With Army Chief General MM Naravane visiting Nepal on Wednesday, the importance of one element of the special relationship between the two countries merits emphasis. The ties between the two armies are a fundamental pillar which is based on history, contemporary partnership, symbolic respect and organic ties. The Indian and Nepali army chiefs are honorary generals of each other’s armies; there is deep camaraderie between retired and senior officers of both armies, many of whom have trained together in their younger days; the presence of Nepali citizens in the Indian Army — some from the country have given their lives for the security of India — is a remarkable testament to the trust between the two countries; and India, even as it respects Nepali sovereignty, sees the Nepal army as a friend which will respect its security sensitivities, while for the Nepal army, the Indian Army has been the first port of call during crises.
This relationship has assumed importance in the last two decades — both during the civil war in Nepal and during the peace process. It was on the then Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran’s advice that the then Royal Nepalese Army chief, Pyar Jung Thapa, went to the autocratic monarch, Gyanendra Shah, in 2006, and told him that the military could not suppress popular aspirations anymore. This led to the restoration of democracy. And it was when the Nepal army was concerned about attempts by Maoists to “politicise” its structure and alter the chain of command that India stepped in and encouraged the ouster of the Maoist-led government in 2008. It was because of this depth of ties that General Naravane’s public suggestion — it was unwarranted, coming from him — that Kathmandu was raising the border dispute at Chinese prodding had an impact on the relationship.
So, it is only fitting that the Army chief is going to Nepal as a gesture of India’s commitment to maintaining institutional ties with key elements of the Nepali State. The Nepal army has been clear that the relationship with India is important and, even while engaging with China, has resisted its govern-ment’s attempts to drag it into geopolitical games. General Naravane is likely to emphasis this bond and convey to the Nepali authorities India’s security sensitivities. Irrespective of the ebbs and flows of the political relationship between the two countries, the fact that the military channel is strong can only aid better understanding and serve mutual interests.