Nepali Times Asian Paints
The moral high ground and the rules of war


Napoleon is not regarded as a great military philosopher of the standing of Sun Tzu or Clausewitz, but he made one astute observation. He said, "Moral is to physical, as three is to one." This universally acknowledged dictum on the rules of war is not only very perceptive, but is also used extensively to reinforce contemporary military teachings worldwide.

In the course of re-establishing peace in our violence-ridden nation, one can be fully assured that the army is aware and sensitive of the critical need to hold and preserve the moral high ground.

It would be na?ve to assume that the military is not aware that counter-insurgency warfare is the most dirty and despicable form of conflicts a professional army can get into.

All sensible armies try to avoid it unless, of course, they are pushed into it as has happened in the case of the Royal Nepalese Army. However, once the army deploys, then the criteria to maintain the moral high ground-especially since the "enemy" is one\'s own people-becomes a conspicuous factor.

The RNA's strategy is not so much to break the back of the Maobadi and force the movement into submission, but to try and bring back all the aggrieved parties into the national mainstream and thereby achieve national reconciliation and peace. Breaking the back of the Maobadis, as erroneously stated, is not a strategic end, but it could be construed as a potent and viable military means. The military actions conducted all over the country are, therefore, a part of the means adopted in pursuit of the strategic end. This is not to say that the means justify the ends.

The fact that the volume of the army's operations are necessarily at a quantum level higher than those carried out by the police during the 1997 Kilo Sierra Two in the mid-west ("Fighting by the rules" by Kanak Mani Dixit, #110) is an inescapable fact. However, one cannot logically infer and equate the actions of an inept, demoralised, directionless, corrupt, and badly led quasi-civilian public force with the actions of an unpoliticised and professional military force. And it definitely does not do justice to the selfless actions of the organisation and the individuals who make it up.

Ever since the storming of the Dang military installation and the imposition of the emergency last November, it appears that the army is traveling down a long and lonely road on its own. No one has shown the interest or initiative to join hands in its sincere endeavours. Support for the counter-insurgency operations, of course, does not mean involvement in military operations. It just means working within the safety net provided by the military. A safety net is a generic term, and it cannot be provided for each and every individual. What we lack is a brave and courageous civilian sector that can deliver services to the people under the security umbrella provided by the army.

All military actions are derived from political directives. Favourable public opinion is the basis for success and failure. Here I would like to pose a question to all the professed and genuine nationalists of Nepal: is the army receiving the prerequisite public support from all quarters, or is it just being criticised and dragged into unnecessary controversy aimed at covering up for political games?

Besides, who defines human rights, who makes the rules and who judges whether they are being followed? Violent societies that have perpetrated genocides, launched bloody world wars, and exterminated whole peoples have little moral authority to lecture to a peaceloving, compassionate and cultured people.

On the other hand, human rights are a late-20th century concept encapsulated in the UN charter. It is a concept not easily understood or cared for by an uneducated people working to eke out a basic living. These are the ground realities in Nepal. The army has acknowledged its organisational shortcomings in this area, and has taken prompt corrective measures. This relentless pressure of viewing every single action of the RNA under the human rights microscope may be essential at times, but it seems rather incongruous. The focus of the public debate must be on the problem at hand. Human rights activists have their own particular political biases, not to mention questionable moral and ethical standards.

Military operations in counterinsurgency campaigns entail the use of force. When applied by any military, force has to be overwhelming and decisive. The insurgents on the other hand are organised into highly compartmentalised and pervasive cell formations, hence the visible effect of limited casualties and small numbers of wounded and captured.

The army is a product of its society. A powerful nation like the United States had to bite the dust in Vietnam largely because of unfavourable public opinion and lack of support for the actions of its military. The army is not necessarily averse to criticism in the press or elsewhere. However, there are certain norms, conditions and sensitivities that have to be respected and recognised by all Nepalis on matters of national security.

The army is operating in difficult conditions after years of neglect. Military capabilities cannot be built overnight, and security is expensive. This in itself creates tremendous pressures on the Nepali polity as a whole. Irresponsible and immature analysis and peurile outpourings just add fuel to the fire.

If the public expects the army to deliver peace then the army also expects the public to provide it the requisite support: moral, psychological or physical. Healthy and constructive criticism of the army's actions is a precondition to guiding and controlling it along the righteous path to peace. Immature analysis and alarmist inferences only create confusion and thereby, harm our national interests and security.

(Samrat Rana is the pen name of a military analyst.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)