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Opinion: The perception that Nepal is tilting to China is exaggerated

May 13, 2009

The Maoists want an integrated Nepal army to be
loyal to the state, not their own party, insists Prime Minister Prachanda.
Siddharth Varadarajan
The Hindu
May 12, 2009

BASELESS: No Chinese delegation came to Nepal on my invitation, says Prachanda.

Hours after Nepal’s Prime Minister resigned last
week on the question of civilian supremacy over
the army, a videotape of a speech he made to PLA
combatants 18 months ago was leaked to the media.
The aim was to discredit Prachanda since the
speech showed him boasting about how the Maoists
would eventually take over the Nepal Army. In the
second and concluding part of his interview to
The Hindu, the Maoist leader explains the
contents of that speech, his party’s
understanding of army integration and India’s
fears about a ‘China tilt’ in Nepali policy. Excerpts:

Why should the generals and political parties not
be afraid of integrating the Peoples Liberation
Army cadres in the Nepal Army? In your leaked
speech of January 2, 2008, you said unit-wise
integration is good because "that way our units
will remain with us." Doesn’t this formulation
create danger of a state within state? If some
units are loyal to one party after integration,
this will create a problem, won’t it?

First of all, we should not compare the
integration process with the January 2008 speech.
That was said in very different circumstances.
There was uncertainty about whether elections
would be held and I needed to boost the morale of
my cadres. That cannot be compared to the current
situation, after the election and formation of a
government Secondly, as far as I understand the
process of integration, only those cadres who are
physically fit should be integrated in the army.
And I think it would be preferable to have
unit-wise integration. This is not because we
want to remould the whole army according to the
Maoist understanding. We want to integrate them.
When Maoist cadres are taken [as individuals]
into different battalions of the NA, they will
take 3-4 years to be really integrated because
the PLA cadre are not very professional. They are
more political and ideological. And there is
necessity of democratising the NA, because it has
not been very democratic in its functioning and
nature. Now, to do this in a planned way, it’s
quite important to have separate units of the PLA
coming under the NA’s direct command. Only then can they be really integrated.

So you don’t expect the former PLA units will
remain loyal to your party after integration in the army?

They must be loyal to the state, to the
government. We don’t have any confusion on this question.

The principle of civilian supremacy over the
military cuts both ways. Tomorrow, a non-Maoist
government might feel these former PLA units or
officers are not loyal and may wish to act
against them. Would that be acceptable to you?

Yes, this is acceptable to me. According to the
constitution, the elected government can take
action if they challenge civilian supremacy, if
they challenge the decision of the government.

For example, by siding with your party"

Exactly. There is no confusion in my mind.

Your critics say the 30-year service rule is
being applied to retire senior people in
different fields as a way for the Maoists to capture the state.

This is wrong. The 30-year provision was there
previously in the police. And we established it
in the armed police and police. But we do not
have the intention to apply it in the army, where
the situation is quite different. Although there
was a debate and discussion on this, I clearly
stated my position, even in public, that in the
army, the 30 year issue will not be applicable.

The Shaktikhor video has also created doubts
about the size of the PLA. There you said, "We
were at 7,000 to 8,000. If we had reported that,
we would have had 4,000 left after verification.
Instead we claimed 35,000 and now we have
20,000.” Don’t you think this admission makes the
integration process more difficult?

No, I don’t think so

There is a demand for re-verification, for example.

That is not going to happen. We had two kinds of
regular forces during the Peoples War: central
and regional forces. Both were PLA cadres and
35,000 was the combined figure. What I said in
the videotape was about the central force, whose
number was 7-8,000 at that time. The regional
forces were near about 25-27,000. During the
peace process, regional and central forces were
merged and taken into cantonments. And they were
scaled down to 20,000. In fact, during the
Peoples War, we also had a militia of irregulars,
65-70,000 strong. We wanted them to be integrated
or rehabilitated as well but the government and
all major political parties did not agree because
the state would not be able to handle such a big
force. So it was suggested that this militia
should be changed into a political organization.
In this way the Young Communist League (YCL) emerged.

In your interview to The Hindu in April 2008, you
said you wanted to convert the YCL into a
development-oriented organisation. But we haven’t
heard much about that, and again, there are
allegations of criminal activities by the YCL.

The YCL has changed from a political to a social
and development organisation. There is also a lot
of exaggeration about the activities of the YCL;
all the positive things they are doing in the
development and social sector are not covered by
the media. The media only reports things when
something bad is done by an individual connected
to the YCL. And in those incidents where members
are involved, we are taking action against them.

Maoist cadres have targeted the media in the past
-- there was the attack on Himal Khabarpatrika,
for example. Can you assure us the party will not tolerate such acts?

We are in favour of freedom of the press. But
even in democratic countries and old democratic
parties there will always be some incidents. In
the Himal incident, some of our workers were
involved. But I took the initiative and brought them into police custody.

India played a positive role in the peace process
and the transformation of Nepal to a republic.
But now, it appears as if there is distrust
between the Maoist leadership and the Indian government. Why?

Because there has been a very mechanical and
subjective analysis of the situation by the
Indian side. Especially on the question of the
so-called tilt to China. With the Indian
political leadership busy with elections,
security and bureaucratic officials are perhaps
driving policy. And a highly exaggerated
perception exists about what is going on here.

Indian officials say a huge number of Chinese
delegation have visited Nepal recently. And they
wonder why your defence minister paid a "secret visit" to China.

This is also baseless. Last year, because of the
Tibet situation, the Chinese side got more
sensitive about Tibet-related activities going on
in Nepal. I would like to say clearly that not a
single delegation came to Nepal on my invitation.
The initiative came solely from the Chinese side.
As for this “secret visit" of our defence
minister, that was no "secret" at all. It was
also not much of a "visit." Some of our ministers
went to Tatopani near the border during
Deepavali. From there, they crossed the border
and went to Khasa and spent the night. Everybody
from Kathmandu wants to go to Tatopani and sometimes stay in Khasa to shop.

There are also apprehensions on the updated
Nepal-China friendship treaty being negotiated.
Do you intend to hold wider consultations on this before proceeding?

Time and again I have proposed that we should
have continuous discussion, so that we can clear
any confusion. We have a very specific type of
relation with India -- an open border, history,
culture. When I was in Delhi, I tried to explain
why our relations are unique. With China, we have
our own specific nature of relations -- because
of the Himalayan range. One should not confuse
this issue. As for the treaty, there is still so
much discussion to be held between the parties
here. Nothing is going to be signed in a hurry.
Certainly, I was not going to sign anything
during the trip I had scheduled to Beijing before this crisis.

The Indian side says the Maoists send mixed
signals. When you came to Delhi, you spoke of
10,000 MW joint hydroelectric projects, an
East-West railway. But at the Kharipati party
convention in December, existing projects like
Arun-III were called a manifestation of “Indian expansionism.”

There is no confusion. I don’t know what kinds of
documents India received from Kharipati. There
was serious discussion and debate on different
issues and it is possible someone has seen
different documents and taken them to be the
final ones. If there are such references, in my
assessment that was not the final document. There
are different documents and maybe some tendency
inside the party [to look at things that way] but
in the final document a more pragmatic conclusion
is there. I stand by my position that the
east-west railway is very important for us, and
without India it cannot be fulfilled. I have
talked about the Chisapani project. I am in
favour of having those kinds of megaprojects with
India’s cooperation, although in some issues,
like Pancheshwar on the Mahakali, there is
serious confusion among the masses here. Unless
we clear this, it is difficult to go ahead there.
But on Karnali, there is no problem from our side.
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