Mass murder in Nepal

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Providence Journal:

Not since the Austrian crown prince Rudolf shot his mistress and himself at his hunting lodge at Mayerling (1889) has there been an incident such as the massacre of King Birendra of Nepal, Queen Aiswarya and several members of the royal family, by the crown prince Dipendra, who then shot and wounded himself. In a grotesque second act to this grisly drama, Dipendra, as he lay dying in a hospital, was proclaimed the new king by Nepal's privy council. But now that Dipendra, too, has died, his uncle, Gyanendra, the late monarch's brother, becomes the king of Nepal.

This is a sad end to Birendra, Nepal's Harvard-educated ruler since 1972, who had transformed his country's absolutist government into democracy, and introduced high-tech industry to the Himalayan kingdom.

Beyond the royal melodrama lurks a geopolitical danger. Nepal's serene existence has been disrupted during the past decade by a rural Maoist uprising, which has killed a thousand people, kept the Nepalese army and police off balance, and is determined to destroy the constitutional monarchy and replace it with a dictatorship based on 1950's Communist China. Birendra's government had been seeking to negotiate with the rebels, who may now set aside diplomacy in favor of violence.

Whether Nepal's turmoil works to the advantage of the rebels, it has attracted the attention of Beijing. If the Maoists succeed in overthrowing Nepal's government, or if China decides to "pacify" its unstable neighbor, an additional thousand-mile land border between China and India would be opened, and present China with a corridor to the heartland of India.

There is recurrent tension along the Chinese-Indian frontier, the two countries went to war as recently as 1962, and both nations have nuclear weapons. India can better defend itself against Chinese aggression now than it could 39 years ago, but the Chinese capacity for mischief is considerable. What began as an episode in a royal Nepalese soap opera could precipitate a perilous chain of events in Asia.

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