Still thinking about Nepal: the politics were I think only marginally more functional than actual armed struggle, the coalition government did not seem to have any basis for proceeding bar the agreement not to shoot at one another, at least not today. The core political question was the disarming of the Maoists.
The disarming, said the Maoists, would only occur if the cadres were individually pensioned off but that could only happen if there was a full and complete list of the cadres and who would provide such a thing to one’s enemies, wouldn’t it be simply a death list? As an act of dubious sabotage the Maoists have been adding everyone they know to the list so the ranks of the cadres have swelled by dozens of thousands over the past year prompting speculation that these ghost soldiers are invented for no better reason than the skimming of the pension by the Maoist leaders.
The Maoists respond that the cadres were a social movement and well you know participation is combatant so bring down the money or you’ll not see a single shotgun amnestied. I think that in such geographic circumstances as Nepal one would be hard pressed to either sustain or resist armed struggle. There aren’t enough donkeys or yaks to manage either job.
The military were everywhere I walked and they were well armed, though the Hind gunships were very 1980s. Plus there were cops and other unbadged paramilitaries. Slightly unnervingly there was also the occasional sidearm toting suited dude, usually wearing aviator shades as per Cool Hand Luke. The great gift of paying for the guide was not having to manage the checkpoints or the young, cold, bored, and (no doubt) lonely men with guns standing on the hillside with a register of foreigners. This was of considerable comfort to me.
Langtang was flown over several times by Chinese jets (I assumed that they were Chinese, I didn’t think the Nepali Air Force would have that kind of budget) and the military was building lots of barracks as we went up the valley, cutting their own timber which seemed more in line with their resources. Langtang is, I guess, the real southern flank of China and I’d say it is about as secure as a frontier can get. From the Nepali side this security is manifested as an all encompassing fear of “the road”.
Roads are being built throughout Nepal and along the obvious routes, that is to say the trekking routes and the access points to the valleys. The main road is the Friendship Highway and in theory it already links Kathmandu to Lhasa but in practice only for a couple of months of the year. But “the road” is everywhere and and its many connections were a big conversation all around, the guides in Annapurna saw road development as being the end of their days. I daresay the trails have already changed quite significantly over recent years to both avoid, and take advantage of, the road.
In Annapurna the road is planned over the next five years to complete the U shape around the massif and to go over Thorong La. The Langtang locals felt that the road would make them a kind of backwater forgotten by all but the truckers and soldiers. Appadurai loomed large for them. The funny thing was that on all the tourist literature marked it as Tibet brackets China close brackets and the official literature marked it as China brackets Tibet close brackets. A practical kind of denial I thought.