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Recruitment, Training, and Morale


Parading on New Road, Kathmandu, in celebration of the royal kumari, the virgin goddess
Courtesy Harvey Follender

In 1991 recruitment into the all-volunteer Royal Nepal Army theoretically was open to all citizens regardless of caste, religion, or ethnic background. In practice, however, recruits tended to be drawn from the ethnic and caste groups that have traditionally supplied the bulk of the Nepalese and Gurkha regiments; the military apparently preferred to recruit from ethnic groups drawn from the mountain areas and the Kathmandu Valley (see Armed Forces and Society , this ch.). Not only were these groups the traditional source of military recruitment, but they generally were presumed to be untainted by any real or imagined loyalties to India. As with similar complaints leveled against Kathmandu's preferential recruitment policies for government service, residents of the Tarai Region voiced complaints of official discrimination in military recruitment. According to press reports, residents of the Tarai Region, known as madhesis ("midlanders"), constituted some 40 percent of Nepal's population but were severely underrepresented in the army and police. More than 89 percent of the country was Hindu; accordingly, the religious composition of the army was thought to be almost exclusively Hindu, with a smattering of Buddhists.

Even though Nepalese, British, and Indian recruiters competed annually for the best candidates for military service, none of the forces had ever encountered a dearth of recruits. In a population of over 19 million persons, there were about 4.5 million physically fit males between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine available for military service; about 225,000 males annually reached military age, which was eighteen years (see Population , ch. 2). In the early 1990s, the army revealed no personnel mobilization plan in the event of war or a declared national emergency, nor was there any known contingency plan to institute conscription during or in anticipation of an emergency. Retired soldiers, however, customarily were regarded as a valuable resource that the government could rely upon during wartime. Over 100,000 military pensioners of the Nepalese, Indian, and British armies resided in Nepal. This group could provide a pool of military personnel in an emergency. All Nepalese service personnel were liable for call-up after retirement.

The different languages that characterized the social mosaic of Nepalese society posed no formidable obstacle because virtually all soldiers spoke Nepali (referred to in British and Indian regiments as "Gurkhali"). Most officers, because of the higher educational requirements demanded of them, possessed at least a limited knowledge of English. Personnel who aspired to be general officers or to attend military training courses abroad invariably were fluent in English.

Caste and ethnic differences were minimized by the longstanding policy of assigning recruits from the same area and ethnic groups to the same unit, a policy also practiced in British and Indian Gurkha regiments. Low-caste enlistees often were assigned to service units, whereas officer ranks were staffed largely by upper- caste recruits (primarily Chhetris) and those applicants with long family histories of army service.

Women played a marginal role in the armed forces in the early 1990s. Professional opportunities for women in Nepal were restricted. A woman's station in life generally was confined to raising children, maintaining the home, and performing agricultural and handicraft labor (see Women's Status and Role in Society , ch. 2). A limited number of women served in the armed forces as physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, and parachute packers attached to the para battalion. Pay scales were the same as those of males, although prospects for promotion within the few job categories open to women were limited.

Recruitment regulations prescribed that qualified candidates for enlistment appear before a selection and recruiting board composed of an officer from the Department of the Adjutant General and four other officers. Candidates were required to be between eighteen and twenty-three years of age, physically fit, and at least 161 centimeters tall. Exceptions were made for honorably discharged former Gurkha soldiers who were under the age of thirty- six, physically fit, and had not been convicted of a criminal offense. Appointment was confirmed only after the candidate's statements regarding residence, age, caste, and address were attested to by the army or civil service. A recruit could be dismissed at any time during the first year of training.

Upon entering the service, the recruit signed a contract to participate in drills and training prescribed by army regulations and to obey orders wherever he or she might be sent. Enlistment lasted for an initial period of ten years, except for former Gurkhas, who enlisted for three years. All recruits were required to take an oath to protect the life and throne of the king and to arrest or report any person threatening the king. As of 1991, the army had not revised this oath so that recruits also swore to uphold the constitution, as was the practice in many democracies. Military indoctrination at all levels still was closely associated with the defense of the king, who many Nepalese regarded as the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Devotion to duty thus carried with it a marked element of religious devotion to the person of the king (see Religion and Society , ch. 2).

Military pay scales generally were the same as Nepalese government civilian pay scales. Although they were abysmally low by Western standards, military pay and benefits were quite attractive by Nepalese standards, and military service was highly sought after. Moreover, job security, promotion prospects, and economic attractions offered by military service were virtually unmatched in the small private sector, particularly for applicants with limited education and job skills. Pay scales also included allocations for rations and travel allowances while on duty and en route home during leave periods. Officers received housing, medical and educational benefits, and family allowances that also were attractive by Nepalese standards. Soldiers earned pensions after seventeen years of service; maximum pension benefits could reach 60 percent of a soldier's final pay rate.

The army maintained a liberal leave policy that contributed to good morale. Leave was of three types: ordinary, home, and sick. The maximum twenty days' annual ordinary leave was not cumulative from year to year. Home leave accrued to soldiers after one year of service at the rate of forty-five days each year. Sick leave of up to fifteen days annually was authorized. Ration and travel allowances were included as part of the leave policy.

Beyond pay and leave, other factors that contributed to good morale within the ranks included opportunities to acquire an education and job skills--attributes that were transferable to civilian life. Moreover, military service carried with it the prestige of serving in a profession that was highly regarded by most of the Nepalese public.

The quality of military personnel, particularly within the enlisted ranks, was regarded by most observers as excellent. Nepalese troops are renowned for their toughness, stamina, adaptability to harsh climates and terrain, and willingness to obey orders.

Because the incidence of infectious diseases was high in the general population, malaria, tuberculosis, syphilis, and dysentery probably were present in any pool of recruits in spite of efforts to screen out the physically unfit before enlistment. In the service, however, medical care, adequate diet, and hygienic measures greatly reduced the incidence of disease, and experience in the varied environments of Asia, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East has shown that illness in Nepalese units was not a serious problem. As of 1991, there was no indication that the army screened recruits or serving personnel for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and there were no publicly revealed statistics citing the of AIDS within the military.

Before assignment to units, enlistees received almost a year of training under officers and noncommissioned officers specially chosen for this task. The long training period was necessitated by the high illiteracy rate--almost 70 percent nationally--making the recruitment of soldiers with anything beyond a rudimentary education difficult. Many recruits had to be taught elementary skills, such as using a telephone and driving. On the whole, soldiers probably were sufficiently trained for effective guerrilla operations or for combat in small units--the types of warfare most likely to occur. The army supported a number of schools scattered around the country that instructed individual personnel and whole units in specialized skills, such as jungle operations, communications, medicine, and mountain warfare. A limited number of enlisted personnel and noncommissioned officers were sent to India each year for specialized training not offered in Nepal.

Training for aid-to-civil-power duties, such as riot control, was not covered extensively during the training cycle. The military generally preferred to let the police perform such functions, which most senior officers trained under the British model did not regard as "proper soldiering." That army personnel were, of necessity, becoming better acquainted with police tactics was suggested by the increased use of the army in aid-to-civil-power duties during the riots and protests that rocked the country during the 1990 prodemocracy movement, the massive army deployment to prevent violence during the national elections staged in May 1991, and the peacekeeping experience acquired during service in Lebanon.

Officer training was modeled on that of the Indian Army. This training, in turn, was strongly influenced by its long association with the British military establishment. An Indian Military Mission arrived in Kathmandu in 1952 soon after an attempted coup to assist in correcting discipline problems and organizational defects. With a staff of 100 personnel commanded by a major general, the mission implemented significant reforms in training, recruitment, promotion, and virtually every aspect of military life. In 1958 the Indian Military Mission was replaced by the Indian Military Training and Advisory Group consisting of twenty officers. This group functioned in Kathmandu until 1963, when it was renamed the Military Liaison Group and its responsibilities were reduced to liaison work on common defense problems. Nepalese nationalists complained, however, that the army's dependence on India for military training and direction was repugnant. Following significant rifts in Indo-Nepalese relations in the late 1960s, the Indian advisory group closed its offices for good (see Relations with India , ch. 4). The only Indian military presence in Nepal in 1991 consisted of a defense attaché at the high commission in Kathmandu and Gurkha recruitment centers located at Pokhara and Dharan. The only other countries with defense attachés posted to Kathmandu in 1991 were the United States, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and Pakistan.

Although Nepalese officers still were sent to India for a variety of advanced or specialized courses as of 1991, basic officer training for "gentleman" recruits was conducted at the Royal Nepal Military Academy at Kharipati near Kathmandu. Modeled after the Indian Military Academy and Sandhurst, the academy conducted a fifteen-month training course. Classes, usually numbering between 50 and 100 students, were divided into four cadet companies named after famous Nepalese military victories. At the conclusion of training, newly commissioned second lieutenants were assigned to units according to their specialties and the needs of the army.

Those officers who showed promise for promotion to higher commands competed throughout their careers for highly prized training assignments in the United States, Britain, Germany, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Nepalese officers were not known ever to have received military training in the Soviet Union or in East European countries. A handful of army personnel may have gone to China in 1988, however, to train on the air defense guns purchased by Nepal at that time. Chinese military advisers have never been posted to Nepal, owing, in part, to Kathmandu's awareness of India's extreme sensitivity over Chinese activities in the country (see Relations with China , ch. 4).

Over the years, Nepalese officers have attended the United States Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; and a number of other military schools and institutions. Most expenses for this training were covered by funds appropriated under the International Military Education Training (IMET) program. The program has been open to Nepalese officers since 1947, when Nepal and the United States exchanged diplomatic recognition.

Data as of September 1991

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