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Internal Security Considerations


Royal Nepal Army soldier at the gate of the old royal palace, Kathmandu
Courtesy Harvey Follender

Nepalese police, backed from time to time by the army, combat routine crimes in addition to monitoring numerous political strikes and demonstrations. The incidence of organized political violence was low, however. Nepal was not a fertile breeding ground for international terrorism because most political violence was committed by Nepalese dissidents to further their own domestic political agendas.

In the mid-1980s, small antimonarchist and communist groups conducted a series of bombings in the Kathmandu Valley to dramatize their opposition to Birendra's rule. In June 1984, clandestine Maoist bands such as the Samyuktha Mukti Bahini (Socialist Liberation Army), the Democratic Front, and the United Liberation Torch Bearers mounted a campaign of bombings and assassinations intended to spark a revolution. Their actions had the opposite effect, however, as moderate opposition politicians condemned the violence and rallied around the king. The opposition civil disobedience campaign was called off, and the Rashtriya Panchayat passed a stringent antiterrorist ordinance to put down the threat. By August 1984, over 1,000 suspected terrorists and sympathizers were imprisoned under provisions of antiterrorist legislation promulgated by the king.

The following year, another bombing in downtown Kathmandu killed eight persons and wounded twenty-two others. The sensational crime was perpetrated by the Jan Morcha (People's Front), a Taraibased antimonarchist group with ties to political thugs in the Indian border states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Several Jan Morcha leaders who fled to India were convicted of the bombing in absentia. In June 1991, following the installation of the Nepali Congress Party government, King Birendra pardoned the exiled terrorists as a gesture of political goodwill.

The ethnic tensions that spilled across Nepal's international boundaries also posed security and foreign policy problems. In 1987 the Nepalese minority residing in the mountainous northern districts of the Indian state of West Bengal mounted a violent agitation demanding statehood within the Indian union for Indian citizens of Nepalese origins. The standard bearer of the campaign was the Gorkha National Liberation Front led by Subhas Ghising, a former noncommissioned officer in an Indian Gurkha regiment. The communist state government of West Bengal complained of Nepalese collusion with the agitators after Ghising openly solicited Kathmandu's support and called on Gurkhas in the Indian Army to back the demand for a separate "Gorkhaland." The situation worsened when Indian police crossed the Nepalese border while pursuing Gurkha militants. Although Kathmandu probably was sympathetic to the plight of the Nepalese minority, any appearance of support for the statehood agitation was scrupulously avoided for fear of angering New Delhi. Official Nepalese support for the movement never was proven. By 1991 the Gorkhaland agitation had subsided after New Delhi, West Bengal, and Gurkha militants negotiated a political settlement that fell short of statehood.

In the 1980s, some of the young, militant Nepalese population residing in the southern part of Bhutan began to complain of systematic discrimination at the hands of the Bhutanese government. As many as 6,000 ethnic Nepalese refugees fled to Nepal. Because there were another 16,000 Nepalese refugees who had fled from Bhutan to India, the ethnic dispute in Bhutan threatened to become a transregional security problem involving all three states (see Political Dynamics , ch. 6).

The strong communist showing in the 1991 election was a disturbing development from the perspective of Birendra and the army. The Nepali Congress Party, a longtime political and ideological foe of the communists, also harbored deep misgivings over communist political intentions. Many observers feared that the relatively open political environment would allow disciplined communist cadres to mount street protests, paralyze the government, and force a showdown with the king and the army. Army officers, most of whom rejected the antimonarchist platform of the communists, invariably regarded the communists as a potential security menace and a threat to the throne. There was no evidence in late 1991 that the some twenty Nepalese communist factions then in existence commanded any appreciable support within the army rank-and-file.

Data as of September 1991

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