Nepali Times
On the path of the Shining path


Except perhaps for the fact that Nepal is landlocked, Peru and Nepal have uncannily similar geo-cultural and socio-economic characteristics. Both are rugged mountainous countries, have large rural populations subjugated by small ruling elites, both have widening rich-poor and city-village gaps, both have a history of communist parties that reflect fissions in the international communist
revolutionary movement.

Probably because of these similarities, the rapid growth of the Shining Path in Peru and Maoism in Nepal have parallels. The Communist Party of Peru (Partido Comunista del Peru) launched an armed struggle in May 1980 on the eve of Peru's first national elections after 17 years of autocratic military rule. The guerrillas went by the name of Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path") and by the time the insurgency fizzled out 11 years later, 27,000 Peruvians were dead and property worth $20 billion had been damaged-one-fourth of Peru's GNP.
Launched by a few thousand students and peasants in the remote Ayacucho region of the Peruvian altiplano, it grew into a strong rural movement in 10 short, but brutal, years. The Senderista relied exclusively on domestic supply of arms caches captured in raids on ill-defended police posts, weapons taken from people targeted for action or otherwise, and massive thefts of dynamite from the many mines that dot the Andes.

Ayacucho was chosen for the indigenous ethnicity of the inhabitants, and the historical neglect of this remote plateau by the central government in Lima despite rhetoric of resource distribution and development. The continuing poverty and marginal status of Ayacucho when compared to Peru as a whole in 1981 was significant. The leader of the 6,000-strong Senderista army was Abimael Guzman Reynoso, who went by the nom de guerre "Comrade Gonzalo". He built up the movement systematically after he joined the faculty of Ayacucho's university of San Cristobal de Huamanga in 1962. The Senderista deepened their understanding of the ideological underpinnings of revolution through intense study groups and expanded contacts with the peasants of Ayacucho.

The story of the origin and expansion of Maoism in Nepal has a lot of parallels with the Sendero Luminoso. It is not a coincidence that when in November 1993 Comrade Gonzalo was finally caught and paraded before the media inside what looked like a lion's cage in Lima, half the way across the world in Kathmandu the streets were full of graffiti that read: "Free Comrade Gonzalo".

Borrowing from the Send-eristas, Nepali Maoists also chose the remote and neglected central west region. The districts of Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot and Sallyan were bypassed by the mainstream of national develop-ment despite foreign-aided development projects. Access had always been a problem in this roadless region, and entr-enched feudalism meant that although the peasants may have been docile, they really had nothing to lose. Like the Senderistas, our home-grown Maoists have dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to building ties with the rural population and winning their confidence willingly or by coercion. Indeed, the rise of the Sendero Luminoso and the Nepali Maoists reveal astounding similarities:
l Strong, dominant leadership. In Peru by an individual, and in Nepal by a secretive group of die-hard intellectual revolutionaries.
l The leaders and their immediate followers all came from an academic milieu. In Nepal's case, from universities in India.
l Both used a remote province rather than a national capital as incubators for revolution.
l Both movements chose a setting in which a rigid, orthodox, Maoist ideology could be developed and inculcated for more than a decade.
l With an explicit commitment to assist the local population, both movements aimed for social transformations with a high proportion of female cadre.
l Both Ayacucho and central Nepal saw steadily declining central government expenditure, except for education.
l Defective or non-existent central government, rampant corruption, and ineffective development had made peasants in both countries worse off.
l A continuous rhetoric of reform by a newly-democratic government that was not accompanied by action to uplift the quality of life of the local population.

The rise of the Maoists in Nepal is even more impressive than that of the Senderistas. Its growth in the past four-and-half years has happened despite, and in a sense because of, Kathmandu's efforts to control them. Today, six districts are effectively under Maoist control, in another 15 districts the Maoists have more influence than the government. They have captured police weapons, and like Senderistas they have also looted explosives from road-building projects and quarries. The number of sympathisers, followers and armed cadre is expanding rapidly despite official propaganda of voluntary surrenders by Maoists.

The resources available to the Maoists has taken a quantum leap after recent heists from banks and a spurt in "tax collection" forced out of the business sector.

Whatever the underlying causes of social discontent in the various insurgency affected regions of Nepal and Peru, there had in the past been no anti-government opposition in these areas. This clearly indicates that this insurgency is not a spontaneous uprising by an outraged constituency protesting its dissatisfaction over non- development and neglect, but rather the result of a rural population which could easily be convinced that armed struggle was the only way. The most important concerns of the villagers are basic social justice,
honest government and opportunities for personal development. If any government fails to deliver at least a hope, the result will be revolt.

In an eerie parallel to Dunai, Peru also saw a dangerous military-police rivalry, which culminated in March 1989 when the military failed to rescue a besieged police post at Uchiza and the police suffered massive casualties. This directly forced the Peruvian government to commit the armed forces for the first time to dedicated counter-insurgency duties. Comrade Gonzalo was finally caught by the Peruvian security forces, but Ayacucho still simmers menacingly.

After the Dunai fiasco, there has been a vigorous national debate about deployment of the army in anti-Maoist duty. The government appears to have taken a decision to commit the Royal Nepal Army to secure 16 district headquarters by using small detachments of troops. Sound military wisdom dictates that force, when used, must clinch the issue.

The piecemeal use of the army seldom achieves results, it only gives the insurgents an excellent opportunity to guage the overall strength and weaknesses of their ultimate adversary. Any over-reaction by the army either due to casualties or due to sheer frustration will give the Maoists the publicity they are seeking to discredit the army's image. As incidents mount, they will have a tangible negative impact on the morale and discipline of the troops.

The sophisticated social-political organisation of both the Senderistas and the Nepali Maoists have provided opportunities for broad peasant participation, social mobility and status achievement. To be effective, the government's campaign to control the insurgency must be multi-dimensional. Max G Manwaring in his book Uncomfortable Wars maintains that legitimacy is the most important single dimension in a war against subversion.
The thrust of a revolutionary movement relies on addressing political, social and economic grievances. This is the essential nature of the threat from an insurgency, and it is here that a response must begin. Any effort that fails to understand this and responds only militarily is most likely to fail.

(Gyan Jung Thapa, recently retired as a colonel from the Royal Nepal Army, has a Masters degree from the US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)