Nepal’s conservation program has been hailed around the world for achieving zero rhino poaching for three consecutive years. United Nations has hailed Nepalese peacekeepers for their role in safeguarding the civilians in conflict areas and conflict-prone zones.
From building infrastructure like roads to providing education and health, Nepal Army has been serving the people all the time, not just in times of natural disasters.
As NA has been showing its strong commitment to conservation, infrastructure building, providing quality education and health and rescuing the people in times of disaster, NA soldiers are enhancing the image of Nepal globally through UN peacekeepers deployed in different parts of the world.
Nepal Army has earned its name and fame within the country for rescuing the people during natural calamities, constructing roads in difficult mountains, offering quality education through schools and colleges, reaching out to people with medical and other much needed facilities, such as for recreation and even for the day to day social and cultural functions of the common people. Along with defending border, Nepal Army also guards Nepal’s important installations and provides security to President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker and ministers.
NA’s contribution to the development of nation and national security is immense. However, NA has often received a chilly response from politicians in power and civilian authorities. For the last one decade, the political leadership has been making every effort to demoralize NA, suggesting changes in the name of its institutional reform.
After the promulgation of the Constitution in 2015, two commissions have already presented their reports, recommending reforms in the Army. Even the Public Service Commission has proposed a bill to intervene in the recruitment and promotion of Army Corps. The first report presented by former defense secretary Baman Neupane has landed in controversy. Had the report been implemented, it would have destabilized the army.
The second report presented by former defense secretary Devendra Prasad Sitaula was better compared to the previous one. However, both the reports lacked the vision of military professionalism.
As the reports are yet to be implemented following the opposition from outside, the Public Service Commission has withdrawn the clauses aimed at controlling the recruitment and promotion of Nepal Army personnel and the government quietly moved the two reports for further discussion.
“The Ministry of Defense has received the reports. The government will implement the reports after further consultation with Nepal Army, security officials and other concerned stakeholders,” secretary of defense Shreedhar Sapkota told New Spotlight.
As the military is a professional and specialized institution, a report prepared by a person having no proper military knowledge naturally falls below the professional standards. Neupane, who spent his entire career in the Ministry of Home Affairs, did not have enough professional credentials and it is just a reflection of individual likes and dislikes. Sitaula’s report is better because it shows no personal bias.
“My suggestion is based on the professional inputs and it aims to strengthen the National Security Council, including Nepal Army,” said former defense secretary Sitaula. “I have suggested making the coordination part between the civilian authorities, particularly National Security Council, Ministry of Defense and Army, stronger.”
One of the visible lapses in the role of Nepal Army and Ministry of Defense currently is the lack of coordination. In many instances, senior officials in the Ministry of Defense ignore the difficulties faced by Nepal Army. The Ministry hesitates to own Nepal Army’s activities as its own.
A recent case shows how the Ministry of Defense views Nepal Army. Although Nepal Army is jointly conducting military exercises with the Chinese Army under a decision of the government, Ministry of Defense is yet to make any comment about that.
When the international community hails the role of peacekeepers, Nepal government does not hesitate to take all credit. However, when Nepal Army faces criticism, no one defends the institution in public. Nepal Army has to defend itself with its own strong unit at work, the Directorate of Public Relations.
The governments around the world provide enormous benefits to the retired soldiers, given their contribution and sacrifice in defending the nation. The Army has been raising the fund for its own personal social welfare as well. Nepal Army has also been involved in providing free health, education and financial services to cater to the needs of retired and serving personnel, of various rank and file, through resources contributed by its peacekeepers to Nepal Army Welfare Fund.
“We have been contributing to run Nepal Army Welfare Fund. The contribution made by serving persons in UN Peacekeeping Operation pays for most of the welfare scheme of Nepal Army,” said Major General Retired Mahesh Bikram Karki. “This is the fund through which we provide subsidy in military hospital, education and other services to retired and serving personnel.”
With a bankrupt political leadership at the helm of state affairs, Nepal is under a rule of contradiction, anarchy, distortion and politicization of state institutions. Despite all adverse circumstances, Nepal Army has retained its own independence because of its professionalism.
Since the unification of Nepal over 250 years ago, modern Nepal has been passing through social, political and economic upheavals. As Nepal has been in a transition from active monarchy to autocracy and limited monarchy to current chaotic republic, Nepal Army, situated between two major powers of Asia, has survived all the changes while transforming itself from a traditional to modern professional army.
Under civil military cooperation, Nepal Army has been playing important roles in disaster, conservation and development, including recreation, health and education sectors.
Working in the development sector, NA has opened 22 road tracks, that is, 1125 kilometers, including the Kathmandu-Terai fast track. Nepal Army is protecting nine national parks and conservation areas and three wildlife reserves.
Disaster management is another responsibility of Nepal Army. Nepal is among the top 10 countries in the world vulnerable to disasters. Hundreds of people lose their lives to natural calamities every year. With its widespread presence as well as its medical, communication and air transport capabilities, NA is assigned to act as a front runner institution during disasters with community level organizations and international agencies.
Nepal is prone to various types of natural disasters due to her rugged and fragile geophysical structure. It is a major challenge to protect infrastructure and property from frequent landslide and floods here.
Each year various natural and manmade catastrophes cause the casualty of hundreds of human lives and destruction of physical properties worth billions of rupees.
The Nepal government views Nepalese Army is an inseparable agency in Disaster Relief Operations. Examples of the particular suitability and capability of the armed forces to respond effectively to such incidents abound in Nepalese history.
Some debate the army’s engagement in unconventional and technical jobs might compromise its professionalism. However, the armies of developed nations are involved in development work through Civil-Military Cooperation projects so that they can win the hearts and minds of common people.
Civil Military Relation (CMR) has become an indispensible part of a democratic country. For a country like Nepal strong bond of civil-military relation is necessary.
As Nepal Army has modernized and is expanding its wings, its role is visible everywhere. Like all the modern armies around the world, Nepal Army has been expanding its role in sectors like education, health and recreation with the sole interest of serving the people.
Sometimes there is a conflict of interest. When NA expands its roles, others, driven to maintaining monopoly, may see it as a competitor. The gap in understanding the role of modern army has created confusion and the Army is criticized for getting involved in the social sector as deviation.
“Multifaceted nature of current security environment, on account of unique geostrategic location, globalization and other factors demand the military leaders should possess high degree of situational awareness and professional competency, in addition to firm ethos and values,” said Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Rajendra Chhetri in a program.
“Competency, professional knowledge and standards of conduct are crucial to the development of the institution and they are believed to increase the proficiency in the management of skills and to be well versed on latest international affairs and trends in military strategy. The use of skills and knowledge in UN Peacekeeping Operations and various regional and international forums at different capacities, project the NA's glorious image in the international arena,” said COAS General Chhetri, 52nd Chief of Nepal Army in a row since the first chief Biraj Thapa Magar.
Although global, regional and domestic security scenario to working areas have changed from the time of the first to the present COAS, General Chhetri, the challenges have remained similar for Nepal Army.
As the global and regional level security scenario gets more complicated, Nepal Army is preparing itself to face modern and complex operational environment.
Along with its traditional role in defending the national border, Nepal Army has expanded its role in reaching out to the people, in their day to day life, through various welfare and other activities
“Our first and foremost priority is to defend the national boundary as defined by the constitution. However, we are also launching other programs to provide relief to the people,” said spokesperson of Nepal Army Brigadier Tara Bahadur Karki.
With a strength of over 97,000+, Nepal Army remains an inclusive institution accommodating all caste, creed, ethnic and religious diversity of the country. “The Army has been making a conscious effort in including as many of the minority groups as possible. It has aimed for inclusiveness since ages in the past. In the recent times, the Army has also made important strides towards gender inclusiveness,” said spokesperson of Nepal Army Brigadier General Karki.
For the last 250 years, Nepal Army, which started its march from a tiny, princely, hill state of Gorkha, has seen a number of upheavals and wars of expansion and reversal with defeat. However, from time to time, the institutional modality of Nepal Army has been transforming with the change of the political order. Despite such changes, the ethos of Nepal army to safeguard and protect Nepal and Nepali people has remained firm and strong.
Although several efforts have been made to diminish the role of Nepal Army during the framing of the constitution, creating a chaotic National Security Council, accommodating all ministers, the constitution makers were compelled to uphold its fundamental role of safeguarding the country.
According to Article 267, Clause 1 of the Constitution of Nepal 2072, the primary role of Nepal Army is to safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national unity of the country. The constitution has authorized NA to get involved in other roles like national development and disaster management.
NA in Peacekeeping
Nepalese Army has been actively taking part in UN peace support operations for the last five decades covering some 42 UN missions, in which over 114818 personnel have participated. Nepal Army’s first mission was deployed with five military observations in Lebanon in 1958. Around 4,500 Nepali soldiers are working in 15 peacekeeping missions around the globe as the sixth highest contributor of force to UN Peacekeeping missions.
Along with taking part in peacekeeping mission, Nepalese Army has contributed in senior appointments at UNDPKO and Force Headquarters and has also deployed military contingents, military observers and staff officers.
With its own training institution, with highly qualified military trainers for United Nations Peace Support Operations related training, Nepal Army’s Training Centre in Panchkhal is known for its excellence.
COAS Chhetri has already directed the related authorities to develop the institution into a 'Center of Excellence', providing academic curriculum along with training and research capabilities on peace support operations.
The Nepalese Army continues to reach the veterans through various activities. NA has been providing free medical services to retired army personnel and dependents of serving and retired army personnel since 1976 through Nepalese Army Welfare Scheme.
With 490 well equipped beds, Shree Birendra Hospital (SBH) is a multidisciplinary tertiary level teaching hospital of Nepal Army with specialty services.
Established in 1975, with a mere 12.4 million rupees, the amount of the Army Welfare Fund (AWF) has increased to over 35.02 billion now.
The fund has been utilized in the Health, Education, Vocational/Technical Trainings and other income generating projects. To expand the welfare activities and support the beneficiaries more effectively, Nepalese Army Welfare Board (NAWB) was established. The total beneficiaries of the welfare fund now stand at 8, 00,000.
The fund collects 22 percent of allowances earned by each peace-keeper deployed in war-torn countries and makes profits from interests paid by the banks holding its accounts.
From an army of Tiny Kingdom of Western Nepal, Nepal Army has evolved in the last 250 years to become a professional and modern army of Republican Nepal. As Nepal Army celebrated Nepal Army Day showing its own capability and strength, the Nepal Army showed its confidence in continuing to protect and preserve Nepal as an independent and sovereign state even without much-needed political support in its defense.