In 1999, addressing World Bank staff, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan remarked that “the security sector should be subject to the same standards of efficiency, equity and accountability as any other public service”. The overarching objective of any security agency should be to ensure that it carries out its statutory functions effectively and efficiently by staying true to democratic norms, rule of law and respect for human rights. At all times, security forces should be subordinate to the civilian authorities, predominantly the government and the parliament. In a democratic setup, civilian supremacy is guaranteed when its civilian legislators, not the security forces, run the country.
Recently, a fervent discussion on a major restructuring plan of Nepal Army’s (NA) organizational set-up was held in the State Affairs Committee (SAC) of the Parliament. During the discussion, most lawmakers, belonging to both ruling and opposition parties, raised their voice against the government proposal. The lawmakers were opposed to it not because a major revamp in the organizational set up of the NA is not necessary, but because the justification furnished by NA before the committee turned out to be lame—at a time when drafting of the constitution within the limited timeframe should have been at the front and center of government priorities.
From the security perspective, had the proposed 82 new posts for senior officers from Lieutenant Generals to Lieutenant Colonels as a part of internal restructuring been created several months earlier, perhaps nobody would have questioned it. The estimated additional expenses of Rs. 120 million per year and the NA’s 90,000 plus total strength could be further increased through an assessment of our security threats and NA’s involvement in development works and disaster management. The required budget can be allocated on the basis of national necessity. As I said, these works can be undertaken, but this is surely not the right time to carry them out.
That could be one of the reasons why the Parliamentary State Affairs Committee unanimously directed the government to put this matter on hold until certain procedural formalities are completed. The SAC also decided that there should be consensus among political parties before initiating any institutional reform in the NA, as per the provisions of the Interim Constitution.
It seems now that despite the government’s prerogative to create additional posts in the NA, it is now in a dilemma of whether to push through with the project due to the SAC’s direction. The democratization process of the NA is directly related and linked with the National Security Policy (NSP) proposal, which has been pending with the cabinet for the last two years. Conventionally, national security means protection and safety of the country and its people. Two years back, the first floor-discussion on this in the cabinet committee meeting was brought to a halt after it was decided it was important to build political consensus on the issue among all major political parties. The reason for not deciding on the NSP proposal was the pressure from the then opposition party—the Maoists. The present government, for its part, formed a committee comprising of three senior members of the cabinet for the same purpose a few weeks ago, but there have been on further development on this.
Despite the Prime Minister’s strong support for this proposal and his appeal to the Parliamentarians, he has failed to convince them. He has said that the Army could be ‘paralyzed’ if the 47-old-structure was not revamped. However, he could not explain why it was so important to carry it out just weeks before the final deadline to the constitution.
For the last five years, the Comprehensive Peace Accord barred the government from taking any decision related to the restructuring of the NA till the army integration process was finalized. Now the integration has gained momentum with concrete decisions on former combatants, cantonments and containers. With this contentious issue addressed, the government could have given NA the green signal to proceed with the restructuring proposal. However, until the parliamentarians are not convinced, there is little chance of PAC approving it. If the government feels that the proposal needs to be approved by the committee, it has to be able to persuade the legislators through sound logic behind the haste.
On the basis of a country’s threat assessment, the army needs to be strengthened with adequate human resources, modern equipment, technology and infrastructure. However, there has been no cohesive assessment of our internal and external security threats. The time has now come to put this right and come up with an NSP so that our security policy, defense policy and other related policies can be drafted effectively and comprehensively.
The author is former home secretary
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