28 April, 2009

Securing the Nation

Kathmandu Post, 4/28/09
Sushma Joshi
The idea of an interlinked world whose security rests on each other is clearly a new idea for most

The United States government recently put out a call for help to the most unlikely group -- computer hackers. Hackers, normally hounded for their ability to enter computer systems, were now recruited for one reason -- cyberattacks on government networks were occurring persistently, but the government was not prepared to deal with all these attacks. Hence the hackers, who could “think like the bad guy” but also had a sense of ethics, would help to create security systems that will protect valuable national information, including data on the stock market, taxes, airline flight system, and nuclear launch codes. The US had no plans for a digital disaster, David Powner, director of technology issues for the Government Accountability Office, told Congress last month, according to an AP report. The US government promptly promised $60 million to raise the number of cyberexperts from 80 to 250 by 2011.

The US has the foresight to move forward with this hole in their security and patch it instantly because their government has an extremely strong policy on national security which deals with both external and internal threats. You might think that each country in the world has a national security policy akin to the USA. So one would have thought. Imagine his surprise when advocate Govinda Bandi, who is giving feedback to the new Constituent Assembly's group on national security, went to do some research and found out that Nepal had none!

This is what he found -- the antiquated Rastriya Surakshya Parishad forms all the security policies, but it works only with questions regarding the Army. Unlike other countries, we have no comprehensive National Security Council, made up of security experts from all sectors, and which can address security issues that range not just from external military threats (the traditional model) but also address internal social harmony as well as human and environmental security.

India's NSC is supported by a 22 member security board, and the advisory board is comprised of people from outside the government, drawn from various fields such as foreign affairs, external security, defence, economics, science and technology, internal security and the armed forces.

Besides the missing NSC, Nepal also lacks a good intelligence gathering agency. We have plenty of ISI and RAW and CIA professionals wandering around the country but no members of a professional Nepal Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, say observers, the Nepal Guptachar Bibhag kept better track of the whereabouts of political leaders in the Panchayat times than the agency keeps track of big name security threats today.

“Why did the forestry administration ride the biggest Pajeros? What's the reason?” Asks Govinda Sharma Bandi to a group of young journalists at a lecture which I recently attended. The group of young Nepali faces look back at him blankly.

“Because our jungles are full of precious herbs?” ventures a journalist.

“No! Who's giving the money? Scandinavia. Okay, good. What do you think is their motivation?” Nobody knows.

“As the world warms, the glaciers are starting to melt. Soon there are countries in Europe that will be underwater. European countries are thinking of their national security longterm -- they see global climate change as affecting the security of all their citizens. They are giving money to preserve Nepali forests so that their people in their own country will be safe from harm. See that?”

The idea of an interlinked world whose security rests on each other is clearly a new idea for most. We tend to think of national security in terms of keeping our borders clearly demarcated from India and China, but that's about the extent of Nepal's traditional security policy. Clearly, the time had come to think of new things.

Nepal's comprehensive security policy will not only have to deal with internal natural disasters -- think Kosi barrage breakage and the human misery that has come out of it, leading to the blockades of key highways and the disruption of civil and political life -- but also the prospect of ethnic and minority conflicts.

Nepal's traditional security challenges -- India's expansionist moves, armed revolts in the Tarai, a potential reoccurrence of Maoist armed conflict, militant armed youth wings of political parties, and the law and order breakdown, must now be understood through new human security challenges, like persistent violence against women, environmental degradation, global warming, etc.

“Our challenge is internal, not external,” says Mr. Bandi. “Our biggest internal security threat is a society based on discrimination. The new Security Council must not only address floods and famines, but also issues of language, ethnicity and minority rights.” What is not known and identified can't be addressed. Therefore, says Mr. Bandi, the state must make every attempt to identify social discrimination as a security challenge which can lead to large scale violence if left unchecked. Think Gujarat.

Closer to home, think Kalli Kumari BK. Accused of witchcraft and fed human excreta, the case exploded when neighbouring villages started to take for and against stances. Kalli Kumari, an impoverished Dalit woman living in a Tamang village, was accused and tortured by a Tamang woman -- rather strangely, the perpetrator was the local school's headmistress. “Don't do this. It's wrong to feed human feces to another human being,” her grandmother reportedly implored her granddaughter, but the headmistress went ahead with her witchhunt anyways. (What does this tell us about the troubling discrepancy between traditional values and the modern educational system?) The perpetrator is at large, but the Tamang village soon found itself at war with a Brahmin/Chettri neighbouring village that supported Kalli Kumari. According to journalists who visited the site, security forces have been stationed to fend off intra-village violence.

In “Nepal's National Security Agency: Critical Issues Facing the CA”, Madhukar SJB Rana, former finance minister and professor of South Asian Institute of Management, writes:

In attempting to define 'national security' we must learn from Japan, who in the mid-1950's developed the visionary concept of 'comprehensive security' to grapple with the trauma, humiliation and horror of the loss of national sovereignty to the Americans and the psychological sufferings from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki stranded without any natural resources -- other than human resources. So they defined 'national security' in the broader, more comprehensive concept of 'human security'.

Fundamentally, the Japanese doctrine of human security rests on the premise that for national security there must not only be 'military security' to defend the nation from outside threats but also 'human security' to 'defend' nations from inside threats as national stability depends on each individual having sufficient food security, employment security, social security (education, health and old age pension), energy security, information security (access to transport and communications). We might now add 'water security', 'environmental security' and 'pandemic health security' ( HIV AIDS, TB, bird flu ) to the Japanese definition to bring it up to date in its comprehensiveness.

Lets hope the chain of command squabble between the Army and the government will be resolved soon, civilian control of the Army will become institutionalized, and there will be a progressive and harmonious relationship between the Army, police, armed forces and any newly formed NSC to solve Nepal's most pressing internal security challenges.

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