Friday, March 1, 2024

A review of "National Security and the State: A Focus on Nepal"


Many research-based books have been published in Nepal over the past few years. "National Security and the State: A Focus on Nepal," written by Keshar Bahadur Bhandari, is the latest contribution to the genre.

Bhandari is a former retired brigadier general who holds a Ph.D. and worked as a defence and security analyst. He is also credited for drafting the first-ever national security policy document of Nepal while serving in the National Security Council Secretariat.

This book is divided in eight chapters: Each of the chapters reveals a different national security challenge from past to present.

The book starts with the Kalapani Conundrum. Kalapani, Lipu Lekh, and Limpiyadhura areas lie in the far-west region of Nepal. Sovereignty over this territory is an issue hotly contested by both Nepal and India. The Sugauli treaty of 1816 between Nepal and the then East India Company was the fundamental event that delineated the (western) border of Nepal.

Topics discussed in the book are socio-political and Bhandari's has an astute take on events both past and present, making the book a fascinating read. The issue of US grant programme Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as well as the tussle between Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) vs. the US's Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) have been analysed skilfully in the book.

Topics discussed in the book are socio-political and Bhandari's has an astute take on events both past and present, making the book a fascinating read.

Bhandari has highlighted the issue of BRI being a development-focused commercial venture that emphasizes common security through an economic corporation, while the IPS is security-heavy with US interests that emphasizes on defence and military alliances and partnerships. Both issues are highly sensitive, in need of delicate diplomatic handling and at the same time difficult to understand. The reviewer agrees with the author that BRI and IPS should benefit Nepal but not at the expense of the country's security and sovereignty.

While discussing new forms of security challenges Bhandari discusses "Uranium: A Mineral of Strategic Importance,". The analysis is praiseworthy. Uranium is primarily used as fuel for nuclear weapons, atomic power plants, medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, and agricultural food preservation. Massive uranium deposits in Nepal might pose a new security threat to the country or change its course for the better if they are used strategically. Otherwise, Nepal can end up like Somalia. Unfortunately, Nepal lacks even the most basic knowledge of uranium. A country cannot become economically wealthy if uranium reserves are not utilized wisely.

The scribe agrees with Bhandari's research-based statements that Nepal does not currently meet the requirements to be or establish itself as a nation-state. Despite socioeconomic disparities, numerous ethnic, religious, and minority groups in Nepal have been coexisting peacefully, demonstrating a certain form of unity in diversity. These data lead to the conclusion that Nepal is not a nation-state but rather a state-nation, which is what can be inferred from them.

However, the reviewer has some reservations about Bhandari's claim that "[I]n small states, ethnic groups and the marginalized communities often raise the issue of discrimination with demand for identity, autonomy, even independence in their search for self-determination. In such a situation, is Nepal in a position to learn from Singapore? Otherwise, Nepal may also face challenges like in Sri Lanka".

Being a Dalit, the reviewer can say that Dalits are not seeking autonomy. They just want respect and upholding of their human rights. They aspire for a fair society where everyone is treated equally and respected without caste discrimination. Should Dalits continue to put up with the alleged high caste prejudice in this state? How does the Dalit voice against injustice based on caste make Nepal's fate similar to Sri Lanka's? How long should Dalits tolerate so-called high-caste people's prejudice? The constitution does protect Dalits and punish those who violate it, yet there are instances of discrimination continue in the country. Politicians and bureaucrats are merely paying lip service to the Dailt cause. We must not forget that Nepal is a state-nation with different nationalities but the state is not able to address the voice of various nationalities and minority groups in the process of integration.

Being a retired army Brigadier General, Bhandari has highlighted the bravery and history of Nepal Army and various operations conducted by this hallowed institution. Mukti Sena's battle against the Rana regime, revolts carried out by KI Singh and Bhimdutt Panta, Bajhang operation, control of Hindu-Muslim riot in western Nepal, Khampa operation, Okhalduhnga operation, post-1990 Army and Army in the post-conflict environment are discussed deftly. As a member of the security forces, Bhandari is naturally loyal to his institution and avoids mentioning the contributions of rebel leaders KI Singh and Bheemdutt Panta. But Singh and Panta were the pioneers who planted the seed of democracy and republicanism in Nepal and they deserve detailed discussions.

The author argues that introduction of short service in the Army will result in a trained and disciplined young generation that will be a benefit to the country and can advance its security objectives. Additionally, its continuation will implicitly support the idea of youth conscription into the military or at least mandatory military training. Even though it is new in the context of Nepal, this type of brief service is used in numerous nations, including Israel and many European nations.

In the Epilogue the writer proposes that the contested "Kalapani area should provide a buffer, a "Peace Zone". It can then be converted into a "Peace Park", or be declared a "Demilitarized Zone". Nepal and India can even agree on temporality on shared sovereignty over the area but with compensation till the problem is resolved amicably. And another better option would be an amicable trade-off in the use of land while preserving each other's sovereignty.

Mutual exchange in the right to use each other's land could occur between Nepal and India. India could use the Kalapani area. In return, Nepal may get the rights for uninterrupted use of the Indian corridor joining Kakarvitta in eastern Nepal to the Banglabandhu land port of Bangladesh. These are fascinating ideas. Still, the government has not taken any concrete action in this regard. Bhandari, a defence specialist, should advise and practically guide the administration rather than making idealistic suggestions.

Part eight of the book lacks gravity despite the fact that Bhandari writes clearly. He frequently adopts an opinionated tone which may be off-putting to some readers.

Part eight of the book lacks gravity despite the fact that Bhandari writes clearly. He frequently adopts an opinionated tone which may be off-putting to some readers. But the accessibility of the book lies in the fact that each part is covered in 30 to 40 pages, making them perfect for busy readers to randomly pick a part to read at their leisure. Although it is elegantly written and easy to read, whether one appreciates it depends on whether one agrees with Bhandari's arguments.

Part 3 of the book "Nation, Nation-State, And National Security" can be a required read for postgraduate students in social science. Part 7 could be prescribed for security force curricula like army schools and police schools.

It's a useful book to gain perspective about the country, its future direction, and the next steps regarding national security.

Bhandari deserves kudos for writing security issues relevant to the present context. Furthermore, his book provides a ground for researchers to conduct research in the field of national security.  After all, national security has always remained an area of priority for all nations of the world even if the issues related to it differ nation-wise.

Title: National Security and The State: A Focus on Nepal

Author: Keshar Bahadur Bhandari

Genre: Security Studies/Academic Research

Publisher Nepa-laya

Price: Rs. 995

Pages: 426


Published on 16 October 2022