Nepal Loses Ground against Maoist Rebels

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, the world’s backpackers’ paradise, is being squeezed to death in the crossfire of big power and domestic conflicts. International airlines shun Kathmandu since India-Pakistan tensions over Kashmir loomed – on top of a vicious Maoist rebellion that has claimed 342 lives in the last nine days alone.
On February 17, the Nepal government renewed the state of emergency after rebels killed 137 soldiers and policemen at Kailkot, 400 west of the capital. In the same district, soldiers killed 76 rebels in a massive weekend strike. Since the mid-nineties, the insurgency to create a communist state in place of the monarchy, more than 3000 have been killed, most police and government personnel, in less than a decade.
For the moment, the Maoists control 33 of 72 Nepalese districts, with full control over four, providing the local population with administration, health, economic aid and education.
debkafile‘s Asian experts report that the danger of the unrest in Nepal spilling over into its neighboring countries is imminent; so too is its potentially detrimental effect on the US-led war on terror.
More than half of Nepal’s population of more than 22 million, with a Hindu majority and about 3 percent Moslems, lives in third world poverty. The insurgents are gaining ground by dint of a combination of tactics. Targeting officialdom, banks and American companies, their methods of operation recall both Islamic radical expansionists today and North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh in the seventies – linking education with militancy, driving government troops from remote areas before moving in on population centers and meting out cruel punishment – mutilations of bodies, beheading prisoner and burning the faces of fallen soldiers.
The Nepalese police is poorly equipped and more vulnerable than the army, which is famous for its legendary Ghurka fighters. But both are desperately in need of training and weapons upgrading.
The two rival regional powers, China and India, are of one mind in fearing the collapse of the Nepalese ruling system and its replacement by a radical communist Maoist regime. The rebel movement’s destabilizing influence is already reaching into Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. However, the Nepalese government wants aid from sources other than India and China.
This year, both the United States – alarmed by the effect of the Nepal civil war on its war against terror – and Britain, have promised support. The Russian government too has condemned the Maoist revolt and offered the Nepalese government badly needed help.
The army has a number of special units with mountain artillery and an armored car company. Most of its equipment is of French, German, US, Indian and Chinese manufacture. Nepal wants to replace it with American or British hardware.
The Nepalese air force has a small helicopter unit, a number of short-take-off and landing planes and transporters. The shopping list includes more American or British armor, helicopters, including assault helicopters and light counter-insurgency aircraft.
The police, including volunteers and militia, has about 28,000 men equipped with outdated 303 Li Enfield pre WWI rifles and Sten sub-machine guns. It also lacks vehicles and communications systems.
The so-called “Maoists” are in fact a heterogeneous assortment of groups, influenced by the outdated theories of Mao Tse Dung and Indian communists. They are divided into two main branches – the Communist Marxist Part of Nepal – UPN-MX, and the Communist Marxist-Leninist Party of Nepal – CMLPN. According to American and Nepalese intelligence, there are at least 17 more communist factions in Nepal. Since the late eighties, they have been forming into ad hoc unions, which maintain ties to Maoists in India, especially in the states of Bihar and Utar Pradesh, to topple the Nepalese government.
Part of this coalition are the Maoist Popular Front-Samyuktha Mukti Bahini- SMB and the Jan Morcha-JM, which draw support in weapons and war materials from the criminal organizations in India and Bangladesh known as “tags”. But the most dangerous group at the head of the rebellion is the Communist-Marxist Party/Maoist – CPN/M, which is headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahaln, nicknamed The Fierce One.
The Nepalese government has not yet reached the point of appealing for outside intervention, but it is already fighting the advancing Maoists with its back to the wall.

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