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Shifting dynamics: Pak-Nepal ties

BY MUHAMMAD ASIF
The geo-strategic significance of any state has remained a key factor in shaping foreign relations and partnerships in the contemporary world order. One of the common denominators between Nepal and Pakistan relations is their commonality of having dependency on regional and international actors based on their geostrategic importance. Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, along with his high officials was the first high-level foreign dignitary to visit Nepal after the inauguration of the new government under the leadership of KP Sharma Oli in mid-February.
PM Abbasi was in the country to congratulate his counterpart after a gap of 24 years. High level visit of such a kind will offer value addition in relations hence provide enough impetus to broaden the bilateral cooperation to next best levels in the areas of mutual interest, especially education, tourism, defence, trade and people to people contact. The geographical position of Nepal and the Indian influence of the country have remained restricted so far to bring the two countries closer.
Prime Minister Oli extended a warm welcome to the PM Abbasi, who was accorded with the Guard of Honour against the traditional practice of extending such an honour to visiting dignitaries at the International Airport. Keeping in view the geographical proximity of Pakistan and Nepal, the linkage between the countries remained distant but cordial.
Nepal’s geography has kept Indian influence restricted, hence it desires to build close relations with Pakistan. During the meeting, PM Abbasi also shared information about CPEC and has suggested that Nepal could use the Gwadar Port through the Kerung-Tibet main railway line. It is a matter of significance for Pakistan that Nepal had also joined the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative in May 2017, during the Pushpa Kamal Dahal period. However, there is yet to be any progress on the BRI projects in Nepal. During the bilateral dialogue, both sides discussed the huge potential to transform existing relations into a dynamic partnership in various fields. There was an urge to promote the SAARC process despite the Pakistan-India rivalry and the summit in Islamabad in November 2016 was cancelled as a result of the Uri terror attack.
PM Abbasi’s visit is an important step in the right direction, since Nepal has a new parliament and the leadership is looking for partnership with China and Pakistan to minimize Indian influence in the country. Nepal is an important country in this whole power game. The US and India desire to counter OBOR by building a connectivity corridor in the Indo-Pacific region, in which Japan and Australia will also be included.
Pakistan is eager to develop better relations with other South Asian nations to balance the pressure from the US and India with help from China
On the other hand, Pakistan is eager to develop better relations with other South Asian nations to balance the pressure from the US and India with help from China. Nepal is a landlocked country that shares a border with China and India; hence it is heavily dependent on these large neighbours for its prosperity and security. Due to proximity with both states, Nepal has also remained in search of alternative transit facilities which could enable it to come out of the influence of these neighbours.
As they say, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, Pakistan and Nepal have opened the door of cooperation to each other regardless of the geographical restrictions on Nepal. Both states developed their relations in the 1960s, since when there have not been any significant developments — despite the significant role played by India.
These diplomatic relations were based on a spirit of understanding and friendship including congeniality of interest and respect. Nepal has remained an active member in SAARC and continues to counter anti-Pakistan positions during summits. Pakistan has supported Nepal’s territorial sovereignty and territorial integrity along with supporting the position of non interference in the country’s internal affairs. Nepal is an important regional state and a close friend to Pakistan and support to each other on several multi and bilateral level support has remained essential for both sides.
Nepal holds important strategic importance in the Pakistani context since the inclination of Nepal toward China and moving away from India. Nepal is also balancing its relations between India and China recently in order to promote its economic and political development. PM Oli has also mentioned the country’s clear stance for expanding the relationship with China over the course of the coming years.
The reason for this diversification is to influence India in its relationship with Nepal. Nepal’s leadership has also signed deals for further diversifying the development of cooperation in transport and transit which will eventually reduce Nepal’s dependence on India and improve its trade with new markets. This is significant for the landlocked country because it will enable it to import necessary goods like petroleum which have been blocked from India.
It is important to note here that China is the largest foreign investor in Nepal in terms of transport and infrastructure projects. Both countries, Pakistan and Nepal face similar complex challenges against India. However China and its investment and working with the country have minimized the Indian role. Both China and Nepal are cooperating for construction of the railway lines all the way to the border of Nepal which could end Kathmandu’s dependence on India for trade.
Nepal is building and opening up its relations with the outside world, including Pakistan and India, hence minimizing the influence of the regional neighbours which has created difficulties for the country when it comes to managing its economic and political balance. Nepal’s closeness with Pakistan will raise alarms in India; however this will be counter balanced by the huge investment and support from China. India will be facing tough competition. PM Abbasi’s visit was a timely and strategic move to keep the advantage with Pakistan.

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