Nepal: Downward Spiral

Nepalese Buddhist monks march for peace
Nepalese Buddhist monks march for peace in Patan, near Kathmandu, Nov. 17, 2003 (Photo: Devendra M. Singh/AFP-Getty Images).

The Nepalese media, both independent and government-run, have been engaged in a grisly accounting of the number of people killed since a tenuous seven-month cease-fire collapsed in late August, when the government rejected a demand by Maoist rebels for a constituent assembly.  According to the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a human-rights group, 17 Nepalis on average are dying each day in the armed conflict, which the Communist Party of Nepal launched on Feb. 13, 1996.

Nepal’s largest-selling newsmagazine Himal Khabarpatrika said in its Nov. 2-16 cover story: “Since both the government and the Maoists have come to the battlefield with the open strategy of finishing off their opponents, the number of killings in the coming days will definitely soar.” So far, almost 10,000 people have lost their lives—more than 1,000 in the two months after the cease-fire ended on Aug. 27. INSEC said government forces killed 775 people while the rebels have been responsible for 317 deaths. (Since these figures were released, another 220 people have died, as the death toll continues to rise.) In a Nov. 4 editorial, Nepal’s largest-selling Nepali daily Kantipur accused both sides of breaching the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian laws.

Nepal Pakshik (Nov. 4) also took a critical tone: “It is sheer mockery on the part of the government, which is talking about holding elections at a time when general law and order is at stake.”

In 2002, the government of this Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between China and India, already facing armed rebels, was further destabilized when King Gyanendra sacked the elected government in October, after dissolving Parliament four months before. Since then, the king has hand-picked two governments, causing many to openly criticize him for taking liberties with the constitution. “At such a critical time in the history of our nation, we need a man to head the government who has a clean past and can command respect from the people,” a writer argued in the Oct. 24-Nov. 6 issue of Spotlight.

King Gyanendra came to power following a palace massacre on June 1, 2001, in which Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed almost a dozen people, including King Birendra, before killing himself. That November, emergency rule was declared, lasting a year. As Nepal continued its downward spiral, Maoist insurgents—inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong and Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas—intensified their struggle to replace the country’s constitutional monarchy with a communist republic.

Nepal is now a society racked by bombings and gunfire. Columnist C.K. Lal wrote in the Nepali Times (Oct. 31-Nov. 6): “Once this insurgency comes to an end, which we hope will be sooner rather than later, the culture of guns will pose a bigger problem than either the military or the Maoists can contemplate.”