It will be an uphill battle for new Army chief Gen Rana to ensure a national defence policy to safeguard the country and democracy while maintaining good relations with our neighbours
SEP 10 -
Nepal is perhaps the only country in the world that has yet to take its security and defence seriously. Newly-appointed Chief of Army Staff General Gaurav SJB Rana, who came in to office on Sunday, has his task cut out in devising a clear security strategy for the country.
Our leaders and intellectuals seem to mistakenly believe that just having the institutions—of military and police—is enough to ensure our safety and security. They seem oblivious to the fact that we are missing modern software in the form of a national security policy and a national defence policy to effectively run these institutions. Today, the Nepal Army is in dire need of redefining its role in the country’s defence system in a changed domestic and regional context. The responsibility of upgrading the dated software to the latest version, to make the Nepal Army modern and professional, now lies with Gen Rana.
Just as human beings are prone to diseases, a country is vulnerable to many security threats. And just as a person’s lifestyle can foresee the likely diseases he is vulnerable to, a country’s location, foreign relations, its level of economic development and the relations between various races and ethnic groups living there, help us identify the threats it faces or is likely to face in the future. In many countries a periodic assessment of national defence is carried out and their armies are trained to effectively deal with these threats, so that they are not caught off-guard when the likely threat becomes real. Through the release of a defence white paper, people are made aware of these threats. Sadly, in Nepal, we have yet to see this and, as such, it is unclear what our Army is training for. Although the Nepal Army periodically comes up with reports on “threats” for its internal circulation, in the absence of a defence policy, its hands are literally tied to train its soldiers to deal with the “threats”. Without the government endorsing the Army’s periodic threat assessments in the form of a national defence policy, it is impossible for the Army to procure the weapons and equipment necessary to train its soldiers to effectively deal with each specific threat.
Moreover, our location between two emerging Asian giants requires that we keep our forces prepared to deal with any security threat emanating from our soil, which undermines our neighbours’ security, so that they are not forced to deal with it themselves, thus violating our sovereignty. It would be wise not to rule this possibility out completely as foreign policy is made out of necessity, not out of sympathy. The Chinese government has repeatedly asked our government to check on the activities of rebel groups from Tibet and Xinjiang. As Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who focusses on terrorist and armed groups in the AfPak region and Central Asia reveals in his new book, Pakistan on the Brink, the Chinese government has “forcibly demanded the return of Uighurs settled in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and Kazakhstan.” Our failure to deal with an armed uprising against China or activities designed to undermine its territorial integrity, by groups from Nepali territory, would likely invite dire consequences. It is important to note that the Chinese defence whitepaper released in 2011 states that “Separatist forces working for ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence’ have inflicted serious damage on national security and social stability.”
Similarly, India too has been raising its concerns about the anti-Indian activities being carried out from Nepali soil. Our failure to deal with the Indian concerns, in the long run, may force India to deal with them on its own in a manner that would not be agreeable to us. If this happens, we have only ourselves and our lack of vision to blame.
It is already too late to redefine our national defence by moving beyond the “Divyopadesh” of Prithvi Narayan Shah delivered two centuries ago and the “Rasthriya Mul Niti” of the Panchayat era, which do not address the emerging threats to the country, nor provide the Army with a real sense of direction and purpose in today’s context. The Nepal Army needs to be fully capable and prepared to deal with internal security threats such as armed outfits and various “armies” in the county, some with an overtly secessionist agenda, and also to deal with various groups operating from Nepal to undermine our neighbours’ legitimate security interests. Further, a realistic defence policy would allow for the sharing of intelligence and the conduction of joint military exercises with our neighbours. But most importantly, in today’s context, it will help in determining the exact strength, weapons and equipment needed to defend the country.
Gen Rana takes charge of the national army at the most critical juncture (both domestically and regionally) in Nepal’s modern history. As a result, what he does (or doesn’t do) can either make or break the institution. All concerned should understand this, at a time when the NA is trying to develop itself as an inclusive, modern and professional institution. This is opposed to the ceremonial Army of the past. Depriving the increasing number of young and educated officers coming from non-military families a sense of direction and purpose has the potential to pose a real threat to democracy in the country. Regionally, India and China now face more security threats from forces that want to upset their growth and a weak Nepal Army and national security only means that these forces would potentially be active in Nepali territory. That would undoubtedly affect our relations with the neighbours. The task today for Gen Rana is to ensure a sensible defence policy to safeguard the country and democracy, and to maintain good relations with our neighbours.
Posted on: 2012-09-10 08:33