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Room for Nepal soldiers; tanks on table

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By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 16.12.09
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New Delhi, Dec. 15: Officer cadets from Nepal will get more seats in the Indian Military Academy, the recruitment of Nepalese Gorkhas in the Indian Army will be increased and New Delhi will consider supplying 50 phased-out tanks to Kathmandu, a senior defence ministry official said today.

The decisions followed talks Nepal’s visiting army chief, General Chhatraman Singh Gurung, held with security officials here.

India proposes to raise an additional battalion of Gorkhas that will increase the recruitment from Nepal from the current level of about 1,600 soldiers a year. But the move could rankle the Maoists in Nepal who have campaigned against the recruitment of Nepalese Gorkhas by foreign (Indian and British) armies.

There are seven Gorkha Rifles regiments in the Indian Army, each with five or six battalions of about 900 soldiers. Gorkhas from Nepal and India are recruited not only in these battalions but also in other regiments such as the special forces (parachute battalions).

Five years back, the number of Nepalese Gorkhas in the Indian Army was around 40,000. In an acknowledgement of their role, the Indian defence establishment has its largest pay and accounts office in Kathmandu to disburse pensions.

Recruitment of Nepalese Gorkhas was done in rallies in Dharan and Pokhran (in Nepal) till it was suspended in September 2006. The recruitment was resumed in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur last year. The Nepalese Gorkha quota is always oversubscribed. At the last rally this March, over 8,500 aspirants turned up.

Nepal’s army has also enquired if India can raise the supply of military hardware to the level prevalent nine years back. In 2005, India scaled down its military aid with the accession to power of King Gyanendra. But the actual reduction in military assistance had begun in 2001, with the Maoist insurgency intensifying in the Himalayan nation.

The scaling-down was done not only because of a cold turn in diplomatic relations but also because of fears that Indian weapons — such as the INSAS rifle, more than a lakh of which were supplied to the (erstwhile) Royal Nepal Army — would fill the Maoists’ arsenal (which turned out to be true).

Nepal has specifically asked if it can acquire 50 tanks from the Indian Army at discounted rates. These are Ajeya T-72 tanks that are being replaced with the Bhishma T-90 in the armoured regiments.

General Gurung, an alumnus of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehra Dun who attended the passing-out parade of officer cadets on Saturday, also held talks with the Indian Army’s director-general of military training. He said it was his wish to set up an institution like the IMA in Nepal.

At the academy, Gurung visited the room where he had stayed as a cadet. He also spent time in its archives searching for a photograph of himself with the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, whom he described as his hero.

Gurung was honoured with the rank of General in the Indian Army by the President yesterday. He is slated to meet the external affairs minister, the foreign secretary and national security adviser tomorrow.

Gurung’s visit comes close on the heels of an India-Nepal defence cooperation committee meeting in Kathmandu last week.

The Indian Army looks at the demand of the Maoists for “integration” of their PLA troops in the Nepal Army ranks — under the country’s peace accord — with suspicion.

Gurung, like the Indian military establishment, is in favour of an “apolitical, professional army” — euphemisms designed to exclude the politically indoctrinated Maoists from infiltrating the ranks.

Maoist chief Prachanda and the former army chief, General Rookmangad Katuwal, fell out after differences. The showdown ultimately led to the exit of the Maoists from the government in Kathmandu earlier this year.

The delegations of the two armies have exchanged notes on security, with the Nepalese team of the view that the Maoists can present a military challenge yet again.