Nepal’s balance of forces & the future of Peoples Liberation Army
Posted by Mike E on June 23, 2011
Democracy and Class Struggle published this report from Peter Tobin, a correspondent who is currently in Nepal. It offers background and analysis of extremely important controversies that have sharpened within Nepal, and within that country’s revolutionary Maoist forces, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
Balance of military forces in Nepal –
In relation to PLA integration into the Nepal Army
by Peter Tobin
Before reporting on arguments around the integration into NA [formerly royalist Nepal Army], (as per terms of 2005 CPA [Comprehensive Peace Accords]) of approximately 20,000 PLA cadre [Peoples Liberation Army], it is necessary to understand the overwhelming logistical and numerical apparent superiority of the military available to the reactionary parties through the state apparatus.
The Nepalese Army has 95,000 active personal. It has been well-armed by India, US, UK, Russia and Israel. Its officer caste are trained in India, US and UK, and its high command is profoundly anti- maobaadi (viz 2008 coup against Prachanda-led coalition).
Last year Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal – the unelected UML, GS, and Delhi’s placeman after Prachanda – threatened to unlease the forces at his disposal against any “Maoist attempt to seize state power”, during the May manifestations. There is no doubt that NA general staff would have complied.
It receives $1.7 billion from US though the EMET programme which is jointly funded by Defense/State Departments, and funnelled through, the euphemistically titled: EIPC (Enhanced International Peacekeeping Capabilities)
Further military networking and synching occurs through OCD (Office for Defense Co-operation) convened under CINCPAC (US Commander-in Chief – Pacific).
The OCD office is in the American Embassy – I have tried to take a picture of this Reich Protector’s bunker – It is architecturally the projection of ugly American power and I wanted to attach it to my comments, but was taken in by Nepalese embassy police -jointly controlled by the Americans, and questioned for an hour, photos copied and then deleted, mobile phone nos taken and personal details and my photo taken. I was told it was against the law, but was shown no proof, was read no rights, and was not offered legal representation. (I tried to tell them of my construction background, and how, aesthetically, I was interested in grotesque, fascist-brutalist architecture, but to little effect)
Initially, this growing,post 9/11 relationship, with the US, compromised it ‘traditional’ neo-colonial subservience to India, but as each share an equal detestation and fear of Maoism, and so, along with Nepalese quislings form a unholy triumvirate, in opposition, by fair means or foul, to Maoist advance.
Add to NA figures another 40,000 heavily armed paramilitaries – ‘Armed Police Force’ and potentially, the reactionary static classes have access approximately 150,000, active military/para-military personal – equipped with new, and well-tried weaponry – a huge superiority of man, and fire-power, over about 20,000 PLA men.
It is almost certain that there is a contingency plan, in Washington and Delhi, should all means and stratagems fail, of imposing a Chilean-style solution, in the event of Maoists taking state power, through a People’ revolt.
Right now Kathmandu has the formal appearance of a city under a military dictatorship; it is an armed camp, soldiers or paras, bristling with guns are either on every street corner, patrolling, or charging about in personnel carriers. Every government, or significant building is guarded and fortified.
There are dozens of military barracks – large and small – scattered throughout Kathmandu – like chocolate chips in a cookie, and holding thousands of soldiers and police.
After obviously noting the traditional Lee Enfield, Sterling, and AK 47s, I can now spot Heckler-Kochs, Galils, and Insas; Kmandu must be one of the most heavily military infested cities in the world, with troops, paras, primed, preened, and ubiquitous.
Many among NA ranks have combat experience, not just against the PLA from 1996 to 2005, but as UN ‘peacekeepers’ and US mercenaries in Iraq and Somalia. Sending a further contingent to NATO-occupied Afghanistan is now being given strong government consideration. The High Command are in favour, as it develops their policy of building a flat up Washington’s arse.
All these forces fall under the remit of the NDC (National Defence Counsel), which the principle members are the PM, the Home Minister and the CoS. Its recommendations go to the President – who has replaced the King – since 2008 as the ultimate Commander.
(That’s ‘democracy’ folks – replacing the rule of one man and his advisers by another man and his. It was, in fact, a functional and symbolic a change of class power, the feudal succumbing to the Bhradralok dressed up in the forms of democracy, and the latter, for the second time since 1990, both riding on, and betraying, the Peoples’ revolutions of 1990 and 2006)
All this looks bleak on paper – so needs to be heavily qualified: The NA is not completely homogeneous, demographically Nepal is a young country, youth unemployment is high, in the cities and countryside; the army is therefore an attractive magnet. (They held a recruitment rally in one of gardens in Tudikhel park near city-centre, and thousands turned up last Friday). Many of recruits are, like their peer group, naive, friendly, and curious. (I get asked the same question by bored sentries, as I do everywhere: ‘kun desh aaunuhuncha? kina Nepalma basnuhuncha? – Where from? Why Nepal? etc. Always in the polite form.)
It reflects the diversity of communities, and ethnic groups in Nepal, and whether it would follow a blood-thirsty, anti-Maoist, officer caste, through whatever gates of hell they might choose to open up, is moot; tragically, dozens were shot by the RNA and AP, during both Andolans, but it could have been much higher.
One of the reasons CoS, Thapa, ran to the King after 19 days of popular, determined agitation, to tell him the war was lost, was said to be significant rank-and-file revulsion at what killings had occurred and definite reluctance to be active butchers in further killings of their own people.
In the short-term they might well participate in a ‘crack down’ or, indeed, a coup. But whether they are capable of the sustained murderous sadism that all ranks showed, following Kissinger’s 1972 coup,in the CIA trained Chilean army – is doubtful.
Uncertainty regarding the unswerving loyalty of the NA’s lower ranks, is one reason its officer caste, through the high command, have prevaricated over integrating committed PLA cadre into its ranks, is the fear of ‘Bolshevik’ contagion spreading among the NA rank-and-file.
It is worth noting that UPCN(M) Politbureau member, CP Gajurel was quoted as saying, to the effect, that the paramilitary Armed Police Force was a greater threat than the NA.
But the biggest reason not to over-awed by the raw statistics is; this was the same military machine, that, despite complying with the axiom of warfare that requires those attacking a fortified, or entrenched position to possess, no less than a 3 to 1 majority over a defender,could not defeat, or even out-manoeuvre the PLA, for the best of a decade. Despite $20 billion US aid, swelling its ranks from 50,000 to 70,000, in the few years following 2002, it signally failed to defeat, or roll-back the Mobaadi,
To the contrary it was pushed out of more and more of the countryside, and into its city strongholds, where the Maoists now faced the attacker’s dilemma. A few attempts, around 2002, to break into Kmandu had been costly and easily repulsed – to send the PLA in frontally, or even to try insert them into urban areas, would have been military suicide.
This stalemate led the Maoists to adapt the PPW and move from an armed phase, to a political one, by making a tactical alliance with reactionary parties against the, by now, common monarchical enemy, in order; first to overthrow feudalism, and second, equally important, to gain access to the urban masses and bring them into the revolution.
The balance of forces is exactly the same today as it was in 2006, except that the PLA – still in brigade structure and still with access to weapons – is re-located in cantonments as per the CPA, and it underlines the importance of the PLA to the Party and the People.
It why the UCPN(M) has consistently refused the demands of the political/military reactionaries; to dilute, dismantle or disarm this crucial armed section of the proletariat.
It should also be noted that the bare figures of declared PLA combatants is far less than the numbers of committed, experienced warriors. The PLA is the beating heart of a strong cardio-vascular system. The people were, and remain the blood that flows through its ventricles.
PLA/NA Integration – no middle way
The apparent decision by the Dahal/Bhatterai axis to change party policy of integration and new constitution going in step and agreeing ‘modalities’ integration first, has further alarmed the axis around Vaidya/Gajurel. ‘Dual Step’ policy has always been a practical proposition, that, as in the last analysis – political power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and that if the PLA disarmed before a new constitution was agreed, the Bhadralok/quislings classes, then with absolute monopoly of violence, through the state’s repressive apparatus, would force through governmental arrangements to continue the Kmandu centralised, ancien regime, with superficial concessions to ‘democratic’ forms and furbelows.
There was also concern that decisions were being made by party leaders, contrary to party policy, and outside party structures. This was apparent over ending the ‘dual security’ arrangements for the UCPN(M) leadership, where 200 PLA cadre, gave them round-the-clock protection. The security personnel guarding the Vaidya group are still refusing to hand over their weapons.
It was reported that this was part of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ – a 5 point plan, to extend the CA for 3 months and conclude the peace process simultaneously with a new statute, was reached party leaders of CPN- UML, NC, and UCPN(M) on May 28th. The Vaidya group claimed this was a further violation of party norms, and should have been put before the Central Committee and many of PLA combatants were reported to have been shocked by the precipitate nature of the decision and rued the “humiliation” of being dispatched, with their weapons, back to their cantonments.
The press photo of the first batch to go on 6th. May (Kmandu Post) taken at Dahal’s residence, shows a solemn farewell, with Dahal looking impassive, in the centre, of, what best can be described as, a stone-faced group.
The five-point deal has widened the fissure within the Party, the standing-down of the security unit is its latest crack. The Vaidya/Gajurel have specifically rejected the DDR proposals, cited above, and fear that the Dahal/Bhatterai leadership are making too many compromises, that amount to a ‘surrender’ of the PLA’s moral and military integrity, to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘reformism’ and ‘parliamentary cretinism’.
Therefore, the NA suggestion that 10,000, approximately, PLA combatants be subsumed in a new unit, which they would form 50%, the other shared between NA, APC and Nepal Police. This would be under NA officer command. There are further suggestions that it could be unarmed, either as a forest guard, or assigned to the currently fashionable, and expanding, area of ‘disaster management’
(Regarding the latter; there was huge meeting of top military and civil officers, started Kmandu yesterday – finishes Thursday of
“Nepal-US Military Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Table Top Excercise” (Phew!), where top brass from NA and US marines plus some politicos and the usual NGO stooges, are present. But, ‘Marines’ – ‘humanitarian’ – even Pentagon PR (oxy)morons can’t get traction form such an unlikely combination.)
The 5 PP rejectionists have argued for maintaining PLA as a single cohesive armed force, suggesting they be assigned as border security, as their is none at present, while Indian maintains an active border force, that encroaches into Nepal, when it chooses, with impunity and without challenge.
National self-respect and territorial integrity demand no less, and with the PLA: ‘cometh the hour – cometh the man’.
However, the press-labled soi disant ‘hardliners’ have said, following the rejection of the above Maoist proposal, that they might consider the NA one, if, and only if, it is under PLA command, Otherwise, PLA identity would be compromised, as this was their sole presence in the armed forces, whereas the others woud retain theirs, due to their presence throughout the security apparatus.
Another reason for seeing positive aspects to the NA proposal, by all across the Party, is the NA have abandoned the completely unacceptable proposal for individual integration, under NA aegis and now recognise the PLA is a force and can be integrated as such (albiet they might have just moved from dissolving it completely and will try to disarm it completely.)
Nevertheless, as Party secretary, Gajurel has acknowledged, it is a “positive development”; especially set against the UML quisling, hoodlum faction around Oli and Nepal, NC and NA officer caste, who have always claimed it was a private army, therefore, could not be integrated.
But there is a strong feeling that if Dahal agrees to NA command of an integrated PLA force, whatever its shape, it will not ensure a stable peace.
This concern is shared in PLA ranks, at a meeting last week, between the commanders and Party leaders they stated their united opposition to surrendering their weaponry, presently in containers located in the seven cantonments, and demanded the weapons be put back in the ‘process of integration’. They further insisted on adhering to Party policy on unit/brigade integration and not on individual selection. They, also raised the question of ceiling on PLA cadre promotion, and the related command structure, of the proposed unit.
On the numbers of 10,000 PLA combatants there is broad consensus – the exception being the opportunist Madhesi MJF-L, which calls for only 6,000 to be in process – with the remaining 9,600 getting rehabilitation packages, funded by peace-loving, conflict-resolving USA and the EU.
Politicals points were made, to the effect, as the active division commander of 5th Rolpa; “They fought for the revolution, not for the sake of the leaders.”
They further expressed concern at vacillations in Party line, and wanted to know if they were for peace and constitution or for people’s revolt, which had been put on hold.
But in fact there is a division in the ranks, with most of the commanders close to the Dahal camp, while the majority of lower rung commanders and rank and file are close to the Vaidya faction. So when the latter said that Dahal was preparing to sacrifice the PLA, to continue the ‘march through the corridors’; there was a strong rebuttal from the Army’s deputy commander, Sharma, who stressed that the Dahal/Bhatterai faction was equally worried about the PLA’s combatants future, and was reported as saying:
“We formed the PLA. I am one of its deputy commanders . So, we love our party’s army more that Kiranji (Vaidya)”.
Yet there is still general concern, across the army, that the leadership have not given convincing counter-arguments against the allegations of the Vaidya group. This is focussed on the central role played by its charismatic, pressured Chairman.
Up to the Palungtar plenum, late last year, the Party had sanctioned a ‘two-line struggle’ between, what first appeared to be a tactical differance, as to whether to seize state power, through a third Andolan, sooner or later. This hardened into a more fundamental division between continuing the revolution, or consolidating its gains, hithertoo, through an ‘historic compromise’. A third position emerged around Dahal which appeared to be a perfectly laudable attempt to finesse a compromise position between the two factions.
It did not prove possible, so when Dahal sided with the Vaidya camp, at the plenum, calling for preparation for an uprising, Bhatterai put in a dissenting note. Since then the Dahal leadership did little practical preparation to enforce this decision, and has in fact, now formally declared it to be ‘impractical, in the present circumstances’. In the last month it has been buried with Dahal’s decisive move towards the Bhatterai position for peace and constitution.
Arriving at a consensus has always been a difficult, but an essential feature of their political endeavours in Nepal. While the bourgeois press and the hireling petit-bourgeois ‘commentariat’, for obvious reasons are always screaming about ‘splits’, the Party has never conferred on them that much importance. Internal arguments, struggles, divisions are intrinsic, and distinctive, among adherents of Mao’s political philosophy; thus the conflict between the Bhatterai-Vaidya factions is seen a ‘unity of opposites’, where each position encapsulates a different visionary approach, and that far from being a potential party-breaker, it is just different routes to a remaining common goal.
The weakness in this argument could be said to Dahal’s position, which is more that of a political fixer, than ‘visionary’, and where he is forced to be ‘all things to all men’. Facing threatening, unbending, incorrigible static forces, principally embodied by NC and UML (that’s Unified Marxist-Leninists – you have to pinch yourself sometimes, when confronting such blatantly contradictory nomenclature), backed and paid by India and US, palming them off, buying time, and trying to hold an increasingly factious party together.
This had led to charges of ‘opportunism’ ‘revisionism’ and ‘reformism’ from the so-called ‘hardliners’, there is also suspicion that Dahal is being groomed as a ‘Statesmen’, with reactionaries describing him as an architect of the peace process, along with the late, unlamented, GP Koirala!
(It should be noted that the ‘march through the corridors’ has not been completely unproductive, as Maoists have recently ensured that their nominee, Mahara, got the crucial post of Home Secretary, and the cops, reactionary parties, and the lackey media are still screaming about it.)
Conclusion (for now)
The present aim is to conclude the outstanding differences between the parties in the CA within the 3 month extension, not just with PLA/NA integration, but the constitution, will it be a People’s Federal Democracy, as the UCPN(M) want, or just another western-style parliamentary charade?
These, the position of the 300,000 strong, formidable YCL, the return of property expropriated during the armed phase of PPW,
the ending Maoist combatants being hounded for alleged ‘Human Rights’ violations, are all among 70, or so, issues to be resolved.
The Party factions have further agreed to work together to prevent a split, by allowing open discussion and dissent with its ranks and agreeing to convene a party congress – the first for eighteen years – later this year, to hammer out a unified position.
Finally, on the bright, side, the party, in the country, in the CA and government, has declared its total unity towards allowing an Indian multi-national, GMR, to run the Upper Karnali Hydropower Project, declaring it an ‘anti-national move’ and saying it is ‘prepared to shed blood’ in resisting it, if the government sends in the NA to guard the site, It is seen as a continuation of India stealing Nepal vital water resources through unequal treaties and economic domination.
There are not prepared to see another repeat of the 1996 scandal of the Mahakali Project, (brilliantly documented and exposed by Bhatterai), where the UML led government gave way completely to Indian, with the hoodlum faction around Oli lining its pockets.
I would like to thank Cdes Guarev and Kanchan, among others for their information and thoughts, in compiling the above