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Nepal: Balancing neighborhood

By Dr Upendra Gautam
In late 1940’s, Nepal’s neighborhood witnessed historic changes. On the eve of Britain’s exit from the region, two new countries -the Republic of India (RoI) and Republic of Pakistan-were created. China emerged as a new people’s republic. The RoI and century-long ruling family oligarchy in Nepal moved very fast to fill in the political and security vacuum left by the British by entering into a new treaty of “peace and friendship” in 1950.
Ensuing democratic movement in Nepal soon ended the ruling oligarchy. New civilian administration in Nepal and new PRC government restored normal diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1955. China and Nepal also quickly moved in to sign a treaty of peace and friendship in 1960.
The Sino-Nepalese treaty of 1960 is based on “the five principles of peaceful co-existence” jointly affirmed by the two countries. According to the Joint Communiqué of the Government of the PRC and the Government of Nepal, signed on 1 August 1955 for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations, the five principles were: mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-aggression; non-interference in each other’s internal affairs for any reasons-of an economic, political or ideological character; equality and mutual benefits; and peaceful co-existence.  Recognized as the basic principles “to guide the relations between the two countries,” they have indeed scrupulously served Sino-Nepalese relations all these fifty five years.
Unlike the Sino-Nepalese treaty of 1960, a significant section of Nepalese political elites, brought up and trained in the RoI, have since been hugely influenced to view Nepal-RoI treaty of 1950 and the arms agreement of 1965 as if they constituted a sacrosanct security alliance between the two countries. Further, in the name of such an arrangement, a highly motivated disinformation has also been spread. Such disinformation propagate that “Nepal and RoI have Open Border,” that this border is unilaterally used daily by “a huge number” of Nepalese for “employment in the RoI,” that “Nepal can not procure arms except from or after approval of the RoI.”
The RoI has been practically exploiting the post-1950 democratization process in Nepal to serve its interests. It established military post in Nepal’s northern border in 1953. This activity was clearly targeted against China by placing Nepal under its security umbrella. The following statement illustrated the RoI attitude.
“From time immemorial, the Himalaya has provided us with magnificent frontiers… We cannot allow that barrier to be penetrated because it is also the principal barrier to India. Therefore, much as we appreciate the independence of Nepal, we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened, because that would be a risk to our own security.”
The RoI dismissed the principle of panchsila (the five principles of peaceful co-existence) when in 13 June, 1959 Nehru questioned their existence as well as observance at a public meeting in Kathmandu. This attitude amply reflected a mindset to forcibly continue inheriting and practicing colonial policy. The said treaty and agreement were neither able to provide for any “open borders” between the two countries nor put restriction on Nepal to procure arms from foreign countries. The so-called open border is imposed on Nepal to ensure the RoI’s continued demographic invasion, monopolize Nepal’s economic and natural resources use and exploitation, and prepare ground to advance the forward policy in a feasible time. For Nepal as a matter of fact, these treaty and agreement have long ago gone down in the annals of Nepal-RoI relations as a treaty and an agreement which were not respected by the signatories.
On the other hand, China kept on supporting Nepal’s independence through public policy statement. In October, 1962, Chinese foreign minister Chen-yi said in Beijing, “in case any foreign army makes a foolhardy attempt to attack Nepal, China will side with the Nepalese people.” Chen-yi statement seemed to be directed to assure Nepal in view of the “developments elsewhere on the Himalayan frontier.
Nepal on its part continued to endeavor to institutionalize independence, peace and neutrality of its territory through a “Zone of Peace” proposal. By April 1990, one hundred sixteen countries including USA, France, UK, China had endorsed the proposal. But the RoI refused to do so.
The RoI has, quite obviously, been adopting double standards vis-à-vis Nepal. In the formal declarations, it emphasizes that Nepal as an independent sovereign country is free to conduct its international affairs but in the meantime, by employing colonial politics and diplomacy it always undercuts Nepal’s internal and external choices. Examples may be cited in dealing a death knell to Nepal’s zone of peace proposal through regime change in Nepal (April, 1990); cancellation by the World Bank of an already agreed Aurun-3 hydropower project (1995); cancellation of the World Bank funded Kohalpur road project construction tender awarded to a Chinese company (1973) and so on.
By the turn of the century, the imbalance in Nepal’s ties with its immediate neighbors very cruelly got reflected in the massacre of King Birendra and his whole family in June 2001. This massacre established beyond any doubts terrible insecurity and criminalization of inter-state political relations in the Himalayan Asia.Sino-Nepalese ties suffered a deep setback due to the massacre as the King cherished a long standing friendship with the Chinese leadership. The massacre, at the hindsight, brought to the fore a new Cold War already in making in the region. Elimination of Birendra further triggered greater instability and criminalization of Nepalese state through legalizing the demographic invasion of the RoI (by granting Nepalese citizenship to a huge number of Indian immigrants and criminal groups mostly in Tarai-the southern part of Nepal adjoining the RoI) and paving way for more sustained external interference in the more destabilized Nepali body politic. In the citizenship “distribution” process, the native and innocent village people and the ones with no political contacts are very conveniently left out.
Notwithstanding the fast developing ground realities in Nepal, Hua Han says, “In the strategic calculus, …Nepal still stakes high in China’s South Asia policy and the stability of Tibet…Having a good neighbor like China would be a preferred choice for Nepal. The economic modernization program also needs China’s cooperation. With close relations with China, it would be easier for Nepal to avoid heavy reliance on India and to maintain its independence.”
Biggest Concern:
To say the least, it has not been easier for Nepal to reassert a balance in its ties with the immediate neighbors as the Nepalese ruling leadership, usually the one mostly trapped in the colonial politics and diplomacy, allow the imbalance to continue.
Throughout the post-RoI period (1947), the RoI’s operational policy towards Nepal has been for a weakened and increasingly unstable Nepal. Throughout this period, the RoI has remained as the major actor with a decisive say in Nepalese political and economic policy decisions. The RoI has perceived much benefit from a weakened and increasingly unstable Nepal. Reduced to such a status, Nepal would be more dependent on the RoI and would follow its advice regularly and obediently, and thus fit very well into its forward Himalayan security policy.  On the other hand, in the post-PRC period (1949-), PRC’s policy towards Nepal has been for a strong and stable Nepal. The incentives for China having such a Nepal was that a strong and stable Nepal was more independent and able to guard its national interest consequently helping China’s own security and territorial integrity. Though China has yet to be successful in its comprehensive security policy so that a framework of long term strategic relations is duly adapted to suit ties with Nepal and proactively put the policy into practice, the RoI’s weakened and increasingly unstable Nepal policy has led the latter (the RoI) to remain too interfering in the Nepalese politics. In the RoI consideration, perhaps, a weakened and increasingly unstable Nepal can perpetually leave Nepal as a center for soldiers recruitment because  reportedly the RoI’s “main interest in Nepal is to recruit the Nepalese in the Indian army, which provides the basis for Indian assistance to Nepal.
On the face, Nepal is currently engaged in the making of a new constitution. The New constitution has to be promulgated by 28 May 2010. The need for a new constitution arose after i) the conclusion of a peace deal between the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM) and parliament-oriented political parties; and ii) the establishment of a republican order in April, 2006. In the last sixty years plus of constitutional development, Nepal has undergone phases of adopting four constitutions. Each time common people sincerely welcomed the constitutional change as they hoped something good for the people and the country would happen. But each time they were disappointed as political changes did not bring any benefit and structural reforms in Nepal’s internal and external politics. Instead, the benefits and reforms were mostly externalized.
Prediction is made about the possible scenarios which will emerge if the constitution is not promulgated on the stipulated date. These scenarios are: i) extension of the timeline for the making/promulgation of the new constitution, ii) introduction of a brief constitution with the provision that contentious issues will be incorporated in the constitution after consensus or acquiring necessary votes, iii) imposition of emergency rule of the president for six months under the existing government and extension of  the time frame for the making/promulgation of the new constitution, and iv)  as the legitimacy of the existing constituent assembly ends, imposition of presidential rule with the support of the international community and Nepal Army for some time to prepare for a compact all-party election government to hold election for a new constituent assembly/parliament for making/promulgation of the new constitution; and v) the CPNM will create anarchy in the country to forcibly capture the state power.
Whatever the possible political development scenario, the biggest concern of the overwhelming majority of the people in Nepal now is whether Nepal through new constitution making/promulgation exercises is able to end the colonial power-play and emerge as a liberated country with its protected and regulated borders or these exercises are again turned into façade to make Nepal a full scale reservoir for the recruitment of soldiers who are stateless and have no independent national identity. This concern can initially be managed in Nepal’s interest by appropriately reforming and strengthening the political monitoring mandate of the existing UN Mission in Nepal, a long time member of the UN and a contributor to UN peace missions around the world. The UN Security Council has a serious responsibility to shoulder.  China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and as the great neighbor who eloquently promises “not to beggar its neighbor,” can effectively play the role of a facilitator in the process.
The June 1998 joint U.S.-China declaration to cooperate on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons in South Asia did recognize China’s international stature in solving regional security issues. Since then, both the countries have continuously been in consultation on South Asian issues.
By this time, however it is a foregone conclusion that due to the differences among major political parties regarding decision-making on integration of CPNM combatants with the state security forces and consensual representation in the government, and the incumbent government’s unilateral efforts at the term extension of the existing constituent assembly, the new constitution of Nepal would not be formulated by the agreed date (28 May 2010). The RoI seems to have lent support to the continuity of the present majority government even in the post-28 May period,while China is for all-party cooperation to achieve political stability. The US on its part has asked all stake holders not to upset the balance and voiced it desire to see stability in the Himalayan nation.
China’s even more assertive statusis consistent with its policy of peace and development in building comprehensive security in a geo-politically strategic part of Asia. It needs to take the initiative, overdue and urgent for reasons of lost national identity and threat to national independence in the Himalayan Asia in the last sixty years, will help national independence and peace along with stability and development in the region at large. The initiative in the first decade of the 21st century may be formalized in the form of an extended Shanghai Cooperation Organization or a separate Lumbini Cooperation Association-leading to the credible development of a comprehensive security assurance mechanism including the member states in the Himalayan Asia. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One who serves his neighbor, serves the world.”
Conclusion
The geo-political situation for the Himalayan Asia in general, and PRC and Nepal in particular might have been distinctively different from what it is today if China and Nepal would had abided by their treaty commitment of helping each other in the face of foreign invasion. Nepal, now a weakened state, played the role of an indigenous and self-made Trans-Himalayan power by preventing the invading forces of the alien (British) empire from marching forward towards the interior south-western parts of China. History is a witness to the fact that whenever China and Nepal fragmentally defined their shared national security interest, each suffered from the machinations of external force. Though of late, Chinese representatives have started publicly recognizing this cardinal historical fact, it is hoped that China, a responsible great power, will proactively seize the opportunity in its south-western neighborhood to become a factor of national independence, peaceful co-existence, and help usher in a cooperative mechanism for assuring international security on a longer term basis. Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
(Excerpts of a write-up by Gautam in FPRC Journal, Foreign Policy research Center, New Delhi)

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