Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Royal or Not, The Nepal Army Needs our Understanding

I read this thought provoking article about the Nepal Army from Nischal M.S. Basnyat on Nepalnews today. Me being me, I couldn’t help but write a response. Here’s how it goes.

Is the Nepal Army a devout royalist institution? Yes. Is it corrupt? Sure, in a society where corruption is a prevalent as diarrhea and other water-borne diseases, nobody can expect the army to be a clean institution. However, you can’t discount the hundreds of years of history of the army—as a social/humanitarian force—with just a few strokes of your pen (or your keyboard). From building roads and bridges to conducting rescue operations during natural calamities, the army has helped Nepal tremendously.

As for its inability to counter the Maoist threat, there were two things in play. First, as you point out, the army was not well-trained/experienced or well-equipped to fight a guerrilla war that the Maoists waged. Second, and more important, you can’t really blame the "Nepal" Army for the ambivalence stemming from the fact that the “other side” was also Nepali.

If anything it is the Monarchy’s fault that the army was not transformed with time. In Thailand you see the army generals kneeling (seemingly helplessly) before the king when he intervenes, on rare occasions, in Thai politics. That “down to the knee” gesture is purely out of respect, and not due to any sycophancy, fear or any other illegitimate relationship between the king and the army.

Nepal could have been the same had our monarchy been a little more smart and nimble. King Birendra (may his soul rest in peace) had a tremendous opportunity to democratize Nepal and the institutions he controlled (i.e. the monarchy, army etc.) way before 1990. Not only would he then have maintained the dignity of monarchy but he would have won tremendous respect and love of the Nepali people. Instead he chose to surround himself with a bunch of nincompoops and engage in sloppy pseudo-dictatorial regime.

The army has many smart and capable people who love Nepal. Like it or not, the Nepal Army is still one of the best-trained truly people oriented institutions in Nepal. Just because monarchy missed the boat, doesn’t mean that we take the army to the crossroads and do a public flogging. At the same time, like you told the Harvard Crimson in April, 2006, “The king is the only one who can unite the army in the time of civil war and keep the country from becoming a failed state. If the king leaves, the army will be shattered.”

So let us drop this rhetoric about “bury the army and the monarchy together” and think seriously about what it means. Are these two institutions, which incidentally were the only two people respected not to long ago, like electric switches that can simply be turned off ? And if they are have we thought about what happens and who or which group is capable or competent to keep Nepal from plunging into chaos.

Nischal also mention that “the royal army played a key role in ending Nepal’s monarchy. From a young age all Princes were exposed to a militant lifestyle.” Do you really believe this? Just today a man opened fire at a mall in Nebraska killing nine bystanders. I would doubt if that would have anything to do with a “militant lifestyle.” People flip. People have multiple personalities. People have anger towards their family. People can be really, really stupid. Parents can be bad about understanding and handling their kids in a proper way. I don’t necessarily see any militant lifestyle playing a role. If anything, it’s another proof that the monarchy in Nepal was unable to transform with time.