Nepali Times
State Of The State
A state in dire straits


After a four month lull, the country has once again been sucked into the vortex of violence. The Maoists' withdrawal from negotiations was so sudden, and resumption of attacks on clearly identified targets so swift, that it is now clear they were just buying time.

They used the truce for open extortion, clandestine recruitment and training of fresh recruits. The government, meanwhile, carried on with no fall back options. It slumbered through Dasain and Tihar while the Maoists were busy filling up their pressure cookers. In retrospect, it appears that the government, civil society and, yes, the media, were all taken for a ride by these cunning strategists.

However, the government's complacency may not be as disastrous as it looks during this week of gloom and doom. By their stubbornness and by retreating from talks without explanation, the Maoists have shown that they are not dependable players in national politics.

That's for the long term. But in the short term, the dramatic escalation of violence couldn't have occurred at a more inopportune moment. In addition to social unrest, the country is in the grips of an economic crisis. Revenue collection is at an all time low, the fate of the automatic renewal of the trade treaty with India hangs in balance, tourism is in shambles, and all other industries are apprehensive about what is going to happen next. The only saving grace appears to be agriculture, where, ironically, we have another year of bumper rice harvests. This is sure to create problems of plenty, with rice prices dipping for the third year in a row. But that's another story.

Sure, Maoists staged a tactical coup of sorts by hitting the government when it hurt the society most. The country could have done without a messy war at this point. It is clear the Maoists don't care much about what happens to the economy, so focussed are they on the revolutionary goal. Even then, it's baffling why the Maoists have chosen this particular moment to take on the Royal Nepal Army head-on. Not expecting a frontal attack, soldiers in Gorahi barracks were taken unaware. In Salleri, they were better prepared and inflicted heavy losses on the guerrillas. But it is extremely unlikely that the insurgents can prevail over the security forces in the conflict that has ensued.

Despite all its shortcomings, our democracy hasn't lost its legitimacy. Everyone may not respect the government, but very few aside from the Maoist cadre, question its authority. The interests of a very large number of people-including almost all of the middle-class-are tied with the present system. When push comes to shove, they will defend it. Now that the interest of the army and the political class has come to coalesce, the Maoists may find that they shall have to deal with more than they had bargained for.

On the face of it, Maoists' misadventures look nothing less than suicidal. The question that remains then: why did they decide to take this risk? Answer: they had no choice. Hardline Maoist rank-and-file have begun to feel threatened by the politicians among their ranks. So they killed two birds with one stone-challenged the government, and showed that their figure-head leaders do not call all the shots.

Bigoted they may be, but it's unlikely that the Maoist leadership harbours any illusions about defeating the security forces of the government in the present geo-political situation. No insurgency ever succeeds without the intervention of outside forces, and recent events in Afghanistan will deter even the most determined sympathisers of Maoists from openly supporting them. The Maoist cause does not have a significant support base either inside the country or outside it. Or, is there more to the insurgency in Nepal than we know about?

Bewildered by the enormity of the crisis and immobilised by the complexity of its causes, it's tempting to grab a theory of conspiracy and blame others for all our problems. A conspiracy theory may be a sign of intellectual laziness-it requires neither explanatory paragraphs nor footnotes, and there is no need to enunciate nuances-but it offers solace in the face of challenges too complex to comprehend. The problem with any conspiracy theory is that it's too deterministic-even if you "know" about a "foreign hand" you can do little.

On the other hand, rational analysis of socio-political events often fail to offer full explanation of the causes, but what it does is give us the options to deal with the effects that occur. While it would have been useful to know the reasons that made Maoists back out of the negotiation process, it's more important now to effectively deal with the crisis and free the country from a prolonged period of debilitating instability.

Declaring a state of emergency to deal with the problem of armed rebellion is seldom a matter of choice for any democratic government-it's a compulsion created by circumstances that seems to go out of control and threaten the very integrity of the country. The choice then is not whether to be in a state of emergency or not. The challenge lies in keeping the response to violent rebellion carefully calibrated, and avoid "collateral damage" that inevitably result in any counter-insurgency operation.

State of emergency is an extreme step, and the only thing that justifies it is the result that it is supposed to deliver. In military jargon, it's called SHARP (Search operations to identify rebel hideouts, Hot pursuit to nab terrorists, Annihilation of terror network, Rehabilitation of victims of insurgency, and Propaganda to isolate insurgents) . The quicker an emergency runs its course and achieves its objectives, sooner the normalcy returns.

The press, the political parties, and the army of urban intelligentsia besieged by the political correctness of opposing every move of government as a matter of faith will do well to remember that this time it's nothing less than the very future of the freedom they cherish so much that is at stake. It's important that the fashionable \'left' and closet \'right'-more often than not, they are one and the same-hold their fire for the moment. To paraphrase Marx, if bourgeois democracy can hold its internal contradiction, nothing else can ever defeat it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)