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HIMALAYAN TANGLE

It is a truism that wars so ravage a country that it does not matter who eventually wins. Nepal, however, has no choice but to win the battle against the Maoists who have plunged the country into a low-intensity war. But the international community is increasingly doubtful if the battle can be won only through military operations. The British prime minister, Mr Tony Blair’s special envoy in Kathmandu, Mr Jeffrey James, said as much when he cautioned last month that there was no “acceptable military solution” to the crisis. Several diplomats of the countries of the European Union had earlier expressed doubts about the efficacy of the military approach. If the United States of America still provided arms to the Royal Nepalese Army and India trained its men in counter-insurgency operations, it was because both countries saw the Maoist menace as a major threat to regional peace. While the doubts about the military solution are understandable, the Maoists themselves must take the blame for this turn of events. It is possible, as the latest report of the Amnesty International alleges, that innocent people have also been killed in army offensives against the rebels. But the Maoist guerrillas left the government with no other choice when they walked out of the last round of peace-talks as they had done on two previous occasions.

The military approach may have been thus thrust upon the government, but it can help only if it succeeds in putting pressure on the Maoists to return to the negotiating table. As a close neighbour which has a big stake in peace and stability in Nepal, India can play a crucial role in reviving the peace process. The revival of the peace process may, however, be a problem without the revival of the political process. The government of the prime minister, Mr Surya Bahadur Thapa, which was foisted on the country by King Gyanendra, represents the political vacuum rather than any popular support. The collapse of the political process has immeasurably complicated the challenge from the Maoist rebellion. New Delhi surely has its arguments for helping the Nepalese army, but this can only be seen as a means to an end. India can try and break the ice between the kingdom’s two major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — and Mr Thapa’s government, because no political solution is possible without the involvement of these parties. Not just India, other countries which are now getting increasingly involved in this Himalayan tangle can do their bit to help resurrect democratic politics in Nepal. That is the ultimate answer to the Maoist politics of anarchy.

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