India Mulls Intervention
Nepal on the brink
5 May, 2005
There is a growing possibility of direct Indian
intervention in Nepal, the impoverished Himalayan
state of some 27 million people to its north.
The subject came up privately in recent talks between
China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Indian
opposite number, Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.
China has in the past quietly helped the Maoist
insurgents that have challenged the country's
autocratic King Gyanendra as a means of maintaining
pressure on India, its traditional Asian geopolitical
But Beijing is now alarmed by the possibility that a
radical and murderous Pol Pot-style insurgency could
gain power in Kathmandu which might radicalise
elements of Chinese politics.
China is now ready to accept that Nepal lies in
India's sphere of influence just as the Indians now
privately accept China's domination of Tibet.
The possibility of Indian military intervention arises
from the growing alarm in New Delhi about three
developments in the mountain kingdom:
The increasing strength of the insurgents
The decision in February by the unpopular King to sack
the Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, dissolve
parliament and declare martial law Links between
Nepal's Maoists and insurgent groups in some Indian
New Delhi has very little faith in Gyanendra's ability
to control the insurgency.
His decision to lift the three-month-old state of
emergency this week is more of a bow to international
pressure than a sign of strength.
The Maoists are likely to step up their attacks.
India fears that the King has lost the support he
needs to dominate the rebels. Nearly half Nepal's
population already supports Marxist parties, albeit of
a more moderate hue than the insurgents.
The Indians, along with the United States and the
British, have been the main providers of military aid
to Nepal, helping to build up the army from 45,00 to
78,000. The expansion is causing widespread problems
indiscipline owing to a shortage of trained officers.
The insurgent forces have grown to around 12,000
They control huge swathes of the countryside and have
turned other areas into a no-man's land where they
roam at will, attacking isolated police and government
posts and kidnapping tens of thousands of children -
last year alone. These young people are forced into
indoctrination camps with a view to making them
Around 11,000 people have died in the confrontation.
The new US ambassador in Kathmandu, James Moriarty,
believes there is a real possibility that a Maoist
government will take over.
Equipped with a primitive leveller creed, the Maoists
are brutal in the extreme and would undoubtedly
enforce harsh totalitarian rule.
This is not a prospect which either India or the
United States can tolerate.
King Gyanendra, who took power after the massacre of
the royal family in June 2001 by the drunken and
crazed Crown Prince, hardly seems the man to defeat
His seizure of power this spring - the second in two
years after he was forced to reappoint the Prime
Minister - was designed to give him a free hand in
what he says will be a three-year campaign to defeat
the rebels and restore democracy.
He has viciously cracked down on the press and
political opponents and broken up peaceful
Some 1,200 people have "disappeared", according to the
Nepal Human Rights Commission - the real figure is
believed to be much higher.
Arbitrary arrests and torture are common.
India denounced the February coup as a serious setback
to the cause of
democracy, and suspended military aid, as did Britain.
Washington is calling for a return to constitutional
rule, but has
continued supplying weaponry.
There are few signs that the King���s policy of
fighting terror with terror is stopping the rebel
advance ��� while alienating the population.
Nor does he seem much concerned with the fundamental
problem of poverty - four-fifths of the people live
off the land and average income is $130 a year. Nearly
half the population is below the poverty line.
The Indian government looks likely to give Gyanendra
only a few months to show if he can resolve the Maoist
problem through military means and repression.
If he fails, New Delhi will envisage:
installing a more moderate member of the depleted
royal family (Gyanendra's son and heir apparent is
widely disliked for his thuggish nature) or ousting
the monarchy altogether, though that will be
a country where the King is revered by many as the
incarnation of Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection.
Washington might view Indian intervention favourably,
as they are lukewarm supporters of the King and are
concerned that human rights abuses will make backing
the monarchy against the guerrillas more difficult.
The intervention of effective Indian army units in
place of the often ill-trained Nepalese army might
quickly turn the tables on the Maoists.
But New Delhi would have to pledge to respect Nepal's
independence. Otherwise many nationalistic Nepalese
could be driven into the arms of the guerrillas.
The Indians still hope to avoid direct involvement.
But neither they nor the Americans are prepared to
tolerate a Maoist take-over.
Britain's military aid is conditional on respect for
If Beijing turns a blind eye, India may engage in a
limited campaign to defeat the guerrillas, and restore
democracy and constitutional order.
They would then hope to be able to withdraw reasonably
quickly, being seen as restorers of peace.