Challenges To Civilian Control Of Nepal Army


By Ritu Raj Subedi
The nation is passing through intense transformative moments. The decade-long Maoist insurgency followed by April Uprising ushered in republican set-up in the nation. Now the agenda of restructuring the state is gaining ground as the historic Constituent Assembly is striving to draft an inclusive constitution. Like other institutions, the country’s security sector, especially the Nepal Army, is also feeling the heat of sweeping political change.

Founded by Prithvi Narayan Shah in course of unification of Nepal, the NA was limited to a mere tool of rulers to seize power after its historic task of expanding the geography came to a halt with Sugauli Treaty. It acted as a back force in the bloodless coups orchestrated by two kings - Mahendra and Gyanendra – while two Prime Ministers GP Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had to step down over army issue.

Following the abolition of Shah Dynasty, its umbilical cord with monarchy was cut off. It is on the threshold of transformation itself. On one hand, republican and democratic forces have vowed to democratize it. On the other, it has bigger challenge to cohabitate with their rival troops - the Maoist combatants, who are waiting for integration and rehabilitation. Voices that it must come under democratic control are getting louder. Catching this burning theme of transition, Martin Chautari has brought out a relevant book ‘Nepali Army: Challenges of Civilian Control’ under the editorship of Sudhir Sharma, chief editor of Kantipur daily.

Divided into four sections, the book contains 13 articles by journalists, experts, former army officers and politicians. The first section that includes three write-ups is about civil-military ties. The second section entitled ‘military politics and the then monarchy’ has three articles while the third section with two pieces focuses on Maoist insurgency. The fourth part brainstorms the restructuring agenda of NA.

‘The Control, Transformation and Challenges of Nepal Army’ by Sharma presents an overview of the subjects in discussion. He offers insights into how the king abused the NA to usurp power even after the advent of multi-party system as the elected governments failed to pay attention to bring it under constitutional control. According to him, this situation has not drastically changed in republican set-up either. "The rein of NA has shifted to the President from the monarch following the establishment of the republic. The Interim Constitution has entrusted rights including the appointment and sacking of Chief of Army Staff to the President," he writes. He suggests that the NA’s transformation will be completed only after it is democratized and restructured and becomes inclusive.

He also reveals some hidden historical facts. For example, Sharma claims that the NA stopped backing king during the Janaandolan II as per the advice and pressure of Indian Army as instructed by the Indian establishment.

Journalist Khim Ghale in ‘Pradhansenapati Prakaranko Path’ presents in details about one of most (in) famous political event that brought the relations between army and the government at the lowest ebb. Ghale concludes: "The NA chief’s scandal which led to the collapse of the government signals that the army’s role in politics is getting effective. This is because of the political actors who prefer to keep the army at the centre of politics."

Deepak Prakash Bhatta, in his write up ‘The main challenges of democratic control’ warns that if the army is made a ladder to go to power, this will never be sustainable. "Instead, it invites disaster."

In his write-up, Keshar Bahadur Bhandari, a former NA officer, dwells on conceptual framework on civil-military ties and calls for developing the army into a professional force in line with the principle of ‘objective civilian control’. He gives the perspective of NA about some important events including the Maoists attack on Dunai, Holeri and Dang. He also stresses holding positive attitude about the integration of the Maoist combatants in the army to create trust between the two sides.

The book includes the historical article of BP Koirala – ‘Senabhitrako Sena’ (Army within Army). Koirala says that ‘Bijuli Garat,’ the special battalion, deployed in the palace, which overpowered the whole army, was the key force behind the royal takeover in 1960. The significant of this writing is as important as it was 50 years ago. Sadly, the disciples of late Koirala did not bother to embrace his views on the handling of army.

Purna Basnet’s article is highly resourceful to know about the rise of Maoist military strength – how the Maoists with their two 3.03 rifles and some fighters became the world’s largest guerilla force and created balance with the state politically and militarily.

‘Khara ra Pilima Hariyeka Ladai’ (Lost battles in Khara and Pili) by retired British general Sam Cowan notes that both the battles were lost due to the ‘foolishness’ of supreme commanders of rival armies – Prachanda and Gyanendra. Sam states that the Maoist loss in Khara shattered Prachanda’s dream of victory and forces him to change strategy from war to peace. Sam argues this defeat took Prachanda to seek support of parliamentary forces against king. In same manner, NA lost its dozens of fighters as they were told to set up a camp in a strategically faulty site in Pili of Kalikot by Gyanendra.

The publication of the book is very timely. It gives rare insights to the experts and political parties about chalking out integrated security and defense policy. It suggests the restructuring of the NA and presents different modalities for the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants. There is the need to spell out cut and dried constitutional provisions to bring the army under democratic control and give it a true national character. The present book is extremely valuable with its thought provoking, analytical and practical approaches for the purpose.

Source: The Rising Nepal 25 Feb 2011

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