Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maoists seek face-saver, NC rigid

Maoists seek face-saver, NC rigid 


KATHMANDU, April 25: Following the debacle over its row with the Nepali Army the Maoist party is seeking a face-saver but the main opposition party, Nepali Congress, is adamant that the government should not take any action against the army chief and should allow him to complete his term. 

As the Prime Minister failed to sack army chief Rookmangud Katawal owing to tremendous domestic and international pressure, he is pressing for Katawal´s early retirement, preferably in one month´s time. He has even threatened to quit the government if the compromise he is seeking does not work out. “The PM has told Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood that his party would quit the government if the other parties did not agree to give the Maoists a face-saver,” said a politburo member of the UCPN (Maoist). 

Maoist pulitburo member Barsaman Pun corroborated this: "The Maoists cannot continue in the government with Katawal as army chief till his term expires." 

Under the compromise formula, the Maoists seem to be ready not to remove Katawal for about a month until his second-in-command, Lieutenant General Kul Bahadur Khadka, retires. Once Khadka retires, Katwal should resign voluntarily to pave the way for Chhatraman Singh Gurung to take charge of the Nepali Army. 

Khadka was the first choice of Prime Minister Dahal and CPN (UML) Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal. Khanal favored Khadka to replace Katawal and lobbied for the same when he met President Dr Ram Baran Yadav on Thursday. 

But the Nepali Congress is still adamant that Katawal should be allowed to complete his full term which ends in August. “We will not allow any interference in a sensitive institution like the Nepali Army. We favor no one in the army but want the generals to be retired or promoted through a normal process, without any political intervention,” said Krishna Sitaula, NC leader. 

An NC insider argued that the party might eventually show some flexibility since President Dr Yadav also favors a “respectable” way out for all sides and the UML is likewise gravitating in this direction. 

Party internal feud 

It´s now becoming more apparent that Prime Minister Dahal wanted to sack Katawal primarily to pacify the hardliners in his party. 

The tensions between Katawal and Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa have been brewing for some time now. According to the politburo member, Defense Minister Thapa had threatened to quit the government in the past as well if the government did not take action against Katawal. 

Pressure grew from the hardliners and Thapa to sack the army chief following the row between the army and the Maoists over the participation of PLA members in the Fifth National Games "The PM also began to doubt the intentions of the army chief after army players withdrew from events in the national games participated by the PLA.” 

Indian role 

India also has taken a rather tough stand over the army chief removal issue. A source said the Indian government is playing a balancing act and it does not want a radicalized Nepal at this point. 

India also perceives General Khadka as towing the Maoist party line in hopes of acquiring the top post as this is his only chance for doing so. India is likewise concerned whether the Nepali Army would become closer to the Chinese army under his leadership. 

Some speculate that Khadka´s training background - he received his training at the National Defense College in Pakistan - might have created some suspicion in the Indian establishment. 


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