Nepali Times Asian Paints
From The Nepali Press
“This is a different army”

An interview with Sachit SJB Rana, former Chief of Army Staff

By when do you think the Maoists will be brought under control?
That depends on the Maoists. Their strength will be exhausted in two or three months if they continue with the kind of attacks they carried out in Gorahi and Salleri. The army might have fallen short in Dang, but the Maoists have not even been able to enter areas after it has been put on alert. If the Maoists continue with a guerrilla war, it will take longer.

How much longer?
It takes time to identify the position of the enemy in guerrilla warfare. The army has to be able to stop their support and supply routes, only then will it be in a position to capture them.

Is finding their hideouts the only obstacle now?
No. After all, they withdrew when the army went on the offensive. This shows that the Maoists are not capable of taking on the army.

And how capable is the army that is now fighting the Maoists?
You have seen what the army is capable of. Even now, when the Maoists are on the defensive and going into hiding, the army is attacking them. The Maoists are suffering high losses. The Maoists could reach a stage where they run out of arms and ammunition. This will not happen to the army.

What else does the army need?
Right now, nothing. What was necessary was the mandate to take action, and they have got that. The most important thing was the support of the people and all the political parties. The second mandate was imposing an emergency. The third was labelling the Maoists terrorists. Now that these have been granted, the army can do anything it wants?shoot at people, use bombs, arrest people. The army could not act earlier because it did not have these three mandates.

When the army finds a Maoist, will it immediately shoot, or first disarm?
The army follows the Geneva Convention, the Maoists do not. The army will only kill if the enemy is fighting. If they raise their hands, they will be taken prisoners of war.

Is this just a ploy to disarm the enemy?
The killing will go on as long as the fighting continues. Only those who surrender are taken prisoner.

Are such operations expensive?
It is only natural that once the army leaves the barracks, additional expenditure is incurred. Support and supply lines must be made and maintained. The government must take care of this expense, or the campaign will stop.

The army is said to have big ambitions. Apparently the purchase of helicopters and new weapons is linked to this campaign...
Look, until democracy was restored, the police and the army used to get what they required. After that, the yearly 10 to 20 percent increment in their budgets was stopped. The army could not even fulfil its basic necessities. When the Maoist movement was beginning, the government asked the then Chief of Army Staff for a plan to bring them under control. He submitted his plan to the government. It categorically said that the Maoists had to be fought and this would require Rs 500-600 million. The government believed the army was asking for too much and instead ordered the police to quell the Maoists. To this day the army is fighting with 7.62 mm rifles, weapons first bought in 1972/73. GPMG (General Purpose Machine Guns), the weapons we use for aerial attacks are pre-World War II models. We do not have helicopters with night-vision. At least the Maoists have drawn attention to this. If the army is not taken care of even now, we may soon a have a bigger problem than just the Maoists.

Some say there are reasons other than those given to the public for imposing an emergency?
No, no there is nothing like that. I have also heard that once the army leaves the barracks, it will not return. Since the army helped the king in the 1960 coup, it is natural for people to be suspicious. But the situation is completely different now. Back then we had a mostly illiterate army, now it is educated. There is a vast difference between the two. I want to assure you that once the army has finished the work it has been given, it will return to the barracks. There is no doubt about this.

What are the chances that innocent people will die in this engagement?
People caught in the crossfire will definitely be killed. We already know that a 13-year-old was killed in Salleri. You cannot stop that. Once the army finds or sees anyone coming forward with their hands raised, they should not shoot at them, whether they are Maoist rebels or innocent people. The army must catch them and take them prisoner. The army is a disciplined force, it will not trouble innocent people. It will only take action against its targets.

Some people are of the belief that suppressing the movement this way will be counter-productive. Many innocents died in the police Kilo Sierra Two operation. That was certainly counter-productive.
If the police had only attacked places where the Maoists were, it would not have been counter-productive at all. The people had no alternative, they had to follow the dictates of the Maoists. People had to buy their freedom and get out of the hold of the Maoists in any way. Now, if the army behaves the way the police did, then that too will be counter-productive.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)