It has been three years since the Maoists made their first attack on a district headquarter in Dunai in September 2000. Since then, there have been Jumla, Mangalsen, Sandhikharka, Salleri, Bhojpur and now Beni. They have also suffered defeats: Rumjatar, Kapurkot, Ratmate, Kusum and Bhalubang.
Bhojpur and Beni were not just a Maoist demonstration that they are not yet militarily vanquished. They were also the first attacks after the police, armed police and army have been put under a unified command. The Maoists have perfected their warfare techniques and showed that their tactic of using over-whelming numbers to overrun district headquarters still works.
Last January, when the Maoists agreed to a ceasefire, they claimed to have reached a 'strategic equilibrium' with the army. A year later, it looks like they are now in Mao's 'strategic offensive' stage. They have learnt that prolonging the strategic equilibrium allows government forces time to rearm and grow.
The three-pronged Maoist strategy has been to launch major offensives in the hill towns, support that with mobilisation along the tarai and use attacks in Kathmandu Valley for publicity value. Mao Zedong's doctrine was to strangle the towns, and this is what his Nepali chelas are now doing through highway blockades and bandas, enforcing them with landmines and arson on trucks and buses.
The strikes and blockades of the cities, however, have cost the rebels considerable public support since ordinary people have been hit hardest. It has exposed warlordism, anarchy and a descent into criminality among the rank and file. But the Maoists must see that their larger goal of keeping up the psychological pressure on Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara by cutting off Chitwan is working. The blockades also have a military purpose in reducing army movement along the tarai highways and thereby allowing greater freedom to launch operations in their heartland.
The use of landmines, ambushes and blockades have caused civilian casualties and cost the rebels public support. But the comrades must reckon that the severe restrictions this has put on the military's movement, forcing it to use helicopters, is worth some bad PR. The war is now becoming increasingly 'air-to-ground' with the danger of greater civilian casualties.
In the coming months, the Maoists can be expected to spread their presence in the strategic valleys of Dang and Chitwan in central Nepal, Surkhet in the west and Udaypur in the east. They will try to further decimate the presence of the political parties at the grassroots. All this won't just buy the Maoists time, but will also force the international community to take notice of the bloody, headline-grabbing attacks.
Whatever the Maoists may claim about their 'strategic offensive', it is clearly a military stalemate. Since it entered the fray in November 2001, the Royal Nepali Army has not really launched any major offensive against the Maoists. Its posture has been defensive, reacting with cordon-and-search and blocking manoeuvres after Maoist attacks, and raiding hideouts. Such limited action doesn't shorten a war, it lengthens it.
At the political level, the Maoists are cleverly dividing the palace and the parties. They allow royal felicitation cermonies to go ahead, providing the opportunity for the king to bash the parties. Then they ratchet up the republican rhetoric, egging the anti-regression street agitators to greater radicalism. All this while they kill and threaten grassroots political parties.
At the international level, the Maoists are still cosying up to India. The neighbour that the Maoists used to insult as a "hegemonistic, expansionist India" is now "our good neighbour". The Maoist reaction was musted even when Matrika Yadav and Suresh Alemagar and lately Mohan Baidya were caught. The Beni attack achieved the purpose of provoking a reaction from the US State Department which called for talks, prompting the comrades to take this as a step towards political recognition.
It is now clear that without India, the United States and Britain, the government and the army are unable to financially and militarily fight this insurrection. Internationally, the Maoist leadership has been trying to present the image of a group not necessarily prone to violence by offering to accept UN mediation.
All this because the leadership knows that in the global geopolitical climate, there is no way the international community will countenance a militarily-installed Maoist republic in Nepal. This is why all their current activities are geared towards transforming themselves militarily as the most powerful political force in Nepal-one that everyone has to reckon with.
This analysis is translated from the Nepali original that appeared in Himal Khabarpatrika this week.