Eight Nepali Army brigadier generals’ terms expired Monday after the Defense Minister refused to extend their tenure. It is an accepted practice in Nepal to extend the terms of senior army officials by up to five years to utilise the investments in trainings and education. The eight army officials concerned are aged between 52 to 54 years and have an experience of 33 to 35 years. The refusal by the Minister to extend their terms has come as a shock to many, and has been interpreted as an effort to avenge the refusal by the Nepali Army (NA) to heed the Minister’s recent order to stop recruitment. That there is discord between the Maoist-led government and the NA, given their decade-long hostilities, is a well-known fact. The refusal to extend the terms is the latest in a series of conflict between the NA and the Unified CPN-Maoists, and it can be linked to the Minister’s icy relationship with the NA—one of the most important stakeholders in Nepal’s peace process.
Both this decision-not to extend tenure of eight brigadier generals-and the recruitment case have been linked by the Maoists to the issue of civilian control of the NA. The issue of civilian control of the army is a principle that no one should be allowed to violate. However, neither the recruitment of soldiers for the vacant posts in the NA, nor the efforts by the NA to extend the terms of the Brigadier Generals should be construed as a defiance of civilian control. First, there are doubts as to whether the Maoist-led government is serious about strengthening legitimate state institutions. The focus should be on professionalisation and democratisation of state institutions, not their politicization, especially when the political objectives are not popularly ratified. Second, it would constitute a defiance of civilian control only if the NA refused to follow the decisions of the Cabinet or the National Defence Council. The army, as a state institution, has the right to take up a stand against use of political power when it believes the power is being used arbitrarily to weaken a state institution, as long as it is not defying democratic oversight.
The conflict between the Nepali Army and the UCPN-Maoist speaks much about the direction of Nepal’s peace process. The current confrontation is not just between the UCPN-Maoists and the Nepali Army, it also involves other political parties and the common people. This incident comes on the heels of the Home Ministry officials and the police lying to the Supreme Court. Perjury is a serious offence. These are dangerous signs that the government has utter disregard for human life, the judiciary and the rule of law. The role of the judiciary, in
this context, has become much more significant now, given the fact that key transitional justice mechanisms proposed in the Interim Constitution and Peace Agreements are not yet functional. As a result, many issues related to political conflict
are bound to appear in the Supreme Court. At this juncture, the role played by Nepal’s judiciary will be key to determining the success or failure of Nepal’s peace process. Nepal’s judiciary needs to be strong and impartial, and the public needs to keep an eye on the judiciary, including the impending appointments in the Appellate Courts.