Your search keywords:

Let’s discuss ways to strengthen Nepali Army

Demands for reduction, structural changes, or removal of responsibilities should be based on careful consideration rather than momentary impulses, even if they are coming from scholars

Let’s discuss ways to strengthen Nepali Army

Recent calls from some lawmakers for downsizing the Nepali Army and using the money thus saved for development works have courted controversies.  

On July 11, a National Assembly member and former minister for foreign affairs, Bimala Rai Paudyal, stood in the parliament in favor of downsizing the national army while taking part in a discussion on cost-cutting measures. Paudyal reasoned that Nepal did not need a big army in times of peace and that it would be impossible for the army to defend the country against either of the two neighbors even if the need arose, while also pointing out the army had not been able to protect the borders. 

Swarnim Wagle, an economist and lawmaker from the Rastriya Swatantra Party, has also been advocating for downsizing the national army as a means to reduce pressure on the economy. Citing Sri Lanka’s example, which reduced the size of its army by a third to combat the recent recession, Wagle argued during a meeting of the House of Representatives on June 20 that Nepal should consider similar measures.

These calls from the two parliamentarians, who are also PhD scholars, have sparked a series of discussions at the national level. While these are not the first such calls, it is the first time a debate has taken place in the parliament on the matter. Discussions about the national army are not unwarranted, but they should be contextual and based on facts. A state’s policies and plans determine the size and the structure of its army, so it will be far-fetched to take the army leadership as the sole factor in this. 

Development and expansion of any institute, including the national army, takes a long time, hard work, and investment, with the concerned state’s plans and policies playing a vital role in the whole process. Therefore, demands for reduction, structural changes, or removal of responsibilities should be based on careful consideration rather than momentary impulses, even if they are coming from scholars. Instead of arguing irresponsibly (without presenting solid proof to back their arguments) and eroding the morale of the army, policymakers should focus more on enhancing the army’s capabilities.

History and the way forward

The history of the Nepali Army is closely linked with the unification of modern Nepal. Founded by King Prithvi Narayan Shah to support the unification campaign, the army has evolved into its current form. It has a rich history of engaging in various wars and is considered the most experienced army in South Asia in terms of war experience. The army has played an important role in the Nepal-Tibet War, Nepal-China War, the war with East India Company (Anglo-Nepal War), quelling the unrest in Hyderabad at the request of India, ending the Indian Sepoy Mutiny as well as ending the Khampa conflict within the country and in controlling the 10-year Maoist insurgency. Apart from maintaining peace, the army is adept at military diplomacy. Helping the country overcome critical situations like the blockade along with the import of vaccines and health materials from neighboring and friendly countries during the pandemic are vivid examples of military diplomacy. Its important role in life and death situations like natural disasters and epidemics has not gone unnoticed. 

Internal or external crises are not something that can be predicted. That is why, the army must stand ready to deal with potential emergencies even during peacetime. Commendable work of the army during earthquakes, tornadoes, pandemics, floods, landslides, and fires demonstrates its significance in crisis situations. 

As underlined above, the army has different roles to play in different parts of Nepal and beyond. NA soldiers serve in the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, provide security to infrastructure, guard national parks, conduct search and rescue missions during natural disasters and play different roles in development projects as per government directives. Therefore, before debating the number of soldiers required in Nepal, it is essential to understand the organizational structure of the army. On the other hand, while the situation of unemployment and youth migration is dire, young people are getting jobs and serving the country. Contrary to the expert MPs’ argument, the state’s investment in the army has not gone waste.

Of course, debates about the army are necessary. But such debates should not lower the morale of the army or weaken its structure. Rather, the debates should focus on making the army more and more capable by developing world-class military technologies and competing in the fields of information and technology. Policy-level discussions should explore the possibility of creating more jobs within the military structure so as to reduce the outmigration of young people. 

Summing up, those responsible for running the state should effectively mobilize available resources and explore sustainable resources for the future rather than advocating for the destruction of existing state structures in the pretext of an economic crisis.