Nepali Times
Guest Column
Ring leaders


It is difficult to think of a time the Maoists have been the target of as much censure as they have been in the past two weeks. Negative public opinion and open defiance of the Valley blockade forced them to withdraw it after a week. They have antagonised the very industries they targeted for extortion by forcing them to close down. The murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa has provoked unprecedented fury.

Even for an organisation that is so sure of its revolutionary destination that it is past caring about public opinion, there seems to be uncertainty about what to do next. A high-level meeting presently underway is discussing what the future course of action would be.

The rationale for the Valley blockade was part of the Maoist goal of fusing a rural 'people's war' with an urban uprising. To put pressure on the government to agree to its demand for constituent assembly, the Maoists had launched a new phase of their 'strategic offensive' to militarily encircle Kathmandu within a 'Ring Area' and blockade the capital to create economic chaos.

The Maoists have a Central Command under the chairmanship of Prachanda, yet they chose to announce the Valley blockade through their regional organisation. This lends credence to the theory that the blockade was a rehearsal for a bigger future offensive, and they were trying to test the panic-level of the Valley residents, the reaction of the international community and especially India, the role of the global media, and see what tactics should be employed in case of a future military attack in the Valley.

They must be quite pleased with the way the international and Indian media made a big deal out of the blockade, overstating its extent and impact. India's leaked warning that it would air drop food in case of a prolonged siege was a message to the Maoists to lay off. In Kathmandu itself, they underestimated the public defiance. However, this has helped them calibrate violence in a repeat siege: all it took this time was the threat of violence to keep most buses and trucks off the highway they didn't even have to blow up anything.

The Maoists also want to wage a dynamic war by institutionalising front organisations and their regional political units. Combined with urban guerrilla warfare, this could be a way for the rebels to maximise their strength and minimise the army's superiority in numbers, armour and airborne capacity.

The Maoists have faced major losses in the past four months with the capture of 11 senior leaders in Patna, the elimination of their Special Task Force from the Valley, the split of the Tarai Mukti Morcha and the Kirat Workers Party, and the killing by the army of leaders of the 'Ring Area'. It has to be said, however, that even with its added intelligence the military hasn't been able to inflict as much damage as it could have because of its own structural flaws.

To get over these setbacks, the Maoists needed the blockade as a show of force and to use psychological warfare against the capital. On the military front, they have decided to combine their eastern and battle-hardened western divisions to form a Central Command. The bandas and blockades could just be diversions to ensure greater mobility of their cadres across the mountains. Now, they are busy putting together the training, weapons and logistics to back up this force. What they are still uncertain about is what will happen if they do attack Kathmandu whether it will trigger an international intervention.

The military's strategy now could be to form its own outer ring and a strong inner core to trap the Maoists in their own Ring Area. So far the army has been constrained in fighting a guerrilla war in the mountains, it has been party-successful in the plains and has achieved considerable success in the Valley. If the military puts its mind to it, there is no reason why this plan wouldn't work.

Since the Nepali Congress has now come around to agreeing with the constituent assembly, and the UML despite being in the coalition has given its nod the Maoists only need to put pressure on the palace.

Translated from the Nepali original.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)