Armed Forces Overview: Nepal has only one military service, the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA). The army’s stated purpose is to protect Nepal from external threats, but because its capabilities are far smaller than those of neighboring China and India, the government historically has used diplomacy rather than force to maintain territorial integrity. The RNA has been mostly involved in ceremonial functions, international peacekeeping, and supporting the monarchy against domestic opposition. The army also is engaged in domestic noncombat activities, such as infrastructure development, nature conservation, and disaster relief. Since 2002, however, the army has been active in a civil war against Maoist rebels who have severely tested its reputation and capabilities. The RNA’s limited resources have constrained its ability to protect infrastructure from the Maoists, and the RNA has had to use commercially leased helicopters to improve its limited mobility. The government is attempting to improve the RNA’s capabilities, and the defense budget has increased substantially since 2000.
According to the 1990 constitution, the king is the supreme commander of the army and appoints the commander in chief (the chief of army staff, or COAS) on the prime minister’s recommendation. The king may control the army on the recommendation of the National Defense Council, which consists of the COAS, the minister of defense, and the prime minister, who serves as chairman. However, the king’s suspension of the government in February 2005 terminated the prime minister’s military powers, at least temporarily. The COAS delegates operational functions to various generals and principal staff officers but personally directs the army’s Research and Development Directorate, Defense Ordnance Productions Directorate, and Development Construction Directorate. The Military Intelligence Directorate and the National Defense Council are primarily responsible for intelligence activities. Directly responsible to the COAS are the chief of general staff (CGS) and the chief of staff (COS). The CGS is the head of “G” Branch and is primarily responsible for operations, intelligence, and training, each of which is organized in individual directorates. The COS is responsible for military operations other than war, which include United Nations peacekeeping operations, nature conservation and wildlife preservation, and the army’s welfare organizations. The COS has approximately 4,400 army troops under his direct control.
Foreign Military Relations: Nepalese serve in both the British and Indian armies, but Nepal has no formal military links with other countries or intergovernmental organizations other than the United Nations. Since 2001, India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other governments have provided various forms of assistance to combat the Maoist rebels.
External Threat: Nepal faces no threats from another country’s regular military forces.
Defense Budget: Nepal’s defense budget and expenditures have grown substantially, although exact figures vary by source. According to the Ministry of Finance, from fiscal year (FY) 2001 to FY2005 Ministry of Defense expenditures grew from US$51.5 million to an estimated US$109.9 million. The Ministry of Defense has been budgeted approximately US$149.8 million for FY2006, but its expenditures often exceed its budget. In FY2004, for example, the defense budget was US$97.3 million but defense expenditures were US$110.5 million.
Major Military Units: Nepal has an army but no navy, coast guard, marines, or air force. Command and control of the military has undergone significant changes since 1990, and in 2001 the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) shifted from a brigade-based structure to one based on divisions. There are six combat divisions, each responsible for a particular area (Far-Western, Mid-Western, Western, Central, Eastern, and Valley), and each includes combat brigades, combat support, and combat service support units. One combat brigade is designated as the Royal Guards Brigade, and there are separate aviation, paratrooper, and special operations brigades. Each brigade contains two to three infantry battalions (logistics, rifles, and support) and several independent infantry companies, such as air defense, artillery, engineers, field ambulance, light artillery, ordnance, repair, and signals. Foreign observers estimate that in 2003 the army had between 63,000 and 85,000 active-duty personnel, including nearly 320 personnel in the Royal Nepal Army Air Wing (RNAAW). The army has no reserve component.
Major Military Equipment: In 2004 the army was believed to have 40 reconnaissance vehicles, 40 armored personnel carriers, six 75-millimeter artillery missiles, five 94-millimeter mountain artillery missiles, 14 105-millimeter artillery missiles, 70 120-millimeter mortars, a publicly unavailable number of 107-millimeter M30 mortars, 30 PRC Type 56 14.5-millimeter light antiaircraft guns, an unknown number of 37-millimeter light antiaircraft guns, and two 40-millimeter antiaircraft guns. The air wing had one BAe–748 aircraft and one Skyvan as well as 11 helicopters but no combat aircraft or armed helicopters.
Military Service: The minimum age for military service is 18. Women are eligible for military service, but most serve in noncombat positions.
Paramilitary Forces: The Armed Police Force (APF) was established in January 2001 as a subordinate unit of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which reportedly created some tensions between the ministry and the army. The APF has a force of approximately 15,000 personnel, and its primary function is internal security, particularly to contain the Maoist insurgency. Other duties include VIP security and assisting the Nepal Police in maintenance of law and order.
Foreign Military Forces: The British Gurkhas Nepal, a British Army organization, has 63 personnel engaged in recruitment, pension payment, and other administrative services for Nepalese that serve or have served in the British Army as part of the Brigade of Gurkhas.
Military Forces Abroad: The prestigious reputation of Nepalese soldiers is due in no small part to their foreign service. The Indian army has 40,000 Nepalese, and approximately 3,300 Nepalese serve in the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas. The number of Nepalese in the British Army has declined from the 8,000 that served in 1998 but remains one of Nepal’s most important sources of foreign exchange. Nepalese in the Brigade of Gurkhas may serve anywhere that British soldiers do, except Northern Ireland. Currently, all units of the Brigade of Gurkhas are stationed in the United Kingdom except the Gurkha battalion in Brunei, the British Gurkhas Nepal, and—through an arrangement with the British Army—the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force.
Nepal is a member of the United Nations (UN) Disengagement Observer Force, and Nepalese troops also have been active in multilateral forces under UN auspices. As of January 2005, Nepal was the world’s fourth largest contributor of troops to peacekeeping missions, with 3,016 troops serving in various international peacekeeping operations. Since 1958, nearly 46,000 Nepalese troops have participated in 29 missions. As of 2005, Nepalese troops were serving in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Haiti, Israel and Syria, Kosovo, Liberia, the Middle East, and Sudan. Nepalese troops also have served in numerous other UN peacekeeping operations.
Police: The Nepal Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the Nepal Police, in 2004 there were 47,349 police personnel, including 27,912 constables. The Ministry of Home Affairs also administers the 15,000-strong Armed Police Force, which is involved primarily in domestic counterinsurgency other than law enforcement. In fiscal year 2005, the government allocated US$101.7 million to the police.
Internal Security and Terrorism: There are allegations that Nepalese territory is used as a haven by Islamic militants either from or supported by Pakistan and al Qaeda. Yet, it is unclear whether those militants pose a threat to Nepalese security or are primarily a threat to India. Unquestionably, the civil conflict is the gravest threat to Nepal’s internal security and possibly its existence. Estimates of the conflict’s economic impact vary, but the Ministry of Finance claims tourism, banking, social services, and physical infrastructure have suffered considerably. The rebels are members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)—CPN(M)—and are led by Puspakamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, and Babu Ram Bhattarai. Their stated goals include establishment of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, land reform, establishment of Nepal as a secular nation, termination of several treaties with India, and abolition of untouchability. The Nepalese and many foreign governments categorize the CPN(M) as a terrorist organization that seeks to establish a communist dictatorship. It has an estimated 5,000 regular armed members and approximately 10,000 to 15,000 members in local militias. Observers contend that most members and supporters are indigenous groups, dalits (“broken people” or untouchables), and lower castes. There is evidence of CPN(M) collusion with Maoists and other rebels in India as well as allegations of arms purchases from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka.
The current conflict began on February 13, 1996, and by 2005 the CPN(M) had control over an estimated 40 to 60 percent of the country. Most fighting has occurred in rural areas and in western districts. Until early 2000, Nepalese police efforts against the CPN(M) were generally uncoordinated. The army became involved in February 2000 and began actively engaging the CPN(M) in November 2001. Security forces generally have been hobbled by their lack of funds, local support, and counterinsurgency experience, while the mountainous, forested, generally roadless terrain favors the Maoists’ guerrilla tactics. Human rights observers and foreign governments have suggested that some government efforts to address the conflict—including the suspension of civil liberties and elected government—have reduced the government’s popular legitimacy and thus have been counterproductive. The Maoists’ attacks on infrastructure reportedly have lowered their popular support, as have accusations of robbery, extortion, and forced recruiting. The CPN(M), however, claims such activities are either unauthorized actions committed by lower-level cadres or are justified to prevent the use of public resources to exploit Nepalese. Peace talks in 2001 and 2003 were unsuccessful.
Independent observers contend that a significant portion of the rural population is supportive of the insurgents’ goals but has grown exasperated with repressive activities of both the Maoists and the government. Indeed, unarmed civilians have been frequent victims. According to a Nepalese human rights organization, the Informal Service Sector Centre, from February 13, 1996, to September 16, 2005, 12,809 persons were killed in the conflict, with 64 percent attributed to security forces, 36 percent to the CPN(M), and 82 percent of all conflict-related deaths occurring since 2002. Of the killings attributed to security forces, most were of actual or suspected members of the CPN(M) or political parties (65 percent) or agricultural workers (15.6 percent). Of the killings attributed to the Maoists, most were of police personnel (28.2 percent), agricultural workers (16.2 percent), army personnel (14.4 percent), or civil servants (11.6 percent). Additionally, 50,356 persons had been displaced by the conflict through 2004. However, these figures include only verified events; actual numbers may be higher.
Human Rights: Historically, civil liberties have been limited, but Nepal’s government has not been regarded as among the world’s worst violators of human rights. Nevertheless, human rights violations have increased substantially since the escalation of civil conflict in 2000, and security forces engaged in substantial numbers of these human rights violations prior to the civil conflict. According to the United Nations (UN), Nepal leads the world in arbitrary abduction and detention by security forces in large part as a result of the civil conflict. The conflict between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and government security forces has resulted in numerous allegations of human rights violations by both sides, with most victims being unarmed civilian noncombatants. The Maoists have been accused of unlawful killings, torture, and nearly 36,849 abductions. Security forces have been accused of disappearances, unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and obstructing both courts and human rights investigations—all with impunity. However, about one-third of those abducted by security forces were released after months in secret detention, and in July 2004 the government created a committee to locate the disappeared.
Outside of the conflict, civil liberties are tenuous, and human rights abuses are common. Discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality is ubiquitous, and domestic violence, forced labor, and forced prostitution are pervasive. However, various organizations have emerged to address the needs of persons suffering discrimination. Still, civil liberties such as freedom of speech, press, and lawful assembly have been severely curtailed with King Gyanendra’s suspension of the constitution in February 2005. The government also has been criticized for ratifying human rights treaties and conventions but not incorporating human rights laws into legislation. Indeed, there are no laws against domestic violence or police torture, and the police are accused of excessive force and corruption. Because of poor communication, police outside the capital often have tremendous autonomy and discretion in handling law and order matters and often do so in ways not consistent with the law.