From the CIAO Atlas Map of Asia 

email icon Email this citation

CIAO DATE: 09/04

In the Spotlight: Communist Party of Nepal–Maoists

Heather Nickerson

Center for Defense Information

June 2004


The Communist Party of Nepal–Maoists (CPN–M) was formed in 1995; the product of a split in the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). Led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattari, the more radical CPN–M denounced the CPN and other mainstream communist factions as ‘renegades’ and ‘revisionists’ due to their participation in the parliamentary process. On Feb. 13, 1996, the CPN–M announced a People’s War in an effort to establish a New Democracy in Nepal and attacked police stations in the Northwest districts of Rukum and Rolpa.

Background Information

The Maoists’ ultimate objective is the elimination of the present monarchy and the establishment of a single party Communist state. They also strive for the nationalization of the private sector and the collectivization of the agriculture sector.

The Maoists strongly believe in Mao Tsetung’s aphorism that “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” They also draw inspiration from the radical communist ideologies of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and Peru’s extremist left wing guerilla movement, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The CPN–M is inspired by the success of both movements and firmly believes that they can achieve their cause through force and intimidation.

CPN–M Leadership and Strength

Dahal and Bhattarai remain active leaders within the CPN–M command structure. Dahal is the Party’s chief of operations, and Bhattarai heads the Party’s political wing. There are well over a dozen other top–level commanders within the Party’s structure.

Nepalese government reports indicate that there are approximately 5,500 combatants, 8,000 militia, 4,500 cadres, 33,000 hardcore followers, and 200,000 sympathizers actively associated with the CPN–M. They also have an active student wing, comprised of approximately 400,000 members.

The CPN–M insurgency operates to varying degrees in 68 of the 75 districts in Nepal. Among the rebel fighters, about 60 percent are deployed in the Midwestern districts, 150 to 200 miles west of Katmandu. Another 10 percent are in the far Western districts, with around 10 percent in the central district of Gurkha. The remaining members of the insurgency are located in and around the Katmandu valley and regions east of it.

A considerable number of retired Gurkha soldiers of the British and the Indian Army inhabit many of the rebel–affected areas. Nepalese security agencies have long suspected that these former soldiers are involved in training the insurgents.

Terrorist Activities

In January 2003, the Maoists called for a year–long truce in order to negotiate with the Nepalese government. Unfortunately, the truce was short lived. The Maoists unilaterally withdrew from the seven–month cease–fire on Aug. 27, 2003, after the two sides could not agree on the role of Nepal’s constitutional monarchy.

Since then, the CPN–M has been responsible for the deaths of an estimated 259 civilians and 305 members of government and non–government security forces. They continue to use murder, torture, arson, sabotage, child conscription, kidnappings, bombings and assassinations to intimidate and coerce the populace.

As part of their program, the Maoists have threatened attacks against U.S.–sponsored non–governmental organizations and have sought to extort money from Westerners and Nepalese alike to raise funds for their insurgency. Public statements have criticized the United States, the United Kingdom, and India for providing security assistance to Nepal. In 2002, Maoists claimed responsibility for assassinating two Nepalese U.S. Embassy guards and in a press statement threatened foreign embassy missions to deter foreign support for the Nepalese Government. In May 2004, three major Western donor organizations indefinitely suspended projects in Western Nepal due to what they say were threats by the rebels. Their announcement affected more than 50,000 people in some of the poorest areas of the country.

In June 2004, the Maoists claimed responsibility for a bomb in an Indian–run school in Katmandu. The blast occurred during a strike called for by a student–led organization of Maoist rebels. In a separate incident in southern Nepal, 13 soldiers were injured in a landmine explosion carried out by suspected rebels.

Presently, CPN–M rebels are at loggerheads with the Nepalese government. They are demanding not to be classified as a terrorist organization, the release of senior leaders in government detention and the elimination of the current monarchy. Given the breakdown of the 2003 peace talks, renewed talks between the government and the rebels are unlikely to occur any time in the near future. The government insists that the rebels must drop their demand for the elimination of the monarchy. The CPN–M has refused to do so. The Maoists insist that a special committee should be drawn up to draft a new constitution for the country, which would offer the option of abolishing the monarchy.

Neither the government nor rebels appear capable of achieving a decisive victory. The Nepalese government is quick to point out that the Royal Nepalese Army is better equipped than the rebels and is receiving increased financial assistance from the United States. However, the rebels are better prepared to fight in the rugged, mountainous terrain. They are also able to rely on popular support in the more remote regions of the country. Given the success of previous strikes and terrorist attacks, the rebels seem capable of paralyzing much of the country. The government has yet to demonstrate an effective strategy for combating the Maoists.

It is not clear whether the general population sympathizes with the Maoists agenda. But the vast majority of the Nepalese population is poorly educated and impoverished — fertile ground for radical groups like the CPN–M. The population seems to perceive a stark choice between the monarchy and the Maoists, with few alternatives in between. The monarchy could do more to rally popular support, but like the military, does not appear to have an effective strategy for doing so. The Nepalese government is not taking the CPN–M threat to its existence seriously.

Unfortunately, the CPN–M is a viable threat to the Government’s existence. The CPN–M now controls roughly 40 percent of Nepalese territory. Observers estimate that the percentage will only increase in the coming year. If the monarchy is to remain in place it will be necessary to acknowledge the Maoist threat and cultivate popular support.


“Donors Suspend Work in Nepal,” BBC World News, May 10, 2004.

“Plea to End Nepal School Strike,” BBC World News, June 10, 2004.

“Q&A: Nepal Conflict,” BBC World News, October 21, 2003.

“What Next for Nepal,” BBC World News, August 27, 2003.

Sudheer Sharma, “The Maoist Movement: An Evolutionary Perspective,” in Deepak Thapa, ed., Understanding the Maoist Movement in Nepal, Kathmandu: Martin Chautari, 2003