Thursday, July 28, 2005

Keith Bloomfield

Terrorism – No Double Standards

By Keith Bloomfield

Since the terrible terrorist attacks in London, I have often been challenged to explain alleged British double standards on terrorism in relation to the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. How come we condemn the London terror attacks so strongly yet do not label the Maoists terrorists? How come we are even urging the Nepalese government to negotiate with terrorists?


First I want to make it clear that all terrorist acts without exception are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It is always unacceptable that innocent people are killed and maimed in furtherance of a political, religious or ideological agenda. The EU condemned the Chitwan bus attack in the same way as we now condemn the London bus and underground attacks. Those who carry out such acts should be identified, arrested and put behind bars. All terrorist acts are crimes, and particularly serious crimes at that.

The more difficult issue is how to stop terrorist acts happening again. Just asserting that terrorism is terrorism, as if the methods used to combat it are the same wherever it occurs, is to grossly over-simplify the problem. There is a world of difference between an armed insurrection involving thousands of a country’s own citizens in a classic guerrilla warfare environment, with political and socio-economic demands, many of which are shared by the mainstream political parties, and (b) Al Qaeda, which is a worldwide extremist network and involves only a tiny minority of a minority religious group in the UK, with no coherent negotiable demands or formal structure.

In the case of armed insurrections, there is a stark choice: to slog it out militarily at a huge cost in lives, resources, democracy and civil liberties, or to find a political solution through negotiation. Those who reject dialogue, on either side of the conflict, are condemning this country to years, maybe decades, of misery. And let us be quite clear: for hard-liners to reject dialogue in favour of continued violence on the grounds that the Maoists are terrorists, or on the basis that by definition they will never negotiate in good faith, is to do just that.

To a state committed to the restoration of peace and security it is surely self-evident that a political solution to an armed conflict of this type is impossible without talking to those who commit terrorist acts. Yet somehow this does not prevent advocates of a military “solution” from repeating the tired mantra that you cannot talk to terrorists.

It is not an adequate response to this argument to draw superficial comparisons between the Maoists and Al Qaeda. In the UK, we do not face an armed insurrection, which affects the whole country, nor do we face a structured enemy with a coherent set of demands. There are, however, some comparisons which perhaps hold lessons for Nepal:

* In both cases, terrorist violence poses a serious threat to the very fundamentals of our society, and the only effective response must spring from the people. In the UK, the government, the political parties and civil society have joined hands to face up to this threat, and have resisted the temptation to use terrorism as a means to pursue their own narrow agenda. I wish I could say the same for Nepal.

* In both cases, we are confronted with an unacceptable ideology. Prime Minister Blair’s reaction to the London bombings was to call in leaders of Britain’s Muslim community to discuss ways of working together to combat the terrorists on the level of ideas. I see no parallel attempts by the state in Nepal to consult the democratic political forces about ways of working together to confront Maoist ideology.

* Both cases underline the need for international co-operation against terrorism. Britain recognised that it needed the support of its international partners to deal with the problem. Nepal has steadfastly maintained that it can solve its own problems without “interference” from outside, and is pursuing policies which are not only misguided but which are alienating the international community.


Is it not time to face the facts? There is no military “solution” in Nepal. Maoism is an outdated and discredited ideology but one which cannot be defeated with guns and bullets, only with ideas and dialogue. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are part of the solution to the conflict not part of the problem. You cannot reintegrate the Maoists into the democratic mainstream without ensuring that the democratic mainstream is strong and vigorous. Nepal needs all the help it can get from its foreign friends, but must first help itself by pursuing policies which have been tried and tested elsewhere and which can actually restore peace rather than exacerbate the conflict.

(H.E. Keith Bloomfield is British Ambassador to Nepal and former head of the Counter-Terrorism Policy in the British Foreign Office. The article reflects the personal views of the author.)

Source: The Rising Nepal

No comments: