, BBC, September 1, 2011]
Surendra Phuyal of the BBC: “The handing over of the weapons marks a major step towards completing Nepal's five-year-old peace process. The Maoist party has been under tremendous pressure to relinquish their arms since the end of the war in 2006. Days after returning to power, the party kick-started the arms handover process Reports say Maoist commanders based in various cantonments around the country — where the weapons are locked up beyond use — officially handed over them over to representatives of the special committee responsible for the management, integration and rehabilitation of former combatants. "We handed over the key of the weapons' container to a representative of the special committee," Ram Babu Thapa, a commander in the eastern cantonment of Chulachuli told the BBC.
Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma said that the move effectively brings the ex-combatants and all their weapons under the aegis of the committee. "Not just the keys, we decided to hand over the house itself to the special committee. It's according to the decisions taken by our party," he said.
Four years ago more than 3,400 Maoist pistols, guns and other weapons were stored in special containers in seven temporary cantonments around the country. If all goes well, 19,000 Maoist ex-combatants will either join the Nepalese security forces or be rehabilitated into society — this category will include those who choose to retire. Opposition parties have cautiously welcomed the Maoist move. In the past they have accused them of failing to implement agreements — including a pledge to return land and property "illegally" occupied by Maoist party workers.
Many Former Maoist Fighters Still in Camps in 2011
Many former Maoist fighters were still in camps in 2011 and disagreements over what to do with them led to the resignation of the Maoist government in May of that year. Aditya Adhikari wrote in the Kathmandu Post: “After the end of the war, Saraswati Magar (name changed), a Maoist activist from Rolpa, built a single-story, two-room brick house on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Ghorahi, Dang. The responsibilities given to her by the party require her to spend much of her time in Rolpa, but she has a nine-year old daughter in Ghorahi, and it is to be with her that Saraswati built the house. Having joined the movement when she was sixteen, even before the formal announcement of the People’s War, her primary life-experience has been of great strain and hardship. [Source: Aditya Adhikari, Kathmandu Post, May 10, 2011]
“On the run from the state authorities for many years, she abandoned her daughter to the care of relatives when she was only 21 months of age and was reunited with her only after the peace process began. Most of her friends and relatives from Rolpa joined the party. Her husband died during the conflict, as did two of her brothers. Life is easier now for Saraswati. She looks back at amazement at the level of physical hardship and deprivation she endured so willingly during the war. Yet, she is restless. Political work does not offer her the satisfaction that it did before; yet it still obsesses her. “When I come to Ghorahi,” she says, “after a few days I feel like going back to Rolpa, to work on the organisation. But when I go to Rolpa, there is not so much work to do and then I feel like returning to my daughter in Ghorahi.”
“And then there is a deep disillusionment with the transition of the Maoist party over the past five years. Saraswati says she cried for hours at night when she heard the news that the party had handed over the keys to the weapon containers in the cantonments and that her nine-year old daughter cried with her. “Aama,” she apparently asked, “does this mean that the Maoist party is now finished?”
Former Fighters Cling to Radical Maoist Views
Aditya Adhikari wrote in the Kathmandu Post: ““Frustration and disillusionment seem to be common to many of the Magars of Rolpa, the people who joined the Maoist movement in such large numbers through the 1990s and formed the rebel group’s core base. One morning last week, two of Saraswati’s close friends from neighbouring villages in Rolpa came to visit her at her house from the Dhaban cantonment. One of them is a vice brigade commander. Initially reluctant to talk, he gradually opens up to speak of his experiences during the conflict. And then he starts speaking of his present life and the state of his party. He repeats a single sentence over and over again: “Living in the cantonments makes a person crazy [pagal]. [Source: Aditya Adhikari, Kathmandu Post, May 10, 2011]
“His conversation alternates between accounts of his views on history and politics and emotionally charged statements that express his frustration. He says that history had proven that no country can develop without completing a revolution. He speaks of a priest who he met when he was younger who, he was surprised to learn, was adept at Marxist theory. In conversation the priest revealed that he had been an activist in the Marxist-Leninist party but had abandoned politics after becoming disillusioned by the trajectory of the UML. “The Maoists should not become like the UML,” says the deputy brigade commander. But other statements he makes seem to indicate that he already feels that his party is moving in the same direction. “There is no question that our party is becoming reformist and rightist,” he states. “When I see it degenerate, I feel only disgust.”
“The other Maoist combatant present at Saraswati’s house that day holds the much more senior position of vice division commander. And although he makes clear that he largely agrees with what the vice brigade commander has said, he himself speaks in a cooler and more rational manner. When asked what the combatants at his cantonment desire, he says that the majority of them are fed up of being in the cantonments and now seek only the conditions that will enable them to start a new life. But this does not mean that he supports the party establishment’s efforts to seek a resolution to the integration problem. In his analysis, the manner in which the party leadership has been handling the peace and constitution drafting process is leading the party far away from their principles. He says that the new constitution will likely lead to an artificial compromise between various political forces just like the 1990 constitution and will not be able to resolve Nepal’s fundamental problems. Because of this, he says, it is likely that another mass revolt will arise in the future.
“But he has no illusions that the Maoists will be able to lead such a revolt: if may occur, he says, in the time of our children or grandchildren. He thus appears to have abandoned the notion that his party will be able to bring much additional change to the nation, wishing, it seems, only for a political resolution on integration and rehabilitatison in which the Maoist combatants will be treated with respect. He stresses that the hardened Maoist combatants are very different from those disqualified and that, being trained in creating and using various kinds of weaponry, they have the potential to create substantial chaos if they are treated in a way that is not acceptable to them.
“These are the views of the Kiran faction of the Maoist party, of course, and not all Maoist activists share them. The supporters of the Prachanda faction seem to outnumber all others. But it appears that many committed and capable cadres are drawn towards the Kiran faction. “While the Prachanda faction is stronger in numbers,” said a journalist in Libang, “the Kiran faction is stronger in the quality of its cadres.” Ideologically trained for decades to view all other political forces as the enemy and in the belief that only the establishment of a New Democratic State can solve Nepal’s problems, frustrated with their own limited role during the post-conflict transition and the excessive centralisation of political activity in Kathmandu, discontent is thus rife among the Maoist rank and file.”
Nepal Maoists Leave Camps, First Step to Reintegration
In 2012, large numbers of former Maoist rebels began leaving their camps as part of their transition to normal life. Reporting from Shaktikhor, Gopal Sharma of Reuters wrote: “Former rebels shed their camouflage uniforms and began leaving their camps to join their families in a first step to their reintegration five years after the end of a civil war. The rehabilitation of more than 19,000 former rebels is seen as crucial for the stability. [Source: Gopal Sharma, Reuters, February 4, 2012]
“Authorities began sending home combatants wanting to end their military career and rejoin their families. More than 7,300 fighters are expected to leave the camps within two weeks. “I am sorry because I leave behind friends with whom I fought and lived together. But I am happy because the departure from the camp will help move forward the peace process,” said Udaya Bahadur Chalaune, 34, a rebel commander in the jungle camp of Shaktikhor, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Kathmandu.“This will also help the preparation of the new republican constitution.”
“This will boost the stalled peace process, but several potential complications lie ahead,” said analyst Bishnu Raj Upreti, who teaches conflict management at Kathmandu University. The Maoists and other political parties agreed in November to integrate some fighters into the army and provide education, training and financial aid to the rest. Upreti said remaining challenges included decisions on the former rebels’ ranks and training and their new relationship with the army soldiers they fought against in the war.
“Those Maoists wishing to join the army will remain in the camps for now. The military establishment had resisted integrating their former foes, saying they had been indoctrinated. Authorities say the role of the Maoists will be restricted to non-combat operations such as the construction of development projects, emergency rescue operations and patrolling forests. Terms of their joining the army are yet to be agreed upon.”
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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