Indian, US pressure stops Maoists from sacking army chief
KATHMANDU: Nepal’s beleaguered chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal will now live to fight another day as his arch enemy, the ruling Maoist party, has decided to tread with caution after pressure from India and the US.
“The party has asked the government not to take a hasty decision since there is tremendous pressure from India and the US,” Maoist Chandra Prakash Gajurel told the media after the top leaders of the party met Wednesday to study the developments.
On Tuesday, the same leaders had urged Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to take action against the general after they found his explanations unsatisfactory, and even “challenging”. Katawal had been asked to explain why continued recruitment against government orders, reinstated eight brigadier-generals retired by the and allowed troops to pull out of the National Games after learning the Maoist guerrilla troops would also participate.
The switch came after indications that the Maoists’ biggest ally in the coalition government, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), would not support the firing of the army chief. Initially, the Maoists were buoyed by promises of support from UML chief Jhalanath Khanal, and deputy PM and home minister Bam Dev Gautam, who had agreed to support the government decision.
But other leaders in the UML have strongly objected, causing Khanal to cut short his junket to China and head back home to prevent a vertical split in his own party..
Faced with the danger of the UML pulling out of the government, Prachanda began consultations with the other 24 parliamentary parties Wednesday, hoping to get them see eye to eye. Meanwhile, his cabinet, which was to have decided Katawal’s fate Wednesday instead decided to “study” his explanation before recommending any action against him.
The Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood has met Prachanda twice this week since the storm erupted, expressing New Delhi’s concern that the new battle with the army could wreck the peace process. The US and UK are also reported to be concerned.
The Maoists’ pulling out all stops against Katawal just four months before he is due to retire is baffling Nepal. The army chief also faces a law suit in Nepal’s Supreme Court alleging he reduced his age in his official documents and is already past retirement age. The Maoist hurry to reshuffle the army could be partly due to the ongoing Indian and the possibility of a new government coming up in India, that could be hostile to the Nepal Maoists, especially in view of increased militancy by the Indian Maoists.
It could be also to rush through with the merger of their own guerrilla combatants of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the state army. While Katawal has been steadily resisting any whole-sale merger, the PLA, corralled in primitive barracks for almost three years now, are becoming restive.