Tibetan crackdown in Nepal

As part of its 'One China' policy, Maoist-run Nepal will not tolerate protests by Tibetan exiles - a

The order of events outside the Chinese embassy in Katmandu has now become a well-rehearsed routine.

“It is a cat and mouse game,” says Kunchok Tenzin, a local Tibetan businessman. “The police wait outside the embassy for the protesters to arrive, then they beat them up a little bit, put them in a cell for the night and release them in the morning so the same thing can happen again the next day.”

To show support for Beijing’s “one China” policy, which recognises Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of China, Nepal will not tolerate any protests against its communist friends within its borders. Hundreds of Tibetan protesters are arrested in Nepal every week. Over 500 protesters can be arrested in a single day. Whilst it is understandable that Nepal maintains good relations with its powerful northern neighbour, many Tibetans living in the country believe they take it too far.

“We realise the government has to listen to China to some degree,” says Kunchok, “But what is happening here is just ridiculous.”

Around 2500 to 3000 Tibetans make the crossing over the Himalayas into Nepal each year. Most only stay briefly at a UN reception centre before moving on to India, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. But whilst Tibetans exiled in India enjoy a relatively high quality of life in a country that lets them live and protest freely, the same cannot be said for the 20,000 or so Tibetans who choose to live in Nepal.

“We have no problems at all with the Nepali people in the community,” says Tenzin Nanduk, a lecturer from Pokhara. “But the government is trying to knock the life out of us with its pro-China position.”

Even though the Nepali Interim Constitution states that everyone has the right to non-violent assembly, the response by Nepali police to protesters outside the Katmandhu embassy has often been brutal. “My friend had both his ankles broken outside that embassy,” says Kunchok. “He was the only breadwinner for his family.”

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented not only excessive force during arrests but also ill treatment during detention. “We are particularly concerned by increasing evidence of police use of sexual and other forms of assault during arrests,” read a joint statement released by the two lobbies in March. In May, 560 women were arrested for protesting in Katmandu:

“As they were pulling me away they would feel my breasts,” a middle-aged Tibetan woman said after she was released. “They would just grab me, like they really needed to do this to get me into the van.”

The feeling of injustice growing amongst Tibetans in Nepal has been compounded by the fact that demonstrations by Bhutanese refugees always pass by peacefully without any interference from the Nepali Police.

“There is a double standard working here,” says Tenzin. “Are we paranoid for thinking there just may be other influences affecting the Nepali Government?”

The Nepali administration has a history of appeasing China. In 2007, the Nepal Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of de-registering the Bhota Welfare Office, a local NGO set up to provide community and humanitarian services to Tibetan refugees in Nepal. At the court hearing the Chinese Embassy in Nepal voiced its opposition to the registration accusing the organisation of being an operation of the “Dalai clique.” In January 2005, Nepal’s King Gyanendra, hoping to win China’s support for his February coup, closed the Office of the Representative of the Dalai Lama in Katmandu. The office had been running since the 60’s and was a cornerstone of Tibetan life in the Nepali capital.

The Nepali Monarchy was dissolved in June under pressure from the incoming Maoist government. But although Tibetans and Nepalis alike are hoping the Maoists will be a force for positive change, many are sceptical.

“We could have had it a lot worse here in Nepal,” says Ngawang Sangmo, craft shop owner and worker for the Nepal Tibetan Solidarity Forum. “So since the Maoist resurgence we are worried things could change. We fear it could get violent. I mean, the word itself, “Maoist,” causes immediate anxieties.”

It seems her anxieties were not unfounded. On 19 June, two weeks after I spoke to Ngawang, she was arrested by Nepali police as part of a dawn raid that seized two other Tibetans. Ngawang would sometimes hand out leaflets at demonstrations. She was arrested for conducting an “illegal agitation campaign”. But these three prisoners were not released after the customary single night in the cells. Local leaders fear they will spend three months in jail as this is the maximum time someone can be held without charge under Nepali law.

America has publicly expressed concerns about this recent development. On 26 June the Department Secretary’s Deputy Spokesman, Tom Casey, released a statement condemning the arrests. On 27 June Nepali police arrested 50 more Tibetan protesters.

An added twist in the pressure the Nepali government is putting on Tibetan refugees is the threat of deportation if protesters are arrested without a valid Registration Certificate (RC).

In May 2003 a group of Tibetans were refouled from Katmandu and reportedly beaten and forced to carry out hard labour in a Chinese prison. Tibetans in Nepal hoped this was an isolated incident but the recent threats have made people feel uneasy:

“I am scared because I do not have an RC,” says Pema Tenzin, 22 from Pokhara. “If we get sent back our lives are over. But this will not stop me protesting, nothing will stop us protesting.”

The Nepali government’s reluctance to register Tibetans is perhaps the biggest problem facing this exile community. Registration certificates (RC) give refugees an official identity and status. Without one a refugee has few rights and can be easily harassed by police and local officials. RC’s were provided regularly until the early 70’s when they suddenly stopped being issued. Now the government gives them out randomly and infrequently. Tibetans living in Nepal believe it is yet another tactic to intimidate them.

“There is no good reason why they can’t give me an RC,” says Pema. “Me and my friends are all in our 20s now and none of us have got one. How am I supposed to get a job? They want us to suffer.”

Although RCs provide refugees with some status it is not the same as full citizenship. Even those refugees who are registered cannot access many higher education courses, own land or businesses or be eligible for almost all professional positions. Most Tibetans simply have to be content with working in small restaurants, antique shops and handicraft stalls within the settlements themselves.

“I am a proud person,” says Lhakpa Sicho, 65, from the Tashi Palkhiel settlement in Pokhara. “We get few visitors and I am fed up of having to practically beg the tourists to buy things just so I can survive. I am too old for all this.”

In the 60s, Lhakpa was a member of the CIA trained guerilla resistance movement that fought against the Chinese from a base in Mustang in Northern Nepal, close to the Chinese border.

“The Americans gave us some basic training and some very old guns that couldn’t be traced back to them,” remembers Lhakpa. “We couldn’t do any serious damage but we caused a few headaches for the soldiers at the border!”

These guerilla fighters, or “Lodricks” as they are known in Tibetan, were disbanded in 1974 after the Dalai Lama urged them to put down their weapons. Most blended into settlement life in Nepal putting all thoughts of violence behind them. Tserin Siten is the coordinator of the Lodrick Welfare Society:

“Many of these ex-fighters feel a sense of despair, the guerilla movement did not succeed, the 1989 uprising [in Lhasa] did not succeed- they have resigned themselves to their lives here.”

It seems this feeling of despair is not restricted to ageing ex-freedom fighters. A recent study carried out by a team of researchers from Atlanta found that depression rates among Tibetans living in exile, though much lower than those living in Tibet itself, were high enough to indicate “significant emotional distress.”[i]

“It really is a mental condition,” says Kunchok. “Once you have lost your homeland you develop a completely different mindset, a strange mentality of loss and longing. And we all have it. Under the surface we are all distressed.”

Not only do Tibetans have to battle with the reactive grief of living a stopgap life in a foreign land, they must also deal with the day-to-day hardships that effect every Nepali citizen. In Nepal today people face eight hours of power cuts everyday, 3 hour queues at petrol pumps, soaring food prices and general political unrest.

“Life is hard enough here as it is,” says Pema. “We really don’t need the Nepali government to twist the knife on us with its negative bureaucracy.”

It is perhaps these conditions that are causing increasing numbers to move to the west, particularly to America and Canada. Many move to find work so they can send money back to their families. But even here Chinese influence is dictating the pace. Last year Washington offered asylum to 5000 Tibetans in Nepal as part of a general programme being offered to refugees in South Asia. But the Nepali government, under pressure from Beijing, did not respond meaning only Bhutanese refugees were able to make the move.

Those who remain in Nepal still receive regular direction from the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile based in the hills of Dharamsala in Northern India. The Dalai Lama does not call for independence from China but a “middle way” that would give Tibet autonomy over its own affairs whilst still remaining part of China. Though not ideal, this realistic position gives many Tibetans in Nepal hope for the future.

“We see diplomacy as a light at the end of a very long tunnel,” says Tenzin. “We can move in the direction of that light and it gives us hope. And if we die in the tunnel that is okay too- we know we will see our home again in the next life.”

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Inside the minds of the Isis murderers

As pressure on the terror group who claimed responsiblity for the Manchester attack intensifies, the threat to Britain will only become more acute.

The police and security services had consistently warned that a significant terrorist attack in Britain was inevitable. Yet no warning could have prepared us for the horror of the suicide attack on the Manchester Arena on Monday night. Twenty-two people were killed and at least 60 were wounded as they were leaving a concert by Ariana Grande in what was the most deadly attack in Britain since the London bombings of 7 July 2005, in which 56 people died.

Like the London bombers, the Manchester suicide attacker, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was British. He was 22, lived in Manchester and studied business management at Salford University before dropping out. He worshipped at Didsbury Mosque. The son of Libyans, Abedi is said to have returned recently from a visit to the North African country, where Islamic State has a foothold.

Ariana Grande is a former children’s TV star who made her name on channels such as Nickelodeon. Her fan base is overwhelmingly young and female, and many of those killed or wounded were children, including Saffie Rose Roussos, an eight-year-old girl from Leyland, Lancashire.

Islamic State inevitably claimed responsibility for the massacre, dismissing the victims as “crusaders”, “polytheists” and “worshippers of the cross”. This is not the first time Islamist terrorists have targeted children.

A Chechen jihadist group calling itself ­Riyad-us Saliheen (meaning “Gardens of the Righteous”) took more than 1,100 hostages, including 777 children, in a school siege in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004. In the event, more than 330 were massacred, including 186 children. Gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban also stormed a school in 2014, killing 148.

For terrorist actors, these are neither whimsical nor irrational acts. Contemporary jihadist movements have curated a broad and expansive intellectual ecosystem that rationalises and directs their actions. What they want is to create an asymmetry of fear by employing indiscriminate barbarism to intimidate and subdue their opponents into submission.

We have grown accustomed to a wave of terrorist attacks being carried out in the name of the self-styled Islamic State ever since the group’s official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani began prioritising them in 2014. (He was killed in an American air strike on Aleppo province in Syria in August last year.)

The US-led coalition against Islamic State has weakened the terror group in its former strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. In response, IS has been forced to concentrate more on what it calls “external operations” – by which it means inspiring its sympathisers and operatives to carry out attacks on Western countries. Indeed, al-Adnani encouraged the group’s supporters not to migrate towards IS-held territory but rather to focus their efforts on attacks in their home countries.

“The tiniest action you do in the heart of their [Western] land is dearer to us than the biggest action by us,” he said in an audio statement released last year. “There are no innocents in the heart of the lands of the crusaders.”

Islamic State refers to its strategy as “just terror”. Its framing places culpability for attacks on Western states on these nations themselves by claiming that IS actions are a response to aggression or assault. That much has been outlined in the group’s literature. “When will the crusaders end their hostilities towards Islam and the Muslims? . . . When will they recognise that the solution to their pathetic turmoil is right before their blinded eyes?” the militants ask in the IS magazine Dabiq. “Until then, the just terror will continue to strike them to the core of their deadened hearts.”

IS offered a rationale of this sort as justification for its bombing of a Russian commercial aircraft – Metrojet Flight 9268, travelling from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to St Petersburg. That attack in October 2015 killed 224. Similar reasoning was offered for the attacks in Paris the following month in which 137 people were killed, in a series of co-ordinated, commando-style gun and bomb outrages across the city.

“Revenge was exacted upon those who felt safe,” IS declared in Dabiq. “Let the world know that we are living today in a new era. Whoever was heedless must now be alert. Whoever was sleeping must now awaken . . . The [caliphate] will take revenge for any aggression against its religion and people, sooner rather than later. Let the ­arrogant know that the skies and the lands are Allah’s.”

***

Through my academic research at King’s College London, I have ­interviewed scores of Westerners who became foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq to quiz them about their motives. Last year, one man from High Wycombe who had joined IS told me that it wanted to attack British targets in response to the vote in the House of Commons to extend British air strikes against IS targets to include sites in Syria (the British had only been targeting the group in Iraq until that point). “Do they [the British government] expect us to sit back and do nothing? ­Idiots,” he said.

In this respect, IS frames its attacks as acts of “revenge” and predicates its response on the Islamic principle of qisas, which is comparable to lex talionis or the doctrine of “an eye for an eye”. Qisas was always intended to be a tool of private redress for an individual or his/her family to seek justice in matters relating to bodily harm. Typically, it relates to cases of murder and manslaughter, or acts involving physical mutilation (say, leading to loss of limbs). The principle creates a framework for retributive justice.

The contemporary Salafi-jihadi movement has adopted a particularly innovative approach to the concept of qisas in two ways. First, groups such as IS have taken the idea and construed it in a way that justifies indiscriminate terrorism, such as the attack in Manchester. They argue that qisas has a political dimension and that it can be applied to international affairs in a way that holds civilians responsible for the perceived crimes of their governments.

Second, qisas is normally applied only in cases where the aggressor is known. IS, by contrast, holds every citizen-stranger of an enemy state responsible for the actions of his or her government. Thus, when it released its statement claiming responsibility for the Manchester attack, it said that it had struck against a “gathering of the crusaders . . . in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims”.

It is this militaristic construction of qisas that allows IS to rationalise the bombing of a venue where large numbers of young girls had gathered to watch a pop concert, dismissing them as “crusaders”.

This is not new. In 1997, Osama Bin Laden told CBS News that “all Americans are our enemies, not just the ones who fight us directly, but also the ones who pay their ­taxes”. His rationale was that all Americans, by virtue of citizenship alone, are vicariously liable for the actions of their government.

Just a few years later, Bin Laden used the same idea to justify the 11 September 2001 attacks and also invoked it in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged,” he wrote. “You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.”

IS used the concept most dramatically in January 2015, when it burned alive a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, whose plane had crashed in its territory. A video of the killing was circulated on the internet and social media. The group claimed his bombing raids had killed civilians and that it wanted to punish him with “equal retaliation”, in keeping with qisas.

What is well known about al-Kasasbeh’s murder is that he was burned alive inside a cage – but that is not the whole story. To understand how IS tethered this to the principle of qisas, it is the end of the gruesome video that is invested with most significance. After al-Kasasbeh has died, a truck emerges and dumps rubble over the cage. It was claimed this was debris from a site he had bombed, thus completing the “equal retaliation” of returning like for like. The idea was that IS had retaliated using the two principal forms in which a missile attack kills – by fire or debris.

***

The Manchester attack came on the fourth anniversary of the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London. Rigby was killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale in the middle of the afternoon on a street outside a military barracks. That attack was in keeping with a pattern we have become increasingly accustomed to in Europe: an unsophisticated plot that employs ordinary, everyday items – a car, say, or a knife.

The consequences of such attacks have been seen across Europe, most notably in Nice on 14 July 2016, when 86 people were killed during Bastille Day celebrations after a jihadist drove a truck into crowds on the promenade. Similar attacks followed in Berlin, Westminster and Stockholm.

The security services find that these murderous attacks are extremely hard to disrupt because they typically involve lone actors who can mobilise quickly and with discretion. The Manchester attack was different. Explosives were used, which means the plot was inherently more sophisticated, requiring careful planning and preparation.

We know that two of the 7/7 bombers had previously trained in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions, where they honed their skills. In other plots, such as the connected attacks in London and Glasgow Airport of 2007, the explosive devices failed mainly because the bomb-makers had found it difficult to travel abroad and develop their skills in safe environments. Whatever Abedi’s connections, the long war in Syria and Iraq has once again created a permissive environment for terrorist training and attack planning.

The devastating impact of this has already been felt across Europe. Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, more than 800 Britons are believed to have travelled there to fight. From Europe as a whole, the figure is over 5,000, of which a significant number are believed to have joined IS. Of the British contingent, the security services estimate that about half have returned or become disengaged from the conflict. Of those who remained, a hundred are believed to be active, the rest having been killed.

It is improbable that Abedi acted alone in Manchester or that this plot had no international component. Indeed, he was already known to the authorities (and had returned recently from Libya). As pressure on IS intensifies across Syria and Iraq, the threat to Britain will only become more acute as the group’s sympathisers prepare for what they consider to be a fightback.

This speaks to the scale of the threat facing Britain, and Europe more generally. Our police and security services have been stretched and continuously tested in recent years. Just recently, in March, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley told Radio 4’s Today programme that 13 plots had been thwarted since Lee Rigby’s murder in 2013. Put another way, the police have disrupted terrorist plots every four months for the past four years.

Naturally, Islamic State is not the only threat. On 13 May, one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons, Hamza, released a video, titled “Advice for martyrdom-seekers in the West”, on behalf of al-Qaeda. Hamza, 27, who was his father’s favoured successor to lead the group, called on its supporters to concentrate on attacks in the West rather than migrating to conflict zones in the Middle East and beyond. Scenes of previous ­terrorist attacks in Britain played throughout the video.

The central leadership of al-Qaeda is increasingly looking for opportunities to reassert itself after being eclipsed by Islamic State and losing control of its affiliates in Syria. It needs attacks and a cause in the West with which to revive itself. Hamza therefore cited the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris as a critical example, calling for the assassination of anyone deemed to have “insulted” Islam.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was especially important for al-Qaeda because it enabled the group to transcend the fratricidal conflicts that frequently define relations between the various jihadist groups. In Syria, for instance, al-Qaeda’s affiliates (when it had better control over them) and Islamic State have been in open war with each other.

Yet, the Charlie Hebdo attack brought warm praise from the group’s Islamist rivals because none of them wanted to appear ­unsupportive of an atrocity that had, as the terrorists proclaimed, “avenged” the Prophet Muhammad’s honour.

The British man from High Wycombe who joined IS told me the group had welcomed the attack for precisely those reasons. It was something that, in his view, had confirmed the “nobility” of the attackers, even if they had not been members of IS.

Is it too late for the West to save itself, I asked him. What if the West simply accepted all of Islamic State’s demands: would that provide respite?

The answer was as emphatic as it was stark: “We primarily fight wars due to ppl [sic] being disbelievers. Their drones against us are a secondary issue.”

He went on: “Their kufr [disbelief] against Allah is sufficient of a reason for us to invade and kill them. Only if they stop their kufr will they no longer be a target.”

In other words, we are all guilty, and we are all legitimate targets.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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