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After the Coup: ‘Humanitarian Abyss’ in Nepal

by Eric Black


On February 1st, 2005, King Gyanendra of Nepal staged a coup by dismissing a democratically elected parliament and seizing absolute control over the country. Since then, all civil and political rights have been suspended, independent media has been shut down, and hundreds of activists, journalists, lawyers, students, human rights leaders and others have been arrested or have disappeared. The former prime minister and the leaders of Nepal’s political parties are under house arrest. The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) has tortured, raped, and assassinated civilians with impunity. The situation in post-coup Nepal has been described as the ‘worst locations of human rights violations in the world’ by international human rights organizations [1].

The King justified the coup, his second since coming to power after the in 2002, arguing that the parliament was ‘incompetent’ and that without absolute dictatorial control over the country he would not be able to defeat the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a group of left-wing rebels from Nepal’s countryside. A civil war has been fought between the Maoist rebels (CPNM) and the RNA during the last 10 years, in which an estimated 11,000 people have been killed, the majority of them killed by government forces, although both sides have committed atrocities. War initially broke out when the RNA attempted to crush rebellion in rural areas of Nepal, followed by the initiation of the People’s War, as it is called, by the CPNM. The Maoists may control as much as 40% of the country, and are currently engaged in a struggle to replace the monarchy with a Communist People’s Republic. The CPMN army consists of between 10,000 and 15,000, accompanied by a militia of as many as 50,000.

While the US has officially admonished King Gyanendra after the coup, it has done little of substance to persuade him to restore liberties and has not cut off arm shipments. The US has been allied with the monarch since he came to power. The US since 2002 has sent $20 million to train the Royal Nepalese Army and 12,000 U.S. M-16s submachine guns, as well as military advisers to King Gyanendra, to aid him in his fight against ‘terrorism.’ These contributions have doubtlessly been invaluable to Gyanendra’s campaign of violence and oppression. The US has added the CPNM to its terrorist watch list, next to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other notorious groups.

The US has great interest in perpetuating King Gyanendra’s oppressive rule and in crushing Maoist resistance. Nepal’s location is of extreme strategic importance, as it is located between the two fastest growing economies in the world, and, potentially, the two greatest threats to American hegemony in the world, India and China. Recently, the US’ Asian policy has largely been focused on developing a system to contain these growing threats. Thus, the US has been militarily reinforcing its allies in the region, Japan, South Korea, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia, and has recently been courting India’s support for a potential alliance against China in the future. Nepal is a vitally important country, and keeping it under the control of a friendly regime is definitely a high priority for US policy makers.

In addition, the US is interested in destroying the CPNM for another important reason, namely, anytime a left-wing regime rises to power in a third world region, there is always a risk of ‘the domino effect’ occurring, and as we know from the Cold War, the US is willing to intervene anytime it feels it could possibly lose control over an entire region. The threat of an agrarian communism spreading in South Asia is quite real, as the majority of people in the region live in extreme poverty and much of the region still operates within a feudal agrarian system, and many of the exploited peasants might look to, or in some cases outside Nepal (including India) have already turned to Maoism or another form of agrarian communism. Although Nepal has the lowest Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in South Asia at $240, other countries in the region are not much better off: Bangladesh’s GNI per capita is $400, Pakistan’s is $470, and India’s is $530, and Bhutan’s is $660 [2]. If the Maoists were to come to power, power structure in South Asia could change drastically. The US will undoubtedly do everything it can to ensure that the rebels in Nepal do not rise to power.

But, while it seems unlikely that the US would allow an ally to be overthrown in such a geopolitically important country, the US may have its attempts to meddle in the affairs of Nepal blocked by India and China, who, while they support the King, do not wish to have the US intervening in regional conflicts.

Agrarian Communism in Nepal: A viable alternative to the status quo?

There is need for drastic and rapid change in Nepal; the ‘constitutional’ monarchy offers only suppression to the people of the 12th poorest country in the world. A new form of revolutionary agrarian communism may indeed be what is needed to fight for the peasants of Southern Asia who live in some of the world’s worst poverty and at the hands of the worst feudal exploitation. The CPNM may be able to make revolutionary change in Nepal and could help inspire revolt in other poor regions of the world, if it comes into power. It claims to have a strong commitment to democracy and the rule of the people, and to stand “against imperialism, feudalism, fascism, comprador-capitalism and all reactionaries;” noble goals indeed. They also emphasize their opposition to Hindu patriarchy and their commitment to women’s emancipation, and have treated women within their ranks as equals [3]. The Maoists emphasize the importance of destroying class, caste, ethnic, and gender inequalities that run amuck in today’s Nepal, and replacing the dictatorship with a democratic society.

However, if the CPNM is to be successful in realizing the ideals that it espouses, it must respect the human rights of the citizens of Nepal during its struggle to create a new state and it must be willing to work nonviolently when such an option presents itself. If they were to come to power, it must attempt to make the transition from a feudal state to a communist state as nonviolent as possible, and once the state was established, citizens of Nepal must have their fundamental freedoms protected.

If the CPNM is not able to remain committed to these Marxist ideals, it may end up causing as much suffering for the people of Nepal as the vicious King Gyanendra and the world power that is using him as its proxy. We can only hope that the CPNM’s People’s War does not lose the people for the war.

For more on Nepal, please visit International Nepal Solidarity Network


[1] International Nepal Solidarity Network: ‘Eyes of human rights’

[2] World Bank
[3] Z Magazine: Revolution at the top of the world “About a third of the people’s army squads are female and in the guerrilla zones just about every village has a revolutionary women’s organization. Traditionally, Nepalese parents arrange their children’s marriages and many other feudal customs discriminate against women. But in the guerrilla zones, women have the right to own land, choose a husband, and go to school. One woman told me she had been stuck in an arranged marriage for six years. But then she began working with the party and ran off and joined the people’s army.”



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