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Main article: Licchavi
Between about 400 and 750AD, Nepal’s present capital Kathmandu was ruled by the Licchavi kingdom. Archaeological evidence for this period mainly consists of stonework inscriptions, reckoned on two separate, consecutive eras. The former, ?aka era has an epoch corresponding to 78AD, whereas the latter Am?shuvarm? or M?nadeva 2 era reckons from 576AD.
Whilst most such inscriptions list the dates and commissioners of stonework construction, some communicate royal edicts, religious mantras or historical notes. It is through the corroboration of local myths with such evidence that a people prior to the Licchavi have been identified, known as the Kirata. Of these people very little is known.
Modern Nepal was created in the latter half of the 18th century when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of the small principality of Gorkha, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. The country was frequently called the Gorkha Kingdom, the source of the term “Gurkha” used for Nepali soldiers.
After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed, heightened by Nepal’s defeat in a war with the British from 1814 to 1816. Stability was restored after 1846 when the Rana family gained power, entrenched itself through hereditary prime ministers, and reduced the monarch to a figurehead. The Rana regime, a tightly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the colonial era, but it also impeded the country’s economic development.
In 1950, King Tribhuvan, a direct descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah, fled his “palace prison” to newly independent India, touching off an armed revolt against the Rana administration. This allowed the return of the Shah family to power and, eventually, the appointment of a non-Rana as prime minister. A period of quasiconstitutional rule followed, during which the monarch, assisted by the leaders of fledgling political parties, governed the country. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on a British model.
In early 1959, King Mahendra issued a new constitution, and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party, a moderate socialist group, gained a substantial victory in the election. Its leader, B.P. Koirala, formed a government and served as prime minister.
Declaring parliamentary democracy a failure 18 months later, King Mahendra dismissed the Koirala government and promulgated a new constitution on December 16, 1962. The new constitution established a “partyless” system of panchayats (councils) which King Mahendra considered to be a democratic form of government closer to Nepalese traditions. As a pyramidal structure progressing from village assemblies to a Rastriya Panchayat (National Parliament), the panchayat system enshrined the absolute power of the monarchy and kept the King as head of state with sole authority over all governmental institutions, including the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) and the Parliament.
King Mahendra was succeeded by his 27 year-old son, King Birendra, in 1972. Amid student demonstrations and anti-regime activities in 1979, King Birendra called for a national referendum to decide on the nature of Nepal’s government–either the continuation of the panchayat system with democratic reforms or the establishment of a multiparty system. The referendum was held in May 1980, and the panchayat system won a narrow victory. The king carried out the promised reforms, including selection of the prime minister by the Rastriya Panchayat.
People in rural areas had expected that their interests would be better represented after the adoption of parliamentary democracy in 1990. When promised land reforms failed to appear, people in some districts started to organize to enact their own land reform, and to gain some power over their lives in the face of usurious landlords. However, this movement was repressed by the Nepali government, in “Operation Romeo” and “Operation Kilo Sera II” which took the lives of many of the leading activists of the struggle. As a result, many witnesses to this repression became radicalized.
Civil War Begins
Main article: Nepalese Peoples War
February 13, 1996 saw the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) launch the “People’s War” — an insurgency with the stated goal of overthrowing the existing monarchic state and establishing a communist republic, or a Maoist “people’s democracy”. (The term, as with “People’s War”, is in quotes because the validity of the concept would be challenged by some.) Led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as “Prachanda”), the insurgency began in five districts in Nepal: Rolpa, Rukum, Jajarkot, Gorkha, and Sindhuli. The Maoists have declared the existence of a provisional “people’s government” at the district level in several locations.
2001 to the Present:
In June 2001 Crown Prince Dipendra went on a shooting-spree assassinating 11 members of the royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aiswary before shooting himself. Due to his survival he temporarily became king before dying of his wounds resulting in Prince Gyanendra (Birendra’s brother) inheriting the throne. Meanwhile, the Maoist rebellion escalated, and in October 2002 the king temporarily deposed the government and took complete control of it. A week later he reappointed another government, but the country is still very unstable because of the civil war with the Maoists, the various political factions, the king’s attempts to take more control of the government and worries about the competence of Gyanendra’s son and heir, Prince Paras.
The history of Bhutan:
Archeological finds suggest the mountain valleys of Bhutan have been inhabited for several thousand years. The Bhutanese are related to the Tibetans to the north, sharing physical, linguistic, and cultural traits, indicating that at some unknown time in the past a significant migration of Tibetans arrived over the Himalayan mountain passes to establish the base of the present population.
Arrival of Buddhism:
In the 8th century the Indian Guru Padmasambhava arrived in Bhutan, bringing Buddhism and establishing a number of temples and monasteries, including the famous Taktshang monastery built high on a cliff face above the Paro valley and Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang.
Bhutan emerges as a country:
Until the early 1600s, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Escaping political foes in Tibet he arrived in Bhutan in 1616 and initiated a program of fortification and military consolidation, overseeing the construction of impressive dzongs or fortresses such as Simtokha Dzong which guards the entrance to Thimphu valley. An insightful leader, he used cultural symbols as well as military force to establish a Bhutanese national identity, including the initiation of a number of sacred dances to be performed in the annual tsechu festivals.
The Shabdrung also established the dual system of government by which control of the country was shared between a spiritual leader (the Je Khempo) and an administrative leader (the Desi Druk), a polity which exists in modified form to this day.
Treaties with Britain:
Although subject to periodic Tibetan invasions from the north, Bhutan has retained continuous autonomy since its founding by the Shabdrung. In the early 1700s, the Bhutanese invaded the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south, placing it under Bhutanese suzerainty. In 1772 the Cooch Behari appealed to the British East India Company who joined with the Behari in driving the Bhutanese out and attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was concluded in which Bhutan pulled back to its pre-1730 borders. The peace was not to hold, however, and border conflicts with the British were to continue for the next hundred years including the Duar War (1864-1865), fought over control of the Bengal Duars.
The 1870s and 1880s were marked by civil war between the rival power centers of Paro and Trongsa valleys. In 1885 Ugyen Wangchuck , the penlop (governor) of Trongsa, gained control of the country and ended the civil war, aided by support from the British (the penlop of Paro being aligned with the Tibetans).
Establishment of the monarchy:
Under British influence a monarchy was set up in 1907 which established Wangchuck as absolute ruler of Bhutan. Three years later a treaty was signed whereby the country became a British protectorate.
Independence in 1949:
Independence was attained in 1949, with India subsequently guiding foreign relations and supplying aid.
Emergence from isolation:
Under the direction of Bhutan’s third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan adopted a policy of gradual exposure to the outside world. Bhutan gained United Nations recognition as a sovereign country in 1971.
Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the present and fourth king in the line, ascended to the throne in 1972 at age 17 upon the death of his father. His coronation in June 1974 was the occasion for inviting a select number of diplomats and guests from around the world to the isolated kingdom, marking the beginning of regular (if modest) interaction with outside visitors.
The fourth kings has since shown great skill in steering his country towards 21st century modernity while preserving the distinctive Bhutanese cultural with its roots in the 17th century. He is best known in the West for his goal of seeking the highest Gross National Happiness for his country, rather than the more conventional Gross National Product.
Current threats to stability:
Several guerilla groups seeking to establish and independent Assamese state in northeast India have set up guerilla bases in the forests of southern Bhutan from which they launch cross-border attacks on targets in Assam. The largest guerilla group is ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom). Negotiations aimed at removing them peacefully from these bases failed in the spring of 2003. Bhutan is faced with the prospect of having to strengthen its token army force to obtain an eviction of the guerillas, or risk giving India a pretense and reason for annexing Bhutan itself as the 23rd state of India.
=Military action against Assamese separatists December 2003
= On 15 December 2003 the Royal Bhutan Army began military operations against guerilla camps in southern Bhutan, in coordination with Indian armed forces who lined the border to the south to prevent the guerillas from dispersing back into Assam. News sources indicated that of the 30 camps that were target, 13 were controlled by ULFA, 12 camps by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and 5 camps controlled by the Kamatapur Liberation Organization By January, government news reports indicated the guerillas had been routed from their bases.
Ethnic Nepalese refugees
In 1988 Bhutan evicted over 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents from districts in southern Bhutan, creating a large refugee community that is now being detained in seven temporary United Nations refugee camps in Nepal. After years of negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan as to their status, in 2000 Bhutan agreed in principle to allow certain classes of the refugees to return to Bhutan. However none have been allowed to do so yet. Significant unrest is now reported to be fomenting in the camps, especially as the United Nations terminates a number of educational and welfare programs in an effort to force Bhutan and Nepal to come to terms.
Bhutanese Communist Party (BCP)
The UN refugee camps appear to be have been the spawning grounds of the new Bhutan Communist Party, the BCP, which announced itself in April 2003 and called for an overthrow of the monarchy, and perhaps to establish a ‘people’s war’ similar to the nearby Nepalese People’s War. A related organization, the Bhutanese Revolutionary Students Union (BRSU), has claimed responsibility for the September 2001 assassination in India of R K Budhathoki, the exiled founder of the Bhutan Peoples Party, a rival anti-monarchy group.