Nepali Times
Guest Column
Loving to hate the NA


I am not a military historian or analyst. But since we have hysterical economists, poorly read civil society leaders, uneducated and educated journalists who pontificate freely on military matters, I feel on safe ground writing on topics ranging from the military to Marx.

The intellectuals, activists and media's favorite anti-Nepali Army cri de couer is that it is a militarised, unprofessional force with an innate propensity for crimes against humanity and despotism. No one, of course, explains 'militarisation' or 'unprofessional', because together these words evoke images of the Third Reich rather than a reasonable reaction to an insurgency whose goals are to establish a communist totalitarian regime.

When a columnist in this paper recently compared the size of the Nepali Army to the Bangladesh military and inflated the Nepali military forces count (by adding police, necessary even in peace time) and concluded that Nepal has the biggest security apparatus in proportion to its area and population, he was not comparing apples to apples.

Unlike Bangladesh, Nepal has fought an insurgency since 1996 and has improved from a largely ceremonial force of 40,000 to its current strength of 90,000 troops, many of whom have known combat. An entire Ranger battalion, praised by international observers, came of age during this period. The NA continues to be respected in its UN peacekeeping role, showed restraint (for the most part) during Janaandolan II and is a force that Nepal needs for disaster relief.

The military participation ratio (MPR) is a measure of militarisation and is the ratio of the number of military to a nation's population.

Nepal's MPR is about 0.3 percent. Even adding in the APF (and leaving out the police) the ratio is only 0.5 percent. The United States in World War II had an MPR of 12 percent.

Countries currently fighting insurgencies show similar or greater MPRs to Nepal: Sri Lanka (0.7 percent) and Colombia (0.4 percent). Nepal's military budget is $200 million while Sri Lanka's is $500 million and Colombia spends $6.9 billion on its military a year. Both Sri Lanka and Colombia have weapons that make the NA look like it stepped out of World War II movie set.

Terrain has been cited by many as the reason why there is 'no military solution', another term that has not been explained clearly but used freely to prove a spurious point: that there is no role for the military. When even a peacetime trek for a group of four in the hills requires a team of porters, mounting even a modest company-level offensive creates daunting logistical challenges. So a force of 90,000 may actually be inadequate.

Security experts have argued for force multiplication through the use of auxiliaries at the VDC-level linked to a rapid reaction force-suggesting a larger force for Nepal.

Yes, Nepal has no business fighting a war: we have many other pressing needs. Yet when confronted with the Maoists whose intent is on destroying everything-an army or nation has little choice but to fight. NA soldiers have made substantial sacrifices during this insurgency.

Without their work, the Maoist vision might well have already come to pass. But what has been the image of the NA in the media? Its soldiers don't bleed when shot, their families don't cry when they are injured or die, they don't suffer the trauma of losing body parts, they don't feel lonely when separated from home villages for years and they feel no financial pain when their wives and children are extorted and harassed. Our soldiers are not drawn from a recruitment pool with no connection to the land, a nation's army is a reflection of its own culture. The NA has provided a living opportunity and professionalism for the same stratum of young people recruited by the Maoists. If the current talks fail, it will once more be the Nepal Army that will have to back up parliamentary democracy. Think about that when you hear glib references to 'militarisation' and 'unprofessional army'.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)