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Nestled against the Himalayas, landlocked Nepal lies between India and China, south of Tibet.
Nepal is divided into three geographic subregions: a mountainous northern border region, a central hilly area and the Terai, a fertile, low-lying marshy plain. The Terai is irrigated by tributaries of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and supports over 90 percent of Nepal's 27 million people. Only 17 percent of the population lives in urban areas, the largest being the capital in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal's core.
Following decades of civil strife, Nepal transformed from a monarchy into a modern republic in 2006. The territory of modern Nepal was unified under ethnic Gurkha rule in the mid-18th century. Colonial Britain relied on the military support of elite Gurkha mercenaries to maintain influence on the subcontinent.
After centuries of isolation, Nepal's geographic challenge is its struggle to remain independent and maintain a distinct identity from surrounding global powers. This is complicated by Nepal's dependence on Indian ports and constant Chinese attention on its northern border with Tibet.
Nepal has transitioned from an isolated agrarian society toward greater economic integration with its neighbors, especially India. While agriculture still plays a large role, it is matched by the services sector fueled by foreign tourism to religious sites and Mt. Everest.
Although the geography and inhospitable climate of the northern border prevent any large-scale military posturing by outside powers, Nepal's location along the Tibetan plateau can serve as a launch pad for greater Indian influence northward or an expansion of Chinese influence, denying New Delhi inroads into Tibet.