Nepali Times

Children of war

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

The most vulnerable victims are still those who were children during the war.

Purnima was 13 when the Maoists took her father, they tortured him by cutting off his leg, then they shot him. Her brother was also severely tortured, and is disabled. Purnima herself was forced to become a child soldier. Today 23-year-old, Purnima earns Rs 3,000 a month and supports her remaining family including her cancer-ridden mother. She didn’t get any support from the government.. Here she is holding a picture of her murdered father.

Purnima was 13 when the Maoists took her father, they tortured him by cutting off his leg, then they shot him. Her brother was also severely tortured, and is disabled. Purnima herself was forced to become a child soldier. Today 23-year-old, Purnima earns Rs 3,000 a month and supports her remaining family including her cancer-ridden mother. She didn’t get any support from the government.. Here she is holding a picture of her murdered father.

The death this week of Nanda Prasad Adhikari after nearly a year-long hunger strike demanding justice for the torture and murder of his son in 2004 has thrown into sharp focus the violent legacy of the conflict.

Adhikari’s death exposed the apathy of the state, the collusion between former enemies to forget past atrocities, and the unfinished business of setting up commissions to look at truth and reconciliation and enforced disappearances. The state, under successive governments since 2006, would like to conveniently forget gross violations of human rights during the war.

Now, there is concern about the health of Nanda Prasad’s wife, Ganga Maya. Women and children witnessed unimaginable cruelty during the conflict, and they have been forgotten during the peace process. Many of the children are now young adults, and besides the physical wounds they also carry emotional scars. Some wounded got artificial limbs, but we largely forgot the psychological injuries suffered by children.

The state now pretends the war is finished business. But as long as the physical and mental trauma of the survivors remain, it will not be over. The government says the emphasis is now on repairing bridges and building highways, it wants to move on. There are just too many loose ends to do that.

All photos: Jan MĂžller Hansen

Post-traumatic stress is still rife among women and children who witnessed and suffered brutal violence, and it afflicts young combatants too. Many lost their homes and property and haven’t been able to go back. Thousands of others were internally displaced, or migrated to India with their entire families, never to return.

Infographics: Toll on children

Many of them never received any support from the government. Resources earmarked by donors through the Peace Ministry and distributed through local Peace Committees have often been siphoned off by party faithful and fake victims.

Among all the victims, the most vulnerable are still those who were children during the war: whole-timers who became child soldiers, students force-marched to reeducation camps, the wounded, and orphans. Many thousands of others were victims of gender-based violence, sexual abuse,unlawful recruitment by armed groups. Even after the war ended, it is the children who have been killed or have lost limbs to unexploded ordnances.

Eight years after the war ended, at least 740 children are still residing in childcare homes across Nepal and waiting to be reintegrated with their families. No one knows the real figures, but it is accepted that the official statistics grossly underestimate the numbers of war-affected children in the country.

After the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord, the emphasis was on identifying, reintegrating and supporting children associated with armed forces and groups. Some verified minors below 18 and late recruits got support for reintegration. The government endorsed a ‘National Plan of Action for Reintegration of Conflict Affected Children’ in 2010, but not much has happened. The international conventions on rights of children that Nepal has ratified do not make any difference for those who were minors during the war.

All photos: Jan MĂžller Hansen

Read also

Death of justice, Editorial

Statute of denial, Mallika Aryal

Still missing them, Deepak Gyawali

The sad saga of the Adhikari family, Damakant Jayshi

Post-conflict stress syndrome, Taylor Caldwell

On the sidelines of justice,Trishna Rana

Nine years later, still in shock, Michelle J Lee

Why the children?, Naresh Newar

This conflict is child’s play, Rameshwor Bohara

Thinking small

Thursday, September 18th, 2014
FATHER TO SON: Karna Thapaliya and his youngest son upgraded the traditional water mill of their ancestors to generate 5kW of electricity to sell to 26 households in the neighbourhood.

FATHER TO SON: Karna Thapaliya and his youngest son upgraded the traditional water mill of their ancestors to generate 5kW of electricity to sell to 26 households in the neighbourhood.

Nepal’s chronic electricity shortage is a result of its inability to harness its big rivers, but how about small streams? There are tens of thousands of water mills across the country, and improving their efficiency by replacing crude wooden paddles with turbines is lighting up villages and providing power for micro-enterprises.

Karna Thapaliya’s ancestors set up a water mill by the banks of the Rosi River. Three years ago he upgraded it to generate 5kW of electricity that he sells to 26 households in the neighbourhood. The power is used for lighting at night, and by day Thapaliya sells his power to a furniture shop across the river.

“My grandfather and father raised the family with the flour they earned from grinding grain, now I sell electricity,” says Thapaliya, 71, whose sons work in Kathmandu and Qatar.

The improved water mill was made possible through a government subsidy scheme which is part of a nationwide campaign supported by the German agency, GIZ, and the Dutch SNV. The technology is perfect for remote areas, and is more sustainable than subsidies for solar installations.

“We are trying to upscale this program by getting private banks involved, and adding a productive end-use component to make it viable,” explains Ram Prasad Dhital of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC). “It is an appropriate renewable alternative, the only challenge is local management.”

Krishna Shrestha (left) uses power generated by Karna Thapaliya's improved water mill to run a small furniture factory by the banks of the Rosi in Kavre.

Krishna Shrestha (left) uses power generated by Karna Thapaliya’s improved water mill to run a small furniture factory by the banks of the Rosi in Kavre.

Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank inspecting an improved water mill

Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank inspecting an improved water mill

But in a country which has successful models of community-managed forests, women-led cooperatives and biogas programs, Nepal has experience in local mobilisation.

“We believe improved water mills can be a viable business that builds on a traditional vocation even though earnings for the bank are not attractive,” says Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank, which wants to support up to 23 new projects.

In the Rosi River, households pay Rs 150 a month for six CFL lights and a tv, and the income pays for an operator. The savings are used for repairs and upkeep.

“We have the hardware, technology and a working model from the biogas program, all we need is to focus on financing and getting the community to work together,” says Saroj Rai of SNV.

Nearly 10,000 water mills across Nepal have been improved in the past 12 years, and here in Kavre 250 mills have been upgraded by the Centre for Renewable Technology Nepal (CRT/N) to provide electricity to 200 households.

A water mill can be made more efficient to double the rate of grain grinding for Rs 40,000. To generate electricity and install an oil expeller can cost up to Rs 300,000, for which subsidised loans are available.

Cumulative Trend of Market Development for Improved Water Mills

(Hover over the infographic for the exact number of improved water mills built each year).

Kunda Dixit in KAVRE

Read also:

Wheels of change Mallika Aryal

Flour power  Ayesha Shakya

Improved water mills improve lives  Madhusudhan Guragain

Getting out of grinding poverty Naresh Newar

Nurse’s book wins Madan Prize

Sunday, September 14th, 2014
Radha Paudel

Radha Paudel

As a young girl in Chitwan, whenever Radha Paudel complained about not having new shoes or pencils, she remembers her father telling her that children in Jumla didn’t even have enough to eat. When she grew up, Radha became an anesthesiologist at Bharatpur Hospital and applied for a more senior position. There were only two openings: a relatively easy job in Rupendehi, or the hardships of Jumla. Without hesitation, she chose to go to Jumla.

Her father, who had worked in Jumla previously, tried to make her change her mind. It is dangerous, he said, there is a war going on and life is hard in the remote mountains. But Radha reminded her father that it was he who had inspired her to go to Jumla in the first place, and do something for the people there.

When she got to Jumla in 2001, Radha could not sleep at nights seeing how mothers died at child- birth, children toiled as porters to earn a living. It was fluke she wasn’t born there, she thought, and she was troubled by the low esteem with which the rest of Nepal looked at Jumlis.

Radha got a job with a safe motherhood project supported by DFID and immediately set out to the remoter parts of the district to care for women even though it was a war zone. The security forces and the Maoists both looked at Radha with suspicion and thought she was an enemy spy.

Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga)

Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga)

The Madan Puraskar Guthi announced on 14 September to award this year’s Madan Literature Prize to Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga). In the book, Radha Paudel relives minute details of the battle of Jumla and  how that close brush with death motivated her to continue to work for the upliftment of the people  of this remote part of Nepal.

But, as Radha Paudel, reminds us, “The end of the war has not meant peace. The roots of the conflict are still there. As long as people are hungry, there will be war.”

Radha Paudel went through similar doubts, but persevered because she thought it was important to tell the story so people understand the true meaning of peace, and valued it. She teared up during a recent interview and said in a choking voice: “I had to go back to Jumla and help the people I went there to help.”

After the battle of Jumla, Radha started writing down everything she remembered about the 13 terrifying hours of the fierce Maoist attack on Jumla on the night of 14 November 2002. The CDO, DSP and dozens of army and police were killed, and no one knows how many Maoists died.

Radha first just hid under her quilt, thinking it would protect her. Bullets whizzed all around, hitting the ceiling and walls. The army’s helicopters hovered overhead, dropping mortar bombs, while the Maoists and the army exchanged fierce gunfire in the street below. She peeped out of the window to see captured policemen being beheaded like goats.

Radha Paudel with some members of the community she worked with in Jumla in 2002

Radha Paudel with some members of the community she worked with in Jumla in 2002

She went to hide in her landlady’s room, but a neighboring house caught fire and they were trapped between the smoke and the gunfire outside. Radha thought this was the end, but somehow survived the night. Radha kept working in Jumla, and got the Women Peacemaker Award last year for her selfless work in rural Nepal during the conflict. Radha’s first manuscript was lost, and she wrote it all over again from memory.

Radha says she will plough the royalty from Khalanga ma Hamala to her ‹group, Action Works Nepal, which works in Jumla, Kalikot and Achham to help the Karnali people to stand on their own feet.

Kunda Dixit

Disastrous management

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Nepal is woefully unprepared for calamities which are made even more deadly because of bad planning and poor response

We call them ‘natural disasters’: earthquakes, floods, landslides. Yet, earthquakes don’t kill people, unsafe buildings do. Our ancestors instinctively knew not to live along river banks, settlements were located along ridges. Countries exposed to seismic and tsunami risk, like Japan, have detailed prevention and rescue plans in place. Most disasters may be natural, but the casualties are mostly manmade.

In 2010, two earthquakes struck the Americas. The one in Haiti killed more than 300,000 people, but a much greater earthquake in Chile a few months later killed less than 600 people. The Chileans were better prepared, had stricter building codes and had trained rescue teams. Nepal has Chile-like earthquakes and Haiti-like preparedness and rescue planning.

The Himalayan arc is the planet’s highest and youngest mountain range, and it is still rising. The bedrock is on the move with the top soil clinging precariously to steep slopes. The mountains act as a rain barrier, too, giving the Himalayan foothills some of the heaviest precipitation rates in the world. In this naturally unstable terrain is situated the most-densely populated country in the world. Now, add to this mix a prolonged state of flux in which criminalised politicians recklessly resettle people for vote banks and plunder of natural resources and you have a recipe for manmade human catastrophes.

Nepal’s location makes natural calamities a given. We have to learn to live with them occurring at regular intervals, we should not be taken by surprise when they happen. Yet, when they do we blame god (“daibi prakop”) even though most of the casualties are a result of bad planning, lack of hazard mapping, the non-enforcement of zoning and building codes.

Let’s start calling them ‘unnatural disasters’ because most of the damage is preventable. The Kosi embankment did not breach by itself in 2008, quarrying of the boulders on the levee has weakened it. This was repeated on the Kamala this year. The Siraha bridge did not just collapse this month, it was caused by illegal sand-mining upstream. The highest death toll in the mid-west on the night of 12 August was among people recently resettled along riverbanks. Indiscriminate mining of river beds along the Seti, Trisuli, Narayani and other Tarai rivers increases water velocity, making even a normal river run amok.

However, there are extreme weather events or catastrophic once-in-a-lifetime floods that are completely unexpected, like the Bhote Kosi landslide, the Seti flood of 2012, or a month’s rainfall total falling in one night, as happened in Surkhet three weeks ago. But even here, we should be prepared.

In 2008, the government after much prodding from a consortium of donors, set up a Central Disaster Relief Committee under the Home Ministry which drew up a ‘conceptual framework’ for response management. The focus has been to decentralise disaster preparedness and relief to the district level.  The aftermath of the Bhote Kosi landslide showed that decentralised response management worked well. The Sindhupalchok district administration organised rescue, relief and is trying to rehabilitate survivors. First response is always by local communities, and the lesson learnt from the landslide was to further strengthen local capacity to deal with calamity. However, national coordination was found to be lacking. The Nepal Army acted promptly, but by being slow to accept an offer of help from Chinese engineers with experience in unblocking rivers from the Yunnan landslide on August 3, may have unnecessarily prolonged the crisis.

However, the 12 August flashflood in the mid-west showed that central disaster management and coordination is still woefully inadequate. Rescue was managed locally, and emergency relief was too little too late.

Both disasters also showed a disproportionate number of the dead and displaced were women and children. This is a result of male out migration, but it carries a  valuable lesson for future disaster planning: that the most vulnerable segment of our society will be even more vulnerable in future disasters.

Read also:

Man made disasters Editorial

 Unnatural disasters Editorial

Disaster unpreparedness Binod Bhattarai

Coping mechanisms Ashutosh Tiwari

Calculated risk Editorial

A flood of floods

Anatomy of a Himalayan tsunami


A guide to what is left

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
FIRM GRIP: Hemanta Mishra with a gharial bred in captivity in Chitwan in 1977 before releasing it into the wild.

FIRM GRIP: Hemanta Mishra with a gharial bred in captivity in Chitwan in 1977 before releasing it into the wild.

In Hemanta Mishra’s new guide book to Chitwan, there is a striking aerial view of the Inner Tarai valley probably taken from a flight to Meghauli in the 1970s. The tropical jungle and riverine grassland stretch far into the hazy northern horizon. And rising improbably into the sky like a distant cumulus are Himalchuli and Manaslu. This is an image that does justice to Nepal’s topographical and biological diversity – nowhere else on the planet is there such a treasure trove of plant and animal types in such a small area.

Mishra was a young wildlife biologist, straight out of the Indian Forestry Institute in Dehradun, when he was assigned to Chitwan in 1967. Five years later, Nepal’s first national park was set up by royal edict in a valley which had been decimated by trophy hunting and faced the threat of habitat destruction due to the government’s mass transmigration program.

Despite its rich habitat, Chitwan’s charismatic mammals didn’t stand a chance against royal hunting expeditions. In 1850, Jang Bahadur Rana killed 30 tigers in just one hunt. In 1911, Nepal’s royalty hosted King George V in Chitwan and the 600-elephant hunting party massacred 36 tigers, 18 rhinos, leopards, bears and even porcupines in one day. Juddha Shamsher was even worse: between 1933-40, he personally slaughtered 433 tigers.

Hemanta Mishra, in a career spanning three decades, was instrumental in protecting what was left of Chitwan. And in doing so, the park managed to bring back the tiger and rhino from the brink of extinction, and was listed as a World Heritage Site. There are now over 200 tigers, and 500 rhinos in Chitwan alone. As the park got overcrowded, Mishra spearheaded the translocation of tigers and rhinos to other national parks like Bardia. He started the collaboration with the Frankfurt Zoo to set up a breeding centre for the endangered gharial crocodile in 1977.

Mishra admits: ‘My western academic knowledge of forests and ecology was not good enough in Chitwan 
 decisions had to be politically palatable to rulers, socially acceptable to Chitwan communities, and economically viable.’ This is why Nepal’s Chitwan National Park: A Handbook is a guidebook like no other – your guide to the flora and fauna of Chitwan is the person who is personally responsible for Nepal’s great conservation success story.

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park: A Handbook

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park: A Handbook

Hemanta  R Mishra with Jim Ottaway, Jr

Vajra Books, Thamel, 2014

238 pages

The book is a must-have for everyone going to Chitwan, serves both as a backgrounder to the history and geography of the place, but also a book that you carry on safari so you can reference what you see from elephant back.

But this book is not just a listing of flora and fauna, the chapters draw heavily from the personalised accounts of Mishra’s previous books The Soul of the Rhino and The Bones of the Tiger. The threats to Chitwan are not over. Poachers thrive in Nepal’s unstable political transition when  wildlife smugglers have political protection. The population explosion of the Nepal Tarai puts increasing pressure on Chitwan’s habitat. There is also the threat of the new East-West Railway bifurcating the park. Pollution, overfishing and dam construction on the Narayani threaten the fresh water dolphin, Nepal’s most endangered mammal.

It is to the credit of pioneer conservationists like Hemanta Mishra that unlike in Africa and India, the national parks of Nepal have become models for eco-tourism and sustainable nature protection. And Mishra’s book is a primer on why Chitwan is so important to protect.

Kunda Dixit


A flood of floods

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

As a young cub reporter, I was just starting out in journalism in 1981. This was the time before Twitter and smartphones, and when we heard that there had been a flood on the Bhote Kosi two of us packed our bags and hit the Arniko Highway in our trusty VW Beetle.

We crested the ridge past Dolalghat to be confronted with an angry dark river with ocean-like waves carrying tree trunks and other debris downstream. We could see the high-water mark on the banks, and knew that the flood had been much higher at night.

By the time we got to Lamosangu and approached the Sun Kosi intake barrage, the road abruptly vanished at almost the exact spot near Jure where Saturday morning’s deadly landslide occurred. The small bazar is now under tons of rocks and mud, the landslide blocked the Bhote Kosi and dammed a lake that stretches 3km upstream.

In 1981, nearly 20 km of the Arniko Highway and all its bridges were washed away, the Sun Kosi power house was seriously damaged and there was loss of life and property all the way down the valley. Everyone thought it was a monsoon flood, but the event was later traced to a glacial lake high up on the northern side of the Himalaya in Tibet. Like other rivers in Nepal, the Bhote Kosi is prone to glacial lake outburst floods, and geologists have found evidence of previous events in 1935 and 1964.

This time, it was a massive slope failure tumbling down and blocking a major trans-Himalayan river. The landslide started at 3AM on a steep slope about 1,000 m above the river near to where there had been a smaller landslide four years previously. The residents of Jure had no warning and most of them were asleep when the whole side of a mountain fell on their homes. Some 15 injured were rescued, eight bodies have been recovered, but dozens of others are believed to entombed under rock.

Pic: Saroj Dong

Pic: Saroj Dong

The landslide covers a swathe 500m across and filled the river with rocks and mud 100m thick. Such was the energy of the impact, that the landslide scoured a heavily forested slope on the opposite bank. Dust from the pulverised rocks have turned the forest brown right up the mountain on the other side.

A section of the Arniko Highway joining Nepal and China has been destroyed again, transmission lines from the 46MW Bhote Kosi plant has been cut, the powerhouse of the 2MW Sanima project has been submerged.

“I am shocked by the size of the bishyari,” says water expert Dipak Gyawali, using the Nepali term for landslide blockage of a river. “I hope the Nepal Army can release the water before the lake upstream gets any bigger and more dangerous.”

All day Saturday, the government warned citizens downstream to evacuate to higher ground. And there was alert even 250km downstream at the Kosi Barrage and across the border in Bihar. By 2PM, the impounded lake started to find a small channel around the debris, and Nepal Army engineers set off controlled explosions to widen it. As night fell, the water level was down by 2m and falling. Experts, however, warn that there is still a danger that heavy rains in the catchment or erosion of the natural dam could cause overtopping. There is an estimated 6 million cubic metres of water backed up which could cause catastrophic floods downstream.

International landslide expert Dave Petley of Durham University has researched the Bhote Kosi Valley, and writes in his blog that a major landslide in the area was not a surprise. ‘The images suggest that there is no reason to be confident that the dam will not breach 
 which could generate a very large flood; when full the effects could be very serious,’ he writes.

Petley advises action on three priority areas: Evacuate people downstream, put a warning system in place, excavate a channel with heavy machinery. The government, police and Nepal Army seem to be following this advice to the letter. An army unit is at the site monitoring the water level overnight, and will widen the channel if levels rise again.

Unlike previous floods where downstream settlements were caught off guard, on Saturday most people knew through mobile phone calls or the radio that the river had been blocked upstream. In some places like Lamosangu there were stampedes in the morning as panic spread.

Saturday’s flood also saw social networking sites breaking the news, posting photographs and videos which the tv channels and others used. Kapil Dhital , an engineer with the Mid-Bhote Kosi Hydropower Project, was the first on twitter (@bewitchkapil) with a post at 5:50 AM from Barabise, saying ‘a whole mountain has fallen into the river, Barabise in danger’. All day, Dhital posted dramatic photographs of the lake level rising and submerging the Sanima powerhouse, and of the landslide debris from various angles:

Bhote Koshi landslide 2

Bhote Koshi landslide 4

Bhote Koshi landslide 5

The most unique photograph is one of the river from above the point where the landslide originated and posted on which shows the width of the river blockage, the scouring on the opposite bank and the lake starting to back up.


The crisis is not over on the Bhote Kosi and Sun Kosi Valleys, but it is yet another reminder that Himalayan rivers can be unpredictable due to monsoon floods, landslide and glacial lake outburst floods. Human settlements and infrastructure have to take this risk into account.

Photos from Nepal Army:

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 1

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 2

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 3

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 4

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 5

A general’s labyrinth  

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Former army chief Rookmangud Katawal tells all in soon to be released memoir

Rookmangud Katawal

Rookmangud Katawal

A month after King Gyanendra’s coup of 1 Februrary 2005, I was summoned to the Royal Nepal Army headquarters at Bhadrakali to meet Lt Gen Rookmangud Katawal. The coup had been meticulously planned, and was accompanied by mass detentions of political leaders and democracy activists. There was an information blackout, and military censors in the newsroom had to approve pages of Nepali Times before it went to press.

Katawal had a vice-like handshake which I thought was a part of his psy-war repertoire. In the hour-long conversation, he wanted to know the reaction to the king’s takeover among members of the international community and the media, and delivered a veiled warning to toe the line.

Nearly ten years later, Katawal still has an iron handshake and the same non-nonsense manner as he greets me in a living room festooned with framed photographs and military honours.  His memoir, which will be published by nepa~laya this month, is brisk and brusque, just like the abrasive general himself.

An eight-year-old son of a Newari mother in Okhaldhunga, Rookmangud Katawal always wanted to see what a king looked like. So, when Mahendra was riding across eastern Nepal during one of his inspection visits in 1958, Katawal sneaked into the royal tent. The king, wearing shades even at night, was so impressed with the boy’s confidence that he instructed the Ministry of Education to enroll him in the boarding school in Pharping near Kathmandu. Later, on a visit to the school Mahendra was proud to see that the boy had topped his class even after a double promotion.

Katawal was a good student, and never lost his  precociousness. Being a descendant of Dev Raj Katawal, one of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s generals who was killed during the siege of Kathmandu in 1767, he was destined for a military career. He rose up the ranks, and despite strong opposition from the established Rana-Shah brass, became Army Chief during Nepal’s dramatic transition from war to peace, from monarchy to republic. Katawal, as it turned out, outlasted the royal rulers who were his benefactors.

Many thought the general’s rapid rise was due to his proximity to the royal family. Katawal says the palace just gave him a scholarship, but admits turning the rumours to his advantage. Katwal was appointed Liaison Officer to the Brigade of Gurkhas base in Hong Kong, where he hosted King Birendra in 1983 after his US state visit when Ronald Reagan endorsed Nepal’s Zone of Peace proposal. Katawal remembers frantically trying to find the king’s preferred brandy, and flying in a live goat from Kathmandu for the royal birthday party.

The 2001 royal massacre was the beginning of the end of the monarchy. Within five months, the army was sucked into the war, something Birendra had tried to prevent when he was alive. Katawal was then heading the Department of Military Intelligence, but says the army was fighting with its hands tied because the palace’s instructions were to not go on the offensive, only to disarm the Maoists and bring them to the negotiating table.

A few days before the 1 February 2005 coup by Gyanendra, Katawal noticed that the top brass was frequently sneaking out to the palace for meetings. “Something was cooking,” Katawal says, and his suspicions were confirmed when he overheard the Army Chief assuring the Indian ambassador on the phone that no coup was planned.  The next day at 9AM, the prime minister was sacked, government dissolved and Gyanendra had taken over. Katawal remembers an envoy telling him: “RK, your king is a liar.”

Katawal admits that he initially supported the royal takeover to “teach the politicians a lesson” so the army could focus on defeating the Maoists. But a few days later, when Gyanendra appointed Tulsi Giri and Kirtinidhi Bista as co-chairmen, he felt it wasn’t going to work. Within 14 months, Gyanendra was forced to step down.

In 2009, with just four months left in his tenure as Army Chief, elected Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal tried to tempt Katawal to step down in return for being appointed ambassador to the UN or France. When the general refused to take the bait, Dahal sacked him.

The ensuing cascade of events is now called ‘Katawal Prakaran’, and resulted in President Ram Baran Yadav asking the Chief to continue in office, and Dahal’s resignation the next morning. Katawal’s account of 3 May 2009 is as riveting as thriller, detailing how he took two pickup trucks of commandos for his meeting with Dahal in Baluwatar with instructions to storm the building if he didn’t appear every ten minutes at the window.

Back at HQ, the situation was tense with the Maoist-appointed Gen Kul Bahadur Khadka preparing to take over as Chief, and Katawal was still in charge till midnight. Katawal summoned Khadka and didn’t mince words. “You bloody joker, what do you think you are doing?” Katawal says he told his colleague, but what he really said is probably unprintable.

Rookmangud Katawal's memoir

Rookmangud Katawal’s memoir

“Prachanda thought he could turn Nepal into a one-party people’s republic, ” Katawal recalls, “he knew if he could take over the army no one could stop him.” Had he accepted Dahal’s bribe of ambassadorship and resigned, or surrendered to Khadka on 3 May, Nepal may have been a different place today – probably a one-party dictatorship.

Katawal doesn’t hide his disdain for Dahal and his manipulations, “Mr Cloud” (Ram Bahadur Thapa) and his hard line, Girija Koirala for being too soft on the Maoists, Ian “Mr Comrade” Martin and UNMIN for being against democracy.

After two recent books by Sudheer Sharma (Prayogshala) and Prashant Jha (Battle for a New Republic) both of which detail the depth of involvement of Indian intelligence in Kathmandu, Katawal’s memoir gives us an insider’s account of the events and personalities that shaped recent Nepali history.

Read also:

Past imperfect, Prashant Jha

Hand-to-hand, Prashant Jha

Start again, Editorial



Two translated sections from Rookmangud Katawal’s memoir.

April 2006

“Your king is a liar,” British ambassador Bloomfield told me one day.

I could not accept such things being said about our head of state and supreme commander. I shot back: “How could you ever say that about my king?”

“He is not fit to be king,” the ambassador said even more tersely.

The exchange went on for a while, but I could not convince the ambassador. None of the ambassadors were for an active monarchy, they were not welcome in the palace. But the people surrounding King Gyanendra, and those who were using his power did not warn the King that he was losing international support. At a time when he should be showing some flexibility, the King had become more rigid. I tried to convince the Chief several times to take the message to the King that he should meet the NC and UML, which still had popular support. He did not reply.

The 16-day war

Sunday, 3 May 2009

My daughter Nepolina called early in the morning from America. She is even more direct than me, just like her grandfather (my father).

“How are things, Chhori?” I asked.

“Dad, keep on fighting,” she said, “you are taking a constitutional stand.”

To boost my morale she used to write emails like this: ‘You are on the right side of history.’

Her belief was that you can’t be afraid to fight if you are a soldier. She continued on the phone: “Dad, if you are convinced you are right, don’t surrender.”

My daughter-in-law, Sulachana,  is engaged on another front: to read emails, reply and document them, and monitor Nepali and international media reaction. My wife, Uma, was in Pokhara. My son Subhangad (Darwin) is a soldier like me, he was in the Panchkhal Base training troops going off for peacekeeping. Like other Majors in the army, he was curious about what was happening. My grandchildren knew what was going on watching tv.

“Prachanda Uncle and Sita Aunty used to come to visit Daddy, they would take me in their laps. Why are you fighting now?” my grand-daughter asked. I didn’t bring my work-related matters home, but the children are exposed to tv and newspapers. Others in the household were also updated.

Distracted by them, I was a bit late getting to office. I as there by 8:30. “Sir, the Defence Secretary is on the line,” a member of the staff said as soon as I got there.

“Chief, could you come to Baluwatar?” he asked, “the Prime Minister urgently wants to see you.”

“And where are you Mr Secretary?” I asked.

“I am also at Baluwatar,” he replied. As soon as I hung up, there was another call. A member of the Baluwatar security detail reported: “Kul Bahadur is with the Prime Minister and Defence Minister in Baluwatar.”

I understood what was going on because a well-wisher Maoist minister had already told me to expect to be let go. I was on the cusp of my final battle. It was win or lose.

From the car, I first called the President. “I think I am being called to be sacked, there is no way I am going to surrender, Sir.”

Then I informed Girija Babu, and while negotiating Kathmandu’s traffic, I managed to call all the top leaders of the main parties to tell them what was going on. I also informed my foreign military and non-military friends. My message to all of them was: “The Nepal Army does not surrender, you can do as you wish.”

I arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 AM with my security at ready. I had taken Section Plus of the Special Forces with me, and at Baluwatar we had a Company under the command of a Colonel. In case the Maoist tried to detain me, I had a rescue plan in place.

I had told Chhatraman from the car: “I am off to Baluwatar, Kul Bahadur is apparently there, handle the Headquarter, you take the command, but don’t make a move unless you hear from me.”

Even my ADC is not allowed to enter the Prime Minister’s residence, so I left them in the lawn outside, under instruction to enter if they got my order. “Every 10 minutes I will appear where you can see me, if you don’t see me inform those outside and storm the building,” I told them.

At 10:15, I was taken inside. My old acquaintance, Om Sharma, who was the Prime Minister’s press adviser, was there. “Hi, Mr Adviser how goes it?” I asked, “I hear you have called the Cabinet to discuss Kul Bahadur. Why have you called me?”

He ordered some coffee, and said, “Just give me a second.”

He tried to distract me: “Chief, I hear you have invested Rs 500 million in Kantipur, is it true?”

“Sure, I have invested some of the money I looted from 65 banks,” I retorted, and he was too taken aback to reply. I remembered Prachanda’s wife, Sita, once asking my wife, Uma in Sashi Bhavan: “They say you have a house in Noida, is that true?”

Before Uma could respond, I shot back: “Look for it, and if you find it, it’s half yours and half mine.”

My security informed me that at nearly 11 that Kul Bahadur left the Prime Minister’s residence through a side door with an envelope in his hand. I immediately understood that Kul Bahadur had received his Army Chief appointment letter.

“I’m off,” I said as I got up to go. Just then, the Defence Minister and Defence Secretary walked in. “One moment,” the Defence Secretary said, stopping me.

“What?” I barked.

“You have to receive this letter,” he said.

“What letter?” I asked.

“A thank you letter on behalf of the government,” he said.

“Am I a peon?” I said stiffly, “did I come here to receive official letters wherever you want?”

“You have the right not to receive the letter,” the Defence Minister said, opening his mouth for the first time.

I strode off to my car. Kul Bahadur had left 15-20 minutes earlier, so I told the driver to use the siren and rush back to Headquarters. I was busy on the phone, informing the President, Girija Babu and top political leaders about the Maoist decision. I told them it was an unlawful decision and I was not going to relinquish my position.

“This isn’t just a blow to the Nepal Army, it is also a blow to democracy,” I said. The President, Girija Babu and others told me to strongly maintain my stand. It was clear that the Maoists had taken a unilateral decision in the council of ministers, and the UML, Sadbhavana, Forum ministers had boycotted the meeting, saying the move was unacceptable.

Kul Bahadur had reached the Headquarter a few minutes before I got there are 11AM, he had showed them his appointment letter, telling the Adjutant General to start the process of installing him as Chief.

But Nepal Bhusan Chand argued: “Whatever the decision Chief Katawal’s tenure is till 12 midnight.”

All the PSOs were in the meeting room waiting under Chhatraman’s command when I got to the office. I made a few important calls, but most of them had already heard that I had been told to step down and Kul Bahadur had been made acting Chief.

I went to the PSO meeting and said that under no circumstances was I going to surrender, I was ready to fight anyone and not going to bow down before a Maoist dictatorship.

“I am not going to accept this unlawful decision that goes against the Constitution and the Peace Agreement which are supposed to be taken only with a consensus,” I told the PSOs, “what do you think?”

The PSOs only said “Right Sir, right, Sir.” But the meeting’s conclusion was that whatever the legality of the government’s decision, my tenure extended till midnight.”

I asked Kul Bahadur to be called to the meeting, and he came in looking flustered. I immediately pounced on him: “Hey, Comrade, under whose orders did you go to Baluwatar?”

A man who was boasting till a while ago that he was chief looked wilted and scared. He replied: “The Defence Minister summoned me, Sir,”

“Don’t you know the army’s chain of command, Mister? Who gave you the order to go there?” my voice had got even louder.

“I tried to calling you on your mobile many times,” he said, “the Defence Minister called me repeatedly and I thought you had asked for me.”

“Liar,” I said.

“No sir, no, Sir,” he said even more meekly.

“Go, leave immediately, you have nothing to do here,” I sent him off, and then told Chhatraman and Gaurav not to let anyone out of the Headquarters without my orders. “Everyone stays here.”

The DGMO immediately instructed all units across the country to be on standby. The Valley bases were asked to remain in barracks until further notice.

At 12 noon, the Defence Ministry sent a letter to Headquarters, and I asked a copy be faxed to the President and a letter written to him to say that the decision of the council of ministers was “unconstitutional”. Soon after, I got word that the NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba and Sushil Koirala were on their way to see the President. The UML leaders were also on their way to Shital Niwas. There were meetings at various levels in the rooms of the President’s office, with civil society, lawyers were all there for the biggest crisis since the President was installed nine months previously. I was getting information from there at regular intervals. The parties were worried that if the Chief kneels, the Maoists will gobble up the country. “Katawal should continue, we shouldn’t let the Maoists get away with this,” was the common refrain.

I instructed all army formations throughout the country to be on standby and apprised them of the situation. In response, the Maoists threatened to get their fighters out of the cantonments to make Kul Bahadur Army Chief.

Even though the short-term plan of the Maoists was to replace me with Kul Bahadur, their long-term intention was to install their own chief, induct all 19,000 fighters into the army and make one of them the Chief. Kul Bahadur was only a pawn.

There was no way I was going to let that happen. But as the clock ticked away, the country was sinking deeper into a crisis. It was 9:30pm, and still no sign of a letter from the President.

The top generals met in a secret room, and agreed to wait till midnight for the President, if not we were ready to go fight back. We sent this word to the senior leaders around the President.

Meanwhile, some UML leader apparently advised the President to ask both Kul Bahadur and me to step down. The UML was flip-flopping by the hour, it looked like they had no interest in defending democracy. We understood that this was a face-saving proposal for Prachanda. I send word to the President that it was either Kul Bahadur or me, he had to chose one.

Presidential advisers called to say it was difficult to get all the parties to agree, and it was looking like the matter would have to go to the courts. I told him it would best if the President took a decision by midnight. I was livid at the cowardice shown by the parties, and I sent them the final word: “My legitimacy finishes by 12 o’clock at night, we are not going to surrender. No way. I don’t want to do anything unpleasant myself.”

Soon after at 11pm, the President himself called. “Do I have to put it in writing?” The President asked. “Can’t I not write it?”

I replied: “If it is not in writing, there will be a question of legitimacy. A letter would resolve the issue.”

By then, KP Oli had got to Shital Niwas despite his health problems, and called to say the President had decided to send the letter and to inform all the generals.

A few minutes later, the fax arrived, giving continuity to my position as Chief of Army Staff. It was a clear and direct letter, just as we wanted. Soon after, my mobile and all the landlines started ringing off the hook.

The needle on my watch was 15 minutes to midnight. I showed the generals the letter, and instructed that all barracks be informed and ordered that all new information should reach me first. The generals heaved sighs of relief and went to their rooms.  But I wasn’t sleepy, and went to meet my soldiers outside in the Headquarter compound. Two or three security staff followed me, but I told them to go catch some sleep.

The soldier on sentry duty asked me for my password, which everyone in the compound needs after 10pm.

“Don’t you recognise me?” I asked the soldier, but he wouldn’t let me go without the password.

It was only after I gave the password that he stood at attention.

“How are you? Sleepy?” I asked “do you know what is happening in the country?”

“Yes, I do, Sir,” he replied.

“Tell me,” I said.

“We are fighting the Maoists, Sir,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“I have FM radio on my mobile, and the commander also briefed us.”

I asked him: “So, should I step down?”

“No, Sir, if you order us we are ready to fight.” I was proud with his answer.

Just then, the security commander arrived with his unit. He also said: “Your stand is right, Sir, there is no way we should run away from a fight.”

I went to another post, then another. I found them more alert and committed than us generals.

At midnight, suddenly I remembered that Uma was on her her way back from Pokhara. I hadn’t had time to call her all day. I longed to speak to her.