CoAS Rana leaves 3-year career to mixed response

- Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

Aug 12, 2015-

Nepal Army chief Gaurav SJB Rana took leave on Tuesday before he formally retires next month, leaving behind a three-year career of mixed outcomes as the top general. Chief of Army Staff Rana had his fair share of successes but he also courted some controversies.

Successful integration of the Maoist combatants into the Army was perhaps his biggest achievement.

When he took the reins of the national army, the integration process of the former rebel fighters was at a critical stage. His predecessor Chhattra Man Singh Gurung had taken a rigid position of not appointing any one of them to a post above Major.

Rana earns brownie points for making NA’s position flexible giving one colonel and two lieutenant colonel positions to the combatants. His flexibility as the army chief aided the smooth conclusion of the integration process, a crucial component of the peace process.

The other high of his tenure was the NA’s role in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. The Army led the search and rescue operations, efficiently coordinating with the troops from 18 countries.

The mobilisation of the Army during the second Constituent Assembly election in November 2013 made the polls largely peaceful.

As per his initial commitment, Rana formulated and enforced a Military Doctrine, the first of its kind in the NA. This clearly defined the role of the force, and the generals, junior officers and others on the lower rungs.

Defence Expert Geja Sharma Wagle said the Army made a significant achievement in military diplomacy during Rana’s tenure. Maj Gen Purna Chandra Thapa got the responsibility of Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in Syriya.

However, CoAS Rana did court some controversies. Though he looked flexible in integration while opening the door for ex-Maoist Commander Yam Bahadar Adhikari to become a colonel, Rana had other plans. He promoted Raju Basnyat, who was allegedly involved in the disappearance of 49 people from the Bhairav Nath Battalion, to a brigadier general.

The government led by Maoist Vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai gave the NA Rs3 billion to purchase two MI-17 helicopters though the Army had demanded only Rs2.6 billion. 

The Khil Raj Regmi-led government approved the decision, which ultimately let the Army purchase the choppers through the government-to-government (G-to-G) channel from Russia without bidding.

One of the most controversial decisions was his strong lobby to retain controversial Maj Gen Naresh Basnyat as the chief of the Directorate for Development and Construction even after his term had expired. Basnyat, who was to retire on December 30, 2012, was retained for two years.

He wanted to create a special post of lieutenant general for Basnyat but it did not materialise. “This overshadowed his good initiatives,” said a high-level Army official.

His bid to procure 5.56mm Galil Golani rifles from Israel without bidding raised questions about the integrity of the outgoing CoAS. The defence secretary was against the proposal for G-to-G procurement at a rate higher than the market price. 

The NA ultimately bought 1,000 rifles without bidding for Rs35 million, against the market price of Rs25 million. Rana also made a failed attempt to extend the three-year tenure of the Army chief to four years.

Rana worked under three governments and was successful in maintaining cordial relationship with them all. But his relations with Defence Secretary Ishwari Prasad Poudel soured in the later days of his career after he pressed the ministry to promote brigadier generals Prahlad Thapa and Bhuwan Khatri, who were charged with polygamy.

According to informed sources, Rana even lobbied with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who also takes charge of the Defence Ministry, to transfer Secretary Poudel. 

He was also criticised for extravagant foreign trips. In three years, he visited around a dozen countries including the Maldives and Sri Lanka, which are not in priority for military diplomacy, for a total of 128 days.

Published: 12-08-2015 11:19

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