Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Nepal Update

Nepal remains one of our dream destinations. After hearing descriptions of treks near Annapurna and other legendary mountains, we knew we would have to visit. While we lack concrete plans to visit, I have attempted to keep with the political situation in Nepal.

In college, I more-or-less focused my education on studying the history, philosophy and politics of revolutionary movements. While that education centered on Latin American movements, I found an opportunity last year to do a deeper study of the Maoist movement in Nepal.

In my reading, I came across a number of facts that lead me to believe that the Maoists would be successful. First, I found that the traditional society in Nepal oppressed women while the Maoists empowered women. That effort alone gained the Maoists huge support early on. Second, the Nepalese court system has a long back-log and is generally considered to be broken. The Maoists set up courts providing quick access to dispute resolution: while the decisions often tended to be arbitrary or even just bad, the perception of better governance also helped the Maoists make in-roads among the people. Finally, the Maoists effectively tied into to local cultural institutions to create strong links with the people around them. In one story, a group of Maoists soldiers disguised themselves as members of a traditional wedding procession to sneak past the royal police. The population considered it both a sign of cleverness and an endearing invocation of traditional culture.

My prediction was that the Maoists would eventually toss out the monarchy, and that proved incorrect. Instead, the King has less power, the Maoists are in parliament, and, apparently, Nepal is still in pretty bad shape. The situation has approached Peru under Sendero Luminoso when the tough tactics of Fujimori and the brutal tactics of Sendero left the population trapped between two forces becoming less distinguishable. Often, in these struggles, the "good guys" are impossible to find.

News on Nepal is difficult to come by and often biased. The Maosists leak certain information as propaganda while the government tends to stifle media as well. Andy at Hobotraveler.com is currently in Nepal and reports on a pretty desperate situation. His view is worth checking out.

We want to get to Nepal, but we'll have to see how things develop. In an oft-repeated story, the Nepalese people seem caught-in-the-middle and suffer as a result. While the 10 years of conflict is apparently winding down, the fall out will be felt for a long time to come.

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