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History of Military Diplomacy in Nepal

3647 words (15 pages) Essay in History

18/05/20 History Reference this

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Introduction

Nepal has a long history of applying military diplomacy as a significant process to engage with its strong neighbors to secure its vital interests. This history established military diplomacy as a major subset of Nepal’s foreign policy. Since the unification campaign, Nepal’s foreign policy was essentially influenced by military strategy.[1] The diplomatic notion of ‘ yam between two states’ and ‘equi-distance’ was devised by Prithvi Narayan Shah was the diplomacy based on military doctrine, which was necessary at that time when Nepal was a military state. The ‘yam and equidistance’ concept has guided Nepalese diplomacy even today, although this concept has a little relevance in the 21st century’s democracy. But Prithvi Narayan Shah’s other ‘wise counsels’ continue to provide an important basis for Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomacy even today.

However, Nepal, though a small state, has been closely involved in military issues for centuries.

The Rana dynasty, which ruled Nepal from 1846-1951, had deep ties with the British and in 1857-58 helped the British suppress the Sepoy Mutiny in India. Nepal later aided the Younghusband expedition to Tibet in 1903-1904 and assisted the British government during the World Wars.

Going back to the origin of modern Nepal, we see that it was Gorkha, one of the weaker poorer principalities in the mountains, which took the leadership in national unification and led the foundation of the nation. The first leader which we have to study is Prithvi Narayan Shah. There are five main tenets discernible in his policy. First is the unification itself, without which he saw there no security or independence of the mountain principalities in the face of expanding colonial power that was expanding in the Indian plains. The second was his military buildup, for which he selected competent commanders who were able to make proper assessments of the situation and take right steps at the right moment. Third element was his cautious approach towards India and China. The fourth element of his policy was the balance between offensive and defensive approaches. He was offensive in relation to the small principalities, which he subjugated with liberal use of force and took a defensive position against the greater powers in the south and north. The origins and the fundamental principles of current nepali foreign policy can be traced back to the period of the unification of central Himalayan areas under the Gorkha dynasty.      

Anglo-Nepal War (1814-1816) and it’s aftermath 

From 1805 to 1814, British policy in India was aimed at holding those territories already in its possession, preventing the emergence of any anti-British alliance comprising the Indian states and avoiding all but most necessary military ventures. In 1792, China could warn Nepal against any encroachment toward the north, but was unable to restrain the Kingdom’s martial spirit. Nepal expanded towards south and came into conflict with British power there. The British had their own feud with Gurkhas whose inflexibility had put their commercial strategy for the Himalayan states in trouble. Besides there was an acute problem of criminals looting Indian border villages and finding a safe home in the low lands of Terai and mountains of Nepal. The war was considered the only option left and Gorkha encroachment gave another excuse to British to invade Nepal.[2]

The treaty of Sugauli was a costly affair to Nepal. The treaty allowed British to open a residency in Kathmandu, made Nepal to surrender all of Nepal’s hill territories west of Koshi River as well as the disputed Terai areas below the hills to the British or its subordinate Indian states and finally turned over the territories between Singalila range and Tista river to the British, which then restored them to Sikkim.[3]

The war was an unpleasant lesson for Nepal. Finally Nepal realized that it was the end of expansion era. The war even taught a lesson to British who learnt that it was difficult to fight with Nepalese in their terrain. British also realized that it would be an uphill task to govern Nepal and give up any notion of bringing Nepal under their empire.[4] The years from 1816 to 1846 had been a widespread failure in the realm of foreign policy. Attempts to fuse the Indian states into an effective anti-British alliance had been unsuccessful. Nepal efforts to extract cooperation from Chinese side met with disappointment. By 1846, Nepal firmly understood that British had become stronger and that it had established its dominance in India and China was reluctant to offer the support required to preserve Nepal against British expansion.[5] In this changed environment, a new foreign policy appeared essential and the period 1846-58 was to observe the development of a fresh foreign policy that constituted Military Diplomacy.

Rise of Jung Bahadur                                            

Jung bahadur came to power from a humble position as a result of the Kot Massacre[6] on 14 September 1846. He put aside the king and brought and all forms of power of the state within him and started a family rule by making the Prime Ministership hereditary.[7] Jung Bahadur significantly redefined Nepal’s foreign policy toward both China and British India.[8] The minister was well aware of the rapid decline of Chinese power and recognized that distant Peking was neither willing nor able to challenge the British in the Himalayan area.[9]  Major element of Jung bahadur’s policy was the strength of British in India. According to Muni, Jung bahadur had particularly three personal reasons to have soft attitude towards British[10]. First, since he was from a humble position, British patronage could have legitimized his authority. Second, the activities of his opponents, who had fled to India, could have been checked with the cooperation of British. Third, British support was indispensable if he were to realize his dream of getting the throne of Nepal.

1857 Sepoy Mutiny

A series events took place in mid-1857 in north India against the British Raj with the mutiny of British Indian regiments at Meerut.[11] Jang Bahadur’s remarkable efforts were devoted to looking for the advantage for Nepal and himself in this crisis. When the news of mutiny reached Kathmandu, there was an unpleasant debate in the palace. Jung Bahadur believed that as mutiny had rare chance to succeed and argued that the preservation of British rule would be in the interests of Nepal.[12] Considering the extensive dissatisfaction over sending troops to British India, Jung bahadur held many council meetings in which he convinced his opponents that British were sure to win and by assisting them Nepal could regain the lost territory during Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-16.

“There is no probability that this government will receive any orders from the British government on such a trifling occasion, yet in the consideration of the friendship which subsists between the two states it would not be consistent with the rules of friendship to keep silent on hearing such intelligence. I therefore desire to say that  we are ready to execute any orders that may be given to this government by the Right Honourable Governor general.”[13]

With the restoration of Tarai lands to Nepal in 1860, the present national boundaries of the country were settled. In the post 1860 period, the British agreed not to intervene in the internal politics and economy and also to respect Nepal’s isolation policy, which barred British access to areas of Nepal other than Kathmandu and certain places in the southern low-land of Nepal. Nepal generally accepted British guidance on Nepal’s external relation in what amounted to a limited subordinate status in the British Indian frontier security system.[14] This support by Nepal Government to quell the mutiny against the British can be taken as an iconic example of Military Diplomacy.

Governor General wrote on May 17, 1858:

“I have determined on part of the British Government to restore to the Nepal State the whole or the former Gurkha possessions below the hills extending from the river Gogra on the west to the British territory of the Gorakhpur on the east and bounded on the south by Kreegurh and the districts of Baraith and on the north by hills.”[15]

A treaty between Nepal and the British Government was concluded on 1st November 1860 (ratified on 15th November 1860). The Treaty’s Article-2 states :

“The British Government hereby bestows on the Maharajah of Nepal in full sovereignty, the whole of the lowlands between the Rivers Kali and Raptee, and the whole of the lowlands lying between the River Raptee and the District of Gorukpore, which were in the possession of the Nipal State in the year 1815, and were ceded to the British Government by Article III of the Treaty concluded at Sugauli on the 2nd of December in that year.”[16]

The British response after Nepal’s help to quell the Sepoy Mutiny in India itself shows the importance they had given to its help. On their own initiative, they restored some territory to Nepal. So, efforts to minimize the contribution of Nepal in 1857 to the British Government by some writers after many years of the episode and without any documentary evidence seemed to have coloured by other motives than true presentation of the historical events. The Nepali soldiers killed 5,000 rebels and captured 406 rebels in the actions in 1857.

Recruitment

On 10 December, Jang bahadur led 8,000 Nepali troops to India.

The British had been fascinated by the bravery and fighting skills of the Nepali soldiers and desired to recruit them as recruits Indian Army regiments, and commanded by British officers.[17] It became an important objective of British policy toward Nepal to acquire the right to recruit Gurkha soldiers with Nepal.[18] Jung bahadur was able to resist British pressure, but succession quarrels after his death gave the British leverage with this support the Rana regime enjoyed comprehensive internal autonomy, while assured of British support both internal subversion and external aggression. This process of Gurkha recruitment for the British India contributed in Nepal’s foreign policy.

In 1885 British gained the right to recruit Gurkhas for the Indian army.[19] Bir Shamsher after his accession to the post of Prime Minister of Nepal, abandoned the traditional Nepalese policy of adopting stiff attitude towards the British. The period between 1885 and 1901 can be termed as the period of friendly co-operation with regard to the question of Gurkha recruitment. By adopting different measures, he made the recruiting process easier. He gave permission to open Gurkha recruiting depots in India near the Nepalese borders. He himself took initiative in collecting the recruits for British government. In the year 1886 two more Gurkha regiments were raised,2 and additional second Gurkha battalions were raised in the previous five Gurkha battalion

Between 1886 and 1892 altogether 7, 662 Gurkha recruits, mostly Magars and Gurungs, were supplied. 3In 1894 another Gurkha battalion was raised which in 1901 became the ninth Gurkha Rifles.4 In the same way, in 1895 first Burma Gurkha Rifles was raised which in 1901, became the 10th Gurkha Rifles.5 During the period between 1885 and 1901 besides the original five Gurkha regiments, four more Gurkha battalions were also raised.

When Chandra Shamsher became the Prime Minister of Nepal the recruiting process further improved. He gave every possible support to the British for the recruitment of Gukhas. In 1902 another Gurkha regiment was raised.[20] In 1908, the Gurkha brigade had 20 battalions organized into 10 Rifle regiments.[21]8 In 1914 there were some 26,000 Gurkhas serving in the ten regular Rifle regiments.9 During the World War I, Chandra Shamsher took every possible step to help British in the recruitment of Gurkhas. He also offered the regular Nepalese troops and Gurkha recruits to British. As a result during World War I, total number of men taken out of Nepal was 200,000. 10Out of 200,000, 55,000 men were enlisted in the regular Gurkha battalions of the Indian army.11

British once their goal of recruiting Gurkhas was achieved became more generous for Nepal. Over the years, the relation between Ranas and the British flourished. British India paid a subsidy to the Government of Nepal for soldiers recruited and later pension brought a flow of cash in the far-flung areas of Nepal. Rana regime enjoyed complete internal autonomy and also was guaranteed of British support against on internal subversion and external hostility.[22]

World Wars

Chandra Shamsher’s foreign policy pivoted on the alliance with the British. Though at times he was upset with his policy as it could not fulfill intended objectives, but no substantive alternatives were present. Nepal became a virtual appendage of the British Indian empire, responsive to it in the alliance with the British.

During World War I, Kathmandu loaned the Government of India ten battalions of the Nepal state army and facilitated recruitment for the Gurkha battalions in the British Indian army. Approximately 55,000 Nepalis were recruited into those units during the war and many of them served in the European or the Middle Eastern theater as well as in the 1919 Waziristan campaign in Afganistan, with great distinction and heavy casualties.[23] It was felt that that the British owed Nepal a generous demonstration of their gratitude for services rendered during the war.

Gurkha recruitment went on satisfactorily between the two World Wars. The war clouds had already surrounded the European horizon by October 1938. As soon as the War became a threat to Britain, Maharaja Juddha Shamsher offered a Nepalese contingent of 8,000 troops for garrison duty in India. This offer was accepted a year later when War was actually declared. The British government also asked for Gurkhas to serve overseas, which Juddha Shamsher readily granted. Permission was also given to enlist additional Gurkha for garrisons, police duties and volunteer battalion of paratroopers. Juddha Shamsher like his predecessors left no stone unturned to please the British authorities by supplying adequate number of recruits. In all, some 160,000 Gurkha recruits reported to the different recruiting centers.12 Furthermore, in early 1940 Maharaja Juddha Shamsher sent eight battalions of the Nepalese army, commanded by two of his sons, to India, mostly destined for service on the frontier as before to release regular troops. In the middle of 1940s, British government sought permission to recruit 7000 Gurkhas for six new battalions during the recruiting season of 1940-1941. This figure however did not include these 3500 recruits required annually to maintain the existing Gurkha regiments. 13Maharaja Juddha Shamsher readily granted permission. When the first batch of the recruits were just reporting at the recruiting depots, the British government made another urgent demand by asking permission to raise ten more Gurkha battalions by April 1941.14 Juddha Shamsher gave his approval to new proposals also. During the recruiting season of 1940, altogether 15,000 Gurkhas were recruited.15 In order to supply required number of recruits to the British government, Juddha Shamsher even stopped all recruitments for the Nepalese army. During these years, the recruitment had been so heavy that almost all the able-bodied young men had left the country and Nepalese Prime Minister delighted

Nepal as an independent state

In the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, Nepal’s status as an independent state on its external relations had become fundamental to the Nepal-British relationship.[24] The treaty signed 21 December 1923 awarded Nepal “unequivocal” recognition of its independence.[25] The first clause of the treaty states that both governments to mutually acknowledge and respect each other’s independence, both internal and external.

Considering the unfavorable geopolitical environment in which the Nepal government had to function during that period and with no external support, it can be concluded that Ranas were reasonably successful in maintaining a respected independence for Nepal. The treaty was the recognition by the British that Nepal as an independent nation could carry out its foreign policy in a manner as it sees fit. [26] The treaty was recorded in the League of Nations which awarded the international status to Nepal.[27] The treaty declared Nepal as an independent and sovereign nation, The treaty was also the first treaty between Nepal and Britain which was concluded with the mutual discussion between both nations. According to Nepalese historians, the main achievement of the treaty was the protection of the independence of Nepal and the increment of the status of Nepal among the other nations of the world. Most Nepalese historians agree that the treaty was the major achievement of the Rana rule.[16][17] The British representative residing in Nepal, previously known as Resident was from then titled as Envoy.[18]


[1]Yuba Nath Lamsal, “Unification Era Diplomacy,” The Rising Nepal, http://www.therisingnepal.org.np/news/14805

[2] Leo E. Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971) 89.

[3] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 89.

[4] Leo E. Rose and John T. Scholz, Nepal:Profile of a Himalayan Kingdom, (Boulder CA: Westview Press, 1980) 37.

[5]  Muni 5

[6] On 14 September 1846, Gagan Singh,, Queen’s principal supporter was assassinated. Queen summoned all the political leaders to the Kot courtyard adjoining the palace. Charges and counter-charges were made to each other which culminated in the massacre of most of the rivals of Jung Bahadur and his brothers. All of major rivals of Jung Bahadur were either killed or expelled from Nepal. Shortly thereafter,

[7] Muni 7

[8] Leo E. Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971) 106.

[9] Leo E. Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 106.

[10] Muni 7-8.

[11] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 128.

[12] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 128.

[13] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 129.

[14] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 38.

[15] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 131.

[16] Ram Kumar Shrestha, “BOUNDARY TREATY – 1st November 1860,” January 15, 2011, https://completenepal.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/boundary-treaty-1st-november-1860/

[17] Leo E. Rose and Margaret W. Fisher, The Politics of Nepal: Persistence and Change in an Asian Monarchy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970), 148.

[18] Rose and Fisher, The Politics of Nepal: Persistence and Change in an Asian Monarchy.

[19] Kamal Raj Singh Rathaur, British Gurkha Recruitment : A Historical Perspective, Voice of History, 16(2): 19–24

[20] JBR Nicholson, The Gurkha Rifles, (Britain: Osprey Publishing Ltd. Berkshire, 1974) 23.

[21] Sushila Tyagi, Indo-Nepal relations (1858-1914), (Delhi: D.K. Publishing House, 1974) 211.

[22] Rose and Fisher, The Politics of Nepal: Persistence and Change in an Asian Monarchy, 148.

[23] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 170.

[24] Leo E. Rose and John T. Scholz, Nepal:Profile of a Himalayan Kingdom, (Boulder CA: Westview Press, 1980) 38.

[25] Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival, 170.

[26] Assad Hussain, British India’s relation with the Kingdom of Nepal, (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1970), 208.

[27] Kanchanmoy Mojumdar, Political Relations Between India and Nepal, 1877–1923, (Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi. 1973), 234.

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