Nepal Army, Inc

  • Core duty of defence force is to safeguard the nation, not run after profit

Oct 4, 2018-

The Nepal Army is among the few institutions that have maintained a relatively independent image among major state organs--executive, legislature and judiciary. But of late, owing to its increasing involvement in commercial activities, its image, too, is being tarnished. In December 2016, the Ministry of Information and Communications under the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government gave permission to the NA to operate FM radios in each of the seven provinces. And last year in May, the Dahal-led government handed over the Kathmandu-Tarai expressway project to the NA as the decision to award the job to an Indian company became contentious. The NA also runs a mineral water plant, a medical college, and a banquet venue.

As the national security agency is overstepping its mandate and increasingly turning into a profit-making enterprise, it has rightly raised the question about the proper role of the Army in a democracy.

After the Maoist war, the Army has been more interested in bagging government contracts than in doing its core duties, which include gathering intelligence, defending the country and its natural reserves, or engaging in disaster response. During the insurgency, when civilian contractors were unable to work in the war zone, the Army started building roads. For example, the Salyan-Musikot road. But that practice did not stop. Today, the NA has leased the historical Tri-Chandra Military Hospital for business, runs petrol pumps in different parts of the country, and sells plotted lands to its staff. Naturally, such activities have dragged the security body entrusted with protecting the nation into controversy. The focus of the state defence force is gradually shifting towards making money, as though it is on its way to create a lucrative empire. As if that was not enough, the NA wants an amendment in the provision in Army Act 2006 that puts a legal barrier for investment as a promoter.

The introduction of profit and commercial incentive in the NA is a diversion from its official duty. Its elevated social position also permits it to have access to state resources which are not within the reach of the civilian population. Increasing commercial activities by the military could potentially give rise to corruption, either at an institutional level or an individual level. Military corruption will have a damaging effect on the civil-military relationship contributing to an erosion of public support. What’s more, in addition to threatening the overall integrity of state structure, it will also prove detrimental for the exercise of civilian authority over the armed force.

There needs to be a clear demarcation of where the army can invest and where they cannot. The more they get involved in commercial activities, the more damaging will it be to the national economy. In a democracy, the military is under civilian control. And in a civilian control of the military, the army is not above public reproach. The sooner the Nepal Army stops running after profits and concentrates on safeguarding the nation, the better.

Published: 04-10-2018 07:38

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