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Awaiting Helsinki – and 1950 Treaty on the mind

KATHMANDU:  The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on Nepal-India relations has after nine presumably fecund meetings in Kathmandu and New Delhi spread languidly over two years concluded its mission. Yet, none of us are any wiser about what its stellar achievements might be!
The world has been informed – via an email to the press sent by the EPG secretariat in Kathmandu – that the EPG has “successfully prepared” a “single joint report” on its work which is to be submitted, by and by, to the two concerned governments which then may – at a time they deign politic – enlighten us on its details.
Note that the two governments are in no way obliged to implement whatever the eminent worthies have recommended vis-à-vis “anything that needs to be updated, adjusted, or amended in all existing bilateral treaties, including the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950” between Nepal and India. (Himalayan Times, July 1, 2018).
While simple-minded folk may possibly ask what the raison d’etre of the marathon rounds of talk-fests was, others might jolly well recall that, at least on the Nepali side, no eminent historian, geographer or geo-politician was included.
Would their expertise have been irrelevant, not least considering the sea-changes that have occurred both in Nepal and India – and their periphery – since 1950?
Besides, is it really possible to conceptualize or theorize what the future of Nepal-India relations should be with nary a thought of the wider region, in particular with reference to China which is, after all, not only Nepal’s immediate neighbour but India’s, too? In other words, can Nepal-India relations be viewed, assessed and predicted in complete isolation?
Notably, two of the four Nepali eminences were/are Communists – not surprising perhaps since it was constituted during the first prime ministerial innings of K.P. Sharma Oli.
Let us now take a walk through some revealing historical landscape.
Most conspicuous is that while on the Nepali side the 1950 treaty was signed by Prime Minister, Maharaja Mohan Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, the Indian signatory was India’s ambassador to Nepal, C. P. N. Singh.
That galling inequity violates the principle of the sovereign equality of states: the ambassador of one deemed equivalent to the prime minister of another!
What is more, it was signed in Kathmandu on June 30, 1950 when, as India was well aware, the Rana autocracy was tottering on the brink of collapse, barely staving off an incipient popular movement for the establishment of democracy in which King Tribhuvan himself had a prominent, catalytic role.
Against that backdrop, it hardly requires the brains of a nuclear physicist to surmise that the new shakers and movers in New Delhi thought it more advantageous for India to conclude a deal with an unpopular regime on its last legs that with an incoming regime enjoying popular support.
Aside from indicating that India had enthusiastically imbibed lessons in realpolitik/geopolitics from her erstwhile British rulers, it explains why she eagerly bought the British Raj’s strategic doctrine of ‘forward defence’ – which finds ample manifestation in the 1950 Nepal-India treaty.
Likewise, independent India’s new government swallowed hook, line and sinker the British Raj’s premise that China, whether Nationalist or Communist, was a major security threat for India – and should be countered in Nepal, as per a ‘forward defence’ strategy.
Incidentally, both Chang Kai-shek’s and Mao Zedong’s China claimed that Tibet was an inalienable part of her territory.
That India, at that time, was acting as a colonial power herself is vividly underscored when one considers the India-Bhutan Treaty that was signed in Darjeeling on August 8, 1949. To recall, on the Indian side, it was signed by Hariswar Dayal, India’s Political Officer in Sikkim, balanced by signatures of seven senior Bhutanese officials!
With respect to the India-Sikkim Treaty, formalized in Gangtok, December 5, 1950, it should be enough to note that Dayal’s signature was counterbalanced by that of His Highness the Maharaja of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal!
One wonders if these slices of history and their geo-strategic implications have been adequately taken into account by our eminences in the ‘single joint report’ on which little or nothing has been made known thus far.
Now fast forward to Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 – a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin presides in Moscow over the concluding ceremony of the spectacular 2018 FIFA World Cup football fiesta.
That is when the first summit between American President Donald Trump and Putin takes place. There have been two earlier meetings between them, on the sidelines of gatherings of world leaders.
That this summit takes place while an American special counsel continues to investigate the 2016 Trump campaign’s possible nexus with Russia enhances its sensitivity and import domestically.
The White House has announced that discussions will focus mainly on “US-Russia relations and a range of national security issues.” Inevitably, the world will await its outcome with animated interest; the West particularly so, in as much as Trump’s conciliatory approach to Russia has raised serious concerns.
That the Helsinki summit comes on the heels of a NATO summit in Brussels, July 11-12, is not merely interesting, per se, but more so because it could exacerbate Washington’s ties with her European allies, relations with whom have been difficult both because of Russia’s increasingly assertive policy vis-à-vis the West and Trump’s unilateralist America First foreign policy.
Although the drama to the Helsinki meeting will possibly be only a shade less than that associated with the Trump-Kim Jong Un’s conclave in Singapore, June 12, it needs to be borne in mind that, as the cliché goes, one makes peace with one’s enemies, not one’s friends.
Besides, Putin’s Russia has not only forged increasingly close bonds with China but has also taken notable policy initiatives including those having a direct bearing on the North Korean nuclear weapons/denuclearization issue, a key Trump priority.
Let’s await the results before jumping to conclusions.

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