Nepali Times
Moving Target
Where’s the loot?



The country's ambiguous political situation is a boon for conspiracy theorists, alarmists, rumor mongers, soothsayers and foreign hands. In a post-truth society ('Post-truth Nepal' #339) everyone gets a shot at answering the national questions and anybody's guess has a decent chance of being adopted as conventional wisdom and held up as fact.

A recent whirl of social events afforded the opportunity of conducting spontaneous opinion polls to discern which versions of the truth are most popular these days. Aware that foreigners are expected to be ignorant of nuance in local politics, (a status I aspire to), the Hand feigned innocence, thus assuring opinions aplenty.

The wide range of locales and participants, from artisans in the village to business and government types in swanky hotels, belies the highly unscientific nature of the poll, which applied only one rule rigorously throughout: wait patiently until the second tumbler of whiskey is well underway before posing the first question.

"So, where do you think all the guns are?" is a great way to break the ice at parties, and the Hand has yet to meet anyone who believes the Maoists surrendered more than a fraction of their arms. Most say the UN containers are full of rejects while the quality weaponry is stashed in several locales across the country.

"If they joined the government in good faith, why didn't they turn in the guns?" World-weary fatalism, second nature to Valley residents after so many years of bad politics, is evinced in the shrugs and admission it's likely these weapons will soon be used against the police, army, and people.

"And where is the cadre?" Once upon a time this was a real mystery, as the UN camps filled with Maobabies clutching pressure cookers and bits of pipe they called bombs instead of trained fighters with real guns. The sudden appearance of the YCL answers this question handily.

"So, who is in the camps, anyway?" Simple, comes the chorus: village kids who should be in school, some 34,000 of them, hoping to get the promised dollar a day for their part in the ruse.

Time to slake the thirst and affect a look of heartfelt frustration, "but why hasn't the government enforced law and order all along?" This question could only be asked by a na?ve outsider and the answer is both unanimous and patronising; because it is weak, wracked with rivalries, and terrified of being consumed by the highly motivated Maoists.

If my drinking buddies aren't sympathetic to the curious quire by now they'll never be, so the Hand launches his final attempt at understanding the mysterious East.

"Just imagine the enormous amount of cash extorted from businesses, schools, factories, hotels, departmental stores, radio stations, newspapers, coldstores, taxi drivers, and us; where does all the money go?"

The ensuing silence is eloquent, as even the most boisterous fall quiet. Some furtively sidle off to the bar for another double while others appear to contemplate the vast sums involved and mayhem this money could finance.
A few solemn sips later, the Hand wonders aloud, "Maybe they should change their name to CPN (Moneybadi)." Pandemonium ensues to the tune of clinking glasses and raucous laughter, endorsing the suggestion that it all comes down to the cash. No-one is surprised another political party has sold its soul for easy money.

Some say the Maoists are stockpiling arms for the next war, others say they buy gold, adding to the tons already collected from hapless villagers, and bury it in secret locations. Yet others suggest the extorted funds will buy votes and thugs come election time or retirement homes on the Indian Riviera for the top comrades when they finally flee the country.

Everyone agrees only the Maoists know how much loot they've accumulated and they aren't telling. If there is no hidden agenda to accompany the hidden arms and hidden loot, none of this makes sense.

So far, not one of those polled thought the money would be used to help victims of the war, rebuild wrecked infrastructure, or for any other purpose remotely beneficial.

The poll continues, and the Hand welcomes your theories. By the time we figure this out, let's hope it's not too late.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)