Unfinished businessFollowing Nepal’s transformation into a federal republic, positive results can be expected not only on the domestic front, but also in foreign relations, especially with India and China.
Following Nepal’s transformation into a federal republic, positive results can be expected not only on the domestic front, but also in foreign relations, especially with India and China. The merger of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre promises a new age of political stability and overall development, ending nearly seven decades of political experiments and upheavals which kept the country economically weak. The new prime minister of Nepal has been mandated to negotiate, renegotiate and reinstate Nepal’s lost geographical territories.
Territorial integrity and sovereignty are foremost and vital. Prime Minister Oli should conduct talks truthfully and transparently for a logical resolution to the pending issue of Nepal’s sovereign land which has been encroached upon in several places such as Kalapani and Susta during his scheduled visit to India in April. The prime minister should also hold similar talks during his visit to China or during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expected visit to Nepal over Nepal’s Lipulekh/Lipu Himalayan pass located right above Kalapani.
During these visits, the prime minister can also discuss an inclusive trilateral engagement involving India, Nepal and China to execute development projects such as hydropower, highway, railway and tourism. Such projects will benefit not only the peoples of these countries but also the South Asian region as a whole, and promote regional solidarity and peaceful coexistence which are essential for prosperity and happiness.
Indian troops have been stationed in the Kalapani tri-junction area since the 1962 Sino-India war. This is undoubtedly a disgrace for India as it is a violation of Nepal’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and goes against the cardinal principles of Panchsheel and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which emphasise mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs’ and ‘peaceful co-existence.
A permanent and active member of the United Nations and supporter of Panchsheel and NAM, Nepal remained neutral during the 1962 Sino-India war and the recent Doklam standoff. Nepal has never encroached upon any part of India or China, but there is evidence that it has been victimised by India and China in their own ways. It is paradoxical and contradictory that China, probably guided by mercantilism, signed an agreement with India allowing the unauthorised use of Nepal’s Lipulekh/Lipu Himalayan pass during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Beijing in 2015. This agreement needs to be terminated by both countries to assure Nepal of their dependability so she can trust her next-door neighbours.
Towards a peaceful coexistence
India has been occupying an estimated 37,000 hectares of Nepal’s land in Kalapani-Limpiyadhura, 14,000 hectares in Susta and 12,000 hectares in 71 other places along the Nepal-India border. Withdrawing troops from the Doklam tri-junction area can also suggest pulling out Indian troops from Nepal’s Kalapani territory. The removal of embankments and dams in 20 places on the Nepal-India border, which block safe passage to the sea for the swelling river water during the monsoon and results in inundation in the Tarai lowlands, are vital issues that need to be discussed.
It is good that India seems to have renounced intervening in Nepal’s domestic affairs since the elections. This is in stark contrast to the uncooperative attitude it exhibited during and after the constitution drafting process when it imposed a five-month-long economic blockade causing an economic and humanitarian crisis. However, the visit of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Nepal before the new government was formed to congratulate the UML and Maoist Centre chiefs for the successful conclusion of the elections is questionable and dubious. This may have been intended to show China that India has things under control in Nepal. Nepal has ratified the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which offers an alternative trade route for Nepal to China, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. This requires Nepal to enhance connectivity by constructing railways and highways urgently.
Likewise, Nepal is a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) which is based on the principles of respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and independence, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit. Both India and China claim to be Nepal’s well-wishers and friendly neighbours interested in its development, but they have not launched mega infrastructure projects here as they have in their own countries. Hopefully, the Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group (EPG) will come up with recommendations on a wide range of issues and legitimate demands of Nepal. It will be good if all the pending bilateral issues between the two countries can be resolved during Prime Minister Oli’s upcoming visit to India or during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Nepal. Similarly, Nepal hopes that President Xi will come visiting.
Dixit is an expert in integrated development issues