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The Naxal Connection
Josy Joseph in Kathmandu
In New Delhi, Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai is a respected architect and described as a brilliant student. He completed most of his studies in Delhi, and still has a large following in the sprawling Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in south Delhi.

In Nepal, Dr Bhattarai is considered the brain behind the Maoist movement that has been carrying on a campaign to establish the rule of the proletariat in the Hindu kingdom. From 1996 onwards, his followers, under Pushp Kamal Dahal, better known as Urf Prachanda, the commander-in-chief, have been on a rampage in the villages.

Till the first week of January, their bloody raids, and the counterattacks by the Nepal police, have claimed 1,335 lives. Most of these are innocent, impoverished Nepali villagers. The head count: 700 civilians, 115 policemen, 517 Maoists.

Threatening the peace of the Himalayan country more than anything else now is the Maoist movement, Communists who took to armed struggle. Started on February 16, 1996 as the Communist Party-Maoist, the revolutionaries are now a powerful presence in most parts of Nepal.

Senior police officers believe the Maoists are getting active support from the People's War Group of Andhra Pradesh, the Maoist Communist Centre of Bihar, the United Liberation Front of Asom and even the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka and the Shining Path (Sendero Luminiso) movement of Peru.

Amar Singh Shah, SSP (anti-terrorist operations) says the arms the Maoists use are made locally and most of them are "weapons taken away from police stations they have raided." He says these Maoists get training at several places in India, besides tactical support and assistance in upgrading tactical know-how from the LTTE and Shining Path.

"The money that they have collected as donations has been spent to strengthen the armed group and purchase country-made local weapons." Initially, he says, "they used to raid police posts merely for weapons, not to kill policemen." The situation is apparently changing now.

Nepal's topography helps the Maoists considerably. Eighty-seven per cent of the country is hilly terrain and only 13 per cent can pass for low-lying areas. The hill and upper hill regions are difficult terrain for police operations.

"We have to either relay on helicopters or aircraft to move in that region. There are hardly any good roads," says a senior police officer.

The Nepal police have classified five districts -- out of a total of 75 in the country -- into the 'A' category as far as Maoist influence goes. Seven districts fall in the 'B' category (where the Maoists have considerable influence), and 17 in 'C'. In 31 other districts, they have some received some publicity.

Most of the Maoist attacks happen in the 'A' category districts.

According to estimates, there are about 200 to 300 hardcore Maoists in the country who carry out night raids on rich families and identified government establishments including police stations. 

"They raise their money by threatening businessmen, as well as by village collections in the form of grains etc," says one police officer.

The most recent massacre occurred in the first week of January, when Maoists hunted down nine policemen in Jumla district, close to the Chinese border on the west. This is believed to be a retaliatory attack for a police raid on a Maoist training centre in Iribang, Rolpa district. In that raid, the policemen had killed 11 terrorists and recovered a large quantity of equipment and weapons.

Killings and counter killings are now becoming a regular phenomenon. But a frightening dimension is now slowly building into the Maoist movement: foreign arms, and possible ISI support.

Though the police officials say they yet have no proof of an ISI link, independent inquiries confirmed that some Maoist leaders have contacts in Pakistan. At least one senior Maoist leader, who occasionally visits India, has a known Pakistani contact.

It is quite possible that the ISI, to work uninterrupted in the hinterland of Nepal, may strike a deal with the Maoists. The day that happens -- and the question is more about when than if, given the circumstances -- will be a fateful one for Nepal, which, till now, has only been a passive witness to the ISI's operations on its soil. Dominic Xavier

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