Tuesday, April 21, 2009

India unhappy over Nepal move to sack army chief

Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood met Nepal PM Pushpa Kumar Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to protest against his decision to sack the chief of the Nepalese army, Rukmangud Katawal.

India fears this is the precursor to pushing in thousands of Maoist guerrilla fighters into the army, which it believes would have disastrous consequences. 

Sources said the sack would be effected in the next couple of days. This issue had been the greatest sticking point in the Maoist government, with the army and many international partners like India opposing induction of ideologically motivated fighters who had spent years in extortion and killing to be part of a nation's army, which should be an apolitical institution. 

This is the latest in a series of steps by the Maoist government in Kathmandu that has New Delhi furious. For India, it will be doubly difficult to swallow because traditionally, the Indian Army chief has been the honorary chief of the Nepal army, and vice-versa. Secondly, Katawal, the Nepal army chief, is a graduate of India's National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy. 

Katawal is long believed to be close to the palace, particularly since he had been adopted by Gyanendra's father King Mahendra. During the Jan Andolan, Katawal was accused of being particularly strident against the Maoists. 

Katawal has stoutly resisted the induction of the PLA into the army, and brought matters to a head when the army refused to participate in the National Games because the PLA was a part. Katawal also started recruitment of 3,000 soldiers and refused to retire eight generals despite being asked by the government to do so. All this has pitted him strongly against the Maoist leadership. 

In Kathmandu, information minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara said a notice was issued to the army chief, seeking a clarification within 24 hours on army's recent recruitment, its hastiness in reinstating eight generals retired by the government and its decision not to participate in the National Games. However, Mahara did not say how the government would respond if the order was ignored.

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