Perhaps for the first time in its political history, NC places India on equal footing with China in its foreign policy agenda
Nepali Congress (NC), which has been responsible for major socio-economic and political changes in Nepal, is now holding Mahasamiti Meeting amid a host of challenges within the party. Following its embarrassing defeat in local, provincial as well as federal parliament elections last year, NC has been reduced to the role of opposition in the nation’s bicameral legislature.
Mahasamiti Meeting coincides with the socioeconomic aberrations in the country. Even after three sets of elections, followed by formation of two thirds majority government, the polarization of left and right continues. As amendment to the nascent constitution is still due to address Tarai grievances, discontent among stakeholders is brewing. People, in general, are overburdened by taxes and rising prices of daily goods. The market forces are in doldrums. Share markets, for example, are continually falling raising questions about the overall future of free-market economy.
The disappointment is not confined to political and economic realms. It has beset nation’s foreign policy domain as well. Awarding of contract to Budhigandaki Hydropower Project is an epic example. Another case in point is Nepal’s commitment to be part of joint-military drill in Pune, India, under BIMSTEC umbrella and its withdrawal at the last minute on the ruse of “internal pressure.”
Likewise, Nepal stood against the US at the United Nations on the issue of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As a least developed nation that enjoys cordial relations with the US as well as Israel, Nepal should have focused on nation’s domestic interest rather than becoming the part of ideological clash at the world’s political theatre. In other words, Nepal should have remained ‘absent’ as Bhutan pragmatically did. That would have diminished the chances of Nepal raising eyebrows of two traditional development partners.
Nepali Congress has passed its Political and Foreign Policy document for the scrutiny of Mahasamiti Meeting. The 16- page document prepared by Vice- President Bimlendra Nidhi, however, arrests the attention of political onlookers on a number of areas though the document covers almost all major aspects and prevailing socioeconomic situations. Let’s look into foreign policy elements of the document.
Perhaps for the first time in its political history, NC places India on equal footing with China in its foreign policy agenda. In the past, given Nepal’s close geographical proximity and open borders and trade relations combined with deep and yawning cultural bond, NC always espoused for deeper and intimate relationship with southern neighbor. Likewise, to the dismay of many and enigma for a few, NC has abandoned parliamentary system of democracy too from its political document. These departures are self-evident that NC now pragmatically tends to accept “equidistance and equi-proximity” foreign policy—a concept generally advocated by extreme left and rightists in Nepal.
Foreign policy document absolutely undermines pressing issues of climate change and deteriorating ecological conditions. Climatic conditions and pollutions transcend beyond borders. Nepal, located between world’s two biggest Carbon Derived Energy (CDE) nations China and India, is bound to be affected by by-products of CDE.
China and India are respectively third and fifth coal reserved nations in the world. While China, of late, has been pushing to reduce pollution by decreasing coal consumption by switching to natural gas, it still remains one of the largest CDE users. The consumption of CDE was about 80 percent in 2010 which has substantially been reduced to about 60 percent in 2017. China has also been responsible for producing pollution within the country and beyond. Coal is accountable for about 40 percent of the deadly fine particulate matter in China’s atmosphere.
India, which holds about 60.6 billion tones of logs, accounts for about seven percent of the world’s total proved coal deposits. But, as a soaring economy of the world, India too depends heavily on coal-energy for its economic growth. The major challenge that India faces is about least efficient coal-based thermal power plants, responsible for polluting the environment. According to a study carried out by New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, India’s coal-based power plant’s performance was awfully poor and less than global yardstick, which was responsible for generating 170 million tones of fly ash, a byproduct, of which only 50-60 percent have been utilized.
Currently, about a billion tones of this toxic ash lie in dumps, polluting land, air and water. It is estimated that by 2021-22, the sector will produce 300 million tones of fly ash every year.
Nepali Congress seems to have attempted for a major departure in a party’s relations with immediate neighbors and about the country’s political system. It may help the NC develop cordial relations with left forces, particularly with the Maoist stream within Nepal Communist Party.
The omission of parliamentary system, which is also in accordance with the present constitution, and placing India in the same basket along with China, makes a new departure.
Increased acid rain and other air associated health hazards on Nepali territory are responsible not only for causing depletion in soil’s production pugnacity but also respiratory problems among Nepalis. In Tarai and Chure range, the water level is receding whereas in hill and mountain areas sink-holes are taking toll and snow lakes too are being formed in addition to draughts and flashfloods in summer season.
Conservation of Mountain Region is vital also for another reason as it, besides other resources, has been a source of precious fresh-water for 1.2 billion populations in the region. Apart from this, Nepal faces human-induced challenges too. The problem of human trafficking, terrorism, smuggling of illicit weapons and drugs, ecstasy and new psychoactive substances are main problems in Asia. Given these transnational challenges, NC must think about incorporating them in its foreign as well as national policies.
The author, former ambassador to the US and UK, also served as the foreign affairs advisor for former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala