On/Off the Record
Significance of Army in Nepal
By P.R. Pradhan
Time and again, the role of the Nepal Army has been overshadowed by the political parties and they have always tried to downsize the Force established for safeguarding national sovereignty and independence.
The Royal Nepal Army had to face the blame of being Rana’s army after introduction of multiparty democracy in 1951. The Nepal Police was established to counter the Royal Nepal Army.
Again, after the first people’s movement in 1989, the Army was blamed for being the King’s army. To humiliate the Force, the government had provided more budget to the Police than to the then Royal Nepal Army. When leaders in the government were unable to mobilize the Army as per their wish, they decided to establish the Armed Police Force under the Home Ministry. To recall, there were constitutional provisions to bring out the Army to fight against the then Maoist rebels. The political leaders had wished to use the Army to suppress Maoist rebellion. It was impossible to use the Army against the Maoists without declaring them terrorists. During that time, the political leaders, instead of going through the constitutional provisions, blamed the Royal Nepal Army of being loyal to the King and blamed the monarchy for mobilizing/helping the Maoists against multiparty democracy.
However, the monarchy and the Army tolerated such humiliations from the political parties. Unexpectedly, the Army leadership, after 2006 April Uprising, had betrayed the monarchy, supreme commander of the Force, by accepting the political change and became ready to support the government while accepting republicanism. The Army chief and deputy chief of the Force even became ready to take second oath in the Parliament, the incident had largely insulted the entire Force. If the Force leadership had taken a stance, the institution of monarchy would not have been removed by bringing down the nation to the present state of perversion.
Be that as it may, compared to other government organs, the Army is still an organised and disciplined force, although, some high-ranking officials are found misusing their position and being involved in mal-governance.
In the Nepali context, the present Nepal Army is just a ceremonial Force. Besides its excellent performance in the UN Peace Keeping Missions, the Nepal Army has contributed a lot in infrastructural development and played a highly appreciable role during states of natural calamity. In other words, the Army has always carried out the assigned responsibility in an excellent manner.
As very limited role has been given to the Army, considering the need of the nation on infrastructural development, the capability of the Army should be used.
At a time, when the nation is preparing to fight against the corona virus outbreak, the Nepal Army has already completed preparatory and precautionary works including establishment of temporary quarantine and isolation camps along with keeping ready its medical team and the entire Force.
During the devastating earthquake and also post-earthquake period too, the Army was mobilized from rescue of quake victims to reconstruction of quake demolished structures. No doubt, the Army’s contribution has been excellent.
Frankly speaking, considering the past performance of the Nepal Army, the strength of the Force can be utilized in infrastructural development as well as industrialization in the country.
Yes, a section of political people and also a section of Nepal Army retired officials never fail to criticize the Army for being attracted towards business by forgetting professionalism. This scribe, however, believes that as there is a rare environment of taking part in any war by our Army, the disciplined force should be used in infrastructural projects in the process of transforming the nation as a prosperous one. The result of construction of Kathmandu-Nijgadh fast track and other roads constructed by the Army is excellent. Therefore, the Force should be used in these sectors. The current number of the entire Army is less than one hundred thousand. This number can be exceeded to three to four hundred thousand by giving employment opportunity for our youths who are going abroad for low standard works.
The Nepal Army was interested to resume the Hetauda Textile Industries through its own fund. Why not the government, who failed to run the industry, handover it to the Nepal Army so that clothes used by the Army and Police could be produced within the country by substituting imports!
The government is seeking fund for infrastructural development. On the other hand, the Nepal Army holds a large amount of money under its welfare fund which is kept in different commercial banks. This fund can be utilized in constructing and operating a low-cost hydropower project by using the Army’s manpower and profit would go for the welfare of retired army personnel.
In other countries, the army is found even running luxury hotels, they are more professional as well. The doctrine of business involvement would finish professionalism is not right always.
Of course, a mechanism has to be developed to curb corruption practices taking place in the Force.
Just recently, we witnessed scarcity of essential goods including salt, sugar, LP Gas, petroleum products, among others. If the Army was allowed to supply such goods at low price from its depots nationwide, during the crisis time, the government could take benefit of using this mechanism for goods distribution. In India, the Army, specially for the army personal including those retired persons, is found running such depots selling daily consumable goods at low price. Nepal can learn from the Indian practice as well. As brokers and middleman are exploiting farmers and consumers, the government intervention is needed to end such exploitation. The government can use Army for this also.