Country Listing

Nepal Table of Contents



Throughout its modern existence, Nepalese foreign policy architects and defense planners have had to perform a precarious balancing act to ensure the nation's survival. As a protective measure, foreign troops were not allowed to be based in Nepal. This restriction remained in force as of 1991. Neither China nor India harbored territorial ambitions in Nepal; indeed, unlike many other land boundaries in South Asia, Nepal's frontiers were regarded by India and China as valid international boundaries. Nor did Nepal possess any natural resources or other economic assets that were coveted by either neighbor. Nevertheless, the country's geostrategic position between China's restive Tibetan population and the Indian heartland placed it in a vulnerable position.

Terrain, weather, and logistic considerations presented special problems for defense planners and for any foreign forces that might have to operate in the country. Ground units had to be equipped to cope with climatic extremes of monsoonal rains and drought as well as jungle heat and high-altitude cold. Nepal's terrain ranged from the world's highest and most deeply gorged mountains to the swamps and dense jungles of the Tarai (see The Land , ch. 2). Troops operating in Nepal had ample cover, but crosscountry movement was extremely difficult. The use of motor transport--often in short supply in the Nepalese army--was impractical except for the short stretches where roads existed. Further, many roads and bridges were unsuitable for heavy military vehicles. In the higher elevations, supplies were moved by pack animals or human porters. Throughout the country, the terrain lent itself to the ambush and hit-and-run tactics that Nepalese units would employ during a partisan struggle. Thus, local inhabitants familiar with the countryside and accustomed to its severe climatic conditions would have a decided tactical advantage over invading forces.

In the lowlands, ground movement was virtually impossible during the wet season because of extensive flooding, washed-out bridges, and deep mud. In the mountains, troops had to march single file over precarious trails subject to washouts, landslides, avalanches of boulders, ice, and snow. Stream crossing points often were limited to fords and unstable suspension bridges. Supply drops by helicopters and airplanes--both critically short in the Nepalese army--could be made only in favorable weather and in the restricted areas accessible to troops. Tribhuvan International Airport outside Kathmandu was the country's only airfield with sufficient capacity for large-scale military airlift and resupply operations. The airport's refueling capacity and aircraft maintenance facilities were marginal, however. Only five of Nepal's thirty-eight airfields had permanent-surface runways.

Tropical diseases, such as malaria, and the danger of suffering pulmonary edema and frostbite during high-altitude operations further inhibited force sustainability. Medical equipment and supplies, most of which were imported from India, also were in short supply. Water supplies, although usually available in all but the most mountainous regions, often were contaminated and unfit for human consumption unless treated. Although army medical services were adequate for routine peacetime health care of soldiers and their families, sustained combat operations probably would overwhelm the country's underdeveloped health services. The army's premier medical facility, Birendra Hospital, was located in Kathmandu. As food production in most areas was barely sufficient to support the local population, wartime destruction of the agricultural infrastructure, particularly in the fertile Kathmandu Valley, would be likely to result in shortages and famine unless India or other foreign donors provided immediate emergency relief.

Data as of September 1991