Army officers at the headquarters met with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala yesterday to brief him about the strength of the Nepal Army. At the meeting, Girija Prasad Koirala said that he would defend the army and also indicated that a decision on the chief of army staff-designate has already been made.
Thapa and Koirala later had a private meeting where the prime minister reportedly asked Thapa to go on leave from Friday and let Lieutenant General Rukmangat Katuwal, number two in the Nepal Army, take office as COAS-designate. The Nepali Congress' plan to have Katuwal succeed Thapa is slowly working. Earlier, on the prime minister's request, Thapa had decided to not take the standard one-month leave at the end of his term. The Rayamajhi commission interrogated Katuwal just last week about his role in the 1 February takeover and in suppressing Jana Andolan II.
COAS Pyar Jung Thapa was accompanied by generals from various departments to the prime minister's residence. The officers described their roles and responsibilities to Koirala. Lieutenant General Katuwal explained the role of the operations section, while Department of Military Operations head Major General Kiran Shamsher Thapa explained how the Nepal Army has gone from 45,000 troops to 85,000 since 1999 under the Corp plan. He added that the army has had a difficult time, as it now has only one helicopter in working condition.
Many think the prime minister's decision to defend the army will be controversial, because of the many requests for investigation into the role of Nepal Army officers in suppressing Jana Andolan II. A highly placed source claims that Koirala justifies his decision by saying, "The army is demoralised, which is a threat to the defence minister, not to you. You don't need to worry as long as I am here."
Koirala's stance on the army has changed from two years ago, when he had said that army officers were conspiring against him, for stopping him at a checkpoint on his way to the Tribhuban International Airport, and making his helicopter land due to 'security reasons' in Bharatpur. Army sources tell us that the officers rehearsed for a whole day before appearing for the briefing at the PM's residence.