Trouble Is Brewing on Roof of the World

His move followed a party revolt against his plan to extend a contentious emergency rule to fight the Maoist rebels.

It's a failure of democracy that has fed the growing power base of the Maoist rebels, says Peter Burleigh, a former U.S. ambassador who was posted in the region between 1980 and 1982.

"In my view, the underlying cause [of the uprising] is the disappointment with the democratic system and the apparent inability of the system to deliver services," says Burleigh. "There is extreme poverty in Nepal, and especially in the rural areas, there is a lack of jobs, prospects and hope."

A Royal Disaster

One of the world's 10 poorest nations, Nepal has been bogged by economic misery throughout its modern history, with about 80 percent of its 23 million population living below the subsistence level. But the past 12 months have been economically, politically and psychologically devastating for the Himalayan nation.

Nepalis are still reeling from the events of June 1, 2001, when Dipendra committed patricide, fratricide and regicide in one stroke in a drunken spree that many believe has tarnished the traditional image of the monarchy as a symbol of national unity.

Most analysts agree that following the vastly popular Birendra's murder, the levels of brutality of the Maoist rebels increased exponentially, compelling the new king, Gyanendra, to call in the Royal Nepal Army against the rebels, a prospect Birendra resisted throughout his reign.

The rebels control about a third of the country, analysts estimate, and the violence has crippled Nepal's key tourism industry, forcing the government to slash its minimum fee for climbing Mount Everest, its main tourist attraction, from $75,000 to $25,000 earlier this year.

‘Someone Else’s Father’

But if tourists and mountaineers aren't flocking to the Himalayan heights, the armies — and the militants — in these countries show no such fears.

While acknowledging the astronomical economic and human costs of conducting military operations in altitudes so high that skin, sweat and metal freeze, the Indian Defense Ministry says the Indian military establishment is left with no other choice.

"Yes, it's definitely very costly, in all respects," says P.K. Bandyopadhyay, a spokesman for the Indian Defense Ministry. "But we have no options because we have to control the strategic heights [overlooking the troubled India-Pakistan border]. But our troops go through intense acclimatization training and our troop morale is very high."

And even as she devours the current news of troop buildups along the border in preparation for yet another round of fighting, Neha Dwivedi maintains that her father's death was not in vain.

"I don't believe that I lost my father for nothing," says the self-assured 14-year-old. "In my mind, he is a shaheed [martyr] and I know this is the cost you have to pay. If it was not my father, it would have been someone else's father."

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