Visiting a Tamang village last week, we chatted with the villagers and asked if any Maoists had been there. They said a group of five Maoists had come a few years ago and held meetings to educate the people, specially school teachers. The teachers, they said, usually spent the time drinking and gambling instead of teaching. So where were the Maoists now? "The police came to the village and killed all five of them," one villager replied, adding: "But the teachers are much better behaved now." So the police had killed five young Maoists who had improved the performance of three young teachers. Two years later, the villagers said, Maoists killed a group of policemen on an adjoining ridge.
We hear these stories every day about villagers caught in the crossfire between police and Maoists. If the police use a village house, Maoists come and interrogate the house owners. If the Maoists eat or sleep there, the family can expect an unpleasant visit from the police. Often, a fate worse than interrogation befalls the family. Everyone we talked to last week in the villages we passed hate the police, and most accept the Maoists. Once the police are out of an area, and the Maoists are securely established, they say, peace returns.
Now, it is no longer just ordinary villagers who are caught in the middle. Increasingly, we hear of hotel and factory owners getting harassed by both sides. One well-known first class hotel got a visit from Maoists who demanded a donation according to the size and class of the hotel. Since the donation demanded was large, and the hotel manager was accountable to the owners, he said he'd have to check with the owners. He explained this to the Maoists who said they would come back in a few days.
Then the police called him and said they had heard that Maoists had paid a visit and what could the manager tell them about who came andwhat was said. The manager was naturally evasive. After a few more visits and talks between the well-behaved Maoists and the afraid-of-his-boss hotel manager, the police came to show the manager some photographs of a small group of men at the hotel gate and accused him of lying. They said the men in the photographs were the Maoists who had been visiting him. The hotel manager, afraid of retribution from both sides left town and took a different job.
A month ago, a group of fifteen or so young Nepalis were travelling to a remote project site in one of the Maoist inhabited areas.
They were carrying about Rs 400,000 for project expenses. They were joined along the path by two men who turned out to be plainclothes policemen. A group of Maoists, encountered on the trail recognised the two local police, and suspecting that the others were also police kept them in the Maoist's jungle headquarters . One of the project members was killed by Maoists after they tried to confiscate the money. The fifteen men who had been trekking up to the project were extensively questioned to determine whether they too were plainclothes policemen.
Finally, after three weeks of questioning and observation, one young man was allowed back to Kathmandu to bring back proof that they all really were with the project and not with the police. The 22-year-old who was designated to return to Kathmandu, arrived in town shaking and terrified:
terrified of the Maoists who thought he was police, terrified of the police thought he was Maoist, terrified of his boss and how to explain the missing money.
Nepalis who heard this story, and the terrified young man himself, blamed neither the police nor the Maoists. They all blamed Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. They blamed his well-known hatred of anyone called "communist" which has led to his adamant refusal to negotiate or seek compromise with the Maoists. They blame his outsized ego and megalomania that is destroying the country.
Ordinary Nepalis are sick of the violence and are longing for peace and a return to normalcy. The idea of a multi-pronged Integrated Security and Development Plan is adding a whole series of new imponderables into an already complicated situation. Most Nepalis are aghast at the potential horrors that could ensue. If you thought Rukumkot and Dailekh were bad, one can well imagine what kind of casualties will occur when both sides have more sophisticated weapons.
The new Plan to defeat the Maoists is supposed to win the "hearts and minds" of Nepalis, but this slogan which might have made sense three-and-a-half years ago when it was rejected by Girija Koirala, is a joke today.
The Maoists have already won the hearts and minds of much of Nepal including many intellectuals in Kathmandu. If the prime minister thinks the way to win over the villagers is to send more and more force to shoot through the hearts and blow out the minds of Maoists or their sympathisers, they today understand even less then they did three years ago when they launched Kilo Sierra II. One only needs to look at the same dis-credited faces who still surround and advise the prime minister, and who have presumably concocted another exercise in killing, to realise why this plan is doomed to failure.
It is now becoming more and more apparent that the process of creating a peaceful and socially just Nepal can only begin with the departure from the political scene of Koirala and his self-serving entourage.