• Friday 21st February 2020

Our Real Millennium Challenge

  • Published on: December 26, 2019



  • Talk of missed opportunities.

    Just imagine if we had the kind of patience and resolve on Kalapani the Indians have demonstrated in the latest iteration of the long-running dispute. We chose to squander our national energies on tangents, while the Indians zeroed in on the issue, alas, to oblivion.

    Today, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on the defensive domestically and regionally on the question of citizenship, we might have at least stood a chance of securing an appointment for our ‘special envoy’.

    Indian opinion-makers – particularly those reflecting official opinion – have consistently dismissed the Kalapani protests as part of seasonal outbursts of anti-Indianism our national psyche needs to survive. Unfortunately for us, today India feels vindicated. New Delhi is now blaming us for allowing anti-Indian elements to cross the border and fan unrest. (Translation: learn to take care of the territory you own first.)

     

    Deliberate or otherwise, Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s retweeting of Indian opposition leader Sonia Gandhi’s searing message on the controversy has pushed us deeper into the pit. No worries, though. We’ve done what we do best and moved on: to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant the Americans are begging us to take.

    The Nepali Congress sees the endorsement of the relevant agreement as its single-point agenda for the winter session of parliament. The main opposition party probably thinks it’s being responsible here. It was during its stint in power that the two countries made an official commitment to take the money. However, the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) is demurring. Not because it is prejudiced against its predecessor. The CPN still can’t figure out whether the MCC grant is or isn’t part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) Nepal has or hasn’t joined under its watch.

    The head honcho of the Millennium Challenge Account Nepal, a body the government formed to eventually manage the programmes, has urged the government and parties in Parliament to endorse the agreement, arguing that it is not part of the IPS. Maybe not officially. But, then, China’s Belt and Road Initiative hardly has ‘debt trap’ stamped all over it, either.

    Let’s assume the impossible: that the MCC grant has no overt or covert military/strategic strings attached. Does it mean that it is truly free of considerations that could constrain Nepal’s sovereign options in any shape, manner or form? Does it make sense for us to take the $500 million because it is supposed to be free? Haven’t we learned from the past how more stringent conditions for grants are than for interest-based loans? Should we be committed to spending $150 million on our own on the inane premise that energy and infrastructure connectivity would boost regional peace and prosperity?

    How did Nepal suddenly qualify for the program – as astute observers such as Dipak Gyawali have pointed out – after having been told for years not to raise its hopes? In view of the scorecard publicly available, is the money actually free? The three broad conditions of eligibility: commitment to ruling justly, encouraging economic freedom, and investing in people may sound innocuous enough. Let’s not even pretend to comprehend what might be inherent in the font, size and spacing of the fine print.

    Moreover, how unreliable could the disbursement tap become amid divergences in perceptions of compliance? You can get a fair idea from the fact that Nepal gets passing grades in corruption today. What extraneous considerations may or may not sway the evaluator on the other indicators?

    This is not to say that offers of assistance from the Chinese, Indians or anybody else are somehow more benign. We need to figure out what’s good or bad for us ourselves – regardless of whether it is free or for a fee. We shouldn’t stop trying just because we haven’t been good at doing that so far.

     

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