Nepal: Maoist Mobs Mutate


June 18, 2009: The Maoists appear to have built up a new fighting force, the Young Communist League (YCL). Since 2006, more and more cadres (full time Maoist members) have been assigned to the YCL. There are now several thousand of these cadres, running gangs of YCL members all over the country. These groups literally act like street gangs, using fists and clubs to intimidate police, government officials and anyone else who gets in their way. Other political parties have formed their own gangs, and all these thugs rely on extortion, theft and intimidation to get what they want. It is feared that the Maoists, who walked away from running the government six weeks ago (when they tried to replace the senior commanders of the army), will use the YCL to try and seize absolute power. Right now, the Maoists insist that the new government (led by the Communist Party) is not legitimate, and only the Maoists (with most members in parliament, but not a majority needed to form a government) can form a government. The majority in parliament disagrees, just as the majority of Nepalese are not willing to accept the Maoist call for establishing a communist police state. The Maoists know that doing this might well trigger an invasion by neighboring India, as well as civil war within Nepal. Thus the creation of the YCL, which claims over 300,000 members, but the real number is probably less than 100,000 people (many of them teenagers and drifters). What the Maoists are doing here is right out of the fascist/communist playbook before World War II, when similar "street gangs" sought to mobilize sufficient popular support to overthrow elected governments. The communists used the same technique in Eastern Europe after World War II. The technique is not as effective as it used to be, largely because of the growth of electronic media since the 1920s (when radio was just being introduced). But the Maoists believe they have enough support in the countryside, where the majority of Nepalis live in poverty.

During the last year, the Maoists have continued to operate as a political party, not an armed rebellion. Capturing 37 percent of the seats in the new legislature a year ago, the Maoists had to form a coalition government. This was easy enough, but actually carrying out promises to its key followers proved more difficult. In particular there was the pledge to merge the 19,000 Maoist gunmen with the 92,000 man army. The Maoists wanted all their people in the army, even if it meant discharging current troops (the country didn't have the money for a larger force.) The army insists that Maoists joining the army meet army standards (which would disqualify over 70 percent of the Maoist fighters). It was believed that there would not be peace until the Maoist force was disbanded, preferably by giving them jobs. The Maoist gunmen also want to keep their weapons, and the only way they can do that is by joining the army or police.

While the army is confined to its bases, and the Maoist fighters are disarmed and in camps (impatiently waiting for their promised jobs), all the parties have emulated the Maoists and established "youth wings" (like the Maoist YCL) of lightly (often just with clubs and knives) armed street fighters, and unleashed them on each other. This has led to a lot of intimidation, crime (especially kidnapping) and general unrest. But not a lot of death. Last year, 81 people died from political violence (55 civilians, one policeman and 25 rebels of one party or another). The total for 2007 was 97 and the year before that, when the ceasefire deal was implemented, 480 died. Before that, in 2005, the war was still on, and 1848 died (231 civilians, 310 soldiers and police and 1307 Maoists).

While the Maoists still preach, to their followers, the intention of establishing a communist dictatorship in Nepal, the political realities of being in the government say otherwise. The ceasefire was agreed to because the Maoists realized that they had many Nepalis on their side, but the majority, including the very effective army, was against them. If the Maoists had a chance of winning, they would have to largely destroy the country in order to do it. Taking the lead in running the new government has been difficult as well. While the monarchy was quickly disposed of, the economic problems of the country only got worse. A long term drought has produced severe electricity shortages (dams are the main source of power) and famine, while the global recession had caused some factories to close. When the Maoists were just rebels, it was much easier to just demand change. Being in charge has shown the Maoists that making those changes is a lot more difficult than their rhetoric would have it.

Nepal is like several conflicts on the planet (Ivory Coast, for example), where the fighting has stopped, but the major issues have not been resolved. All the parties realize the resuming the war would most likely result in more stalemate, and a lot more destruction. But a political settlement is difficult as well, and attempts to achieve one have developed into a stalemate. The result is a suspended war, a violent peace and no end in sight.



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