Bumbling on railway

Published On: July 10, 2018 01:00 AM NPT By: Aditya Man Shrestha

The five-year period that has been allocated in the proposed railway construction from Tibet to Kathmandu sounds like a misnomer

The outcome of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China is too good to be true. The signing of 14 agreements at the official level and eight at unofficial level covers vast areas of cooperation one can think of in the present context. Prime Minister Oli himself admitted that he got in this visit more than he had expected. Chinese are reputed for hospitality and there is no doubt the Nepali visitors were left intensely elated in their sojourn in China as government guests. However, there is something missing in what was described as “successful, inspiring, and productive” visit. 

People in Nepal pinned hopes on Oli to keep his promises of building a railway link with China passing through Rasuwagadhi within five years. They looked forward to something substantive coming out of this visit in this regard as the most prominent outcome. Unfortunately, it has been relegated to the background. It received only a passing remark of conducting a joint survey and a preliminary exercise of financing modality. 

Promise and reality  

The government, through its officials, has given the impression that the said railway will be built only if China agrees to make it as a gift. It is, of course, a matter of negotiations between the two countries. The negotiations as such can be too long, too complicated and too uncertain. But that is not what Nepali people like to hear. They heard Oli making a firm pledge in his election manifesto giving a definite timeline. They believed he meant what he said. Current development indicates otherwise. 

If and when the railway will be built, it was announced, it will be only for cargo transportation. Is it not yet another smokescreen over much-avowed railway connectivity? One wonders if a railway line is laid why should it not be used both for cargo and passengers. Ifs and buts that have arisen over the issue look like a camouflage for forestalling the whole idea.

Oli has well understood and made us understand that Chinese railway is not a mere connectivity for Nepal. It is something tied up with the maintenance and enhancement of Nepal’s sovereignty and independence by breaking Nepal’s dependence on only one neighbor. He is fully aware of the hardship the Nepalis had to suffer from an effective but unannounced economic blockade during his first tenure in office. It was his acknowledged mission to extricate Nepal from this handicap that he made a commitment to build the railways across the Himalayas. People believed him he would do it but he is found fumbling.

The railway as such is not a mysterious matter. But the issue as it stands between Nepal and China has turned out to be nothing less than an enigma. Will it come or will it not come? Prime Minister and his colleagues are clever enough to smell what is lurking in the people’s mind. That explains why he dragged Chinese President Xi Jinping to assure the people of Nepal that the railway will duly be coming, to which President Xi is reported have committed. 

China has developed adequate capability to build bullet trains not only in China but also elsewhere in Africa. It has appropriate technology, sufficient manpower and necessary resources. It is just a question of flagging a green signal to go ahead on this construction. We have seen how China uses machines to speed up construction process. In this context, the five-year period that has been allocated in the proposed railway construction from Tibet to Kathmandu sounds like a misnomer. 

What’s the intention?

What is at stake in the much-talked railway line to Nepal is neither financial nor technological. It is intentional. Regarding intention, either Nepal or China or both must be dragging feet in going ahead in this project. When and what the Chinese commit, they are bound to fulfill irrespective of consequences. But the Nepalis are famous for talking big and doing nothing. If it has happened thousand times in the past, it is most likely to happen this time around as well. 

If we go through the joint communiqué and bilateral agreements thereof we find nothing wrong. If we go through Oli’s manifesto issued in the last election, there is still nothing wrong. Both of them are too good to be true. They make us feel Prime Minister Oli is intelligent enough to understand what is right and what is wrong. But, as the Chinese philosopher Confucius has said to see what is right and not to do it is want of courage. Unluckily, that is what looks like applying to our distinguished executive head. Is he taking us for a ride?

The author is a senior journalist 

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