“No Need to Redefine Nepal Army”

Government's restructuring of security sector seems to have encroached on some constitutional rights of Nepal Army. Former Army Chief General PYAR JUNG THAPA, who led the national army during a crucial phase of transition in Nepal, spoke to KESHAB POUDEL at his residence on related issues. Excerpts:

Issue Name : Vol 10, No 4, September 16,2016 (Bhadra 31, 2073)
“No Need to Redefine Nepal Army”

General PYAR JUNG THAPA

How do you look at the recently released report on restructuring of the security sector, including Nepal Army?

Each security force has its own specialization. Nepal Army has a special role to safeguard and protect the integrity and independence of the nation. This is the role recognized by Nepal’s constitution. Since the provisions are clear in the constitution, Nepal Army Act and Nepal Army Regulations, no report can be above the state’s existing provisions. The Role of Nepal Army is clear and there is no need to substantially redefine it.

As Nepal is preparing to adapt to federal structures, don’t you think there is a need for a different security system now?

Nepal Police and Armed Police Force have their own roles, particularly in maintaining the law and order. Following the declaration of Nepal as a federal state, there may have been the need of different provisions for the restructuring and mobilization of Nepal Police and Armed Police.  There would certainly be a need for Provincial level police force. They are under the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has a role to make any change in them if required. Regarding Nepal Army, as it will remain a national army it will not be as much affected.

One can understand the role of the civilian police at the center and states. How about the role of the Armed Police in the national crisis?

So far as the Armed Police is concerned, it will be mobilized in an integrated manner with Nepal Army when there is a national crisis that threatens the existence of the nation.  Even the Armed Police Act has the provision that they will be part of Nepal Army in such a national crisis.  Each of the forces has its own importance and they should be mobilized as per their specialized role. They need not be put under one umbrella of National Security Council during normal circumstances.

Don’t you think there is the need of restructuring Nepal Army in the context of state restructuring?

As I have told you, the role of Nepal Army is clearly defined by the constitution and as it is a national entity it will be unaffected by local structures.  Along with safeguarding the sovereignty and integrity of the country, Nepal Army is also mobilized to contain an armed insurgency, and to maintain law and order internally when necessary. Given its important role, there is a special provision in the constitution to mobilize the army. According to the constitution, the army is mobilized by the President under the recommendation of National Security Council and approval of the Cabinet.

Political leaders are saying that this lengthy process sometimes hampers work in quick mobilization of the Army. They argue that there is the need of certain provisions to shorten the process. How do you look at this?

This provision is placed in the constitution to prevent the misuse of the army. This kind of a check and balance is there all over the world.  Mobilization of Army is a very sensitive issue.  There will be the need of debates, justifications, and consensus to ensure any mobilization of Army is in the national interest and for gains of national importance only.  

As many news stories and commentaries are published on newspapers regarding the report on restructuring of Nepal Army as submitted by a committee formed under the convenorship of former defense secretary Baman Neupane, how do you look at this?

I have just read reports in the newspapers. I have not read the full report yet so I am not in a position to make a proper assessment.  From the brief reports published in various newspapers, what I can say is that the suggestions should reflect and be based more on the evolving security dynamics.  Any proposal for sweeping changes without a thorough analysis of historical   perspective and concept of Nepal Army’s structure and role could have an adverse impact if implemented.  There is a need to follow a cautious approach, intense discussion and a strategic review before reaching any conclusions. Perhaps such a strategic review should be conducted after the transitional phase when the situation is more stable.

Do you think it has a negative side only?

There are some positive sides as well such as proposal to have more reserve force.  Credit must also be given for a good effort. Had the committee discussed the issue with the former chiefs of army staff, security experts, army officials, field commanders and others, the report would have been more balanced and comprehensive.  But I have not seen a trace of such discussions.

The Government has also recently tabled the National Security Council Bill, which reportedly has many clauses contradictory to the constitution. How do you look at this?

Yes there are several such clauses. For example one clause defines all security forces together though their roles are different. The other one is provision for decision by majority if consensus cannot be reached at the National Security Council (NSC) meeting. The more controversial clause in the proposed bill is to potentially give the Chairman of the NSC (Prime Minister) the authority to mobilize the army even without the approval of the National Security Council (NSC). If army can be mobilized with a decision of cabinet only, it bypasses the Chief of Army Staff.  

Why is it so controversial?

According to the provision, in an emergency and if the NSC meeting cannot be held, the Chairman of the NSC can recommend mobilization of the Army to the cabinet. Within 24 hours of this recommendation of army mobilization the NSC meeting will have to mandatorily endorse it. The question arises if the cabinet meeting can be held, why cannot the meeting of National Security Council be held?  Furthermore the provision setting the quorum for NSC meeting at 5 members can technically exclude the COAS.  These clauses go against the constitution as well.  As the clauses are not in the spirit of the constitution, they should be removed.  The provisions are included in the constitution to have a broader consensus and mandatory attendance of COAS in mobilizing the army.

Don’t you think such a provision will be required in an emergency situation?

The provision as per the constitution to mobilize the Army on the recommendation of the NSC is sufficient to handle any emergency situation.  The main philosophy behind the formation of National Security Council is to make sure the mobilization of Nepal Army will be for the protection of national interests, not for other purposes. Decision by consensus is another important concept and tradition of the NSC.

Now, the nation is going to be a federation and there will be more complications. What do you suggest?

Following the implementation of the federal structures, the security system will be different.  Perhaps there is the need to have a National Security Advisor (NSA) as in other countries around the world to look at the coordination aspects. NSA in conjunction with NSC or appropriate organization can play a key role in helping to formulate/update national security strategy and coordinate all elements of national power and resources to safeguard national interests.

How do you see the role of Nepal Army in political transformations?

Nepal Army has always played a positive role in Nepalese history. In all the political changes, Nepal Army has stood with the people and played a constructive role, paving the way for a peaceful transfer of power.  Nepal Army has always been guided by the law of the land and interest of people at large.

Recently, reports are coming on the formulation of new bills and regulations. My suggestion is that there is the need to take a cautious approach and deeper study and layers of debate before framing any bill related to Nepal Army.

The Public Service Commission has recently registered a bill on the promotion and appointment in the army under its own jurisdiction as in the recruitment of other civil servants. How do you look at this?

 As a national security institution, there is a specialized requirement for Nepal Army and there are specialized methods for recruitment and promotion in the army. They are different from those for the civilian positions. This system generally prevails in the case of armies all over the world. The issue of recruitment in Nepal Army has been categorically mentioned in the constitution. Accordingly, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is responsible for conducting written examination only.  Our process of recruitment is different as we have to recruit individuals on the basis of qualities required for the army in the battlefield not just office jobs. According to the proposed provisions, the Public Service Commission could control our whole system. Regarding promotion, Nepal Army has its own specific system and constitutionally the Army needs to consult the PSC only about the principles of procedure. The Army has units in all 75 districts and there could be a need for immediate promotion, especially if the army is in war, in order to maintain chain of command and fighting strength. Requiring a representative from the PSC for promotion may, therefore, not only be impractical but also perhaps unconstitutional.

Why is there an all-out-attack against the army?

I don’t think these are intentional but could be due to insufficient knowledge and experience about the army recruitment process around the world. There is generally a similar practice for recruitment and promotion in the army which have been validated to be correct and effective.  As the proposed bill may adversely affect army’s recruitment and promotion, there is the need to correct the bill.  

Despite the positive role of army in change, why is there is so much intervention?

Let us hope there is no design to destabilize the Army. What I can say now is that Nepal Army has a glorious history of more than 250 years.  Starting with the unification of Nepal which was in combination of the People, Army and King, Nepal Army has not failed to fulfill its responsibilities during internal crisis and conflict or external aggression. The Army has always played a key role in keeping Nepal as a stable sovereign country and helped the people during times of natural calamities like earthquake and floods. As such the Army is held in high esteem by the people. The Army is also enhancing Nepal’s prestige through participation in United Nations peacekeeping. We must therefore be careful that any restructuring will not compromise the core values of a proven and world renowned army.

How do you see the role of Nepal Army in peacekeeping?

Nepal Army has been playing a very important role in promoting Nepal’s image.  Historically the role of Nepal Army in global peacekeeping has received wide praise and recognition. That tradition must be maintained and enhanced.  The government needs to increase the number of personnel as well as ensure provision of sufficient and quality equipment so that our personnel will be more encouraged and motivated to preserve the image and prestige of our country Nepal.

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