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Nepal: A Suicidal Approach To National Security

Nepal: A Suicidal Approach To National Security

By Krishna Singh Bam

The real significance of the latest turn of political events in Nepal lies less in the victory of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) than in the defeat of the Maoist rebels.

During the mainstream parties’ four-year stalemate with King Gyanendra, following the monarch’s dismissal of Nepal’s last elected government in 2002, the Maoists stood to gain the most. Although the rebels overran many institutions and installations in the rural regions, they could not hold on to their conquests. Virtually conceding their failure to capture Kathmandu, the Maoists needed something to disguise their defeat.

They entered into an alliance with the SPA against the monarchy. The 12-point SPA-Maoist accord benefited its Indian sponsors, alarmed by King Gyanendra’s effort to pull Nepal out of India’s sphere of influence. For the SPA, the Maoists could galvanize their sputtering “anti-regression” movement. Considering the influence the accord’s architects wielded within the SPA, rational voices in the mainstream parties warning of the alliance’s abnormality never stood a chance.

In keeping with their line of attack, the Maoists had hoped to infiltrate the April protests sufficiently to radicalize them into a springboard for a total takeover of the state. The appearance and temperament of most of the protesters during the final days of the showdown underscored the fact that the SPA had simply lost control of events. Fortunately, saner minds in the palace and in the SPA prevented Nepal from becoming a communist totalitarian state.

Maoist supremo Prachanda and chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai vented their anger at the supposed “sellout” by the SPA. The fact that, after blowing hot and cold, the Maoists are ready to participate in the Koirala government’s peace process underscores their defeat. Yet their setback could prove remarkably temporary in the absence of prudence on the part of the SPA.

In the weeks since King Gyanendra restored the House of Representatives, the SPA has been moving swiftly to assert its control. By revoking royal ordinances, recalling palace-appointed ambassadors, suspending bureaucratic and security officials, among other things, the SPA is intent to make a clean break with the past. The rush to slash royal powers, prerogatives and privileges, although misguided, nevertheless does conform to successive reform programs advanced by the SPA over the last four years.

What is most objectionable is the SPA’s sustained onslaught on the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) as part of its democratization agenda. The MPs should have pondered why the Maoists had failed to take over Kathmandu and consummated their revolution. Because of the RNA. By denigrating the “royal” prefix, the SPA is ignoring the other reality of its tradition: commitment to the country. The palace’s association with the army no doubt goes back to King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s often-bloody national unification campaign more than two centuries ago. The corollary of that linkage is the RNA’s commitment to upholding the unity and integrity of Nepal.

The SPA is entitled to its view that royal control of the army represents a threat to democracy. After all, it is politically inexpedient to delve into the distortions between 1990 and 2002, which political parties were firmly in charge, which spawned the Maoist insurgency. Deleting the royal prefix and bringing the army under the control of parliament thus may be a politically prudent move toward democratization.

As national security policy, it is wholly counterproductive. To be sure, the top rungs of the army are dominated by members of social classes who are either related to the royal family or share a deep affinity with the palace for a variety of reasons. Diluting the dominance of these classes henceforth becomes a critical part of democratization of the army. But that is a superficial argument, considering the absence of a replacement. The best the SPA can hope for is to entice younger and mid-level army officers and patronize them for top leadership positions. This course runs the risk of politicizing the military, not anything sinister per se.

However, the country has already paid a heavy price for the politicization of the police and intelligence service. Over the last four years, moreover, SPA leaders must have recognized the untrustworthiness of political patronage as a pillar of self-preservation.

What compounds the SPA’s inanity is the ease with which it views an integrated national army as a pillar of democratic stability. RNA chief Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa has acknowledged the possibility of incorporating Maoist fighters into the army. He qualified his comment by stressing the terms “experience” and “qualifications”. The propensity to consider a politically indoctrinated group of guerrilla fighters with unknown academic and professional abilities compatible with the demands of a national army is puerile at best.

Even if such an easy fusion were possible, where would this leave the SPA? The fickleness of a politically subservient officer corps and the ideological viscosity of ex-guerrillas can only prove disastrous. Unless, of course, the SPA is banking on the Indian military to intervene formally and periodically in the interest of upholding democracy in Nepal.


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