Nepali Times
Rebel rebellion


The attack on the police post at Syaulibang in Piuthan on the night of 7 Feburary was reminiscent of the war years. The raid was timed for the 14th anniversary of the start of the insurgency, and was a reminder of how close this country is to an ethnic conflict.

Dissent within the Maoists has been brewing in Rolpa ever since the ceasefire. Two Maoist politicians were killed in Gam during elections last year. Even today, nothing much happens in this eastern region of Rolpa without the permission of local Maoists.

The Piuthan attack is also the latest in a series of raids on police posts in Nuwakot, Makwanpur and Khotang in which weapons were captured and local ethnic splinter groups of the Maoists have been involved. In Piuthan, M16s were used and a policeman on sentry duty was killed.

The danger here is not just of a breakdown of the ceasefire, but of igniting an ethnic conflict.The Maoists encouraged the Magars of the neglected mid-western hills to lay down their lives for liberation and self-determination. It was with crucial support of marginalised ethnic groups that the Maoists waged war, won the election and are now in government in Kathmandu. Now, these ethnicities feel they were used as cannon fodder and that their own party in government hasn't shown much interest in redressing past neglect of the midwestern hills where the revolution was born.

At one level, these dissident former guerrillas are inspired by hardline leaders in the Maoist central committee, who have their own ideological disagreements with the party leadership. But at another level, they are working within the ethnic state councils that the Maoists set up during the war and used as effective vote-gathering mechanisms during the election by promising autonomy. Other dissatisfied combatants have taken to organised crime and are involved in extortion, murder and kidnappings.

Ethnic-based splits within the Maoist movement aren't new. Nearly all the Madhesi militant groups in the Tarai are former Maoists. The Limbuwan and Khambuwan unrest in the east is also steered by former Maoists. The Tharu groups in the west have set up their own army after splitting off from the Maoists. All of them are using the same slogans and military tactics that the Maoists taught them during the war.

The Maoist-led government at the centre doesn't seem to know how to deal with the many brewing mutinies. There are now more than two dozen armed groups in the Tarai alone that are putting pressure on the government with competing demands for autonomy and representation.

The Maoists, weakened in the Tarai by the Madhes movement and the continued militancy, don't know how to react. And their own Madhesi leader, Matrika Yadav, has split to set up his own Maoist party championing the cause of the downtrodden in the Tarai. There are some who say this is an "artificial" split and that the Maoists want to wrest back control over the eastern Tarai by getting Yadav to set up an even more radical militant force. But a new revolutionary Madhesi party has already been set up by a former YCL from Lumbini, Rahul.

Ex-Maoist minister, Roshan Tharu is mobilising Tharu youth to protest against the proposal for a united Madhes and for a separate Tharu state. Roshan has not returned the weapons that he had when he separated from the Maoists. The Tharu community is the largest ethnic minority in the Tarai and the fourth largest ethnic group in the country.

The attack in Piuthan came at a time when the Maoists in government seem unable to deal with the rising discontent within its own ranks. Initial evidence shows the involvement of ex-Maoist commander Tekbir Gharti Magar in the attack at Syaulibang. The tactics used and the captured assault rifles point the finger at Rolpa's rebel remnants.

Last month, there were two armed attacks at police stations in Hetauda within a week. In Khotang, a police station was attacked in November and arms looted. Reports say the attackers included combatants from UNMIN-supervised cantonments which have become hotbeds of resentment against the government. Some combatants have escaped from cantonments, taking weapons along with them.

The Maoist leadership realises this, and there is a sense of urgency about resolving the integration issue so that the cantonments can be emptied and dismantled. But till that happens, dangerous tension will be brewing inside the camps.

The ten-year insurgency was fairly straight forward because it was waged by one group to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. The coming crisis, of which Piuthan was just the latest reminder, points to a much more complicated multi-pronged conflict waged by revolutionary groups whose identity and struggle are based on ethnicity, region and language. They are all inspired by Maoist ideology and are backed by senior figures within the party hierarchy.

Groups that have 'split' from the Maoists are organising their own national convention in Kathmandu in March, and it will include armed groups. The Maoists and the government urgently need to formulate a contingency plan for the day when these forces unite to wage what is sure to be a much more virulent multi-ethnic war.

Anarchy in the east

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)