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Who is endangering civil peace in Nepal?
The Analytical Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India, is a sister edition of the United States-based Marxist journal Monthly Review. The May 2009 issue featured this editorial.
* * *
By Analytical Monthly Review (India)
May 2009 -- Few familiar with recent events in Nepal would dispute that there is a serious threat to the civil peace, whose origin dates from the unilateral ceasefire obeyed by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) from the start of Dasain 2005. [Dasain is the 10-day rice-harvest festival, held around September-October and observed in Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling in India, and in Bhutan.]
In fact, civil peace in Nepal has been endangered continuously since it was first achieved. But the discipline of the PLA has preserved the peace, despite -- from the outset -- repeated provocations. In December of 2005 the US-advised and -trained Rangers Battalion of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) landed, heavily armed, in helicopters in towns in central Rolpa, the heart of the then liberated district. But PLA discipline prevailed, they withdrew, and the Rangers were permitted to leave unmolested, without even a tear or rip in their new uniforms. In the months leading up to the success of the great urban rebellion of April 2006, the "Second Janandolan", civilian Maoist meetings in the countryside were attacked from helicopter gunships, and those who today command the Nepal Army were then ordering their troops to "shoot to kill" to enforce the royal curfews in the cities. But the PLA kept its discipline. The initiative fell to the brave unarmed urban demonstrators, and it was the soldiers of the RNA who refused orders to shoot down the protesting crowds in the cities -- acts of defiance that brought the royal regime to its close.
The April 2006 temporary regime of politicians from the expired royal parliament -- leaders of the Nepal Congress party and the Communist Party (United Marxist-Leninist) (UML) -- set out to reach a peace agreement. The November 2006 agreement between the revolutionaries and the parliamentary politicians put a formal end to the civil war, and provided for a new transitional government that would hold elections for a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution. This now official civil peace commenced with the agreement that the former Royal Nepal Army (now "Nepal Army") would be placed under the command of a new coalition government that would include the revolutionary CPN (Maoist), and that would "democratise the institution to make it an inclusive and national army." In the meantime, both the Nepal Army and the Peoples Liberation Army would alike be confined to barracks under UN watch, and fed and supported by the national government.
Not until April 2007 were the leaders of the Nepal Congress party, who dominated the interim regime, willing to create the coalition government with the CPN (Maoist) called for by the November 2006 agreement. The Nepal Congress kept control of the chief executive position of prime minister and the defence ministry. But no steps were taken to "democratise" the Nepal Army, now under the command of the arrogant royalist General Katawal, adopted brother of the King Gyanandra. Instead a policy of provocation began, marked by a deliberate refusal to abide by the agreement to provide the funds necessary to feed and support the PLA. But the PLA kept its discipline and the peace, constructing its cantonments under conditions that would have provoked a mutiny had they been imposed upon the Nepal Army.
At last, elections for the Constituent Assembly were held in April 2008. The Nepal Congress party and the UML were soundly defeated. The CPN (Maoist) won more seats than both Nepal Congress party and UML combined, and became the leading party of the Constituent Assembly with some 40 per cent of the seats. In June 2008 the Republic of Nepal was declared by the Constituent Assembly, and the king deposed.
An interim constitution provided for a ceremonial president, and in July 2008 a minor Nepal Congress party politician was selected for the post -- qualified solely by the fact that he was a Yadav [the most numerous caste of the Tarai, historically tenants and in confrontation with their Brahmin landlords] and had not been defeated in his constituency, unlike all the more senior Nepal Congress party politicians. As for the executive positions, the CPN (Maoist) -- having won the elections -- claimed the leading positions in the coalition government previously held by the defeated Nepal Congress party. In August 2008 Comrade Prachanda became prime minister and Comrade Badal, defence minister. The CPN (Maoist) sought to preserve the all-party coalition, but the defeated Nepal Congress party leadership demanded the defence ministry and went into opposition when it was denied. From that point on they allied with the Nepal Army command, in opposition.
The commander of the Nepal Army, General Katawal, refused to obey the orders of the defenvce minister and accept civilian supremacy, and the defeated politicians of the Nepal Congress party obstructed the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. Despite these provocations, as well as a fierce campaign by the bourgeois (and foreign-connected) media that blew up every report of a village fight involving a revolutionary into a national cause célèbre, the PLA and the cadres of the revolutionary party -- now expanded through the association of smaller communist parties into the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN-M) -- have kept the peace, and kept their discipline.
In Nepal for eight months there have been no political prisoners, no political exiles, and -- by the standards of every other country in South Asia -- complete civil peace. The UCPN (M) have established their credentials with the majority of the people of Nepal, and with all fair-minded observers elsewhere, as the party of peace. In April 2009 by-elections were held simultaneously in several constituencies of the Constituent Assembly. Only the UCPN-M, already the largest party, improved its position.
The insolent disobedience of General Katawal reached new heights. Recruitment for the Nepal Army was commenced, in open violation of the peace agreement as noted by the UN. Ordered to stop, he refused. Eight senior generals reached retirement age; the elected government ordered them retired and he defied the order. The fifth Nepal National Games were held at the start of April, the first in 11 years, and the command withdrew the Nepal Army teams to protest the participation of the PLA, in defiance of an order from the government.
In May, the elected government cashiered General Katawal for his insubordination. He refused to obey the order. The Nepal Congress party leaders defeated in the April 2008 elections made the ceremonial president "countermand" the order of the executive. Prime Minister Prachanda then resigned, placing civilian supremacy over the Nepal Army as the unavoidable question of the hour.
|See, also, "'India Blundered, Lost the Respect It Once Earned'," Interview with Baburam Bhattarai (Outlook India, 18 May 2009).|
If any question remained as to the role of the United States, it was removed days after Prachanda's resignation when a report in the official media revealed that a videotape that had suddenly appeared, displaying an old, boldly revolutionary talk by Prachanda to PLA commanders, had been distributed by the Nepal Army's Directorate of Psychological Operations. Commanded by army spokesperson Ramindra Chhetri, the directorate was set up under the supervision of US "advisers" and has remained a primary US intelligence asset in Nepal.
In short, the defiance by General Katawal, the calculated sudden assertion of royal authority by the ceremonial president, the "scandalous" video portraying Prachanda in his role as a revolutionary leader(!), the betrayal by several UML politicians -- most particularly the shady Ishwor Pokharel -- who had promised Prachanda support in asserting civilian supremacy and then stabbed him in the back, suggest a coup attempt.
But a key factor was missing; there was not even a trace of public support. When General Katawal defied his dismissal, the Nepal Congress party politicians called out the "outraged" public so that the ploy with the ceremonial president would appear the result of pressure from the masses; but no one came out.
Peace is the achievement of the revolutionaries, and it is less endangered today than before the coup fizzled out. The UCPN (M) has the masses behind it, and it needs solely to preserve its discipline, as it has since it began the peace process at Chumwang in Rukum in the weeks before Dasain 2005.
One can be confident that in not too many weeks General Katawal will go, and the ceremonial president will be reduced to his proper place or disappear into the obscurity from which he was plucked. These conditions are understood by every Nepali to be the minimum required for the UCPN (M) to support a new government.
Will the feudal remnants leave the scene without a final desperate attempt at restarting the civil war? One can hope so; they are angry, fearful and stubborn, but they are not insane.