Arms and armies : Wrong obsession

UN dignitary Staffan de Mistura came with a sweet smile but flew back with a sad grimace recently. It is all because the political parties in power and the Maoists out of power did not agree on arms management during his presence in Nepal, although they later became ready to confine their armies to their respective lodgings. It is as if the arms matter the most in the current context.

The truth is something different. The arms don’t matter the most. Did the (Royal) Nepalese Army with superior strength of 90,000 and sophisticated armaments succeed in defeating the 25,000-35,000 strong Maoist insurgents? It did not. Did the Maoists succeed in capturing power even after 10 years of fierce fighting against the state? They did not. Did King Gyanendra succeed in ruling the country with the singular loyalty and sole power of the (Royal) Nepalese Army and other security forces? He did not.

Why, then, is there such a great fuss over who holds arms and who does not? The government is wrong to blame the Maoists for not separating their liberation army from their arms. How can they throw away the arms with which they have built a strong political position? Let them keep their arms with themselves under the supervision of the United Nations. What we want to see is to make sure that they don’t use them when they like.

On the other hand, the Maoists are equally wrong to demonstrate so much love and attachment to their arms as if they will be lost in wilderness without them. Are they so weak in public support that they feel helpless without the backing of the arms? Has Prachanda not realised that he can capture power, if he wishes, with the strength of hundreds of thousands of unarmed people he is capable of mobilising in the streets that he actually did? If so, he should agree even to part with his arms. In fact, his arms have already attained their aim of revolutionising the Nepali society that was evident during the Jana Andolan II, which was not possible, by his own claim, without the 10-year armed struggle.

What matters most is the people’s power that brought about all these radical changes in Nepal. The political parties, including the Maoists, have admitted that it was the participation of all sections of the society in the April revolt that made it possible to thwart the royal regime. Is it not most shocking, then, to find the same political leaders so easily forgetting the people’s power and remembering, just after a hundred days, only their arms and armies? Have they tried to know how the people feel about the so-called arms management issue, which has, in reality, already brought about a deep division among the partners of the April revolution? People are angry that the political leaders are overemphasising the arms issue at the cost of peace and reconciliation.

Even Mistura is a wrong choice to deal with the political leaders of Nepal. He is too soft and accommodating. We need a UN representative who does not ask questions as to how we would like to manage our arms. We need a representative who tells us how he is going to manage them. He should stand a guarantee to provide security and peace to us and we don’t mind how he is going to handle the arms and the armies, government or non-government. Given too many choices and freedom, we tend to be adamant on our stand. In arms management, certain amount of arm-twisting is necessary on the part of the UN. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his envoys must understand this hard truth of our country and of our people.

The whole trouble is arising because the seven-party alliance government is handling the Nepal Army completely in a wrong way. The problem is not that of its loyalty to the government. It is the problem of ownership of the army by the government. Instead, the political leaders are pushing the army towards the palace as the king pushed them towards the Maoists. In order to own it, the government should take proper care of it. It should first appoint a defence minister to provide leadership to it, look into every aspect of its organisation, management and development and hold him responsible. At present, it is treated as a bastard, disentangled from the palace but not ‘entangled’ with the new authority. An ailing PM holding the defence portfolio is actually making the army equally sick.

Regarding loyalty, has anybody told the army how it should demonstrate its loyalty to the government, which is being so widely and wildly questioned? Is there any definite way for the Nepal Army to show its total loyalty to the government? I don’t know if there is any. If Nepal Army were so dangerous to democracy, it would have long back taken over power and run the country like in Myanmar or Pakistan. It is not doing it simply because it is not in a position to do so. Hence, army bashing is absolutely uncalled for. It is something different that there are some army officials who need to be penalised for wrongdoings.

Shrestha is a freelance journalist