By Ameet Dhakal
News Editor, the Kathmandu Post
KATHMANDU, Aug 23 – The Nepali Army (NA) is in transition: it has, to a large extent, abandoned its links with the monarchy, but it is yet to fully trust the political parties. “What happens if you buy a cow but get tired of it on your way home and abandon it in mid-journey?” asked a bright army major and answered the question himself without waiting for a reply. “Probably, the cow would go back to the old owner.” He was using the cow analogy to explain the current state of mind of the NA. Another young officer said, “We have come out of the monarchical cocoon, but the parties are yet to embrace us.” He is furious that the parties and lawmakers still doubt the army’s loyalty and fumed, “What shall we do to prove our loyalty to civilian rule? After all, we can’t go onto the street and shout jindabaad and murdabad “.
The relationship between the army and the politicians has a legacy of distrust and suspicion. The parties often considered the army as the king’s force and did not invest in building up a relationship with it. (It is surprising to find how little the politicians and army people meet informally and share a meal or cracked jokes with each other. Social bonding between the two is almost non-existent).
“We for our part never viewed the politicians as our civilian guardians and were angry to see them courting the police, ignoring the army’s sentiments,” said another major.
A retired general says institutions like the army are emotional by nature. “If you admire them and encourage them, they will admire you back. If you ignore them, then they will hate you.”
The army has a laundry list of complaints against the political parties: We were not given a big enough budget; we were left ill-equipped; we were not trusted to fight the insurgency in the beginning and an Armed Police Force was formed; we were defamed over the Holleri incident, etc., etc. One general gave a blow-by-blow account of what happened at Holleri to “demystify” politicians’ claim that in the summer of 2001 the army refused to be mobilized, ignoring the orders of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. “You can go and meet army pilot Major Binaya Singh, who is still limping from bullet injuries he received at Holleri when rebels fired at the chopper.”
Things have begun to change, however.
One of the outcomes of the Janaandolan is both the parties and the army are willing to dump the past and start their relationship afresh. “This is the need of the time and a compulsion for both,” said the major, adding, “We need them and they need us.”
A relationship based on “need” will take time–perhaps a long time–to evolve into one based on trust.
However, most army personnel seem happy the way the prime minister is currently handling the army . “He [prime minister] is aware of the army’s role during the Janaandolan, that’s why he is not interfering with the army,” said another general. A major claimed that he himself was involved in transporting top politicians, during curfew hours, to meetings that drafted the text of the king’s April 24 address to the nation in which he conceded power to the people.
“Despite all this we are still seen by the public as the ones who were bent on suppressing the movement,” he complained. But it’s also true that army personnel opened fired at many places, killing demonstrators, and it was also the army that exercised command under the Unified Command System, wasn’t it?
“If some individual army personnel committed crimes, they should be punished. If the Rayamajhi Commission finds acting army chief Rukmangat Katuwal guilty, even he should be punished,” said the major, adding, “But the whole institution should not be discredited.”
Besides the trust issue, another fundamental problem that army people have with the political parties is, they see politicians as an incompetent lot. That’s why they are not so confident about the present peace process, particularly the negotiations with the rebels. “Maoists are well prepared; they have a plan and strategy for what they want. But the parties and the government are often found in disarray,” said a retired general. But just how competent the army is, is another question altogether.
‘Army for supremacy of people’
KATHMANDU, Aug 23 – Newly appointed acting army chief Rukmangat Katuwal on Wednesday told a parliamentary committee that the Nepali Army (NA) wants to see the supremacy of the people established in the country. Expressing NA’s readiness to extend assistance to the government in every sector, Katuwal further said that the NA is committed to the people.
Katuwal was speaking at a meeting of parliament’s State Affairs Committee Wednesday. The meeting was called to discuss the new army bill tabled in parliament. Today’s discussions were held with army officers and officials from the defense ministry. The committee is currently holding discussions on the bill in the wake of feedback from national and international human rights communities that want to see revisions in it.
According to the human rights community including OHCHR, the bill in its current form does not meet international human rights standards. They have already urged parliament to revise/review some of its provisions. Similarly, Katuwal asked the committee to keep the NA out of politics. He stressed making the Security Council active. In the same discussions, BA Kumar Sharma, chief of the army’s law department, asked the committee to revise the provision in the bill concerning the security council. (source)