Nepali Times
Fourth Estate
Camouflage fatigue



Madan Bhandari's meteoric rise and equally sudden demise in the early 1990s left his widow Bidhya to ride the sympathy wave that followed his death. She has grown in stature since, but is not known particularly for her political convictions, even by the flexible standards of the UML.

When the anti-Maoist coalition of Madhav Nepal chose her to head the defence ministry, it was inferred that the government had decided to give the Nepal Army a free hand. Bidhya Bhandari, in confining herself to being an ardent defender of the sovereignty of the armed forces, has lived up to her prime minister's expectations.

For the media and the international community, too, the Defence Minister is little more than a diligent spokesperson for the army. This could be why UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe decided to deal directly with Nepal Army Chief Chhatraman Singh Gurung. Surprisingly, the Nepali media paid little attention to what transpired at that crucial meeting.

The public relations department of the army released a picture of a defiant Gen Gurung sprawled on a gilded chair. His guest is all attention, hands suppliantly on his knees. Either the army didn't see fit to give the full story of the meeting to the media or the gatekeepers of the media in Kathmandu consciously decided to downplay the event. Other than the army chief's reluctance to admitting Maoist combatants en masse, nothing much appeared in the local press.

Reports in the Indian media were more thorough. With direct attribution to the army chief, Yubaraj Ghimire reported in the Indian Express that the Nepal Army couldn't remain confined to barracks indefinitely. Other Indian media too gave prominence to the position taken by the army chief. Few considered it necessary to get to the official position of the government, as if the media accepted that the government had no control over the Nepal Army anyway.

The Council of Ministers, far from demanding clarifications from the army chief for statements reeking of insubordination, tried to hide its helplessness behind the statement that the UN DSG had crossed diplomatic limits.
The responsibility of holding government to account where the peace process is concerned fell upon the frail shoulders of the Nepali press. Once again, it failed to rise to the occasion. Like all the other estates of the establishment, the media considers the Nepal Army the embodiment of a near-divine status and allows it to get away with almost anything.

The latest instance of media downplaying army excesses concerns the alleged rape and murder of three women, including a girl, at Hariharpur in Bardiya National Park. Since all the victims were poor Dalits eking out a living by collecting the bark of trees, our urban-centric media had little interest in finding out what really happened. The fact that the alleged perpetrators were men in uniform made the case doubly untouchable. Things would have been different had Maoist combatants or any of the Tarai's armed groups been involved.

When political authority is as weak as it is now, media and civil society have to be extra vigilant regarding the activities of the armed forces. The tragedy is that the media is concerned about its own security and prominent citizens are more worried about the timely promulgation of the constitution. The field for the army is thus wide open.

UNMIN meaning - FROM ISSUE #494 (19 MARCH 2010 - 25 MARCH 2010)
Win-win - FROM ISSUE #494 (19 MARCH 2010 - 25 MARCH 2010)
Undermining UNMIN - FROM ISSUE #493 (12 MARCH 2010 - 18 MARCH 2010)


With Maoist still having full strangth (if not far more) in terms of number of combatens & fire power, I guess it leaves Army in a catch 22 situation. everyone agrees that for Maoist, other parties are just a toys which they use at time of their need than dump them. The only factor they still fear is the Army are still intact evevthough they played various games to undermine their morale & create some cracks in Armys ranks.

Army never was under the command of the Government, that is likely to remain for foreseable future given detoriating law & order of the country.

I totally agree with CK Lal that media & civil society MUST keep close eye on activities of Armed forces & indeed other similar organisations. I, however feel that this Civil society leaders are just pown of some parties (there are some, who are really praisable personalities ) who bearly step outside of Kathmandu to see things rather prefers to organise a protest when media starts to raise concern that Civic society are not seem to be visiable, just to make thweir presence felt.

2. Thurpunsich
For the current coalition government, the army can be a double-edged sword.

One the one hand, the government can feel good when the army general gives statement about who among the Maoist combatants are admissible into the army and who not. General Gurung reportedly made a statement recently that all combatants cannot be integrated into the army and that army cannot accept politically indoctrinated combatants.

I think politicians distrustful of Maoists' motives will turn a blind eye to the general's foray into what is first and foremost a political issue and then only a military issue.

On the other hand, if the general starts meeting with agents and officials of a foreign power (Mr. Pascoe now and Mr. Richard Boucher during Gen. Thapa's time under King G.) without the presence of the Defense Minister or Defense Ministry officials, the sword could cut the other way. It undermines the civilian authority (which is what Maoists were harping about, even though their motive was not really to save it).

I think Nepal Government should not allow direct and exclusive contact between the army and foreign officials/agents.

Otherwise, the army can turn into a snake and rise its head in the future.

3. Arthur
This is a step forward. Perhaps even a big step. But is it really necessary to end with just a call for "vigilance". Why not spell it out? For the government to have control over the army, the government must be able to sack an insubordinate COAS and appoint officers willing to carry out the constitution and the peace agreements. All the parties need to join publicly in affirming that constitutional principle or there is no point pretending a constitution means anything.

4. Pemma
Arthur dear, we need a MacArthur here....

5. sarath
HA HA.....! look at our muscle-less muscle-man COAS! he is on a payroll of the government that basically begs the foreigners to run the country...and he poses and sits like that??? Man, that thing called attitude, it can really get to your head, cant it?

And poor pascoe...! he sits like some asylum seeker at the gates of european fortress..Oh the irony, in my country.

6. Arthur
In case others dont understand the reference to General MacArthur by Pemma in #4, he was a very famous and extremely popular American war leader who was dismissed from his command as Chief of Army Staff by President Truman for insubordination.

In any modern country civilian supremacy is simply taken for granted. There simply cannot be any question that if a general speaks out against government policy he gets dismissed, and when he gets dismissed, he goes, like General MacArthur.

Democracy would be completely impossible without that basic principle.

Incidentally MacArthur's insubordination was passionately anti-communist public statements seeking to prolong the war in Korea which he commanded (and extend it to China), opposing the US government's policy to limit and end that war with a peace agreement.

7. rame
By the way, the event that happened in Bardiya is not a new one. Some years back the tribes in Koshi tapu also claimed excesses by the army.  Let us not forget that NA and Police have a system Raja Saheb and Rani Saheb (for useless and corrupt wives of Raja saheb).

The picture of COAS with UN member only show how stupid he is.  This only shows why Moists are so clear and correct on when they say NA system have to change radically.

8. Arthur
Re the photo, the Army PR department may well have selected it to convey to Nepalis the impressions CK Lal describes. But body language differs in different cultures. For example I have read that crossing ones knees could be considered disrespectful in Nepal, but I am sure that the crossed knees in the bottom left corner reflected no such intention.

Looking closely, the UN official has his mouth slightly open, speaking (politely) and the General has his mouth closed, listening attentively. No doubt at other moments in the conversation the opposite would be seen. Also there is nothing "suppliant" in Western body language about the position of the UN official's hands.

Wearing camouflage instead of the pompous ceremonial dress that Nepali generals are notoriously fond off would seem intended to convey a "businesslike" and "military" demeanour. The sprawling conveys the opposite, it looks rather "unmilitary".

If anything I would say General Gurung is trying to look relaxed rather than arrogant or defiant when confronted (politely) by a senior official of the UN which has already demonstrated willineness to humiliate the Nepal Army by sending Major Basnet home under escort, and could deprive the generals of a great deal of their perks and prestige by rejecting contributions to future UN peacekeeping missions.

As to whether General Gurung actually is relaxed, his left hand is clutching the arms rest rather than resting on it.

But really such analysis of photos is a distraction from the real issues.

9. ramji

The case of Bardiay is not a new one. There have been countless sagas reported and non-reported in and around the National Park and Wildlife reserve. The thumb rule laid by the Government is that no one is authorized to enter the National Park without proper permission. If anyone is caught the security force will apply minimum use of force to stop or cease the encroachment. If situation permits the security elements have authority to use force to bring the situation under control. There are many authorities to assess or investigate the incident.  But majority of media reporters are not honest and always try to twist the situation as well as the political leaders who also try to add fuel to the incident to earn cheep popularity.  The Bardia case should leave on the hands of government authorities. They should honestly make a fair decision after thorough investigation. The culprit should be punished by the law of land.

Some elements are trying to politicize the Army organization like police force.  If this happens who will honestly fight to protect the nations. That's why the army should remain as it is. The politically inducted combatants should not be intergraded in the Army at any cost.  We should heartily respect their sacrifice to bring independent in the country.  They must get some opportunities there is no question. They should be organized in some other security field. The best sector is boarder security or installation security.

10. Devi
This is a good piece but incomplete. The author needs to examine relationship between UNMIN and Nepalese Army more carefully. I think Nepalese Army knows that it needs UNMIN for a secure future with peace missions. The problem between UNMIN and the government is political. Mr. Lal fails to understand limitations of the army.

11. Prachanda Ram Bhattrai

This situation is getting clear... with Mr. lal's favourite leader gone..... the leaderless Nepali Congress and fickle UML will soon be pushed to irrelevance...... sooner or later its gonna be a showdown between the maoist and the army... whose side are you gonna be Mr. Lal???

Choose your words carefully.......the choice we have is not between good, better or the best.. it is between worst, worstest and worstestest.......

12. jange
Looks like dear CK is back to his old army bashing routine under the guise of media watch. The media is simply lazy and doesn't know what questions to ask and journalists' primary interest is to promote whatever personal agenda that they have.

For CK this is an easier route because he then doesn't have to take responsibility for what he writes- he is simply commenting on what others have written.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)