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Military and the State: Domesticating the Geopolitics

Rajendra Sharma

May 15, 2021

10 MIN READ

Military and the State: Domesticating the Geopolitics
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Tilanga, as per my understanding is the name given by the then-king Prithvi Narayan Shah to the oldest army in South Asia, the Nepali Army, which later became Gorkhali Army and Nepali Army (NA) in modern times.

The military’s nomenclature outlines the Himalayan state’s historical and political implications. Its role in the unification of Nepal and the protection of the country has been undeniable since time immemorial.

Similarly, at a time when the British Raj was exerting its claws in South Asia, Divya Upadesh primarily elucidated the strategy for safeguarding Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity both internally and externally.

Nepal’s geographical position had succeeded in its strategic defense against British encroachment. However, the Sughauli Treaty, signed in 1814 AD during the war between Nepal and the East India Company, marked the end of the national building campaign.

Nepal has a unique and unusual relationship with its immediate neighbors, having fought three wars with Tibet.

Historically, as a peacekeeping force, NA had contributed to bringing normalcy in Hyderabad Sepoy mutiny in 1857, the first independence war of India against the British Raj.

Nepal was having trouble controlling its state role after the ensuing plot of internal and external political maneuvering in the domestic polity.

Similarly, the Army observed and adhered to each moment institutionally, but was often blamed as the ruler’s (family) army or the King’s army.

It has to transcend politically and psychologically in each change in domestic politics. For instance, in the name of modernization of the Nepali Army, it was submissive to decisions and morally trained by Indian military mission in post-1950.

Nepal’s geo-strategic situation itself demands good relations with its two immediate and powerful neighbors, India and China.

After 1990, the democratic regime in Nepal cultivated less interest in the country’s strategic constraints and daydreamed in power. As a result, violent politics emerge, with this state being branded as peaceful.

The royal massacre of 2001 ended many chapters of the Himalayan nation at a time when the state was struggling internally and externally to restore normalcy to its behavior.

Until now, India and China had been emerging as dominant global entities in terms of both economics and strategy.

In one, China annexed Tibet, and in the other, India, as the architect of Bangladesh’s architecture, annexed Sikkim.

This depicts the counter-strategic presence of our neighbors in South Asia and beyond. In this context, it’s easy to see how Nepal, as an autonomous small state, struggled to handle its foreign ties.

In 2005, the 12-point understanding reached in India, again justifies ‘India’ as a legitimate guarantor of political future in Nepal, at this end, it is generalized ‘Nepal as a satellite of India’.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreements (2006), concluded the decade-long Maoist insurgency, with other provisions relate to peacebuilding.

Frequent ups and downs in the peace process and constitution drafting, as per the peace accord the Nepali army was under acute pressure and has to adhere to the principle of its democratization and restructuring.

Indian army and Nepali Army has a traditional relation in exchanging honorary chief of army title, and India was one of the powerhouses in providing military assistance to the Nepali Army.

The traditional ties between these armies were in critical since the 12-point deal in India, but this was re-balanced after the COAS Katuwal incident in 2008.

It is also believed that the military diplomacy and the engagement of then COAS of the Nepali Army with Indian counterparts, manage to lift the unofficial embargo in 2015. 

Despite the hardship in domestic politics, Nepal Army never compromised in its international mission as a peacekeeping force.

The Nepali Army had undertaken its international mission for global peace since 1958, three years after Nepal was a member of the United Nations.

Currently, it is serving in twelve different missions around the globe. In 2020, Nepal was the world’s fourth troops contributing nation to the UN peace mission (Armed Police Force (APF) and Nepal Police (NP) personnel were also contributing in different UN Missions). 

The humanitarian response of the army in each critical crisis in the country was applauded by citizens in the country’s nook and corner.

Historically, as a peacekeeping force, NA had contributed to bringing normalcy in Hyderabad Sepoy mutiny in 1857, the first independence war of India against the British Raj.

The global civil-military relations of the Nepali army were the main strength of its reputation, and acknowledgment of its brave contribution to global peace.

The continuation of the historical legacy of ‘Tilanga’, NA was sustaining its glory as blue helmets all around the world in the 21st century. 

The domestic civil-military relations of the Nepali army were cherished by its adherent to the people’s political decision and its acknowledgment of people as the only source of sovereignty and national unity.

The humanitarian response of the army in each critical crisis in the country was applauded by citizens in the country’s nook and corner.

At the regional level (SAARC, BIMSTEC, BBIN and other multilateral engagements), Nepal is expanding its diplomatic chain beyond India and China.

Scholars have forecasted that the coming few decades of the 21st century are being rightly described as the ‘Asian Century’, marked by the shift of economic power to Asia.

The geostrategy of Nepal, bordering emerging global powers, China and India. The Nepali army can be the center of the gravity of global strategy in the future.

In this backdrop, much attention was paid to the Indo-Pacific region. The US has come up with Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS), and aligned India, Japan, Australia along with the USA as Quad. 

China, as its grand strategy has economic development and connectivity project under ‘Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI)’. Indo Pacific, is the geopolitical and economic strategy whereas BRI is the development package.

As per the concern of Nepal, it is a signatory in BRI and a potential defense partner in IPS. The Indo Pacific Strategy report, of 1st June 2019 has mentioned China as a revisionist power and by any means, it wants to contain China.

And, the same report has mentioned Nepal as its potential strategic partner in Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP).

The interest of the neighboring country and others were directed in influencing the Nepali army through a variety of military deal and assistance in their favor.

China as number one contributor in military assistance (previously India), depict its interest in one of the states bearing institution.

China, India, and the US were the high-ranked assistance provider to the army, APF, and NP in Nepal. The army used to catch in between the security interest of the major powers.

For instance, the recent military drill of BIMSTEC member country, Nepal has to withdraw its troops at the final state. The Nepali army has participated as an observer in regional military drills. 

Finally, the establishment of a political and security policy agency known as the National Security Council (NSC), the interaction of civilian and military staff in formulating NSP and foreign policy, the establishment of several border outposts, and the establishment of a “Defense University,” among other things, were all positive signs.

Similarly, the fragile domestic politics and culture of violence in some political outfits, the likelihood of encountering internal security threats is high.

With the Lipulekh, Kalapani disputes with India, and the potential movement of Tibetan refugees, Nepal has to conduct its politics thoughtfully, both internally as well as externally.

In the case of the Nepali Army, as a traditional state-bearing institution, there is no doubt it can act constructively in dealing with modern strategical implication and guard the nation by safeguarding territorial integrity, sovereignty, and maintaining national unity.

And, we have no options rather than modernizing an army, sophisticated with well-equipped weapons/technologies, and with sound professionals.

Finally, the establishment of a political and security policy agency known as the National Security Council (NSC), the interaction of civilian and military staff in formulating NSP and foreign policy, the establishment of several border outposts, and the establishment of a “Defense University,” among other things, were all positive signs.

However, the govt needs to concentrate on the immediate impact of the COVID 19 Pandemic so that, in the long run, it can provide a new, professional, and well-equipped security apparatus to tackle domestic, international, and global threats.

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