New Delhi, Jan. 19: The US seems to be backing a policy of “war for peace” not only in Iraq but also in Nepal — except that in the mountain kingdom, the war is against the local Maoists and is being fought by the Royal Nepal Army (RNA). To this end, the US has upgraded its diplomatic presence in the country and is forging new military ties with it.
The last one year has seen the US adding a military facet to its development aid profile in Nepal. The first indication of this came when the US Congress, in its overall anti-terrorism budgetary supplement, cleared a line item of $20 million for Nepal.
In spring 2002, a high-profile team of military advisers, consisting of the US Marine Corps, the chief of the logistic plans division and the deputy chief of the engineering division of the US Pacific Command, are believed to have visited Nepal. Their mission — to assess the military needs of the RNA.
It has also been reported that about a dozen US military experts visited the Maoist strongholds of Rolpa and Gorkha districts in the mid-western region of Nepal along with Nepalese army officials. Mobile training teams of the US military are also visiting Nepal to provide ground training in tactics.
In June 2002, the US set up the Office of Defence Cooperation in Kathmandu staffed by a major. A month later, it was upgraded and a Lt Col. (believed to be of the US Marine Corps) was posted as the military attache to Kathmandu.
After secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit to Kathmandu in 2001, US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca visited Nepal in December 2002. Putting the Maoists on notice, she said “if you employ terrorist tactics, then you are in fact a terrorist” and equated their tactics with that of Pol Pot.
The killing of two US embassy security personnel, Ramesh Manandhar and Deepak Pokhrel, by the Maoists on charges of spying under diplomatic cover helped in designating the Maoists as terrorists. In December 2002, therefore, for the first time the Nepali Maoists figured on two of the three US federal lists of “terrorists”.
The criteria for inclusion in the lists is the perception of a direct threat to American property, citizens and diplomatic missions.
During Rocca’s visit, the US security assistance of $17 million for 2002 to counter insurgency was reaffirmed. The RNA wants to use this money to buy US M16 rifles. The M16s are expensive compared to the Indian equivalent, the Insas SLRs, which New Delhi has been supplying to Nepal at 70 per cent discount.
Nepal is also purchasing 500 Belgian Minimi machine guns to fight the Maoists. Each of them fires 900 rounds per minute.
In sharp contrast to the US policy of backing the military containment of the Nepali Maoist insurgency, the European donor community wants to encourage a dialogue with the insurgents.
It was at the behest of Switzerland, Norway and Germany that UN secretary-general Kofi Annan offered to facilitate a peace dialogue in Nepal.
The political parties in Nepal also want a dialogue with the Maoists — as the issues they are raising are largely linked to development.
The Maoists also have a republican stand and are against the monarchy. But it is the monarchy which has assumed power in Nepal after dismissing a democratically-elected government.
The political parties want the dialogue with the Maoists to be conducted by the elected representatives of the people and not by those nominated by the king. They believe that a dialogue between the Maoists and the monarchy will not lead to a permanent solution to the insurgency.