Editor’s Comment: Originally conducted by "Probe" magazine and apparently published partially in the Bangladeshi hard-copy edition – for reasons of security, as best we can tell – the interview below speaks eloquently to the issues presently exercising the readers of NepaliPerspectives. We were able to obtain the complete text and publish it here. With Dr. Marks’ permission, we have sharpened the questions to achieve greater focus of the issues.
1. The majority of your academic work has been focused on insurgency situations – more precisely of the extremist left-wing variety. You have also demonstrated interest in Nepal’s own Maoist insurgency. Given this contextual background, how accurate do you feel your predictions on the mode and progression of the Nepali Maoist insurgency has been?
What has happened in the Nepali case has not only been predictable but stereotypical. My doctoral dissertation was on the Thai Maoist insurgency and was published in 1994 as Making Revolution: The Insurgency of the Communist Party of Thailand in Structural Perspective (Bangkok: White Lotus). It is striking how much similarity there is structurally between the Thai and Nepali cases, with the profound exception that the monarchy proved a bastion of strength in Thailand, a source of weakness in Nepal. I followed that 1994 work in 1996 by Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass), which compared the Thai case to the Maoist movements in the Philippines, Sri Lanka (the JVP twice tried to carry out armed struggle), and Peru. Again, we see the same structural patterns play themselves out, but always with the Maoists on the losing side. A complete rewrite of the Maoist Insurgency book is to be published by White Lotus as Maoist People’s War in Post-Vietnam Asia. It was all set to go last year, with Nepal as the final chapter, when events began to shift in ways predicted in the text. Yet I wanted to see how events worked out, so I asked the publisher to wait a bit. We are now going forward. What is remarkable, of course, is the manner in which the Maoist form of people’s war has played itself out in Nepal as though from a script, complete with clueless united front allies lending critical strength to what otherwise would not be a potent movement. In all other cases, the dupes came to their senses before their throats were slit.
2. In your opinion, are the Nepali Maoists genuinely in search of a negotiated settlement or is the current cease-fire an extension of their “protracted peoples war,” by other means? In other words, do you feel the Maoists have yielded to some degree (because their demands for a constituent assembly have been met), or do you feel the Maoists are in acknowledgement that theirs is a failed ideology, that can no longer be sustained by relying on an abundance of military action(and the threat of force)?
The phraseology of the question misses the point: the Maoists are not using even the same vocabulary, much less the same game plan. They’re not looking for a “safe landing.” To the contrary, they are on the offensive. They simply are proceeding along an avenue of approach complementary to armed actions. Violence and non-violence are but two facets of a unified struggle, very much as, in boxing, feints and movement of the body are as necessary as punches thrown.
People’s war is a strategy for armed politics. The mistake is to think it is merely “war,” by which we normally mean action between armed forces. To the contrary, people’s war is like any parliamentary campaign – except you get to use violence to make sure the vote comes out in your favor. Significantly, sub-state rebels such as the Maoists claim they are merely doing what the state itself has been doing all along. In Nepal, they claim there never has been “non-violent politics.” Rather, they assert, echoing Lenin, that democratic politics practiced by the “old-order” – ancien regime – is but a façade for oppression, oppression that is carried out using the violence of the state through its armed component, the security forces, as well as the “structural violence” of poverty and injustice.
Thus the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a struggle for liberation, of self-defense even. Such a struggle will proceed along different but orchestrated lines of operation. There will be many campaigns carried out in an infinite variety of ways. Use of violence is but one line of operation. Within that line of operation, there are many forms of violence, from assassinations – such as that of APF head Mohan Shrestha in 2003 – to main force attacks – the large actions that seek to overrun district capitals. These forms of violence, in turn, can be “bundled” into campaigns. We can speak, for instance, of the campaign of terror that the Maoists used to eliminate all who opposed them in local areas, whether individuals or police. Who can forget those famous photos of the mutilated individuals, especially teachers, their limbs hacked, their bodies hanging from poles?
Yet such terror occurred for a reason: to clear the space for political action, to eliminate competitors. This is why UML activists were such particular targets. They advanced a competing program which had won a majority of VDC seats. They had to be driven out so that the Maoist cadres would have uncontested access to the electorate. Only in this way could the Maoists mobilize a mass base using their own electoral platform, if we may call it that – they call it their “mass line.”
Of course, such methods are anathema, even as certain portions of their party platform are attractive. It is for this reason that the Maoists have sponsored a multitude of front organizations, the wide variety, for instance, of ethnic and community rights organizations. On the surface, they are not Maoist, but in reality they are controlled by the Maoists. The student and labor organizations are especially prominent in this respect. The important thing about fronts is that they can present themselves as independent, even as they are being used to enhance Maoist strength. Lenin called those who unwittingly join such fronts, thinking they are acting on their own, “useful idiots.”
Even as this goes on inside the country, the Maoists work outside. States tend to focus upon the tangible links, such as the Maoist presence in India. Much more important is their information campaign, designed to present their movement as almost benign. As states make mistakes, such as seen in instances of indiscipline when military units are deployed, these are exploited to claim the state itself is the problem, terror as but a natural component of the solution. As you have seen in the Nepal case, the sheer level of terror inflicted by the Maoists has been quite forgotten in the rush to attack the army, the APF, and the hapless police (who, recall, at one point in the conflict, had actually suffered a majority of all dead when considered as a proportion of the total victims).
3. What is the ultimate goal of the Nepali Maoists? Does this goal differ from that of any of the mainstream political parties in Nepal? Should the Maoists attain power without laying down their arms or renouncing violence, what impact do you feel their political victory will have on the trajectory of like-minded radical outfits that are party to associations such as RIM and CCOMPOSA?
For a Maoist movement, the goal is always power. This has been stated quite openly by all major Maoist figures. They must have power, because their goal is to refashion society. They are not seeking reintegration. That would be to accept the structure that exists and to play by that structure’s rules. Quite vocally, they reject the legitimacy of that structure and its rules. That is why they are adamant that there must be a constitutional convention. They see themselves as in the driver’s seat. They are like any political machine in a rough neighborhood – they can “deliver” the vote. Think of what goes on in many areas of India during parliamentary elections but carry the jostling to an extreme, and you have the picture. This is “boss politics” played by “big boy rules.”
In seeking “peace” and holding that they are “not for violence,” what the Maoists mean is that they would much rather the state delivered to them (the Maoists) power rather than making them (the Maoists) fight for it. They’re not fools. They’re not interested in dying. They’re interested in building a new world. Yet they hold that violence has been the indispensable tool for creating a new correlation of forces, a new electoral map, if you will. That is why they will not give up their weapons. They’ve run the opposing parties out of the neighborhood, and now they are demanding a vote. They don’t see this as hypocrisy – they see it as doing precisely what the state has been doing in years past. But they hold that their motives are superior, because they aim to revolutionize society, to make Nepal a “true” or “authentic” democracy, because they are carrying out the will of history, “of the people.”
Have they worked out the details of what this new democracy will look like? Of course not. They have stated, as Prachanda recently did, that they oppose “parliamentary republicanism,” by which they mean democracy as Nepal had but with the parliament sovereign. But they have not laid out what their “real democracy” alternative will be. That’s the beauty of being the political challenger. You can oppose today’s realities with tomorrow’s promises. This is what politicians always do, even those who run “on my record.” The danger of left-wing ideologues, such as the Maoists, is that their worldview dramatically constrains their view of possibilities.
They tend to think of fantasies, such as “self-reliance” and “independence,” as ends that can be achieved if only “will” is harnessed. It was just such fantasies, implemented through violence, that gave us the astonishing crimes of the past century – crimes, it must be noted, the Maoists deny occurred. Yet there is no doubt what went on under Lenin, Stalin, and Mao (photos of all these individuals are used as veritable deities by the Maoists), any more than there is any question as to what occurred under Hitler or Pol Pot. What they shared was a worldview startlingly similar to that held by the Maoists.
The Maoists’ way of dealing with this is, first, to deny reality (just as the leader of Iran seeks to deny the Holocaust); second, to claim that Nepal will be different (which is easily claimed, since there is a startling lack of knowledge in Nepal of what has gone on globally in similar previous situations to that of Nepal now); and, finally, when all else fails, to claim that the critic has no right to speak. This is a favored tactic of my activist internet correspondents, who purport to find all Americans responsible for everything from US foreign policy to the decimation of the American Indian tribes. None of three ways, it bears reiterating, addresses the issue: the Maoists really have no answers to the challenges facing Nepal. They simply claim that they will do better than the bumbling (and bloody, they claim) incompetents who have preceded them.
Though marginal in an objective sense, Nepal and its troubles have implications for the region and beyond. The decimation of a democracy, the turning over of a people to the same tired solutions that have led to tragedy after tragedy, is of concern enough. Just as serious are the regional implications of allowing an armed, radical movement to force its way to power through terror.
4. Some believe that in return for King Gyanendra’s acquiescence to the Indian line (delivered by Karan Singh), the South Block is of the opinion that he should remain in a ceremonial capacity. Certainly, India has played a politically “safe hand” by employing unofficial channels to mediate in Nepal, which comes with it, limited international liability. Then again, other unofficial Indian channels (e.g. Gen. Ashok Mehta) has suggested that India should play a more overt role in stabilizing Nepal. The possibility of Indian military involvement under UN sponsorship has also been suggested. What are your thoughts on India’s larger goals and objectives regarding Nepal?
There seem to be two questions here. We start with the role of the king but move to the role of India. It is useful to emphasize that the Maoists have used the monarchy as their foil, as a surrogate for what they claim is its role in the old-order. If the “feudal monarchy” is swept away, they endlessly repeat, all will be right with Nepal. In this, they certainly have been assisted by the tragic circumstances which placed the incumbent, Gyanendra, on the throne. Similarly, they have been assisted by his mistakes in maneuvering through the maze of Nepali politics. However, having forced the monarch to a position most claim he should occupy, that of a ceremonial monarch in a parliamentary democracy, the Maoists are still left with the fundamental issue: what to do about Nepal? They see structural issues that can be addressed by “will.” Most of us see a population that has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land. This is the proverbial “spitting in the wind” dilemma. One can’t wish away the wind, so the spittle always blows back on you, regardless of whom you try to blame for the event.
We now turn to “our Indian friends,” as Prachanda has taken to calling them. A number of elements figured into their calculations. First, as the hegemonic power in an unstable subcontinent, India wanted restoration of order. This, as all know, was necessary for precisely the reasons stability is desired in Sri Lanka. Disorder produces refugees, unleashes intra-Indian passions, transfers elements of the conflict to Indian soil, and sucks New Delhi into foreign policy nastiness. Second, having opted for order, India played what a hand well known to its smaller neighbors: intervention. The only question was how to intervene.
Here, there are several schools of thought. My past work in Sri Lanka has led to my being less than charitable as to Indian motives. In the Sri Lankan case, New Delhi was into everything from supporting terrorism to running covert ops in a friendly, neighboring democracy. Only when the Frankenstein it helped to create, LTTE, turned on its former benefactor did logic and morality reassert themselves in New Delhi’s policy. In this case, in Nepal, it is perhaps too early to speak in such terms. What we know at the moment is that is that the weak position of the coalition government in New Delhi, combined with its normal “Great Game” psychology and the eagerness of certain Indian personalities, especially on the left, to expand their own role and spheres of involvement, led to a policy shift that supported SPAM (the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists). It seems equally clear that India, as it did previously in Sri Lanka, went into the present endeavor quite misinformed by its alleged experts, not to mention its intelligence organs, and that it is quite ignorant as to the actual nature of the Maoists – no matter the efforts of those same personalities just mentioned to claim how wise, thoughtful, and caring Prachanda and other members of the Maoists leadership are.
In once again misreading the situation in a neighboring state, India was virtually pushed by nationalism of the king. Whatever else he is, the monarch is a Nepali who does not think it is for India to dictate Nepali realities. Ironically, this is a position also held by the Maoists. They have simply realized, of late, that it is a position best relegated to the shadows. Better to rail against the old bugaboos of Indian politics, especially those who think the Cold War is still going on, “America and world imperialism.” In any case, where this brings us is a point where we can make use of your earlier phrase – it is India (not the Maoists) that seeks a “soft landing”! New Delhi’s strategy is to get one by facilitating in Nepal creation of a “West Bengal” or a “Kerala” – states where the tamed Indian left challenges and even rules, where it continues with its nasty verbiage and bizarre worldview, but where it must respond to the realities of power and hence stays within the lanes on the national political highway. What New Delhi has overlooked is that such realities occur in India only because of the capacity of the national state to force compliance. Subtract the Indian military, paramilitary, and police forces from the equation, and India would be anarchy. Not surprisingly, that is the very term being used by many to describe the situation in Nepal.
5. Girja Koirala’s visit to India resulted in a substantial economic package for Nepal, but little in the way of resolution on the substance and form of UN assistance. Do you think simply throwing money at the problem will solve the Maoist insurgency? Moreover, is it time for Nepalis to acknowledge that henceforth, even sovereign decisions (such as UN involvement, the 8-point agreement) will not progress unless explicitly authorized by India?
India is the ultimate arbiter in Nepali affairs for reasons of geostrategic interest and Nepal’s geo-fiscal realities.. From Nepal’s standpoint, this has not always worked out well. From India’s standpoint, it has worked out reasonably well. Nepal has steered clear of engaging in behavior that threatens India’s interests, and Nepalis have proved a valuable component of the Indian labor pool (especially militarily, where Nepalis apparently comprise one-eighth of the manpower of India’s infantry battalions). India’s interest in the current situation is in having a stable neighbor, especially one that does not contribute to India’s own growing Maoist problem. To achieve this goal, New Delhi desires in Nepal a functioning democracy committed to addressing the needs of its people. How to balance the elements of this general prescription just related has long been the challenge of Indian foreign policy and has led to some real flies-in-the-ointment at times (again, Sri Lanka leaps to mind).
This said, it is unlikely India would object to a UN presence of some sort in Nepal – it has dealt with the UN in Kashmir. Rather, it is the size and shape of any prospective UN presence that would be a matter for consideration. In a sense, we may be putting the cart before the horse here: before the UN itself would consider entry into a conflict situation as complex as that of Nepal, there would need to be a far greater degree of engagement by the major Nepali actors, with acceptance of certain guidelines that move well beyond the present vague statements of principles. Those commitments, in any case, are so routinely violated, particularly by the Maoists, who continue all manner of extortion and consolidation of their parallel universe, that the UN is unlikely to be willing to engage on the ground at this time.
6. If the Maoists, who are still in the terrorist watch list of United States, come to power through elections to a constituent assembly, will United States extend aid to a complete Communist dominated government in Nepal? The official US line is clear, but what has been your experience is similar situations elsewhere? Is a compromise possible and if so, what are the means that will foment such a compromise?
As the US Ambassador has made quite clear – and the cases of Hamas and Hezbollah illustrate well – there are consequences connected with actions that seek to talk peaceful politics but engage in actions labeled terrorist by virtually the entire world. It is noteworthy that in their quest to carve out an identity as “independent” actors, the Maoists claim to see exemplars in some pretty unsavory types – Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, North Korea. On the one hand, one can understand why these odious regimes are “picked” – on the surface they stand for a divorce from the present world-order, which Maoist dogma holds responsible, in league with the Nepali local representatives of world-capitalism (that is, anyone who owns anything and makes a decent living), for the lack of development that is present-day Nepali reality. In reality, Cuba and North Korea have long been economic basket-cases noted for their political repression, while Venezuela and Iran are political basket-cases determined to remain such by exploiting a single resource, oil, something Nepal certainly does not have. Cases such as Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia also offer a certain fascination for the Maoists, since these states claim to be “socialist.” Each, though, has particulars not relevant to Nepal. Indeed, the most apt comparison for Nepal would seem to be to the Albania of the Cold War, when its lack of resources and close affinity with Maoist ideology reduced it to a complete backwater.
We may seem to have come far from your question, but the bottom line is that the Maoists have committed themselves to philosophical posturing in the face of very concrete realities. To get their shot at living (and implementing) the revolutionary project, they have turned Nepal into a charnel house. They have then teamed with the usual “useful idiots,” international fellow travelers quite willing to overlook their atrocities, to repeat endlessly that the “crimes” of the old-order justify the crimes now being committed to implement the new-order. That the old-order’s crimes were those of omission, while the Maoist crimes are deliberate -- crimes not only of commission but policy – is simply not discussed.
Worse still, through their endless threats, voiced every time they speak, the Maoists seek to perpetuate their claim that their mere existence proves the legitimacy of their positions. Were the old-order not irredeemably flawed, goes the line, we, the Maoists would not exist. That we exist means that “history” demands we be given the right to try our hand at fashioning a new-order – otherwise, we’ll commit more crimes. This is not negotiation or even participation; it is policy by fiat and blackmail. And some question why the US and other states challenge this logic?
7. How difficult is it for a group on the State Department’s terrorist list to get a clean chit? What are the thoughts circulating the more rational minded academic elements of the American mainstream, given that Nepal’s outcome (for the time being) appears more likely to resemble Palestine’s and Iran’s than a true, representative, liberal democracy? Is this is a larger policy debate to be had within the halls of power in the US and how do you see the impact of such debates on US policy on Nepal?
Cynics would argue that once you get on our lists – there are several -- you never get off. Actually, that’s not so. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) is an illustration of a group that moved from being a pariah to being a player in a democratic system. Nonetheless, the thrust of your point is accurate: getting “on the list” is very serious from a legal standpoint. Where the confusion lies is with our presentation of “the list.” I’m not a lawyer, so I can only give you a scholar’s view of this. The essential confusion lies in the fact that two lists appear regularly in the annual Country Reports on Terrorism put out by the State Department (previously called Patterns of Global Terrorism). They can be found on the internet.
The main list is of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).” The Nepali Maoists are not on that one, but their allies in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) are. “Others Groups of Concern (OGCs)” is the second list presented in the Country Reports book (the latest is more than 250 pages long). There is no authoritative explanation for why there are two lists, or even what it means to be on one as opposed to the other. Yet if one goes to the appropriate publication of the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, you see a list of sanctions which is both sobering and comprehensive, as well as a list of all those groups and individuals to which those sanctions apply. The Maoists were placed on the list on 31 October 2003.
The legal authority is Executive Order 13224 -- “ Blocking and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten to Commit, or Support Terrorism,” and it makes no distinction between the FTOs and OGCs found in the State Department publication. The practical impact is a body-slam if the provisions are energetically enforced, particularly through the normal mechanisms of international law enforcement. That they have not been “energetically enforced” stems only, I would surmise, from everyone being busy with other things. To cite but one example, assets being used to hunt for connections with Al Qaeda have simply not looked for similar links with the Maoists. Or, to use several professions to illustrate, a journalist or a professor who fronts for organizations or individuals on “the list,” finds himself, if within our jurisdiction, in hot water. We have seen this happen for those who support the violent Islamists, but the authorities have not paid much attention to left-wing figures.
Were Nepal to have such figures in its government, there would be serious and profound implications. What Nepal possibly faces is just what has happened with Hamas and Hezbollah. Whether events play themselves out as we are seeing even now in the Middle East depends quite upon what the Maoists are actually up to – the topic, beyond all others, of this interview. Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, thought they could be both respectable and disrespectable, that they could be both in government and carry our terrorist actions. Their fellow citizens have paid a terrible price for such folly. Hamas is particularly tragic, because the Palestinians thought they could elect a group that both wanted to defy world norms and be supported by its money. The similarity to the Nepali case is compelling.
Notice that this leads us back to where we have been before. Hamas and Hezbollah, one could argue, have behaved as the Nepali Maoists seem determined to behave, to participate in “the system” only to use it for their own ends. Those “ends,” obviously, have now made life even worse for the Palestinian and Lebanese populations. PIRA in Northern Ireland, to the contrary, has reintegrated, worked to move beyond what it was and to build a better Ulster. All concerned would argue, I believe, that Ulster today is an improvement upon the Ulster that existed when the civil rights movement erupted in the late 1960s over ill-treatment of the Catholic minority.
Conflict is like that. In an example such as Ulster, it is always possible, after the fact, to make a case that such-and-such an approach “worked.” In reality, one gets in place that which is correct (defined as addressing the issues in play) and that which is sustainable (defined by you, as the implementer). One then plays for the breaks. Structure and agency play a role, but so does contingency. What that all means in simple terms is that men are constrained by circumstances, and chance – sheer luck, good or bad – gets a say in the outcome.
In the Nepal case, it was disappointing and tragic that the SPA and the Palace could not have a meeting of minds. Parliamentary democracy should have been the ultimate bulwark against the Maoist challenge, but the very nature of Nepali parliamentary democracy, with its corruption and ineptitude, led to its marginalization. The increasingly bitter split between SPA and the king became all but inevitable in such circumstances, but personalities also played a central role, as they do in all that occurs in Nepal. It was the nastiness between Congress personalities, for instance, that incapacitated government at the moment when focus and response were most needed to insurgent challenge. One cannot expect always that the cards will favor. That has been the case here, but the Maoists know time is not on their side. To the extent they must cease with the rhetoric and actually table a platform, their influence diminishes.
8. How fast do you think the common interests between the political parties on the one hand and the Maoist and Civil Society on the other, will last? The bloom is already off the rose, so to speak.
The Maoists have sought to move rapidly, because they recognize full well that the better known they become, the less influence they will have in open democratic space. In particular, unless they can get SPA to give them power before opposition coalesces, they will have to offer concrete solutions in return for votes, rather than the empty, utopian pronouncements they now set forth.
9. What impact do you feel the Maoists’ method of attain power in Nepal, will have on fraternal organizations in South Asia? Do you subscribe to the theory that Maoism in India can be absorbed by the world’s largest democracy (as suggested by some analysts) or that militant activities will increase?
Though certain Indian commentators hold there are no connections between the two forces, this has never been the case. Indeed, the two sides discussed openly their linkages, and individuals from the two movements were apprehended or killed in operations “on the wrong side of the border.” Only with a move to exploit the nonviolent line of operation did the Nepali Maoists stop claiming to be integrally linked not only with South Asian Maoism, through CCOMPOSA, but also with global Maoist forces through RIM. Of course, these were never “command” relationships, only liaison and, in the case of the Indian groups, some presence.
It is naïve to claim the radical wing of a radical Maoist movement will simply salute and call it a day, even if the leadership decides reigning in the combatants is the best tactical course of action. Further, it is inevitable that any Maoist government would encourage the usual flocking of left-wing groupies that we see – and have seen – in every other case of a radical government. Indeed, there already are here in Nepal the usual international activists supplying information to the Nepali left-wing press and even to the Maoists themselves.
10. What’s the US policy on training for Nepal’s military, as it pertains to units or leaders suspected of human rights violations? What impact has the UN’s report on the Nepali military’s most effective counter-insurgency unit had, where training for personnel in that unit is concerned?
Let me sidestep discussion of a specific unit to address the heart of your concern. Human rights are fundamental, but human rights as presently embodied structurally in a global network are very much a mixed bag. Indeed, as I have been quite blunt in pointing out elsewhere, human rights organizations as now organized and oriented are as much a part of the problem in troubled areas as they are a necessary part of the solution. Unfortunately, while paying lip-service to an expansive concept of human rights, their targets are inevitably and overwhelmingly those they can “get at,” the state and its representatives and forces. They rationalize their bias endlessly; I find those explanations both specious and spurious.
Even here, amidst much effort by some critics to be even-handed, it is the state and the security forces who are susceptible to pressure. The latter are of such disposition (they want to be “respectable”) that they “allow” themselves to be pressured. The Maoists play the game to an extent but simply carry on precisely as before, all the while repeating time and again that any publicity of their malfeasance detracts from the peace process! Looking at what is being said at this moment concerning the last decade, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say the Maoists have simply been given a free pass concerning their accumulated atrocities. Why should we be discussing bringing security force personalities to trial when we have the Maoist murderers strutting about Kathmandu committing all manner of crimes? Even their assassination apparatus, manned by student personalities, now claims to have been victims!
All one need do is go on the web, and ample data, to include pictures, can be found showing that the CPN(M) has certainly earned the label “terrorists.” Nepal is not decimated because of crimes by the security forces, rather by the Maoists. Just go examine the VDC and DDC structures, or look at your district capitals, or try to find the young who have been kidnapped, even the activists who tried to catalogue the Maoist maiming and murders. And what is the Maoist response? Precisely what it is when discussing the likes of the Khmer Rouge (who followed, to reiterate the point, the same ideology as the Nepali Maoists) – to deny that any murders or destruction occurred.
Returning to the Nepali security forces, it is accurate that indiscipline has been an ongoing issue which the forces struggled to minimize. In any military operations, there will be abuses. Our own superbly disciplined US forces have witnessed individuals implicated in crimes recently in Iraq. We should linger on that fact for a moment, because the left-wing here – especially in emails to me – likes to assert that imperfections in the US polity or US forces rob me or others of the legitimacy – and the right – to comment on events in Nepal. I would ask them to consider a simple point: in the US forces one sees “as good as it gets.” One sees behavior as “clean” as it is ever going to get in war. That may make you a pacifist, because war indeed is ugly, but it should also lead to some empathy for a previously largely ceremonial Nepali force which found itself thrust into counterinsurgency. The line bandied about that (R)NA provoked the Maoist insurgency is utter nonsense, for we all know the chain of events. (R)NA was committed quite late in the game and in concerted combat operations only after being attacked by the Maoists in November 2001 in violation of the ceasefire.
Where does the US fit into this scenario? Put simply, any individuals who benefit from our training, or receive certain items of equipment, must by our law be “vetted,” certified, to the best of our ability, as not having committed “human rights crimes.” The way the business plays itself out, a unit with “problems” will see itself banned from training/equipment in its entirety until each and every individual is vetted. Often times this is next-to-impossible, so lags set in.
11. The present government is moving toward castigating those involved with suppressing the recent political uprising in Nepal. This is seen as both a Maoist and Civil Society demand. What impact do you think the prosecution of security personnel will have on the progression of peace talks? What are your thoughts on the prosecution of Maoist militants who have suppressed Nepal’s latent democratic movement (as some claim)? Will there reciprocity in this area?
We have discussed this in good part in the previous question. There are, however, two issues that are being run together. The first is military conduct during the counterinsurgency. For this, there is little that would stand up to charges leading to punishment. Maoist behavior was worse in an institutional sense. Instances of security force indiscipline do not stand equal to a warfighting doctrine, as used by the Maoists. They made terror a linchpin of an armed political approach.
The second issue is obviously security force support for the monarchy. This, though, was quite constitutional. Dealing with the subject goes to the heart of how the monarchy was thrust to the fore in the political process. Far from being a plot, as is often bandied about, we see the consequences of the wholesale failure of parliamentary mechanisms and individuals to respond to the Maoist challenge. The Maoist goal, in other words, was to lay waste to the system, thus to clear the way for construction of a new order. In this, they were eminently successful, with elected government simply unable to respond. When all is said and done, it was the Koirala-Deuba infighting within Nepali Congress which created the constitutional crisis the monarch moved to resolve.
It was the very indeterminate nature of political events post-November 2001 that led all foreign powers to hang back and continue recognition of the government, even as it was not altogether clear who actually constituted the government or how matters would resolve themselves. It was, after all, the Maoists who had eliminated the VDC structure, which was the basis of burgeoning democratic decentralization and capacity. In supporting “the government,” then, the security forces, led by the army, were doing precisely what they are supposed to do.
Part and parcel of this discussion is the nature of events that led to the present SPA-led administration (it’s not altogether clear, their verbiage notwithstanding, whether the Maoists are in or out of the transition). In the action in the street, what should impress is the relative restraint of all concerned, on both sides, as opposed to the action on the margins. Few seem to be willing publicly to acknowledge what could have happened but did not – there could have been tragedy, especially had the army actually committed its forces to repression, which it did not.
12. In what ways can Nepal’s security forces be effectively restructured? Will a merger of the Maoist army be a factor? Dissolution of the joint command was sold as a policy to curb the King’s power, but what of the 1,500 posts that were manned by joint command personnel?
Addressing this question is dependent upon the issues we have discussed already. Since the Maoists have no intention of incorporating themselves into the system, as we understand that term, it’s premature to discuss “merger.” As I noted earlier, what the Maoists seek is a new system, with new relations, new institutions, new rules, new forms. Where even service abroad in foreign armies would factor in remains unclear, since previously the Maoists were quite adamant that they would end such arrangements. Now, though, when they need the good will of, above all, India (if they are to see through their bid for power), they have been quite silent on the matter.
Internally, they have advanced traditional left wing notions of a nation in arms to meet defense needs, something similar to the Swiss or Venezuela. That this would be quite impractical for Nepal is beside the point. The Maoists only advance the ideas as part of their campaign to neutralize the army, which is the key obstacle remaining if they are to consolidate power.
It is the last element of your question that is the most interesting, because it is occurring now. That is, NA is grappling with transition. Just as we have seen the Maoist forces evolve during the conflict, so has the army changed a great deal. In particular, the beginnings of a very professional level of middle grades now exists. Some of the army’s battalion and brigade commanders, for instance, could compete with any in the world. Units such as the Ranger Battalion have demonstrated what a properly trained and motivated NCO corps can do in a military traditionally bifurcated into officers and other ranks (even if NCOs existed on paper, they rarely functioned as the noncommissioned “officers” of their proper name).
Just how the state will conceptualize the future role of the army remains to be worked out. Any state requires an armed capacity for internal and external extreme circumstances. Likewise, Nepalese contributions to UN missions have been much lauded (though also criticized in some circles, especially in Britain). Counterterrorism is more important than ever, despite the efforts of Maoist leadership attempts to portray the treat of terrorism as a creation of America or world imperialism. Certainly history and Nepal’s geostrategic position have demonstrated the need for some sort of capacity, both in intelligence and operations, to deal with unwanted penetration by external actors seeking to harm both domestic and regional interests.
13. Do you think an independent body like UN is essential to Nepal's peace process and elections to the constituent assembly? Is it likely that the UN will deploy blue helmets in Nepal? How do you think Nepal’s neighbors will react to this?
China is not really a player in the Nepalese drama, whatever the myths and plots spun in the press. It’s not concerned in the least about white UN helicopters. More to the heart of the matter is that Nepal’s process of reconciliation suffers from the shortcomings which have bedeviled Nepalese politics throughout the democratic era: rather too much air and not enough contact with the reality of the ground. We have just been discussing the military, for example. Yet the political process goes on as if it can ignore more than a hundred thousand individuals, undefeated and armed, who comprise the security forces. There seems to be the idea that one can simply one day announce a decision has been reached, which will include a declaration that, in effect, a significant slice of the Nepalese old-order should present itself at the chopping block. To say that won’t “just happen” is not to be a pessimist or even a realist, only to reiterate a point I have made in previous interviews and articles: hope in not a method.
If Nepal truly wants reconciliation, it needs to engage all elements of society. Does anyone – except the Maoists and some misguided elements of SPA – think one can simply ignore the supporters of the monarchy or the armed forces? For decades, in my work on Sri Lanka, I have hammered home the point that Sri Lanka created its Tamil problem by implementing policies and programs that marginalized the 17% of the population that is Tamil. And not all of the 17% were marginalized – more than half the Tamils lived within government lines when the conflict began in earnest, a figure that grew to more than three-quarters. So let us say the Tamil insurgent mass base is one-fourth of 17%. Alienating that fraction has proved quite sufficient to keep Sri Lanka in a state of upheaval which would be familiar to any Nepali who has lived through the past decade. So why do certain Nepali actors think they can create the same circumstances, simply ignore a similar fraction (or more), and somehow escape the same result? It is the sort of logic that has led to “non-starter” status for so many Nepali endeavors.
For Nepal to move forward, to use a constitutional assembly as a basis for more equitable new arrangements, is a laudable goal. To think reshuffling the pieces of the Nepalese puzzle will prove a panacea is a pipe dream. The problem is not in exploitation per se but the fact that Nepal is a state with all the resource base of Laos, a country very similar in many respects. One can’t pretend Laos isn’t Laos, or that Nepal isn’t Nepal. One can only deal with it. You start from where you are, and go with what you’ve got. Trying to “will” away ground truths in Cambodia produced tragedy enough. Trying to repeat the program in Laos was bad enough, in a different manner, especially the genocidal effort against the Hmong; but there, the whole utopian silliness foundered upon the harsh realities of geography, topography, and location. Those three – geography, topography, and location – are the true elements with which any Nepali administration will have to struggle, not fantasies such as royalist autocracy or Hindu chauvinism.
14. How hopeful are you that Nepal's problems will be resolved this time? If by any chance dialogue fails this time too, what do you expect in Nepal's future?
Always, one wants to hope – yet one simply cannot pretend hope will allow that he can walk on water. On hydropower, perhaps, but not on water! Though not by nature cynical, I am less than optimistic about what is happening for all the reasons contained in our previous discussion. A new-order of the sort the Maoists have done their best to keep hidden, built upon the hackneyed and very bloody socialist dogma of the past century, is not going to “resolve” – and certainly not “solve” – Nepal’s problems. Only something we can term, for want of better shorthand, “industrialization” will address those problems. Nepal must go from being more than three-quarters rural to being something of the same order but urban. How to do that? If it were as easily done as stated, we’d already see the solution. It certainly is not the central planning vision advanced by Dr. Bhattarai in his PhD dissertation. Neither is it Prachanda’s “miracles [will] happen if we mobilize the 40 million hands.” That was precisely the formula put forth in the disastrous Great Leap Forward of Mao, that resulted in more dead than Nepal has people. It was also the approach outlined by Khieu Samphan, Khmer Rouge number two, in his own PhD dissertation, submitted in Paris. Tragically, history does repeat itself.
What if the talks fail this time? Prachanda has not only outlined the option but he works to position his cadres to make sure events flow his way. How did he put it? -- “There will definitely be an October Revolution of its own kind in Nepal.” And the naïve response from the interviewer? -- “That means you are ready to wait till October?” No, it means that mass action will follow “failure” in the talks, and “failure” will be defined by the Maoists as anything less than the surrender of the old-order to their undefined but claimed new-order. They are preparing, even as we speak, for urban action coordinated with rural action.
15. What are your opinions on the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the Nepali security forces counter-insurgency operations. What are your suggestions and closing thoughts?
This is a useful final question, because it allows us to return to some of the themes we have discussed. What Nepal as a state never understood was that it faced an armed political campaign. To meet such a challenge, the response gets in place that which is correct, that which is sustainable, and it then plays for the breaks. This means, ironically, that what you see happening now should have happened as the response to the Maoists, with the security forces providing the shield. Though a plan was in fact drawn up, it was mechanical, devoid of substance, precisely because the mobilization you saw in April was not used by Nepali democracy as its weapon. That is the irony of Nepali parliamentary democracy – it proved incapable of using mobilization of democratic capacity to defend itself. It did not do what the Thai, the Filipinos, the Peruvians, and the Sri Lankans (against the JVP, twice) did to defeat their Maoists. They brought reform to imperfect systems and made them better. They’re still imperfect, but so are all systems. And they’re not man-eating systems as desired by the left-wing, of which the Maoists are the premier representatives.
It should be obvious that the claim that there is “no military solution” to insurgency is simply a canard. One heard it endlessly in Nepal, most often from “the foreigners who would be gods,” as one acquaintance was apt to put it. Armed capacity enables the campaign of reform, because armed capacity is what enables the challenge to the old-order. In circumstances such as Nepal, no army can be committed simply to defend the status quo. It must be committed to defend transformation. That transformation, though, must look rather more like what can be seen in India and a lot less like what we saw in Mao’s China.
What I would offer in conclusion is simple: if Nepal wishes to move forward, it has all the pieces right before it on the table. This has been said before. What separates the sides is the Maoist notion that revolutionary transformation will now be delivered by surrender when force of arms could not take it. “The people have spoken,” goes their claim. In reality, the people have spoken, but they have not at all supported what the Maoists have in mind, precisely because the Maoists have worked so hard not to let their vision and plans get out into the open. What Nepal needs now, more than ever, is more equitable representation and good governance. What the Maoists keep demanding is retribution and marginalization of all who do not see a solution in their terms. That’s not “negotiation” at all. But then, the Maoists use many words to mean something other than what is in the dictionary.