Nepali Times
An ostrich in trouble


Covenants without swords are mere words and that seems to be the fate of the much publicised Integrated Security and Development Plan (ISDP) of the government. This response of the government to the astounding victories of the Maoists at Naumule and Rukumkot started with the hasty huddles of the ruling party and culminated with the delegation led by prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala briefing the king on ISDP and asking for his approval to deploy the army.

Deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, as chairman of the political sub-committee, was on overdrive trying to garner political and public consensus, but he seems to have run into a wall. The army chief as head of the security sub-committee has not only achieved tactical surprise, but also thrown the spanner in the wheel just when everyone thought that the government had finally got its act together to seriously address this national dilemma. His declaration that the army will be mobilised at the appropriate time and appropriate situation raises the million-dollar question: who has and/or should have the legal authority and the required expertise to decide that appropriate time and situation-the army, or the elected government?

Historically, nations that have been crippled by insurgency reflect the fact that their police forces, even though paramilitary in nature, were unable to cope with the insurgent movement in its early stages. When the government first took the decision to deploy only the police to contain the threat of the Maoists five years ago, it should have realised that the fate of the government and the nation may hang in the balance and the outcome may be determined by the success or failure of early police work. The public declaration by the Inspector General of Police that the police was not set up to fight terrorism, and that the Maoist insurgency is beyond the control of the police, calls for urgent action by the government. Hoping that the recently created Armed Police Force will restore public order and confidence would reflect the behaviour of an ostrich in trouble.

The need for effective stopgap measures to check the Maoists movement from expanding during the time required to organise and train the paramilitary force has now become a stark reality. What do we do till then? Even if the paramilitary is raised and trained to become a competent force in due time, it alone will not be able to handle the insurgency as it exists today.

The issue of a clear chain of command for mobilising the army is valid if the intentions of the military leadership are noble. However, if this is a covert struggle between the political leaders, military and the civilian bureaucracy to wrest more authority, it would be extremely unfortunate for Nepal's national interest. The successful counterinsurgency experience of Gautemala in the 80s illustrated that the military had to turn to the civilian bureaucracy and professionals of its own government, to political and psychological warfare programmes and strategies, as a means to defeat the insurgents and remove them as a political option for the nation. Without adequate organisation at the highest level to establish, enforce and refine a national campaign plan embracing both the civilian and military efforts and programmes, authority is fragmented.

When this happens, there is not sufficient unity of effort to resolve the myriad of problems endemic in an insurgency. Delaying the deployment of the army by seeking political consensus, or by stating that bringing out the army out of the barracks is a last resort and it cannot fail, reflects a failure to understand the reality. The genius of generalship is not merely knowing the principles of strategy, but also understanding how to correctly judge the situation and apply the principles of strategy. Once the situation has reached the point of no return, bringing out the army may prove to be counter-productive and actually hasten the collapse of the government.

The much-ballyhooed ISDP was concocted in haste and is still half-baked. Proof is the fact that political leaders do not even seem to know what the acronym actually stands for: Integrated Security and Development -"Plan", "Package", "Programme" and even a "Fund". The refusal by the main opposition party and most left parties to support the government in this issue signals that they were not consulted during the preparation of this plan. Such a crucial strategy should have been based on a realistic assessment of local conditions, resources, and the needs and desires of the people. Whether the activities under the ISDP were tailored to achieve specific, constructive goals is still vague, but this is an essential aspect for the security forces.

If the army or the police is committed to a campaign that has no clear aim or a vague one, they are likely to face defeat even if resources are plentiful, as was convincingly proven in Vietnam. If the security forces do not have a clearly defined aim, especially in a counter-insurgency, then the men who are putting their lives on the line are bound to ask what is it that they are fighting for. When this question cannot be answered properly and convincingly, the motivation to fight and take risks vanishes. If the security forces, especially the men on the frontlines, get an impression that they are fighting to preserve a system that is not responsive to their needs and leaders who are corrupt, then the deployment will be doomed even before it starts.

Co-operation, harmony and collaboration between the military and civilian arms of the government is necessary because the Maoist crisis is not a military problem alone. The very concept of the proposed ISDP is based on the strategy of simultaneous internal defence and internal development programmes, and is directed towards the populace and insurgents alike. The internal defence aspect should seek to achieve internal security and a state of law and order, and internal development should promote balanced growth by building viable institutions-political, economic, military and social-that respond to the needs of the society.

At the national level, the following points need to be addressed urgently:

The ISDP must mould the internal defence and development activities into a unified strategy and must be capable of adjusting to the intensity of insurgent warfare

The ISDPs activities must be coordinated with government agencies, yet not interfere with the normal day-to-day functions of these agencies.

Political, economic, social, military, psychological, and information affairs offices from the line ministries and concerned agencies should be incorporated in the national co-ordination council to develop policies and operational concepts for inclusion in the national plan of action.

Also needed: civilian advisory committees to help evaluate the success of government activities, to help gain popular support, to establish a link to the people and to receive feedback on which to base future operations are needed. Whether these theoretical aspects have been included in the ISDP plans and programmes of the government is unclear. But the polarisation and confusion regarding the ISDP doesn't bode well for now, or for the future.

(Gyan Jung Thapa was given premature retirement last year as a Colonel from the Royal Nepal Army. He is a graduate of the US Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from which he has a Masters in military arts and science.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)