In­stead of pick­ing fa­vorites, Nepal is on the path to es­tab­lish­ing en­hanced tri­lat­eral diplo­matic re­la­tions with both gi­ant neigh­bors, In­dia and China. What has trig­gered this move­ment and what is at stake?

Southasia - - News - By Aditya Man Shrestha

How suc­cess­ful will Bhat­tarai be in main­tain­ing pos­i­tive ties with both In­dia and China?

It is not for noth­ing that Nepalese Prime Min­is­ter Dr. Babu­ram Bhat­tarai sought In­dia’s as­sis­tance to con­clude the peace process and con­sti­tu­tion writ­ing when he met Man­mo­han Singh in New York in Septem­ber. Bhat­tarai is fully aware, as were his pre­de­ces­sors, that In­dia wields great in­flu­ence in these two ar­eas; by far the most im­por­tant agenda for Nepal. He is also cog­nizant of the fact that In­dia likes him per­son­ally but not his party - the United Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoist). In­dia ex­er­cised its ut­most clout to pre­vent the Maoists from com­ing to power un­der its chair­man, Puspa Ka­mal Da­hal (Prachanda), but has shown ex­tra­or­di­nary ges­tures of wel­com­ing his col­league, Dr. Bhat­tarai, in the same place. China, on the other hand, is equally pleased to see him lead­ing the new govern­ment in Nepal. Ed­u­cated at an In­dian Univer­sity but a fol­lower of Maoist ideol- ogy, Dr. Bhat­tarai is the most qual­i­fied Prime Min­is­ter of Nepal.

Aca­dem­i­cally close to In­dia but ide­o­log­i­cally al­lied to China, Dr. Bhat­tarai com­mands good­will in both the coun­tries and that is one of the great­est mer­its for a Nepalese leader to stay in power. Given Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity, he com­mands uni­fied sup­port of the Mad­hesh-based par­ties that eas­ily re­flects In­dia’s con­sent of his rise to supreme lead­er­ship. The un­spo­ken

link be­tween In­dia and Madeshi lead­ers has also come un­der fire by none other than Bhat­tarai’s ri­val, Nepali Congress can­di­date, Ram Chan­dra Paudel. Sim­i­larly, the will­ing­ness on the part of his own col­leagues, Puspa Ka­mal Da­hal and Mo­han Vaidya, to for­ward his can­di­da­ture for pre­mier­ship re­flects the new in­ter­est China is openly tak­ing in Nepalese po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

In­dia avoids be­ing seen as di­rectly in­ter­fer­ing in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of Nepal as past ex­pe­ri­ences have proved most coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. But due to se­cu­rity con­cerns and eco­nomic in­ter­ests, it can­not af­ford to ig­nore Nepalese de­vel­op­ments. It has there­fore taken one step back in its diplo­matic busi­ness with Nepal. In the same breath, China has also suf­fered from de­pend­ing too heav­ily on only one po­lit­i­cal force, the monar­chy, to pro­tect its in­ter­ests in Nepal. It has there­fore taken one step for­ward in grap­pling with Nepalese af­fairs for the sim­i­lar rea­son of se­cu­rity.

Given this, a new chap­ter of power bal­ance, as far as In­dia and China are con­cerned, is be­ing writ­ten in Nepal. Dr. Bhat­tarai’s suc­cess is mainly in­cum­bent upon the good­will and co­op­er­a­tion he can gar­ner from In­dia and China rather than from in­ter­nal forces. In fact, his pre­mier­ship could be a cause and a re­sult of a new re­la­tion­ship in tri­lat­eral diplo­matic dy­nam­ics. It was a good omen that he was equally wel­comed and in­stantly in­vited to visit by both neigh­bors as the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Nepal, un­like his three pre­de­ces­sors hav­ing the com­mon­al­ity of be­ing com­mu­nist; but one lean­ing on In­dia and the other two in­clin­ing to­wards China.

De­spite dif­fer­ences in po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, In­dia and China have a com­mon fea­ture of a uni­fied for­eign pol­icy. Un­like them, Nepal has de­vel­oped no such uni­fied im­age abroad. Nepalese po­lit­i­cal par­ties and lead­ers are col­lec­tively, as well as in­di­vid­u­ally, per­ceived as tilt­ing on ei­ther neigh­bor. In­dia and China can help Nepal sta­bi­lize by ex­er­cis­ing their in­flu­ence on po­lit­i­cal play­ers in their prox­im­ity by mod­er­at­ing them at times of high tem­pers and in­ter-party ten­sion. So far, for­eign pow­ers have only played a neg­a­tive role in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of Nepal and many are wait­ing to see how they can yield ben­e­fits. Dr. Bhat­tarai is a tes­ta­ment to the new tri­lat­eral sce­nario un­fold­ing in Nepal.

As a quid pro quo to their good­will and co­op­er­a­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Bhat­tarai will have to con­sider sus­cep­ti­bil­ity of the neigh­bors by ad­dress­ing their se­cu­rity con­cerns. In­dia’s main thrust is to stop the free move­ment of ter­ror­ists and coun­ter­feit In­dian currency from Nepalese ter­ri­tory. It will pres­sure Nepal to sign the ex­tra­di­tion treaty and bor­der agree­ment as ef­fec­tive mea­sures to achieve this. China’s sin­gle con­cern is the Ti­betan refugees who flee to In­dia via Nepal. It has, there­fore, of­fered to bear all cost if Nepal strength­ens its north­ern bor­der to stop this move­ment. Nepal is sur­pris­ingly in a po­si­tion to ef­fec­tively help in re­liev­ing China’s anx­i­ety with­out com­pro­mis­ing its own se­cu­rity. Nepal’s in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, time and again, have demon­strated ef­fi­ciency in con­trol­ling all il­le­gal and crim­i­nal acts de­signed against its neigh­bors. How­ever, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and weak gov­er­nance are re­spon­si­ble for fre­quent fail­ures.

In the emerg­ing new sit­u­a­tion, Nepal is on the verge of reap­ing un­prece­dented eco­nomic div­i­dends from its emerg­ing eco­nomic neigh­bors. In­vestors from In­dia and China are al­ready com­pet­ing to ex­ploit the water re­sources of Nepal, a coun­try barely pro­duc­ing 600 MW out of its po­ten­tial of 45,000 MW.

Nepal is also suf­fer­ing from heavy load shed­ding through­out the year due to short­age in power sup­ply. The Chi­nese have of­fered to solve this prob­lem within a pe­riod of three years, if given a chance to work in hy­dro projects in Nepal. Sim­i­larly, the state of Bi­har is de­lib­er­ately cur­ry­ing fa­vor with Nepal in or­der to con­trol the an­nual dam­ages caused by flood­ing rivers em­a­nat­ing from Nepal. Bi­har, con­sid­ered the most back­ward state in In­dia, is of late on a de­vel­op­ment spree and is ex­tend­ing hands of co­op­er­a­tion to not only Nepal but also China: a phe­nom­e­non un­heard of un­til a few decades ago. The writer is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and cur­rently as­so­ci­ated with Nepal Stud­ies and Re­search Cen­ter.

Grace­fully walk­ing the tight rope

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