“All the democratic forces will have to be united to fight both the Maoists and the reactionaries,” Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), told The Himalaya Times April 26.

The CPN-UML is the main opposition party to the present rightist Nepali Congress-led government.

Nepal, a country facing extreme poverty, also faces extreme violence. Over 5,000 people have died from both government and Maoist violence in the past six years. Maoists declared a so-called “people’s war,” in 1996. The government declared a State of Emergency Nov. 26, 2001.

In an interview with the World, J.N. Khanal, a senior leader of the CPN-UML said, “On one side the Maoists are waging an armed struggle and on the other side the Nepali Congress government is taking the road of counter-violence. Violence and counter-violence is going on in the country. Thousands of people are being killed.”

In this era of the Bush administration’s unending war on terrorism, the right-wing Nepal government is a willing coalition partner. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Nepal in January, and Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba will meet Bush at the White House in May.

According to news reports, Nepal-U.S. ties were upgraded after Sept. 11. “These days the U.S. government is increasing its influence in south Asia,” Khanal said. A huge amount of money is pouring into Nepal to “combat terrorism.” The U.S. has given some $200 million for arms and military advisors, Khanal said.

But the Maoist violence is a very complicated problem, according to Khanal. While they engage in terrorist and criminal activities, including attacks on CPN-UML supporters, this problem as a whole is a political problem, Khanal said.

“They are raising many people’s demands and issues that have to be addressed by the state and government, which is not addressing those problems.”

One-half of the population lives below the poverty line. The CPN-UML advocates constitutional amendments to expand democracy as well as specific socio-economic reforms, including land reform, health and education programs, affirmative action for women and communities that face discrimination, like the Dalits, and a national employment program.

Nepal, with a population of 23 million, faces tremendous pressures from U.S. imperialist-dominated globalization and the corporate interests represented in this process.

“The World Bank and [World Trade Organization] have already brought the Nepalese policy-makers within their domination, influencing our budget and all financial policies and controlling our whole economy.

Nepal has been turning into the market for big multinational corporations and local industries are going to be rooted out,” Khanal said.

“All indigenous textile industries are in danger. Our country uses about 300 million meters of textiles and our local industry can fulfill 70 percent of the demand,” Khanal said. “Yet textile mills have been closed – and we are compelled to bring textiles from abroad. The national industry has been destroyed.”

Khanal said the CPN-UML is “using this democratic space for the advancement of the country, strengthening democracy, people’s livelihoods and peace.”

One of their main goals is to “eliminate rampant corruption” which is going on in the country, create jobs and fight for the rights for the poor. The CPN-UML thinks this can be done within the current constitutional framework. “The Maoists are not agreeing [with this assessment],” Khanal said.

The CPN-UML helped to lead the historic People’s Movement, which overthrew the autocracy and established a multi-party system in 1990.

Since then the CPN-UML has been either part of the government or the largest opposition party, including leading the government for nine months from 1994-1995. Khanal held two different ministerial posts during the 1990s, as well as a seat in Parliament.

In 1998, divisions occurred in the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) was established. On Feb. 15, 2002, the two parties came back together and unified under the CPN-UML name, issuing “The Declaration of Unification between the CPN-UML and the CPN (ML).”

The CPN-UML introduced a proposal of a constitutional amendment for preservation of the multi-party system, protection of the gains of the 1990 people’s movement and consolidating the constitution and civil rights March 4.

Political, economic and social reforms and honest efforts at corruption control in deference to the people’s aspirations will alone be able to quell the disenchantment and despondency seen among the people and take away the base for the violent activities of the Maoists, the CPN-UML said.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org