“National Interest Is Our First Priority” COAS General Chhetri

Serving as the Chief of Army Staff of Nepal Army at a crucial phase of Nepal’s history, COAS General Rajendra Chhetri has contributed his best and gained a rich experience. In his recent interview with Image Television Channel, COAS General Chhetri spoke about various issues in that light. Excerpts:

June 22, 2017, 12:30 p.m.

How do you look at the present context?

Despite so many difficulties, it is good to see, the constitution is in the stage of implementation. With the successful holding of the local elections, the government will next hold the provincial elections. After the general elections, the constitution will start to function fully, elected institutions working in all three tiers. After all these elections, all kinds of political problems will be settled through the political process and this will ultimately bring peace and stability.

If tension, anarchy and violence grow, will the Army act?

In case of any politically anarchic situation, with the potential of breaking the country, Nepal Army will not remain a silent spectator. The Army will act to protect Nepal’s sovereignty and integrity. Nepal Army will march to protect the constitution as per the constitution. Nepal Army can be mobilized as per the provisions of the constitution and laws to protect and defend the nation.

What is the reason behind placing the picture of Prithvi Narayan Shah in the barracks?

This is not only here; all Nepal Army barracks and offices use the picture of Prithvi Narayan Shah.

Now Nepal is a republican state. Why do you still prefer to hang Prithvi Narayan Shah’s portrait?

In one way, Nepal Army regards Prithvi Narayan Shah as a symbol of national unity. Even our history has proven this. The person under whose leadership Nepal is integrated and united and the person under whose leadership Nepal always remained a sovereign state, he should be respected for his contribution. He was also a supreme commander of Nepal Army, which was constituted over 250 years ago. Thus, all of us should respect such a grand figure. Nepali Army also needs a personality like him as a motivation factor for nation and nationalism. Since his role of unification inspires and motivates us, there is nothing wrong to hang his portrait in all the offices and barracks of Nepal Army. We have been following this for long and we continue to follow it.

As Nepal is now heading towards federalism, many Nepalese worry that federalism splits Nepal in several provinces, with simmering voices based on regionalism, ethnicity and other factors. Everyone has serious concern about strong and united Nepal. Don’t you think such tendencies will encourage a secessionist movement?

Yes. I am also concerned. However, what I want to say is that in the context of transformation, various kinds of expectations and intentions of some forces playing exploitation is natural. However, the country is necessary for all of us. We are here because of our country. We have to keep this in mind and we all need to give priority to national unity and national interest. National interest is our first priority and others only follow this.

How do you assure people that this country will remain united and strong?

I have been saying all the time: Nepal Army as an institution is ready to keep this country united and independent and sovereign. As long as Nepal Army remains there, we are ready to sacrifice until the last minute to protect our motherland, keep it united, sovereign and independent. Nepal Army is ready for any kind of sacrifice for the country, people and national interest. I want to make this clear.

What is the role of Nepal Army?

The country and people are above us. We are committed to the constitution of Nepal and we are ready to fulfill the role and responsibility given by the constitution.

Nepal is between two economic super powers. You have been working in collaboration with American, Indian, Chinese and other Armies. How do you look at this? King Prithvi Narayan said that this is a gourd between two stones. How do you see the recent military diplomacy?

Nepal Army is now pursuing the foreign policy of Nepal. We have been working in different countries following Nepal’s foreign policy and establish the military to military to relations with various countries. Our military diplomacy means to establish relations with our neighbors and other countries working with equi-proximity. In this process, Nepal Army has been collaborating with the neighboring army and world’s superpower. We have been collaborating with them enhancing our national prestige and country’s priority and establishing the relations with various militaries. Nepal Army is the army of a sovereign state and we are equal to all.

How do you see our relations with India?

India is our close neighbor with whom we have traditional friendly relations. We have very close and friendly relations with Indian Army. Between Nepal and India, we have special kinds of traditional practice, which do not exist any other part of the world. As per the practice, the COAS of Nepal Army is given an honorary General of Indian Army title. Nepal also reciprocates with Indian Army Chief as an honorary General of Nepal Army.

What does this mean?

This points to our existing unique relations between the two countries, particularly the unique military relations. This also demonstrates we are friendly to each other and we cannot go against each other. As an honorary General of Indian Army, I cannot be hostile towards India. Similarly, Indian Army Chief is also an honorary General of Nepal Army and he cannot be hostile to Nepal. This shows our relationship is close with India.

What about the relations with China?

Although we don’t have that kind of practice as that of India, we do have good relations with  the People’s Liberation Army of China. Even during my tenure, I paid a formal visit to People’s Republic of China on the invitation of Defense minister and Chief of People’s Liberation Army. He also paid a return visit to Nepal few months ago. We have been establishing close and friendly relations with China as well. China is also reciprocating with us.

How do you see Nepal-China military exercise, which many see given low profile? Is not it because of India’s unhappiness?

The military exercise between Nepal and China is purely professional and it aims to enhance the professional capacity of Nepal Army. It is not otherwise.

Have you received any reaction from India?

So far as my military counterpart in India was concerned, I did not get any reaction. For a professionalizing army, even Indian Army has been conducting joint military exercise with other armies. Given that situation, they also took our joint military exercise naturally. We have often assured our neighbors that we will not allow our land to use against our neighbors. We are clear on that matter.

As in the issue of military diplomacy, has Nepal Army played any role to end the border blockade given your position as an honorary General of Indian Army?

We had made some efforts. Since the blockade, I had a regular contact with my counterpart in India. We had informed them about the effects of border blockade in national security, social order and economic sector. We were more concerned about security. Had there been any security vacuum in the southern plains, we briefed them about the security implications in both the countries. Our counterpart and then Army Chief  Dalbir Singh agreed on our assessment. We had also sent a special envoy to brief them about the situation. After our briefing, they had also realized the implications of the border blockade. India has also a security concern in the southern terai belt of Nepal due to our open order. They realized that disorder in Nepal’s terai is not in the interest of Nepal and India. During my visit to India, I also met other political leaders and I conveyed the same message to them.

Who took the initiative?

Actually,the initiatives were taken from the political level. Our effort helped ease the situation. Nepal Army took the initiative with the support from then Prime Minister and Defense minister. We followed the direction given from political level. We don’t want to take all credit on us. Nepal Army just played a small role and the credit goes to the political level. Military initiative was just a small step. It was a small contribution in the political initiative.

In the context of security, what are the challenges in front of Nepal?

The present challenges, whether internal or external, I have been repeatedly saying that our situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Even the current incidents in Gulf state, or Korean Peninsula or even the activities in South Asia, they are heading to become more complex. Internally, we do have several challenges, which include the implications of global warming. Now security is not only taken in physical parts, there are also other aspects, including the insecurity coming from political instability. There are several other factors within the country. Security situation in South Asia will also have direct and indirect impacts on our national security.  The recent Gulf crisis will have effects.

How do you see your two years?

My first year was the stage of implementation of constitution. There were  security crisis in far west, Midwest and terai. However, Nepal Army dealt with the matter very seriously. We provided the much needed support to the civilian authorities. The good thing was that we did not have to fire a single bullet. Our presnce was enough to guarantee a conducive environment.Whether it is in Saptari, Dhanusha or Kailai, our presence assured the people of security. I don’t have to elaborate the role played by Nepal during the period of rescue, saving lives of hundreds of people. Even after earthquake, victims admired our role in relief and rehabilitation. Even our forces contributed a lot in reconstruction and still supporting the process.

How do you see the role of Nepal Army in development?

Since establishment, we have been actively taking part in development activities. Lately,  we have  contributed a lot to open new roads, including the road to Somdan and many other roads in Jumla, Kalikot, Bhojpur and other areas, Katari-Okhaldhunga road, Beshisahar-Chame, Jumla-Kalikot, Beni-Jomsom. We contributed to construct about 1200 kilometers of tracks of the road in remote and difficult terrains.We are active in opening the tracks.

Do you think the fast track will be completed in time?

If things go properly without obstruction, including land acquisition and budget, the road will be completed by time.

How do you see the military and civilian relations?

In short, what I can say is that military-civilian relations have always been cordial. Our relations have remained warm and strong. Nepal Army cannot be successful without support from the people. Whether in the context of Nepal or outside, army’s success will depend upon the support of people. Relations between People and Army is like that of water and fish. As Chinese leader Mao said People are water and army is fish. Fish cannot survive without water. We have close relations. Our job is to serve the people and protect the independence and sovereignty of the country. The state maintains the army for the service of the country. Providing service to the country means supporting people.

Even during the time of our training and leisure, we always attach great importance to the relations with people. For the welfare of the people we do have many schemes.

We have been launching mine education in different parts of Nepal to prevent citizens from death and injury.We are also treating people with our own relations on the locations. We have also been providing support. We have 96,902 soldiers now in Nepal Army.  

What have you done for the members of your army?

I don’t want to say what personally I have contributed but under the government support we have already carried out many welfare programs. During my tenure, I have increased the scholarship for the children of serving and retired army. I have also facilitated to resume certain facilities which were blocked since 1998.We are establishing a hospital focusing on mid-west and far-west. We have also reformed food and clothing provisions.

Despite high expectations, I have seen retired army quite satisfied. I am satisfied saying that we are able to improve the facilities and other benefits to retired and serving army personnel. As lower level soldiers of Nepal Army are the best in the world and adjust in any difficult situation, we have been improving the quality of barracks. We have made a lot of reforms. Lower level soldiers are quite happy. I feel very privileged to command such brilliant and high quality soldiers.

How will Nepal Army play its role in federal structure?

Basically, Army will be under the central government. However, we will change certain things in deployment on the basis of provinces.In our redesigning process, we are including the current changes as well. We will meet the demands.

What is the role of Nepal Army in local elections?

In the first phase of elections, 35000 army personnel were mobilized. As we have successfully completed our duty and responsibility in the first phase, we will fulfill a similar duty. Since we are in the third circle, our main role is to create conducive environment for voters to go from home to polling booth by ensuring peace security. Our duty is also safely carry the ballot papers. Given the current enthusiasm in teari, we hope the elections will be free and fair. We have to be mobilized under graduated response.  In front line, it is the duty of police and local administration. Only if things go out of control, Nepal Army’s role will come. We are prepared for this.

All the elections will be held by Magh 7.

In case of political stability, the situation will go smoothly. In case there is disruption in political course, the situation will be more challenging.

If the situation moves towards anarchy, will there Nepal’s Army role be different?

Even in such a situation, Nepal Army will mobilize itself only under the provision of constitution of Nepal. Nepal Army will be mobilized as the provision of the Constitution and it will fulfill its constitutional role and duty. From the current course taken following the local elections, what I can say is that the country will move towards stability.

At last, how do you view your position?

The chair of COAS is hot and it has to face many difficult situations and challenges. Nepal Army is an army of historically proven institution having the best soldiers of the world. It is a mater of pride in my life to command

 this historic army. This is my luck as well as my dutifulness which together put me this highest position. It is a great matter of privilege of my life.

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