Why Nepal is Divided Over the Sacking of Army Chief?

It’s not so important to ask why the Maoists are sacking the Army Chief as it is to ask why the other parties are apposing this so strongly. Three reasons:

By Neil Horning

In a democracy, the Army should not be a center of power in the slightest. It is supposed to carry out the will of the elected government within the confines of the constitution. To illustrate, when Obama was elected, it was considered a novelty when he did not replace the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Thus, in assessing this development, I feel it’s not so important to ask why the Maoists are sacking the Army Chief as it is to ask why the other parties are apposing this so strongly.

There a couple of reasons why this could be so. In increasing importance:

1. The Army Chief has important friends in elite circles

Even in the US it’s common to say, “it’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” This could not be truer in Nepal. While the country has gone through tremulous upheaval recently, nepotism, corruption, and crony-ism have hardly abated. While the Nepali Congress and The UML formally apposed the Palace, their upper crust, mostly Brahmin-Chetri members ran in the same social circles with royals and royalists, dined with them, attended the same wedding receptions, ran the same civic organizations, served on the same boards, etc. All in this elite class share the goal of, to one degree or another, preserving the power of their own class-caste. These are social contacts that nearly all Maoist members severed while going underground, if they existed to begin with, and they hardly have had time to return. The Army Chief Surely has many friends within the CPN UML and NC, if not relatives (which trump all), and many favors to call in.

2. The other parties want to use the army as a power center to balance the Maoists

While social ties are important, concrete interests are paramount. The other parties, who, blinded by their own triumphalism in “bringing the Maoists into the mainstream,” dismissed the Maoists electoral chances little more than a year ago, are terrified by the Maoists electoral gains and their subsequent political power. These fears likely reflect a genuine concern that the Maoists will abandon their embrace of multi-party democracy and return to their original goal of single party dictatorship. However, functionally equivalent and more genuinely felt, is the fear that the parties will permanently loose their dominant position in society. This would not just be through the loss of their seats, but through the reforms the Maoists have planned. It’s important to keep in mind that elites stand to lose quite a bit even if the Maoists don’t turn Nepal into a socialist/communist utopia. Nepal is not even a meritocracy yet, it still has a semi-feudal economy based on patronage. It’s pre-capitalist. Thus, even the introduction of an equal opportunity based social structure, championed by the United States and denounced by hard core reds everywhere, is highly threatening to Nepalis in the political class. They will stop at nothing to maintain their power, and the principle of civilian supremacy falls victim to this end. While some of them express the concern that the Maoists will use the army to dominate the country if it actually follows their commands, what they want is an army as a separate power center to use as check on the Maoists growing influence. Whether this is in their long term interest provided they defeat the Maoists is secondary to their immediate concerns.

3. The other parties appose army integration

In keeping with this theme, the mainstream parties, as well as the elites in the army, view army integration in an apocalyptic light. While integrating the PLA into the NA was agreed upon time and again in the course of peace negotiations the Non-Maoist parties made their agreements under the assumption that the Maoists could not possibly win electoral victory, and would not be in charge of implementing the integration. They counted on returning to the long standing Nepali political habit of agreeing to a demand in negotiation and then reneging on it later when the opponent is not in a position to make a challenge. They are trying to do the same now by continually insisting that Maoists combatants be “Rehabilitated” rather than integrated, but it is they who have lost their bargaining position. Yet, Why can’t they let it happen in the first place? The Maoists don’t have more than 20,000 troops to integrate into the more than 90,000 currently in the Army. This would hardly make the army into a force at the Maoists beckon call. We return to the previous point. It’s not that the army would become the private force of the Maoists, but that it would cease to be a check on them. With at least 25 percent of troops and officers being a former Maoist partisan. The possibility of a reactionary coup (of exactly the type outlined by Kantipur Publications recently) becomes impossible. The troops needed to suppress the public would simply turn their weapons on the command. Therefore, the army would cease to be a check and social change would continue unabated.

Hopefully indicated above are the reasons why these have become non-negotiable issues for both sides. At stake is the existence of either one; Whether the PLA will be integrated and protect the Maoists from a violent overturn of the will of the electorate, or whether they will be “rehabilitated” exposing the current leadership to the whim of south Asian political militarism and the overbearing inertia of the status quo.

Neil Horning, an American expert on Maoist movement, maintains a personal blog at Neil’s Nepal where this post first appeared.


29 responses to “Why Nepal is Divided Over the Sacking of Army Chief?”

  1. Ramesh Avatar

    The reason that everyone is supporting the military is because nobody trusts the Maoists. They have placed their stamp on state institutions since day one. If integration occurs solely on their terms, the Nepali Army will represent the will of one political party. General Katawal, whatever his motives, was attempting to prevent the army from being a tool of the Maoists.

    The Maoists run the government, have a paramilitary arm in the form of the YCL, and still use extortion and intimidation to further their goals. By removing General Katawal four months early, they are able to show that they control the military at their whim.

  2. Neil Horning Avatar

    They control the executive and they run the defense ministry. They are supposed to control the military by their whim. If the Defense Ministry does not control the army, then there is not civilian control of the military, and there is not democracy.

    It seems that conservative forces are having the same problem in Nepal as they are in the U.S. They are mistaking the results of losing an election for dictatorship.

  3. Jay Nepal Avatar
    Jay Nepal

    If some one is to retire in 2-3 months and PM offers him
    a post of ambassador, a power greedy person happily
    would accept it.

    Why Katwal rejected the offer, certainly not to enjoy 2-3 months
    job, rather to save army from dirty politics.

    One can label 100 charges against PM the kind of charge
    is labeled against Katwal. For example protecting muderers,
    promoting murderers in the party of which he is a chairman,
    so many……….to list here.

  4. knight Avatar

    I don’t know why people are justifying sacking of katuwal. In fact in the last two years Nepal army has been most reserved and that aided greatly towards peace process.

    If you blame Katuwal for recuriting new army than Maoist did the same. So will there be sacking of Ram Bahadur thapa Badal.

    If katuwal was sacked for pulling out of National games than will PM resign himself for misusing his power and allowing PLA to play in the last moment against the code of ethics of any games.

    I am still finding hard to get any decisive reason to sack him.

  5. Kirat Avatar

    Katuwal had to be sacked…but not by the Maoists! I’m sure the people would have been very happy if Girija had done it.

  6. Ali Mantiq (Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party Pakistan) Avatar

    Comrade Prachande became president through people’s votes and took the necessary step of making establishment in control of people of nepal. Why should Establishment be left free so can blackmail the elected representative? Even the parties opposing the Comrade Prachanda will regret their pro-establishment stance in future.
    Hats off to Comrade for taking a bold step of resigning on this issue.

  7. Kirat Avatar

    Neil, I don’t know how long you stayed in Nepal, studying the Nepalese socio-political-cultural dynamics, but I must applaud your thorough understanding of the same. It’s a pity that most of the educated Nepalese don’t have your understanding of their own society or are too blinded by their own self-serving interests to realize the error of their ways or views. However the extremists within the Maoists party who forced Prachanda’s ( a moderate in my opinion) hand are a scary lot. The substantial influence that these extremists wield within the Maoist party is something that should and does worry a lot of Nepalis.

  8. ripvanwinkle Avatar

    why cant they just concentrate on writing the constitution. goddammit, a good constitution would recompensate for all the headaches now but no pachake dosent show patience and sacks a general who was going to retire in few months. hummmm.. as in nepal nothing is what it seems like what if maoist have a hidden agenda and thus loosing the patience the truth is that the army provoked him in a way too, but what he had expected that it would be bed of roses, what we have got in nepal is instead of having one royal pricks we now have handful of royal dicks incompetent and power hungry as always.

  9. bridohi Avatar

    We are here again in a post-colonial world of White Man’s Guilt of lecturing the world on the supremacy of civilian leaders. Yes, there may be civilian supremacy in Western democracies, but, there is also the rule of law & due process in the West.

    I would also like to remind the author that the West (where civilian supremacy is prime) supported many brutal dictatorship during the Cold War in the name of containment of communism.

    I doubt the civilian supremacy has anything to do with this army chief saga. It has all to do with ego & politics of the hardliners in the name of constitutional rights. Maoist hardliners have pushed the PM to sack the army chief & resign.

    Now the very people. Maos who cried foul, demonstrated against the Supreme Court & ignored the sanctity of the judicial system in the case of 8 Brig. Generals are now thinking of knocking on the very doors of SC to challenge the decision of Pres Yadav to retain the army chief. In a democratic system, there cannot be double standards.

    If SC is the ultimate source of constitutional interpretation, then, the government should have waited till the verdict of teh 8 Brig. Generals. Who knows the SC could have decided for the government?

    If SC is the source of the interpretation, then, are the Maos going to obey the verdicts of the SC that they do not like? This is the rule of law & due process in a civic society.

    In a polity, a PM or the Defense Minister of a country does not grant permission to recruitment in the army, then, decides to rescind it back with a whim.

    If the standard operating procedure of institution, eg, the army says its is customary to renew the tenure of generals, then, that should be done. Or the govt needs to put out a new set of rules governing tenure. A government cannot & should not make decisions in haste to suit their political agendas or personal vendattas. A democratically elected government is not a dictatorship.

    Finally, if the the PM intervenes to let the PLA participate in the National Games in the 11th hour contrary to the rules of the Games, then, again there is a violation of rule of law.

    The lesson to be learned from this fiasco is that everyone needs to put the national interest ahead of petty ideology, narrow party interests & personal ego.

    But in a land “bhendas” where the instinct is to go over the cliff by following the leader, I doubt a brake can be applied!

  10. Neil Horning Avatar

    The hard liners are indeed scary, but they only gain influence in the party when they are “proven right” with incidents such as this. Baburam Bhattarai, by the way, is not a hard liner. It is he who forged the political line that landed the Maoists in Government. He appears to be one of the major proponents of the move to sack the army chief.

    The line of political reconciliation is dependent on army integration. Prachanda’s hand was not forced by his party. He knows as well as anybody what will happen if the PLA is “Rehabilitated.” The state is nothing other a monopoly on the use of Armed Force. A government without the loyalty of the army is a government in name only, and will be swept away the moment it threatens the power or privilege of the armed forces.

    However, the Maoists still have an army. Not only that, they now have a radicalized base of urban youth and unions. Now we shall see how far the NC gets trying to interpret the constitution to it’s convenience.

  11. Kirat Avatar

    That’s the biggest worry. It appears that the hard liners are in the ascendancy within the Maoist party. That can’t be good for anybody.

    One thing that bugs me…why didn’t they sack Katuwal immediately when he recruited 3000 odd soldiers going against the govt. and the CPA? Why now?

  12. Ramesh Avatar

    Neil you compare the anti-Maoist forces to the conservative forces in the West who mistaken losing an election for dictatorship.

    First of all let me while 30% is victory, its not a mandate. 70% of the people voted for someone else.

    Second of all think about the United States military during the Rumsfeld era. During this time moral amongst the officer corp was at all all time low because the Rumsfeld was trying to politicize the military. Now imagine if Rumsfeld had taken things ten times further. That is what was happening in Nepal.

  13. Neil Horning Avatar

    The original state of the Nepal Army is politicized. It was called the ROYAL Nepal army. Katawal grew up in the palace. Refusing army integration is a political act. Giving speeches about what the elected government should and shouldn’t do are political acts.

    In a country with more than 15 political parties, 30% is a mandate

  14. Diehard Avatar

    Gringo, do not use your yardstick in Nepal and keep you insights focues right at home. You ain’t no expert in Nepal nor you will ever be. You act like some English Ambassadors in 1800s who implied Nepalese as sub human.

    Your left balls is outta style, bud. One day you will understand the web of lies of Maoist you fell for when you grow some leftside of the brain.

  15. Deva Avatar

    There can be no integration into the Nepal Army. If the Maoists want to return to the jungles so be it.

    Comments from people like Neil Horning are hollow. What is more important is what the Nepalese People want and whether India will once again offer sancturies within Indian territory for the terrorists. Let us not forget that the Maoists are TERRORISTS.


  16. happypeople Avatar

    hi niel,
    i agree with ur analysis and comments on the present crisis of nepal. i know the general mindset of nepali people being blind followers of the leaders/elites. i wish at least by now they start seeing things in their own eyes not through the glass of their selfish leaders and their propaganda!

    in fact maoist movement is a boon to the poor nepali people who had suffered exploitation through ages in the hands of the elites/leaders, to change for the better. the problem is that some black sheep maoists are spoiling the whole herd of moderate maoists who stand for the betterment of the poor majority in nepal.

    but, true leaders should always keep the interests of the people ahead of their ego, personal or party interests. major decisions should not be taken in a hurry. in democracy, all decisions should be supported by the majority. laws of the land should be respected. when all these ideal process is ignored, the result is all chaos as we see again now in nepal at the moment.

  17. Bitter truth Avatar
    Bitter truth

    well said bridohi

    In fact Maoists were failing in all fronts.

    At last they wanted to make a propaganda of NATIONALISM
    out of this issue. So he intentionally granted meeting with foreign
    ambassadors so that he can cry that there was external
    intervention. Otherwise he should have simply turned down
    such meetings.

  18. Ramesh Avatar

    neil if the RNA was so politicized, why did they let the monarchy fall. Yes it did have tendencies to support the monarchy, but it was flexible enough to allow a republic to be formed.

    here is prachandas views on what the NA should be. https://blog.com.np/united-we-blog/2009/05/05/addressing-the-pla-combatants-prachanda-outlined-how-maoists-wanted-to-capture-state-and-national-army/

    This isn’t the little guy fighting against the big bad wolf, as is often the case in the west. The Maoists began a war which lead to the deaths of 15000 people. They began transforming state institutions to fit their whims. Don’t believe me?


  19. bridohi Avatar

    Since you are an expert on the Maoists & defender, it would be great to hear your views/justifications to the recently publcished video on Image Nepal TV as well as on this blog regarding Prachanda’s inflation of the PLA, his plans to misutilize the money from the treasury to start his ultimate capture of the state & use the CA as means to an end to create a People’s Republic .

    Remember Watergate where Nixon’s presidency tumbled down? Do you see a conspiracy against the peace process, people & the republic?

  20. Sanyashi Avatar

    Neil, I agree with you when you said, we need Defense Ministry control over army. But in the mean time, how can you so easily write off the probability of dictatorship? With a Maoist puppet as chief of army, they can do any monkey dance. Nobody can control them. Actually the issue of army integration should have been solved before the election.

  21. change (human right, prosperous nepal) Avatar
    change (human right, prosperous nepal)

    neil, are you some RIM agent?

  22. sirapa Avatar

    i totally agree with your view about the sack of COAS. the only reason some people are against the sack of Katuwal is that the sack is done by the Maoist led government, Army was under the king before republic establishment of republic. every democratic country gives right to the elected government to take control over the army , the government have complete right to hire and dismiss any of the public employee with valid reasons.

  23. neia nepal Avatar
    neia nepal

    Journalism is an overrated profession.

    We just want a fatherly figure or a mummy to say I will give u credit card.

    rest i like to hang out and eat chau chau.

    let the army make peace in Afghanistan where the yanks just killed 100 innocent civilians and Clintonla profoundly sorry.

  24. ro Avatar

    who cares about katuwal, democracy o dictatorship.? It is the character of the nepalese always to bow down to murderous power, doesn’t matter that at present are the maobadis and jungbahadur was in the past. All the attention of intelleligentia and common man are centered around the power. murder is the justification, and murderous is the only just like Prachanda. And all praise this situtation in their payroll as the leader of civil society.
    I really wonder, who gave them authority to lead the society and people like Neil to think that he knows all about us ?

  25. eak  ranjit Avatar

    after regining prachanda now its time to sack
    badal not katuwal

  26. akela nepal Avatar

    whim that killing birendra n family was combinely by
    gyrendra n moists but after mascare gyandra put rewards on moists tops head led them seperate
    now its time for army to come out n kill all those netas

  27. nepali Avatar

    dear neil,
    we nepalese have never enjoyed the flavor of true democracy. Nepal is Nepal not US. Maoist should not be allowed to do whatever they like as they do not have right to do so. As Nepal currently do not have legitimate constitution. And political parties interfering on sensitive matters like who would be next chief justice and weather CNC should be sack is in itself unconstitutional in a country where all member of parliament are actually member of constitutional assembly.

  28. Prithvi Avatar

    I find it bizarre that you are championing for these regressive totalitarian agents against a more liberal and equitable parties who can bring about similar change!

    Somehow comparing Conservatives in America to these totalitarian ideologues is utterly ludicrous. Conservatives is one thing but Communism is something completely different. It is disingenuous to use the crutch of social inequities as a platform for this regressive totalitarianism that the Maoists would like to prevail.

  29. acufeni cura naturale Avatar

    ciao,grazie per larticolo molto utile e interessante, vorrei seguirti su facebook ma non so
    se hai una pagina o no, se si me la puoi indicare per favore,inoltre come posso
    conttatrti in privato perche ho alcune cose da chiederti.
    grazie ancora.

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