Reassuring the neighboursNepal must be prepared to face a national security issue. Is the country prepared for a crisis that may be inevitable? Cheerful news stories in the media about a rise in Gross Domestic Product and the country securing the third position in the Sustainable Development Goals index among South Asian countries have brought smiles all around, but a close look at reality proves disturbing.
Nepal must be prepared to face a national security issue. Is the country prepared for a crisis that may be inevitable? Cheerful news stories in the media about a rise in Gross Domestic Product and the country securing the third position in the Sustainable Development Goals index among South Asian countries have brought smiles all around, but a close look at reality proves disturbing. The national security environment is laden with so many complex strategic and tactical issues related to federalism, decentralisation, diplomacy, economy, identity, migration, drop in remittance, polarisation along political, social, cultural and ethnic lines, politicalisation of all institutions, poor governance, impeachment attempts, land disputes, terrorism, energy shortage and dependable trade and transit.
Preserving our identity
China and India have significant interests in South Asia, and so does the US. The recent standoff on the Sino-Indian border close to the Siliguri corridor caused the Indian mass media to talk about a Chinese invasion while both governments are cautious about how to approach the issue with calm rationality. Strung along the southern slopes of the Himalaya, Bhutan, Nepal and the former kingdom of Sikkim are geo-strategically vital and play a key role in shaping the geopolitics of the region. Sikkim became part of the Indian Union in 1975. The new republic of Nepal is struggling to remain independent and preserve a distinct identity from the surrounding global powers, which is further complicated by Nepal’s dependence on Indian ports and constant Chinese relevance on its northern borders while India controls Bhutan’s defence and diplomacy.
In practice, Nepal does not have a foreign policy. It only exists on the Foreign Ministry’s webpage and is described as being guided by enduring trust in the United Nations, the principles of nonalignment and the principles of mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
China and India have their own sense of cooperation and competition and geostrategic rivalry. India has insurgency problems in Kashmir and the north east while China has its own energy crisis and problems of dependence on overseas resources. In China, the traditional principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states is evolving with its global footprint as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
There is talk that Prime Minister Deuba will be making visits to China and India soon. What is astounding is that he is not visiting other strategically significant countries that are essential for the overall stability of Nepal. But the important standpoint is that Deuba will surely travel to India and China as his predecessors did and will make efforts to assure and reinforce ties with both neighbours and hopefully will not pave the way for another government as in the past.
Development as a priority
The deputy prime minister’s visit to India to lay the groundwork for the prime minister’s visit has expanded cooperation in security, energy, water resources and trade. Both strategic and tactical issues have been tabled, like the Pancheshwor Multipurpose Project, cooking gas supply, exchange of Indian currency notes and the general sales tax (GST) that India has recently introduced. But what the prime minister will decide with regard to the BRI)agreement and the trade deals signed with China during the Oli administration when he visits the northern neighbour is yet to be seen. Will the BRI be another important project for enhancing economic activities or will it invite more trade deficit? The planned strategic infrastructure will not only connect countries for economic activities but also create challenges for regional security.
There are four items on Deuba’s agenda: Implementing the constitution by January 2018, accepting the demand of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N) and amending the constitution, taking development forward and enhancing ties with both China and India. It is time to pay attention to accommodating and understanding the crux of the Madhesi issue. There are many communities in the Tarai that are voiceless, but the issue obviously gives the impression of being a component of the nation’s transformation. The outcome of the second phase of local elections shows that issues regarding amendment do not represent the views of all Madhesis. Correctly, development has and will always remain the focus of all people whether they are living in the mountains, hills or the Tarai. Observe the agendas of the local election candidates and the expectations of the voters, they all stress development.
The dissatisfaction in the Madhes could likely lead to a separatist movement and pave the way for military domination in the management of the state that will restrict the spirit of democracy and freedom of speech, limit economic activities and disrupt the daily lives of the people. What Nepal desires is a strategy that appeals to the two neighbours first and the world outside. Political parties need to spend as much time as they have been spending on efforts to address the Madhes dissatisfaction and come out with a common strategy to address ties between China, India and Nepal.
Basnyat, a political and security analyst, is a retired Army Major General