(Editor’s Note: The views are that of the author’s. For the writer’s other interests, read the credit line at the end of the article.)
By Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan
The 1950–1951 invasion of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army resulted in significant changes in the Chinese relationship with Nepal. China ordered restrictions on the entry of Nepali pilgrims and contacts with Tibet and increased its support for the Communist Party of Nepal, which was opposed to the Nepal monarchy.
Mao Zedong, from 1950 onwards, repeatedly said that Taiwan, Tibet, and Hainan Islands were Chinese territories and would be repossessed. The predominant trait in this claim was the advent of maps showing large parts of Korea, Indo-China, Mongolia, Burma (present-day Myanmar), Malaysia, East Turkestan (Xinjiang), (Sikkim) India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan as Chinese territories.
In fact, Mao repeatedly stated publicly, that Tibet was the palm of a hand, with its five fingers as India‘s Ladakh, Sikkim, and North East Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh), apart from Nepal and Bhutan,.
This statement of Mao worried King Tribhuwan Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal, who invited an Indian Military Mission (IMM) to Nepal for reorganising and modernising his army. Before King Tribhuvan’s takeover, Nepal had no regular army or soldiers. They were kept part-time and when not on duty followed other professions. Periodically, they were called for parades in Kathmandu. This army was ill-equipped and ill-paid.
The IMM arrived at Kathmandu on Feb. 28, 1952 and was tasked to assist in the reorganisation of the Nepali Army, formulating defence plans against internal and external threats, and improving intelligence and administrative establishments. The IMM was considered a sell out to India, by various political parties including the B. P. Koirala faction of the Nepali Congress.
The IMM comprised of a Major General, assisted by 20 Indian army officers. In Dec. 1953, its strength was a total of 197, all ranks. On its recommendations, by Apr. 1952, the Royal Nepali Army was downsized from 25,000 ill-organised, ill-paid and indisciplined soldiers to 6,000 better trained and equipped ones.
Meanwhile, in Sep. 1951, 17 check posts were established, with Nepali concurrence, along with Nepal’s northern borders with China. These were manned jointly by 75 Indian technicians and Nepali Army personnel.
In mid-1958, the King asked India to withdraw the IMM. As a result, India agreed to reduce its strength to 23 in all and to retain it under the name of Indian Military Training and Advisory Group (IMTAG).
On June 5, 1969, the Nepali PM asked for the withdrawal of the check posts and IMTAG, and stressed that Nepal could not compromise its sovereignty for India’s so-called security. The withdrawal of military personnel was completed by Aug. 1970. In practice, Nepal remains in close touch with India in matters of defence and security.
In 1965, consequent to the arms agreement, India was required to supply arms, ammunition and equipment to the entire Nepali Army of 17,000 personnel, comprising four re-organised brigades. It catered for replacement of existing weapons as well as training.
Military relations soured with the withdrawal of the IMTAG. After the restoration of amicable relations, post-1989 crisis, Nepal sought India’s help in raising large-scale military formations by reorganising the existing army from its battalions and independent companies into brigades and divisions.
The Maoists rebellion in Nepal forced the Government of Nepal to relook at the equipping of its army and make it capable of fighting these Maoists. Once again, Nepal requested assistance from India and a host of other nations including the the United States, the United Kingdom, China, the European Union, and Pakistan, all of whom reacted in various ways and provided Nepal with diverse military equipment.
From India, under a 70 per cent assistance scheme, and through a series of defence-purchase negotiations, the Nepali Army received more than 26,000 weapons of various kinds including 21,000 Indian-made INSAS rifles, 81mm and 51 mm mortars and other military hardware including landmines, detonators, safety fuses and time pencils. India also provided four Advanced Light Helicopters.
Post the ‘Jan Andolan‘ and under instructions from the Government of Nepal, India suspended military aid and supply of lethal equipment but continued with the supply of non-lethal weapons to include 216 light vehicles, 154 heavy vehicles, including 58 trucks of 7.5 tons capacity, 67 trucks of 2.5 tons capacity, 4 ambulances, and 25 multi-purpose armoured vehicles, among others.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Nepali government and the then Maoist rebels stopped both parties from procuring arms and ammunition until the completion of the peace process.
After the conclusion of the peace process and with the integration of the former Maoist combatants into the Nepali Army, the Government of Nepal wrote to all countries having diplomatic relations, stating that there was no obstruction for procurement of arms and ammunition.
Nepal continues to request arms assistance and weapons from India under the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950. Article 5 of the said treaty mentions that Nepal was free to import arms from any third country but needed to consult the Indian government. Nepal continues to disregard this clause.
This clause has remained a divisive and debated issue among the leaders, experts and analysts and has often been termed as unequal while some politicians have maintained that this treaty compelled Nepal to depend on India. Several people want a re-examination of the treaty, while some have been demanding that the accord is scrapped in the changed geopolitical scenario.
Since the reinstatement of democracy, post the ‘Jan Andolan‘ in Nepal, military relations and cooperation between the two countries gradually improved. Likewise, India’s concern and ascendancy, after Nepal’s peace process, has increased dramatically.
(To be continued in Part 2 and 3 this week)
(The writer is a retired senior Indian Army officer. He is a former Chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group in Nagaland and a former Director General of Assam Rifles. He has previously served as a Strike Corps Commander of the Indian Army and as a Defence Attache in the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu)