India's Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh has been conferred the honorary rank of the Nepal Army's General.
General Bikram Singh is on a four-day visit to Nepal, which is his first ever visit abroad since he took over as the chief of the 1.13-million strong Indian Army on May 31 this year.
Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav formally conferred the rank on General Bikram Singh at a ceremony in Kathmandu. The event was also attended by Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, members of his cabinet and Nepal Army chief General Chhatra Man Gurung.
The Indian and the Nepalese armies traditionally honour each other's chiefs by conferring the honorary rank of general.
The Nepal Army chief was similarly conferred the honorary rank of Indian Army General by President Pratibha Patil in December 2009.
General Bikram Singh, speaking on the occasion, said it was "a great honour" to have been bestowed with the honorary rank of General of the Nepal Army.
"This will further strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries and their armies," he said.
The Indian Army chief's visit assumes importance in the light of enhanced Defence cooperation between the two countries and growing bilateral relationship.
Also, it comes at a time when the Nepal government is to take a decision on letting Gorkhas from that country to join armies such as the Indian Army and the British Army.
India traditionally recruits Gorkhas from Nepal in its 35 Gorkha Rifles battalions, apart from Gorkhas from the Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal and Sikkim. These regiments usually have Gorkhas from the Nepal in the ration of 60:40 alongside Indian-origin Gorkhas. Thus, it can be safely put that there are about 22,000 Nepal Gorkhas serving in the Indian Army.
In fact, there is a huge ex-serviceman of Indian Army's Gorkha regiments living in Nepal, apart from Indian Army's recruitment centers in three locations in the Himalayan nation. It is estimated that Indian Army spends $200 million annually on paying pension, which is on par with other Indian soldiers, to Nepal Gorkha warriors who have retired and are settled in Nepal at present.
After the Maoists fighters gave up arms, and joined the mainstream polity of the country and came to power in Nepal after democratic elections, some of its leaders have voiced opinions against letting the Nepal Gorkhas from serving in foreign armies. A report of Nepal's parliamentary committee too had suggested against them serving in armies abroad.
But the remittances from the expatriates and their pension are a huge sum that the Nepalese government may not be able to bear at present.
General Bikram Singh, during his stay in Nepal, will also call on Nepal President, apart from the prime minister and the army chief when the two sides are expected to discuss enhancing Defence cooperation in the fields of training and courses, UN peace keeping, disaster management, sports, adventure activities and Defence industry cooperation, according to officers in the Indian Army headquarters.
He will also visit various Nepal Army training establishments including the Birendra Peacekeeping Training Centre at Panchkhal and the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Mustang, apart from inspecting the Indian Army Pension Camp and Nepal Army's western divisional headquarters in Pokhara.
He will also visit the birth place of Lord Buddha in Lumbini and also address the 19th command and staff course cadets of the Nepalese Army.
There have been a series of high-level visits between the two countries to build up trust and mutual confidence, including the last visit to Nepal by then Indian Army chief General VK Singh in April this year to attend a military seminar in Kathmandu.
"Both sides have indicated a desire to work towards building a mutually beneficial Defence cooperation. Sustained cooperation between the two armies is ongoing in the fields of training, visits, equipment and miscellaneous mutually beneficial activities," the officers said.
The Indian Army chief returns to India on July 13.