Something’s got to giveNepal can try a new approach to foreign relations; it should think about what it can offer
News about the Nepali President’s recent state visit to India almost exclusively highlighted the extension of India’s support to Nepal. Such rhetoric is continuously prioritised by Nepal in measuring the success of foreign visits. But where is the news about Nepal’s contribution to Nepal-India relations?
Just as in human relationships, an emphasis on what and how much we can give, rather than merely on what we can receive, is likely to help state relations. Nepal’s foreign policy too could be enhanced by professionally institutionalising this notion. Though India would not expect Nepal to make extraordinary contributions, Nepal’s mandate for foreign policy development and the principles of Panchasheel for mutual co-existence ought to be backed by relevant actors who think about Nepal’s foreign relations more comprehensively, especially in the lead-up to the fourth round of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) meeting slated to be held at the end of this month in Dehradun. It will be revising the controversial 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty. The talks in New Delhi last month during President Bhandari’s visit are also said to have included a common interest in the treaty’s revision.
The proposal to scrap unequal provisions could also shed light on the thoughts and priorities of the Nepali side of the EPG, headed by Nepal’s former foreign minister, Bhekh Bahadur Thapa. Not only would these contribute towards improving the treaty, it could also improve Nepal’s overall approach to foreign policy and international relations. There are two things Nepal could adopt to facilitate the implementation of this ideal.
Counter terrorism initiatives
The first one is legislation backed Intelligence Focused Unit (IFU) and a Customs and Border Management Force (CBMF) to be established in order to counter growing terrorism in Nepal’s neighbourhood.
Terrorism is a matter of growing concern in India and in South Asia. According to the US state department’s latest annual country report on terrorism, after Iraq, four South Asian countries— Afghanistan (2), Pakistan (3), India (4) and Bangladesh (8)—are among the top 10 countries with the most number of terrorist attacks. Out of 3,967 terrorist attacks in these four South Asian countries, which is more than 33 percent of the total global terror attacks, 791 were recorded in India.
In an article in the Huffington Post (2015) titled, “South Asia at high risk of terrorism, Nepal could be safe haven,” freelance journalist Kishore Panthi writes that the US country report on terrorist attacks should be a wake-up call for Nepali authorities. Though Nepal has experienced no significant acts of international terrorism yet, its open border with India and weak controls at the border are raising concerns that international terrorist groups could use Nepal as a transit and possible staging point.
This is where legislation backed up by a special IFU and a CBMF office would, through the EPG, enable Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) to propose progressive clauses to the treaty in order to counter transnational crime and international terrorist activities.
Another area where Nepal can contribute to Nepal-India relations is in the implementation of international watercourse laws to share benefits and losses along the Main Border Thrust (MBT).
In his book The Ambassadors’ Club, The Indian Diplomat at Large, former Indian ambassador to Nepal, Krishna V Rajan writes that although Nepal is a very important neighbour to India and central to a common and secure future in the region, it is aloof from major international water related issues. Recalling encounters with Nepali politicians, he observes, “Nepal’s political leaders were not very interested in understanding the complexities of agreements on water concerns of such magnitude.”
In 2008, India helplessly witnessed a breach of the Koshi embankment in Nepal that devastated the livelihoods of almost 3 million people in India in what was one of the most disastrous floods in the history of the state of Bihar, which borders Nepal. On the Nepali side, almost 54,000 people were affected. Floods along Nepal and India’s MBT cause enormous damages in India every year. In order to manage this, Nepal could dedicate necessary resources to close the knowledge gap in international watercourse management studies. Similarly, Nepal could also help through other mechanisms, like specialising its labour export to India, contributing to a sustainable neighbourhood and so on.
Nepal and India reached an understanding during the third EPG meeting held in Kathmandu last month to revise the provisions deemed “unequal” for a sovereign country in the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty. In addition to scrapping unequal provisions and revising the treaty to suit the current scenario, Nepal could focus on the abovementioned two propositions, thus contributing to this historic moment in Nepal-India bilateral ties.
The fourth EPG meeting is to be held from May 29 to 31, 2017 in Dehradun. It will provide a setting to see Nepal’s foreign relations via a new perspective. Just like an approach that gives improves human relationships, Nepal’s foreign relations should prioritise how Nepal can give and contribute to India and the South Asian region as a whole.
Basnyat holds a Master’s degree in diplomacy and international studies