Seeds of Ethno-Civil War in Terai
KRISHNA HARI PUSHKAR sees seeds of ethno-civil war in Terai. He prescribes four ways to address the problem.
There are many issues of concern in contemporary Nepali politics, including the stalled peace process. A new twist is visible now with the resignation of some Madhesi lawmakers. Some say that the senior leaders of seven-party alliance must be blamed for pushing Madheshi ethno political movement one-step forward to the separation of Nepal or the formation of a new nation in the South Asian periphery.
There are more than two dozens of armed insurgent groups and around a dozen of civil insurgents fighting for “liberty” in the country. A hard core and the most fierce of all Madheshi insurgent groups is JTMM (Jwala Singh). This group has already declared Madhesh a separate nation. JTMM has its own army, administrative structures and plans. Since the beginning of the armed and civil insurgency in Madhesh, there has been a drastic increase in the loss of lives, numbers of internal refugees and destruction of infrastructure. Murders, bomb-blasts, counter-warfare, hijacking, shooting, rebel attacks, kidnappings, looting, displacements, rape and other terrible violence have dominated the headlines. However, not much progress has been achieved in identifying the roots of this conflict and resolving it. The problem is worsening because the government and the interim parliament do not seem serious enough to find peaceful means to resolve this crisis. The resignations are merely an expression frustration and dissatisfaction by representatives of the region in turmoil. They have demanded full autonomy for the region but have threatened they will lead a separatist movement if armed forces are deputed in the region. The fact is that the deployment of the state’s special armed security forces in the terai won't do any good. It will only add to aggression in the region and embolden the separatist aspiration. However, the community based security governance is essential to maintain law and order and curb criminal activities.
There are mixed signals coming from the Madhesi leaders-- we are for complete autonomy or else... Only a few weeks ago Rajendra Mahato, a former minister, formed “Madhesh Army". This group, in its objectives, is not much different from the other pre-existing Madhesh armed or civil insurgent groups. But it is clear now that Madhesi groups are gathering momentum in their quest for unity. This goes beyond political integration. State employees, such as civil servants, police, armed police, education professionals, health professionals, representing Madhesi ethnicity, have also expressed commitments to unison and agreed to ally in favour of Madhesh’s interest in forming a revolutionary front.
The ruling alliance and even the interim premier Girija Prasad Koirala is acknowledging the worsening conditions in Madhesh. They blame the mess on the criminal civilities in the region. In fact, they probably aren’t serious about the crisis and grief of Madhesh. Or they may be knowingly putting all of the possible efforts to underestimate the principles of Madhesh revolution. Around 300 people have lost their lives in the conflict since last year. Koirala have been criticized for his disregard to the revolt. He has hinted India's hand in the crisis. Recently, he said: The ongoing Madhesh crisis can be solved within a minute if Nepal and India jointly work together for it. One can hint Koirala's an official invitation for international intervention in the internal affairs of the country.
The Madhesis smell state conspiracy in this. They have widely condemned Koirala's remarks. Others look at his remark as a neo-colonial attitude toward Madhesis, reinforcing segregation and discrimination of the Madhesi people. The Maoist, who came to power through revolution not long ago, are also unsympathetic to the Madhesi revolt. They are advocating the use their so called people’s army (armed Maoist’s guerrillas) to suppress and exterminate the aspiration of the ongoing Madheshi movement. Many Madhesi rebels are also former Maoists. The Maoists are frosty toward the new revolt either for personal or institutional revenge or a fear of a threat to their own political future, which already has become shaky due to weathering public support for their cause.
The major grievance of Madheshis is that there is zero or rare representation in principal organs of state despite the fact that they constitute 50 percent of the total population of the country. A survey shows the average representations of Madheshis is less than 10 percent in the overall state affairs. The distribution is approximately 3 percent in higher posts and approximately 7 percent in the lower ranks. However, there is still need for concrete research to find the exact population structure of Madheshi people and their representation. The existing data on this issue is very controversial and biased.
The Madhesi crisis is officially a local issue. The international community can do little directly. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was criticized recently for its role in the region recently, though it has a mandate to create conducive environment for constitutional assembly election. India, too, does not want to involve in the issue directly just as it has done with the Bhutanese refugee crisis. But the Madheshi movement is widely and spontaneously supported by the majorities of north Indian regional political parties, NGOs, communities and individuals living in the Nepal border regions. The Madheshi people and people from northern part of India are culturally, personally, socially and emotionally tied, and they would act to help each other even beyond the norms of nationalism. Their mutual sentiments and kinships can neither be controlled by India nor by Nepal government because most of them have blood and family relationships across borders. This is a bond stronger than nationalism. Any Indian role in helping Nepal government to suppress Madhesh movement would only strengthen the Madhesi desire for independence or statehood, such as the "Greater Mithilaland/Madheshland." North India itself has been a neglected region, and rife with insurgencies for long. I don’t think India is ready to foster one more trouble in the region. A troubled Madhesh between the central access of Nepal and India could be a major obstacle for both countries. This is a gateway to both countries and a strategic region because every major highway, custom point, industrial, economical, and other fertile resources of Nepal is in Madhesh helping circulate trade relationship. Internal security will worsen in both countries if the problem intensifies. Thus, India may invite more owes unto itself if it decides to help Nepal to crush the Madhesi movement.
The fact is that the Madheshi movement can not be controlled or suppressed or brought to an end by any autocratic action. It is a spontaneous socio-political movement and doesn’t have any clear leadership or a united front so far. Involvement of a few regressive forces or criminals with revolutionaries is natural in every sort of revolution in the world. The recent unity efforts may change the dynamics of the movement. It could be a positive force but I am afraid that it could also be a leap toward a separatist movement, if not addressed properly as early as possible. It could get stronger than the Maoist insurgency, worse than the Kashmir turmoil in India. It won't help Nepal or India to suppress the movement.
The international community's inability to get involved in this crisis and Nepal government's reluctance to their direct involvement must also be a matter of concern. The Pahadi vs Madhesi polarization is characteristic of a budding ethnic war. Some scholars identify pre-symptoms of civil ethnic war in a case like this. Already, there is serious aggression in Madhesh against any people of hill origin. Pahadi officials are not able to work in Madhesh. Most of them are being transferred from the region. Some of them have already been killed, tortured, displaced, their houses burnt. They are no longer safe there and are treated as enemies of Madhesh and Madheshi. This is a typical sign of any pre-civil war or pre-separation movement. Sadly, the government is intent on crushing the movement. The cabinet and the home minister are yet making the special security plan and trying to use heavy armed forces rather find a suitable political solution. They have probably learnt nothing much from the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
Though chaotic and violent, the Madhesh crisis can be resolved by means of an immediate ad-hoc peace building effort and some political first aid. The government should also immediately implement the commitments that were reached through various agreements and expressed through national declaration. Also, the government, taking a one-door policy, should immediately form a special ministerial committee with full authority to collectively materialise all declared public commitments. Second, government should improve political representation through political decisions and appointment, on the basis of proportional demographic ratio. Third, to increase the Madheshi representation in civil service, especially in security sector, administrative and diplomatic service, the government should develop, via some provisional recruitment process, a provision to attract existing officials from technical services and other educated and eligible human resources (government, teaching professionals, etc). Fourth, one cannot operate an efficient and effective administrative government through only Pahadi officials in Madhesh regions, so the government should immediately introduce a community administrative governance system. Such a system would keep the local inhabitants involved in the ownership and participation of local administration. This could be modelled after community police approach. Specially, the government should also mainstream the recognition, identity and access of Madheshis in national and international spheres of its politics.
Krishna Hari Pushkar, based in Germany, is a peace and conflict management expert and maintains keen interest in Nepal's peace process.
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Oct 31, 2007 : What UNMIN Should Do to Manage Nepal Peace Process
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