Handle with care

Published On: June 25, 2020 08:00 AM NPT By: Umesh K Bhattarai

The government needs to be cautious while dealing with its neighbors. It should also carefully deal with the US without hampering the interests of India and China.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah was a visionary to understand the sensitive geopolitics of Nepal. His Dibya Upadesh offers a prescription to carefully handle the relations with two neighbors. Geopolitics is a very sensitive issue in power dynamics. Prithvi Narayan had very clear understanding of it but his successors failed to understand the sensitivity of the matter and pushed the country into several problems.

Geopolitics is the study of geography and politics analyzing their relativity to find out the strategic value in the specific sphere. For us, the sphere is the surroundings and environment prevailing in our neighborhoods. India and China are emerging world powers with strong military. They have most sophisticated warheads and weapons capable to reach each other’s capitals. Their areas of influence as well as interests are quite large at the moment.

In this situation, if these two Asian giants do not exercise restraint on Ladakh conflict, Nepal will also be affected.

Amid the tense situation in the neighborhood, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) launched a virtual conference with Communist Party of China to exchange their experience and ideas. This would definitely send a negative massage to India and it did. With Nepal redrawing its map to include Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, India-Nepal relations were already tense. Thus the government came to be seen as provoking India by playing China card.

Besides, NCP is also divided over whether to endorse MCC assistance provided by the US government or not. Most NCP leaders think MCC is designed to counter Chinese projects in Nepal. Some even think this is a form of military alliance.

During Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s visit to the US in December, 2018, he had stated that he discussed many issues related to ‘Indo-Pacific’ region but not the strategy. But the US report revealed that Nepal has already become part of Indo-Pacific Strategy.

This triggered further debate on MCC. The way former UML leaders, notably Madhav Kumar Nepal, scuttled Arun III, NCP leaders are pushing MCC to suffer the same fate. Also it has been learnt that some conditions set by the MCC establishment stand above Nepal’s constitution and legal provisions.  If so, this is the most contentious and confrontational provision, which needs to be corrected.

If MCC is a counterfoil to BRI, of which Nepal has already become a signatory, then it will push Nepal to a difficult situation. India may not remain silent if American and Chinese interests collide in Nepal and spillover effects might destabilize entire South Asia. Nepal may become another Afghanistan if such external confrontations are not managed carefully.

If MCC is merely related to constructing electric transmission lines, then we need not worry. Nepal needs to construct 400 KV transmission lines as early as possible as it will have excess electricity once the big hydro power projects become operational. It will also be wise to keep transmission lines under strict state control to avoid unnecessary hassle on electricity production and consumption.

As regards territorial disputes, both the neighbors have encroached on Nepal’s territory, though India has encroached on more territories than China. On Lipulekh both China and India had agreed to construct road for Trans-Himalayan trade in 2015. Upon Nepal’s protest, China responded but India continued constructing road to Lipulekh via Nepali territory.

India’s decision to construct roads parallel to the border and block rivers and drains to protect their land has become the cause of inundation and floods in Nepali land in rainy season. This sort of mentality has annoyed most Nepalis living in Tarai.

The Indian proposals to construct high dams in major rivers such as Koshi, Gandaki and Mahakali have proved to be against Nepal’s interest. With all these past profiles, Nepal is suspicious to strike major deals with India. Similarly, it is not even satisfied with the Chinese companies who bid lowest at the beginning and tend to run away before the projects are completed.

In this situation, the government needs to be cautious while dealing with its neighbors. It should also carefully deal with the US without annoying India and China.

The author is a scholar of security and strategic studies

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