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OPINION: China support spurs power grab by Maoists

May 5, 2009

By M.D. Nalapat
Published: May 04, 2009

Manipal, India — Although China was a voluble backer of Nepal’s deposed
King Gyanendra, with its satellite Pakistan following suit, both
countries changed sides immediately when Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal
Dahal, also known as Prachanda, came to power in August, 2008.

Despite Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government's indulgence
in him, spurred in large part due to Prachanda's ties to India's
Communist parties, Prachanda moved early on to end Nepal’s relations
with India and replaced it with another neighbor, China.

Prachanda had made it clear to colleagues within the Maoist politburo
that he would scrap the India-Nepal Treaty and replace it with a
China-Nepal Treaty when Nepal’s Chief of Army Staff General Rookmangud
Katawal got replaced by his China friendly Deputy army General Kul
Bahadur Khadka, whose family has seen a remarkable rise in fortunes
since the past decade.

An indication of the Maoist tilt towards the regime that Mao Zedong
founded in 1949 was evident from the harsh treatment meted out by
Nepal’s Maoist-led government towards Tibetans fleeing persecution from
China’s communist party. Under Nepal’s Monarchy, Tibetans were treated
the same way they are in India, since 1959, as honored victims of
cultural and social oppression.

Since Prachanda took office on Aug. 18, 2008, Tibetan followers of the
Dalai Lama in Nepal have been forcibly deported, chased out of their
homes, and treated much the same way they are in China.

Although technically a part of the Prachanda-led government, the
Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) is in fact the main
opposition to the Maoists within Nepal, the Nepali Congress is rapidly
losing its support base in rural areas. Although the pro-China faction
within the CPN (UML) sought to ensure backing for Prachanda's
unconstitutional sacking of Katawal, more than 80 percent of the party's
top leadership protested, forcing the pro-China faction to switch to a
posture of opposition to the power grab of Prachanda.

Since the Maoists came to office, conditions of the poor in Nepal have
in fact worsened, making the party leadership unpopular with its base.
Prachanda therefore needed to follow Chairman Mao and grab full power
"through the barrel of the gun." This would be possible only if the
Nepal army was infused with what would finally be 70,000 guerrilla
fighters trained not for conventional war but for slaughtering "class
enemies" - any individual or group hostile to the Maoists.

Senior Cabinet members in Nepal claim that Prachanda discussed his plans
to sack the army chief with the Chinese leadership. According to these
sources, China assured Nepal that Beijing would see it as an "internal
problem," or in other words, back the move, especially with its favorite
officer Khadka taking charge of the military on India's borders.
Prachanda was also told that China would look askance at any "big
brother" attitude by India, a message it has informally given for
decades to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well.

Prachanda once again relied on his friends in the Communist parties in
India to ensure India's quiescence and indeed the attempted dismissal of
Katawal was met by silence from the Manmohan Singh government, arguably
the weakest India has had in defending the country's vital interests.

However, other political parties in Nepal were not as paralyzed as New
Delhi. Aware that the “Maoization” of the Nepalese army would soon
result in the massacre of their cadres and in the establishment of a
China-Pakistan supported Maoist dictatorship in Nepal, all other parties
in the 601-member Constituent Assembly have opposed the move including
President Ram Baran Yadav, a Nepal nationalist eager to ensure that his
country will not become a Pakistan-style satellite of China.

The odds are, rather than Katwal it is Prachanda who will have to go.
The government that takes over needs to ensure that the Maoists be
divested of the armed squads forms the underpinning of their influence
in Nepal. Unless Prachanda surrenders the gun for the ballot, he has to
be treated as an enemy of democracy.


(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research
Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal
University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)
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