Again, the Nepal Army is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A promotion list that proposes to reward tainted officers has raised the hackles of some senior SPA ministers. Local leaders of political parties are sore about the favouritism rampant in ration contracts. Activists believe officers guilty of human rights abuses have been let off lightly. The Supreme Court has added to the woes of the Bhadrakali brass by rapping them on the knuckles for gross mismanagement of the army welfare fund.
But not all the criticism directed at the army is justified. Unlike civilian arms of the state, not everything military can be open to public scrutiny even in the absence of war. What we call peacetime is a period of preparation for any professional armed force.
Perhaps the problem is ignorance and lack of trust. The army has been trained to doubt the intentions of everyone who does not belong to them. Politicians believeóin the light of their experiences in December 1960 and February 2005óthat the Nepal Army owes allegiance to the king rather than the constitution. The press and the civil society, by their very nature, consider people with power guilty until proven innocent. The onus is on the leadership of the army to prove its innocence and good intentions.
The army top brass has courted unnecessary controversy by repeatedly ignoring court orders to make the fund's accounts transparent. They must accept that the fund's records have not been properly audited for years, and identify officers responsible for this dereliction of duty. If funds have been misused, everyone complicit must be held accountable. Yes, military traditions are sometimes stronger than the provisions of the rulebook, but this is too serious a breach to let pass.
The crisis of credibility facing the Nepal Army will only get worse if the officers ignore pleas for openness. That said, the claim that every soldier be reimbursed in full what the UN pays for peacekeeping duty abroad is unjustified. A Nepali soldier in the Blue Helmet isn't a mercenary, and peacekeeping duty isn't like a stint with a private security agency either. A soldier on deputation to the UN is an employee of the government. He serves abroad as a representative of his corps, service and the country, with attendant duties and responsibilities.
Those in the know say that even if there is a political decision to demilitarise the Nepali polity, it will take at least 20 years to pare down the NA's strength from 100,000 to about 10,000 without negative repercussions. Meanwhile, this huge force has to be kept occupied. One Rana prime minister made troops march three times a day through the capital to keep them busy. Sending more troops to the UN is a better alternative.
We're one of the top 10 troop contributors to UN peacekeeping forces, but lag behind countries like Ghana and Uruguay in terms of representation as a proportion of population. Unilateral peace enforcements have collapsed spectacularly in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and Sri Lanka, while the UN has had relative successes in Bosnia, the Congo, and East Timor. There will be more Blue Helmets, not fewer.
If we want to use this opportunity for national gain, at least the welfare fund must be managed in a transparent manner. The army now has to learn to be accountable, responsive, and responsible. It will be hard to inculcate these traits in an organisation used to being a state within a state, but there is no other way. Bhadrakali needs to use the chance it has been given to redeem itself.