The Nepali Revolution and International Relations

This article by John Mage of Monthly Review also appears in the May 19th, 2007, issue of Economic and Political Weekly of Mumbai, India.

A revolutionary civil war in Nepal ceased de facto with the popular triumph over King Gyanendra in April 2006, and de jure with the peace agreement reached in November 2006.  The Royal Nepal Army (“RNA”) now calls itself the Nepal Army, and the peace agreement requires its democratization under the authority of the new government that includes the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).  As of the date of writing this has not yet occurred and the Nepal Army is still commanded by those, primarily of the quite literally feudal elite, who — with U. S. “advisers” — had pursued the civil war with lawless brutality and impunity.  Yet it is important not to underestimate the extent of the revolutionary changes in Nepal.  Today both Nepal Army and the revolutionary armed forces (the People’s Liberation Army or “PLA”) are given in substance equal status under a peace agreement negotiated by the Nepalis themselves, and administered with the assistance of the United Nations.

In the period following the June 1, 2001 massacre of the Nepali Royal Family, the People’s War begun on February 13, 1996 by the underground CPN(M) moved from a regional insurgency in which local guerrilla forces battled police units but did not fight the RNA to a full-fledged revolutionary civil war.  After the murder of King Birendra and his immediate family, the RNA was deployed against a mass-based revolutionary force that emerged nationwide, in control of substantial territory, and with a formally organized army, the PLA.  The question was thus posed whether the contenders would be treated in practice as equals in the international arena.i

After “9/11” the United States intervened militarily in Nepal and sought to brand the revolutionaries as “terrorists” — denying them not only legitimacy but (in the U.S. view) placing them outside the scope of universally recognized international law relating to armed conflict.  The years since 2004 have seen the gradual acceptance by Nepal’s neighbors of the legitimacy of the revolutionaries; the process corresponds to their gradual abandonment of the “terrorist” terminology.  Maoists now participate in the government of Nepal and the United States alone in the world continues to call the CPN(M) “terrorists.”  Though manifest dangers remain, these developments constitute a vigorous reassertion of Nepal’s independence in the face of foreign intervention in its affairs.

Entrance of the United States into Nepali Affairs: the Tibetan “Khampa” Guerrillas

Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775), founder of the Nepali state unified under his rule in 1769, famously compared Nepal’s geopolitical situation to a “yam” balanced “between two boulders.”  Nepal’s history has justified this view: when China is weak Nepal has come under such overwhelming influence from India as to put its independence in question.  During the century from 1842 to 1945, when Chinese unity and power collapsed, Nepal’s international relations fell wholly under Indo-British control.  The only foreign representative permitted in Kathmandu was the British resident.  After independence the new Indian regime attempted with mixed success to assert the pre-existing Indo-British domination over Nepal.  India imposed an unequal treaty upon Nepal in 1950, and for more than six years in the 1950s there was an Indian “military mission” ensconced in Kathmandu.  But as the strength of revolutionary China grew, the room for Nepali initiative increased.  By 1955 diplomatic relations were resumed with China, and thereafter Nepal joined the United Nations, and diplomatic missions were exchanged with the United States and the USSR.

In 1959 China reasserted its control in Nepal’s neighbor Tibet, and the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to a CIA-subsidized base of operations in India.  In December 1960 Nepal’s King Mahendra (1955-1972) staged a coup, dismissed the parliamentary government headed by Nepal Congress leader B.P. Koirala, and subsequently instituted a “partyless Panchayat” regime dominated by the Palace. India supported the deposed Nepal Congress leaders, and protested strongly when Mahendra proposed to China the construction of a motorable road linking Kathmandu and Tibet.  In the fall of 1962 New Delhi imposed a blockade on landlocked Nepal.  But very shortly thereafter the Border War with China broke out, and India — desperate at the swift Chinese success and unwilling to confront Nepal as well — terminated the blockade.  The conflict with China brought India to seek assistance from the United States, then “Red” China’s foremost enemy.  

The United States is far from Nepal, has insignificant trade relations with Nepal, fewer of its citizens visit Nepal as tourists than from various smaller European nations, and yet in its assertion of global power has become the main source of foreign intervention in Nepali affairs.  The first U.S. diplomatic contact with Nepal — a mission headed by Joseph Satterthwaite, Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs — occurred only in 1947, simultaneously with the end of British rule in India.  Satterthwaite later characterized his mission as amounting to “the eventual end of the exclusive control of Nepal by the British.”  Although a second mission headed by senior State Department official Chester Bowles arrived during the Korean War in 1951 with the first “aid” program, no permanent legation was established until the Tibetan events of 1959.

Following defeat in the Border War, India dared not permit guerrilla operations against China from its territory.  Nepal, impoverished and with a small and poorly equipped army, was unable to prevent the establishment on its territory of CIA-trained and -financed Tibetan anti-Chinese guerrillas.  From the early 1960s until 1973 the U.S. and their CIA “Khampa” Tibetan contras occupied two districts in Nepal that bordered Tibet: Walanchung-gola in the east of Nepal and Mustang in the west.  Only after the 1972 Nixon visit to Beijing, and the consequent U.S. abandonment of support for various anti-Chinese military operations, did the newly crowned King Birendra and the RNA dare to move against the Khampa contra camps.  The arms and munitions recovered were all of U.S. manufacture.

The Foreign Policy of King Birendra (1972-2001) and the Start of People’s War

Once the U.S./Khampa contras were suppressed, King Birendra quickly established a close personal relationship with China.  His father had made one state visit to China, in 1961.  Birendra visited as crown prince in 1966 and, as King, made visits in 1973, 1976 (including a visit to Tibet), 1978, 1979, 1982 (again visiting Tibet), 1987, 1993, 1996, and finally in 2001, three months before his murder. His relations with India were, in contrast, tense in the extreme.  In 1989 Birendra’s government had arranged a deal, over Indian protest, under which the RNA was to purchase Chinese arms.  When the Tiananmen incident paralyzed China, India again imposed an embargo on Nepal and offered support for an insurrection. As tensions mounted and supplies of petroleum products grew scarce, the Indian Foreign Secretary arrived in Kathmandu with an offer to support the monarchy against the agitating political parties in return for adherence to a humiliating draft “friendship” treaty.  Instead Birendra yielded his paramount power, and compromised with the growing democratic mass movement headed by a coalition of the Nepal Congress and various Communist parties, for the moment united in pursuit of a democratic regime.

Under the ensuing 1991 constitution, the King retained personal command over the RNA and a primary role in foreign affairs, but internal administration was turned over to a government of the political parties responsible to an elected parliament.  The “parliamentary” governments of the post-1991 period quickly discredited themselves by crude lust for the profits of office.  And the police continued to crush opposition with an enthusiasm comparable to that of the prior “partyless Panchayat” regime.  The revolutionary Communists gathered in the underground CPN (Unity Centre) were represented in the parliament by nine members of the United Peoples Front, and in the impoverished districts of Rapti zone in mid-western Nepal the Front had won district and village elections.  Elected leaders such as Jhakku Prasad Subedi, chairman of the Rolpa District Development Committee, were targeted for assassination by goons of the royalist and Nepal Congress parties.  Protest meetings were attacked by the police, and speakers shot.  An increasing number of party activists fled their homes, and the occasional act of retaliation against police attacks occurred.

In November of 1995 the government, a coalition of Congress and royalists, launched a police invasion of Rolpa code-named “Operation Romeo.”  Atrocities committed by police in “Operation Romeo” brought the villages of Rolpa to a fever pitch.  On February 13, 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), formed from components of CPN (Unity Centre) in 1995, launched People’s War with attacks on the most notorious of the police outposts.  In the next years guerrilla actions eliminated police outposts across Rolpa and Rukum districts, and in several other districts in other zones of the country as well.  In late September 2000 hundreds of armed fighters moved out from the Rukum base area on a single file mountain track over a 13,000-foot pass to attack the police post in Dunai, the district centre of Dolpa.  Local inhabitants did not warn the police, and the attack ended in victory for the revolutionaries.  The post was captured with all its weapons, and political prisoners were liberated from the district prison across the river.

The Murder of King Birendra and the Royal Family

Birendra did not deploy the RNA.  At Dunai there was an army post just a few hours’ walk upstream that did not come to the help of the police.  As attacks eliminated some of the last of the police posts in Rukum and adjoining districts, Birendra was besieged with demands that the RNA be thrown into the fight against the revolutionary youth in the hills.  Yet Birendra refused, visited China, and was reported to have established secret contacts with the revolutionaries.  On June 1, 2001, he was murdered along with all his immediate family.  Nothing can be said with certainty about this crime, except that most Nepalis think the official story — that Crown Prince Dipendra, high on alcohol and drugs and angry because he was not permitted to marry the woman he loved, slaughtered his entire family — is false.  The surgeon who operated on Dipendra in an unsuccessful effort to save his life stated unequivocally at the time that his bloods showed no trace of alcohol or drugs.  And a surviving palace servant has recently come forward to say that she saw Dipendra shot through the head and prone, while the shootings continued.

The Chinese reaction of deep concern was immediate.  Madan Regmi, chairman of Nepal’s “China Study Centre,” and at that time a confidant of Chinese officials, immediately visited China and gave an interview on his return to Nepal in July 2001.  Though denying that his sources were official, Madan Regmi repeated the charge that the murdered royal family were victims of a plot caused by Birendra’s close relations to China.  He also quoted “reliable” (but unofficial) sources as saying that China in the immediate aftermath of the murders had “subtly” warned India against any military intervention.

Shortly after the accession of King Gyanendra — who had been out of Kathmandu on June 1, 2001 — the revolutionaries captured a major police post at Holleri in central Rolpa, taking 71 prisoners.  Gyanendra, acting through Prime Minister Girija Koirala, ordered the RNA into action for the first time.  But the local commanders of the RNA and the revolutionary forces were able to arrange a peaceful resolution, and Girija Koirala resigned.  He was succeeded as Prime Minister by Sher Bahadur Deuba, also a leader of the Nepal Congress, and known to be close to the U.S. embassy.  A cease-fire was arranged, and the revolutionaries in September 2001 organized massive rallies, and took steps to formalize their rule, holding the First National Convention of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and a National Convention of the United Revolutionary People’s Council, a coordinating centre for an emerging alternate government in the areas cleared of police presence.

Gyanendra’s new Deuba-led government took advantage of the cease-fire openly to begin preparations for bringing the RNA into action.  Attacks on known and suspected Maoists began; local leaders were assassinated.  The PLA responded on November 23, 2001, with a successful attack on Ghorahi, the district headquarters of Dang district, capturing a primary arsenal of the RNA.  Two other district headquarters in other parts of the country were also successfully attacked.  A State of Emergency was declared on November 26, 2001, and the full-scale deployment of the RNA ordered.  These events marked the emergence of a qualitatively higher stage (“strategic equilibrium” in the Maoist lexicon) of the revolutionary conflict, in which two armies and two regimes faced each other in a nationwide civil war.

In the ensuing winter and spring of 2002 the Gyanendra regime was able to mobilize external support from all international forces.  Then BJP Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, on a visit to Nepal, was the first to term the Maoists “terrorist,” a lead that the Nepal Congress government soon followed.  Thereafter, India provided substantial military assistance.  The Palace also took immediate steps to conciliate China, culminating in Gyanendra’s state visit in July of 2002.  The Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Wu Congwong, had on May 11, 2002 already called the revolutionaries “terrorists” and said that China’s policy was to describe the revolutionaries as “anti-government outfits” and avoid the use of the term “Maoist.”  The Ambassador then traveled to the revolutionary Gorkha district with his military attaché, said that the RNA was “doing a good job” and that China would provide “necessary assistance.”  In the aftermath of “9/11” China was eager not to antagonize an aggressive emboldened U.S. regime that now intervened in Nepal with military supplies and personnel.

The Rocca Period (2001-2004)

A new U.S. policy of active military intervention in Nepal commenced with the April 2001 nomination of Christina Rocca as the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia.  According to authoritative sources, Mrs. Rocca, a career officer of the CIA from 1982 to 1997, was closely involved in the CIA operations against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  She then supervised the buy-back by the CIA of the unused Stinger missiles they had themselves introduced.  Rocca later served as legislative assistant to right-wing Senator Brownback of Kansas, known for his zealous advocacy of Tibetan independence and of a hard line towards China.  With this outlook, the Rocca period (2001-4) was to see the close co-ordination of U.S. intervention in Nepal with the then BJP Indian government.

In June 2001, days after Birendra was assassinated, a U.S. “Office of Defense Cooperation” with Nepal was established in the Kathmandu embassy.  Shortly following the resignation of Girija Koirala in late July 2001, Christina Rocca herself arrived in Nepal for meetings with “security” officials.  Deuba had been prime minister only for days before his meeting with Rocca.

On January 18, 2002, less than two months after the resumption of warfare and the imposition of the State of Emergency, then U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell arrived in Nepal.  He was accompanied, among others, by Christina Rocca, and by Vice Admiral Walter Doran, Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Powell met with Gyanendra, Deuba, and then Chief of the Army Staff General Prajwolla Shumshere Rana.  Shortly afterwards the Bush administration announced it was seeking an initial special appropriation of $20 million for the Nepalese security forces, and a team of U.S. military advisers from the U.S. Pacific Commandarrived in Nepal, including a Colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps, the chief of the Logistic Plans Division and the Deputy Chief of Engineering.  This group was followed by mobile teams that worked with RNA ground units on matters of military tactics.  Programs that had for years brought RNA officers to U.S. military schools were greatly expanded.  RNA officers were sent to the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army and General Staff Colleges, the National Defense University and the Asia Pacific Center for Strategic Studies.  An immense U.S.-aided expansion of the Security Forces (RNA and the paramilitary Armed Police Force) began.  By 2005 the pre-2001 force of approximately 35,000 had increased to above 100,000, with a proclaimed goal of 150,000 by 2008.

Gyanendra’s Deuba-led government, flush with U.S. patronage, dismissed the elected parliament in the spring of 2002 when a parliamentary majority emerged in favor of ending the State of Emergency.  But the policy of internal militarization with U.S. support did not yield the intended results; instead, the revolutionary movement spread rapidly to districts previously unaffected.  The Palace now changed course, dismissed the U.S.-backed Deuba in October 2002, and installed royalist Lokendra Bahadur Chand as Prime Minister charged with seeking a truce and negotiations.  An angry Christina Rocca arrived in December 2002 and immediately acted to abort the peace talks.  In a public statement she termed the revolutionaries “terrorists” and compared them to Pol Pot.  And as soon as she departed, the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu initiated the process of placing the revolutionaries on U.S. “terrorist” lists.  Nonetheless a cease-fire was achieved on January 29, 2003.  The royal government made the truce possible by agreeing to three conditions:  to stop calling the Maoist led revolutionaries “terrorists”; to lift rewards offered for the arrest of the leaders; and to withdraw international police warrants for them.

From the first the United States opposed the truce and looked for ways to provoke a return to civil war.  In January 2003, as the truce was being negotiated, a 49-member team of U.S. military “experts” arrived in Nepal to train with the RNA, and the first shipment of what was eventually to amount to more than 8,000 M-16 rifles arrived.  On February 4th Christina Rocca was quoted by Reuters as looking on the newly announced truce skeptically: “maybe this is a reason for hope but the fact of the matter is it’s a deteriorating situation,” she said, “the situation in Nepal is really not looking very good.”  In May, as talks between Palace and Maoists got under way, the U.S. embassy announced that the Maoists were now formally designated “terrorists” and had been placed on two of the three U.S. “terrorist” lists.  The RNA, with U.S. advisers at every elbow, then sabotaged the peace talks.  The RNA command rejected the agreement reached by the government’s peace negotiators that the RNA would not patrol further than 5 kilometers from their barracks.  At the very moment that a critical round of peace negotiations commenced, on August 17, 2003, an RNA unit in the village of Doramba in Ramechap district murdered in cold blood 18 unarmed Maoist activists.  A subsequent investigation revealed that “the dead persons . . . were all arrested in connection with a political meeting and while marching them with their hands tied at their back, they were lined up on the track and shot dead.”  The Doramba massacre by the U.S.-advised RNA terminated the truce.  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage then announced the finding that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) “poses a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten . . . the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States” and their formal designation on the highest category U.S. “terrorist” list.

The resumption of civil war in the fall of 2003 saw the highpoint of U.S. military involvement in Nepal.  Elaborate permanent quarters for U.S. “advisers” were constructed adjacent to RNA headquarters in the centre of Kathmandu.  Through its International Military Education and Training Program (IMET), the U.S. trained the security forces in “special operations.”  There ensued “a policy to allow mass disappearances accompanied by tacit approval at the highest levels of state to use mass torture, extra-judicial killings and other gross abuses.”ii The government announced a plan for “Village Defence Volunteers,” based on Latin American paramilitary “death squad” models.  This proved too much for the European Union Heads of Mission in Nepal, who up to this time had followed the growing U.S. intervention without adverse public comment.  They warned, with diplomatic understatement, that in other countries such plans “have often been responsible for grave violation of human rights.”

Christina Rocca’s December 2003 visit was marked by a U.S. bid for RNA troops to be sent to Iraq (a request politely deflected by the Nepal government), a session with Gyanendra, and by a meeting with RNA chief General Pyar Jung Thapa, who reported to her on plans for the “Village Defence Volunteers” paramilitary vigilantes, asked for more weapons, helicopters, surveillance equipment that would enable the army to find and kill the revolutionary leadership, and the continuation of counter-insurgency training.  At the start of March 2004 high-ranking U.S. security officials again arrived in Nepal.  The team, led by J. Cofer Black, Coordinator for the Office of Counter-terrorism of the U.S. State Department, flew to the Mid-Western Division Headquarters of the Royal Nepalese Army in Nepalgunj.  In April another group of U.S. soldiers arrived in Nepal to conduct “joint training exercises” with RNA’s recently established “Special Forces” units such as the “Ranger Battalion,” commanded by officers trained in, and specially selected by, the United States.

The BJP regime’s Ambassador in Kathmandu, Shyam Saran, professed to see no change in India’s Nepal policy in its acceptance of U.S. military intervention.  Acquiescence vitiated the Indian interpretation of the unequal 1950 treaty as prohibiting Nepal from seeking military assistance from other states, but an emerging U.S.-Indian military co-operation took precedence.  At the end of 2003 Saran was quoted as saying that India and the United States were “on the same wavelength.”

Changes on the International Scene in the Spring of 2004

The April-May 2004 Indian elections unexpectedly turned out the BJP government and brought to power a Congress-led government that depended for its majority on the left parliamentary parties.  The new government at first followed the existing policy of co-ordination with U.S. policy, and military assistance to the RNA continued.  Ambassador Saran, personification of that policy, in June 2004 was promoted to Foreign Secretary, the top Foreign Service position in the Ministry of External Affairs.

A significant change in China’s position was set out by its Ambassador Sun Heping in an address on May 28, 2004.  Implicitly repudiating previous Ambassador Wu Congwong’s assertion of two years before that the Maoist revolutionaries were “terrorists,” he explained that calling them “anti-government forces” is not the same thing as the “terrorist” tag used by India and the United States. He emphasized that hostile activities by Tibetan separatists was China’s major concern in Nepal.

This turn coincided with a major change in U.S. diplomatic personnel.  The U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Michael Malinowski, had played but a minor role.  Policy was being made in Washington, and Christina Rocca was not hesitant to come to Kathmandu.  In the spring of 2004 Malinowski was suddenly removed prior to the scheduled end of his term, and replaced by a far more powerful  figure, James F. Moriarty, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council and former Political Officer at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.  Moriarty was well known for his advocacy of a policy of accomodation to China.  U.S. support for its Tibetan clients was to be, as before, a bargaining counter.  

Another career change occurred at this same moment.  On May 14th, 2004, Rabinder Singh, the Joint Secretary handling South-East Asia in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) abruptly went to Nepal, was issued a U.S. passport, and left for refuge under CIA protection in the United States.  In RAW he had, reputedly, been responsible for Nepal.  Thus an era, one that commenced with the murder of King Birendra, in which the CIA and Christina Rocca could manage the relations of both India and the United States with Nepal came to a close.

After the failure of the 2003 peace talks, Gyanendra again called U.S. favorite Deuba to head a war government.  The United States put intense pressure on the parliamentary Communist Party of Nepal (UML) to join the Deuba government, in the belief that only a coalition of the Palace and the primary political parties would have the strength successfully to pursue the civil war.  In the summer of 2004 this policy appeared to have succeeded, and the CPN (UML) joined the government.  But this resulted only in the exodus of many of the remaining UML cadre, who by this time wanted no part of King, civil war, or the United States.  The parliamentary political party government proved unable to exercise any control over the U.S.-advised security forces, and the civil service fought bitterly against the reappearance of spoils-seeking politicians.

The Royal Coup of February 2005

Believing from RNA intelligence that the CPN (Maoist) was on the verge of an inevitable and devastating split, in February 2005 Gyanendra formed a government based on the armed forces with royalist ministers personally loyal to the King.  The leaders of the political parties, including the erstwhile ministers now charged with corruption, were placed under arrest.  The Palace thought it could then resume peace talks with one or the other of the factions into which it believed the CPN (Maoist) had split, while retaining for the RNA the military assistance of India and the United States.  These calculations were mistaken.  The CPN (Maoist) did not split, indeed the vigorous internal debate gave rise to unity on a higher level.  Attempts to resume negotiations were spurned. And the government of India under intense pressure from the left parliamentary parties suspended military assistance to a Royal autocracy that had discarded the last shreds of parliamentary legitimacy.

Given the necessity of reliance on the command of the RNA to effect the coup, and given the close relations of the RNA command with the United States, Ambassador Moriarty’s denial of prior knowledge can hardly be credited.  Far more likely is that the Palace had been given reason to believe in U.S. assistance, which was only denied after it became clear that the Palace had garnered neither internal nor Indian support.

Gyanendra then turned for arms to China, which had refused to condemn the February 2005 coup, terming it an “internal affair.”  A major gesture to China had been the January 2005 closing of the Tibetan Welfare Office in Kathmandu days before the coup, a move inconceivable before the new U.S. policy represented by the arrival of Moriarty.  And China responded favorably, much to the anger of Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran who henceforth reputedly saw matters from a different perspective.  In June 2005, five armoured personnel carriers arrived in Nepal from China.  In September 2005, China was reported to have agreed to provide arms and ammunition worth approximately US$22 million.  And in late November 18 trucks carrying military hardware from China were reported to have crossed the Nepal-Tibet border.

Meanwhile, the vigilante death squad plan was put into effect by the RNA . In February 2005 squads murdered several dozens of unarmed “pahadi” hill people and burned over 700 houses in Kapilvastu in the Terai, claiming the victims to be “Maoists.”  These semi-official communalist murders were immediately denounced by the European Union ambassadors and “Human Rights” groups. Moriarty, recalled to Washington for consultations, was reported to have pointed to these death squad activities as reasons for “optimism.”  Moriarty returned to Kathmandu in May 2005 and did not deny the report when confronted with it, merely stating that there was a “range of opinion” about the Kapilvastu death squad outrage.  Moriarty said his main concern was that the RNA was running out of bullets.  Not wishing openly to break ranks with India or the European Union on the question of military assistance to the increasingly isolated royal regime, the United States turned to its Israeli surrogate.  In August a “huge cache” of 5.56 mm bullets for the U.S. M-16 rifles was reported to have been supplied to the RNA by Israel.

Christina Rocca soon followed Moriarty to Kathmandu on what was to be her farewell visit, along with a planeload of “non-lethal” military assitance.  Rocca set out U.S. policy: pressure was to be put on the Palace to end the standoff with the parliamentary political parties, and to step up the civil war.  Despite Tibetan anger there were no hard words for China, and tacitly a new co-operation emerged in arming the RNA: “non-lethally” by the U.S. and its U.K. satellite, and lethally by Israel and China.

The gradual divergence in Indian and U.S. policy that had commenced with the flight of Rabinder Singh and the arrival of Moriarty now broke into the open.  The leaders of the parliamentary parties, except for Deuba who remained charged with personal corruption, were freed from detention in May 2005, and India now encouraged them to undertake an urban uprising against the Royal government.  Indian intelligence correctly assessed that the Royal regime was now without any base outside the military.  The leaders of the major parliamentary parties, long among India’s most valued contacts in Nepal, could only hope to re-emerge as a dominant force by leading a uprising against the King in the cities, where the armed Maoist presence was slight and where the parliamentary parties still had cadre and active student organizations.

The popular response to the renewed agitation of the parliamentary parties was minimal, and leaders of the parties and their Indian interlocutors as well were driven to the realization that only by reaching agreement with the revolutionaries could an insurrectionary plan have any hope of success.  “Terrorist” disappeared from Indian officials’ vocabulary; within the year the declaration was made that the Maoists “are not terrorists.”  By late July 2005 local activists of the parliamentary parties were openly co-operating with the Maoists in the countryside, and suddenly the protests in the cities began to attract large crowds.


In August the PLA defeated the RNA in a frontal assault on a fortified base at Pili, in Kalikot district. The September 2005 meeting of the central committee of the CPN (Maoist) at Chunwang in the liberated district of Rukum set out the terms for agreement with the parliamentary political parties, and announced a unilateral three-month truce.  Negotiators — notably Bam Dev Gautam of the CPN (UML) and Comrade Prakash of the CPN (Unity Centre/Masal) — traveled to the liberated district to prepare the groundwork for a formal pact.  But the two primary leaders of the parliamentary parties, Girija Koirala of the Congress party and Madhav Nepal of the UML, refused to go to Rolpa — in Nepal, but in liberated territory — for the final negotiations, insisting on a foreign, Indian, venue.  The Indian government was forthcoming, and successful negotiations between the revolutionaries and the political parties on a joint insurrectionary course concluded in November 2005 (the “12 Point Agreement”).

The United States openly sided with the Palace in denouncing the agreement, insisting that the Maoists were “illegitimate” and not proper parties to a settlement.  But events now moved quickly, and in short order it was Gyanendra and Moriarty who were isolated.  In April 2006 a coordinated urban insurrection carried out jointly by the political parties and the Maoists challenged the security forces, the last remaining stronghold of the Palace.  At length the command was forced to tell the King that their troops were no longer willing to fire on the citizenry, and the Palace gave in.

In a final move aimed at splitting the insurrectionary coalition, the long-expired parliament — elected for a maximum five-year term in 1999, and in which the revolutionaries were not represented — was recalled by the Palace. A government of the parliamentary parties, headed by Girija Koirala, was installed and tasked itself with reaching a peace agreement with the revolutionaries and meeting their demand for elections to a Constituent Assembly.  A peace agreement, providing for a partial disarmanent to be monitored by the United Nations, was reached in the fall of 2006.  The agreement in substance gave equivalent status to the Nepal Army and the PLA, and was welcomed by the international community.  Moriarty, after an initial outburst of petulance, kept his silence.  By early 2007 the carefully realistic Chinese were meeting with the revolutionaries, and the designation “Maoists” appeared in China’s media.  Even the British, slipping the leash, in March 2007 issued a visa to Chandra Prakash Gajurel, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Maoists.  On April 1, 2007, the Maoists entered the government.

The formidable U.S. military intervention in Nepal has, for the time, been thwarted.  The United States continues to term “terrorist” — and threaten criminal sanctions against — the CPN(M) and its supporters.  This is, at minimum, confirmation that hostile U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of Nepal keeps on.  Yet, although the Nepal Army remains more under U.S. than Nepali command and covert actions aimed at a resumption of civil war in Nepal are certain to continue to occur, the worst of the danger has passed.  U.S. global power is on the decline, that of China on the increase.  A renewed Indian military intervention also would face difficulties.  As Prithvi Narayan Shah understood at the start of a dynasty that is today in its final days, the stronger China the less Nepal has to fear from India.

The popular triumph of April 2006 and the subsequent peace agreement were accomplished by the Nepalis themselves.  Despite the ongoing manipulation of communalism by both domestic and foreign enemies, the revolutionary forces in Nepal now have a breathing space to move toward a new democracy free of the most dangerous forms of foreign military intervention.  This is a substantial achievement.


[I wish to thank Trailokya Raj Aryal, Mary Des Chene and Prem Raman Uprety for helpful discussions and comments on earlier conceptions of this paper.]



i  The traditional international law question was whether the “belligerent” status of the group challenging the internationally recognized state would be acknowledged, bringing into play the then accepted international law relating to armed conflict.  See, e.g. Convention (No. IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, with Annex of Regulations, Oct. 18, 1907, Annex art. 1, 36 Stat. 2277, T.S. No. 539 (Jan. 26, 1910) [“Hague Convention”].  Today, in the current debased status of international law (consider the recent history of Iraq), two bad faith discourses co-exist.  “Humanitarian intervention in internal armed conflicts” marks a discourse utilized to justify aggression against weak sovereign states by the United States and its satellites.  “Terrorism” marks a discourse aimed at denying armed groups that challenge the United States and its satellites the provisions of established international law in regard to prisoners of war, torture, etc.  Here I am concerned with the factual progression of the international acceptance of the full legitimacy of the Nepali revolutionaries, in effect the recognition of “belligerent status,” which one hopes might presage a more general return to pre-existing international law.

ii  Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) January 2005 statement on ‘Enforced disappearances and zero rule of law in Nepal’ to the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations Economic and Security Council.   Available at <>.

| Print