BY HIRANYALAL SHRESTHA
The promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal by major political parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal despite advice from neighboring country India to accommodate some changes in the constitution and to hold the constitution for some time, implementation of the constitution firmly defying the blockade, holding of three tiers of election at national, provincial and local level and the strides taken by Nepal to stability and prosperity by forming a left government commanding a two third majority shows that a new Nepal is emerging amidst geo-strategic challenges.
In yesteryears, Nepal was a unitary, semi-colonial, semi-feudal and monarchical country. It has changed into New Nepal today. The Article 4 of the constitution defines Nepal as an independent, indivisible, sovereign and federal democratic republican state.
Nepal’s place in Asia:
Nepal is the oldest independent country of Asia while other neighboring countries were colonized by world powers in different historical periods. Nepal is a country where no foreign power could ever hoist its flag. Perched in the midst of ancient Indian civilization, Nepal is a country which represented an amalgamation of distinct Aryan and Mongol-Kirat civilizations. Therefore Nepalese civilization is more Asian than other regional Asian civilizations.
Nepal has signed a transit and transport agreement with China together with a railway transport agreement with India also. It is on its way to becoming an important transit country between Central and South Asia. It was a land-locked country before. It is a land-linked country today. It has , in fact, become a point of connectivity for Asian railways and the global airways. Considered to be an insurmountable wall of nature , the Himalayas are no longer a barrier between two vast land masses of Central and South Asia. We can hardly ignore this rapidly changing geo-political reality.
Nepal’s geo-strategic place in the world:
When the Communist Party of China assumed power in 1949 and the PLA consolidated its position in Tibet, the United States and Britain considered Nepal as a last frontier of the free world. India started to consider the southern part of the Himalayas as its sphere of influence, subsequently trying to push it under its security umbrella according to what was latter called the Nehru Doctrine.
According to Peace and Friendship Treaty between Nepal and India and the accompanying correspondence, the Nehru Doctrine of sphere of influence is said to have been implemented in Nepal. According to this doctrine, Indian military mission was established in Nepal and Indian check-posts were set up along the northern border of Nepal in the 1950s. It was only after continuous opposition of the Nepali people that the Indian military mission was lifted and the Indian military personnel withdrawn from the northern check posts.
A Regional Agreement was signed between the government of Nepal, India and the United States of America concerning the development of transport facilities in Nepal with a view to build road infrastructure and to watch China. The Regional Transport Organization(RTO) was terminated in 1962 amid the pulling and pushing of contrary interests as India’s interest was to push from the south to the north, the US wished to move to the Chinese border and Nepal wished to build the East-West Highway.
After Hong Kong’s unification with China, the western powers started to use Nepal as a vantage point to watch China. When there was a pro-West government in India, Russia watched entire South Asia from Kathmandu. The maintenance of larger embassy buildings by superpower states in Kathmandu than needed, keep a large staff force and deployment of military attaches shows that Nepal occupies an important place in the global security context India has imposed blockade against Nepal repeatedly and Nepal has endeavored to free itself from foreign subjugation. Nepal has resisted and has mobilized internal and external forces against blockade which is in itself a coercive weapon.
Sequences of Indian blockades against Nepal
Indian blockade on Nepal:
i) 1962: Raxaul blockade in support of exiled Nepali Congress Marshall Chen Yi’s statement in support of Nepal compelled India to lift Nepal
ii) 1970: Blockade was made in retaliation to Nepal’s decision to request India for termination of military mission, withdraw of check posts from the northern border and the renewal of trade and transit treaty which had expired for quite some time. The trade and transit treaty was signed owing to Chinese support to Nepal, airlifting of petroleum products from Bangladesh and after several rounds of bilateral talks with India.
iii) 1989-90: Blockade by India took place because of her dissatisfaction at Nepal’s purchase of weapons from China. India’s support for the joint movement of Nepal for democracy and the king’s readiness to stay as a constitutional king.
iv) 2015-2016: India imposed blockade as Nepal’s constitution did not include the features recommended by India and Nepal’s refusal to heed advice even on the day of the promulgation of the constitution.
Successive stand taken by Nepali Congress Prime Minister Shushil Koirala and the CPN Prime Minister K.P. Oli against the blockade. China’s support to Nepal compelled India to lift the blockade.
All three forces attach priority to security:
All the three powers- India , China and the US have attached priority to their security interest in this region and have organized joint military exercises with Nepal. Nepal, however, did not participate in the BIMSTEK military exercise organized from September 10 to 16, 2018 as it was sponsored by India unilaterally. Nepal did not want to get entangled in the exercise which could carry implication of a strategic maneuver aimed at China and Pakistan.
Nepal remained neutral during the 1962 border war between China and India. But it has been collaborating with all the three countries in joint military exercises.
1) Military exercise with Indian – Bilateral military exercise between Nepal and India has been taking place for quite some time. Military exercise named Suryakiran has been taking place in Nepal and India alternately. Its objective has been specified as being anti-insurgency and anti-terrorism operation. The Gurkha Army was divided between India and Britain as per the Trilateral Treaty of 1947 signed among Nepal, India and Britain. The Indian Gurkhas have been used by India in the war with China and Pakistan.
2) Military exercise with the US- Nepal is having joint military exercise with the United States also. Nepal Army and the US’s Indo-Pacific Command have been conducting training from time to time to share experience. The United States has also been providing training to Nepal army officers in addition to providing logistic support to the Nepal Army.
3) Military training with China – The People’s Liberation Army has increased its support to the Nepal Army by 50 percent recently. China has committed to provide 2.53 billion rupees to the Nepal Army. According to MoU signed by Nepal and China during the official trip of Prime Minister K.P. Oli and Defense Minister Ishwor Pokhrel in last October, Nepal has been receiving Chinese support for the modernization and professionalization of the Nepal Army. Two joint military exercises have already taken place between Nepal and China under the title of Sagarmatha Friendship. First exercise was organized in Nepal and the second one was organized in Chengdu of China.
Gurkha mercenaries to world peace keepers:
The United Nations has inspired Nepal Army by accreditation Birendra Peace Operation Training Center (BPOTC) as the UN peace keeping army training center on 24 October 2018. This center located at Pachkhal of Kavre district is providing high quality peace keeping training. The army personnel trained here are deployed by the UN in peace keeping missions all over the world.
Since its establishment in 1986, this is the first time the BPOTS has received the UN accreditation in over 30 years. Nepal is the sixth largest contributor to the UN peace keeping missions. The international image of Nepal has changed from Gurkha mercenaries to peace keepers through their active participation in different UN peace keeping missions.
Challenges and opportunities
Because of the trade war unleashed by President Donald Trump resulting in the increase in the tariff on the goods imported to the US, discontent has grown not only in China, India and Russia against the US even Japan, Australia and Canada are unhappy about its protectionist policy.
The United states, too, is dissatisfied with India and China for their decision to buy weapons from Russia. America is unhappy with them also because of their decision to buy petroleum products from Iran in defiance of the embargo imposed by it against Iran.
The US is reviving Cold War by renaming its Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command in order to give it an anti-Chinese implication. It is clear that Nepal has avoided taking part in BIMSTEK military training in order not to be embroiled in a potentially partisan strategic maneuver.
After resolving the violent conflict with the help of UNMIN, promulgating the constitution, setting up a government with a two-third majority and orienting the nation towards stability, Nepal has sought the investment of all the friendly countries for its infrastructure development. It has expanded opportunities for Nepal.
However, one neighboring country is still trying to expand its sphere of influence by fomenting instability through micro-management Nepal’s affair and playing in the contradictions among the factional leaders of the ruling party. On the other side, another neighbor China has been steadily expanding its sphere of influence taking advantage of this situation. The third power, the US, is also active in Nepal and wants to expand its sphere of influence and contain China.
Though terrorism has not originated in Nepal, it has been used as the transit point by terrorists. At present, separatism and radicalism have become major problems for Nepal. According to Purna Chandra Thapa, COAS of Nepal “We are alert and closely looking into the movements of the underground armed outfits that are likely to create political instability in the country”.
Every big or small country of Asia has their soft bellies like Tibet of China, Kashmir of India, Jaffna of Sri Lanka and Tarai of Nepal and so on. Good neighbours should not poke into the sore points of others or interfere in others’ internal matters.
We know that if two elephants fight grass will suffer. The grass will get crushed even if they make love with each other. When China and India developed bond and signed an agreement on opening a trade point at Lipulak, they bypassed Nepal whose territory was involved in the deal. Nepal is happy at the improving relation between them but they need to be cautious about taking decisions which can affect Nepal’s national interest and sovereignty.
There are tremendous challenges and opportunities for all the stakeholders of this region. Instead of charting a path of conflict, it will be worthwhile for all to develop a collaborative mechanism for finding a peaceful way out of the seemingly complicated situation.
(Excepts of a paper presented by the author, former Nepali ambassador to Russia and former member of the Parliament, at a seminar held at the George Washington University, USA on 17 November this year.)