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Unfortunately, external envoys to Nepal have done little virtue to the idea of impartiality. They have pandered in a highly partisan way to traditional leaders for political expediency. From the Maoist viewpoint, foreign diplomats were collaborating with the authoritarian, supremacist regime and in actuality, the foreigners’ political patronage was doing just that. Aggravating the issue, a glut of ‘aid’ agencies have doled out funds that to a large degree end up in the rulers’ back pockets (buttressing the already dominant far right of the polity) or expense accounts and salaries of ‘aid’ organizations themselves, rewarding ineptitude and malfeasance while the impoverished plumbed deeper suffering.
Aid programs have reinforced the elitists’ sense of entitlement to unmerited revenue. It was there for the taking with little accountability. Supervisors, unfamiliar with Nepal, get easily duped by smooth talk and high stakes shell games. Relative to the rest of Nepal, aid workers have a very extravagant lifestyle far removed from the people. They are led about in their offices, vehicles and social arenas by a partisan cohort with privileged access to them and their funds. The aid situation has abetted the polarization of society and agencies often hamper their very reason for existence, so-called development.
The donor mentality is such that many government agencies have grown resistant to proceed in their salaried work unless an ‘aid’ organization antes up extra funds. The state becomes in effect an intractable elephant on the roadway of progress, serving no function but refusing to budge unless rewarded for no reason other than leverage to allow passage. Thus, they can demand a prize or otherwise block enactment of a project. If and when money arrives to move the elephant out of the road above and beyond necessary sweeteners, it is likely to disappear rather than going to the intended target. This paradigm is the precise reverse of the Robin Hood legend, and in this case, the chronically poor get looted while the rulers procure a lifestyle stolen from the destitute public!
The bureaucratic ranks that run the day to day government operations are dominated by the highest rank of society. 90% are Brahmin, Chhetri and upper caste Newar. Nepal was 154th on Transparency International’s 2010 Perception of Corruption Index—on par with Zimbabwe, yet outshined by Pakistan and Syria! Bureaucrats serve as an active impediment to health and prosperity in Nepal. Regrettably, foreign diplomats, for political exigency if not ignorance, support or at least patronize them.
The rulers’ callous disregard for the impoverished people invited the opposition and thus, unethical traditional rulers share much of the blame for the revolt because of their interminable, deprived governance. Aside from the resources that have been pilfered, as far as countrywide wealth potential goes, Himalaya-fed rivers could be a clean source of hydroelectricity and riches for the entire nation, sometimes likened to Arabia’s oil. Nepal has two mammoth, willing and ready energy customers in their emerging economic-titan neighbors, India and China. Instead, bulging rivers remain untapped and even Kathmandu writhes under rolling blackouts and water shortages while its waterways have become repugnant sewers. All the while, short-sighted bureaucrats misappropriate money for their own family circle and friends, sending kids to schools abroad whereas the average school in Nepal lacks the minimum, basic resources and aid agencies trying to fill the void get poached, too. The few profit while the majority agonizes.
Mao is it?
Are the Maoists part of the problem or part of the solution? Many people around the world have been taught that Mao was a demon. Cultural and generational biases based on perception run deep. For some people, Che Guevara was a vicious killer and others a liberator. Nowadays, Guevara is ubiquitous as a handsome T-shirt image cum savior of many a young person’s fashion world. He has become an iconic pop-hero for perhaps unknown reasons, other than symbolizing an anti-establishment ethos despite a ruthless violent streak.
Supreme Leader Zedong is even reviled and ridiculed by a number of people in his own motherland for misguided policies that led to an untold number of deaths. His doctrine was anti-intellectual, of which Nepali’s Maoists are decidedly not, and if they were then they would lose star players, notably, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, whose nickname is “Always First” for his academic history.
Mao’s platitudes notwithstanding, the reason for the rebellion, more than anything, was releasing people from self-serving, politically protected authoritarians and casteism. Despite circumstances, how the war is perceived largely depends on the name Maoist and likely an involuntary reaction to it. Mao is not readily associated with self-determination movements and affiliations to him wrought a negative reflexive reaction. The inflammatory name made it impossible to convince outsiders of efforts to transform a polemically stratified society.
If Maoists had gone by another name, they might have found some empathy or at least a little more understanding. The world has shown itself ready and willing to support people taking a stand against arrogant authoritarians. Not only did the Maoists couple their fight against social injustice with a controversial character, they used over the top rhetoric which self-identified them as antagonists in foreign eyes and created a backlash. Perhaps the provocative name choice was to show they were not out to please anyone, least of all “western imperialists”, and in face of the facts, some leaders of the outside world have proven to be quite imperial.
The US along with China, India, and the UK got into bed with the king to support his tyrannical rule and supplied weaponry and technology to the Royal Nepal Army. They unfailingly pledged allegiance and defence material to the monarch up until his attempt at a complete royal takeover in 2005, a year before the conflict ended. Regal fidelity is particularly puzzling for the US, which overthrew its own overbearing crown. Around 10,000 M-16 automatic rifles, ammunition and military consultants muddled US political backing with military support (but financially much less than the arms supplied by India, China or the UK; meanwhile the Maoists made due with primitive axes and knives, although a few had ancient muzzleloaders and even homemade firearms, and eventually they raided the state’s arms, too). “Light arms” are the flouted “Weapons of Mass Destruction” with an estimated 300,000 deaths annually worldwide from gunshot wounds (and over a million people maimed) according to the Small Arms Survey by a Geneva think-tank.
Incongruously, UN Security Council members dominate world arms transfers, over 75% going to developing nations and areas that are politically unstable and rank poorly in corruption indexes. Arms suppliers irresponsibly turn a blind eye. The United States is the foremost dealer, with deliveries valued at $8.6 billion in 2010, accounting for 39.2% of worldwide distribution to developing areas.
Former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara confessed about US involvement in Vietnam, “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why”. He was equally emphatic on Iraq: “It’s just wrong what we’re doing. It’s morally wrong, it’s politically wrong, it’s economically wrong.” These are not isolated cases of political and cultural illiteracy. Regrettably, from the author’s personal experience, most fellow US citizens do not even know names of leaders of Canada and Mexico, let alone demographics of these two closest neighbors, including basic information on population and major industry. Undeterred by egregious regional ignorance, the US sees fit to use force to impact policy in far-flung countries with which it has infinitely less cultural, economic and political interface and consciousness. Ironically, it does so through undemocratic channels using non-democratically structured institutions, namely, the military and Central Intelligence Agency and, in Nepal’s case, collusion with the monarch and his royal defence forces.
“When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment, and health services for its people, it is depriving a whole generation of its right to prosperity and happiness. We have produced one firearm for every ten inhabitants of this planet, and yet we have not bothered to end hunger when such a feat is well within our reach. Our international regulations allow almost three-quarters of all global arms sales to pour into the developing world with no binding international guidelines whatsoever. Our regulations do not hold countries accountable for what is done with the weapons they sell, even when the probable use of such weapons is obvious.” – Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Peace Prize recipient
Red Card for Nepal
As a pacifist, I am unequivocally against warring factions and believe that physical force conflagrates rather than resolves differences. That said, I am sympathetic to any struggle against corruption and freedom from restrictions and exclusions along ethnic lines and eradicating the inhuman social stratification that dominates the Subcontinent. I might understand the rebels motivation despite their aggressive means. Maoists believed there were no viable alternatives and as recipients of state-sponsored domination, centuries of it, they felt armed revolution was the choice for people without equal rights and without fundamental liberties. Aside from leaving the country to work abroad, itself a precarious option, there was no avenue for success without petitioning to elite rulers and relying on their unlikely beneficence if not bribing them into action.
People of all castes, but especially those lower in the social order had to endure bumbling, self-serving, unethical administrators or face repercussions for stepping out of assigned social designations. Consequences included destruction of one’s standing in society as well as imprisonment and physical harm up to loss of life. Few were willing to put families at risk and thus were cowed by the system until the distaste became unbearable.