Peace process : NA mobilisation for CA polls

Nepal Army has been the backbone for logistical arrangements in the past elections

Kathmandu, February 25:

Nepal stands divided on the prospect of mobilising the Nepal Army during the Constituent Assembly election slated for April 10. Some are of the view that the army can be mobilised whereas some say it would be a gross violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the seven party alliance and the Maoists on 22nd November 2006.

How can the NA affect the security scenario if it is deployed during the election?

For the upcoming election, the government is yet to decide whether to use the army or not. It has been decided that the Armed Police Force (APF), Nepal Police and temporary security personnel would provide security.

While printing the ballot papers at Janak Educational Materials Centre APF will provide security instead of the Army. Even for the transportation of the election materials, the EC has already ferried them to the respective constituencies using private parties by calling tender.

However, Brigadier General Ramindra Chhettri of the Nepal Army is convinced that if the government decides to mobilise the army it would give full-fledged mandate.

“Since the Nepal Army is directly under the government, to utilise the resources of the NA, the democratic government would give to the NA full fledged mandate to mobilise the army.” For the control, mobilisation and management of the NA, the council of ministers would decide in accordance with the Military Act 2063.

The army is learnt to have played a supporting role during all past elections before and after 1990, when Nepal embraced multiparty democracy discarding the three decade-old Panchayat system.

The army helped Nepal Police in managing the elections to be smooth, fair, minimising the probable conflicts and clashes during the election time.

In the previous general elections, they closely worked with the Election Commission facilitating numerous complex tasks, including transporting ballot boxes and other election materials from the centre to the respective election offices in each constituency safely and in time.

Besides, the army would take full charge and ensure security during printing, packing and ferrying the ballot papers to the respective election constituencies.

The printing of ballot papers is an extremely sensitive task, more so when it comes to quality printing, which is critical to holding the election in a free, fair and impartial manner. Ballot papers printing calls for tight, around-the-clock security arrangements that also add to the credibility of the election.

The role of army during the election period was that of a backup force to provide extra security at the ‘sensitive’ and ‘extra sensitive’ polling booths. While the polling booths categorised as ‘normal’ from security point were guarded by the police.

Whenever there was a disturbance that spiralled out of the police’s control, the election officer was given a mandate to seek the help of army to maintain security.

Spokesperson for the Nepal Army (NA), Brigadier General Ramindra Chhetri, said that the army had a policing duty at all the vital installations. “The role was more of a creating deterrence. The army would be present before the clashes were likely to occur, so that there would be no untoward incidents.”

However, they were never present inside the election booths as they were guarded by the police, said Chhettri, adding that the army support by using minimum force as possible whenever required.

“The army was also mobilized on policing duties on foot, vehicular patrolling and sometimes even aerial patrolling.”

When the tension heightened, some candidates even asked for security as they might feel physically insecure, during such time they used to be temporarily provided shelters. The security is also given in the area where the votes are being counted.

The peace accord signed between the government and the Maoists in the presence of the United Nations Mission in Nepal confines the army inside the barracks. If the government wants to mobilise the soldiers for the tasks mentioned above, then it needs to get the clearance from the UN in New York.

As things stand at the moment, calling the soldiers out of the barracks is a bit difficult because the issue will also stretch itself to the over 30,000 Maoist combatants, cantoned all over Nepal.

Perhaps, Nepal could think of deploying the army to guard the border in the run up to the election to contain cross-border movements. “But that also is a difficult task,” according to retired Lt General Balananda Sharma said. Nepal shares a long stretch of boarder with India and it is a bit tricky to place the soldiers on this side of the border.

“Generally, in a conventional setting, it will not be wise to deploy the army in the border area because Nepal and India do not consider each other enemies,” Sharma said.

The Army, at present, has the authority to guard sensitive sectors like the conservation areas, protected parks, banks, airports, power houses, telephone towers, custom offices and the central secretariat and security of very important persons.