Saturday , September 22 2018

By MR Josse

MR_JOSSE

KATHMANDU: I venture this brief exegesis on the recent two-day “Eminent Persons Group” (EPG) meeting on Indo-Nepal relations in Kathmandu traversing a route many will find unusual: Moscow’s blistering reaction to NATO’s decision to put four battalions in Poland and the Baltic states, perceiving NATO’s expansion into Russia’s Soviet-era backyard as a direct security threat.

ELOQUENT PARALLELISM

Let me open with this incisive assessment on Russia by Henry Kissinger, American historian-statesman nonpareil: “Security for Russia has always meant insecurity for Russia’s neighbours.”

While the veracity of Kissinger’s observation is borne out by history, for India too security has inevitably translated into insecurity for neighbours – if not also the abridgment of their sovereignty and identity. Even a most casual retrospective on India’s encroachments in her neighbourhood, post-1947, should render such a striking geopolitical parallelism chillingly clear.

To be sure, there are a few other affinities between India and Russia – or between today’s India and Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union: one concerns their relentless quest for status and the other the disturbing proclivity for intervention in their backyard.

As Kissinger details in ‘Years of Renewal’, during his many discussions with Brezhnev the latter’s “efforts still focused on a quest for status, in itself a sign of insecurity, since those who know themselves to be genuinely equals do not require constant certification of the fact.”

Modi’s India has been particularly active in seeking international recognition of India as a Great or Leading Power. Incidentally, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had publicly declared in India that the United States would “help” her become a Great Power!

India’s history of relentless political intervention and interference in Nepal’s domestic realm is too well known to warrant elaboration; it bears an uncanny proximity to the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ which “asserted Moscow’s right to impose ideological orthodoxy on the Communist world.”

PLATITUDES

Coming, now, to the EPG meet – of which one knows very little beyond the usual diplomatic platitudes and emollient projections – there is nothing that I’ve read about that supposedly munificent event that would even faintly suggest that any attempt was made by the Nepali side to underscore how India’s inexorable quest for security in Nepal has curtailed our national security.

Incidentally, two observations made in speeches in plenary session struck me as most revealing. The first was by DPM/Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa who referred to relations between the “two countries” dating back to the “pre-historic period”; the other, by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, coordinator of the Indian side, who informed that India wanted Nepal to be as “happy as Bhutan” – a disclosure that was widely interpreted as suggesting that Nepal should be like Bhutan.

Koshiyari’s remarks take on more than passing politico-diplomatic significance, not least since it is no secret that India has succeeded in scuttling any attempt by Thimphu to acquiesce to the establishment of a full-fledged Chinese embassy in Thimphu.

Read against the backcloth of the constant Indian media propaganda buzz about how close Nepal has become to China, and the well-known Indian geopolitical aspiration that Nepal tilt in her direction, Koshiyari’s pronouncement is as clear as any indicator about where and how Nepal figures in the Indian foreign/security policy calculus.

Do our EPG interlocutors, or the government itself, realise this; if so, what do they intend to do about it, in future EPG talkathons? We shall, hopefully, eventually know.

Whatever the future may hold as far as this EPG process goes – essentially a public relations exercise to buy time, heal the scars and wounds inflicted on Nepal by India’s blockade and to continue with ‘business as usual’ – it will be hazardous in the extreme if we choose to go the way of Thimphu, as far as Nepal’s foreign policy and the imperative of defending her core political and geo-strategic interests are concerned.

BALANCE OF FORCES

This columnist found it disconcerting, to put it no stronger than that, that nary a word was heard during the period leading to, and immediately after the EPG process concluded, about China being Nepal’s immediate neighbour, too! It was as if the two groups of ’eminent persons’ were completely oblivious to that key geo-strategic reality, despite the fact that knowledgeable individuals such as Singapore diplomat-scholar Kishore Mahubani consider China as “the most astute and effective geopolitical player of the twenty-first century.”

It is difficult to fathom how an exercise to imagine Nepal-India relations’ future path can ignore where Nepal – and, indeed, India, too – is situated. Given, additionally, the sea changes that have occurred since the 1950 Treaty between India and Nepal was formalised – and this includes mind-boggling progress in the economic, military, technological and diplomatic domains by China – it is astounding that such an exercise can be considered productive despite ignoring where India and Nepal are located, relative to China.

After all, don’t we know how many a nation’s destiny has been linked to its geography? Nepal is, after all, not an island in the Pacific or, indeed, completely surrounded by India. How, then, can it be justifiable that China’s larger-than-life presence on Nepal’s northern border be so brazenly ignored?

If the core objective of Nepal’s foreign/security policy is indeed to safeguard her sovereign independence and territorial integrity, there cannot be any doubt that she must pursue a balance of force/power doctrine vis-à-vis India and China.

Nepal’s foreign/security policy infrastructure entails two sets of ‘balance’ that need to be harmonised for the sake of equilibrium (read: stability and peace): one between India and China and the other, the imperative for Nepal to practice a policy of balance between them.

While we can only monitor the former relationship, we can and should recognise that in the long run no foreign/security policy will be worth anything if the balance of geo-strategic forces obtaining around Nepal is ignored and allowed to tilt dangerously in any one direction.

Nepal cannot ignore lessons from her politico-diplomatic history or her geo-strategic location.

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