“The Fierce One” and the Maoists

The big news out of central Asia this morning — on what probably counts as a big news day for central Asia — was the resignation of the prime minister of the Himalayan monarchy-turned-republic of Nepal. The prime minister, a former Maoist guerilla who’s stylized himself Prachanda, or “the fierce one,” had faced some rather fierce protests of his own after he attempted to dismiss the country’s army chief. Prachanda wanted former Maoist fighters incorporated into the national army, a move that went too far for Nepal’s president, a non-Maoist opposition leader.

Attention has rightly focused on what this political development means for Nepal’s young democracy and the peace deal that ended a decade of civil war (not to mention 240 years of monarchy). But equally significant is the military side: what will happen to the 19,000 Maoist fighters ostensibly allied with Prachanda? They were in fact supposed to be incorporated into the Nepalese army, eventually at least, according the the UN-brokered peace deal. The question, though, was when to do so without either prompting fears of a Maoist resurgency or undermining the reconciliation process. For now, the fighters remain in barracks overseen by UN civilian and military observers, in a system that has worked relatively smoothly for the two years since the peace deal.

It certainly seems a dangerous situation to have 19,000 former Maoist insurgents, with access to weapons and a command structure that is “still intact,” hanging out in barracks when their former leader has just quit the government. A commander of the militia forces, however, has said they “have no plans to bring them out from the UN-monitored camps,” so hopefully caution will prevail here.

(image of UN observers in Nepal)