“Nepal Army cannot go against people”General Pyar Jung Thapa

Former Chief of Army Staff General PYAR JUNG THAPA, who retired from the high office of Nepal Army when it was fighting a bloody insurgency about a decade ago, is still active in social and academic activities. General Thapa, a golf player, is known

Dec. 12, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol:09, No 11, December 11, 2015 (Mangsir 25, 2071

How do you see the state of present society as a seasoned citizen of the country?

After the ten years of Maoist insurgency, this is a very critical period in the history of Nepal. During the insurgency, the state had identified its enemy with arms. Now, there are invisible enemies and it is more dangerous than the armed conflict.

Who do you blame for the present crisis?

The main reason behind the present crisis is the decisions of the leaders of three political parties to promulgate the new constitution with federalism and secularism. Had they amended the provisions as per the opinion given by the overwhelming majority of people, the present crisis would have been averted. Had they waited for a few more months and settled the disputes with Madheshis, the country would not have gone through the present crisis. This is the result of bankruptcy of political leadership who cannot perceive the gravity of the situation.

How can the present crisis be settled?

Madheshi agitation is visible behind the present political crisis and blockade. There is also reportedly an undeclared blockade by India. Following the capture of border point in Birgunj by Madheshi agitators, supplies of essential commodities, including petroleum products, has been badly hurt.  Similarly, undeclared border disruption by India in other points has further added the difficulties. Indian officials stopped the vehicles from India to Nepal showing insecurity in Nepal and completely halted the supply.  Due to the undeclared blockade, Nepalese people have been suffering a lot even as they were badly hit by major earthquakes of April and May.

You were the COAS when the country was in a serious crisis with bloody Maoist insurgency. How do you compare the present times with your period?

Maoist insurgency was a deadly insurgency in the history of Nepal which threatened the existence of state physically. I can say that it was more critical and challenging for security forces. Maoists were launching armed attacks against us and democratic parties were launching political agitations. Compared to the present, the state was fighting a lonely battle. I am proud to say that we maintained supply and handled such a dangerous situation with minimum loss of human life.

Did you have to face a blockade like the present one in your tenure? 

Border was open for supply but Maoists declared an indefinite blockade of Kathmandu Valley in 2005. They completely stopped the supply for ten days, paralyzing the supply of essential commodities. Maoists imposed many other district level blockades. We handled all of them well by maintaining the supply with our plans.

How do you view the current political crisis?

Maoists had launched bloody armed insurgency with 40-points demand and they were against the democratically elected government. However, the present Madheshi agitation is unarmed and mass agitation demanding inclusion of their demand in new constitution.

How was the Army mobilized against the Maoists?

Initially, Maoists attacked Nepal Police and later they also attacked Nepal Army. After Maoist attack in Dang barrack, Nepal Army was mobilized with the approval of National Security Council under the command of democratically elected government and with the consensus of political parties. The government gave Nepal Army a clear cut mandate to deal with Maoists and bring them in mainstream.

How did the Army fulfill its role?

We fulfilled our role compelling the Maoists to join the mainstream through peaceful negotiations. Following their loss in Khara, Maoists changed their strategy that they could not control Nepalese state through war. Due to this realization, Maoists joined the mainstream politics through the 12-point agreement.

What do you view the role of Nepal Army in general?

Nepal Army cannot go against people. Even from the period of Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepal was unified with join efforts of King, People and the Army. Nepal Army always respects people and follows the order of the government. Even during the People’s Movement II, Army and Nepal Police had taken optimum restraints not to harm the people and property. There was a standing order of King Gyanendra to take optimum restraints and not to use bullets to disperse the agitators. Thus, there was a very nominal casualty in such a big nationwide protest.

How did then King Gyanendra hand over power?

As agitation was heading towards more anarchy and violent, instead of sticking to power through bloodshed, King Gyanendra decided to hand over the power. We also suggested fulfilling the demands of people. Indian leader Karna Singh came to Nepal as a special envoy of Indian prime minister and advised King Gyanendra  to hand over power to political leaders. King Gyanendra called leaders of agitating parties to form the government and reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives with agreement for two pillar system. During the peak of agitation, Indian foreign secretary Shyam Sharan also paid a courtesy call on me at Army Headquarter and assured me India’s stand for two pillar system. Even the 12-points agreement did not discard the constitutional monarchy and Hindu Kingdom. However, political leaders betrayed King and people.

How did the federal system come up?

The current federal system came following Madheshi agitation. Even before the holding of elections for Constituent Assembly, Nepal’s major political parties took three decisions: removal of monarchy, declaring Nepal as a secular and federal state. I personally hold the view that these decisions should be taken through referendum or elected CA. The present crisis is the result of the decision taken on three fundamental questions without any debate.

How do you look at the CA process?

The first Constituent Assembly was dissolved without promulgating the new constitution and the second CA naturally dissolved after promulgating a constitution, despite the opposition from half of the population. The first CA had a majority of Maoists and Madheshis. In the second CA, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML went to the elections with federalism on geography. They won two thirds and they promulgated the constitution with the strength of two thirds majority.

Is not it true that two thirds majority is prescribed by the constitution?

As per the Interim Constitution, there was also the provision for public opinion. CA sent a team to collect the public opinion and overwhelming majority of the people gave the opinion that Nepal should be declared a Hindu State and suggested to take decision on Federalism with intense discussions. However, leaders of three political parties ignored the majority opinion and took the decision on their two thirds strength, ignoring the people’s verdict.

Why do you see the importance of Hindu religion?

After monarchy, Hindu Religion is an important thread of national unity. Without the Hindu religion, it is very difficult to unify Nepal. This is the reason we are demanding the restoration of Nepal as Hindu State.

How do you the demarcation of provinces?

The parties have declared provinces in a haphazard manner or on whims. They declared six provinces initially. When people in Surkhet and Jumla took to violence, political leaders changed the boundary of provinces and added one more province. However, leaders of political parties undermined the demand of Madheshis and Tharus to change the boundary of provinces. This invited the retaliation from Madheshis and Tharus. Madheshi sentiments were badly hurt when the leaders of three parties took the decision, just death of few people, ignoring the Madheshi demands. Madheshis feel that they are betrayed.

How do you view the Madheshi demands?

Some of the demands of Madhesh are justifiable and the government should have addressed them.  It is a failure of the majority parties. I don’t know why there was so much rush for constitution. Had three parries held on the constitutional promulgation process for a month, the country would not have faced the current political situation. Political leaders, who had shown so much hurry to promulgate the constitution, should take the responsibility for the current crisis.  I don’t have anything to say on the contents but political leaders did not give any space for Madheshi agitators to come and put their own views. They did not listen to them. Even the Nepalese leaders ignored the advice given by special representatives of India who visited Nepal.

Do you think federalism can solve Nepal’s problems?

I personally feel that for a small country like Nepal with such a diverse ethnic groups and poor economy, it is very difficult to run the federal system. Many other experts also have been arguing about this point. We have not done enough homework, for mountains, hills and plains. These three regions are interdependent to each other. With two big economic powers as neighbors, Nepal needs to look at its geography.

As Nepal has been declared a federal state, how do you see the new security challenges internally and how will it affect its security relations with two of Nepal neighbors, particularly with India with whom Nepal shares open border? 

It will change security apparatus. However, it will not make any difference to Nepal Army, as it is a national army. The declaration of federal structure will bring change in police structures. Armed Police can be under national level. What about    civil police? We can put the civil police at both central and provincial levels. There will be the need to do homework.

How can we guide the system?

We need to have a national security policy. Dibyaupadesh of Prithvi Narayan Shah should be a good guideline for national security. He described Nepal as a Yam between two boulders, showing Nepal’s sensitive and delicate position. Self sufficiency and promotion of national industry was his other directives. We need to have a national policy which can identify which are the national interests and which are matters of the main national policy.

Do we have national security policy now?

Nepal Army has formulated a national security policy but all the parties need to endorse it. Our national policy needs to identify our national interest and priority. Nepal needs to have alternative supply system in case of a national crisis like disaster and political disruption. There is the need to have at least north-south and mid hill roads.

How do you view the National Security Council with so many ministers as members?

National Security Council was there in the past and it is there now. NSC's role is to suggest to the government on national security issues and to mobilize Nepal Army. There is the need to have security experts as members. National Security Council does not take the decision on voting but it advises the government on what to do at the time of crisis.

Recently, there has been a debate over the mobilization of army in Madhesh. How do you look at the thinking behind mobilization of Nepal Army?

There are two ways for army mobilization. One through under recommendation of National Security Council and the other ways is through the Local Administration Act. Nepal Army was mobilized in Kailali through the order of district administration. Nepal Army restored peace in Kailali. Given the complexity, there is the need to take intense discussions before army mobilization. Army should be mobilized by looking at the national interest. It should not be used by one party against the other. If Madheshi demands are political in nature, they must be settled politically. The Madhesh agitation is based on political agenda.

Can Nepal Army be mobilized to pave the way for a smooth supply of essentials?

As national interests consist of territorial integrality, security of citizens and economic prosperity of people, army can be mobilized for this. The government can mobilize the army to ensure the supply of goods and medicines. Political parties need to negotiate at the optimum level. If the situation will further deteriorate, one cannot rule out the possibility of mobilization of army.

How is your experience with army mobilization?

In the past, army was mobilized under the constitution of Nepal with the recommendation of NSC and backing of all party. We did a hard work with sacrifices of over thousand soldiers to bring Maoists in the mainstream but political parties left us in the 12-point agreement. We had very bitter experiences when the government took actions against security personal and civilians for working during the insurgency. This was politically motivated.

How do you describe the Nepal Army's experience?

Nepal Army is one of the oldest institutions with experiences of two historical wars and working in UN Peacekeeping. Nepal Army always supported the civilian government. Nepal army is apolitical and professional organization. Our senior officers are trained in best army colleges in the world. The credit to make Nepal Army professional and politically neutral goes to monarchy.

Is there a separate battalion for Madhesh. What is the present status of Madheshis in Nepal Army?

Nepal Army has never discriminated against Madheshis. We treat all Nepali citizens equally. We have never treated Madhesh as a colony. For Tharus, there are no problems and they are in the good positions now. During my tenure, two battalions were formed, one for Madheshis and the other for Kiratis. Our aim is to retain Madheshis; there is no discrimination against Madheshis. We can accommodate the Madheshis now There is a quota system for Madheshis now and number is increasing. However, there is the need to fulfill certain criteria.

How are our neighbors concerned?

As our border in the south is open and easy to pass, India’s concern is natural. We have coordinative committees. Nepal needs to address their security concern. So far as security interest of China is concerned, it is divided by big mountains and closed border. Chinese are more concerned on Tibet issue and possibility of anti-China activities in Nepal. Till the monarchy was there, China used to be very confident that Nepal protects its security concern. Chinese used to say that they want peaceful and prosperous Nepal and South Asia as a whole. Chinese also always persuade Nepal to maintain good relations with Indians given Nepal’s own economic relations and geography. However, after removal of monarchy and start of Terai movement, Chinese interests have grown in Nepal.

What are the security concerns of India?

With open border and diverse cultural, religious and social interactions with Nepal, India is always sensitive towards Nepal. Indians are concerned on rising numbers of Madarshas in the border, money laundering, fake currency and other anti-India activities. Due to cultural, religious and ethnic proximity, India wants Nepal to be close with her. India has relations of roti and beti with all groups.

Do you mean we can ignore China?

No one can ignore China. As China is rising as a super power, Nepal should maintain good relations with China. If possible, SAARC needs to be strengthened and economic union should deal with China. All the countries of the world want economic prosperity. However, China has also accepted the fact that Nepal needs to maintain good relations with India.

  

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