Besides the lofty Himalayas and Mt. Everest, if Nepal has a recognisable brand ambassador worldwide — it has to be the country’s army and its Gurkha soldiers who have made a mark with their daredevilry.
For over 240 years since King Prithvi Narayan Shah unified the country with his military conquests, the army has been an inseparable part of Nepal’s history. But with abolition of monarchy two years ago and the country witnessing drastic changes, Nepalese Army too is in makeover mode.
Democratisation of the army to make it more inclusive and integration of former Maoist combatants are big challenges. While the political debate rages on how and how many former Maoist rebels should get integrated into the army, the army top brass is of the view that careful consideration should be given on the process and number. “Even inclusion of 2,000 Maoist rebels, would be on the higher side,” said a army officer.
The army has a sanctioned strength of 95,753, but its present strength is 2,000 less than that figure. Nearly 4,400 of them are posted with UN peace keeping missions in 13 countries across the globe.
Despite being a major force in Nepal, its army has remained apolitical through most of its history. The transition from being the Royal Nepalese Army with the king as the supreme commander to the president assuming that role was smooth. But the army’s decision to back former king Gyanendra in seizing power in 2005 led India to discontinue military assistance.
Another cause for concern is the army’s human rights track record. There have been cases of human rights violations by the army during the 10-year civil war.
How the government and the army handle all these issues will decide whether the Gurkha soldier continue to remain an admired brand ambassador of his nation in the coming years.