Monday, February 28, 2005

STUDY: Civil-Military Relations and the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal Part 4

Civil-Military Relations and the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal - Part 4
Prakash Nepali and Phanindra Subba
From: Small Wars and Insurgencies, Volume 16, Number 1 (March, 2005)

Maoist Military Wing

To a considerable extent it is the strength of the Maoist armed wing which has given a degree of credibility to the parallel structure set up by them and has enabled the party leadership, after years in the margin, to emerge as pivotal actors in the national political scene. The Maoists are `a body that in its formative stages consciously modelled itself on Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)'.[50] However, even though some modifications have been made, the military doctrine of the Maoists has drawn its basic tenets extensively from Mao's military theories. They have sought to put into practice his dictum that `the party must command the gun'. Political commissars have been used to indoctrinate the fighters and keep the armed wing subservient to the party.

The Maoists military wing is kept under a fairly tight control by the political leadership. At the top of this structure sits the Central Military Commission. Fighting units are authorized to make tactical decisions but the Central Military Commission takes all major strategic decisions. The Commission appropriates funds for operations on the basis of plans submitted by local units. Some officials have been switched from the military to the political wing and vice versa at the higher levels but on the whole there is not much mobility between these two wings. The caste and ethnic composition of the Maoist Army differs to some extent from its political wing. Although the Maoists have sought to make the leadership structure more diversified, ethnically and regionally the top leaders in the political wing belong primarily to the upper-castes. On the other hand, the armed wing has a significant number of people belonging to the lower-castes and ethnic groups. The most effective Maoist main force units have a preponderance of Kham Magars from Rolpa and Rukum. They have gained extensive battlefield experience in the course of the last eight years. At present the Magar youths have gained nation-wide leadership of the `People's Army'.[51] Barsha Man Pun alias `Ananta', who led the Bhojpur attack and the son of a British Army lahure (those who enlist in foreign armies), Nanda Kishore Pun alias `Pasang', who led the attack on Beni, are new, rising military commanders within the Maoists (Figure 3).[52]

In cases where government response becomes more effective,insurgencies find it hard to survive without sanctuaries. The Maoists have also made use of limited cross-border sanctuaries in India. Protecting the leadership is important but prolonged absence from the country carries the risk of erosion of nationalist credibility and loss of support among important constituencies. This will also hinder the leaders from closely interacting with their fighters on a regular basis and might lead to the absentee leadership losing control over the direction of the movement. The dynamics of power within the group is thus likely to change and real authority will gradually come to be wielded by commanders in the field, who are prepared to share the risks with the combatants. Field commanders have established strong ties with the rank and file fighters and there are indications that the power and influence of key commanders is increasing. Although Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias `Prachanda' is the supreme commander of the Maoists, Nanda Kishore Pun `Pasang' coordinates and commands all the major attacks.[53]

Odom's model – clearly based on totalitarian theories – asserts that since both civilians and military leaders share allegiance to the same ideological system, conflict should be minimal.[54] However, in ethnically complex countries, the validity of this theory is likely to be put to the test. The Maoists policy does not allow any ethnic group to form armed groups and to raise weapons.[55] The Maoists have successfully exploited internal class differentiation among the different ethnic groups and conflict so far is not taking place along inter-ethnic lines. Although the vertical party hierarchy and the stress placed in communist political culture on adhering to the party line makes the public airing of differences rare, reports of friction between the party and the armed wing have surfaced periodically (these reports however have been strongly denied by the Maoists). The small and relatively closely-knit party has grown into a huge organization and if the political and the military wing are increasingly drawn apart by the number of casualties incurred and the amount of sacrifice made, the rift between the two branches might take an ethnic or regional colour.

Military Balance

To retain and increase support it becomes necessary to periodically demonstrate potency to generate and sustain the belief that the insurgency is gaining ground and will achieve its goals. Since the second cease-fire, between January and August 2003, improvised explosive devices have become the insurgent's weapon of choice and account for 35 per cent of the RNA's fatalities and 50 per cent of their injuries.[56] Although the nature of the war has changed somewhat with the improvement in the perimeter defences of the security force's bases, at critical stages of the campaign and at key psychological moments the Maoists have displayed a willingness to incur heavy casualties in pursuit of their objective. The have showed the tactical ability to conduct large-scale co-coordinated attack (brigade-sized) that are meticulously planned, as in the assault on Beni on 20 March 2004. Apart from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, internationally organized insurgent groups usually demonstrate a poor applied knowledge of infantry skills, whereas the Nepalese Maoists excel in this field.[57] Although the Maoists claim that they have reached the stage of strategic equilibrium from the military point of view, the type of casualties the army is incurring clearly shows that they have not yet acquired the ability to fight large positional battles and to hold any territorial gains they make. To win the final phase of the guerrilla war, the conventional phase, there has to be a quantum leap in the quality and quantity of arms available to the insurgents or a major faction of the army has to defect. There is little likelihood of the Maoists being able to gain access to arms supplies of such magnitude and the prospect of a major split in the armed forces is virtually non-existent in the near future.

On the other hand, `some experts believe that RNA will have to raise its manpower threefold, at least 150,000, before it can be confident of taking on the Maoists'.[58] In a mountainous terrain, which has a tendency to absorb large number of troops, even this numerical advantage may not be enough. India, for example, maintains several hundred thousand paramilitary, police and army forces to suppress the estimated 3,500 militants fighting in Jammu and Kashmir.59 Despite the fact that Nepal's situation is not comparable to that of Kashmir in terms of external support provided to an insurgent movement, even a scaled down version of this approach is an expensive proposition. The country will find it hard to come up with the resources of such magnitude.


8.1 Political Leadership

The current problems that Nepal is facing are not merely due to transitional difficulties. The Maoist insurgency is a new phenomenon in the country's history in the sense that it is rooted largely in the peasants residing in the countryside and exogenous factors have played a relatively minor part in its inception. The disequilibrium that the insurgency has created has unleashed forces that are now committed to the redistribution of power. Undue emphasis on military action clouds the key political realities, which can result in a military-dominated campaign plan that misses the real focus of an insurgency.[60] At best the army can help create a situation conducive for the implementation of reforms and eventual political settlement by stabilizing the security situation. `In the end an insurgency is only defeated by good government, which attracts voluntary popular support'.[61]

Given such dynamics, the establishment forces do not have the option of keeping to the status quo and facilitating structural changes is the only way to protect their long-term interest. Fundamental change, however, will not be easy given the fact that the problem is also a social one, deeply entrenched in the cultural values of the core, dominant groups that have been ruling Nepal with periodic changes in the configuration of the narrow elite coalitions. In many respects the political parties have also actively promoted changes only to the extent that it impinged on the power and privileges of the preceding elites. The vertical solidarity that underpins Nepalese elite society greatly inhibits social mobility and the development of a merit-based society and democratic culture. Any move towards real change will ultimately undermine the position of the establishment in the power structure. How much headway the reform process makes will therefore depend largely on the vision and commitment of the political leadership who, by force of example, must show they are incorruptible and must be able to give the people a sense of sharing the same fate and destiny. But judging by their past record, to expect such a dramatic transformation in the behavioural pattern of the establishment forces in the short term is being more optimistic than realistic.

One of the major political parties, the Nepali Congress, has made proposals to bring the army firmly under civilian control and further curb the influence of the monarchy by `effecting desired changes in the laws and constitutional clauses governing the army'.62 The notion and application of the principle of civilian control, however, needs to be governed by certain consensual norms. If the military is to become comfortable with civilian leadership there will also need to be direct steps to limit the ability of elected leaders to use the police or armed forces for partisan activities.[63] Furthermore, had the civilian governments formed after the restoration of multi-party democracy been able to provide broad-based economic growth and political stability, they would have been able to take on the army as well as any challenges from the monarchy from a commanding position. Therefore, the success of such efforts and the long-term resolution of the conflict will also thus ultimately depend on the quality and the representative nature of the political leadership.


---1. Samuel Huntington (1957) The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, MA: HarvardUniversity Press).
---2. Ludwig F. Stiller, S. J. (1995) The Rise of the House of Gorkha (Kathmandu: Human Resources Development Research Center), p. 233.
---3. Holly Gayley (2002) Gyanendra's test, Nepal's monarchy in theera of democracy, Harvard Asia Quarterly, Winter, Endnotes No. 20.
---4. Holly Gayley (2002) Gyanendra's test, Nepal's monarchy in the
era of democracy, Harvard Asia Quarterly, Winter, Endnotes No. 20. p. 4.
---5. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema (1987) Growing defence expenditures and its implications for economic development in South Asia, in: Sridhar K. Khatri (Ed.) Regional Security in South Asia (Kritipur, Kathmandu: Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University), p. 116.
---6. Muhammad A. Hakim (1998) Bangladesh: the beginning of the end of the militarised politics? Contemporary South Asia, 7(3), November, p. 283.
---7. The army was used against armed cadres of the Nepali Congress during the early 1960s and in Okhaldhunga district in 1973–74 (2031). It also disarmed the Khampas (Tibetan rebels), who used bases inside Nepal to mount raids into Tibet, in 1974.
---8. Dalia Dassa Kaye (2002–03) The Israeli decision to withdraw from Southern Lebanon: political leadership and security policy, Political Science Quarterly, 117(4), p. 575.
---9. Stephen P. Cohen (2002) The Indian Army, Its Contribution to the Development of a Nation (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), p. 161. ---10. Stiller (note 2) p. 216.
---11. Ludwig F. Stiller, S. J. (1993) Nepal Growth of a Nation (Kathmandu: Human Resources Development Research Center), p. 57.
---12. Sipahi, RNA Yearly Magazine, 2058, (2001) (Kathmandu: RNA HQ),
p. 78.
---13. Karl Heinz Kramer (2003) Resistance and the state in Nepal: how representative is the Nepali state? in: David N. Gellner (Ed.) Resistance and the State: Nepalese Experiences (New Delhi: Social Science Press), p. 184.
---14. Karl Heinz Kramer (2003) Resistance and the state in Nepal: how representative is the Nepali state? in: David N. Gellner (Ed.) Resistance and the State: Nepalese Experiences (New Delhi: Social Science Press). p. 185.
---15. India Today, 15 August 1990, p. 87.
---16. Deepak Thapa & Bandita Sijapati (2003) A Kingdom Under Siege: Nepal's Maoist Insurgency (1996 to 2003) (Kathmandu: Print House), p. 35.
---17. Stephen J. Keeling (Ed.) (2001) Pro-Poor Governance Assessment NEPAL (Enabling State Programme (ESP)), p. 178.
---18. Nepal (national weekly) 17 November–1 December 2003, p. 22.The same article further states: `In early 2001, while drafting laws pertaining to the armed police force and regional administrators this format was again changed. Then provisions were made to give the army representation in the central, regional and district level security
---19. John Whelpton (1991) Kings, Soldiers and Priests, Nepalese Politics 1830–1857 (New Delhi: Manohar Publications), p. 14.

---20. For the first time in Nepal's history the Chief of the Army Staff tendered his resignation on 5 May 1995 on moral grounds because of a corruption scandal in the Department of the Master General of Ordnance. This case was handled internally by the army. The Major
General, heading the department at the time, who had reportedly been a contender for the post of the Chief of Army Staff of RNA, was sentenced to a four-year prison term.
---21. Fourteen governments have been formed since the restoration of democracy in 1990.
---22. Keeling (note 17) p. 198.
---23. F. A. Godfrey (1985) The Latin American experience: the Tupamaros campaign in Uruguay, 1963–1973, in: Ian F. W. Beckett & John Pimlott (Eds) Armed Forces & Modern Counter-Insurgency (New York: St. Martin's Press), p. 119.
---24. Spacetime Dainik (national daily), 20 August 2002.
---25. Himal Khabarpatrika (national fortnightly), 1–15 December 2001, p. 29.
---26. The Kathmandu Post, 3 October 2000.
---27. Himal Khabarpatrika, 14–28 April 2001, p. 45.
---28. Spacetime Dainik, 20 August 2002.
---29. Ganesh Raj Sharma (1988–99) Bisheshwar Prasad Koirala Ko Atmabritanta, Jagadamba Press (2055), p. 152
---30. Himal, 28 April–13 May 2000, p. 29.
---31. L. F. Stiller, S. J. (1968) Prithwinarayan Shah in the Light
of Dibya Upadesh (Ranchi, India), p. 68–69.
---32. The Kathmandu Post, 3 December 2003.
---33. Samaya (National Weekly) 17 September 2004, pp. 23–24.
---34. Stiller (note 31) p. 68.
---35. Perceval Landon (1987 edition) NEPAL, Vol. II (New Delhi: Cosmo Publications), p.189 (first published 1928).
---36. Military History of Nepal (Nepalko Sainak Ithihas), Royal Nepalese Army Headquarters, Kathmandu, 1992, p. 587. `Brigade in the Nepali context has its own features. The uniqueness of our (RNA) organization is characterized by the presence of independent rifle
companies, directly under command of infantry brigades. Similarly one infantry battalion might be deployed with rifle companies spread over a large area' (A Policy Brief presented by the Director General of Military Operations of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) to the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, at the RNA Headquarters, Bhadrakali, Kathmandu, 17 December 2003).
---37. The Military Balance 1999–2000 (1999). The International Institute for Strategic Studies (London: Oxford University Press), p. 165. The current total strength of RNA is 78,000.
---38. Nepali Times, 30 November–6 December 2001, p. 2.
---39. Magars, in particular, and Gurungs constituted an important part of the Gorkha Army since its inception. A number of them rose to become Bhardars (senior officials, both military and civilian) during the expansionary phase of Nepal's history that came to an end with the
Anglo-Nepal war of 1814–1816.Rais and Limbus began to be recruited into the army only since 1847.
---40. Shesh Narayan Manandhar (1999) Nationalities Among Officer Level Civil Servants: A Report. A study submitted to NCDN, (2056).
---41. Nepal Gazette (2001–2004) (Nepal: Department of Printing, His Majesty's Government of Nepal).
---42. Huntington (1957), See Note 1.
---43. According reliable sources the present generation of soldiers is more aware of `national events' and less tolerant of abuses within the army. They are more liable to file anonymous complaints against officers.
---44. Bhuian Md. Monoar Kabir (1999) Politics of Military Rule and the Dilemmas of Democratization in Bangladesh (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers), p. 17.
---45. Thapa & Sijapati (note 16) p. 249.
--46. Robert Pringle (1999) The Russian people & their army: a negative example for America, in: Lloyd J. Matthews (Ed.) Population Diversity & the U.S. Army, June (Strategic Studies Institute: U.S. Army War College), p. 32.
---47. Jana Astha National Weekly, 30 July and 17 September 2003, Anonymous letters to the editor under the pseudonym of `sufferers' and `suffering soldiers'.
---48. India Today, 1 July 2002, p. 33.
---49. `Some within the RNA are willing to press what they feel will be a clear military advantage once they can both expand their ranks to some 70,000 and augment their capabilities with new western arms and training ' as quoted in the Nepal Backgrounder: Ceasefire – Soft Landing or Strategic Pause (2003), P. 20, International Crisis Group
(ICG) Asia Report No. 50, 10 April Kathmandu/Brussels (ICG). There is also a school of thought that believes that the army deliberately staged the Doramba incident, in which a number of Maoists were killed, on 17 August 2003 to sabotage the Nepalgunj peace talks in order to protect its vested interests in the form of status and budgetary gains that the expanding army has provided. Although the odd timing of this operation fuels suspicion about the army's intention, there is yet no conclusive evidence to support this premise.
---50. Thomas A. Marks (2003) Insurgency in Nepal, p. 4.Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) monograph (Carlisle, PA: US Army War College.
---51. Nepal, 1–17 August 2003, p. 31.
---52. Jana Aastha National Weekly, 24 March 2004.
---53. Himal Khabarpatrika, 31 July–16 August 2004, p. 14.
---54. Laura V. Swartz (1997/1998) Russian civil-military relations, Political Science Quarterly, 112(4), Winter, p. 708.
---55. Sudheer Sharma (2002) The Ethnic Dimension of the Maoist Insurgency, May (Unpublished manuscript), p. 25.
---56. Royal Nepalese Army adapts to counter-insurgency role, Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 July 2004.
---57. John Mackinlay (2002) A military assessment of the Nepalese Maoist Movement, Jane's Intelligence Review, December.
---58. S. D. Muni Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: The Challenges and the Response, (2003) (New Delhi: Rupa & Co.), p. 72.
---59. Daniel Byman, Peter Chalk, Bruce Hoffman, William Rosenav and David Branan (2001) Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements (California: RAND), p. 32.
---60. Gavin Bulloch (1996) Military doctrine and counter-insurgency: a British perspective, Parameters (US Army War College Quarterly), Summer, p. 4.
---61. Ashok Krishna (1997) State response to insurgency, Asian Strategic Review, 1996–97 (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses), p. 152.
---62. The Kathmandu Post, 24 June 2003.
---63. Nepal: Obstacles to Peace (2003) International Crisis Group
(ICG) Asia Report No. 57, June (Kathmandu/ Brussels, ICG).