Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Mindless ‘mistakes’


Early this month, a bus carrying 150 passengers, including a few plain-clothed military personnel, was blown to bits in Madi. Thirty-eight people died and the rest were wounded in what was the worst attack against civilians in Nepal. The next day, Maoist chieftain Pushpa Kamal Dahal admitted that the attack was a "serious mistake". But three days later, Dahal's comrades bombed another bus in Kabhre killing two civilians, six soldiers and injuring more passengers.

According to INSEC, 234 Nepalis lost their lives to Maoists' explosives (11 were killed by the army's) in the first quarter of 2005. While civil society pundits attribute Maoists' murderous ways to rifts between political and military factions, it's time to search for other explanations. Is there something structurally closed about the Maoist decision-making apparatus that allows its cadres to bomb civilians?

In a democracy with openly competing political institutions, a party's actions are freely reported by the press. Those reports allow supporters and critics to give feedback, which the party uses to improve the quality of its decisions. Indeed, one significant consequence of democratic openness, with its bundle of rights, checks and balances, is that the parties' positions settle not on extreme ends but around the compromising middle.

Similarly, market conditions act as one voting bloc for evaluating the decision-making system of a private firm, which is not democratic but hierarchical. No matter how cleverly cutting-edge the executives think their strategy is, if the market looks the other way, their firm will lose money. To avoid that, firms constantly seek feedback from customers, talk to employees and investors or hire consultants to help improve decisions.

But the Maoists face little incentive to collect and inject diverse and independent third-party feedback into their decision-making process. With 'pro-poor social justice' as an advertising line, they use abduction to bring in new recruits. INSEC says that between February 1996 and April 2005, the Maoists kidnapped 34,014 Nepalis. Once in, the recruits are to dream of a future free of 'class enemies' but survive in the present through the use of force, extortion and violence. Their leaders keep the issues of 'justice' and 'enemies' vague so anyone can define them any way to justify any act of violence.

Meantime, those who stray from the party are punished for being traitors and spies, all disagreements are crushed. The only thing that's fit to grow is an ideologically homogeneous mindset that is hostile to information that contradicts its worldview. To paraphrase Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, such a mindset knows what it knows and doesn't want to know any more. Ambitious recruits figure that the only way to get promoted is to start by increasing the enemies' body count.

Who was responsible for bombing the bus in Madi? Dahal didn't cite names. Given the expenses associated with developing recruits to execute acts of terror, it's unlikely that Dahal & Co will push Maoist resources into inaction for long. What is likely is that as long as its business model is anchored by an insulated decision-making process that has violence on the default mode, D & C's associates, despite their leader's opportunistically calculated promise to "not kill civilians even if they are criminals", will continue to lob explosives at innocent Nepalis.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)