South Asia Theater
The crushing of a rally for the restoration of democracy in Nepal Feb. 10 rated a tiny blurb of wire copy on page 10 of the next day's NY Times. Meanwhile, the crisis in the Himalayan kingdom rapidly deepens. Security forces are hunting down the 150 inmates liberated from a prison in an attack by Maoist rebels, and pledge to break up road blockades the guerillas intend to launch throughout the country to resist the state of emergency. Concerned about reports of detention of political leaders, rights activists and journalists, Amnesty International is sending a special high-level team to Kathmandu, led by the group's secretary general Irene Khan. (Indo-Asian News Service, Feb. 11)
The first public protest for restoration of democracy in Nepal since King Gyanendra suspended civil government Feb. 1 was predictably shut down by police Feb. 10, as 12 members of the Human Rights and Peace Society were arrested upon arriving at the gathering point. As the detainees were hustled into vans, police set up a cordon around the rally site to prevent other activists from gathering.
With most of the international community condemnding King Gyanendra's suspension of civil government and democratic rights in Nepal, Pakistan's embassy in Kathmandu released a statement of support for the king, saying "Pakistan and Nepal share the objectives of combatting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations" and invoking the principle of non-interference. The People's Republic of China is the only other nation to refrain from criticizing the king's power seizure.
A week after Nepal's king dismissed his government and imposed emergency rule by personal decree, the isolated Himalayan nation has largely disappeared from the headlines. The NY Times reported Feb. 9 in short page 13 story that King Gyanendra has allowed international telephone service to resume (gee thanks, Your Highness).
A traditional Punjabi festival of the approaching spring, Basant, is the source of controversy in Pakistan, where Islamic clerics went to court in an unsuccessful bid to have the celebrations banned and revelry in Lahore left at least 17 dead. Festivities usually include kite-flying, fireworks and firing rifles in the air. Stray bullets and throats slashed by metal kite strings were responsible for most of the deaths.
Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed the country's government Feb. 1, and declared a state of emergency, closing off his Himalayan kingdom from the outside world as telephone and Internet lines were cut, flights grounded and civil liberties suspended. This is the second time in three years the king has taken control of the constitutional monarchy, a throwback to the era of absolute monarchy before King Birendra, Gyanendra's brother, introduced representative government following a popular pro-democracy movement in 1990.
Following an agreement with Indian authorities, Burma has turned its guns on the Naga separatist rebels it had previously sheltered--bringing the war to its own soil. Fighting is said to be raging in the jungle along the border with India as Burmese troops attack bases of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), a guerilla group which has been seeking an independent Naga state since 1980. NSCN leader Kuhalo Mulatonu pledges his fighters will resist to the end. At least 15 are already reported dead.
America's own homegrown Mickey Maoists, the Revolutionary Communist Party, have found their latest cause celebre in the Maoist insurgency in Nepal (see their special report). Meanwhile, a new Amnesty International report takes both the guerillas and government forces to task for killings, torture and rape of non-combatants. The report notes that the Tharu and Magar ethnic minorities have been especially targeted for government reprisals. Currently, India and the US are the two biggest military aid providers to Nepal. While the US Congress has passed a law making military aid to Nepal dependent on the army cooperating with the National Human Rights Commission, India is yet to take any such step. Clashes continued last week, leaving several dead in the eastern Ilam district, BBC reports. The war has claimed 10,000 lives since it began in 1995.