Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Fine-Truth Comb?

The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA)'s latest combing operations against the Maoist rebels in their stronghold of Rolpa will no doubt be brushed off by many as another ploy by Kathmandu-based autocrats to strengthen their grip on power.
If not, why has the royal government gone on the offensive when the Maoists' unilateral ceasefire technically still remains in force?
Is King Gyanendra, as supreme commander in chief of the RNA, prepared to take full responsibility for a resumption of a full-scale conflict?
As far as the army is concerned, such questions are irrelevant. The generals refuse to consider the last four months a period when the rebels really ceased their fire.
The RNA press directorate puts out daily bulletins on how the Maoists have continued their acts of violence, intimidation and threats, looting and abduction against innocent civilians.
Organizations critical of the royal regime have highlighted how Maoist-led killing have "come down" during the truce. They, too, point to continuing killings, abductions and other acts of intimidation.
Could this be why the peace constituency isn't as vociferous as it was last month in urging the Maoists to extend their truce?
The political parties have an interest: a truce extension would make it easier for the government to hold the municipal elections.
Has civil society, too, reconciled itself to armed conflict's redeeming value?
As for the Rolpa offensive, one anonymous source was quoted as saying that it would be the "deadliest" the RNA has unleashed so far. Are we bracing for a fight to the finish?
Army HQ is tight-lipped on the matter. Unofficial reports – some attributed to anonymous military sources – suggest that the offensive has three objectives:
(a) to contain the Maoists in the Rolpa region to forestall their announced campaign to attack Kathmandu,
(b) to destroy the rebels' military infrastructure in the region; and
(c) to capture senior Maoist leaders believed to be in and around Rolpa
Maila Baje would like to add a fourth. The army has learned its lessons from the last two ceasefires. In 2001 and 2003, the Maoists pulled out of the peace process as Nepalis were awaiting word on the venue and agenda of the subsequent round of talks.
Were the attacks on the Dang barracks and the murder of that general in Baneshwar really products of intelligence failure or excessive faith in the rebels' peace pledges?
By pre-empting the Maoists this time, the RNA evidently feels it can regain the initiative. Who wouldn't after all that bad press compressed in a month?
The timing, no doubt, raises serious questions about the RNA's real motives.
But, then, if the insanity of one soldier – or even a group of soldiers – in Nagarkot is allowed to become such a hot political issue, what's the harm in risking lives and limbs in an official pursuit of peace?