As it standsThe evolution in geo-politics both north and south of the Himalayas is perceptible and will intensify in the years to come. Nepal, in a strategically important position, will be greatly affected by these changes in regional politics.
The evolution in geo-politics both north and south of the Himalayas is perceptible and will intensify in the years to come. Nepal, in a strategically important position, will be greatly affected by these changes in regional politics. In addition to regional issues, Nepal has a great number of problems to deal with within the country as well. With the end of the tenure of Parliament, Nepal is gearing up for federal and provincial parliamentary elections on November 26 and December 7. The last 11 years have been volatile, with numerous downward spirals in various disciplines, but the political process for strengthening democracy presents an impression that democratic practices are on the right track.
The nation states along the Himalayan range from Karakorum to Bhutan—a 2,400 km arc separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau—are growing increasingly significant in the geo-strategic and geo-economic manoeuvring of global powers. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is attempting to link nation states within the region, reshaping the economic map by forming a connection between the six nations of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Add to this mix the way India and China constantly circle each other, further compounded by the interests of the US and a resurgent Russia, and it is clear why this region has become so important in the global geo-politics.
At his hearing for reappointment to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford of the US said “I think China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” It is important to understand US foreign policy and US geo-politics and geo-political strategy, not just for the South Asian region but for the whole of Asia Pacific. US policy may well be to put a wedge between China and India by pulling India together towards it. And Russian and Chinese alliances look increasingly probable.
China and India are both ancient civilisations that endured an extensive phase of colonial or semi-colonial rule, and at the present are on the path towards national resurgence. Regardless of Indo-China bilateral tribulations, India and China have also enlarged their association on the international level through initiatives such as the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as well as in the regional framework through initiatives like the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor). The South Asian region is geo-politically transformative and the small nations bordering China and India are geo-strategically important. Infrastructural development in this region can lead to the emergence of strong commitment regarding economic, defensive, foreign and security policies. This will have both a geo-economic and geo-political bearing on the region.
Meanwhile, Nepal’s strategic importance in the region cannot be denied. It is particularly significant because it could provide China with a means to access the rest of the region through rail connectivity and a modern road.
Within the nation
But Nepal has its own issues to contend with within the country before it can address geo-political issues of regional significance. The leftist alliance was announced out of the blue and has driven the largest centre-right party, Nepali Congress (NC), to form its own democratic electoral alliance. People now will have to decide which alliance, left or right, will put Nepal on the best path for development, stability and prosperity. At this point, people are more concerned about developmental progress than about ideologies.
With recent developments in regards to the formation of alliances, a number of questions have presented themselves. Is the communist alliance and proposed unification a home grown initiative or is it foreign sponsored? Will the alliance split up post-elections? Is this an occasion for prominent corrupt leaders and leaders abusing human rights to safeguard seats in Parliament or the provincial assembly? And will there be elections at all?
The next five years after polls is when political parties can constitute Nepal’s transformation to a federal republic, and once this is done, the state can focus on economic initiatives. Nepal will see more political division than unity if these processes are not managed well. It will be time for the leadership of major parties to rework itself with fresh blood. Restructuring, redesigning and reorganising the bureaucracy, security forces with an independent intelligence bureau and law enforcement forces for the federal setup are required for a stable future. Political will and political direction will have to be re-engineered to direct the nation against corruption, to bring justice, and address human rights issues.
Corruption has been responsible for fuelling violent upheavals worldwide. This is a realisation that governments and international establishments the world over have come to realise. Given this realisation, there has been increasing pressure for international actors and local activists to work in a manner that promotes accountability, transparency and stability.
Anti-corruption can be addressed by establishing freedom of information or the right to information by bridging the gap between the law and reality; by ensuring that the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and the judiciary are out of political influence; by addressing the expectation of the employed; and by appointing untainted professional commissioners without political and financial strings attached.
The interest of the big powers and the donor nations, expressly China and India’s separate visions could greatly affect Nepal. However, our state has to maintain neutral ground and make the best of geopolitical realities for economic prosperity, instead of allowing regional conflicts to aggravate instability and conflict.
There is a need for an archetype shift in Nepal’s foreign and security policy. Collective security measures have to be proposed to address the common challenges of regional groups such as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec). Those in these groups have to work together in a manner that goes beyond old token politics.
Nepal’s state of affairs in regards to political and national security and the transition process is burdened with risks. All of these issues dictate how far and how confidently the state can move ahead in formalising strategies and campaigns that enhances the lives of citizens.
Basnyat is a retired Army Major General, he holds an MPhil degree and is a political and security analyst