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NEPAL: Disaster at Kalikot for the Army- its significance

Paper No. 272                                                      12/08/2005

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

In the evening of 7th August at around 5.40 P.M., the Maoists 1200 strong attacked Pili base camp of the Army, set up for the construction of Surkhet-Jumla part of the Karnali Highway at Pakha village, Kalikot District. The troops over 200 strong had a mix of non combatant RNA personnel involved in the road construction and regular troops guarding the stores and the construction work.

In the fight that lasted till the next day morning 4AM, the security forces had to abandon the camp finally. Reinforcements could not reach in time as the paths leading to the camp had been mined by the Maoists. In all forty (40) soldiers were killed and 52 taken prisoners. Another 112 personnel who evacuated the camp have since linked up with the Army and are safe. A massive hunt is being made by the Army with over a thousand men in the surrounding jungles and search operations were made more difficult by incessant rains.

The Army claimed that the forty soldiers killed were all captured and shot in their head. Some of the bodies were also disfigured. On August 10, Prachanda announced that the 52 captured soldiers were being treated well and will be released soon.

Apparently the base camp served as a store for a large quantity of arms and ammunition and weakly manned, thus making it a tempting target.

The Maoists in their statement claimed victory in true Maoist Chinese style, as due to the "ideology of Prachanda Path and the role of the supreme commander Prachanda who guided . . . to achieve victory." (Personality cult in full bloom). The statement claimed the capture of a huge quantity of ammunition that included 81 mm barrel with 150 bombs, one GPMG barrel with 5,000 rounds, 20 barrels of LMG with 12,000 rounds, 70 barrels of Insas rifles with 30,000 rounds, 80 barrels of SLRs with 21,000 rounds, 70 barrels of SMG with 3,000 rounds, two barrels of browning pistols with 2,000 rounds, two barrels of two inch mortars with 2,000 bombs. While the numbers may have been exaggerated, there is no doubt that a large quantity of ammunition has been lost. Army sources have not so far refuted the claims of the Maoists.

The Maoists have admitted that 26 of their fighters including a Battalion commissar lost their lives in the battle.

The quantity of arms and ammunition lost is enormous and unacceptable particularly at this critical juncture when no fresh arms are flowing into the country and the Maoists on the other hand are getting strengthened with the captured arms!

A Few Points on the Incident:

* It was our assessment earlier that the Security forces in Nepal have by and large prevented large scale attacks by the Maoists in thousands. One last attack at Khara in Rolpa ended in disaster for the Maoists who took very heavy casualties. Since then the Maoists have avoided large scale frontal assaults and attacks were more by way of IEDs, ambushes and selective firing at security posts. It is still felt that the Kalikot attack was an exception and cannot be repeated elsewhere easily.

* What is surprising is that the Army had no clue of the impending attack when over a thousand insurgents had gathered and attacked the base camp in the evening and not in the middle of the night! True there was heavy rain, but failure to detect such large scale movement of Maoists is unacceptable.

* Another surprise was the huge quantity of arms and ammunition stored in the base camp with no adequate protection. As said earlier this incident has occurred at a critical period when the Nepalese army is certain to feel the pinch in the absence of further arms aid from India. Almost all the arms and ammunition lost are of Indian origin and India should be concerned with such a huge loss as these arms may as well find their way to Indian Maoists.

* It will be wrong to write off the Nepal Army by this one incident. In counter insurgency warfare, debacles do occur and so long as the right lessons are learnt and the morale of the security forces is kept up, there should be no cause for worry. It is in this connection that we feel that the Indian Defence Minister’s recent statement in Kolkata that the Nepalese army has not been very effective and to follow it up by saying that the situation will go out of hand if not tackled successfully is unfortunate and positively offensive. Would he accept any similar statement about the performance of Indian Army from any other big country?

Road Maps:

Baburam Bhattarai, in his well-known interview to Washington Times (30th July, 2005), while referring to the seven party alliance said that "confusion and inconsistency prevails in the restoration of Parliament and ending in an election to a Constituent Assembly"

This could be true though the agitating political parties say that they have a very clear road map which runs as follows. First and foremost will be the restoration of parliament. Then an All Party government will be formed and the government will then negotiate with the Maoists. At this point they are not clear as to what should be the next move- elections to a constituent assembly? and if so the final shape and whether there will be a cease fire and if so when and what stage.

The Nepali Congress sources admit that the Maoists are yet to accept even the first step of the restoration of the Parliament.

The Maoists on the other hand have welcomed the "resolve of the seven parties to go for an end to monarchy and the establishment of full democracy and up to the elections of a constituent assembly." (Prachanda’s statement of June 19) In another propaganda offensive, Prachanda has again appealed to the political parties to take a courageous decision( July 27) on points relating to a. end to autocratic monarchy b. election to a Constituent assembly c. establishment of a People’s republic with multi party contest, honour to human rights and the army to be brought under the control of people’s representatives.

Baburam Bhattarai has also said in his interview that they would settle for a compromise with a sub stage of a democratic republic in view of vacillation of a "large section of urban and rural middle classes."

It looks to us that the political parties are already informally discussing with the Maoists the contours of a road map for an eventual solution But can there be a solution without the King and the Army being involved.?

List of incidents for the period will be given in the next update.