Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
Crime against humanity


In the agony over innocent deaths in the carnage at Mudekhola on Monday morning, it is tempting to just denounce the violence and escape mulling its deeper implications.

The blowing up of a public bus signifies much more than an escalation of armed conflict. Apart from being the single largest attack on a soft-civilian target by ruthless insurgents, the tragedy is a blood-soaked reminder that criminalisation ultimately creeps into every armed conflict. It was an act of pure terror and its perpetrators should never be allowed to get away with it. The Maoists first said they will investigate and that someone else was trying to discredit them. Later they admitted that they had made a mistake. But it\'s too late. The deed done, Maoists must bear its consequences.
Despite controversies over the semantics of the term, any wilful attack on a civilian target is an act of terrorism. It ceases to be the weapon of the weak the moment it is used against a weaker and defenceless person. Counterterrorism doctrines agree that all acts of terror share five frightening characteristics:

- The attack is premeditated-planned in advance rather than an impulsive act of rage
- It is political-not criminal, like the violence of mafia groups to get money but designed to change the existing political order
- It is aimed at civilians-not at military targets or combat-ready troops
- It is carried out by political groups-not by the army of a country
- It carries a message-groups responsible for the act own up the responsibility for propaganda purposes.

Bombing a crowded bus was thus a brazen act of terrorism on all counts. Terrorism's use as a weapon is sometimes justified on the grounds of primacy of ends over means. The logic, howsoever convoluted, is that the sacrifice of 100 is somehow acceptable if it is intended to save 200 lives later. In reality it seldom works that way. In the vortex of violence, the means become ends, and terror and tyranny merge.

Nowhere is the senselessness of violence as apparent as in the uses of landmines, booby traps and improvised explosive devices for military, let alone political, purposes. A police post may protect itself against surprise attacks at night by laying landmines along the perimeter of its boundary. Defusing such a system is relatively easy and chances of accidental victims are somewhat rare. But nothing can justify the mining of any public place, much less the roads and bridges used by the public.

It is tactically useless, as it does not benefit the aggressor in any way. The Maoists wouldn't get control over territory, resources, weapons or personnel by blowing up a local bus. Even strategically, it damages their political image at a point when they need it most. Any attack on public space is anti-politics and ultimately destroys the very organisation that perpetrated it.

The incident will claim another political casualty: the effort by parliamentary parties advocating a common front with the Maoists against monarchy. Ethically, any violent act turns its perpetrator into a victim of his own aggression. The spectre of warlordism now haunts the Maoist commissars engaged in carving out competitive spheres of influence.

What ethics are to a person, morality is to a group. Use of any weapon beyond the control of its user is morally repugnant. Landmines do not differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, even legitimate forces risk losing their legitimacy once they begin to rely on booby traps.

In denouncing cowardly attacks on public buses, the risks of security personnel moving about in civilian clothes often escape public scrutiny. Armed escorts for public vehicles are necessities of the times but men-in-mufti in public transport needlessly expose their co-passengers to attacks by insurgents. Security forces need to reassess the effectiveness of the movement of their personnel in public vehicles in conflict-prone zones.

Experts agree that anyone charged with crime against humanity anywhere in the world is liable for prosecution under international laws. Mudhekhola bloodshed deserves to be investigated and its result made public.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)