September 24, 2007
Buddha is Nepal’s most famous citizen. 2500 years ago, along the southern Indo-Nepalese border, Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in the ancient kingdom of Kapilvastu. The Queen bore him in the garden of Lumbini but died one week later. King Suddhodana came to see his son and was told by the sages that the boy would become either a great ruler or a completely enlightened being—a Buddha. Fearing the later, the King brought Prince Siddhartha back to his Kapilvastu Palace (present-day Taulihawa-see map) and imprisoned him in the lap of luxury, determined his son would never experience the harsh realities of the material world. According to the legend, however, the youthful Siddhartha escaped the palace walls and witnessed, for the first time in his life, old age, sickness and death. He was devastated. Finally, a mendicant monk came along and consoled him with the possibility that worldly suffering could be overcome. The Crown Prince vowed to follow a spiritual path from there on. He renounced his royal heritage. He left the Nepali Kingdom of Kapilvastu forever. He walked to India and eventually became the Buddha.
Since last week, the harsh realities of the world have saturated Buddha’s home-turf with escalating violence, vandalism and murder. The death toll now stands around 30 people with many remaining in critical condition.
It began on September 16 when unidentified gunmen shot dead Abdul Moit Khan-- an influential politician with strong links to the palace, the Prime Minister and armed groups hiding across the border in India. Khan’s assassination was an act of revenge: In 2005, soon after King Gyanendra became dictator, Khan had led a vigilante group that was responsible for the death of at least 12 Maoists. Khan's murder sent his supporters on a rampage and they began indiscriminate looting, arson and attacks, which, in turn, stoked equally violent retaliation. Many victims were burned beyond recognition and discovered only later, where they had been abandoned in deep ravines.
Citizens in Kapilvastu are furious with the interim government, saying it neither made any move to beef up security after the clashes started nor supplied relief to the survivors.
Shushil Pyakurel, former member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said the incidents occurred, "mainly due to the negligence of the government and the parties who spend most of their time in political tussle [in Kathmandu] and ignore the situation in the districts".
The violence also spread to neighboring Rupandehi and Dang Districts, assuming sectarian color with mobs attacking mosques.
On Thursday, for instance, two mosques were vandalized in Lamhi while shops were set on fire in Tulsipur. The district administration clamped down by establishing curfews and prohibiting the assembly of more than five people. A group of Muslim leaders led a delegation to Prime Minister G. P. Koirala, demanding security from (and punishment for) the perpetrators of the anti-Muslim violence. An emergency meeting of the cabinet named a three-member commission to look into the sectarian violence.
The Muslim population is not appeased: Going by the Koirala government's poor track record, with the reports of all earlier commissions being swept away under the carpet, the general feeling is that the new Commission will serve only as a face-saving ploy. Over 500 houses have been torched, displacing thousands. Many Muslims have simply fled to India for safety. According to some analysts, the Kapilvastu violence is the most serious sectarian flare-up in Nepal’s history.
International Assistance Compromised—UN truck torched in Terai
On September 19, a UN World Food Program truck was set ablaze by a mob in Dang, the district just west of Kapilvastu District, which also borders India. The truck was carrying 12 tons of food, a month's worth of food rations for more than 1,700 undernourished women and children. A WFP report was released two days later saying, "The destruction of the truck is likely to further impede our ability to maintain the delivery of food aid across all of our programs - threatening the lifeline for over 2.5 million needy people in Nepal…Further attacks against transporters carrying WFP food aid, staff or implementing partners may force us to suspend humanitarian food assistance in Nepal until the safe passage of WFP cargo and WFP staff is assured."
The November Elections, the Border Districts Insurgency and Buddha
The ongoing violence in the Terai casts further doubt on the government's ability to hold elections a mere 60 days away. Can Nepal afford additional spells of accelerated regional anarchy? How far can political instability go before the erosion of people’s trust in democracy break down into bleak cynicism? The events of the next two months will be extremely important in terms of the likelihood of rule of law. (Even without the Terai unrest, the ruling alliance in Kathmandu has its hands full from the crisis erupting last week when the Maoists quit the government and launched a campaign to disrupt the polls.)
In the meantime, tourists who wish to visit Buddha’s birthplace may refer to their trusty Baedeker’s Nepal. There, they will be assured that Kapilvastu is an out-of-the-way “detour…remarkable only for its tranquility…to visit Lumbini requires special reason.”
Insurgents, as well as U.S. writers of military doctrine, would disagree. Border regions—particularly porous border regions like the Indo-Nepalese frontier—have always served as geographic magnets for extremists and insurgents intent on upheaval. From the U. S. Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM3-24): “Access to external resources and sanctuaries has always influenced the effectiveness of insurgencies. External support can provide political, psychological and material resources that might otherwise be limited or unavailable.”
In other words, to overlook Nepal’s geography is to miss the point.
The historical Buddha was a revolutionary. He dismissed the caste system, turned his back on the monarchy and sought safe haven in India. Likewise, many contemporary disaffected Nepalis have rejected governance by kings, found local societal inequities intolerable, and looked to India for support, even when they have no love for India. Buddha was looking for peace. The question is: What, at the end of the day, do the ever-shifting mosaic of insurgent groups in Nepal really desire? And how much are they willing to sacrifice at the expense of their fellow man?
September 17, 2007
Nepal plunged into deeper political water on Tuesday morning when the Maoists pulled out of the interim coalition government, dealing a blow to the fragile peace process and compromising the possibility of elections in November. The Maoists had failed to achieve their demands for the abolition of the monarchy and proportional representation.
The announcement followed the failure of a last-ditch effort by members of the eight-party coalition to reach a compromise to prevent the Maoists from leaving the government. At the end of the meeting, four Maoist ministers – Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Dev Gurung, Hisila Yami and Khadga Bishwokarma - resigned from office.
Later on Tuesday, in the afternoon, Maoists´ deputy leader, Baburam Bhattarai greeted thousands of supporters at a public meeting in Kathmandu:
"Our protests that begin today will be peaceful, but we want to warn the government: If there are attempts to crush our peaceful movement, we will also get violent." Concerning the upcoming elections, Bhattarai warned, "We will violate the election commission's code of conduct and disrupt all their plans for elections in November."
Also on Tuesday, the Maoists unveiled their 19 day long protest program:
September 19-21---Campaign for creating awareness among the mass for total proportional system.
September 22---Demonstration and protest programs in front of the VDC's and the Municipal offices throughout the country.
September 29-October 3---Exposing the culprits of Janaandolan-II as outlined by the Rayamajhi Commission and the noted corrupts of the country.
September 30---Gheaoing the District Election Offices throughout Nepal. "Gherao", means surrounding district administration offices and preventing contestants from filing their candidature for the November 22 elections.
October 4-6---Nationwide Political Strike
According to political analyst and professor Krishna Khanal (as interviewed by Agence France Presse), the Maoists appear to be in a "destructive" mood - a sign of their difficulties in transforming themselves from jungle insurgents into mainstream officials willing to accept compromise as part and parcel of political life. "The Maoists have made a strong contribution to make the constituent assembly elections possible, but it now seems that they are destroying their own achievements," Khanal said.
Other analysts claim that the Maoist pull-out signals their sagging popularity among the Nepalis--that their prospects at the ballot box, ever bleaker and bleaker, is giving the party nightmares.
Yet other analysts suggest that the Maoists are under tremendous pressure from many angry cadres as well as camp-interned combatants to do something.
United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) expressed concern that the Maoist might mobilize camp-interned combatants in political protest. "UNMIN calls on the Maoist leadership to observe its commitments to keep the Maoist army in cantonment and that it not be mobilized for political protest," said UNMIN spokesperson Kieran Dwyer. But the fact is that the ex-rebels are already leaving the camps whenever they see fit, without apparent repercussions.
ESCALATING VIOLENCE IN SOUTHERN NEPAL
A policeman was killed and hundreds of houses and vehicles were torched on Sunday in riots sparked by the murder of a Madhesi leader in western Nepal prompting authorities to impose an indefinite curfew in the area.The violent clash broke out after unidentified gunmen killed Mohit Khan in Kapilvastu district on Sunday morning. Khan was chief of the district's vigilante group, set up to counter the Maoists during the armed conflict.
On Monday, violence in Kapilvastu and neighboring Rupandehi district continued. A total of five people were said to have been killed.
By Wednesday, it was acknowledged that the death toll in the Kapilvastu riots had mounted to 13 as seven more bodies were recovered from a gorge at Bisampur VDC. According to Deputy Superintendent Kuber Kadayet, the faces of two of them had been disfigured beyond recognition.
Also, two passenger buses were torched last night during the curfew period. One dozen vehicles have been set ablaze and vandalized in Ganeshpur and Mahendra Highway.
Report Claims November Elections Unlikely
The security heads of nine districts from the central region and some Terai districts of the country have concluded that unless all parties in the central level hold a common view over the CA elections, the possibility for November polls is increasingly unlikely--even more so given the current violent environment in the Terai.
The team of security heads submitted a report to a parliamentary committee inspecting security situation in the mid-western region of the country.
The Indo-Nepal open border plus differing views among the EPA partners over the Terai armed outfits, have been impeding the effective handling of the security deteriorating situation. The communal discord and hatred that is ever growing in Chure Bhawar region and the Terai is at its peak and is thus beyond handling, the report adds.
The report also outlines the possibility of the royalists using the armed Terai outfits to foil the polls.
"The government itself is confused over if the JTMM-Goit and Jwala were a terrorist organizations or a political one", the report concludes.
September 7, 2008 -- The Crown and the Nostalgia Factor
The oft-reviled heir to Nepal’s throne, Crown Prince Paras, 35, was stricken Thursday by a major heart attack. He was rushed to Norvic hospital, where he remains under close observation. Various members of the royal family, including the King and Queen arrived soon after he was admitted.
Paras, King Gyanendra's only son, who attained the almost psychopathic reputation of gunning his Harley through the streets of Kathmandu with attendant bodyguards, of assaulting guests at casinos and discotheques, of beating police officials, and of committing vehicular manslaughter by killing one of Nepal’s most popular singers, has kept a low profile since his father was forced to end 14 months of direct rule in April 2006. It is widely presumed that even staunch supporters of the monarchy would not mind seeing the dismissal of the present king, skip a generation and pass the emerald crown to Prince Paras’ son.
Skipping a generation may be a moot point. There is the possibility that the monarchy will be dissolved altogether in the very near future. The king has been stripped of his powers including his role as head of state and army chief and, last month, the government nationalized seven of his royal palaces, thus setting the stage for a king without an address. Further insult came to the monarchy this week when the national bank minted new coins without the king’s name.
Still, the abolishment of the monarchy is not a forgone conclusion. And it may be worth remembering that the witnessing of human frailty has a way of softening people’s hearts. The best publicity spin-doctor in Hollywood could not dream up a more positive pause-to-reflect moment. Pictures of the King and Queen driving into the entrance of Norvic hospital served to remind citizens that these people were parents, i.e. human, no matter how unlikable their son.
Four months ago, while interviewing Maoist leader Dr. Bhattarai, I suggested that the Maoists could not have been handed better foes than King Gyanendra and his son Prince Paras—that their combined arrogance and indifference to the plight of ordinary Nepalese citizens were the best arguments for the end of the monarchy. Dr. Bhattarai’s responded:
“We keep these things in historical perspective. We are not interested in individuals. We are interested in institutions, which have hampered the development of Nepal. This illegal monarchist institution, which presides over a feudal economy, politics and culture that has been ruling Nepal society for the last 250 years—this has been the biggest obstacle for Nepal moving into the modern age. So we want to abolish this feudal institution.”
Fair enough. But does this take into account the average Nepali’s emotional yearning for a national symbol, which, up until now, has been nourished—for better or worse-- by an enduring monarchy? What’s to take its place? As intangible as a symbol may be, it is not without the sensation of cohesiveness. An amputee still feels his “missing” leg.
As Nepal approaches the slated November elections, there seem to be more and more factions vying for the limelight and, at times, even vilifying the notion of one united nation. Trust in a unifying force seems to have been dashed by cynicism. One recent account lists 18 separate armed groups in Nepal, consumed by their own demands.
And although King Gyanendra has remained at the sidelines since his 2006 disgrace, there is no reason to believe he has overcome ambition, nor been rendered utterly isolated. On the evening of August 24, for instance, the day the king moved from Narayanhiti to Nagarjun Palace, Indian Ambassador Shiv Shanker Mukherjee paid him a visit. What was discussed is unknown but the mere visit makes many folks uneasy: Does India, in its heart of hearts, prefer to see royal continuity in Nepal? And if so, how far is it prepared to extend a helping hand to a sinking institution?
One thing is certain: If the public, for whatever reason, began to tilt a sympathetic ear toward the monarchy, current policy makers would be left scrambling for new cover.
September 5, 2008
Bombings in Nepal, Terrorism as an Export
A series of bomb explosions rocked Nepal's capital, on Sunday (September 2, 2007), leaving at least three people dead, 26 injured and five in critical condition. The bombs went off at the busy market places Tripureshwor, Sundhara and Balaju almost simultaneously during rush hour at around 4:15 pm, local time. The most powerful bomb went off inside a moving bus about 1000 feet from the army headquarters in Kathmandu.
The three bombs were just the latest in a series of reminders that Nepal's transition to democracy is not a forgone conclusion. While ethnic organizations like the Terai Army – one of the groups claiming responsibility for Sunday's attacks -- step up their demands for recognition in the southern plains of Nepal, the friction between Nepal's political parties is also heating up. With parliamentary elections set for Nov. 22, tensions are rising between the Maoists and the democratic Seven Party Alliance and, according to some reports, within the Maoist party itself.
The Terai Army has threatened more bombings unless its demands for a separate state in the south are met. The Terai plains of southern Nepal are primarily inhabited by the Madeshis, who are of Indian origin. They have long complained of discrimination.
The Nepal Peoples' Army, another little known group, claimed responsibility for the blasts and said it carried out the attacks as part of its campaign to abolish the monarchy and declare Nepal a republic—a demand shared by the Maoists, who are now part of the interim government.
Nepalese officials, who have arrested at least six unidentified people in connection with the bombings, remain skeptical that either group carried out the relatively sophisticated bombings. They noted there are 18-armed groups trying to derail national elections set for November 22.
Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the UN Mission in Nepal said, "Even in the 10-year conflict there were not bombs planted in the capital in this way. So this will raise, certainly, a new level of fear here in Kathmandu."
Nepal’s business community agrees. "The situation is much worse today than during the armed conflict because then we had to deal with only one group of rebels, but now there are many," said a local businessman who requested anonymity for fear of being targeted. Local entrepreneurs say the environment of fear and violence is forcing industries and factories to close down because of constant protests, strikes, threats and and extortion by former Maoist rebels, thugs who claim to be Maoists, and pro-Madeshi groups in southern Nepal. Some haulage firms have been unable to operate and many industrial products are failing to reach the capital, Kathmandu, where over 60 percent of consumer goods normally end up. According to the Nepal Chamber of Commerce, the impact has never been so bad.
Activists of the local human rights group Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) say many ex-rebels are out in the streets helping the Maoist-affiliated Youth Communist League (YCL), trade unions and dozens of other Maoist-affiliated organizations. According to them, Maoist leaders are unable to control their supporters.
WILL THE NOVEMBER ELECTIONS TAKE PLACE?
In addition to the recent blasts, seemingly designed to interrupt the election process, Maoist chief Prachanda proposed last week that the elections be postponed until April 2008 so that it would be "real" instead of being a mockery it would be if held this year.
Speaking at a public program here Friday, Prachanda finally put into words what Nepali analysts and political leaders had been fearing all along - that the Maoists are fearful of doing badly at the polls due to the militant activities of their trade, youth and student wings, and so are trying to buy time.
An internal poll conducted by one of the leading parties in the coalition government, the Communist party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, reportedly predicts that the rebels would not muster more than 10 percent votes due to their growing unpopularity. This is certainly wishful thinking on the part of the Leninists, but there are indicators that Maoist leadership may be facing mounting differences within its own party.
In the meantime, Home Minister K.P. Situala has announced that the government is prepared to deploy 22 thousand armed police force, 4161 general police and 70 thousand temporary police force to ensure that the elections take place in an atmosphere free of terrorism.
TERRORISM AS A NEPALESE EXPORT
There is mounting evidence that Nepal’s internal problems and lack of security increasingly play into underground groups of neighboring countries.
Last week in Hyderabad, India, a twin bomb blast was masterminded from outside of India. Without specifying the names of the Indian callers, police released information that as many as 60 international calls were made to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Dubai on that fateful day of August 25.
Another story, this time exposed by ZeeNews in New Delhi, is about the arms trade racket in Nepal:
Arms and ammunition business has become a lucrative trade across Indo-Nepal border following an ebb in the law and order situation of Nepal. Taking advantage of this loophole, the illegal trade has become an open field of criminals and terrorists. A Zee News team made an attempt to expose this ongoing racket of flourishing arms business.
The Zee team pretending as conmen met a petty criminal Ganesh Thapa who agreed to take them to another agent in Nepal via Gorakhpur border in India. The team had made small enquiries about the trade and the arms base and picked up the common trade language from him.
After reaching Nepal, they met a second man, Illyas, who took them to the kingpin, Bhaijan alias Riyas at the main base at an undisclosed location.
When asked about the delivery of the firearms, the kingpin said that they had a very good network of people who can deliver the consignment at one’s doorstep anywhere in India. He also said, “We have enough supply to blast a whole city.”
He informed Zee News that the arms are supplied from Pakistan, and they would sell the Kalashnikov rifles for Rs 70,000 (Rs 30,000 less than the market rate). Interestingly, he gave our reporter subsidy for he was from India.
The team closed the deal for 10 AK-47, 10 AK-46 rifles, ten 9mm pistols, 40 grenades and 10 kg RDX. The kingpin promised that the consignment would be delivered at the given address. He, however, refused to divulge the details of the mode.