IF NEPALESE King Gyanendra's goal is to end the violent insurrection that has been building since 1996 and that essentially controls all but his kingdom's cities, his declaration of a national emergency a week ago seems destined to backfire. The king fired Nepal's prime minister and elected government, suspended democracy and civil liberties, and cut all air, phone and Internet links to the roof of the world - a lockdown still largely in place.
In taking Nepal's nascent constitutional monarchy back to feudal autocracy, the king has turned a messy three-way struggle - among himself, Nepal's political parties and the armed rebels now ruling its villages - into an even more dangerous war with just two sides, the 250-year-old dynasty and supposed Maoists modeling themselves after Peru's Shining Path. The monarchy itself may be at risk, particularly because its forces are as repressive as the rebels.
There is some danger that Nepal could devolve into a failed state under China's wing. China denies designs on or support for the rebels. But Nepal matters to Beijing as a border buffer with India and as the main exit for Tibetan refugees. Just recently, leading Tibetan offices in Kathmandu were closed by Nepal, something that China had successfully sought for 45 years.
The United States, the United Nations, Britain and India, Nepal's longtime patron, have condemned the king's actions, and India may be halting military aid. Nepal receives about $40 million a year in U.S. economic and military aid. Future U.S. military aid already is tied to improved human rights, a test that the Nepalese king just failed. Military aid may be the only U.S. tool to prod the king to attend to the poverty, corruption, abuses and military incompetence fueling the rebellion threatening his kingdom. This is a low-cost chance for President Bush to act on his inaugural rhetoric on human rights.