Recently, Nepal's mainstream media has been rife with opinions on how Security Sector Reform (SSR) should be handled. From so-called international experts on the UNMIN's payroll to child welfare specialists turned expert on security issues, everyone appears to have unsolicited "two cents" to add.
This writing although unsolicited, is factual and grounded in events as they occurred rather than on biased accounts that serve vested interests. In essence, this is not another attempt at re-writing history to get foreign aid dollars for Nepal - it is a targeted account, designed to ensure the dollars that Nepal does receive, reaches destinations where reforms are most urgent.
What most (if not all) of the recent SSR related analyses share is the following theme: "Nepal's security apparatus - especially the Army - needs to be more transparent and more democratic." Having read, re-read and disdainfully digested the words of such internationally esteemed wise-men, below is a slightly more balanced take on the sequence of fixing that really needs to happen.
Nepal's Model Extended to India's Insurgencies - Let's hope the same model doesn't unfold in India!
Before embarking on a point-by-point critique, let us do away with the most ridiculous logic ever to have been aired; that somehow, Nepal's "democratic mainstreaming" of its Maoists will encourage similar insurgent outfits in India to follow suit.
Such logic is retarded for so many reasons but for the sake of this writing, let's focus on the obvious lesson that India's Naxalites have taken from Nepal - that a gratuitous war of attrition using a combination of political, military, ethnic and human rights agendas can ultimately bring a fledgling democracy to its knees.
If Nepal was to really serve as an example for radical Indian leftists to democratize, why hasn't Sitaram Yechuri vocally opposed calls for the Indian Air Force to join the fight against the Naxalites? Perhaps the idea is for the Indian Government to learn from Nepal's mistakes. This would certainly explain why India has continued to train and arm civilian self-defense units to fight their Naxalites while Nepal's attempt at raising "Village Defense Forces" was shut down on humanitarian grounds.
It is not conjecture, but fact, that the idea of "Village Defense Forces" in Nepal would have been a straight up application of "Maoist tactics 101," on the Maoists. They knew it, understood the ramifications, and mobilized known sympathizers like Mr. Padma Ratna Tuladhar to derail the Nepali government's initiative.
Based on historical facts, it is extremely likely that the Nepali government's idea was opposed for the right humanitarian reasons. But the point being highlighted here is not so much the opposition but rather, the double standards that were applied to Nepal versus India - even though the standards were based on the same humanitarian principles.
With this example in mind, let us proceed to take a dispassionate view of the subjects that need to be considered, when speaking of SSR - the Nepalese Army, Political Will/Capacity, and the Integration of Maoist Combatants.
A. The Nepalese Army
A favorite criticism of the Nepalese Army is that it is unprofessional. But by what standards?
By military standards (in the context of Nepal's resources constraints) the Nepalese Army is a professional institution with a hierarchy that consists of officers trained in the best military institutions around the world. They are exposed to and experienced in UN peacekeeping operations and are battle-hardened through participation in a counter-insurgency campaign at home.
The military's chain of command is established through integral institutional mechanisms and procedures that accurately assess character, competence and professional knowledge through annual reviews. Documented feedback on the progression of each officer is subject to appraisals by two senior reviewing officers. Such appraisals are independent reviews of junior officers' assessments and are designed to drive accountability and professional integrity. Promotions are awarded based on competence and institutional judgment with nepotism and favoritism minimized to the extent humanly possible (if not eliminated).
So what's unprofessional about the Nepalese Army that isn't about all the other Armies around the world? What institution in Nepal is more professional than the Nepalese Army? If 100% efficienciency, transparency and immaculate accountability are the standards that the Nepalese Army is being measured against, perhaps those pointing fingers at the Army should get their own houses in order first?
Another criticism of the Nepalese armed forces is that they are undemocratic. Once again, "by whose standards?"
With historical precedent as a yardstick, the Nepalese Army has always remained loyal to the legitimate powerbase as enshrined in the constitution of the day. In fact, the Nepalese Army's training and operational doctrines include detailed accounts of when aid to civilian authorities is deemed appropriate; the same doctrines intentionally (and strictly) exclude any policies or guidance on administrative procedures to be executed under martial law.
So what exactly is undemocratic about the Nepalese Army? Is Nepal's Army undemocratic for having fought the Maoists on the orders of a democratically elected government? Is the Nepali Army undemocratic because it failed to mutiny under the de-throned King's undemocratic (yet constitutionally driven) orders? Then why wasn't the King prosecuted and why does all the blame rest on the Nepalese Army's shoulders? Or truly, is the Nepali Army undemocratic because it refused to go to war with the Maoists on the whims of one man - Girija Prasad Koirala?
The only thing undemocratic about the Nepalese Army appears to be the one-sided abuse that this institution continually bears from individuals like Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Kanak Mani Dixit, Devendra Raj Pandey and the entire lot of international organizations whose budgets depend on the availability of "soft targets" like the Nepalese Army.
Further, the Nepalese Army's financial policies and procedures are transparent and have always been subject to scrutiny by the Auditor General. Yet, the Army is accused of unprecedented levels of corruption and graft. If such practices exist, why hasn't the Auditor General executed independent audits of the Army's spending? The AG is certainly empowered to conduct such audits and yet, no evidence of action exists. Assuming that allegations of the Army's corrupt ways are accurate, the question that begs being asked is at what level the corruption occurs and where the funds end up? The answer to this question may explain the "lame duck" status of the Auditor General which is hardly the Army's fault alone.
The Nepali Army is also alleged to be an exclusive State organ. Yet, no rules, regulations or practices are widely prevalent that thwart inclusiveness. It is true that quality and merit are not compromised during recruitment. And these standards are maintained with professionalism in mind - they are not enforced to decrease inclusiveness.
If the argument of exclusion is based on the disproportion representation of Nepal's southern ethnicities in the Nepalese Army, then the question that need be asked is why the British and especially the Indian Gurkhas recruit exclusively from Nepal's hilly regions? At least the Nepalese Army has recruitment depots in Nepal's southern belt. And it is not the Nepali Army's policy to force recruitment from any part of Nepal - the process is voluntary. So on what basis is the Nepalese Army's recruiting processes, exclusionary?
Further, the Nepalese Army is the only national institution that has always remained satisfactorily functional. It remains steadfastly dedicated to the protection of national integrity and cohesion. It mirrors Nepalese society. And, it was instrumental in safeguarding the nation from being declared a failed state.
The Nepalese Army has consistently dedicated itself to the protection of the Nepali people, and at times, has operated in complete isolation to prohibit the Maoist insurgents from a achieving a military takeover. It still remains a credible, robust and capable force as well as a bastion against illegitimate and undemocratic adventurism. This is precisely why neutralizing or demoralizing the Nepalese Army will always remain a focal point of advocacy for vested interest groups, bent of dismantling an institution they wish to mirror in their own image of "free for all" chaos, lawlessness, and instability.
B. Political Will / (In) Capacity
The erstwhile constitution of 1990 had delegated all authority over the Army to the Legislative and Executive branches of government. It was a democratically elected Prime Minister of the Nepali Congress party, who introduced a legal provision (contradictory to the spirit of the constitution), that mandated Royal approval for military mobilization. Ironically, it was another Nepali Congress Prime Minister (and also the current caretaker PM of Nepal - Girija Prasad Koirala), who also resigned citing the Army's refusal to engage the Maoists - how could the Army go to war in the absence of broad political consensus?
Then, when the Army was finally mobilized to fight Nepal's insurgency, the same political leadership failed to prepare and execute an integrated national campaign plan; they failed to utilize the military as one of many instruments at the State's disposal. The Army was used (and abused) in isolation, devoid of a political aim and continually portrayed with inflated expectations as a "silver bullet" to Nepal's Maoist insurgency.
Such political farce continued well beyond the civil uprising of April 2006. Constituent Assembly Elections were held as a democratic exercise when the country's law and order situation was out of control. As a result, the Maoist party obtained 31 % support by employing widely documented acts of coercion and intimidation.
International observers (including the Carter Center), executed their mandate to observe election procedures at limited cites while in the vast majority of the countryside, intimidation persisted. The observers' essentially put on a stamp of legitimacy that was immediately called into question by almost every major political party candidate, who reported widespread Maoist coercion. The interim Finance Minister, Ram Saran Mahat, even sustained head injuries at the hands of Maoist henchmen, known as the Young Communist League (YCL).
Though the election results must now be fully respected, the ramifications of such futile democratic exercises will unfold and complicate the Nepalese security situation and political process more intensely in the future. A broader and more durable coalition of communist parties can never be fully ruled out because although the leaders of the UML and the fringe leftist parties sound vocally robust, the lower, younger echelons are fully sold on populist rhetoric, extremism and instant gratification derived from resorting to violence (to fulfill political demands).
Currently, the House consists of 69 % of the old political cadres (who remain completely beholden to external powers) and 31% of Maoist cadres (who are exceptionally well versed in modulating between nationalist and extreme leftist designs, as the situation demands).
The 69 % are near-oblivious to issues and procedures that pertain to national security (while technically, they exercise civilian supremacy and oversight over the Security Forces); the remaining 31% believe in establishing “Political Commissars” to command and control the uniformed services.
The Maoist leadership in the interim government are battle hardened and their political chain of command is intricately tied to their military arm. "Prachanda" is still the supreme commander of the Maoist military wing and Maoist commanders like Barsa Man Pun, Ram Bahadur Thapa, are integral components to the Maoists' political strategy. No other political party in Nepal enjoys the company of their own private, military wing even as they participate in open, democratic politics.
There should be absolutely no doubt that the Maoists committed to capturing total political power by any and all means available. While those who remain bent on reinterpreting historical lessons of appeasement wait for the Maoists to sober up, it is advisable for Nepal's political leadership to exercise precautions rather than rely on remedies.
The capacity of the civilian hierarchy – the so-called “Political Masters,” and the civilian bureaucrats of security–related echelons (e.g., the Ministries of Home and Defense), are neither functional nor knowledgeable about security affairs. Their handling of the various mutinies in the Police Force and the Armed Police Force are indicative of their collective incompetence. The Nepalese Army’s “no nonsense resolve” was instrumental in compelling the mutineers to surrender. That in the absence of the Nepalese Army, the government would have succumbed to the pressures of the mutineers is a forgone conclusion.
C. The Process of Re-Verified Maoist Combatant Integration
To fulfill their political aspirations, the Maoists intend to undertake the following measures:
- Neutralize the Nepalese Army which remains the last obstacle in their quest to establish power supremacy.
- Politicize the Judicial Branch and the Bureaucracy.
- Control the media and the Civil Society.
- Subvert the people and demand obedience through the display of public punishments.
- Continue to exploit the international community, the UN and the INGOs' good will.
- Capture and control the national economy through unions.
- Undermine non-Maoist political parties.
- Establish parallel governance mechanisms.
- Manipulate (leverage) previously declared commitments to continue extracting concessions from other parties.
The integration process should be conducted according to the following steps:
- Disperse the 12,000 non-verified combatants and reduce the cantonments, immediately.
- Maintain allowances, rations and accommodations for the 19,602 verified combatants.
- Establish vocational training facilities and adult education programs in the cantonments.
- Conduct de-doctrination processes in preparation for integration.
- Conduct re-verification to confirm and identify those Maoist combatants who want to willingly join the security forces. The rest should be provided vocational training to make them skilled laborers and provide them with job guarantees.
- Those who intend to join the Security Forces must fulfill existing pre-requisites, willingly volunteer to abide by the Military Law and de-link themselves from their parent political party and its activities.
- The creation of intact Maoist-only units, a Maoist chain of command and inclusion of politically active members, previous Security Forces deserters, and HR violators should not be permitted.
SSR and supreme civilian control of the Nepali State's Security Forces are certainly needed for a fully democratic nation to emerge as the new Nepal. But the process of democratization is as urgently needed for the political side of the equation as it is for the military side. One must learn to effectively exercise control over the other, without repeating the politicization that resulted with the Nepal Police, after the 1990 transition. This is clearly a two-way effort and simply heaping blame on the Nepalese Army and asking for it to democratize and undergo reforms, won't achieve the desired end.
The National Security Council and the Ministry of Defense must be educated to function independently but with knowledgeable and competent civilian manpower. It is absolutely vital to exercise civilian control in an evolutionary manner to avoid unnecessary frictions and animosities. As the apex of Nepal's security forces, the civilian hierarchy must equally inculcate transparency, accountability and inclusiveness into its own mechanisms.
One must clean one's own house first - only then does it make sense to point fingers in others' directions. The political hierarchy must be capable enough to plan, project, provide resources and punctually decide the course of action. Should this level of operational efficiency be achieved, criticisms of corruption and undemocratic practices within Nepal's security forces will automatically become moot points.
Essentially, SSR in Nepal's context cannot be the exclusive domain of any one institution. Rather, it must be planned and executed as a multi-intuitional, joint civilian-military exercise. There is not a single institution in Nepal that is not in need of reform - the Nepalese Army is the most convenient target because it happens to be the one stumbling-block that is preventing the Maoists from achieving political dominance.
No doubt, there are documented instances of grave mistakes that have been committed by security forces in the line of duty. The perpetrators of such abuses should be prosecuted to the law's extent. But the sideshow drama that depicts the Nepalese Army as a bunch of trigger-happy, war-mongering idiots, has to cease. For if the Nepalese Army is guilty of all the allegations heaped on it, then the political establishment that sent the Army to war is equally guilty for committing the Army to combat and then deserting the security forces midstream. The panacea to preventing human rights abuses is clear - DON'T GO TO WAR. Was it the Army that was begging to fight the Maoists or the elected government of the time that ordered to Army into action?
In a country where the largest party in the constituent assembly consists of a group that waged armed rebellion for over a decade, is the State's Security Forces the only organ that needs reform? Or is there a much larger problem that needs to be dealt with, concurrently?
The same apologists who want Nepal's Maoists to serve as role models to India's Naxalites will tell us that "peace is made in such ways." But so are tyrants and this is a thought that should feature prominently on the minds of SSR "subject matter experts," political pundits, and all international agencies that are busy advising Nepal on how to reform its security sector.
The Utility of a Professional Nepalese Army
All Attention on the Army
The Nepali Army is a Favorite Target for Cheap Provocateurs - An Analysis of a Nepali Adolescent's Professional Obituary