Multilateral diplomacy may be the wayNepal has several diplomatic options for the settlement of border issues with India.
Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, who also holds the defence portfolio, made an aerial inspection of Nepal’s far north-western region, probably for domestic consumption, following public protests over a new political map published by India last November which showed a portion of Nepali territory within it. The border issue dates from the late 1950s and early 1960s, and includes Indian encroachment in Nepal's north-western corner, including Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, and the Indian military camp in Kalapani within Nepal. Nepal and India have chosen bilateral diplomatic talks as the appropriate way to resolve it, but progress has been slow with no defined action plan.
Among the different methods of dispute settlement between countries, bilateral diplomacy is Plan A. In case it does not deliver the expected results, multilateral diplomacy at the UN, or Plan B, will be necessary. If that too does not work, Nepal and India may have to resort to Plan C, that is adjudication by the International Court of Justice. Apparently, India has more options at its disposal because of its economic strength and military might. A possible alternative strategy of public opinion (Plan D) is available to Nepal. Presumably, the government of Nepal has made its own assessment about the best available option as well as the chances of success of Plan A. Since the territorial and military camp related issues have remained unresolved for almost half a century, the time length of the bilateral diplomacy is uncertain, and the chances of success are not guaranteed.
If the first option ends without the expected result, Nepal will have to consider Plan B—the UN General Assembly and the Security Council as venues to make its case. These two UN venues are important for Nepal if India refuses adjudication at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Plan C. The General Assembly is a global platform where all UN member states are represented. Diplomatic wisdom and skills are vital to make the case effectively.
The Nepali government seems to be well aware of the importance of the Security Council, as the country has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council twice in the past, first in 1969 and the second time in 1988. Nepal’s Foreign Ministry has made it public recently that it will file its candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the year 2037 for a two-year term. To win the non-permanent seat at the Security Council, Nepal will need workable diplomatic strategies and goodwill. In this regard, Nepal’s successful diplomatic exercise in 2018 to secure 166 votes at the General Assembly to get elected as a member of the Human Rights Council is notable.
The Security Council has been proactive in certain cases regarding military aggression by one country against another. Although India’s military presence inside Nepali territory at Kalapani may not be equal to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the military presence is a question of vital importance relating to the territorial sovereignty of Nepal. This will be a test case for the Nepali diplomatic corps at the UN, dealing with the five permanent members of the Security Council. The Security Council consists of 15 members. The five permanent members are the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia and China. The 10 non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term.
Although it was not meant to be, the UN Security Council, on the basis of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, took decisions not only as a legislator and administrator in the case of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but also as a court, determining the financial liability of Iraq. The Security Council is authorised to make binding recommendations or measures to restore international peace and security. In this regard, Nepal should make its case at the Security Council that the presence of the Indian military within Nepal’s territory and encroachment of territorial integrity is against the word and spirit of the UN Charter. It should also describe the situation as a threat to peace and security in the region where there are three nuclear powers—China, India and Pakistan. There is no guarantee that the Security Council will consider the case. This will be a test of the will of the five permanent members.
It is possible that none of the plans will help achieve the intended result for Nepal. Ultimately, Nepal will have to rely on international public opinion, Plan D, the most decent sanction of international law. Genuine and persuasive international public opinion have helped the downfall of many dictators and the disappearance of several powerful empires in the past. America’s Vietnam War, for example, was partly fought back by world public opinion. The world’s independent media will continue challenging Russian occupation of Crimea. No state can change history making it a clean slate.
Symbolic protests against India by the people in Nepal and expatriate Nepalis abroad in front of the Indian embassies will not be sufficient. Appropriate strategies and persuasive narratives are vital for the mobilisation of international public opinion. Depending on the situation, Nepal’s diplomatic corps abroad should, therefore, consider conducting ‘quiet diplomacy’ along with ‘open dialogue’ with their host governments as well as with the general public. This will, of course, require a thoughtful diplomatic strategy, presentation of facts, legal arguments and interpretation of the UN Charter. From both the moralist and realist points of view, it will be logical for India to consider a voluntary evacuation of its military from Kalapani and ending encroachment of Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. This will be a civilised act on the part of India which is seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
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