Nepali Times
Rolpa’s lessons


The use of the military to rescue 69 policemen kidnapped by Maoists from Holeri post in Rolpa, was the first instance in which the Maoist and the Army have come eyeball-to-eyeball during the current insurgency eyeball . The use of the terminology "security forces" by the government spokesmen in their following press statements was also a significant first.

"Security forces", is a generic term describing a government organisation consisting of civil administrators, police, intelligence and military elements, geared towards waging joint or combined operations against an insurgent movement. You could be a pessimist and say the government is only generating spin, and does not understand the implications of this terminology and the approach it signifies. On the other, it could also point to the welcome arrival of a fresh and distinctive change in the government's attitudes and decision-making process vis-?-vis the insurgency.

In order to govern a nation according to the laws of the land and international norms, a government has an array of powers in hand of which force is one. The use of force is also regarded as a government's last resort and has two aspects to it: one internal and the other external. Usually, any force which has to be applied to sort out internal law and order crises is carried out by a police organisation, and application of force against external threats is taken care of by the military.

However, modern nation states face a multiplicity of security problems and challenges. A totally new and comprehensive dimension of security has emerged because of factors such as easy accessibility to destructive weapons and technology, organised crime and other such non-military threats. The use of military force to shore up government response against such multi-dimensional threats has now become a matter of common practice around the world. Nevertheless, one must always remember that military force is only a means, and not an end by itself. It has to be deployed judiciously, decisively and in conjunction with the other elements of power at the disposal of governments, so as to achieve the desired results.

The recent deployment of the Royal Nepal Army in Rolpa created ripple of effects throughout civil society and the military. The belief that a quick and decisive resolution of the problem is at hand is premature. The Maoist movement was not born because of military reasons, the root cause of the problem lies in the political, social and economical domain. The singular use of military force to cure an essentially socio-political and socio-economic problem would address only the symptoms and not the cause of this crisis.

Once deployed will the government be able to sustain the military gains, and the favourable press coverage for any substantial period of time? These are some questions that policy makers must reflect upon deeply in the course of formulating, evolving and articulating a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy involving the use of military force.

The new prime minister and his government will need to come to terms with the reality that the police force is in shambles and the administration is in dire straits. There is not much doubt in any ones mind that military assistance is required to support a collapsing administrative edifice. If it is true that Girija Prasad Koirala deployed the army in Rolpa with the aim of releasing the 69 police hostages so as to resign in a blaze of glory, then it was a stupendous folly.

It is also clear that Koirala struggled to establish clear civilian control over the army. But was this issue ever in doubt? The real question is: should the army be used to pursue party and individual interests or should this force be applied to pursue national interests and national objectives? We must rationalise the government's habitual acts of illogical behavior, loss of focus and its misplaced priorities. As the role of the army assumes a higher profile, it is essential that the army shouldn't be perceived as a threat to Nepal's nascent democracy and good governance. All effort must be made to tap and exploit its unquestioned nationalist credentials and professional abilities.

Civilian politicians need to be aware of the procedures for and implications of the application of military force to achieve political objectives. Military force applied senselessly is more of a liability than an asset. The government's Integrated Security and Development Package (ISDP) to counter Maoist activities is by all standards a sound one. It has rightfully recognised the center of gravity of the problem as resting on two pillars: one the general population and the other the comprehensive organisation of the Maoist. The key to success therefore, lies in being able to articulate the concept very clearly to a wide audience by putting forward in very lucid terms the prioritised objectives of the ISDP strategy. This then has to be backed up by a firm will and strong resolution. Protracted warfare is the essence of the Maoist strategy. Therefore, looking for quick fix results is essentially against the very nature of the problem. In this sort of a conflict, patience is not only a virtue but also a necessity.

The recent face off between the army and Maoists in Rolpa confirms that "any action has an equal and opposite reaction". An objective analysis of the event clearly showed the effect of applying military force directly and abrasively. The subsequent critical press coverage generated also revealed much ignorance about the variety of military applications and options available to the government. It is therefore, crucial for civilians to understand that as professionals the military must be given an explicit objective by the civilian leadership, and the military can then come up with an array of logical options and matching capabilities to be applied.

The civilian leadership must also understand that interference and politicisation of the affairs of the military is detrimental. The singular and myopic approach of using military means only to counter the Maoists is a lame strategy, and a prescription for failure.

Samrat Rana is the pseudonyn of a senior military officer.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)