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Nepal: King and Army Choose the Abyss

No further sign is required of Nepal’s final descent into an abyss of violence and repression than the Royal coup of 1 February 2005. Dropping all pretenses of rule by proxy, King Gyendra dissolved the government he himself had appointed (following his abrogation of the elected parliament in 2002) and declared a state of emergency.

Drawing the reins of power close, the King suspended the fundamental rights of Nepal’s citizens, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right to information, the right to constitutional remedy and freedom to form trade unions. Such action was not possible by the King and the palace cronies alone, but with the able assistance of the Army protests were quelled (in Pokra demonstrating students were shot at from Army helicopters), the offices of newspapers stormed, and political leaders, unionists and students rounded up and held incommunicado (“Royal Coup”, Frontline, 12-25 February 2005).

The day the King assumed dictatorial powers all telephone lines were cut, internet connections suspended and satellite links shut down. The King then appointed a mélange of anti-democratic opportunists and royalist lackeys as the new ‘government’ - many holdovers from Nepal’s ice age of rule under absolute monarchy from 1960 to 1990. Claiming that the constitutional political parties had failed to uproot corruption or defeat the insurgents of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), which has been waging an armed struggle since 1996 and controls 80% of the countryside, the King declared to a citizenship stripped of any means to reply, that dictatorship was the only way to “save” Nepal.

Yet, the real character of the coup, and why it portends such a disaster for the population is to be found in actions of the King’s handmaiden, the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA). The RNA has earned the reputation, according to Human Rights Watch, “as the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances.” In 2003 and 2004, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Dis-appearances recorded that Nepal held the highest number of new cases of disappearances (1,234) in the world (“Security Forces Disappear Hundreds of Civilians”, Human Rights Watch, 1 March 2005). In 2004, Nepal’s independent human rights organisation INSEC, released a detailed report that identified the Army and police as responsible for two-thirds of the civil war’s 10,000 deaths. One-third of deaths were at the hands of the Maoists (Nepali Times, 13-19 August 2004).

In nine years of civil war the Army has failed to defeat the Maoists. Rumours circulate of corruption within the army, including the selling of weapons to the Maoists (Inter Press Service, 13 February 2005). But the most basic problem of the civil war is that the root causes are economic, political and social; none of which can be solved militarily. Nepal’s gross inequalities of wealth and land distribution provide a steady stream of recruits to the insurgents. All sides in the armed conflict have resorted to brutalities fueling a spiraling cycle of violence. The coup has only accelerated this by utterly freeing the Army to engage in repression across Nepalese society in toto.

The evidence of this was clear to see in the days following the coup. Every leader of Nepal’s two main trade union centres, the Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and the General Federation of Nepali Trade Unions (GEFONT), was in hiding or under arrest. Former Nepali Congress Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is being held under house arrest. Koirala’s daughter, who managed to escape Nepal, gave a press conference in New Delhi where she described Army soldiers pretending to be Maoists threatening her father (Inter Press Service, 12 February 2005). Such ‘black’ operations will be part and parcel of the new regime’s actions.

With the army in control of Kathmandu and the Maoists seemingly in control of the rest of the country, little independent information has otherwise been made available. Yet, pressure on the King and the royalist regime has emerged from the outside world.

Nepal in general and the military in particular are heavily dependent on foreign aid; over 60% of the national budget comes from foreign sources. In this context, the King probably over-calculated the extent of foreign support for his misadventure. The governments of the United States, Britain and India all condemned the coup and Britain and India have withdrawn military aid. (Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government declared the King’s coup an internal matter.)

This is potentially the weakest external part of the King’s strategy to subjugate the population. Without military aid flowing to the Royal Nepalese Army the regime will find it increasingly hard to prop itself up. However, other forms of aid can only help the regime. It is necessary to ask: how, after a coup, could there possibly be any transparency that aid delivered will not be siphoned off for corrupt or military uses? To believe otherwise would be naïve in the extreme.

Nepal’s King has chosen to enter the abyss of repression. The international labour movement must mount a global popular campaign in support of peace and democracy for the citizens of Nepal and for the freedom of the trade union movement in Nepal; this would be the strongest act of solidarity we could undertake.

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