Nepal National Defense
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
The primary mission of the armed forces was defense of territorial integrity against external attack. Wedged between India and China, however, Nepal was clearly unable to mount anything more than a token conventional defense in the face of overwhelming odds. By necessity, governments in Kathmandu have always had to rely on diplomacy and the restraint of neighbors, rather than Nepal's military strength, to ensure national survival. During peacetime, the army's routine border defense duties included assisting the police in antismuggling operations and providing security in remote regions where there was no police presence.
In the event of conventional attack by either China or India, Nepalese military forces would mount a token defense to stall the enemy advance until international pressures could be mobilized to bring about a cease-fire and a return to the status quo. If international mediation failed, the military and police units that remained intact would withdraw from populated areas to lead a guerrilla war against occupation forces. Substantial numbers of Gurkha and Royal Nepal Army veterans also would be pressed into service, thereby multiplying the available military forces two or threefold. Nepal's position as a buffer state between two historically antagonistic powers also dictated that a beleaguered government in Kathmandu probably would appeal for assistance from the nonbelligerent neighbor.
Most of Nepal's population outside the Kathmandu Valley lived in hamlets that were either cut off from the rest of the country or else connected only to a local economy and communications infrastructure. Hence, the loss of some rural districts during a conventional conflict would not necessarily bring about the capitulation of the entire country. Semiautonomous guerrilla bands acting under the direction of retired or serving military officers could operate almost indefinitely and substantially raise the costs of an occupying force. However, loss of the valley, the political and cultural nerve center of the nation, could well mean the end of organized resistance. Partly for this reason, Nepal's national defenses were deployed primarily to defend the capital area in general and the national leadership in particular.
Geography also limited Nepal's capacity to mount a conventional defense of the nation. Although the Himalayas provided a nearly impenetrable shield against large-scale, rapid movement of troops from China, the harsh terrain also prevented Nepalese forces from erecting significant defenses along the 1,236-kilometer border. A paucity of roads, bridges, and airfields in the region would confine the Nepalese military response to provisioning scattered border outposts and positions near the mountainous tracks leading to some fifteen passes along the northern border (see Roads , ch. 3). The only land corridor of any significance in a conflict with China would be the main road, built with Chinese assistance, that connected Kathmandu with Tibet. New Delhi has repeatedly expressed its fears that the road could serve as a Chinese invasion route, not a Nepalese resupply route.
Mounting a conventional defense against India posed an equally daunting challenge. India boasted significant ground force assets along its 1,690-kilometer border with Nepal; moreover, these formations were connected by extensive lines of communication to the Indian heartland, where reinforcements could be introduced into Nepal in short order. Nepal had virtually no combat air capability and its rudimentary air defense assets were no match for the Indian Air Force, second in size and capabilities only to China's among Asia's air forces. Within Nepal, defense against a concerted Indian advance in the jungles and foothills of the Tarai was clearly impractical. Although the East-West Highway, or Mahendra Highway, connecting the extreme ends of the country was nearing completion in 1991, most of Nepal's approximately 4,500 kilometers of allweather , motorable roads ran north-south, thereby complicating cross-country military movements. Avenues of approach leading north from India were considerably better developed than the generally primitive east-west lines of communication available to Nepalese forces. The country's rail network was limited to a forty-eight- kilometer spur line running from the border town of Raxaul to Amlekhganj and a fifty-three-kilometer narrow-gauge track from the Indian border town of Jaynagar to Janakpur and Bijalpura in Nepal.
Data as of September 1991
NOTE: The information regarding Nepal on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Nepal National Defense information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Nepal National Defense should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.