Readers should note that this book was authored prior to developments such as the advent of the Young Communist League (YCL), the Madhesi peoples' uprising, and the neutralization of the law and order functions of the state by the current government. Hence, these are not discussed.
However, the impact of such developments on the trajectory of the Nepali Maoist movement (while significant) does not impair the validity of the historical context (or future projections) outlined in the author's writing.
Note: This writing is presented with the EXPLICT CONSENT of the author, Dr. Thomas A. Marks. Pictures have been removed to facilitate publication, but the captions remain, since they include useful information.
Constructing the Counter-State
Progress thus was steady but more a product of government lack of capacity than insurgent power.[i] Methodology was predictable and mirrored that of other insurgent movements following the people’s war approach. While “winning hearts and minds” was important in the base areas, terror was indispensable for expanding into contested populations. This was supplemented by guerrilla action and ultimately, with the launching of the November 2001 general offensive, the mobile warfare phase.[ii]
Regardless of what occurs at the main force level of people’s war, the key is the cadre. Doctrinally, armed political cadre should enter an area and gradually mobilize the counter-state that challenges the state. Movements in all of our previous cases, to include Sendero Luminoso prior to its 1980 declaration of people’s war, have essentially followed this approach. More common in recent insurgencies in general, however, as illustrated by the Naxalites in India and Colombia’s FARC (which uses people’s war doctrine, though it is not Maoist[iii]), is to lead with violent action, “capturing” a target population and then reorganizing it according to ideological dictates. This was the approach CPN(M) relied on after 1996.
In a typical action, in Muchook, a small village a half-day’s walk from the district capital of Gorkha (the capital is also Gorkha), a Congress Party representative and Maoist opponent, a “big landlord” (two hectares), was awakened at 10:30 PM by a knock on his door. Confronted by seven Maoists, armed mainly with agricultural implements, he was dragged from his home and told he was to be made “to suffer the way you made the people suffer.” His legs and feet were then systematically broken with hammers. Carried to a hospital in Kathmandu, he survived, but his absence deprived the village of a natural rallying-point. For there existed no government presence in Muchook, no police station, for example. Police who did venture to the area found nothing, but they could not stay, and so the Maoists effectively took control of the village and its surrounding area, one of Nepal’s 3,913 basic building blocks, or VDC.
This process was repeated time and again. Complementary moves were carried out to neutralize the state completely. District and VDC offices, for example, were systematically razed, their records and equipment destroyed. In Gorkha, the single month-and-a-half period prior to May 2002 saw 34 of the district’s 66 VDC offices completely eliminated. The 60-odd police stations were helpless: they had fewer than 500 men spread out over the size of a US county (3,610 sq. km), with more than a quarter of a million people to cover and no real means to do so save on foot. (The only paved road in the district connected Gorkha town to Kathmandu.)[iv] Nationwide, then, by the beginning of 2003, more than 1,400 VDCs no longer existed, and virtually all no longer functioned, their personnel, elected locally, having almost universally fled.[v] The influence of terror was illustrated by the reality that fewer than thirty VDC chairmen had actually been assassinated (again, of a theoretical total of 3,913).[vi]
All other elements of the state likewise found themselves attacked. Roads were cut; bridges, dams and hydropower facilities, aqueducts, telephone towers and electric lines, airport control towers were systematically destroyed.[vii] By the same early-2003 date noted above, more than 440 post offices, most but rudimentary facilities, had been gutted.[viii]
Such action was the essence of the approach of Sendero Luminoso and the Khmer Rouge.[ix] To all appearances, the goal was to sever links with the existing system, isolate the population into a self-contained entity, and return society to the proverbial revolutionary “Year One,” when remaking the new world would begin. The guide for this transformation was to be the thoughts and dicta of the leader, “Prachanda Path,” a deliberate echoing of Sendero Luminoso’s “Gonzalo Path.” (Recall that “President Gonzalo” was party leader Abimael Guzman Reynoso).
Although the essence of the campaign was rural-based, as would be expected from the people’s war approach (as it had evolved, particularly through the Vietnam War experience[x]), urban action was not eschewed. Just as Sendero eventually extended its campaign into urban spaces, so did the CPN(M). These, in any case, were limited in Nepal, so the main targets were the three most important cities and their surrounding productive lands: Kathmandu, the capital; Pokhara, to the west, on the doorstep of the Midwestern Region; and Nepalgunj in the tarai. United front activity of the CPN(M)’s United Revolutionary People’s Council was most important, supplemented by a terror campaign of bombings and assassinations initiated in August 2002.[xi] The most prominent victim was Inspector General of Police Mohan Shrestha, commanding officer of the police field force (Armed Police Force or APF), killed in January 2003.
Even as terror forced society in on itself, the main target of guerrilla action was the 46,500-man police force, the first line of armed defense – for Nepal possessed no local forces of any kind.[xii] An essentially unarmed “watcher” force, two-thirds of whom carried nothing heavier than a patrol stick, the police were unprepared for the demands of counter-insurgency. Emergency response units, which in any case were armed with the 1941 version of the .303 Lee Enfield (a bolt action rifle), were likewise found lacking. Patrols sent to the scenes of incidents were ambushed; numerous small police stations were overrun, attacked in the dead of night in assaults initiated with homemade explosives, then overwhelmed by human assault waves. Efforts to stand up a more properly armed and equipped police field force, Armed Police Force (15,000 men[xiii]) made slow progress under the pressure of operational demands. By January 2003, the Civil Police had suffered 985 dead, the APF, 108 dead.[xiv]
Police bear the brunt: Police perform morning calesthentics in Labang, Rolpa District, in early 2003. A largely “watcher” force, the undermanned and under-armed police suffered terribly in the insurgency and took serious casualties. (Marks photo)
Armed police as link: Armed Police Force (APF) recruits go through basic training in 2003. Modeled after the Indian approach, APF was stood up as a police field force, thus giving the police themselves a response capability beyond their slender local resources. (Marks photo)
Predictably, the only possible police response was to abandon outlying stations and consolidate in a defensible mass. In the hills, where terrain, lack of communication, and difficulty of movement favored the guerrillas, this process was inexorable across the entire breadth of the country. Rolpa, in the insurgent heartland, was typical (see Fig. 7.2).[xv] In 1996, there were 33 stations in the district, with the largest but 75 men, most less than 20.[xvi] When the post at Ghartigaun, in western Rolpa, was attacked in 1999, for
example, it had a complement of 19. Fifteen were killed, the others wounded. The station was totally destroyed and not re-garrisoned. In 1998, two such stations were abandoned; in 1999, a further 16; in 2000, six more; in 2001, another four; and in 2002, three – leaving a total of just two for the entire population of nearly 211,000.
Blue Boxes: Rolpa Police Stations 1996 (Map of Rolpa Distric)
Such was the lack of national integration that, once the police presence was eliminated, the insurgents became the state. All that remained to serve as a reminder of far-off Kathmandu were the minor functionaries, who could not flee lest they lose their meager salaries: the likes of teachers, postmen, and VDC personnel. Heads of VDCs, as mentioned previously, almost universally fled,[xvii] but school staff and postmen generally stayed. In most areas, once the initial spasm of destruction had been completed, it ended – with comparatively lower levels of destruction in those areas where the Maoists held sway and made use of facilities, such as VDC offices. Land was gradually seized or redistributed, and schools were progressively forced to change the normal, centrally determined curriculum in favor of a more “progressive” version. Private schools were generally closed. Maoist combatants carried out civic action projects of sorts, such as improving trails and constructing bridges, even as government development personnel charged with doing the same tasks were refused entry. Only in those core areas of longstanding insurgent presence did anything “new” surface, although various people’s governments and projects, in reality, were but efforts to make earlier forms more equitable and responsive.
Cadre were of remarkably uneven quality and presence. It would be expected that the level of ideological knowledge would be low among movement “followers,” but this generally was the case for the cadre, as well. Participation in the movement resulted from a variety of local and personal factors,[xviii] and cadre generally did their best to reproduce the procedures and symbology of the movement, but outside the core areas, they held sway only through terror, through their ability to call on guerrilla formations to act as enforcers.[xix]
This reality revealed a peculiarity observed by virtually all observers: the dependence of the Maoist campaign in its crucial formative years on tribal manpower, especially Magars. That guerrilla formations early on were dominated numerically by Magars stemmed from the ethnic composition of the core areas in which the Maoists had long worked, such as the Rukkum-Rolpa border corridor. That entire tribal communities would become involved in the insurgency was predictable once government miscues allowed the CPN(M) to tap the self-defense dynamic. A staple of Maoist agitprop in such areas remained skits featuring blue-clad “policemen” burning villages and brutalizing the villagers, only to be routed by combatants under the party’s leadership. The similarity with the Hmong case in Northern Thailand is striking. That tribal links were being exploited was further illustrated by Magar dominance of guerrilla formations as far away from the core Midwestern areas as Dolakha District, where Magars were less than 2% of the population (as per census).[xx]
A staple of Maoist agitprop: Maoist political theater dramatizes the attacks by “police” on villages in Rukkum. Tapping the desire for self-defense allowed the Maoists to build a base area in the Midwestern hills, which was used to push out into the remainder of the country. (Author Collection)
If this dynamic fingered the early CPN(M), in a sense, as a tribal revolt, a different process was at work in more mixed areas. In those, cadre were the movement, and they, as indicated, were a product of local realities and thus of mixed ethnic and class composition. Although they did participate directly in terror actions, especially in villages targeted for movement expansion, within their own areas of responsibility, they were more likely to call on outsiders, the local guerrillas of the militia.[xxi]
These guerrillas, initially in small units, were eventually linked (certainly by early 2003) to main force units, battalion facsimiles of 400-600 men each. Through 2003. single battalions were found in the Eastern and Central Zones (as per the Maoist framework), four battalions in the Western Zone.[xxii] By the end of 2004, there were perhaps three times as many battalions. Their weaponry was similar to that possessed by the government, a mix of old and new. The latter were primarily captured pieces and those bought on the black market using looted funds.[xxiii] For early training, ex-servicemen were both coerced and hired, with ex-Indian Gurkhas more prominent than any other single ex-servicemen’s group.
As the structure of military response became more complex, so, too, did the Maoist combatant organization. When the Royal Nepalese Army deployed brigades under divisions, the CPN(M) adopted the same organization and terminology, although it could not match the unit particulars.[xxiv]
Even were terror not the most salient issue in the minds of villagers, contact between them and the guerrillas would be a recurring fact of life, since the combatants were dependent on villagers for daily necessities. All movement, for instance, involved the preparation of caches of necessities, ranging from food and water to firewood, and such activity occurred by orders issued to villagers by the cadre at the behest of the guerrilla chain of command. Similarly, mandatory attendance by villagers at political rallies was enforced by the combatants, with the cadres issuing the orders and fingering those who resisted or malingered. The end-product was a high level of fear but an inability to do anything save reach accommodation, unless flight was adopted as a course of action. At the time of the 2003 ceasefire, a growing number of villagers appeared already to have opted for this.[xxv]
[i] For discussion of this point in general, see Paul B. Rich and Richard Stubbs, eds., The Counter-Insurgent State: Guerrilla Warfare and State Building in the Twentieth Century (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).
[ii] The basic pattern of mobile warfare, as discussed at length previously in this work, may again be conceptualized as follows. Terror facilitates or establishes the “space” necessary for the insurgent political campaign. It eliminates societal rallying-points, the synapses such as local gentry and minor government officials. Terror further generates demands for protection. Answering this demand, police forces respond. Once they predictably spread out, they are attacked in guerrilla actions, with small patrols and stations overwhelmed. Unable to defend themselves, the police invariably consolidate forces, thus exposing still larger swaths of the population to insurgent domination. Behind the scenes, certain guerrilla units (i.e., a proportion of guerrilla combatant strength) are “regularized,” to use Mao’s term, turned into mobile warfare units (main force units). When the government inevitably deploys its military to reclaim “lost” areas, these units (normally the army) find themselves, first, harassed by guerrilla action, which demands small unit saturation patrolling, then, defeated in detail by the mobile warfare units (which fight using “guerrilla tactics”). Only in Phase 3, when mobile warfare gives way to the so-called “war of position,” do insurgents endeavor to hold ground.
[iii] See Tom Marks, “Colombian Army Counterinsurgency,” Crime, Law and Social Change, 40 (2003), 77-105. For state response, see Marks, Sustainability of Colombian Military/Strategic Support for “Democratic Security” (Carlisle: Army War College, 2005).
[iv] Field notes, May 2002.
[v] This was not only an administrative blow but a key step in establishing Maoist political dominance. For VDC candidates were affiliated with the major political parties. The result was that the legal left bore the brunt of the Maoist assault, since some 2,600 VDC Chairmen of the 3,913 possible were UML members. Ibid.
[vi] Field notes, November 2002. The first year of the Maoist offensive (November 2001-November 2002) saw 1,321 VDC buildings completely destroyed, according to government figures, as per the following breakdown by regions: Far West, 316 of 383 (82.5%); Mid-Western, 165 of 575 (28.7%); Western, 221 of 865 (25.5%); Central, 334 of 1,199 (27.8%); and Eastern, 285 of 893 (31.9%). VDCs continued to be destroyed at such a clip, though, that the statistics were already surpassed at time of release.
[vii] For an effort to study the targeting dynamic, see Shyam K. Upadhyaya, Maoists’ Strikes on Hydropower Plants: Any Policy Lessons? Equitable Hydro Working Paper 3 (Kathmandu: Winrock, November 2003).
[viii] Field notes, November 2002.
[ix] It is significant that Maoist leaders steadfastly maintain no inspiration from (or knowledge of) the Khmer Rouge case. It is ironic, then, as per Bhattarai to Tiwari, to read a claim such as: “There is no independent and authentic account of events in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge available so far. Whatever is emanating from the Western media appears to be highly exaggerated to us.” Such, of course, is an untenable position that ranks with “Holocaust Denial” but is representative of many ad hoc CPN(M) pronouncements.
[x] See Marks, “Urban Insurgency,” Small Wars and Insurgencies (London), 14.3 (Autumn 2003), 100-61.
[xi] By the declaration of the ceasefire in late January 2003, an apparent twenty-one assassinations had been carried out in the Kathmandu Valley, to include two Nepalese security personnel employed by the US Embassy. The goal of united front activity, as per Bhatarrai to Tiwari, is transparent: “In the current triangular balance of forces –namely [between] the monarchists, parliamentary democrats and revolutionary democrats – if the latter two democratic forces are able to mount a joint struggle against the feudal aristocratic forces, there are strong chances that democracy will be consummated in the country in the near future.”
[xii] In a move that increased the vacuum of authority in rural areas, the authorities systematically confiscated weapons, most for hunting, from the populace. Examination of security force statistics citing “weapons captured” reveals a predominance of “musket guns.” Best evidence indicates these are weapons confiscated from civilians and not pieces actually captured from guerrillas. For a discussion of local forces, see Marks, “At the Frontlines of the GWOT: Colombia Success Builds Upon Local Foundation,” The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, 10.2 (Summer 2004), 42-50.
[xiii] Field notes, November 2002. The force was rapidly expanding and slated for an ultimate strength of 25,000.
[xiv] In contrast, a total of 850 civilians were listed as having been killed since the declaration of people’s war on 13 February 1996. Nearly 5,000 more had been mutilated.
[xv] Data that follow as well as map from field notes, April-May 2003.
[xvi] Field notes, April-May 2003: Local records could not provide total police strength in the years under discussion, but it clearly was but in the hundreds. Even today, there are but 300 police personnel assigned to the district.
[xvii] In Rolpa, the VDC heads numbered 51, affiliated with the major parties as follows: UML, 23; NC, 18; RPP [the successors to the conservative backers of the old panchayet regime), 8; and Independent, 2. Field notes, April-May 2003.
[xviii] In one village studied, there were but three cadres, well known to villagers. They were normally referred to as the Opportunist, the Criminal, and the Young Lenin. The first was a former Nepali Congress (NC) member who, following his own kidnap and ransom, had become a Maoist, apparently to safeguard the family property. Other members of his family, having moved to the tarai, remained prominent NC politicians. The second had spent ten months in jail for his previous Maoist activities and had been released under the terms of the ceasefire. He was the most dangerous of the lot and was eager for “payback.” The third was a high school student who had effected Leninist dress and seemed a true believer. Yet he attended classes faithfully and, according to his instructors, caused no difficulties. Field notes, April-May 2003.
[xix] The Opportunist discussed above, for instance, had seven months prior to my arrival accused the village postman of being a spy and had summoned a section (i.e., squad) of guerrillas who had taken the man away, bound. He has disappeared, despite the efforts of his family (a wife and four children) to locate him. Likewise, the Criminal worked closely with guerrillas in the area and regularly threatened villagers, at one point telling a teacher that but for the ceasefire, he was dead. Finally, the Young Lenin, despite all his admirable characteristics, and probably precisely because of his clean-cut, wholesome appearance, had apparently been tapped to make regular trips to Kathmandu to work with surveillance teams preparing targets for the urban terror campaign. Ibid.
[xx] Census figures (projections) put the 2001 population of Dolakha at 204,229, of whom a plurality were Chhetri, 58,183, or 28.5%. Another 18,791 (9.2%) were Hill Brahmins; 27,619 (13.5%) were Tamang; and just 3,392 (1.7%) were Magars. Yet guerrilla units in the area were visibly dominated by the latter and drew support from Magar communities.
[xxi] All communications observed, whether between cadre and guerrillas, or within and between guerrilla units, were by hard copy message although later reports have indicated this changed as technological fixes began to enter the hills due to greater resources available to the movement. Field notes, April-May 2003.
[xxii] Field notes, April-May 2003. It is noteworthy that efforts to draw guerrillas into discussions concerning their relationship to terror actions invariably led to responses such as: “Lower level party cadres are involved in such actions, not the battalions. We just fight.” This could well have been true, since it was neither possible to establish affiliation of guerrillas observed engaging in enforcement activities during field work in Rolpa, nor to determine the extent of independent guerrilla formations outside the battalion structure. It was noted that half-sections and sections from battalions were constantly moving through the hills, and this accords with villager descriptions of such-sized units carrying out terror actions. Since my field work, the number of battalions has increased dramatically, though strength figures vary.
[xxiii] Captured weapons predominate, with the most common high-powered firearm being the .303 Lee Enfield taken from the police. SLR’s taken from the RNA are uncommon enough to be relegated to leadership figures, such as Section Leaders. Efforts to tap the extensive arms black market in South Asia have apparently met with minimal success. There is evidence of attempts to look further afield, though. One intercepted shipment of high-powered firearms was coming from Burma. There have been reports of corrupt Chinese officials also providing surplus weapons for a price. Ibid.
[xxiv] Field notes, June 2004.
[xxv] The dimensions of this phenomenon are difficult to assess. INSEC’s Human Rights Yearbook 2003 (pg. vii) lists 17,564 displaced persons for 2002, a modest figure that would seem too low. As CDO [Chief District Officer] Rolpa, Tejprasad Paudel, noted, when commenting on the high number of passports his office had been issuing daily: “And you do not even need a passport to go to India. Lots of people have been leaving.” My own observation in western Rolpa counted roughly 20% of the houses abandoned in village centers. These would appeared to be the residences of local gentry associated with peasant society. Field notes, April-May 2003.