Nepal Table of Contents
In the early 1990s, the military retained its generally privileged position in society. Constitutional arrangements mandating an unprecedented degree of civilian control over national defense and military affairs still were being ironed out, however, and the country's experiment in participatory democracy still was in an embryonic stage. The Royal Nepal Army's position during the 1990 prodemocracy campaign prompted many observers to predict that the military would willingly accept its role in the new constitutional order. Other observers, noting possibilities of heightened political competition and strife in the kingdom, were not so sanguine. Nepal, however, has never experienced a military coup d'état--although the 1960 place coup by King Birendra was backed by the military. In sum, the military's position in society and its subservience to civilian authority was a continuing process, not a settled fact.
There were calls from some political quarters, particularly radical communists and a section of the intelligentsia, to abolish the monarchy, overhaul the military chain of command, slash the defense budget, and ban Indian and British military recruiting of Nepalese citizens. These objectives were not shared by the ruling Nepali Congress Party government, King Birendra, large sections of the Nepalese public, and the military itself--all of which voiced unequivocal opposition to any political attempts to radically alter traditional patterns of civil-military relations. By 1991 the Royal Nepal Army, long a bulwark of the monarchy, appeared to be adjusting to the new requirements laid down by the constitution and the new democratically elected government. Most civilian politicians also recognized the value of maintaining a disciplined, reliable military that could enforce public order, symbolize the nation's independence, and allow the government to proceed with the monumental task of improving the economic well-being of its citizens.
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There are numerous popular works detailing the history, traditions, and martial prowess of the Gurkhas. Among the more interesting are such vintage publications as Francis Ivan Simms Tucker's Gorkha: The Story of the Gurkhas of Nepal, Byron Farwell's The Gurkhas, and Robin Adshead's Gurkha: The Legendary Soldier. John Masters's classic novel Bugles and a Tiger provides colorful insight into the Gurkha tradition. For insights into the British Indian Army from which the Royal Nepalese Army traces its origin, see Stephen P. Cohen's monograph, The Indian Army.
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive work on Nepal's army, as most publications deal with Gurkha regiments. Basic information on Nepal's order of battle can be obtained from the annual, The Military Balance; periodic articles in Far Eastern Economic Review, Asian Defence Journal, and India Today shed some light on Nepalese military and defense topics. Nepal's English-language press is generally unenlightening on issues relating to defense; the government-controlled Rising Nepal is probably the best source for photos, commentaries, and a flavor of local opinion. Leo E. Rose's Nepal: Strategy for Survival ranks as the best source on Nepal's defense and foreign policy concerns, although it is somewhat dated. Historical documents relating to Nepal's defense can be found in Documents on Nepal's Relations with India and China, 1949-1966, edited by A.S. Bhasin. Niranjan Koirala's "Nepal in 1990: End of an Era" in the February 1991 issue of Asian Survey provides a succinct summary of the Indo-Nepalese trade and transit dispute.
Annual updates on Nepal in Asian Survey and the Far Eastern Economic Review's Asia Yearbook are useful sources on Nepalese defense affairs; the Hoover Institution's annual Yearbook on International Communist Affairs details the activities of Nepalese communists; and the Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1990 highlights Nepal's record and accomplishments in human rights. A much darker view of the problem can be found in Amnesty International's Nepal: A Pattern of Human Rights Violations. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of September 1991
Nepal Table of Contents