In studying non-state armed actors, I have been struck by the debate around labeling a group â€œterroristâ€. The term has become so clouded with connotations of fear and evil that we hardly even know what it means anymore. Those falling under this label are doomed to exclusion and elimination, and efforts at understanding who these groups or individuals are becomes almost impossible.
The Maoists in Nepal are one group to have been labeled â€œterroristsâ€. While they have been known to use tactics of terror, there is much more to this group than that one-word label. During the ten-year civil war, the Maoists perpetrated 10% of the human rights abuses, while the Royal Nepalese Army committed about 90%. In this scenario, isnâ€™t calling the Maoists â€œterroristsâ€ a bit simplistic?
I have become especially focused on this issue because, during the war, the US government supported the Royal Nepalese Army and the monarchy. Even when the King seized control of the government in 2005 and Nepalâ€™s other primary sources of aid, India and the UK, suspended their assistance, the US said it would review military assistance on a case-by-case basis, and did not explicitly cut off aid. As we heard in our documentary last week, the US supported the monarchy because they were afraid that if the Maoists won, Nepal would become â€œhospitable to groups like Al-Qaedaâ€ and other â€œterroristsâ€. Rather than giving a legitimate reason for supporting a group with such a poor human rights record as the Royal Nepalese Army, this statement just gives me the impression that the US does not fully understand the Maoists or Al-Qaeda.
As an American, I canâ€™t stand the fact that my government has been blinded by labels like this. I canâ€™t help but think of the incredible Jitman Basnet, the human rights lawyer with whom we had the honour of speaking, and think that my government supported his torturers. Today, the US government is the second largest supplier of aid to the Nepal Army, and has proposed conditions for future military assistance, such as measures to protect human rights and address past violations. Would these conditions have an impact? And as the conflict parties move towards integration (especially in the military), will all parties involved be able to move beyond problematic labels like â€œterroristâ€?