Prime minister pins high hope on India visitDahal says US agencies might be watching the Bhutan refugee scam but ‘no foreign powers are involved in the investigation’.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said on Saturday that he aims to create history during his upcoming India visit. Dahal is all set to tour the southern neighbour from May 31 to June 3. Officials in Kathmandu and New Delhi are busy finalising his itinerary, composition of the delegation, the agendas and other arrangements for the visit.
Though a formal announcement of the visit is yet to be made, Dahal said he would focus on strengthening bilateral ties and exploring new areas of cooperation between Nepal and India.
Dahal made the remarks during an interaction with journalists of Kantipur Media Group after inaugurating the 11th edition of Kantipur Half Marathon at Thapathali on Saturday.
“It is not good to divulge the details now but I am confident that history will be created in my visit and I am setting out with this confidence,” he said.
Both sides are planning to reach agreements in various sectors during the visit, particularly after the delegation-level talks between Dahal and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on June 1 in New Delhi.
Dahal also clarified that there are no such “hard and fast” legal and political reasons to visit India first (before making any other country the first port of call after assuming the prime minister’s office).
Nepal’s prime ministers have traditionally started their foreign visits from India but Dahal in 2008 had first gone to China to attend the Beijing Olympics inauguration. Dahal, however, had said upon his return from the northern neighbour that his first official visit would be to New Delhi.
“Our relationship with India is unique due to an open border; economic, political and social relations; and people-to-people contact. This kind of relationship cannot be found elsewhere,” Dahal said on Saturday. “That is why the tradition of visiting India first is given continuity. But that does not always happen as I am the example.”
Soon after coming into office in December-end last year, Dahal in January announced that his first foreign visit would be to India. But due to various reasons and engagements in Kathmandu and New Delhi, the visit plan was affected. “When I first visited China in 2008, that sparked a debate,” the prime minister said. “This time, not due to any compulsion or tradition but our own requirement, we felt I should go to India first.”
Officials said that on the visit agenda are agreements related to setting up a chemical fertiliser plant in Nepal, energy, trade, transit, construction of an integrated check post in Nepalgunj, air entry routes, construction of hydropower projects, receiving the report of Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India relations, connectivity, infrastructure, border and boundary. “I have a hunch that India is also doing serious homework for my visit,” the prime minister said.
Nepali side has also started groundwork for the visit as Foreign Minister NP Saud already held consultations with former foreign ministers, former foreign secretaries and former Nepali ambassadors to India.
“We are also doing homework seriously,” Dahal said. “I should have returned from the India visit by this time but due to elections in India and some other reasons, my visit was delayed. Then we said there is no possibility of the visit before the fiscal budget is presented to our Parliament. Then I insisted that the visit should happen only after the budget.” The finance minister presents the budget on May 29.
“Now both sides are seriously doing their homeworks. I believe the visit gives a new impetus to Nepal-India relations.”
Separately, on the issue of fake Bhutanese refugee documentation in which former ministers, top officials and a group of racketeers have been accused of collecting huge amounts of money promising hundreds of people an entry into the United States as Bhutanese refugees, Dahal said the guilty would not be spared and no innocent person would be framed.
There are also speculations that the United States is putting pressure on the government of Nepal to take up the matter seriously following its own investigation into the issue. Asked if the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the fake refugee scam, the prime minister said, “I do not think the FBI is directly involved in probing the fake Bhutanese refugee scam or is trying to influence it. But they must have shown their concerns and I think they must be watching.”
The prime minister said the US agency might be following it as the issue has an international aspect as well. However, no foreign powers are involved in the investigation and this is an outcome of the initiative taken by the government and Nepal Police, said Dahal.
The prime minister said it is obvious for the international community including the United Nations to be curious about the issue given the international dimension to the matter. He added that it is not unusual for the United States to be concerned about the matter as the country has taken a large number of Bhutanese refugees from Nepal.
With no headway in repatriating the Bhutanese refugees to their home country, the stakeholders had explored the third-country resettlement option and Western countries started to receive them in 2007. Of the around 120,000 refugees staying in the camps of eastern Nepal since the 1990s, nearly 113,500 refugees were settled in several countries in the decade-long process. The US alone received more than 90,000 of them. Around 8,500 Bhutanese refugees were estimated to have remained in the camps after the closure of the third-country resettlement process in 2016. Dahal said he has repeatedly directed the home ministry and Nepal Police to take ahead the investigation process with confidence and determination and make sure that no suspect is left out and no innocent is dragged into the case.
The international community, from the United Nations to various global organisations and foreign powers, have also watched the case seriously, Dahal said, ruling out the chances of manipulation in the issue.
Responding to a query about frequent meetings between him, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli, particularly after the refugee scam unfolded, Dahal said they had discussed ways to make Parliament more functional.
There were suspicions if the trio had made attempts to protect some officials and relatives of the top leadership.
“Sometimes, when I sat with Sher Bahadur Deuba and KP Oli, there were suspicions that we might be trying to settle this issue in an understanding but that’s not true,” Dahal said. “We mainly discussed how to make Parliament more result-oriented.”