Terrorism is a terrible tactic for one simple reason: it targets non-combatants. No goal or grievance can justify acts that cause deaths of innocents by design. Terrorism may create more bang for the buck in visibility, but it doesn't take long for the propaganda of the deed to be counterproductive. The Madi bus blast de-legitimised Maoists and they never recovered from it.
Soon after the serial bomb blasts shook Kathmandu last Sunday, two little-known groups from tarai claimed responsibility. Their justification was unconvincing. The nature of the violence in the tarai is too crude and raw to suggest any link with the relative sophistication of carefully orchestrated bomb blasts in the capital city.
The plotters knew exactly what they were doing and chose their targets for maximum impact. Balaju, Sundhara and Tripureswar are crowded at any time of day, but during the peak afternoon hours they are teeming, nobody would have paid any attention to the lethal packets.
But why would anyone want to disturb Nepal's fragile peace process? Who gained? Powerful forces who don't want constituent assembly elections. The blasts also exposed the lapses of Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula and the shambles at the intelligence bureau in his ministry. The performance of YCL was also typical: when there was panic on the streets they were still protesting the arrest of comrades. The traffic gridlock they created delayed the transfer of blast victims to Bir Hospital. The Maoist leadership was also tainted. Their allegations of the involvement of royalists was knee jerk and lacked rationality. The Maoists should now accept that there never will be an environment fully conducive to completely peaceful and perfect polls for elections.
Attacks on innocent civilians in broad daylight have also demonstrated the confidence of criminal gangs that stalk city streets. Such audacity wouldn't be possible had the law enforcement agencies been doing their job properly. Big crimes grow out of what has been called the 'broken window syndrome': preponderance of petty crimes signifying the failure of policing.
It's not unusual to hear in conflict-torn tarai towns that if the police stopped accepting their weekly tribute (hafta) from criminal gangs, the level of violence would immediately go down several notches. With tarai groups ostensibly claiming responsibility of the blasts, the design appeared to turn even sinister: it held alarming risks for communal conflagration similar to the Hritik Roshan riots on 1 September 2004. Fortunately, the people of Kathmandu exercised admirable restraint at this time as they did then. Other than bereaved families of the dead and the distraught relatives of the injured, everyone else went about their task on Monday with an apparent nonchalance. The people refused to be afraid, and refused to retaliate.
The government must do whatever it can to create an atmosphere of public security. The Maoists need to accept the challenge of constituent assembly elections to defeat those who want to spread panic and set off a rightwing resurgence.
Facing fear is the only sensible way of tackling it. Blaming conspirators for obstructing constituent assembly election will not wash. To begin with the eight party alliance can resolve to conduct peaceful polls on the stipulated date. They can also conduct joint political campaigns to reassure the people.
But whatever they do, they must resist the urge to denigrate the Nepal Army at slightest pretext. Military takeovers occur only when the civilian-led political system breaks down or loses legitimacy. It's for the parties of the ruling coalition to prevent such a situation from coming to pass.